Thursday, December 11, 2008

Corruption, horse-trading, or politics as usual?

The country seems to be shocked at the governor of Illinois, Rod Blagojevich, and his allegedly corrupt practices and subsequent arrest earlier this week. I would like to suggest that the only reason we call him corrupt is that he was doing it for money. Political horse-trading like this goes on all the time, but the only time we call a spade a spade is when there are large sums of money involved. As Chris Bowers at Open Left pointed out, there are several examples of Democrats offering to vote a certain way in order to get something that they desire in exchange.

While it is not illegal to threaten to switch voting habits if certain demands are not met, it is just as unprincipled as selling a Senate seat for money. In both cases, power is for sale for its own sake, prior beliefs and values be damned. Lieberman was threatening to start voting with Republicans on a number of issues that he previously did not if he was not granted more power. The same appears to be the case for these three Senate Democrats in New York. Power trumps values. Like Blagojevich, they are all demanding certain amounts of power before they will support your ideas.

And that's why the government is broken. There are no principles anymore, there is only "what can you do for me?" Moreover, corruption of the Blagojevich scale is not even that rare anymore, he was just dumber than most in getting caught on tape. As John Stewart pointed out on the Daily Show:
After noting in a segment 'for children' that 3 of the last 7 Illinois Governors have ended up in jail, Stewart explains that statistics show if you grow up to become the Governor of Illinois, you're more likely to go to jail than if you commit murder. Calling the job of Governor for the state of Illinois a "dead end" and "a ticket to nowheresville," he says if Blagojevich is convicted, that will total "50% who end up in jail" while "If you commit murder, only 48% end up in jail for their crime."
And all of this after running on an anti-corruption campaign.
Until his arrest Tuesday on federal corruption charges, the self-proclaimed "always lawful" Blagojevich had built a political career, in part, on fighting corruption. When he ran for governor, he touted his past as a state criminal prosecutor and promised to break away from politics as usual.

"A governor must be willing to take on the special interests, not carry their water," he said when he announced his candidacy for governor in 2001, at the North Side Chicago steel mill where his Serbian immigrant father once worked. "It means shaking up a system that serves itself instead of the people."

So I started thinking about others that have been accused or convicted of corruption or ethics problems in recent memory:
And that's where I got depressed and stopped thinking about it. I thought maybe I was overstating things, and decided to turn to Wikipedia and see what the data said. Turns out there's a survey known as the "Corruption Perceptions Index", which measures "the degree to which corruption is perceived to exist among public officials and politicians". Countries are scored on a 10-point score, with 10 being perceived as least-corrupt. If you scroll down, the USA is about 20th on the list, with a score of 7.2. Our score has also been sliding down, from 7.6 in 2002, indicating that the perception of corruption has been steadily increasing since that time.

I'm not saying Blago ought to be given a pass, what I am saying is far more revolutionary. Professional politicians do not have our best interests at heart. We have ceded far too much control over every aspect of our lives to political "leaders" that are utterly divorced from the views of those that they are supposed to represent. As Lord Acton said, "Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Great men are almost always bad men." It's time for us to start taking some of our power back.

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