Lessons from the Linda Chavez Incident

Demanding that our public officials be saints can only mark us all with the sin of rank hypocrisy

By Ciro Scotti

Before Linda Chavez's withdrawal as a nominee for Labor Secretary becomes a footnote in history, there are a few messages from this episode that bear noting:

--The most obvious, of course, is that "the politics of personal destruction," as Chavez called her trial by media frenzy, is not going to go away with the Clinton Administration.

Before withdrawing as President-elect George W. Bush's first nominee for Labor Secretary, Chavez faced down the Fourth Estate posse that had been hounding her for giving refuge to an illegal immigrant in the early 1990s -- a Guatemalan woman reportedly fleeing an abusive relationship who apparently responded to the charity of Chavez and her husband by doing household chores (how odd).

Chavez lined up several other immigrants and the two children of one to bear witness to a pattern of generosity that she said was inspired by the help she had been given as a girl when difficult times beset her family. A New York Times editorial called this brilliant bit of political theater orchestrated, and certainly it was clear that Chavez had called in some I.O.U.'s. But only the most jaded observer, or someone ideologically opposed to Chavez, would question the sincerity of these simple people seeking a better life in America. They spoke from the heart, but that's irrelevant to the Great Dig for Dirt in Washington.

--Message Two is that the Bush Administration will be run like a no-nonsense, old-line corporation, with CEO Dick Cheney imposing a white-shirt style that brooks no threat to the enterprise-of-state (note to wanna-get-ahead Bushies: Stow the business-casual duds).

When it became apparent to the incoming management that Chavez had not come completely clean in the abbreviated vetting process and might have misled her FBI background-checkers, she was history. Nothing personal. Just business. The Cheney Rules have no provision for division heads (let alone yet-to-be-appointed division heads) who don't adhere to company rules and practices.

--Perhaps the most important message of the aborted Chavez nomination, however, is that America will continue to drive smart, talented people from public life if we don't put aside our hypocritical standards for elected leaders. Demanding impossibly perfect personal lives of Presidents, governors, mayors, and Cabinet secretaries only guarantees that they will disappoint us -- that some flaw will be unearthed to taint them or drive them from office.

Do we really want to be governed by phony saints, or do we want to be led by real people like us who have made mistakes, gone beyond lusting in their hearts, and occasionally colored the truth?


  Maybe Linda Chavez did more than suspect that the woman who lived in her home was in this country without permission. So what? The influx of willing-to-work immigrants through our porous borders may involve some illegal entrants, but as a whole, they have helped lift the labor-hungry American economy to unseen heights.

Every day anyone who lives in a large U.S. metropolis encounters workers whom even a ninny might guess are illegals. But nobody pulls out their cell phone to call the Immigration & Naturalization Service when a Mexican busboy clears their plate or an Eastern European who can't speak a word of English empties their office wastebasket. I wonder how many of the boys at the AFL-CIO who attacked Chavez, or the crowd at the Times who applauded her departure, have checked their nannies' papers lately.

Scotti, senior editor for government and sports business, offers his views every week in A Not-So-Neutral Corner, only for BW Online

Edited by Douglas Harbrect

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