Belaboring the Obvious

Monday, August 21, 2006


1. lack of integrity or honesty (especially susceptibility to bribery); use of a position of trust for dishonest gain
2. in a state of progressive putrefaction
3. decay of matter (as by rot or oxidation)
4. moral perversion; impairment of virtue and moral principles; "the luxury and corruption among the upper classes"; "moral degeneracy followed intellectual degeneration"; "its brothels; its opium parlors; its depravity"
5. destroying someone's (or some group's) honesty or loyalty; undermining moral integrity; "corruption of a minor"; "the big city's subversion of rural innocence"
6. inducement (as of a public official) by improper means (as bribery) to violate duty (as by commiting a felony); "he was held on charges of corruption and racketeering"

Now, corruption is, as the above suggests, a bit difficult to define when we're talking about the political classes. But, for over five years, we've been seeing glimpses of how it works, and many parts of the definitions above have applied to Washington in general, and the Republicans in particular, including the neo-conservative and ultra-conservative pundit classes--the people who defend to the rest of us the corruption which has overtaken the nation's political nerve center.

Featured prominently, according to definition, has been Tom DeLay's so-called "K Street Project," which has caused the round-up and jailing of a number of Republicans and their lobbyist enablers--Jack Abramoff (who's still not through talking apparently, in hopes of yet ameliorating an eight-year sentence), "Duke" Cunningham (who is, apparently, not talking much, even though already in jail for demanding bribes in return for appropriation favors), and others (who can be found--in various states of investigation, litigation and plea bargaining--here).

So, we've got bribe-making and bribe-taking already, as part of a plan to use corporate money, funneled through lobbyists, to transform Congress into a permanent Republican institution. One of DeLay's tactics was to force Republican lawmakers to do business only with Republican lobbyists, and to threaten the lobby shops themselves with denial of access to Congress unless they hired only Republicans. Anyone desiring to look broadly at the RICO statutes would probably come to the conclusion that such a plan involved all the elements necessary to invoke the statutes--extortion, bribery, collusion, conspiracy, racketeering--all for the primary purpose of exchanging legislation and appropriation earmarks for campaign cash (sometimes including percentages of campaign cash going to their wives) and extravagant travel perks for Republicans, thus enabling them to live beyond their means and ensuring their continued reelection and their continued ability to enjoy the good life of power and prominence without much thought to the obligations of public service implicit in public office.

Brothels are in there, somewhere, too--as defense contractors or their lobbyists are alleged to have supplied some legislators (Cunningham, for sure) with call girls procured by a limousine service in the employ of the contractors, a limousine service that then suddenly got on the taxpayer gravy train to provide transportation services to the Homeland Security Department (and this was no small potatoes, either--one contract in just the DC area was worth something like $22 million).

Democrats (notably William Jefferson of Louisiana and Alan Mollohan of West Virginia) have gotten their gold-plated tits in a wringer, too, but more or less independently of the K Street Project. Think of them as outsiders--Democrats--trying to get to be insiders.

Then, there's the President himself, who comes from a family the motto of which is: "Public service for private gain." No one seems to give a second thought to the ex-President taking money from convicted felons like the very irreverent Rev. Sun Myung Moon, or acting as a "special consultant" to the then-largest privately-held firm contracting to the military, the Carlyle Group. No one thinks much about George the Younger's brother's intemperate use of the family name to make deals worldwide with some occasionally unsavory characters, or his other brother's use of the family connections to shield himself from inquiry about some, uh, bribery (there's that word again) of Nigerian officials. Nor do the American people think much about the time Dubya has spent raising campaign cash during his tenure in office.

Some has been written about Bush the Younger's vacation habits (especially while the most culturally-distinct city in the country drowned), but little has been said about the total amount of time he's spent mostly fucking around and not paying attention to the country's business. If twenty percent of his time has been spent on vacation, then thirty percent, easily, has been spent prying fistfuls of cash from wealthy Republicans at fundraising events and flying back and forth from those events. Another twenty percent of his days have been spent jogging, riding his bicycle and working out in the White House gym. Now, there is the arguably sensible proposition that if Bush had been devoting much more of his time to the operation of the country, he would have really fucked us up--much worse than already--in a considerably shorter period of time, but, still, one has to ask if the CEO president hasn't quite put in the time necessary to earn his money. It seems that his time in office remarkably resembles his time on the board of directors of Caterair (a company coincidentally owned at the time by the Carlyle Group, for which his father was "consulting"). Bush watchers will certainly find that, in 2009, George Bush will be "consulting" for a number of companies which want something from legislators or do business with the government.

