Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Corruption: Systems versus People

There are currently three stories of major corruption in Washington: the EPA corruption scandal (in which the White House changed reports, bullied administrators, and now issued a gag order); the DOJ corruption scandal (in which Monica Goodling, senior liaison to the White House, asked DOJ job applicants, "What is it about George W. Bush that makes you want to serve him?" and "Why are you a Republican?" When one applicant expressed admiration of the Secretary of State, Goodling frowned: "But she's pro-choice." Goodling even committed crimes, as when she sacked Assistant U.S. Attorney Leslie A. Hagen because of a rumor Hagen was gay), and now the Ted Stevens corruption scandal (the breaking news in which the aging Alaska senator was indicted on seven charges of corruption for taking kickbacks).

I wrote about this at BlueOregon this morning, but it bears repeating: this stuff is not usual. It is corruption of the kind functioning western democracies should never see, much less see in a single issue of a newspaper. The collective yawn directed at the first two does not bode well. Based on the early internet reaction, the Stevens news is getting more play, but that's probably because a bigger horse's ass has rarely served in the Senate; whenever a jerk goes down, there are always lots of rubberneckers.

But Stevens' corruption is usual, ironically. Throughout American history, there have always been pols on the take. More disturbing is the corruption of agencies of the government--this is far more damaging to the republic and not so easily remedied. Once the institutions of government have become corrupt, it's difficult to uncorrupt them. Power is like electricity--it flows along the course of least resistence. Once it become usual (and politically acceptable) to alter reports, apply loyalty tests, and lie to the public, it is hard to back off. Will Democrats use their power more wisely now that the Republicans have begun to remove resistence in the agencies of government?

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