Everyone knows “Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely.”
Given the fact that this knowledge is universal, what chances do we have for an uncorrupted government? My guess is that the chances are few at best.
Reading the papers this morning on the FBI raid on Alaska Senator Ted Stevens’ House yesterday, searching for information concerning bribery, including a lavish refurnishing of his home, I recalled him as the man who promoted the “bridge to nowhere” (which, according to recent reports, will be built despite protests). As the former Chair of the Senate Appropriations Committee, he had one of the most powerful positions in Congress (and still has a lot of power even after the Democrats took over the Senate). He oversaw almost 1 trillion bucks in spending, a lot critical to Alaska, if not of real necessity to US taxpayers.
Stevens is an 83 year old man and has been in office 24 years. As such he is an elder statesman. But like so many of our long-term politicians, in both parties, the rise to power often has emphasized greed over wisdom.
It is this natural affinity to the corruption of power that has given us a lobbyist industry to prey on it. As I understand it there are five times the number of lobbyists than there are Congressfolks (indeed, many of them are former Senators and Representatives!), and they form a wall between the elected officials and the electorate.
The system, then, provides the incentive for corruption.
Take earmarks… the way a legislator adds his or her private projects to a bill after debate has ceased, but before it is approved. When Pelosi and Hoyer took over the House, they were clear that they would remove or reduce earmarks. Then they became noticeably silent about the situation, finally trying to justify a new way of controlling them. Yeah. Sure.
Once in power, the tendency toward corruption seems to start dropping roots… almost unnoticed at first, then, when it is too late, perfectly clear.
If the corporate institutions that control the lobbies thought there was a better way to get what they wanted, things would perhaps change. But why would they kill a successful thing? The pharmaceutical lobby alone is a good example… we pay the largest prices in the world for prescription drugs (unless we are under the VA), even if we are on Medicare. Why? Because lobbyists won… and actually wrote the laws (and provided jobs for our legislators like Tauzin who now make six- and seven-figure incomes from the business.)
Every election we hear candidates run on platforms which are against corruption. We retain our hopes. We believe them. And, almost invariably, we get screwed.
If this could change, I know we would all work for it. But it seems unlikely.