George Graham

The Sad Truth Is That “Power Tends to Corrupt”

In 1887, Lord Acton gave posterity an astute insight into human nature. In a letter to Bishop Mandell Creighton, he wrote:

Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.

blagojevichWith that in mind, I wonder at the shock and awe being expressed by the TV talking heads over the damning remarks attributed to Illinois Governor Milorad (“Rod”) Blagojevich (photo at right), who was arrested on corruption charges this week. Blagojevich’s lawyer says the governor’s wiretapped statements were “just politics.” And there’s a glimmer of validity in that defense.

Does anyone really believe those “fund raisers” held for various candidates are always motivated by selfless principle? Of course the people raising the funds expect to get something in return if their candidate is successful. I don’t doubt that some fund raisers are motivated by a desire for good government, but I’m sure most are in it for personal or political gain.

Few people would dispute Illinois’ claim to being one of America’s most corrupt states. Chicago politics is legendary. Illinois politicians who stay out of jail seem to be the exception rather than the rule. And America as a country doesn’t have much to brag about, either. World lists the U.S, as the 17th “least corrupt” of 150 countries surveyed. (Jamaica, where I grew up, is ranked 67th, so I am in no position to look down my nose at America.)

In case you’re interested, Finland is the least corrupt and Myanmar (Burma) wins the booby prize – closely edging out Iraq (proudly described by President Bush as his crowning achievement in bringing democracy to the world). The list, released in June of this year, is displayed at:

I suspect the media’s revulsion is caused more by the unabashed way in which Blagojevich described his patronage plans than in the plans themselves. And his fondness for the most vulgar kinds of obscenity don’t help his cause, either. It is never wise to describe the President-elect of the United States as a “m—-f—er.”

However, no one expects classiness from Rod Blagojevich. He is a rough-and-tumble kind of guy, born and raised in Chicago’s northwest side. His father, Radisa Blagojevich, was an immigrant steel plant laborer from Serbia. Rod Blagojevich worked at odd jobs to help his family – shining shoes and delivering pizzas, before landing a job at a meat packing plant. To pay for college, he worked as a dishwasher. He has a law degree from Pepperdine University and worked as a Cook County assistant prosecutor before going into politics. His career was partly founded on the fact that his wife’s father is Chicago Alderman Richard Mell.

I wish I could describe Blagojevich as a “diamond in the rough,” but he is just a plain old rock. Often at odds with his own party, he doesn’t play nice with the other kids in Illinois politics. A polling group recently awarded him the title of “least popular governor in America.”

But before we start throwing stones at Blagojevich, we should take a look at the glass house of American politics – especially campaign financing. The Illinois governor’s alleged attempts at extortion can be blamed – at least in part – on a system that forces candidates to raise millions of dollars. The recent U.S. general-election campaigns cost an estimated $1.5 billion (with a “B”).

It may be time for the United States to take a look at Canada’s campaign financing laws and implement something similar here. Canada provides public financing for candidates and limits the amount they may spend. That may be one reason World lists Canada among the eight least corrupt countries in the world – and number one in civil liberties and political rights.

About the author


I am a Jamaican-born writer who has lived and worked in Canada and the United States. I live in Lakeland, Florida with my wife, Sandra, our three cats and two dogs. I like to play golf and enjoy our garden, even though it's a lot of work. Since retiring from newspaper reporting I've written a few books. I also write a monthly column for