Rants and Raves

Opinion, commentary, reviews of books, movies, cultural trends, and raising kids in this day and age.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Chicago politics

Note: This appeared as an op-ed in the Valley City Times-Record weekend edition.

“One of the peculiarities of the American Revolution was that its leaders pinned their hopes on the organization of decision-making units, the structuring of their incentives, and the counterbalancing of the units against one another, rather than on the more usual (and more exciting) principle of substituting "the good guys" for "the bad guys".”
Thomas Sowell

Gov. Blagojevitch of Illinois has been caught with his hand in the biggest cookie jar in state politics. The FBI arrested him for pretty blatantly attempting to sell the Senate seat vacated by President-elect Obama to the highest bidder. And evidently, there were a fair number of interested customers.

It's official now, Chicago politics is corrupt. Oh whatever will this poor old world be FORCED to endure next?

There is of course, a lot of partisan back-and-forth about whether the president-elect knew about political corruption in the state he so recently represented.

I sure hope he did. I'd hate to think our new president was that dumb.

Let's get a few things clear. You cannot work in Chicago politics, heck you can't even live in Chicago, and not know it's corrupt through and through.

That is not the same thing as being personally corrupt. Obama had to know the nature of the Chicago political system to work within it. But any man as smart and ambitious as he is would keep clear of personal involvement in anything blatantly illegal, if he aspired to the highest office in the land.

Did he have contact with Blagojevitch about who was going to fill his seat?

Let's see. Would the leader of the party in power, which is within spitting distance of having a filibuster-proof majority in the Senate, be just the teensiest bit interested in who's going to get his old job?

Do I even have to answer that?

Obama would be failing in his duty to his party if he didn't try to have some say in picking his successor. That doesn't mean he was in any way involved in attempting to sell the office. That's the governor's prerogative under the current rules.

I am however, irritated my new president thinks so little of my intelligence that he doesn't think I understand this, and attempts to deny any contact with the governor.

Not long ago, Democrats swept the congressional elections, campaigning against a Republican “culture of corruption.” They were quite right.

Now Republicans are crowing about the Democratic culture of corruption. They're right too.

Why is politics so corrupt?

Could it be that when you give ordinary human beings (and believe me, I've stood next to enough politicians to know they're made of no special stuff) great power and little accountability over raising and spending trillions of dollars, they get tempted to grab some of it for themselves every now and then?

And it's not going to get any better, until we relearn what those brilliant, cynical, idealistic men who founded this country and wrote its constitution knew.

It's not about throwing bad guys out and electing good guys. It's not about expecting our elected officials to be immune to the corrupting influence of power. It's not about looking for angels to govern us.

It's about working with human nature, not against it. It's about creating the mechanisms of transparency, accountability and oversight.

It's about making the powerful live under the same rules as the rest of us.


  • At 8:57 PM, Blogger Joseph Sixpack said…

    It's about making the powerful live under the same rules as the rest of us.

    Damn right.

    I am in law school. It is frightening to behold. The only thing that most of my peers care about regarding morals and ethics is what they need to know to pass the exam in their course on Professional Responsibility. Other than that, many, if not most, are ready to claw, step-on, backstab, blackmail, and do whatever else is necessary to "get ahead." It's as if they're not already going to "be ahead" just by virtue of having a law degree and being qualified for jobs that pay more money, for less time and work, than most people will ever hope to attain.

    It never ceases to amaze me to observe the degree of contempt, annoyance, and disinterest that the most privileged members of our society have for the rule of law. They should be the ones who most appreciate it because it is the guarantor of them not being plundered and killed by the less fortunate. They're also supposed to be part of (or soon to be) the "intelligentsia" who have the wherewithal to comprehend the virtue of the system as a step forward for civilization.

    My previous profession was the military. We took ethical training and conduct very seriously because the decisions that we made demanded that we do so as a matter of habit, not as a CYA after the fact. Lives of our Soldiers, of innocent civilians, and the credibility of our profession in the eyes of the American people demanded this. I feel like I'm in a bizarro universe now. The law profession has never enjoyed much respect. I guess the mindset is, "why bother trying?" Perhaps the politicos have the same mindset. What a pathetic way to live.

  • At 5:16 AM, Blogger Steve Browne said…

    I'm going to do a post someday on my own speculations on what kinds of tweaking of the institutions might improve things, but here's one suggestion:

    Lawyers may not serve on juries. How about we extend that to, once they've been admitted to the bar, may not hold public office. Ever.

    (With the exception of the lawyer-specific offices: judgeships, prosecutors, etc.)

    "But politicians write laws!"

    So let the politicians have as many staff lawyers as they like.

  • At 3:31 PM, Blogger Joseph Sixpack said…

    I'd be curious to read the full rationale for that. There are certainly many unethical folks who happen to be lawyers and I do not want any of them to have access to the public purse. But their status as lawyers is not the problem. The problem is that they are unethical. There are also unethical non-lawyers. And there are even some ethical lawyers.

  • At 2:08 PM, Blogger Steve Browne said…

    It's a thought experiment. I'm wondering what would happen if we barred from public office, professionals who's interest lies in making laws more numerous and complex.

    A free society necessarily has numerous and complex laws, but why make them more so than necessary?

    The reform I'd really like to see tried (and I'll write about this anon) is to limit the franchise to those who are actually paying taxes.

  • At 1:53 PM, Blogger Joseph Sixpack said…

    Everyone pays sales tax if they buy anything or a FICA tax if they work. So, it is going to be tough to even craft a law that excludes anyone. But, if you pull it off, it has "equal protection violation" written all over it. For example, are you going to say that sales tax doesn't count? Argument that just about anyone can make against it: "I WANT to pay taxes so I can be eligible for public office, but the state doesn't levy any that apply to me. The gov't is deliberately denying me this right to run for office. I'm an unemployed, fulltime student who gets a tax credit." Or, if you exclude FICA taxes and someone lives in a state that has no sales tax, many of those who are employed are excluded if they do not own property and their tax refund is greater than or equal to their withholdings.

    None of this is to say that I disagree with your theory in principle. I don't think that everyone should have the right to vote.


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