There is no punchline to the aforementioned headline…unless you have a particularly skewed sense of humour. However in reading back over a number of blogs and news articles from a few years ago, it struck me as interesting how many political scandals there have been and how some people seem to walk away from scandals (generally of their own making) relatively unscathed and go on to forge successful careers.
The following is a brief list of political scandals from the past few years. It’s not intended to be exhaustive, nor is it an in-depth analysis of international political scandals. If anything, for the cynics among you, it might bring a smile to your face at the absurdity of politics and the individuals we sometimes elect to public office…
Have a Savvy Communications Professional
I had a ring-side seat for this one. I began my Thomas Whalen internship on March 10 2008 in the New York State Assembly, coincidentally the same day that Eliot Spitzer was revealed to be ‘Client Number 9’ of the now infamous Emperors Club VIP. Starting on my first day with no first-hand experience of American politics I found university text books to be insufficient preparation for what lay ahead.
What fascinated me wasn’t so much the salacious elements of the scandal itself although I’d be lying if I said I didn’t find the whole situation incredibly compelling, but the human element of the story, quite aside from the political ramifications were something else. The embarrassment for his family, his party colleagues and his entire cabinet was far-reaching and not a little devastating.
The Spitzer affair didn’t define my time in Albany but it certainly gave me an incredible insight into reputation management and the ramifications of such a massive PR crisis to both the party and the individual. The most important lesson I learned was; Sometimes there’s no ‘spin’ that will get you out of a situation of your own making. Spitzer clearly had good advice from some extremely savvy people. By putting his hands up, admitting culpability and resigning, Spitzer ensured his exit from politics was as swift as his meteoric rise to the office of governor had been. By contrast, the Bill Clinton/Lewinsky affair was a protracted mess of a situation which should have had a much shorter shelf life had Bill not famously ‘denied, denied, denied’.
Despite the car-crash the Spitzer affair was, it is also illustrative of people’s ability to bounce back from a seemingly insurmountable obstacle. Sure his political career was in ruins and there is little likelihood he will ever be a main player in politics again however he has made the best of an incredibly embarrassing situation. After a brief hiatus, Spitzer is currently a columnist for The Slate and until recently co-host of talk show In the Arena. Surely the finest illustration of how a combination of steel balls, a rubber neck and public with a short memory can ensure continued success in life.
Know when to Jump Ship (Bertie Ahern)
Not really a scandal, unless you happen to be an Irish tax payer, however the mind boggles at the following; Bertie Ahern, Irish Taoiseach from 1997 to 2008 was famously described by his mentor (former Taoiseach) Charles Haughey as “the most skilful, the most devious, the most cunning of them all”. Tagged by the media as the ‘Teflon Taoiseach’- because nothing ever stuck to him- it transpires that since his retirement from public office, he has been paid $40,000 by American companies for speaking engagements detailing how he was instrumental in creating the Celtic Tiger. The mind boggles that anybody would pay cold hard cash to to be told how to emulate the Celtic Tiger economy, particularly given the precarious financial situation of Ireland at the moment.
Granted, Bertie did have a hand in creating the Celtic Tiger however he shrewdly jumped ship at a time when it was clear his successor, Brian Cowen, would inherit the poisoned chalice which was the office of An Taoiseach. Irrespective of your political views, it was clear Cowen would become the scapegoat for the collapse of the Irish economy. Bertie has gone on to bigger and better things; he recently starred in an Irish News of the World Advert making his acting debut in a biscuit cupboard. Not necessarily a sign he’s moved on to bigger and better things I’ll grant you but an incredible move all the same from a former leader of our country. There are no words.
Use Whatever Connections You Have
Silvio Berlusconi’s weakness for private dancers could only lead to eventual downfall. Granted, Italians seem to be a tad more forgiving than other countries of their leaders’ human flaws. Berlusconi has quite an impressive list of criminal allegations to his name including tax fraud, bribery of the judiciary and corruption. However when it was revealed that the colourful Italian Prime Minister was accused of having sexual relation with a minor, Karima El Mahroug, it kick-started an investigation which has done Berlusconi’s already questionable reputation no favours. It has been alleged by prosecutors that when ‘Ruby the Heart Stealer’ as she is known in Italy was arrested in May of this year (in a completely unrelated incident), Berlusconi was instrumental in having her released from police custody, leading to revelations of an inappropriate relationship between the married Italian Prime Minister and the immigrant Moroccan exotic dancer.
After an extended period of postponements it has been decided that a trial will go ahead, the outcome of which will have a huge bearing on Berlusconi’s political career. In Italy, if he is sentenced to more than 5 years for relations with a minor, he can never again hold public office. There is a possibility that he is facing a 15 year sentence. Irrespective of whether or not Berlusconi’s political career will recover, and there are grounds to think it won’t – he resigned last week as Italy’s debt crisis spirals out of control – there is little doubt but that he will remain a player on the political scene, even if it’s just as one of the wealthiest men in Italy. Berlusconi knows how to play the game and has many friends in Italy’s notoriously corrupt government. There is always a niche for the wealthy and if Berlusconi has proven anything, it’s that he’s a survivor. He’ll weather this storm the same way he weathered the other – wielding his influence and wealth over others for his own gain.