In retrospect, I'm glad that Al Gore was denied the presidency in 2000. Just imagine what the Republicans would have done to him. Remember, they were still fresh off the "victory" of the Clinton impeachment. They knew that with very little ammunition, they could keep a Democratic president pinned down for months, even years, severely limiting his accomplishments in order to run against his weak record. And can you imagine what they would have done if the September 11 attacks had occurred on President Gore's watch? He would have been impeached, convicted and jailed before the airlines were flying again.
But instead, we got George W. Bush. In politics, the self-assured can go far doing little but tending to their own success; we Americans demand more from our children than we do our leaders. So it's a testament to Bush's epic myopia that in a few short years, he and his administration managed to steer the GOP juggernaut right over a cliff. Karl Rove was awakened from his dream of a permanent Republican majority by the slowly rising cacophony of people wondering why, after years of dutifully hating all the right people, they still aren't secure and content. Where's our war dividend?, they demand. Turns out that one need not understand the phrase "cognitive dissonance" to experience it. Who knew? And like the American car manufacturers who put everything into building SUVs and pickups, as if the price of gas were a law of nature, the Republicans will spend years adapting to the market changes that they should have seen coming.
Now, in Cuyahoga County, we are witnessing something very similar. After years of struggle - between what's good for them and what's even better for them - some local elected officials are stunned to find themselves the subject of a major federal investigation, the sheer size of which could eventually place it alongside the burning river and the Drive in the annals of insults to Cleveland's self-esteem.
Jimmy Dimora predicts that "when the dust clears, my good name and reputation will also be cleared." The arrogance in that statement cannot be overstated. He is arguably the most powerful public official - certainly among the top three - in a county that is hemorrhaging residents, jobs and pride. That journalists from around the world visit like a living museum of economic ruin, the Busch Gardens of urban decay. That is on the verge of a cynicism epidemic. And yet Dimora has the audacity to suggest that none of this reflects on him, that his reputation is, and will remain, unblemished. He also joked that the "silver lining" in all this is that by enduring the indignities of a federal probe, he'll lose some weight.
That Jimmy - what a card. But while stress might reduce his appetite, will it have any effect on his grotesquely bloated ego? Sadly, I doubt it. I'm setting the over-under at 30 days for the first time he or his partner in slime Frank Russo suggests that all this scrutiny is motivated by anti-Italian bias.
As former Scene reporter Jared Klaus noted in a January profile, Dimora has a canned reply for every tough question. "As the questions become more pointed, the lines keep coming," Klaus wrote. "He uses jocularity as a weapon and defends himself not with direct answers, but by attacking the question's logic." Good ol' Jimmy, joshing and spinning while the county burns.
So why do we keep laughing?
Dimora, Russo and the rest did not elect themselves to office. They're like the weeds that thrive along the Rapid tracks on the East Side, reaching tree height and jungle density simply because no one wants the responsibility of cutting them down. The Big Three automakers cranked out behemoths because we bought them. Republicans lied to us because we bought those too. And Cuyahoga County's Democratic leadership has become, at best, self-serving and lazy, and at worst, corrupt to the core, because we chuckled at Jimmy's jokes, voted for him and his equally craven pals and focused on the external causes of our misery, ignoring the weeds taking over our front lawn.
Republicans are already trying to swing the scandal to their own advantage, and Peter Lawson Jones' re-election bid will provide the first real gauge of whether voters are fed up with morally retarded leadership or simply resigned to it. And he's not even implicated. But that's life in the big county. If Jones loses, surely Jimmy will have a joke ready to cheer him up.
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