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Ask Auntie Pinko

January 12, 2006
By Auntie Pinko

Dear 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 parties?

Arvada, CO

Dear Nick,

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 ends.

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 system.

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 process.

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 unchecked power.

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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