Power," wrote Lord Acton in 1887, "tends to corrupt." Certainly positions of power are very often occupied by corrupt individuals. But does power have an inherent ability to corrupt, or is it simply that corrupt people are drawn to the possibility of exerting power? Two incidents from this week make me wonder.

In the suburbs of Oklahoma City, there is a public elementary school where boys and girls have been declared to be off-limits to one another; they share no classes, they are separated in the cafeteria, they may not speak to each other during recess, and the threat of corporal punishment is held over them all. Is this a district-wide policy, voted upon by the school board with the advice and consent of the parents of the students? It is not. Rather, it was cooked up by the newly-installed principal, perhaps anxious to make a name for himself in this new district after being banished from — make that "after his contract was not renewed by" — city schools. Parents, for their part, came up with an entirely different name for him; within the first week of school an unofficial survey showed nearly twenty percent of the parents were already considering taking advantage of the district's open-transfer plan. And on the morning of the 17th, many of them descended on the district's administration building to demand the principal's head on a platter. The school board, horrified, read the fellow the riot act, or at least the pertinent sections of Title IX of the United States Code. Where this will end remains to be seen, but it's a good bet that once more his contract won't be renewed.

Meanwhile in Washington, there is an office with an ostensibly oval shape where at least one of the boys can't seem to keep away from the girls. It is true that the occupant of that office was voted into that position, but it is not likely many of the voters would give their blessing to such goings-on; unofficial surveys show that while maybe sixty percent of them think he has performed well on the job, just as many don't really trust him otherwise. And on the afternoon of the 17th, he made his statement before the independent prosecutor, who is expected to read the fellow the riot act, or at least the pertinent section of the Constitution — the one dealing with impeachment. Where this will end remains to be seen, but the Constitution already specifies that his contract won't be renewed.

Two men, at different positions in the national hierarchy, but both with the same problem: they used those positions, not to fulfill the expectations of their constituencies, but to satisfy some unknown personal need. Did they seek these positions to fulfill their needs, or do they have these needs because they have these positions? The question may be answered by history — which is appropriate, because in two years or less, both of them will be history.

The Vent

18 August 1998

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 Copyright © 1998 by Charles G. Hill