You have to be a “political junkie,” which I apparently am, when you sit, as I often do on many Sunday mornings watching “The Talks.” Having provided the evidence of my condition, I hereby admit to it and the fantasies which accompany it.
One of those fantasies is that I will hear and thereby learn something new or profound from either the “guests”, or the “talking heads” who inhabit the “expert panels” who appear in the second half of these hour long shows for the stated purpose of commenting on what the “guests” who were interviewed on the first half of the program said and the news of the past week generally. Well, so far it hasn’t happened. Nevertheless, there is no doubt that I will continue to occupy my Sunday mornings more often than not by watching these programs in the hope that I will be more “enlightened” after watching them. Further commenting in the context established by newly minted Presidential candidate Texas Governor, Rick Perry, I do not consider it “treasonous” to do so.
What I have heard and read repeatedly not just on Sunday mornings but virtually every day are politicians and pundits alike lamenting the inability of our political leaders and/or the U.S. political system to manage the national, indeed international economic crises that we find ourselves in. Unfortunately that lament has spread beyond the politicians and pundits to one of our credit rating agencies, Standard & Poor’s, which has produced very tangible damage to at least our national psyche if not our economy, by lowering our national credit rating from AAA to AA+.
In wreaking that havoc on our previously sterling credit rating and the unshakable confidence in our government that it historically justified at home and abroad, Standard & Poor’s set forth the reason for its action. “The downgrade reflects our view that the effectiveness, stability and predictability of American policymaking and political institutions have weakened at a time of ongoing fiscal and economic challenges.”
The question, then, is “Why” have American policymaking and political institutions weakened?! Nationally recognized politicians and pundits have Sunday Morning talk shows, cable and digital news, newspapers and magazines on which to offer their respective answers to that question. Those explanations range from “the polarization of the system”, which begs the same question stated another way, i.e. Why has the system become so permanently polarized that it is arguably dysfunctional at this point in our nation’s history? The suggested responses to that pointed inquiry include “political amnesia”, “our under- regulated campaign finance system” as well as the anger and intensity of both the political class (over ideological things) and the public (over values).
Well, if I may in this Op-ed space under my byline, “Pursuit of Justice,” provided to me by The Daily Record let me offer my one word explanation for this phenomenon. This explanation is proffered by a retired state court judge, who before going on the bench full time in 1986 was heavily involved in and observed politics (managing campaigns) at all levels of government for almost 20 years. Even thereafter while on three different Maryland state court benches, I continued to observe with some insight the political scene while repressing any and all partisan thought which might have surfaced if I was not a member of this state’s judiciary.
The explanation that I offer is summed up in one word. That word is “Corruption.”
“Corruption” is variously defined. Webster’s Third New International Dictionary defines it as the “impairment of integrity, virtue, or moral principal” or alternatively the “inducement (as of a political official) by means of improper consideration to commit a violation of duty.” Interestingly and more to the point Black’s Law Dictionary defines “Corruption” as “an act done with intent to give some advantage inconsistent with official duty and the rights of others.”
Applying these definitions, the evidence of “corruption” at every level of government and society is widespread, pervasive and deep. Within the last few years in Maryland we have seen it in its crudest form at the county and city level with the conviction of a former Mayor of Baltimore, the pleas of guilty by the former County Executive and his spouse an elected County Councilwoman in Prince George’s County as well as the indictment for corrupt campaign practices of key campaign aides to a former Maryland Governor. We have also watched the scandal which threatened to envelop the new Mayor of Washington, D.C.
Nationally and internationally corruption is more subtle but nonetheless not that difficult to detect. Daniel Kaufman, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institute, observes “overly cozy relationships among elites in Western societies that are ethically dangerous even when they do not involve outright criminality”. These “unhealthy links” between power, the media, and money writes Peter Apps , whose title ironically is “Political Risk Correspondent” for Reuters, “ may be politically explosive as societies become more unequal due to financial and economic crisis” citing the scandal involving Rupert Murdoch’s media holdings, the British government and Scotland Yard.
That “explosion” may in fact be occurring in our country while this column is written as evidenced by what have begun to be described as “Change Elections” at the federal level in 2006, 2008 and 2010. In subsequent columns I will trace the political and economic incentives for the development of these corrupt relationships as well as the structure and systemic reasons why they may be more difficult to arrest than they were to develop. We will then explore alternative means to reduce “corruption” because since we’re human we can’t eliminate it. In the meantime as we reflect on how we got where we are, subject to further analysis, I suggest we remember what H.L. Meneken said which may be the simplest yet clearest explanation of our current plight. “Democracy is the theory that the common people know what they want and deserve to get it- good and hard.”