They know nothing

It’s often been cynically said that success in life is determined not by what you know, but by who you know. This precept holds true particularly in the realm of politics, where money and influence have always held more sway than rational discourse. That much has been evident as the scandal involving the administration of Governor Gray Davis and computer software giant Oracle has blossomed.

However, in a country and a state where political scandal springs eternal, we’ve picked up on a second, lesser-known axiom that may be of equal importance to anyone seeking public office:

It’s not who you know.

It’s not even what you know.

It’s what you don’t know.

This peculiar form of ignorance can take on several forms. In its most blatant guise, it sounds much like the trademark utterance of Sgt. Hans Schultz on the TV sitcom Hogan’s Heroes. Was Governor Davis aware that Arun Baheti, his director of e-government, had accepted a $25,000 campaign contribution from Oracle even as the Davis administration was negotiating a $95 million state contract with the California-based software company?

“I know nothing,” the governor says. A Davis spokesperson helped clarify exactly what the governor knows nothing about, telling the Sacramento Bee that Davis “is completely mystified by technology.”

In other situations, knowing nothing takes on the tone of Nixonian plausible deniability. “There simply isn’t any basis to make the assertion that Oracle uses political contributions for sales-related activity,” Oracle Vice President Ken Glueck, who handles all of the company’s political contributions, told the San Francisco Chronicle. No, the company, the products of which are already used by 11 state agencies, has contributed $178,500 to California politicians because it has “an interest in the political process, and it’s our right to do so,” Glueck told the L.A. Times. Was Glueck aware that Oracle was negotiating a $95 million contract with the state? He knew nothing, Glueck told the Chronicle.

The contract, which at this point appears doomed, would have made Oracle the sole provider of database software to state employees. Senator Richard Polanco, D-Los Angeles, was an enthusiastic booster of the contract, but he says that didn’t have anything to do with the fact that his son is an Oracle employee. Polanco is also political mentor to Elias Cortez, the director of the much-maligned Department of Information Technology, who has been suspended in the wake of the Oracle debacle.

Baheti and one other Davis administration official associated with the Oracle deal have been forced to resign, but don’t expect too many other heads to roll.