Power corrupts, begins the old saying. But an alternate temptation, I think, is associated with ideology. The quest for victory carries its own siren call. Over the years, I slowly developed a grudging empathy with the Watergate criminals. I completely agree with the condemnation by such luminaries as the late Stewart Alsop, who contrasted that Republican dirty tricks campaign with the OSS, and declared it to be outside the realm of politics. "They were making war, special kind of war," he wrote. "The kind of war they were making has been made between nations for a long time now, but it has not before been made within a nation, certainly not within this nation."
The special form of warfare waged by OSS against Adolf Hitler was morally justified by the moral necessity to destroy Nazism...(but in) the internal American political process...Any person proven to have used these techniques should not only be punished by the law; he should be banned forever from participation in American politics.
Yet I could see how an ambitious, committed individual could be tempted. More than that, I could see myself drawn in, if the circumstances were right. My thoughts were reinforced in the final months of the Reagan Presidency, as Oliver North testified, defending his own criminality. Add a North type charisma to the mix, and I would have been doomed. Following that fellow to the dark side of the moral universe would have been hard to resist.
So it is hard for me to work up the passion to equal that of others at the arrest of James O'Keefe, who until Monday was a folk hero to conservatives. O'Keefe was the undercover dirty trickster who, hidden camera in hand, tried to convince employees of ACORN that he needed money to expand a prostitution ring. One employee ordered him out. But he would not give up. Another listened, then, after he left, called the police. Eventually, O'Keefe put together enough material to make it look, with some creative editing, as if ACORN was encouraging pimps to apply for federal funding. Conservatives were thrilled. An organization that not only helps poor people, but encourages them to vote, was discredited.
O'Keefe, a young and impressionable man, was apparently so intoxicated by his newly adoring fans, he needed more. He has been arrested and charged with federal criminality for, depending on the source, attempting to wiretap or sabotage the phones in the offices of a United States Senator. Fox News, which gave hours of coverage to the ACORN video, now seems to have forgotten their initial fascination with O'Keefe. They have accumulated 4 minutes and a few seconds so far.
We are human. We are sinners. Many of us can rejoice at having escaped the soul robbing temptations sponsored by the darkest forces of American political life.
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