Monday, October 09, 2006

Uncovering the Cover-Up

Marci Hamilton at Findlaw suggests that the Republican leadership could have learned a lot from the Catholic Clergy Abuse scandals, had they been willing to do so.  As she writes:
The motivation of those in power, in each case, was to protect an institution: To save the Church's, or Congress', or the Republican Party's power and reputation. It was also to further secure the power of individual men. It should go without saying that no reputation, and no power, that is built on lies, and on the cover-up of serious crimes, is worth protecting.

And while I disagree somewhat with the naive morality in that last sentence, the whole thing is wrong.  It’s the same thing we saw with the Watergate thing, that many people still insist that Nixon shouldn’t have covered-up what happened.  But to coverer-uppers, of course they should have covered it up.  No doubt about it.  Because they cover-up lots of things and it almost always works.  If you’re going to do lots of wrong-doing, it’s always better to cover everything up.  And if someone on your side is doing wrong-doing and you’d prefer to not have them exposed, it’s always better to cover it up.

Watergate wasn’t some fluke, and for Nixon to not cover that up would demand that he not cover-up all the other stuff he did.  And that just wasn’t going to happen, because he wanted to do that stuff and needed to get away with it.  And of course there’s lots of bad stuff that Nixon did that we never found out about.  And sure, he shouldn’t have done it.  But he wanted to.  And if he was going to do it, he had to cover it up.  And it worked.  Sure, Watergate got him in trouble; but without that kind of stuff, he might not have got the Whitehouse in the first place or kept it.  People always talk of the dirty tricks as a character flaw, but maybe that was how he stayed so successful.  It was both a blessing and a curse.  And even still, my knowledge of Watergate is enough to say that we’d have never found out about it, had they done a slightly more aggressive job of covering it up.  That wasn’t an isolated incident, but merely a fluke uncovering that should never have happened.

Same goes for the Catholics and the whole man-boy love thing.  They covered it up for a long long time, and it really worked for them.  It’s doubtful that it started in our lifetimes, or even a few lifetimes before us.  It most likely goes back for centuries.  Only a na├»ve twit would suggest otherwise.  Are we really going to suggest that they’d just now start telling the truth about it?  Why?  At any given time during most of the church’s history, they had a molestation problem.  That would have to be the case statistically speaking, even if we didn’t acknowledge the increased risk factor of a population of men who leaned against the marriage thing.  Maybe it hadn’t occurred to early church leaders that the celibacy requirement might bring the flakes out of the woodwork, but I’m sure it didn’t take too long for that fact of life to become apparent.  I’m not trying to disparage the priesthood, but it seems fairly obvious that they’re going to get a lot of people who don’t fit into normal society.  

And so you’re just going to start uncorking that bottle in the 50’s?  Or the 70’s?  Or the 80’s or 90’s?  Of course not.  Again, this has got to be going back for centuries.  Why start telling the truth now?  They had a good thing going, so why not continue it as long as possible?  It’s not like there’s ever a good time to admit to this stuff.  Sure, they’re suffering now.  But there was never a time in history that they’d have gotten off easy.  Once you start the cover-up, it’s just best to stick with it for as long as possible.

And that’s the thing: Just because we’ve finally exposed a cover-up doesn’t mean that cover-ups aren’t successful.  Because that’s the whole point of the cover-up; you never hear about the successful ones.  And sure, you can point out a few cover-ups that went awry and made things worse for the coverers.  But for every cover-up exposed, there are tons of ones we never find out about.  And so it does no good to rail against cover-ups.  In fact, the whole reason people attack the cover-up is because they want to convince people to not do them.  But not because they’re so disastrous, but for the exact opposite reason; because they’re so successful.

So it just comes right back down to the original crime.  You shouldn’t do them.  And if you do the crime, you should just try to cover it up.  Because that just works better.  It’s worse to get caught in a cover-up, but it’s even worse to get caught by multiple crimes.  Unfortunately for democracy, the bullshitters and the cheaters will beat the truth-tellers and the fair almost every time, and where you have cheating bullshittery, cover-ups will be close behind.  We can tsk-tsk the morality of the coverers, but we’d be fools to ignore their success.  We may bitch about the cover-ups, but the original crime really was the problem.

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