In praise of public service

In praise of public service

By Vincent Solomeno

Published on Blue Jersey, July 24, 2009.

Yesterday’s arrest of forty-four individuals, including five mayors and two state lawmakers, on charges of corruption and money laundering comes as no surprise to observers of New Jersey politics.  That makes my blood boil.  At what point did corruption become so commonplace in our state that it was greeted by citizens with the shrug of a shoulder? When did we come to expect it?

Since 2001, over 100 elected officials have pled or been found guilty on corruption related charges.  The list is long, and I fear that with each plea bargain and guilty verdict our people lose confidence in their ability to pursue social change and right what is wrong in our communities today.

On June 6, 1966, Senator Robert F. Kennedy spoke before the National Union of South African Students at the University of Capetown.  Like Americans across the Atlantic, they were struggling with the realities of social and institutional racism.  Kennedy urged them not to lose hope that they could change society and encouraged them to enter the political arena:

Few men are willing to brave the disapproval of their fellows, the censure of their colleagues, the wrath of their society. Moral courage is a rarer commodity than bravery in battle or great intelligence. Yet it is the one essential, vital quality of those who seek to change a world which yields most painfully to change. Aristotle tells us that ‘At the Olympic games it is not the finest and the strongest men who are crowned, but they who enter the lists…. So too in the life of the honorable and the good it is they who act rightly who win the prize.’ I believe that in this generation those with the courage to enter the moral conflict will find themselves with companions in every corner of the world.

Moral courage, the “vital quality of those who seek to change a world which yields most painfully to change.”  Forty-three years later, those words still ring true.