No doubt, a few superficial parallels exist between my fictitious Eddy Bullard and President-elect Barack Obama. And it isn’t even deliberate. Thirty years ago when I conceived The Solomon Scandals, President Bullard held a law degree and had come from the Windy City. And nothing’s changed.
That said, the two men couldn’t more different in ways that count.
President Eddy Bullard is a crook; Barack Obama isn’t to the best of my knowledge. So far, the most salient fact revealed about Obama, in the corruption probe of former Gov. Rod Blagojevich of Illinois, is that at the personal level he apparently hadn’t a thing to do with the hoped-for sale of his Senate seat. Maybe this will change, but I doubt it.
Bullard blackmails; Obama, to my knowledge, hasn’t. But I do wonder about his requirement that prospective appointees in his administration fill out detailed forms and include anything that could prove embarrassing. Could the information from such an elaborate screening process—however well meant—be used for blackmail purposes by unscrupulous officials ? Let’s hope not.
In one important respect, Obama resembles someone else in The Solomon Scandals—Wendy Blevin, the gossip columnist smeared by fellow journalists. Whether it’s the sleazy campaign to link Obama to terrorism or to make Americans think that he’s lied about eligibility for U.S. citizenship, Obama has been the target of wildly unfounded accusations.
At the same time, perhaps the real events that helped inspired Scandals can serve as a lesson for Obama and other reformers in government. It is important to avoid not just improprieties but also the appearance of them. If nothing else, Abraham Ribicoff’s illegal investment in a CIA-occupied building unwittingly broke federal law and may have been among the many rationalizations that full-strength crooks used to justify genuine and extensive corruption.
Yet another lesson, given the vulnerability of the General Services Administration to corruption, would be to make the contracting processes there as open and fair as possible. Perhaps the agency’s regulations should be changed to require disclosure not just of partners in partnerships but also of the leading shareholders in corporations doing business with the agency in the leasing of offices or other matters. Maybe these rules exist. If not, they should be added.