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Carona scandals will fade, but at what cost?

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ORANGE COUNTY

However the Mike Carona saga turns out, we all take another hit. Another shot to the gut. We’ll survive it, because we always do. We’ve been hit in the midsection so many times over the years we’re all rock solid. Come to think of it, maybe that’s why our public figures continually disappoint us: They’re just trying to make us tougher.

The sad fact is that a federal corruption indictment against Orange County’s three-term sheriff makes us all a bit more jaded, a bit more mistrustful. You can’t measure its effect on the psyche, but we all know it’s there.

It shows up in ways that might seem small, but aren’t. I got an e-mail from a friend after the Carona indictment was announced, in which she said: “Whether it’s true or not, the whole thing is kind of scary. It’s hard to trust anyone anymore. . . .”

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She concluded her note by saying, “Geez, for all I know, you could be a mass murderer.”

Let me reassure everyone that I am not a mass murderer.

Then again, Richard Nixon said he wasn’t a crook.

I have every confidence my friend will summon the strength to forge on with her life, but can anyone deny that it’s harmful when trust in public figures keeps dissipating?

We see it played out on the national level. Surveys show that the public is increasingly cynical about politicians. Any wonder why voter turnout was at least 60% in the three presidential election years in the 1960s but has topped out around 55% ever since? Or that it’s been in the high-30% range during off-year federal elections since 1974?

Cynicism surely isn’t the sole reason for paltry turnout, but it doesn’t help. Is there anyone out there who thinks democracy is helped when people are suspicious of public figures?

And, it must be said, increasingly cynical about the media that cover them?

Perhaps it’s unfair to Carona, but it’s almost worse when someone such as him takes a fall. He introduced himself to a largely unknowing Orange County public in 1998 as a man of faith and family values. Press reports in recent years have chipped away at that image, but there’s nothing like a federal indictment to drive the point home and to knock even the strongest supporters off their pins.

In announcing the indictment two weeks ago, federal prosecutors -- clearly not sentimental types -- made note that besides Carona’s wife, another of those indicted was a woman described as his longtime mistress.

Kind of makes you wish Carona had announced his first run for office in ’98 by saying, “Let me tell ya, I’m a randy son-of-a-gun, but I’d still appreciate your vote!”

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If only our cynicism were confined to politicians.

Instead, many of us now count the hours until the report comes out on steroid use in baseball. Talk about waiting for the other shoe to drop. Wait until we hear the names of ballplayers linked to steroids in recent years.

Mark McGwire’s silence all but amounted to a confession at a congressional hearing in 2005. Barry Bonds continues to deny knowingly using steroids, but let’s just say we have our suspicions. But the list is going to be much longer than two home run kings.

It is virtually certain that more public figures we once admired -- just as with some politicians -- will be exposed as at least partial frauds.

All this will remind baseball fans and other pop-culture buffs of the story that grew out of baseball’s Black Sox scandal, in which several players for the Chicago White Sox were banned from baseball for conspiring with gamblers to fix the 1919 World Series.

Legend has it that a young fan approached White Sox star Shoeless Joe Jackson and said, “Say it ain’t so, Joe.” Apocryphal or not, the kid’s lament has survived as the ultimate expression of public betrayal.

As you may have noticed, baseball flourished after the scandal. In the face of steroid rumors, baseball in the present day is flourishing.

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So, take heart, there’s every reason to believe Orange County residents somehow will muddle through the Carona affair.

Still, the Carona indictment no doubt has taken a chunk out of a lot of people’s sense of trust.

It’s not hard to imagine people crying out, “Say it ain’t so, Mike” and wanting to believe he’s telling the truth when he says it ain’t.

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Dana Parsons’ column appears Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays. He can be reached at (714) 966-7821 or at dana.parsons@latimes.com. An archive of his recent columns is at www.latimes.com/parsons.

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