Ask Auntie Pinko
January 12, 2006
By Auntie Pinko
I'm aware that many Democrats think the Abramoff scandal is
just a Republican scandal, and no doubt there are Republicans out
there trying to blame Democrats. But I've done my own searching,
and I can't see how anyone could claim it's just one party. It looks
to me to be a scandal stretching across all party lines, including
Indian Nations in Louisiana who paid Abramoff to make sure Texas
casinos would be shut down.
My question is: in light of this, what should we do? Firing
all the corrupt politicians seems impractical. I've seen the lists,
and it seems like every Congressman in Washington is connected to
the scandal. Creating more laws doesn't seem to be the answer either.
If American history teaches us anything it's that we don't follow
rules we don't like unless the government forces us to. Since the
problem IS the government, new rules would just be writing on a
piece of paper. What should we, the people do to clean up both political
The old saw about power and corruption has remained relevant ever
since it was coined. Anywhere power concentrates, there will be
temptation, and some of the powerful will be corrupted. Party affiliation
makes little difference, especially in a "weak party"
system like America's. (That doesn't mean that our two-party system
doesn't have a hammerlock on political power, just that neither
party has made official party endorsement or affiliation dependent
on adherence to Party policies - as Democrats like Mr. Miller and
Mr. Lieberman, and Republicans like Ms. Morella and Mr. Cannon demonstrate.)
The tendency to yield to corruption is not linked to any political
party, nor is the will to resist it the exclusive province of one
party or the other. So why would any specific corruption scandal
be labeled "Democratic" or "Republican," and
is it fair to do so?
Yes, it is. Some common factors contribute heavily to the spread
of corruption. The party holding the balance of power, for example,
has more influence - members of that party become valuable marks
for those who would engage them in corrupt practices. A party that
holds a strongly decisive majority and actively uses that majority
to impose their agenda provides more attractive targets than a party
with a slender majority that must engage elements of the opposition
and use compromise and negotiation.
While it is certain that there are Democratic legislators in both
houses who have engaged in corrupt practices at various times (and
may still be doing so), the current scandal associated with Mr.
Abramoff is a particularly clear example of the kind of "web
effect" engendered by decisive majority power and its unbridled
application. Mr. Abramoff and his associates wasted little or no
time, money, and effort recruiting the influence of Democrats because,
quite simply, they didn't need Democrats to achieve their
There may, indeed, be improper financial transactions between
various individual Democrats and interests that have a common link
with Mr. Abramoff, particularly Indian tribes and the casino interests
associated with them. The ugly downside of the rise of the gaming
industry that uses Indian lands and tribes to avoid Federal restrictions
is the growth of a big-money lobbying industry that both colludes
with, and exploits, Indian nations and their interests. This has
been going on for several decades, and many elements of it are independent
of Mr. Abramoff and his associates.
The same thing is likely true of other businesses and interest
groups that have also used Mr. Abramoff's services. They have always
tried to cover the bases and ensure that the doors of the powerful
would be open to them, regardless of party affiliation. Some of
their transactions were doubtless illegal and/or corrupt. But those
transactions were not always linked to Mr. Abramoff.
So we're really talking about two separate issues, here, Nick.
The Abramoff scandal is, overwhelmingly and emphatically, a Republican
scandal - but it is certainly not the only source of corruption
in our government. The broader issue of corruption in general, and
what Americans expect from our public servants and elected representatives,
both embraces and transcends the current Republican scandal, and
its focus is not, and should not be, partisan.
It does indeed seem like a hydra-headed monster at the moment.
And you're right that it's impossible to eliminate all corruption
and decisively "clean up" government and political parties
without weirdly draconian measures that would ultimately defeat
their own purpose and infuse totalitarian tyranny into the political
But the circumstances of the Republican stranglehold on power,
and their enthusiastic willingness to apply it without regard to
any minority opinions or considerations, has contributed greatly
to the current bumper crop of sleaze. While we cannot eliminate
all corruption from all politics, there are some things that will
greatly decrease its scope and control its ability to harm the political
If Republicans lose their overwhelming majority control of both
Executive and Legislative branches (and if they fail to achieve
such control of the Judiciary,) they will have to again employ tools
of compromise and negotiation. Balancing power in all three branches
among the parties so that no one party has too much power makes
the process of governing more difficult, slow, and frustrating,
but it guards us against the abuses that inevitably result from
Shifting that power back and forth frequently reminds both parties
that, while they may be in the Oval Office or banging the gavel
today, tomorrow they will be on the other side and will need to
find ways to do business effectively with their opponents. The more
widely diffused power is, the less chance for corruption to be a
decisive factor in policy making and governing.
Auntie would also recommend the restoration of the Fairness Doctrine,
and the development of an effectively nonpartisan (or perhaps the
best we could hope for is bipartisan) FCC, to restore some measure
of restraint on corporate influence of the media. And finally, we
need effective bipartisan control of the redistricting process in
every state, and a mechanism for apportioning electoral votes proportionately
in every state (currently only Maine and Nebraska have such mechanisms.)
All of these things would militate against the strong concentration
of power in either party - a situation that leaves more power in
the hands of the actual voters, and makes it more difficult for
those who would try and corrupt the political process.
Thanks for asking Auntie Pinko, Nick!
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