Imagine, if you will, a man such as this: charming, clever, with the power to influence and the skill to make connections wherever he goes. He keeps his friends close and his enemies closer and always has a disarming smile ready from behind the podium. The perfect politician, in other words.
Or newly-impeached Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich?
Political scandals shock us, but they rarely surprise us. And why would they? Politics is inherently a game of power – and with power all too soon comes corruption.
More than $90,000 in cash from bribes is found in the freezer of a Louisiana congressman. The New York governor who makes his reputation busting high-price prostitution rings is found with a $1,000-an-hour call girl. The longest continually serving Republican senator in history is indicted for failing to report the estimated $250,000 in corporate gifts that apparently went towards doubling the size of his private home. Oh, the list goes on.
Yet with all the dust flying around from another fallen podium, it’s easy to miss the bigger picture. Why does a governor selling the president-elect’s senate seat to the highest bidder suddenly trouble us so when politicians are selling their own souls at the expense of taxpayers every day?
The long list of allegations against Blagojevich – starting with no less than withholding funds from a children’s hospital and ending with the senate seat scandal – are inarguably contemptible. But the hard truth is they’re only the beginning; there’s a bigger scandal to be outraged by.
The really, truly outrageous scandal isn’t what government officials do that’s illegal. It’s what we let them get away with legally and systematically.
We’ve granted this select group of people so much power over our lives that they take hundreds of billions of dollars of our money to bail out their corporate pals. Since the best politicians are, by definition, masters of persuasion, it’s really not too hard to sell taxpayers phrases like “too big to fail” and “rescue plan” and convince them to hand over their hard-earned thousands. And all the while the executives and lobbyists of these taxpayer-subsidized companies are flying to Washington to whisper sweet promises of campaign contributions in the ears of our elected officials.
Elections themselves are a massive bidding war. We all know that politicians accept massive campaign contributions from corporations and special interest groups with very powerful lobbyists.
Even the man who’ll be taking over the White House this month, a man who once told a crowd of supporters, “The reason that I’m running for president is because of you, not because of folks who are writing big checks,” accepted hundreds of thousands of dollars in campaign contributions from lobbyists and political action committees (PACs) as a state legislator in Illinois, a senator and a presidential candidate. During his eight years as a senator, Obama collected almost $300,000 from PACs, corporations and unions, according to the Boston Globe. His senate campaign proved even more profitable: $128,000 from lobbyists and $1.3 million from PACs, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. Although accepting corporate gifts apparently didn’t gel too well with his presidential “change” theme, Obama is just like any other politician, and the fact that he now holds the highest office in the nation proves that he’s played the game pretty well.
I wonder sometimes why some scandals get so much more play than others. I suppose it’s because men like Blagojevich break the self-imposed rules – they get just a little too good at the game they all play. By attempting to sell the president-elect’s senate seat to the highest bidder, Blagojevich brought the wolf out from under the sheep’s clothing.
But when the very nature of politics rewards those who cater to special interests and elects them to the highest offices, why are we at all surprised when scandals bubble above the murky surface? Isn’t politics inherently a game of having the friends with the most money and power? Isn’t it all about knowing the right people? What holy line did the governor of Illinois cross that sets his actions apart from what we already legally allow in Washington?
The members of Congress who voted in favor of the financial industry bailout received on average $231,877 in campaign contributions over the past five years from banks and security firms, compared to only $150,982 on average to the representatives who voted against the bill. Hmm… I wonder which of those members will have the privilege of wining, dining and talking politics and upcoming campaigns with the CEOs of Citigroup and General Motors?
Yet there is a way for us to deal with both legal and illegal political corruption and it’s actually quite simple in theory: limited government. If it’s common knowledge that politics and special interest groups go hand-in-hand, it seems that the most logical solution would be to limit the power politicians (and so inherently the groups that bankroll them) have over our lives. Be outraged at the thought that those who have the nerve to legislate individual rights like marriage are funded by massive church organizations. Write a letter to your congressional representative the next time they decide to give away your hard-earned income to their corporate friends.
Quite simply, stop giving these men so much of the one thing so many of them live for: power.
Marlize van Romburgh is a journalism senior and the Mustang Daily editor-in-chief.