Integrity's two-way street

A national challenge echoes in the Massachusetts primary that wound up with Democrat Michael Dukakis and Republican John Sears as candidates for governor.

The central issue was integrity. Both winners represented integrity to the voters. The issue was often cited by those giving former Governor Dukakis an extraordinary second chance after one term of the Democrat who displaced him, Governor King.

But the challenge of assuring integrity in Massachusetts government belongs not only to the victor in November but to the people he will represent. And such a challenge is not unique to Massachusetts, for all the unsavory details unearthed in the past few years by an anticorruption commission. Maryland, Illinois, and New Jersey are among recent examples suggesting that no state is immune to the possibility of corrupt officials.

How to develop a greater immunity? By citizens demanding of themselves no less integrity than they demand of their leaders.

A clue turned up during the election-night euphoria of the Dukakis camp. Someone genially recalled he had always been able to get traffic tickets fixed by people in high places until Dukakis became governor. The intended point was to boost the candidate; the ironic disclosure was an all too casual willingness to evade the law until a leader at last stood firm.

The episode was a penny-ante parallel to the testimony of a witness before the anticorruption commission. He said he had routinely made political payoffs for millions of dollars in government contracts until Duka-kis took office.

In other words, integrity is a two-way street. Officials can foster clean government by refusing to fix tickets or take bribes. The more credit to them when they resist constituents' long-entrenched minor or major expectations of getting around the law. But the constituents' responsibility is to support the honesty of their officials by not asking them to violate it.

Then integrity, which ought to be the minimum requirement for public office, could begin to be assumed.More attention could be given to those other issues - economic, social, political - that also cry out to be addressed.

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