Of all the fallen idols and soiled reputations of yesterday's heroes, none stands out these days quite like Penn State's Joe Paterno, stripped of his achievement as the winningest college football coach in history and relegated to a hall of shame.
Given what so often is passing for leadership these days, they should consider moving that bronze statue of Paterno — arms upraised in a V for victory — out of the damnation of eternal storage in a secret place to a prominent public space in the nation's capital in Washington.
Paterno didn't do terrible things to young boys, but he knew what assistant coach Jerry Sandusky allegedly did and he covered it up. He failed in his duty as a leader to stand on the high ground and do what was right, no matter what the consequences.
You can look almost anywhere in our society — from Wall Street to Main Street — and see people in important leadership positions failing in their duties to shareholders and stakeholders as they put the ends before the means, ignore common decency and justify doing what is good for themselves and their friends, no matter who else gets hurt.
Take a look at Gov. Jerry Brown and L.A. County Supervisor Mike Antonovich, two guys in their 70s who have engaged in politics at high levels most of their lives, who have all the money they need to live like kings of yore for the rest of their lives, who should have nothing to gain by serving any interest — not even their own — other than the public interest.
Yet, Brown is putting a gun to the heads of California voters: “Give me your money or your [quality of] life.”
He has rigged it so his soak-the-rich-and-squeeze-everybody-else income- and sales-tax-hikes measure gets the top spot on the November ballot, a measure that was written to the satisfaction of the California Teachers Assn. and is nothing but a short-term Band-Aid.
He has pushed cities to the brink of bankruptcy and disrupted their long-term economic strategies by killing redevelopment, and he has booked $8 billion in revenue that might be generated by his tax measure in the state budget along with billions in cuts to schools, universities, welfare and healthcare for the poor.
With no real reforms to public employee pensions or salaries or even staffing — just temporary furloughs — he wants the public to bail out state government, temporarily.
On its face, it ought to be a landslide loser, but he's got an even-money shot of winning passage because voters are being blackmailed.
City officials everywhere are warning that without the tax money, they will have to cut just about every service except police and fire. School officials are issuing dire warnings that they will cut weeks out of the classroom year, fire teachers, and that every child will be left behind.
Law enforcement officials are warning that Brown's prison “realignment” policy has dumped tens of thousands of dangerous felons onto the streets without supervision or rehabilitation programs.
Brown even signed off on a provision in his phony state budget that effectively suspends the state's open-meeting and open-government laws by removing penalties against public officials who think what they do is a private matter and none of your business.
Antonovich — the shrewdest local politician of his generation — is a different story. He has managed for 30 years on the county Board of Supervisors to preserve his reputation as a fiscal conservative as if the breakdowns of the county's healthcare, children's services, probation and other departments had nothing to do with him.
Through three U.S. census revisions reflecting massive demographic changes, he has made his supervisory district ever safer, ever more conservative, ever more gerrymandered to his satisfaction across the northern San Gabriel Valley, Glendale, Burbank, a narrow band at the edge of the San Fernando Valley to Santa Clarita and Antelope Valley. He has faced only token opposition in reelection campaigns, racking up 80% of the vote in June.
He blocked one effort to impose term limits after another — even getting a two-term limit voters approved thrown out in court on a technicality. Eventually, he was forced to accept a three-term limit, so his time is running out in 2016 with 32 years over eight terms as one of the five county supervisors for 10 million people.
But the record is staring him in the face — the record of 40 years of service by Kenny Hahn, father of Mayor James and Congresswoman Janice, a true family dynasty like Pat Brown's, with Jerry and Kathleen.
Antonovich appears willing to be a one-man dynasty by proposing that the county extend the limit from three to five terms — a record 44 years as a supervisor that could never be broken.
We count on leaders like Brown and Antonovich, 74 and 72, respectively, to do more than what is expedient or egotistically satisfying. If elder statesmen won't rise above the fray and do what's right, who will?
RON KAYE can be reached at email@example.com. Share your thoughts and stories with him.