This one's for the author ofcantkeepquiet.com, who posted a commentary entitled 'hypocrites' about the Kerik situation. Go ahead and check out the site, and when you do make sure to tell her I sent you his way. I'm not sure my contribution here refutes any of her claims, but what the heck.
It takes a lot for a newspaper headline to surprise me.
After all, having survived OJ, Monica, Bush/Gore, and the success of The OC in the last ten years alone, I'd thought I'd seen it all.
And then came Bernard Kerik.
One week after the announcement that he was the President's pick to head the Department of Homeland Security, Kerik suddenly withdrew his nomination. He claimed that the immigration status of his family's nanny, and his failure to properly pay her taxes, led to his decision. Maybe. But that's turned out to be the least of a seemingly endless parade of lurid and disturbing allegations.
Kerik, the former NYPD Commissioner, allegedly accepted thousands of dollars in cash and gifts without properly disclosing them and maintained an adulterous relationship with two women at the same time. He's also reported to have ties to a man suspected of being in the mob, stalked a former lover, used an apartment designated for 9/11 workers to wield his romantic magic, and used his position to impair the careers of anyone that crossed one of his lady friends.
Wow. Add a few more charges to the mix and the man could pass for a Kennedy.
But I feel I have to confess something. I knew about Kerik and kept quiet.
You see, everything I know about the New York Police Department I learned from watching Barney Miller and NYPD Blues. So when I heard about Kerik's nomination I thought back to the only image I had of him - 9/11 - and thought he was an excellent choice. Tough, seasoned, politically savvy - what wasn't to like?
A day or two later I stumbled on a web site whose name I can't recall. It had nothing to do with politics or NY at all, but the day's commentary was about Mr. Kerik. The site's author had worked under him in one menial capacity or the other, and for about a thousand words he proceeded to unload on his old boss. At the time I thought it was just sour grapes, but clean up thelanguage a bit and it could have doubled for most of the news reports of the past week.
The obvious question is this: if someone in Milwaukee could discover the truth with a rusty 56k modem, why couldn't Washington?
I think the answer lies with that first, patriotic image I had of Kerik. Three years after the fact our images of a smoke filled New York remain vivid, the heroes of the day all the more so because they stood in such contrast to the harsh world that we inherited on that September morning. In the best of circumstances it's hard to see our heroes for the human beings they are. When that human being is as flawed and corrupt as Kerik allegedly is, it becomes all but impossible to comprehend the gulf between reality and caricature. That, and the ringing endorsement of Rudy Guilani, were enough to blind the administration to his faults.
That's no excuse. The careless vetting of Kerik made the Bush White House look foolish and kept the press jumping for a week. And while I doubt Kerik would ever have endangered the country had he been confirmed, it's frightening to think of what other scenarios a slip-shod screening could produce.
In the end, Kerik will land another job, the Bush White House will move on and those responsible for the mistake will learn from it and make the screening process impregnable. Washington D.C will survive.
It's a shame some of our faith in heroes won't.