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Monday, September 26, 2005

Taking Aim at Corruption

Anyone who has stumbled by this blog before should know that I'm not a big fan of Tom DeLay - in fact, I'm pretty well set to support anyone (even a Yella Dog) who'd run against him (okay, maybe not if Charles Manson ran against him - I do have some limits). If you look over at Tammany on the Hudson, you'll see that it isn't just Congressmen, Texans, or Republicans that I hold in contempt for this cause. Perhaps I am naive, but I believe that holding a public office is an honor and a public service - not a way to make your family and friends rich.

Now there is CREW - Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington who are aiming "Beyond DeLay". Forgive me, but I think you should actually aim at DeLay, whose crimes are rapidly becoming documented public record as his associates learn the frog-walk. The hobgoblin of public action is to get ahead of yourself. You eat an elephant one bite at a time - not by unhinging your jaw and cramming the elephants hindquarters in your gullet.

There is another problem with the CREW list - the heavy concentration of Republicans leaves it open to charges of partisanship and bias. True, there are two Democrats on the list - Maxine Waters of California and William Jefferson of Louisianna. Though I am a Democrat, I find it hard to believe that one specific Hudson County Democratic Representative/Senatorial Hopeful didn't make the list - Bob Menendez. Other Democrats could have made the list as well.

The big problem is acknowledged by CREW in its "blog" -

[CREW] has been searching for a Member of Congress to file with the committee, but so far, no Member has stepped up to the plate. Do they fear retribution? We think they do..."


Yeah, they know what happened to the last member of Congress who filed an ethics complaint - Houston's Chris Bell

But serving in Congress also gave Chris a chance to see firsthand the crippling effect of cynical partisanship. Honest debate was less common than partisan gamesmanship, genuine compromise was virtually unheard of, and the public interest consistently took a backseat to political interest. Chris became a prime target of the infamous 2003 Republican redistricting effort in the Texas Legislature, and he was defeated in his bid for reelection after his district was redrawn.

Not content to stand idly by and stomach the violation of laws and abuse of power that accompanied the redistricting effort, Chris filed a formal ethics complaint against House Majority Leader Tom DeLay in June, 2004, breaking a seven-year "ethics truce" in Congress. Four months later, the House Ethics Committee responded by unanimously admonishing DeLay on two of Chris's charges and leaving a third on the table pending a criminal investigation in Texas.


More than that, however, they know they all have an ethics problem. I simply don't think that Congress can effectively investigate Congress. Much is made about how the Attorney General is caught in an automatic conflict-of-interest when the White House is being investigated (because he's appointed by the President), but we seem okay with the idea that a few Congresspersons who are hand-picked by the rest of Congress will do a good job of policing its members. Hogwash. It's like telling the convicts to elect a warden and then not expecting a jailbreak.

Obviously, the Republican leadership is at the top of the news cycle with its recent ethical problems. But elections are a poor way of enforcing ethics. After all, people often send the worst possible people back to Congress. Incumbency is a grand weapon to wield over reformers.

I consider it to be an infinitely good step that the SEC Chairman recused himself from an investigation into his friend Bill Frist. Yet, the SEC chair is ultimately appointed by the President - so the same conflict of interest exists when the person being investigated is part of the same party leadership as the President. The oral-sex "scandal" of the Clinton White House shows the problem of having an "independent" Special Prosecutor who is a partisan hack. However, as much money as was wasted to hang Monica AlbatrossLewinsky around BIll Clinton's neck, even more is wasted by not having such an office to investigate Congress and keep them honest.

I'll close by quoting Barry Goldwater -

Tonight, there is violence in our streets, corruption in our highest offices, aimlessness amongst our youth, anxiety among our elders, and there's a virtual despair among the many who look beyond material success for the inner meaning of their lives. And where examples of morality should be set, the opposite is seen. Small men, seeking great wealth or power, have too often and too long turned even the highest levels of public service into mere personal opportunity.

Now, certainly, simple honesty is not too much to demand of men in government.


Yes, there would be no place for Mr. Goldwater in politics today. And we are all the poorer for it.

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