There should probably be factual writeups about several things I mention here, including both the political rise of Neil Goldschmidt, and the details of his recent downfall. I don't feel qualified to comment authoritively on these matters, so for now I will write about my subjective relationship to the events, which in some strange way make parts of the last ten years of my own life clearer.
It's a Friday afternoon, getting close to seven but still light out (not everything about Portland's weather is terrible). I'm hiding inside a fern bar on West Burnside with two women of my aquaintice. I am drinking some zinfandel, which is too sweet, and watching people walk by on the street outside.
A movie has just been released called "Mean Girls" about the a clique of attractive, exclusionary teen girls. Talking with these women makes me wonder how this stereotype connecting attractiveness and meanness in women got started. Their pleasantness seems to be high in both categories. One of them is from California, and I am explaining to her the sudden surprise of the revelation, earlier that day, that Neil Goldschmidt, who was Mayor of Portland, and later Governor of Oregon, along with Secretary of Transportation in the cabinet of Carter, along with many other jobs, had admitted that thirty years ago, he had had an affair with a 14 year old girl, an affair that had ended up coming up to haunt him over his career, and that had only come fully to light this past week.
Not that political scandal was all we were talking about. This was a Friday night, and there was, along with my zinfandel, a Sex on the Beach and a Margarita for my friends, so our conversation was wavering happily and drunkily. The other woman I was with mentioned in passing that her boyfriend (who was one of my closest friends since Junior High) would have never smoked marijuana, if not for the fact that a certain girl, one of the mean girl clique, had not been sitting on his lap, pressing the pipe into his mouth. Now, none of the people we mentioned are particularly against the idea of smoking the Ken, but aggressively pressing something to do something like that is never a good thing. And here is where the conversation returns to the scandal. The girl in question's mother is on the state Board of Higher Education. Guess who was, until last week, president of that board? Neil Goldschmidt.
I was probably having too much fun swimming at the time to point the entire web out: of the dozen or so people on the state board, two were parents of students that went to my dippy-hippy Catholic private school, which only had a hundred or so students at one time. Which is an interesting statistic to analyze. Both of these people were people who were at one time or another good friends of mine. I may have pointed out that the girl was not always so mean, that when she was thirteen or so, she was a non-conformist, intellectual girl. Just like my best friend, who was the son of Goldschmidt's former Chief of Staff and (until a few days ago) business partne, and who was when we were younger, one of the most upright, creative and intelligent people I knew. Someone, who even though he was only 8 months older than me, was someone I idealized.
I was wondering then, and am wondering now, how much osmotic corruption came through this. Goldschmidt and the other two board members are big examples of something we have a lot of in Portland: people who in Texas would probably be Republicans, but like going to the opera. At some point, this group of people, who was responsible for revitalizing Downtown Portland, Oregon, and pushing through light rail, and generally not letting Portland become another city burned out by its own suburbs, started working for corporate interests. One of the last jobs that Goldschmidt was involved with trying to get Portland General Electric purchased by a big Texas utility, instead of by the city. (PGE's former owner had also been a big Texas utility). One of the few people who supposedly learned about Goldschmidt's affair was his second wife, who was a vice president of the other big Portland utility. Which was also where my friend's father was a vice-president. Goldschmidt also had to pay the girl he seduced $250,000 in shush money, which reportedly he had to borrow. You don't take out quarter million dollar loans and not explain what they are for. You don't take out quarter million dollar loans and not have to pay them back. Perhaps this might have been part of what encouraged Goldschmidt to start working for more corporate concerns. And maybe those around him followed along without really knowing why, although I am sure they could sense something going on.
Does this all sound very confused and incestuous? Damn right it is.
But to get back to our fern bar, girl talk evening. Encouraged by the wine, I decide to share some secrets with my companions. I tell them the rather silly story of the last girl I kissed, who was at the Free Geek holiday party. The kiss had more to do with mead and silliness and just about going to Taiwan euphoria then it had to do with anything else, but it made a nice story.
So, about ten minutes after I finish telling my story, guess who walks in the bar? The last woman I kissed, who was not someone I was really expecting to meet. I am worried for a minute that my friends are about to say something along the lines of "hey, Matthew, tell me more about that drunk floozy you made out with at that one party!", but luckily no such thing happens. I do get the fun of whispering, after she has walked on "that was the woman I kissed, at the party!" and seeing their surprised looks.
Everyone gets caught.
If you commit a silly kiss, the evidence will come up and walk up to you. If you are involved in sexually torturing prisoners of war, the pictures will be in all the papers in a few months. This is what happens if you are lucky. If you don't get caught directly, what happens? Those around you grow corrupt. If you aren't paying attention to your own ethics and the ethics of your business partners, with a very sharp gaze, the first sign that something is wrong might be when your son gets arrested for selling drugs. If you are the political role model of a generation, and you have secrets, just maybe that causes Vera Katz to think that bullets are pellets, and Jim Franchesconi to think he can take a million dollars and not have to pay it back.
At various times in the past, I have qualified statements I have made. For example, I often have linked the Qabbalistic idea that a united Israel will lead the world into a world of limitless happiness with the aggressive ambition of the neoconservative movement. Now, I am not schizophrenic. I do not literally believe that Richard Perle and Ariel Sharon are planning their plans in hopes of causing a cosmological event where the Sephiroth will merge, leading all hearts and minds to become one, obtaining eternal balance. If I literally believed this to be true, I would be insane. But if I were to ignore the fact that some people take an ideology that can be described as both utopian and intolerant to be their sign that they have a God-given right to "fulfill history", I would be ignorant. People's attitudes and ideas do matter. I've just come to realize that one person's indiscretion and cowardice have tainted both the politics of the state I live in, and perhaps the personal lives of my friends.