Friday, November 22, 2013

The John Swallow Resignation: Mistakes were made (but not by me)

This morning, the Salt Lake Tribune reported on what I think is one of the most interesting types of social phenomena we observe in our modern society--the resignation of a high-ranking official in the wake of accusations of misconduct.  The state of Utah breathed a sigh of collective relief this morning at the news that State Attorney General, John Swallow, is resigning from office after only 10 months on the job.

Regardless of where you sit politically or feel about Swallow personally, the breadth and quantity of the accusations levied against him make it difficult not to question his ethics.  There were claims of facilitating bribes, promises of preferential treatment to various individuals and businesses, questions of extortion, and issues relating to the receipt of improper gifts.  And, there was also talk of possible campaign violations in his most recent election.

In the spirit of full disclosure, I lean democrat and thought Swallow was a bit shady long before he was elected (indeed, the SL Tribune's endorsement of his challenger looks pretty prescient at this point).  But, those biases aside, 88% of the rest of our heavily conservative state was less than pleased with him as evidenced by his most recent approval rating, so it's hard to argue that this has all been driven purely by party politics.  Additionally, members of his own party (including the Governor) had done very little to impede the House investigation into the accusations at the center of the controversy.

The almost unbelievable part of this story for me has been Swallow's continued unwillingness to acknowledge  any degree of carelessness, naivete, or unprofessionalism, to say nothing of guilt or unethical behavior. This statement sums up Swallow's stance quite well:

"I maintain my innocence of all allegations and I want you to think for a minute what that means," he added. "If I truly am innocent, as I claim I am, then today is truly a sad day in Utah, because an election has been overturned."

It sounds a bit like Henry Kissinger's response to charges he committed war crimes during the Vietnam era ("Mistakes were quite possibly made by the administrations in which I served."), except that Swallow isn't just pointing the finger at his colleagues, he's denying wrongdoing from anyone in his circle.  His statement "I want you to think for a minute" seems to suggest that the collective citizenry of Utah has made the mistake by "overturning an election."

We may not ever know if Swallow is really guilty of what he's been accused.  But, if he's not guilty, he's either incredibly naive or just plain stupid to have allowed himself to become entangled in so many questionable practices.  So, one way or another, he's made mistakes (I made a similar argument about 18 months ago in a post about athletic scandals).  At this point he'd do well to consider Lao Tzu's  sage advice:
A great nation is like a great man: When he makes a mistake, he realizes it. Having realized it, he admits it. Having admitted it, he corrects it. He considers those who point out his faults as his most benevolent teachers.
One way or another, mistakes were made, and not just by everyone outside of the Swallow camp.  

No comments: