Bernard Kerik & The All-Purpose Hero Fallacy
Copyright © by Dan Schneider, 1/1/05
there has been the resurrection of a most dangerous myth- that is that all
policemen, if not authority figures, are good and heroic. While itís
undeniable that certain cops and fireman on 9/11 displayed heroism the query
must be posed- does that mean they were heroes? Were those unfortunate enough to
be at the wrong place at the wrong time heroes? If a cop was on the take for
years, or beat minority suspects in dark alleys, or police basements, is his
slate wiped clean because he performed his duty under duress in the World Trade
Center, even if he died?
These are all relevant because, as a native New Yorker, and not being from the wealthier parts of that town, I intimately know that much of the claims about the NYPDís unrelenting heroism and do-goodery are false. In fact, the NYPD has a centuries old history of corruption of the worst sort- from graft and bribery, to active participation in organized crime, to brutalizing suspects from less affluent areas (usually minority), to more mundane corruption like padding out parking ticket quotas or just plain old chop-busting on a street corner, simply because they could do so, because power made them arrogant.
The recent humiliation of former NYPD Commissioner Bernard Kerik when he was selected as Homeland Security honcho is a perfect case in point. Among the many unseemly things revealed in the manís past (and heís about as typical a NYC cop as there can be- white, paunchy, middle-aged, balding, from a tough background, and intimate with crime from his earliest days) were his failure to pay proper taxes for a nanny he hired, warrants issued for his own arrest, assorted extramarital affairs which left him open to blackmail, a conflict of interest over his making $6 million off an investment in the makers of Tasers, Taser International, and many others known, and yet to be revealed. Yet, he was recommended by Rudy Giuliani for the job, and President Bush smiled away. Of course, Kerik was recently an employee of a private Giuliani firm, until he quit over the many scandals, yet Giuliani claimed no knowledge of Kerikís criminal and unethical doings. Such myopia is no shock to those who recall that Giulianiís former law firm, in the 1980s, did open business with apartheid-era South Africa, all the while Giuliani claimed to have no knowledge of such, just as he did in the 90s, when as Mayor, he distanced himself from the many instances of police brutality against minorities.
But Kerik is a classic case- he made his mark as an undercover agent, infiltrating Mafia families and drug cartels, which means that he, doubtlessly, committed many crimes while undercover- up to, and most likely, including murder, all to win the trust of the crime lords. This is not to excoriate the man, merely tell the truth about that line of work. He was a man for whom the ends justified the means. And it shows in all his later actions. There is an obvious sense of entitlement that Kerik felt, that he was above the laws the rest of us have to follow. No wonder the Bushies loved him, especially considering that he stumped for them, and did a high profile/low result gig in Iraq, training their police forces. So, how did this ticking time bomb get to be so feted? Well, he was police commissioner on 9/11, and did- what? Did he do anything any other police commissioner would NOT have done? No. Thereís no evidence that Kerik, himself, was particularly heroic, nor that he masterminded daring rescues that more paper-pushing bred commissioners would not have. He was just in the right place at the right time, so to speak, to cash in on the aura that 9/11 lit.
Of course, one cannot help feel a little sorry for the guy- forced out of a half million dollar a year sinecure with Giuliani, and the $6 million he made on theÖ.who am I fooling? The guyís in like Flynn, to the good life. Give me some of that humiliation and his bank account. Yet another example of the utter unfairness of life.
How do I know Kerik was pushed, though? Well, he said he had no firm plans beyond exploring unspecified business opportunities, finishing his second book and getting back to the gym. He was pushed. All that time as a detective, Corrections Commissioner, etc. for naught. Yeah, his mom was a whore, and Kerik was a product of corruption all about. But, thatís not too distant from my lifeís tale, yet Iím one of those fools who works hard and gets screwed repeatedly. Iím the dummy, I guess.
Iíve never had nanny problems, never got hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of Ďgiftsí-cum-bribes I never reported, yet incredibly also filed for bankruptcy as a cop, never had financial dealings with the Mob, nor had two (nor one) mistresses at once, and two undisclosed marriages, years earlier, to mystery women, nor had arrest warrants issued for me for unpaid bills, and unanswered subpoenas. Yet, this guy also published a memoir with ease ĎThe Lost Soní, even though heís not a professional writer. Oh yeah, and the ghost writer was one of his mistresses, and she claims he brutalized and terrorized her. Whatís not to love about this guy?
And whatís not to love about Giulianiís and Bushís red faces? And the guy who vetted Kerik is Bushís nominee for Attorney General, Alberto Gonzales. Isnít it great to know that at least the Presidentís choices for incompetents is not just a coincidence? After Condi and Rumsfeld and Ashcroft have proven their lack of ability itís kind of refreshing to know that Bushís tokens are still as tokenish as ever. But, Iíve not come here to praise the President, but bury Kerik- yet another in the long line heroes with feet not of clay, but manure. We fell for this with Pat Tillman- a Ďheroí killed by friendly fire, and again with Kerik- a hero because ofÖ.well, one of these days weíll know. Wonít we?
Heroism is a far too-overused word. Perhaps it does apply to most of the cops and firemen of 9/11, and some of the soldiers in our current wars, but that does not mean that every cop is a hero, nor every fireman nor soldier. People are individuals and should be judged as such for the ill or good. To slather the term about in such an all-purpose way, and so freely, and on those who manifestly dishonor it, only debases the ideal and the term. Bernard Kerik is proof of that!
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