January 17, 2006

The straw that broke the elephant’s back?

last week in the Daily Nexus...

By most accounts, 2005 was a tough year. In the political realm, it was particularly inauspicious for Republican leadership. Here in California, voters flatly rejected Schwarzenegger’s 50 million dollar waste of a special election, a defeat which prompted an unusually contrite Governator to concede last week, “I have learned my lesson.” Other California politicians didn't have it so easy—Congressman Randy “Duke” Cunningham was forced to step down in December after admitting he’d accepted millions in bribes.

And Republicans’ troubles only got worse at the federal level. In the Executive branch, Cheney’s former Chief of Staff Lewis “Scooter” Libby resigned after being indicted for lying to officials investigating the potential retaliatory White House outing of CIA agent Valerie Plame. And let’s not forget that Patrick Fitzgerald, the Justice Department special counsel that charged Libby, has kept his investigation open, and could ultimately implicate Karl Rove—Bush’s own advisor. In Congress, Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist came under investigation for insider trading charges, and House Majority Leader Tom DeLay was indicted for money laundering. DeLay dismissed the charges as a partisan attack, but recently abandoned hope of regaining his seat.

As the year of Republican cronyism drew to a close, the plot grew thicker. Enter Jack Abramoff, “super” lobbyist, who plead guilty last week to 3 felony counts for using millions in casino income to peddle influence in Washington. Abramoff not only gave bribes, but also lavish trips and meals, exclusive tickets, and jobs for relatives to sway Republican lawmakers, who (as we know from our high school civics classes) are forbidden from accepting gifts. Abramoff’s plea deal could see him testify against his former associates. Prior to Abramoff’s plea, a Congressional scholar at the Brookings Institution speculated we could be witnessing the biggest scandal in a century.

Before anyone rushes to the Republican party’s defense and makes this a bipartisan issue, let’s drop the talking points and Bush’s assertion that Abramoff was an “equal money dispensor.” Have a look at the numbers: federal records show that from 2001-2004 Abramoff gave $127,000 to some 200 members of Congress, all of which were Republican. And Bloomberg reports that Abramoff’s clients in the casino business were the only ones among the top 10 tribal donors to give more money to Republicans than Democrats. It’s natural clients would donate to both parties, so this does not provide conclusive evidence that Democrats were directly involved.

With Republicans so embroiled in ethical scandals, it’s ironic to reflect back on this time last year, when a swaggering George Bush, having run on a platform of “personal responsibility” won what the mainstream media accepted as the “moral values” election (Christian conservative values). How hypocritical of Republicans to monopolize the moral high ground when they are responsible for the culture of corruption in the nation’s capital.

Far from accountable to their constituencies, Republican representatives have betrayed the public, granting their allegiance overwhelmingly to rich special interests. And the jig is up—even before Abramoff plead guilty, a CNN/USA Today/Gallup poll revealed that 55% of Americans would consider corruption as a deciding issue in the upcoming election, and since then, an AP-Ipsos poll found the public favoring Democratic control over Congress 49 to 36 percent.

Happily, this year is an election year, and provided Democrats aren’t afraid to be a true opposition party and follow through with Reid and Pelosi’s proposed reforms to the stagnant conservative establishment, November will provide a golden opportunity to wrest monopoly control of the legislature from Republican fat cats. The public has a duty to hold their representatives accountable, and it’s well past time that corrupt politicians were denied the power to sledgehammer their pro-corporate welfare, anti-public interest agenda into law.

In the new film Syriana, an oil company exec under investigation insists that “corruption is why we win.” But in reality, corruption is eroding public confidence in the Republican party and reversing that early 90’s revolution of “angry white men” in Congress. Corruption might have gotten them to the capital. But it’s also why this year, they’ll lose their chokehold on Washington.