Magazine article Insight on the News

When Corruption Hits a Wall of Fog

Magazine article Insight on the News

When Corruption Hits a Wall of Fog

Article excerpt

They were incredulous in the public gallery The 71-year-old former politician initially denied having received while in office a $2 million payment from a supermarket magnate. Then a few days later he acknowledged he was the beneficiary "as a matter of probability." And in a breathtaking statement he added that financial affairs "were peripheral to his life." He then said he had "no specific knowledge" of his finances--he left all that sort of thing to his accountant.

America? Fred Thompson's Senate investigation into illicit campaign fund-raising? No, Ireland and the current explosive hearings into supermarket baron Ben Dunne's generosity to politicians in general and his largesse to four-time prime minister Charlie Haughey in particular.

Ever since the flamboyant Haughey arrived on the political scene back in the 1960s it was common knowledge that "The Boss," as he's nicknamed, was as crooked as a corkscrew--Charlie boy could see profit in something as ephemeral as a breeze flickering over an Irish bog.

And his testimony a the ongoing Dunne hearings has been vintage Haughey--defiant and roguish. Note those phrases, "a matter of probability" and "no specific knowledge." You have to love the sheer audacity of the old boy -- I did begrudgingly when I covered him in the mid-1980s. The only other politician I know who is as nimble-footed, one able to come out with such gloriously disarming remarks, is William Jefferson Clinton, who surely once must have sat at the feet of The Boss and been tutored there in the dark arts of politics.

When Haughey first became prime minister an outraged opposition leader, Garrett Fitzgerald, took to the floor of the Irish parliament and announced to the nation that The Boss wasn't to be trusted. He was a "flawed character" and Ireland would become corrupt with his ilk at the helm. Fitzgerald's almost-Shakespearean warning--he looked like King Lear raging on the storm-battered heath--was dismissed as bad manners. Only after the stain of corruption spread and contaminated virtually every institution of state was good old Charlie boy forced out of office.

"The prophesying business is like writing fugues; it is fatal to everyone save the man of absolute genius," H.L. Mencken once wrote. As a seer, Fitzgerald was touched by genius--and, for a moment in 1992, so too was California's "Governor Moonbeam," Jerry Brown, who out of all Clinton's opponents in the primary season five years ago understood there were serious flaws in the character of the Clintons. Recall it was Brown who had the temerity--the "bad manners"--to bring up Hillary Rodham Clinton's dubious and highly profitable futures trading. …

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