Joel Belz: No secret formula


NICK EICHER, HOST: Today is Wednesday, May 30th. Good morning! This is The World and Everything in It from member-supported WORLD Radio. I’m Nick Eicher.

MARY REICHARD, HOST: And I’m Mary Reichard. WORLD founder Joel Belz now on the relationship between the virtue of our government leaders — and that of the ones who put them in office.

JOEL BELZ, FOUNDER: A long-time reader from northeast Ohio wrote recently to compliment our editorial gifts at predicting the future. She said: “I enjoy reading back issues of WORLD and have been impressed many times by your uncanny ability to ‘see’ ahead, relying on your inspired hunches.”

To this very kind and overly generous friend, let me first say thank you. It came right on the heel of a handful of especially harsh letters from a little band of very unhappy WORLD members.

But second, I have to stress that we have no specific formulas here for describing what’s going to happen in the years ahead.

The column my new Ohio friend was referencing focused on the tendency of all leaders to abuse the power they gain. The more secure a leader becomes, the sooner he or she typically tumbles into dishonest and crooked behavior. That particular column came half way through the administration of Barack Obama, with special attention to his team’s calculated abuse of political power in the Internal Revenue Service.

Because she was reading a five-year-old essay, the perspective made me look like a prophet. But when I sit here and predict dishonesty and corruption in govern­ment, I’m betting on an almost sure thing.

Ever since Watergate, we’ve been nudged closer and closer to thinking it’s normal to ask: “What did the president know, and when did he know it?” We asked it about the Clintons and their Arkansas investments. We asked what George W. Bush really knew about weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. And what did Barack Obama know about Hillary Clinton’s pressure tactics while developing a huge funding base for the Clinton Foundation?

In brief, we don’t really trust our government any more. The parade of faces and names on the nightly news of those who are suing or being sued, indicting, or being indicted just keeps growing.

But what if—in our fierce search for wrong­doers—we discover something much worse than mere complicity by their top staff people? What if the whole govern­ment structure is so rotten that the honchos at the top don’t even have to tell their staffers what to do? Maybe the inclination to abuse power is so thorough that it’s just an expected modus operandi.

So now we’re no longer talking, as Richard Nixon’s attorney John Dean did, about “a cancer on the presidency.” Now we have to worry instead about a malignancy that has swallowed the whole government.

But hold on. There may be something even more troublesome. What if the people being governed no longer own the kind of moral compass that helps them judge between good and evil? What if the people themselves simply no longer care. When the people themselves are corrupt, it’s time to pay close attention to the observer who once said that people tend to get the kind of leaders they deserve.

Could it be he was talking about us?

For WORLD Radio, I’m Joel Belz.


(Illustration/Krieg Barrie)

WORLD Radio transcripts are created on a rush deadline. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of WORLD Radio programming is the audio record.

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One comment on “Joel Belz: No secret formula

  1. Paul Engel says:

    Mr. Belz,

    I enjoyed your commentary Wednesday May 30th.

    I’m sure you’ve all heard the joke: “How can you tell when a politician is lying?” The answer, of course, is “When their lips are moving!” While this is a sad commentary on the state of politics in the 21st century, it’s an even sadder commentary on the state of our society. What does it say about us that we hire people to represent us who we know are lying to us? What does it say about Americans that those who lie the best keep their jobs the longest? If these people represent us, what does their character say about us as a nation? It seems to be a universal truth that more often than not our government represents the worst of our natures, not the best. If there is a problem in Washington it is ultimately our fault. If that is the bad news, the good news is that we can fix it, but it will take a long time and is probably not the path you expected.

    Thank you, I look forward to your next commentary.

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