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Same old excuses

By Paul M. Weyrich
web posted February 18, 2002

For more than forty years of either active politics or covering politics, I have watched politicians exit the scene. Those who are honest indicate that they have had enough of Washington (or Madison or Denver or wherever.) There are those who have been candid enough to say that the time had come for them to make more money. Translate: The spouse has said enough is enough of this hobby of yours. Now you go out and earn us a good living while you still have some shelf life left.

Of course there are those who must leave on account of illness: their own or to care for a family member. I well recall a candidate for Lt. Governor of Virginia who was regarded by pros in both parties as, as close to a shoo-in as is possible in politics these days. Just before the deadline to file, he withdrew because it was discovered that his young son had a disease that needed the attention of both parents. It was obviously a wrenching decision to make because the man was giving up his promising political career. But he did what he had to do and it was admirable.

But most politicians are as dishonest in their departure from politics as they were in practicing it. The vast majority of political figures who look at the polls and find themselves on the losing end, or who know they are facing the possibility of indictment or even the taint of scandal, hold press conferences at which they piously declare, "I am leaving office to spend more time with my family." Really? Some newspaper ought to do a survey a year after such announcements and find out how many of these characters are spending time with their families.

Think about it. The Senator has been an important figure for years. Now he finds he is involved in some sort of scandal that he may or may not be responsible for. Can you imagine the conversation? "Hi, dear. I'm coming home to spend more time with you and the grandkids". The wife says: "You have got to be kidding. You never had time for us all these years. You expect us to make time for you now?" More likely the Senator says: "Look, I'm going to say that I want to spend more time with my family. And I'd like you to stand with me as I hold my press conference. But don't worry. I don't expect to spend any more time with you than I have before."

A lot of these spouses were happy to be there to go to the White House Christmas parties, to sit in the owner's box at the World Series, to get invited to Hawaii for a week to watch their husband give an hour long speech, but to hang around with an ex-Senator who went out of office in a blaze of bad publicity?

I should imagine there is an occasional lawmaker who genuinely wants to be with his family and whose family wants to be with him. I am willing to wager if that survey I propose is ever taken, the newspaper won't find many.

What is especially upsetting now is that Enron and Arthur Andersen-type executives (and many more) are starting to use the same excuse as they bail out of companies which are about to go down the drain. Here it might be more credible. Many of these small executives made millions to the detriment of shareholders and employees. Families might find it fun to spend some of those millions, so just maybe the use of the family excuse might prove to have some validity. But, boy is it sickening. It has been bad enough to listen to that line from politicians for all these years, but now businessmen? Yuck. Cut it out. Find some other excuse. Even if true, you won't be believed anyway.

Paul Weyrich is president of the Free Congress Foundation.

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