Word that the FBI has obtained incriminating evidence against several members of the House and Senate, and also against state and local officials, caused much surprise in Washington over the weekend.
The standard reaction appeared to be, "Oh, gracious! How shocking!"
However, some of us were not shocked -- especially us old geezers. Experience has made us cynical.
Perceptive youngsters can learn about human nature without waiting until they're old and gray, but few do. Andrew Beyer, our racing maven, has been one of the attentive few.
Barely past 30, Andy has been attacked by racing officials because he had the guts to criticize those officials for not taking vigorous action against race track cheating scandals. Young Beyer appears destined to win many honors in the years ahead, but few will match the distinction he has already earned through the enemies he has made.
It appears to me that the common denominator that links larcenous politicians and crooked gamblers was delineated for us by Willie Sutton, number-one pick on anybody's list of all-American bank robbers.
After his umpteenth arrest for bank robbery, Willie was asked why his targets were always banks. He explained simply, "Because that's where the money is."
After all, why steal an empty purse? Why rob the County Poor-house? If you're going to steal, steal something worthwhile. Go where the money is.
For me, 77-year-old Pat Murnan said it best in 1933. I was a senior at Ohio State University, and Pat owned the biggest gambling house in Columbus, Ohio. But he was my friend, and for some reason he felt obligated to help raise me while I was away from home.
Pat had entered a stakes horse of his (could it have been Mechanic's Gold, or is my memory playing tricks on me?) in a cheap race at Beulah Park. Knowing that the horse had been a Derby-class contender as a 3-year-old, I said, "Your horse looks like a mortal lock. Is this a spot where a fellow ought to bet his next quarter's tuition money?"
Pat's answer would have warmed Andy Beyer's heart. "My boy," he said, "there ain't no such thing as a mortal lock -- not in racing, not in the stock market, and not even amongst them fancy government officials up there in Washington. Any time there's a fast dollar to be made by a crooked move, you can bet all the steers in Texas that somebody is gonna sit up all night figurin' a way to steal that dollar."
Few of my tutors have given me sounder advice. The schemers don't always get the crooked dollar they're after, but you can depend on it that they'll try. When there's big money to be made, you must assume that somebody will be taking dead aim at it. Whether in Congress or elsewhere, they all go where the money is.
Some smart lawyer will probably be able to prove that the FBI's videotapes are unconstitutional, un-American, subversive, immoral and fattening. But you and I both know that there's nothing harder to turn down than a chance to grab off an easy dollar. BREACH OF PROMISE?
I am reminded of an inquiry that arrived recently from Minnie L. Conner. Minnie had a $5 bill on which were printed the words, "Silver Certificate," and "Five Dollars in Silver, Payable to the Bearer on Demand."
Being of a curious turn of mind, Minnie took the certificate to the United States Treasury when silver was being quoted at more than $40 an ounce and said she'd like silver for it. "The Treasury did not live up to its promise," she reported -- and in an addendum wondered how many other "false promises" our government makes to us.
Let the record show that Congress, in its wisdom, in the summer of 1967 approved PL 90-29, which terminated the right of holders of silver certificates to redeem them for silver.
Previously, one could walk into the Treasury and demand metal for his silver certificate. The Treasury would dole out bullion valued at $1.29 per ounce. However, PL 90-29 served notice that this right would be terminated in one year.
The courts held that this constituted reasonable notice of an impending change, and was therefore legal. So the government did not cheat, it did not go back on its word.
The "gold clause" cases were a bit different. When we went off the gold standard, many people owned bonds that called for payment in gold. A few courts upheld the "gold clause" promises, but this proved to be a Pyrrhic victory. Congress had ordered Americans to turn in their gold and gold certificates, so it didn't make much difference whether the lender had a right to demand gold. If he got it, he had to turn it in, and appeals courts said the gold clauses were void anyhow. As Pat Murnan would have said, "There ain't no way you're gonna beat City Hall."