President Zach Messitte and co-author Charles Holden of St. Mary’s College of Maryland ask readers to consider how Spiro Agnew’s fall from politics 40 years ago would play out in today’s “scandal-to-rehabilition” political environment in an opinion editorial in the Chicago Sun-Times. Agnew, the 39th vice president of the U.S., resigned in 1971 amid a cloud of scandal, pleaded no contest to tax evasion and went on to lead “a remarkably low profile life” despite being “a heartbeat away from the presidency,” the authors write.
According to the authors, “Spiro Agnew’s vanishing act stands in stark contrast to how Americans have come to live with today’s scandals. Our scandalized politicos are probably better known for their infamy than for their legislative or executive prowess. And yet, back they come into the political limelight. Ney, Spitzer, Sanford, Vitter, Filner, McGreevy, Corzine, Craig. All have joined the bipartisan scandal-to-rehabilitation hall of fame.”
So, how would Agnew fare today?
Perhaps Agnew was a generation too early. Today he’d have a radio show, a book deal, a blog, and influence among House Republicans. He certainly would have visited the Iowa State Fair this past summer.
Today we allow our political leaders second chances. Does this mean we’ve become the permissive society that conservatives who backed Agnew feared? Have politics devolved into a morass of moral relativism — where I the voter will forgive my guy, but hey your guy has to go? Or have we become more discerning? Maybe we recognize now that well-meaning civil servants can make bad personal decisions and might even break the law. But as informed citizens we are able to distinguish those mistakes that close the door to political power for good from those that still merit extending the second chance. By remembering Spiro Agnew’s fall from politics 40 years ago, perhaps we can better assess our current relationship with political scandal.
To read the entire Sun-Times op-ed, click here.