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From the Kitchen Table


Only Legal

by Peg Luksik
 

Last week, the nation watched in shock and disbelief as one of college
football's national icons was fired. Everyone agreed that Coach Paterno
had committed no crime, and that he had obeyed all of the requirements of
the law. He was fired because he ONLY did what was legally required, not
what was right.

On Sunday, the television program "60 Minutes" included a story about
members of Congress who used inside information to make deals in the stock
market that were extremely profitable. In one case, the deal resulted in
approximately $100,000 in profit in less than one week. If anyone other
than a member of Congress had used the same inside information to make the
same deals, that person would have been charged with a crime. But since
Congress is exempt from those restrictions, the actions of the elected
officials were legal. The news story did not refute that fact, but the
report still called the activity "soft corruption", because JUST being
legal doesn't make something right.

This week, Senator Coburn of Oklahoma has released a report on how people
with city addresses are collecting farm subsidies, how millionaires are
qualifying for energy assistance and collecting unemployment, and how
billions of dollars are written off in taxes each year as "gambling losses".
The report states that every single one of the items it addresses is legal,
but being legal DOESN'T make the action right.

If we think about it, we would have to admit that everything the British
government under King George did was legal. It just wasn't right.

This nation was founded on the premise that "right" was more important than
"legal".

Yet in one week, we have three high-profile examples of how that standard
has changed. And of how harmful that change in standard can be.

It's easy to point fingers at the high-profile cases, but they do not exist
in a vacuum. They came to exist in a culture that has gradually moved its
standard for conduct from right to legal.

The Penn State tragedy didn't begin a week ago, it has been an ongoing
situation during which many people used legal options to avoid the
discomfort that would have come with doing the right thing and stopping the
abuse.

The Congressional insider trading didn't begin with the "60 Minutes" story,
it has been a deepening corruption in government in which elected officials
rationalize their own conduct and their constituents turn a blind eye to
bad behavior as long as the "pork" continues to arrive.

The examples in the Coburn report didn't begin six months ago, they are
long-term practices born out of the mindset that says, "I am going to get
my piece of the pie", no matter what my circumstances actually are.

The sad thing is that although there is outrage over the results of
abandoning what is right for what is legal, the conversation is revolving
around changing what is legal. And while making laws better is always a
good choice, the reality is that no society can make enough laws to cover
every eventuality for a society that has made "legal" its highest authority.

The most enduring legal code ever written fit on two stone tablets. That
is because its tenets focused on right and wrong. And that legal code is
the one that some in America are working to remove from the public
marketplace.

If we truly want to avoid a repetition of this past week, perhaps our first
step should be to put that code back.


Peg Luksik is the Chairman of the Center for American Heritage. Visit the
Center at www.centerforamericanheritage.com and join the effort to restore
the greatness of America.




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