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Can only the corrupt rise to the top in politics?

In spite of much having been done by Prime Minister Julia Gillard that we should be rightly critical of, I still hold hope that there may be an outside chance that a person who has risen to the political top in her country, may have greatness and a streak of decency in her. Knowledge of past history, particularly that of the United States shows that a corrupt elite don't, on every occasion, succeed in corrupting those who rise to the top of their country's political system.

This article was originally a comment..

In spite of much having been done by Prime Minister Julia Gillard that we should be rightly critical of, I still hold hope that there may be an outside chance that Julia Gillard, who has risen to the political top in her country, may have greatness and a streak of decency in her.

What gives me this hope is the courage she showed in toppling her indescribably bad predecessor, Prime Minister Kevin Rudd, instead of remaining meekly subordinate to him as nearly every other Labor politician in recent decades, would have done. What also gives me hope is knowledge of the history of the United States of America. In the 18th, 19th and 20th centuries, people of indisputable greatness and good will, who showed that they were determined to challenge, rather than make compromises with, the corrupt vested interests in the USA, made it to the highest office in the land (or almost certainly would have if they had lived). These figures include, in the 20th century, Presidents John F Kennedy, his brother Robert, President Roosevelt and Martin Luther King. In the 19th century, they include President Lincoln, who waged the Civil War to abolish slavery and challenged the power of private banks, and in the 18th century, they include Presidents, Washington and Jefferson and many of the other founding fathers of the United States.

Of course, it is far more likely that anyone who makes it to the top of a political system in a society under the domination of a corrupt elite will either have been corrupt at the outset or will have been corrupted in the process.

The above examples show that there can be exceptions to that rule.

President John F Kennedy tried to end his country's military intervention in Vietnam (and would have, had he lived) and stopped the military industrial complex from invading Cuba and waging nuclear war. Domestically he stood up to the banks and the steel companies.

President Roosevelt stated in 1944 that he intended to introduce a second part the the US Declaration of Human Rights that would have guaranteed every American citizen the right to paid remuneration that would have met his/her needs for sustenance and shelter. If he had not died in 1945, America could not have become the extremely unjust society that it has since become, as shown in Michael Moore's film of 2009 "Capitalism: A Love Story".

Humanity's unacknowledged debt to Robert Bowman

Another, so far, largely unsung hero (and, astonishingly, unsung by even the supposedly anti-war and anti-racist 'left') is Vietnam War veteran Lieutenant Colonel Robert Bowman. He used his influence to stop Ronald Reagan from launching global nuclear war in the 1980's with his Pershing and Cruise missiles and Star Wars program. He made roughly 5,000 public speeches (I think that is the count) against Reagan's plans for war and in doing so, probably made the greatest individual contribution towards stopping him. For this reason alone the debt humanity owes Bob Bowman may even be greater than that owed to the late President Kennedy.

Robert Bowman has also told the world the truth about the US wars against Iraq in 1992 and 2003 and the supposed attack on the US by Islamist extremists on 11 September 2001.

In Kennedy's case, critics can point to actions of his which seem to have been unprincipled, as we can with Julia Gillard. A number of these actions can however be shown to have been necessary compromises to make possible the eventual achievement of far greater good. If, in spite of human fallibility and the corrupting influence of most other politicians and the political system, such wonderful people were able to use their positions of power to achieve the great good that they have, we should not completely exclude the possibility that decent people can also rise to the top in Australia.

(I apologise that I can't give examples from Australia that are as concrete. I don't know enough to be able to say if certain famous past Australian leaders were as great (considering their more limited context) and as well-intentioned as those in the USA mentioned above.)

Title of article was originally "All who rise to the top of politics aren't necessarily corrupted ".

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What gives me some hope that Gillard may be for real is that the Murdoch and Fairfax press and the ABC all obviously hate her and are working 24/24 to mischaracterise her and pretend that she doesn't know what she is doing. They started this almost before she replaced Kevin Rudd.

With these kinds of enemies, Gillard can't be too bad.

Australia's press are a big problem for democracy and they are also an insult to the intelligence.

Apart from the problem of the press, with regard to Australian politicians, I prefer independents to the parties. The parties are just too systemically corrupt. Um, like the mainstream press. Because of them....

This may be a case where the supposed "iron law" of politics, that any person, who gains a position of power in politics, could only have done so by allowing his/her principles to have been corrupted, actually serves the corrupt elites, who are normally so well served by our corrupt political leaders.

The crude belief that any powerful figure must necessarily be corrupt and against the best interests of society actually allows the wealthy elites to attack even harder those few who rise to great heights in politics, with the best of intentions of the people at heart.

The most striking example is the late President Kennedy (JFK). The record as presented in James Douglass's towering "JFK and the unspeakable: Why he died and why it matters" of 2008 shows that JFK actually stopped the US military industrial complex from launching of nuclear war, not once, but three times.

Whilst this alone places JFK's greatness and goodness far above almost all other historical leaders, this far from exhausts the good that JFK did or attempted to do as President. This is why he was assassinated in 1963. However, a number of supposed left wing intellectuals, by, in effect, claiming that JFK was no less corrupt than any other holder of high office, have been able to obscure the truth about JFK and his murderers. Two such intellectuals who come to mind are Noam Chomsky and Gore Vidal.

Of course it is far too early to know if Gillard has truly good intentions or if her eventual greatness will remotely approach that of JFK. However, we should no be blinded by the so-called "iron law" that anyone in Gillard's position could only be there because he/she is corrupt from fairly evaluating Gillard's record.

My apologies, 11 Nov 2010 3.37PM: My apologies that my comment repeats much of what I had already written in the original article. I thought this was a "Your say" page. I hadn't realised that these comments were, in fact, resposes to my article, Can only the corrupt rise to the top in politics? Of course I should have looked more closely. Thank you, Sheila Newman and John Marlowe for taking the time to read my article and for having responded.

Media scrunity is democratically healthy. Constant media criticism and the holding to account of those who supposedly represent us, is far better than the alternative - State controlled media who don't and can't.

When I watch ABC's 'MediaWatch' or 'Four Corners' or 'Stateline' or even listen to the odd shock jock irrespective of any personal bias, I reflect that aren't we lucky to be able to challenge those in power without journalists being arrested, disappearing or being shot like in so many other countries? Just type 'journalist shot dead' in Google's search engine and note the number of hits - Greece, Bulgaria, Russia, Rwanda, Philippines, Pakistan, Thailand, Colombia, Mexico....

But some politicians, especially factionally installed puppets operating outside their ability and spending our taxes outside their electoral mandate, deserve more scrutiny than others.