Friday, December 09, 2005

Culture of Corruption

Whenever a lot of high-profile scandals shake the government, the party in power is always at pains to portray the problem as one of a small number of individual bad actors who did not taint the institution itself, or the party running it.

Certainly in the abstract this explanation is possible, if not always plausible. And it can be very difficult to really prove anything to the contrary, since perception of the big picture is always at least partially a matter of feel, and subject in the mind of the perceiver to great influence by emotional and other factors.

There is more than the usual amount of evidence, however, that the scandals currently plaguing the House, Senate and White House are truly the product of a culture of corruption in the halls of power.

What's striking about many of these cases is not the grandiosity of them but the opposite - the petty, almost careless way so much of these bad acts have gone down.

Take Bill Frist, for example. He's accused of intervening in his supposedly blind trust to save himself some unknown amount of money that is almost certainly negligible in terms of his total net worth. Frist would never, ever have taken such a foolish risk unless it didn't occur to him that what he was doing - which he no doubt knew to be illegal - could possibly have any serious negative consequences.

In other words, the very facts of the Frist case strongly indicate that what Frist was doing was not at all unusual among powerful Republican members of congress, and that such "sighted" blind trusts have been at least an open secret for some time.

Even a better example is this rather hilarious example brought to us by Josh Micah Marshall. Bob Ney apparently tried to hide a bribe by pretending he turned $100 into $34,000 on two hands of some card game in a casino.

Leaving aside the fact that there is no card game in any casino I've ever been to that pays out at 18:1, a TPM reader points out that Ney's cover story is actually lifted directly from one of the most famous movies of all time, Casablanca.

What this means is that Ney believed that he could use essentially any cover story at all, no matter how ridiculous or obviously fabricated, and that he would never be caught because no one would bother to even read it.

This is a serious sign of decay at the root of our democracy.

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