Leader Blues

Friday, April 11, 2008

EDITORIAL >>The fall continues

Many there are who rejoice over the misfortunes of Tommy Robinson, of which there seems to be an unending string and, as far as we can tell, all self-inflicted. We prefer to mourn rather than celebrate because we remember the encouraging beginning of his mercurial career — when he was an energetic young chief of police at Jacksonville.

As an innovative but lock-’em-up kind of cop (he wanted to ban handguns), Robinson caught the eye of another rising politician, Bill Clinton, who made him director of Arkansas public safety in 1979. Almost instantly he was in conflict with others in the government, but he parlayed that job into a successful race for Pulaski County sheriff. A spectacular two terms at the courthouse, where he warred with state prison officials, federal judges, the prosecuting attorney and nearly every county official, propelled him to Congress as representative of the Second District in 1984.

You know the rest: his spectacular 998 overdrafts at the House bank, his switch to the Republican Party in 1989, his nasty but hapless race for governor against fellow Republican Sheffield Nelson in 1990, his disastrous race for Congress in east Arkansas in 2002, and his preposterously unsuccessful experiment as a farmer and businessman.

Finally, Robinson was found guilty this week of criminal contempt by still another of a long line of United States district judges and magistrates before whom he has been hauled over the years. He is to serve a 60-day sentence for violating judicial orders to stop interfering with his and his wife’s bankruptcy proceedings. Robinson did not refrain — Tommy Robinson has never been known to refrain — so he is finally about to go to jail again. Robinson has experienced the comforts of jail cells more often than anyone in public life we know. He did a little jail time for contempt when he was sheriff and again a while back for beating up one of his creditors at a barbecue joint at Brinkley near the liquor store that he and his wife own.

Tommy Robinson is not an evil man, but he has — what shall we call them? — two weaknesses. He is simply heedless — profligate — with money. As sheriff, he would spend his entire year’s budget in a matter of months and the quorum court would have to keep bailing him out. His record 998 hot checks on the House bank in that scandal that cost so many congressmen their careers speak for themselves. His reckless handling of his business affairs put him in his present straits, although he maintains that unscrupulous business partners did him in.

The other failing is a rigid belief, either paranoid or messianic, in his own correctness and destiny. He will do what he wants to do, regardless of the law or the conventions of the marketplace or civil behavior, because he knows that he alone is right. They have provided us with a sorrowful public life that will not go quietly into the good night.