Just when we thought that inappropriate sexual contact with a young person might not be something that would earn bipartisan political scorn and universal condemnation, we find that our modern separation into tribal political factions means that even pedophilia is something that too many might ignore in the interest of partisan politics.
But, we need not look to Washington to find too many profiles turned away from postures of courage. Here in Philadelphia, where everyone is tied together in a sticky political web, far too many strong voices get awfully quiet when it comes to speaking out about the inappropriate activities of our local political actors.
It is horrifying to see high officials defending that which cannot possibly be defended. But with our political class hyper-divided and seemingly hopelessly disunited, the ridiculous defenses are much more about preserving partisan power than blessing beastly behavior.
We should all be clearer on what is acceptable. No candidate for US Senate should need to be educated that it is wrong to have inappropriate contact with a minor, no president should need to be educated that it is wrong to have inappropriate contact with a White House intern, and no member of either party or the public should need to be educated that it is wrong to not condemn inappropriate conduct regardless of the political fallout.
All Political Hypocrisy is Local
In recent months in Philadelphia, a coalition of concerned individuals including prominent politicians spoke out against the placement of a bronze statue of a former mayor. But not one elected official has spoken out about the feet of clay too many of those currently in power. That has to change if Philadelphia is to ever be more than a provincial town under the thumb of an insipid and incestuous leadership class.
The Sheriff of Philadelphia has been accused of sexually harassing an employee in his office, but not one of his fellow elected officials has called for him to resign his office or receive sanction.
The Majority Leader of City Council had his office raided by FBI agents as part of their investigation into union corruption, but not one member of the city legislature’s Democratic majority has publicly challenged his ability to continue in that capacity or demanded a public explanation about why the FBI was searching his City Hall office.
The Chair of the Philadelphia Democratic Party has been linked to a scheme to illegally use federal campaign funds to pay off a political rival to avoid a primary challenge, but not one elected office holder or Democratic Party official has called for him to step down from his position or face censure.
The Mayor of Philadelphia has been called out in media reports for funneling campaign funds to the head of the local branch of the NAACP in exchange for supper of the Soda Tax, but not one Philadelphia elected official has stepped forward to condemn such pay-to-sway tactics.
It’s easy to point fingers and run to the moral high ground when the other political side is accused of wrongdoing, but the true test of moral leadership in a political matter is the ability to point out wrongdoing and bad behavior among one’s own political allies. Otherwise, the two-wrongs-make-a-right crowd and the what-about-ists transform our principled democracy into a pointless hypocrisy.
It doesn’t matter how many good, independent non-hacks we elect in Philadelphia if those officials are not good enough to call out bad behavior, not independent enough to stand up to powerful interests, or not non-hack enough to not turn a blind eye to the excesses of the political class.
Some say Philadelphia is a tough town or claim that we’re from Philly and we fight, but, too often, ours is a go-along-to-get-along town where we shut up to move up. Staying silent is no way to make change. Philadelphians need to stand up and speak out if we want to make the city the Philadelphia we deserve.
Brett Mandel is former executive director of Philadelphia Forward, a nonprofit that encourages civic engagement and advocates for smarter uses of public money. He ran for City Controller in 2013.