- Four qualities have distinguished republican government from ancient Athens forward: the sovereignty of the people; a sense of the common good; government dedicated to the commonwealth; and resistance to corruption. Measured against the standards established for republics from ancient times, the American Republic is massively corrupt.
- In the governing of a republic, corruption was self-interest placed above the interest of all—the public interest.
- There has never been a time, however, when the government of the United States was so perversely and systematically dedicated to special interests, earmarks, side deals, log-rolling, vote-trading, and sweetheart deals of one kind or another.
- What brought us to this? A sinister system combining staggering campaign costs, political contributions, political action committees, special interest payments for access, and, most of all, the rise of the lobbying class.
- Worst of all, the army of lobbyists that started relatively small in the mid-twentieth century has now grown to big battalions of law firms and lobbying firms of the right, left, and an amalgam of both.
- There is little wonder that Americans of the right and many in the middle are apoplectic at their government and absolutely, and rightly, convinced that the game of government is rigged in favor of the elite and the powerful. Occupiers see even more wealth rising to the top at the expense of the poor and the middle class. And Tea Partiers believe their tax dollars are going to well-organized welfare parasites and government bureaucrats.
- Recent months have seen, in effect, the legalization of Watergate. Who would have thought, forty years after the greatest political scandal and presidential abuse of power in U.S. history, that the Supreme Court of the United States would rule the practices that financed that scandal were now legal?
- And, of course, the ultimate victims of the corruption of the democratic process are not defeated candidates and parties but America’s citizens.
- The advent of legalized corruption launched by the Supreme Court empowers the superrich to fund their own presidential and congressional campaigns as pet projects, to foster pet policies, and to represent pet political enclaves. You have a billion, or even several hundred million, then purchase a candidate from the endless reserve bench of minor politicians and make him or her a star, a mouthpiece for any cause or purpose however questionable, and that candidate will mouth your script in endless political debates and through as many television spots as you are willing to pay for. All legal now.
- To compound the political felony, much, if not most, campaign financing is now carried out in secret, so that everyday citizens have a decreasing ability to determine to whom their elected officials are beholden and to whom they must now give special access.
- To add to the profound misdirection of American politics by the Supreme Court, we now have what might be called convergence in the garden of government influence.
- The context is the lobbying maze in Washington and the convergence of dozens of noxious weeds in the garden of government into a handful of giant predator thornbushes now devouring that garden. Of this handful, the largest by far is WPP (originally called Wire and Plastic Products; is there a metaphor here?), which has its headquarters in London and more than 150,000 employees in 2,500 offices spread around 107 countries. It, together with one or two conglomerating competitors, represents a fourth branch of government, vacuuming up former senators and House members and their spouses and families, key committee staff, former senior administration officials of both parties and several administrations, and ambassadors, diplomats, and retired senior military officers.
- Think of the banks that can be bailed out, the range of elaborate weapons systems that can be sold to the government, the protection from congressional scrutiny that can be paid for, the economic policies that can be manipulated.
- The lobbying business is no longer about votes up or down on particular measures that may emerge in Congress or policies made in the White House. It is about setting agendas, deciding what should and should not be brought up for hearings and legislation.
- America’s founders knew one thing: The republics of history all died when narrow interests overwhelmed the common good and the interests of the commonwealth.
- What would our founders make of this nightmare of corruption? We only know, in Thomas Jefferson’s case, for example, that his distrust of central government had to do with the well-founded and prescient suspicion that its largesse would go to powerful and influential interests, especially financiers, who knew how to manipulate both the government and the financial markets.
- All they knew was how to respond to their industry lobbyists’ requests for very large contributions to compliant members of congressional finance committees and to do so quickly and often. And they did get their money’s worth.
- Americans cannot hold ourselves up to the world as the beacon of democracy so long as we permit, as long as we acquiesce in, corruption so far beyond the standards of the true republic that our government cannot be proclaimed an ideal for other aspiring nations.
- On a more personal level, how can public service be promoted as an ideal to young people when this sewer corrupts our Republic?
- But it is impossible to claim to love one’s country and not be outraged at how corrupt it has become. For former senators and representatives to trade a title given them by the voters of their respective states and districts for cash is beyond shameful. It is outrageous.
- It is an error of serious proportion to dismiss corruption in twenty-first-century American democracy on the grounds that this has all been going on from the beginning, that boys will be boys, that politicians are always on the take. Past incidents of the violation of public ethics provide no argument for accepting the systemic and cancerous commercialization of modern American politics.
- And, as scholars of ancient Greek and Roman political texts, they knew in their minds and in their hearts that a republic with leaders who lacked virtue would not long survive.
- ...is to invite the eventual erosion of the ideal of the American Republic, to reduce this great nation and its heritage to the worst kind of mundane governance, to prostitute a noble experiment on the altar of expediency and greed, and to leave coming generations to ponder what went wrong.
- “Just because it is legal doesn’t make it right” should be carved above every congressional doorway, every cabinet department, and even the White House itself.
- The fact that many former presidents and prime ministers of European democracies have enriched themselves in questionable ways after leaving office does not justify similar behavior on the part of American politicians. We hold ourselves to a higher standard.
- We are in danger of becoming a different kind of nation, one our founders would not recognize and would deplore.
- Because of the erosion of the integrity of our governing system, and the principles and ideals underlying it, the fiscal deficit increases. The government spending so many conservatives claim to abhor includes not only the social safety net of Roosevelt and Johnson, but also the war-making excursions of Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush. It is all government spending. And it includes favorite pork-barrel projects of every member of both houses of Congress of both political parties...
- We were not created to be like other nations. We were created as an alternative to monarchy, aristocracy, oligarchy, and corrupt political systems. The more we follow the easy path, the one paved for the benefit of the wealthy and powerful, the more we stray from our originally intended purpose and the more we lose our unique purpose for existence.
- The question is: By adhering to its highest principles and ideals, will America continue to have the moral authority to lead all people of goodwill? The answer remains to be seen. And that answer will have much to do with whether we have the courage to drive the money changers from the temple of democracy and recapture government of the people, for the people, and by the people.
- Bad politics drives out good politics. Legalized corruption drives men and women of stature, honor, and dignity out of the halls of government. Self-respecting individuals cannot long tolerate a system of election and reelection so dependent on cultivating the favor of those known to expect access in return. Such a system is corrosive to the soul.
- Campaigning is a major industry now that consumes hundreds of millions of dollars and, in national campaigns, billions of dollars. Almost all of it goes to the media, the same media whose commentators regularly deplore the costs of campaigns.
- It [lobbying] is a great hydra-headed monster, one that is rapidly devouring American democracy.
- The significant issue is the effect of this relatively recent conversion of a democratic process to a major industry that devours money.
- We are not the same country we started out to be. We cannot conduct our political process the way we are doing in the twenty-first century and claim to adhere to our earliest principles. We must decide who we are. And if that decision is to restore our highest ideals, then major changes must be made in the way we elect our presidents and our members of Congress.
In light of his comments, insights, and the massive corruption he correctly identifies, worrying about who marries who and who can fly a certain flag pale in comparison. Because in the end, if all we are left with in our democracy is a new type of marriage license and a piece of cloth on a flagpole, at the expense of our economic and political freedom, then who really cares? They are nothing more than small consolation prizes.
As Woodrow Wilson once said: "The government, which was designed for the people, has got into the hands of the bosses and their employers, the special interests. An invisible empire has been set up above the forms of democracy." Never has this quote from a hundred years ago been so right as it is today.
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