Saturday, December 03, 2005

Michael Kinsley on Corruption

This is a piece worth marking, found in the Washington Post:

It used to be said that the moral arc of a Washington career could be divided into four parts: idealism, pragmatism, ambition and corruption. You arrive with a passion for a cause, determined to challenge the system. Then you learn to work for your cause within the system. Then rising in the system becomes your cause. Then, finally, you exploit the system -- your connections in it, and your understanding of it -- for personal profit.

And it remains true, sort of, but faster. Even the appalling Jack Abramoff had ideals at one point. But he took a shortcut straight to corruption. On the other hand, you can now trace the traditional moral arc in the life of conservative-dominated Washington itself, which began with Ronald Reagan's inauguration and marks its 25th anniversary in January. Reagan and Co. arrived to tear down the government and make Washington irrelevant. Now the airport and a giant warehouse of bureaucrats are named after him.

The funny thing is what is being coined as " ... a string of Republican scandals" really unfolds into a universal indictment of business as usual in Washington. The larger issue doesn't cut according to party lines since the ilk of scandal doesn't discriminate. However, it's more relevant to the GOP leadership simply based on the power formula - since they run things, this is how it is (and should be). Republicans, of course, banter about the various shenaningans of Democrats involved in corruption for political gain, making the point like a whining, defiant bully who pokes at the other kids while being pulled away from the school yard by the once clueless teacher who never before lifted a finger.

The point being that Democrats are, at this time, somewhat limited in how much damage they can inflict on the system. Yes, corruption is corruption - but, in politics, the next step is the math on the consequences of that corruption: is it symbolic in that it only caused personal destruction and had us all engage in a ritual questioning of the institutions integrity? Or, is it truly substantive in that it caused real national destruction and breakdown of the rule of law? Republicans seem involved in a nefarious string of systemic heists all woven into the mess of war, fear, cut budgets, rising deficits and demented foreign policy they created - since they've made it clear that they do, indeed, run things. We asserted last week that the denunciation of Rep. Cunningham (R-CA) by his peers and the GOP hierarchy stunk of foul hypocrisy and bad taste (since, at least, he seemed to be the only cat in Congress who fessed up to something), and give big ups to Kinsley for taking this further:

When Rep. Randy "Duke" Cunningham pleaded guilty this week to accepting a comic cornucopia of baubles, plus some cash, from defense contractors, the vast right-wing conspiracy acted with impressive speed and forcefulness to expel one of its most doggedly loyal loudmouths and pack him off to a long jail term. Even Bush, whose affable capacity for understanding and forgiveness on the personal level is one of his admirable qualities, seized an unnecessary opportunity to wish the blackguard ill. There was no talk of "sadness" -- the usual formula for expressing sympathy without excusing guilt.

This astringent response would be more impressive if the basic facts about Cunningham's corruption hadn't been widely known for months. The San Diego Union-Tribune reported in June that a company seeking business from the Pentagon had bought Cunningham's Southern California house from him, held it unoccupied briefly and sold it -- in the hottest real estate market in human history -- for a $700,000 loss. You didn't need to know that Duke's haul included two antique commodes to smell the stench. Yet all the Republican voices now saying that Cunningham deserves his punishment were silent until he clearly and unavoidably was going to get it.

The extent of this damage is still, in our eyes, less known since it involved a party expert on national security issues and one who chaired the House Intelligence Subcommittee on Human Intelligence Analysis and Counterintelligence - beyond Cunningham, that alone should lead many to question how deep that "War on Terror" hole goes. Perhaps that truth is what scares the GOP rather than what they say angers them.