Thursday, March 23, 2006

No Tears for Martha Stewart

Commentary by Martin Kelly
July 22, 2004

You do the crime, you do the time. You obstruct the DoJ when it’s investigating your role in a scheme that would have increased your fortune by the tiniest of fractions, you go to jail for five months.

Extreme libertarians who see the DoJ as just another intrusive arm of a tyrannical state may have a point when they leap to Stewart’s defence. One should sincerely hope they didn’t lose money on ImClone. However, while a law may be a bad law, indeed an unconstitutional law that breaches the Fifth Amendment, while it stands it has to be obeyed, and a jury of her peers decided that Stewart didn’t obey it.

Hopefully, she will now have several months to reconcile herself to her guilt. Guilt, like shame, cannot survive in a therapeutic culture whose focus is not on confrontation of wrongdoing followed by atonement and absolution, but instead on justifying the validity of all actions on a morally neutral basis.

But public declaration of guilt is still the cornerstone of criminal jurisprudence in any particularly fair and objective jurisdiction, like, hey, the State of New York! Saying ‘the law’s bad’ may be true – if enough of her defenders, like the controversialist John Derbyshire, turn her to thinking it’s a bad law, then she has remedies in the form of further appeals. It may be the case that the way in which government has changed over the period of the Bush Administration might eventually have the pernicious effect of tainting the jurisprudence of the Fifth Amendment, although one would seriously hope otherwise. But as it stands, Stewart has received a fair trial according to the law, and all her fame and money and love of money has brought her down to the same level as a single mother whose only hope of profit from her crime was a crack high.

Don’t you just love the G-Men! The spiritual heirs of Eliot Ness were lying in wait for her, hopefully in a smoky basement, with a tape recorder that squeaked with every revolution. A powerful overhead light would have been good as well, just for effect. Rocky Sullivan would have proud of the lengths that Martha went to not to squeal to the coppers!

Criminals used to be described as ‘common’. As the nature of human activity expands, so too does the level of sophistication required to perpetrate the kind of scheme that she was involved in. The consequences of such criminality percolate down to every level of life – example, two years ago we set about buying a house. So stringent are the Law Society of Scotland’s rules on money laundering that I needed to show an ID to a lawyer I had worked with for three years! When that level of regulation is deemed necessary, it’s always easy to blame an abstract entity like ‘the government’. But it’s not all the government’s fault. It’s also the fault of people like Martha Stewart and her gang, people who try to circumvent laws for no reason other than there might be a little bit of money in it for them and because they can. If you feel the slightest sympathy for Martha, at least bear that thought in mind the next time you are subjected to some petty indignity when applying for a loan for the farm.

What will life on the inside be like for her? I don’t think she’ll be learning how to play ‘Swing Low, Sweet Chariot’ or ‘Birmingham Jail’ on a rusty mouth organ. However, she may come out with a new perfume for the sophisticated Continental prisoner, called Bastille. Or else, she might go for a new range of greeting cards, like ‘Fulsome of Folsom’ or ‘Loving of Leavenworth’. On second thoughts, that doesn’t sound such a great idea…