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The Pervasiveness of Corruption

Posted Dec 20 2008 7:16pm

category_bug_politics.gif The allegations against Illinois Governor Rod R. Blagojevich [ 74-page criminal complaint - pdf] are distinguished among political scandals for their extreme sleaziness and give me a reason to buckle down on a corruption story I have been toying with for a long time. Even sticking only to recent scandals, the list of transgressions against the public trust is long and the details, when not venal, are sordid. Always, if it’s not about money, it’s about sex.

In no particular order, here are two lists, compiled only from memory, of big-time, elected politicians involved in scandals:

Rep. William Jefferson
Sen. Ted Stevens
Mayor Sharpe James
Gov. Dan Walker
Rep. Charles Rangel
Rep. Tom DeLay
Sen. Robert Torricelli
Gov. George Ryan
Rep. Randy Cunningham

Rep. Mark Foley
Rep. Gary Condit
Rep. Wilbur Mills
Rep. Newt Gingrich
Sen. Larry Craig
Sen. Gary Hart
Gov. Elliot Spitzer
President Bill Clinton
Sen. John Edwards

I’m amazed I can compile such a long list from memory and it is, of course, light years from being exhaustive. It doesn’t include scandals with “–gate” attached their names, business people, military or anyone from the Bush administration. If you don’t recognize some, Wikipedia will enlighten you.

Personally, I’m not much concerned about sex scandals except for my awe (renewed regularly) at lawmakers’ inability to keep it in their pants, and the carelessness in the execution of their libidinous activity.

The people on this list are exclusively male, but a quick search around the web reveals that women politicians are not unknown to participate in money scandals, although not sex scandals which doesn’t mean they don’t engage in sordid liaisons, only that they haven’t been revealed. I suspect there are fewer women reported in any sort of scandal only because they haven’t cracked the glass political ceiling in enough numbers yet – and apparently Mrs. Blagojevich has been a willing participant in her husband’s alleged corruption.

The astronomical number of corrupt politicians, in comparison to the number of elective offices – even if you count only federal officials – leaves me feeling like Diogenes. Is there an honest politician anywhere? Or are there only those who haven’t been caught?

They are all expert at weasel words and I can recall hardly any politician who speaks directly to anything without leaving wide-open gaps of unanswered questions. Rep. Jesse Jackson, Jr., in his press conference on Wednesday disavowing collusion with Governor Blagojevich, made no reference as to whether he would accept or reject Barack Obama’s Senate seat if the accused governor appoints him.

Look, I’m not naïve. I know politicians twist corporate and rich peoples’ arms for money in exchange for legislative favors and appointments, and vice versa. But this is the first time in my memory that we know the precise, naked details of how it happens day-to-day, can see the Janus-faced politician as he is, claiming reform in public while selling the public trust for personal enrichment in private.

While reading the criminal complaint, particularly the quotations from the taps on Governor Blagojevich’s telephones and bugs in his office, the horrible feeling crept over me that this kind of “pay-to-play” horse trading is only politics as usual, that they all engage in it all the time, perhaps less crudely than this accused governor. After all, have you ever heard of a high-level, elected politician (who wasn't already rich) who didn’t walk away by choice or failed re-election bid directly into a job that pays enough annually to support you or me for a lifetime?

The Clintons’ finances were in the minus column when Bill became president; now they are worth millions. In a particular pet peeve of mine, former Louisiana Rep. Billy Tauzin now works for $2 million a year for Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, a lobbying job he was given after he shepherded Medicare Part D through Congress, a program that has enriched the pharmaceutical companies by tens of billions while ripping off sick elders.

Much of the time corruption is so Byzantine as to be impenetrable. (What exactly did the banks and Wall Street firms do with those mortgages?) What has made the Blagojevich allegations (has anyone called it Blago-gate yet?) so “popular” is that it is corruption at its most base: “you give me money; I give you Senate seat.” It doesn’t get any simpler than that.

A majority of people go through life working hard for living, do their best to raise their children to become morally responsible adults, pay their bills and their taxes and do it all by the rules. It’s hard to know if politics attracts those who are already corrupt or if politics corrupts those who were once honest, but that short-list above tells us the kind of government we have, have always had. And it is not to anyone’s benefit but politicians and their corporate cronies.

In the recently contagious bubble of political “hope,” the Blagojevich affair is thoroughly deflating.

[ At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Linda Davis tells us about her son's love in My Grandpa's Gone. ]

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