Bribery-- The Most Bipartisan Aspect Of Inside The Beltway Political Culture
We see you
If there's been a theme to DWT in the past couple of weeks, it been an attempt to lay out the clear and debilitating relationship between big corporate bribes-- called "donations" or "contributions" in polite Insider company-- and our political system. Is it really possible to talk about the passage of the FISA bill with retroactive immunity for Telecom executives without talking about the fact that Senator Jay Rockefeller (D-WV-$51,500) and Rep. Rahm Emanuel (D-IL-$49,950), the two members of Congress most responsible for Bush's success in subverting the Constitution and the rule of law, were also the two members of Congress not running for president who got the biggest payoff from those very same Telecom corporate execs who came sleep more soundly now knowing they will never have to stand before the bar of Justice and answer for the crimes they committed?
And in the midst of the worst gasoline crisis most Americans can remember Big Oil demanded that their allies-- our representatives-- kill a proposal to force them to drill for oil on the leased federal lands they now hold or risk losing those leases to companies willing to drill. It may seem rational but Big Oil ad Gas has spent over $200,000,000 on bribing politicians in Washington since 1990, including over $18,000,000 so far this year-- and they expect their shills to jump when they say jump. And who were the biggest recipients of their largess this year? Although John McCain was by far their biggest investment (at over a million dollars so far)-- after all, half his campaign staff makes a living lobbying for Big Oil-- let's skip the presidential candidates and just look at members of Congress. The members who have jumped the highest when Big Oil said jump-- John Cornyn (R-TX-$480,100), James Inhofe (R-OK-$220,350), Steve Pearce (R-NM-$204,234), Mitch McConnell (R-KY-$197,150), and Mary Landrieu (D-LA-$184,850)-- were the #1, 2, 3, 4, and 5 biggest non-presidential Oil and Gas bribe takers in Congress. It's hard to think of it as mere coincidence and not recognize the cause and effect relationship. Congressman X gets X dollars from X Oil, Inc and does the bidding of X Oil, Inc. But don't just take my word for it. This month Thomas Frank has an insightful piece in Harper's, The Wrecking Crew: How a gang of right-wing con men destroyed Washington and made a killing, based on his new book, The Wrecking Crew: How Conservatives Rule.
Operative word is "and." Right wing con men weren't just bumbling idiots; they were out to rip of the system and make generational wealth so that Bushes and Cheneys 100 years from now will be sitting pretty-- with plenty of bottled water when they rest of us are grappling with water poisoned by mercury. Where there is incompetence in government, it was incompetence by direction. Franks first sentence sets the tenor that will be the hallmark of every serious examination of the Bush years: "Corruption is uniquely reprehensible in a democracy because it violates the system's first principle, which we all learned back in the sunshiny days of elementary school: that the government exists to serve the public, not particular individuals."
It is no coincidence that George Bush and John McCain have made a ritual out of nonstop bragging-- as though this would inoculate them-- about what inattentive students they always were and how they failed their courses and were always at the bottoms of their classes. That two dunces, who never learned the lessons that taught the foundations of democracy should be elevated to leadership roles predicts certain results.
Frank very ably points out that Jack Abramoff, in prison until Bush pardons him, was hardly the one bad apple, who, having been plucked and removed from society, is proof positive that corruption has been defeated and is no longer a threat. Quite the contrary. The Tom DeLay-Jack Abramoff Culture of Corruption has been usurped in its entirety by Steny Hoyer and Rahm Emanuel under the accepted Beltway premise that to the victors go the spoils, the "spoils," being access to the pockets of the taxpayers.
Since 1990 the Telecoms spent over $112,000,000 bribing members of Congress, most of their money going to Republicans. But once the Democrats took over both houses of Congress, it would be hardly effective to just shovel more bribes at John McCain (R-AZ), Ted Stevens (R-AK), Susan Collins (R-ME), Gordon Smith (R-OR), and Lindsey Graham (R-OR) in the Senate and Lee Terry (R-NE), Greg Walden (R-OR), Cliff Stearns (R-FL), Eric Cantor (R-VA) and Chris Cannon (R-UT) in the House. They had to reach across the aisle and find Democrats as sleazy and corruptible as Republicans. They didn't have to look far because soon enough Rep. Rahm Emanuel and Senator Jay Rockefeller came knocking on their doors, or on their lobbyists' doors. Now House Democrats who supported the FISA bill-- Emanuel, Rick Boucher (D-VA), Baron Hill (D-IN), Zach Space (R-OH) and Leonard Boswell (D-IA) have raked in more money than the top 5 pro-FISA Republicans. And now-- leaving out McCain's $365,955 pay-off and the bribes to the other presidential candidates-- the 5 biggest Democratic Telecom shills in the Senate got almost the same in bribes that the 5 biggest Republican senatorial shills got. Now that's bipartisanship Inside-the-Beltway style! Frank:
There is so much money in conservatism these days that Karl Rove rightly boasts, "We can now go to students at Harvard and say, 'There is now a secure retirement plan for Republican operatives.'"
The Republican wing of the Democratic Party isn't faring that badly either, Emanuel, the most systemically corrupt Democrat in Congress being Exhibit 1. Still, above and beyond the will to power and personal avarice, there is still a fundamental difference between the "law of the jungle" Republican Party and the "we're all on this boat together" Democrats. Personal failings aside, the combining of Big Government with Big Business (think Italy of the 1920s and Germany and Spain of the 1930s) has enriched a very small but very driven and powerful segment of the population-- and that segment finances the careers of our political class. It is not in the best interests of that segment for government to function well and the GOP has been willing handmaidens in giving them their way.
Fantastic misgovernment is not an accident; nor is it the work of a few bad individuals. It is the consequence of triumph by a particular philosophy of government, by a movement that understands the liberal state as a perversion and considers the market the ideal nexus of human society... Its leaders laugh off the idea of the public interest as airy-fairy nonsense; they caution against bringing top-notch talent into government service; they declare war on public workers... The ruination they have wrought has been thorough; it has been a professional job.
In fact the destruction of the government has been one of the few real successes-- in terms of goals identified and accomplished-- of the Bush Regime. And Thomas Frank seems certain-- as does Frank Rich-- that McCain and the people around him and determined to continue down the same disastrous path. They do not feel our pain. Just ask Phil Gramm what he thinks about the recession and why he thinks Americans are whiners. He may not speak for McCain but McCain speaks for Phil Gramm. Frank: "Like Bush and Reagan before him, John McCain is a self-proclaimed outsider, but should he win in November he will merely bring us more of the same: an executive branch fed by, if not actually made up of, lobbyists and other angry, righteous profiteers."