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Saturday, June 17, 2006

Trivializing Corruption

by David Sirota

Ninety thousand dollars in a Democratic Congressman's freezer. A Republican House Majority Leader indicted for money laundering, and a senior Republican thrown in jail for accepting bribes. Washington's biggest lobbyist thrown in jail for trying to buy off lawmakers. This is what the Washington Establishment and the media want America to believe is the worst form of corruption: a few dirty political hacks who had the nerve to violate our supposedly pristine democracy.

Certainly, these examples are egregious. But the intense focus on them by political leaders and the media to the exclusion of the real corruption destroying our democracy trivializes what corruption really is. That's not by accident -- it is a deliberate tactic of distraction, and shows just how bought off our political system really is.

Today, the lifeblood of American politics is money. Candidates must raise enormous sums of private cash to run for office -- sums that the wealthy and corporate interests are only too happy to provide in exchange for legislative favors. We are told by politicians that this system is "the greatest democracy in the world" when, in fact, it is very clearly the same form of bribery that has marked every corrupt regime looked down on by history books.

Money, of course, does not just buy favors -- it makes sure that the concept of corruption is only presented to the public by political leaders as anecdotes about a few bad apples, not a narrative about a broken system. Why? Because an indictment of the pay-to-play system that produced the bad apples could mean structural campaign finance reforms that challenge the power of the Big Money interests that underwrite our politicians. Thus, in the aftermath of recent congressional scandals, all we get is a pathetical discussion about weak lobbying "reform" proposals and even weaker sanctions against individual lawmakers.

Such narrowing of our political discourse is the most nefarious form of corruption of all. It shows how we now live in a country where the very boundaries of public policy debates are designed to ensure outcomes that never challenge Big Money interests. The truly corrupt interests that own American politics long ago realized that they do not have to pervasively violate our weak anti-corruption laws to get what they want. All they have to do is shower cash on as many lawmakers as possible. These lawmakers, uninterested in biting the hand that feeds them, consequently make sure the overall debate is rigged.

read the rest......Trivializing Corruption


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