Abramoff, Corruption, Congress, and the Turning of Public Opinion
By Lee Russ
Friday, January 06, 2006 at 05:34 PM
Did the Abramoff indictments surprise you? Did the plea agreements? How about the news that an Ohio congressman seemed to work/vote to order for Abramoff?
Ohio, imagine that. Now who could believe that anything there is corrupt? Not after the election, Blackwell, Taft, Noe and coingate, and on and on, right?
The interesting thing to me is to watch the reaction of the media, and of "the public," to revelations that really did no more than put a few dates and details to a story that everybody with a brain and any interest already knew.
Now that it's "official" knowledge, the media can say what it already knew: these guys are sleazy and corrupt beyond belief, and far too many of our elected officials are just as much for sale as that rhinestone ring in the jewelry case at the discount store.
And say it they are. From coast to coast with a few stops in the middle. I think it's safe to say that the tide of newspaper opinion has turned. And that usually takes the public's opinion along with it--although now we have to factor in the Fox/MSNBC whitewash crew, so who knows?
Excerpts from major newspaper editorials and columns over the last couple of days:
1. From Scot Lehigh in the Boston Globe:
Having the presidency and both houses of Congress under one-party control has led to a politically rancid reality, one where policy is drafted by K Street lobbyists and government often resembles a special-interest feeding frenzy.
Back during their long years in the minority, Republicans pledged lean, honest, efficient, responsive government when and if they ascended to power in Congress.
Instead, they've offered up a Roman orgy of arrogance, excess, and indulgence.
2. From the editorial writer of the Los Angeles Times:
LIKE ENRON'S ANDREW FASTOW or WorldCom's Bernard Ebbers in the scandals that shook corporate America earlier this decade, Jack Abramoff is the quintessential "why stop there?" character in the lobbying scandal currently roiling Washington. He took the capital's custom of wooing politicians to a grotesque, illegal but not necessarily illogical extreme.
proving a quid pro quo is the challenge for the prosecution in any corruption case. American political customs demand that we suspend our disbelief and buy into the notion that there typically is no quo for the quid, that lobbyists and their business clients shower millions of dollars on politicians not because they are seeking favors but because it is the patriotic thing to do. The conventions of the game also require us to believe that politicians aren't influenced by huge campaign contributions, and that they go on golfing trips to Scotland to better educate themselves on pressing legislative business.
it will be up to a new generation of Republican leaders in the House to push for meaningful anti-corruption reforms in Congress. The quid pro quo here is obvious: To ensure their majority, they have to clean up their act.
3. From the editorial writer of The Kansas City Star:
As this newspaper and other supporters of campaign finance reform have noted in the past, what politicians call "contributions" from special interests often amount to little more than legalized bribery.
But as bad as the usual practices in Washington are, prosecutors determined that Abramoff and certain individuals who took his money went well beyond the pale.
He took advantage of the lax moral environment in Washington to cheat his own clients, evade taxes and enrich himself at the public's expense through the corruption of government officials.
Just how many of these officials may have betrayed the public's trust and broken the law remains to be discovered. But Alice Fisher, head of the Justice Department's criminal division, warns that the Abramoff corruption scheme was "very extensive."
House Speaker Dennis Hastert -- he got money, too -- goes so far as to suggest that lawmakers might benefit from new ethics training. It appears to be a little late for that.