Most people would agree that justice is thwarted when someone technically complies with the letter of the law while flouting the spirit of the law. Those in a position of leadership should be especially sensitive to this distinction, and should stick to the high road. We've all been hearing the rumors that Karl Rove is the one who leaked the name of CIA operative Valerie Plame. President Bush had originally said that the leaker would be found out and fired (and President Bush père speaking years ago had especially harsh words for those who expose an undercover operative). Now it appears that the President is backtracking, saying that Rove would only be fired if he is proved to have committed a crime. Sorry, but I for one demand higher standards from the leadership of our country. We should of course wait for the facts to come out before making judgments. But if it turns out that Rove was indeed the leaker -- regardless of whether he can be convicted of a specific crime (which turns out to have a number of technical loopholes to it, and is very difficult to prove) -- the President needs to let him go, rather than hiding behind the figleaf of a legal technicality. Our nation deserves better.
In a similar spirit versus letter situation in California, it came out the other week that our Governor Schwarzenegger has been collecting $1 million annually for services as a strategy consultant to a fitness magazine publisher. Somehow, it failed to occur to the Governor that this might be a conflict of interest, despite the fact that the governor's consulting fees get paid in part by ad revenues for fitness supplements, and the Governor last year vetoed legislation that would have regulated supplements. It turns out that the laws of California governing conflicts of interest for government officials cover passive income (e.g., government officials must divest of active investments including stock holdings in companies who may be interested in California legislation) but do not cover active income. It doesn't take a cyborg to figure out that the Governor's active income is a conflict of interest, even if not illegal. Probably the reason the conflict law didn't cover active income is that no one ever anticipated that a Governor would have the audacity to be moonlighting while serving the people of California. Any good leader will not only avoid conflicts of interest, but will even avoid the appearance of a conflict. In this case, the Governor's conflict goes well beyond appearances. Schwarzenegger initially denied any conflict, demonstrating an obliviousness to this issue worthy of Silvio Berlusconi. I am pleased to see that he quickly did an about face and agreed to quit his sideline.