In an interview years ago, Gore Vidal said that the principal job of public office was oversight of the spending of the taxpayer's money, and suggested that all else was diversion to keep the citizen from seeing how tax money was being spent, and I suspect that he is right. If one were to do man-in-the-street interviews, asking people to explain how an earmark worked, I doubt that five in a hundred could detail that part of the spending process, and yet, it (along with the refusal of Congress to remove money from the political process) is central to the kind of corruption going on in national government today.

It shouldn't be necessary to have to say that when the public policy and appropriations process becomes an auction, government is corrupt, but it is necessary now. It's been that way for some time and the situation is now getting measurably worse. The pundit class doesn't talk much about that, because they've been ignoring it as assiduously as is possible. They are attracted to money and power, and by stroking money and power, they get invited to the best parties, and the best parties have the best cocktail weenies. They may get their tidbits of news to pass on to the rest of us that way, but it means, quite plainly, that their view of the world of power is blindered and myopic--and almost always laudatory. Say bad things about the people in power and of power and the cocktail weenie circuit is closed off to you. Then you have only your imagination to work with, and that would put a whole raft of columnists in the unemployment line.

I often hear the phrase "speaking truth to power," as if it were an end-all, be-all. It isn't. Speaking truth to power is meaningless to the powerful--it might piss them off, but that's the full measure of its effect. What really makes change is the kind of writing and reporting that makes them look like the thieves, thugs and goons that they, in fact, are. Because once the voter sees Mr. Moral-and-Upstanding-and-oh-so-Christian Congressman or Mr. I'm-So-Fucking-Humble-And-Sincere President as corrupt, power-mad and dictatorial, it's over for them. There's nothing quite so marvelous in politics as seeing voters amend their views of politicians based on the facts. Of perhaps all the things that can turn a voter, being deceived about a politician's character is right up there at the top of the list. The larger newspapers used to be a lot less reticent about that sort of thing, but their livelihood is now intimately entwined with the actions of the people they write about (media consolidation and profits being what they are). The editors and publishers, not just the columnists, are on the cocktail weenie circuit, too. Call it the Clare Booth Luce Tour of Washington.

The reason why the New York Times' editors anguish over the words "lie" and "President" in the same sentence is that they know that the voters, having their own suspicions validated, will want Bush's head on a platter. They know that isn't good for the corporate world, of which they are a part. That's part of the pattern of corruption. The easy explanation that reporting the news shouldn't involve "value judgments" is part of that corruption. The operators of the New York Times or the Washington Post know that, for example, when one can't even find out the names of Cheney's staff in the White House, such secrecy is in furtherance of a power grab--or worse. But, they won't make an issue of it, just as they won't allow the straightforward use of the word "liar" to describe George Bush, even though it is demonstrably true and repeatedly so. We all know that the power behind the throne, Karl Rove, is, beyond a reasonable doubt, an amoral weasel who could only possess scruples by stealing them from someone else. But, he's described in entirely different terms for the general public, because no one wants to incur his wrath. Someone might be denied the hallowed and sought-after "access."

It's not that it hasn't always been this way. It has. Now, it's just immeasurably worse than usual. We've gone from politicians who at least paid lip service to the need for open government to a bunch that have closed off government access, and bludgeoned reporters with denial of access and threatened them with criminal charges to get, if not favorable coverage, then not-unfavorable coverage from their papers.

The reality today is that the country is being run by a crook and a liar whose courtier-class dealings, and whose obdurate and hard-headed approach to governance resembles that of an Ottoman-era potentate, is being enabled by a sycophantic press and a corrupt political party in charge of the rest of government, in which law-breaking at all levels is rationalized away. The view in the popular press, however, is that of a government in full charge, operating at the Constitutional margins in time of war, with the best of intentions, and that disputes about Constitutional issues are simple legal arcana.

If the latter were the case, then, why are legislators stuffing their pockets with both cash and chits for more power? Is that operating with the best of intentions? Why are legislators avoiding their responsibilities of oversight of spending and rule-making? Why are Bush and Cheney intent on preventing those remaining few honest legislators from doing so?

The answer is abject corruption. Money has been going out of the Treasury at an extraordinary rate in the last five or so years, and finding out where it went and why and if it was spent well is the last thing this bunch wants the public to know. When corruption becomes widespread, so does the belief that it's business as usual and okay to do, and okay to lie about.

As the President says, it's your money debt.


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