Cleburne Times-Review Column for 16 April, 2006
“To the pure, all things are pure, but to those who are corrupted and do not believe, nothing is pure. In fact, both their minds and consciences are corrupted. They claim to know God, but by their actions they deny Him. They are detestable, disobedient and unfit for doing anything good.”
The stench of corruption wafting from the Republic Party has billowed into a choking miasma. Republicans did not, of course, invent political corruption; in fact, a good argument could be made that the first Democratic President, the despicable Andrew Jackson did with his institution of the “spoils system” for Presidential appointments, which in those days extended from Secretary of State all the way down to the local postmaster. However, with the Mussolini-like efficiency for which they are justly renowned, the GOP appears to have perfected the art of transforming government into a giant cash machine for the benefit of politicians and their corporate puppet-masters. Since the Republicans took control of Congress in 1994, the system of earmarks (adding pet pork projects to big spending bills) has exploded, reaching 7,000 in the bloated $328.1 billion 2003 Transportation Bill. And they are fiercely protected; when Oklahoma Senator Tom Coburn (a Republican, and to his credit, despite past racist comments about Native Americans and truly bizarre opinions on abortion) tried to redirect $453 million for two bridges in Alaska) including the infamous “Bridge to Nowhere”) to disaster relief in Louisiana, Senator Ted Stevens threw a childish temper tantrum on the floor of the Senate. And yet Tom DeLay, the official spokescreature for Republican corruption, was able to say with a straight face that there was “no fat” in the federal budget. Randy “Duke” Cunningham, a powerful Republican congressman from California, recently pled guilty to taking literally millions of dollars in bribes, including a yacht and an antique toilet seat, all according to a “bribe menu” he maintained for lobbyists. You wouldn’t see that kind of efficiency and courtesy from Democrats. Heck, the best the Democrats could manage was selling books and kiting checks.
And, of course, there’s never too much we can say about good ol’ Tom DeLay, an endless source of amusement, disgust and outrage, kind of like watching a clown get run over by an eighteen-wheeler. The only thing more appalling than his antics is the fact that 62% of the Republican Primary voters in District 22 actually voted their approval of the vicious, hypocritical, jacked-up little tin dictator. DeLay’s thuggish behavior was evident even after he announced his resignation, when several of his more moronic foot-soldiers crashed a press conference held by Nick Lampson and pushed people around, reminiscent of the time DeLay sent his top aides to Dade County, Florida to stage a riot in order to physically stop the recount of ballots that would’ve shown that Al Gore had carried the state.
DeLay’s ultimate legacy, the notion that money buys power and power can get you anything, is of course not new to Texas, but truly amazing in its modern scope. Multi-millionaire Dr. James Leininger can literally attempt to purchase the Legislature for his pet cause, private school vouchers; though in the recent primary elections four of the five sock puppets he recruited to run against Republican legislators who had dared to offend him managed to lose anyway. Rick Perry, allegedly the Governor of Texas, sells appointments to high office to his top contributors; again, nothing new, but astonishing in the amounts of money being slung around. The Texas Ethics Commission, surely the most impotent toothless “watchdog” ever, rules with a straight face that Bill Ceverha, a Perry appointee to the Texas Employees Retirement System, properly disclosed a “gift” from Texas homebuilder and Swift Boat organizer Bob Perry simply by writing the word “check” on the disclosure form, with no amount. Perry had previously delivered enough cash to ensure the creation of the “Texas Residential Construction Commission,” tasked to prevent homeowners from ever being able to sue homebuilders for shoddy construction.
And notice we haven’t even mentioned Jack Abramoff.
It must be stressed the Republicans aren’t the first or the only ones to betray the public trust and prostitute their offices to the highest bidder. There is, however, every indication that we are experiencing a tidal wave of backed-up sewage from the entrenched GOP establishment. Public anger against the Republicans is apparently driven mostly by resentment against President Bush for the war in Iraq, though the Republicans’ loss has not automatically been the Democrats’ gain. If 2006 turns out to be a watershed election year like 1994 or 1974, Democrats must not yield to the temptation to use Tom DeLay-style tactics to consolidate their hold on power and shake down money from lobbyists. For the sake of democracy over plutocracy, they will need to take firm and immediate steps to break the stranglehold of big money on elections. As long as Buckley v. Valeo, the worst Supreme Court decision since Dredd Scott, remains the law of the land, holding that money equals freedom of speech and therefore the more money you have, the more freedom you have, tinkering around the edges won’t do. Reluctantly, I’ve come to the conclusion that the only cure for the cancer of plutocracy is public funding of elections, combined with a mandatory requirement for free political airtime as a condition of obtaining an FCC license. In the past, I was opposed to public financing on the grounds that it gave the government too much power, with the incentive for mischief. However, Maine, Massachusetts, Vermont and Arizona have all had recent successes with voluntary public financing; now is the time to go national. Additionally, thanks to scientific, computerized redistricting, free elections to the House have virtually been abolished, and the People’s House is now approximately as competitive as the Soviet Politburo. This cannot continue; it is corrosive to freedom and spawns only cynicism and apathy. Therefore, if the Democrats manage to take the House of Representatives, they should use that body’s Constitutional power over the election of its members to mandate that every state institute a non-partisan system of redistricting that is strictly limited to once every ten years, to avoid anti-democratic fiascoes such as occurred in Texas and Georgia. Finally, all gifts of any kind, all meals, all trips, all honoraria of any kind to any sitting member of Congress should be outlawed and a ten-year ban on lobbying by former members of Congress instituted, on pain of forfeiting their Congressional pensions. If the Democrats have the guts to propose a bold reform agenda, they will deserve to win on their own merits, and not just because the voters are disgusted with how far the Party of Lincoln has fallen.