I find it interesting that residents of just about every state feel they have the most corrupt officials and lousiest public schools. It’s a sentiment worn by many like some bizarro State badge of honor, a badge that grows and shines more brightly over time.
As an ex-Texan, I can’t tell you how many fellow Long Star State folks I’ve almost seen come to tears proudly retelling the story of LBJ, and how he stole that Senatorial election way back in ’48 (the numbers are helped by the fact I got both my degrees in Poli Sci back in Texas). Louisiana had Huey P. Long, and might end up naming yet another bridge for the Kingfish with the Economic Stimulus bucks they get. More recently they had a Congressman who got caught with $90,000 hidden in his freezer. Rep. William Jefferson won re-election in the months after that cold, cold cash was uncovered.
Illinois had the Daley machine and most recently Governor Blagojevich, and I see no record of any massive swelling of real consternation on the part of Lincoln Landers. The fact Blago was able to get away with filling a Senate seat seems to bother just about everybody but those from Illinois. Harry Truman only rose to prominence because of the Pendergast operation in Missouri. And they still say “Give ’em Hell Harry” with pride back in Kansas City.
And in New Jersey, my wife’s home state, any questions/comments about political corruption receive nothing but a laugh and a solid, repetitive shaking of the head.
So on a day filled with Manny Aragon’s courtroom tears, a so-so sentence and a sizable demand for restitution, I found myself thinking about this story from some months back in the New York Times. Great graphs a-blazing, the Times tried to determine the most corrupt State in America. This was at the height of “Blago Mania” and the story twist was that Illinois was not found, by any measure, to be the most corrupt State.
In sheer numbers of convicted public officials, the winner was Florida. On a per capita basis it was the District of Columbia. In both those polls New Mexico was nowhere near the top. Even in per capita figures, the Land of Enchantment ranked just about where it seems to always rank in everything, 46th. Hey, what about us? We’re corrupt, too! Really!
I still have a vague sense of disappointment about that.
Remarkably, however, WE did much better when it came to “Reporters’ Scores” . The Times story explained this part of the survey:
Researchers asked state house reporters to assess their subjects and ranked responses on a scale of 1 (clean) to 7 (crooked) in a 2003 study.
In the reporter poll New Mexico scored a solid third, just beaten out by perennial corruption powerhouse Louisiana for second. Take that Florida (22nd), Illinois (10th) and D.C. (okay, the District wasn’t included in the poll)! The discrepancy between convictions and reporter perception could mean several things…including the possibility New Mexico just doesn’t convict enough of its ne’erdowells.
Still, I maintain there is a strange, twisted competitive pride in such figures, and Manny Aragon bolsters this pride as someone we can bitterly laugh at now, and bizarrely revere years from now. In this and other ways, Manny serves needs many of our celebrities, sports figures, and public officials fill. These include the need to have those more powerful crash from power, and the need to have simple, blatant answers to the complex, subtle questions of our world.
Yes it’s schadenfreude, but it’s more than that. Just as we use the foibles of the “famous” to make ourselves feel better about our own screw-ups, we as a society create Manny Aragons through our inattention and laziness, then get to feel better about that inattention and laziness when the Manny Aragon finally, FINALLY, gets caught.
- Why are things so screwed up in New Mexico? Answer: Manny Aragon.
- Why did he get away with it for so long? Answer: The System is screwed up.
- Is it our fault? Answer: Obviously not. Aragon is evil, and it took the System forever to do anything about it. It’s outside of our control.
Or so we convince ourselves, satisfyingly wiping our hands of it all. There is a safety and comfort in such fatalism. A safety and comfort that only increases on days such as today. We as New Mexicans get to see Manny cry, and receive some sort of frog march out of the courtroom (I’m guessing on this, as I’m not going to watch it on TV tonight) Yay us! Yay Powerful People Falling!!!
But, as point of analogy, does anyone really think intense public oversight of the financial system is likely to last forever, just because Bernie Madoff got caught? Or AIG folks got some bonuses? Yes this Manny Aragon was a real piece of work, a colossal caricature of political corruption. But do we really think we’ll do any better job of making sure another Manny Aragon doesn’t come along in another few years?
More to the point, how many more years (or months, really) until someone brings up Manny Aragon and we can’t get that strangely proud grin off our face?
“Only in New Mexico,” we’ll reply…as we shake our heads, grinning. “Only in New Mexico.”
P.S.: And speaking of Baadasssss songs (or just “baad”), here is a reprise of a little two-chorus ditty on today’s subject I scribbled some time back based on the A.L. Webber composition “Don’t Cry For Me Argentina”:
Don’t Cry For Me Albuquerque
It’s not like you knew I wasn’t guilty
All through my wild days
Ruining South Valley
I was your bagman
And kept your money.
Don’t Cry For Me Albuquerque
The truth is I’ll never leave you
There’ll be this courthouse
At 4th and Lomas
That you can spit on
And curse my name for.
P.P.S.: Steve Terrell at the New Mexican has a good write-up of the lukewarm action on “ethics reform” during this Legislative session. Cue more head shaking and bitter grins…