06/17/2013 04:38 pm ET Updated Aug 17, 2013

Beware of Celebrity Outsiders With Brooms

Here's the problem I have with Honduras' Salvador Nasralla: He's a celebrity on a mission to clean up government. It is the same problem I have with famous personalities in the United States like Donald Trump and Sarah Palin, who have toyed with seeking the highest political office in the land, as if it were trivial or potentially amusing. These kind of people show up occasionally and play on the public's anger and frustration about their dysfunctional political leaders. They sell themselves as the "outsider" who is uniquely capable of breaking the back of corruption, special interests, and unresponsive government... as if the fact that they are the outsider, in-and-of-itself, bestows upon them that special "something" that is required to change and save the country.

Let's be clear... outsiders, particularly celebrity outsiders, are not saviors of anything. They do not know how to lead or govern. What they are are entertainers (some well-intentioned and intelligent, some -- as in the case of Mrs. Palin, not so much) who serve to temporarily distract the public from having to focus on serious, complex, and long-term solutions to problems (such as corruption) that are ingrained deep within the culture and throughout all segments of society, not just government.

Mr. Nasralla is running for the Presidency of Honduras as the candidate of the new Anti-Corruption Party (PAC) -- which suggests that he intends to dedicate an inordinate amount of his time to ridding Honduras of corruption. However, he has yet to produce a comprehensive and implementable plan or strategy for how he intends to deal with this plague. In fact, Mr. Nasralla has not spoken clearly about what exactly he means by "corruption".

Are we referring to financial corruption, like stealing from the public till or not paying taxes? Is it not showing up for work, while still cashing your paycheck? Does it have to do with continuing to collect your father's pension checks long after he has passed away? Is it bigtime corruption that tends to make the front pages of newspapers, or is it also the small every day stuff that goes unnoticed?

Or how about breaking in line to renew your driver's license because you're in a hurry and because you're dressed well enough to intimidate those who have been waiting ahead of you for hours to keep them from protesting too loudly?

The truth is that, for all his talk about corruption, Mr. Nasralla has not adequately defined the problem, and thus you have to wonder how he will successfully address it. Very few people who commit corrupt acts honestly see themselves as engaging in corruption. Very few think of themselves as corrupt. At most, people who engage in corrupt activities tend to view themselves as harmlessly "bending the rules" or providing "incentives" to get things done or taking advantage of "loopholes" in the system.

Perhaps the biggest flaw in Mr. Nasralla's relative vagueness of how to deal with corruption is the sense one gets that whatever he does would probably be disjointed, superficial and short-lived, rather than comprehensive, thoughtful and sustainable. The reason for this is simply that Mr. Nasralla has the same notions about attacking corruption as do most others in Honduras, and that is that it must be done from top-down, rather than the ground up.

So maybe Mr. Nasralla would establish another one of those anti-corruption commissions. Most assuredly, Mr. Nasralla would be pointing a lot of fingers at those whom he believes to be corrupt. He would be extremely vocal and opinionated. He would aggressively seek to enforce anti-corruption laws already on the books and pursue new, stricter laws. He would supposedly be less trusting of people charged with corruption and less forgiving of those indicted... which would mean that a Nasralla government would be sending a lot more people to prison for longer periods of time, and consequently would have to spend a lot more money building a lot more prisons.

In all of this messy scenario, one would expect Mr. Nasralla would be making an awful lot of powerful enemies bent on getting back at him personally. He would no doubt increasingly find himself isolated, with few allies and even less friends. So how would Mr. Nasralla propose to govern Honduras? And when would he have time, given that his administration would be preoccupied trying to fend off one attack after another? How would Mr. Nasralla handle the emotional, mental, and physical stress?

And would it all be worth it? Would Mr. Nasralla's frontal assault really end up having a positive impact on corruption in Honduras? No, because corruption is a disease that afflicts all segments of Honduran society... rich and poor, government and business, employers and labor, the Church hierarchy and the laity, adults and children, good people and bad.

Mr. Nasralla's remedy for the disease would appear to be something akin to surgery. In other words, cut out the cancer and save the patient. But such techniques only work when a cancer has not already metastasized... which is precisely what has happened in Honduras.