I'm in my home office down the hall from the kitchen, so I can't hear exactly what the fuss is about, but I assume it has something to do with unloading the dishwasher.

Awhile ago, I asked Jimmy and Amy to unload and reload, sweep the kitchen floor, wipe down the counters and vacuum the rug, and out of respect for their growing maturity, I didn't specify who should do what. I just said, "Split the chores in a way that feels fair."

Now, there is bickering. Did I say growing maturity? Maybe not.

I head down the hall to impart some maternal direction. That's when I hear what can be described only as "KP corruption."

"Jimmy, I'll give you a dollar if you empty the dishwasher. I promise. For real," Amy says in her whiniest voice.

"No, Amy," my son answers. Is he standing for principled kitchen duty or a better offer? I can't say. But I'm starting to worry because both of these children already love politics, and with this sort of conversation taking place in the kitchen, I wonder if there's a wiretap in their future.

I put an end to the negotiations by handing out specific jobs. In my effort to punish her for trying to buy her way out of the chores, I deliberately give Amy the one she tried to pawn off on her elder brother.

Mom's justice. Swift and sure.

Of course, I don't let it go at that. This is a teachable moment on the subject of personal integrity and fulfilling her duties as a member of the family. She can't expect others to do the work she was entrusted to perform. She can't look for the easy way out. She has to be responsible and trustworthy in the small things so we can count on her in the big things.

I love that I've figured out how to make emptying the dishwasher a moral imperative, don't you? Teachable moments are everywhere, folks.

If 2008 was any indication, our nation needs all the teachable moments we can get just to combat the bad examples offered virtually every day by our political leaders.

From sex scandals by the likes of former New York Gov. Eliot Spitzer, former Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick and former Sen. John Edwards of North Carolina to corruption by former Sen. Ted Stevens of Alaska, Rep. Charles B. Rangel of New York and Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich, news stories offered a host of role models for America's youths on how to skirt the truth, deny responsibility and humiliate your family in the process.

Every parent in America ought to be concerned about the fallout on our nation's political morality of so many unethical and unrepentant public servants. Our children are growing up thinking corruption is typical, and the result is that they're not just cynical, they're resigned.

U.S. Attorney Patrick J. Fitzgerald, upon announcing the arrest of Mr. Blagojevich, said we all must work to end political corruption in America.

"We need people in the public to stand up and say, 'Enough,'" Mr. Fitzgerald said. "And if people start hearing things that they feel are untoward or improper, we need them to come forward."

He's right, of course.

Then again, we won't have a generation of Americans who even know when corruption is taking place if we don't stop them at the very moment they offer that first bribe to get out of cleaning the kitchen.

Copyright 2009 Marybeth Hicks

Published Wednesday, December 17, 2008 in The Washington Times
Reprinted with permission