In a ethics blog, one may wonder why I have said so little about the Abramoff Scandal -- charges that lobbyist Jack Abramoff spread a great deal of money around -- money collected and distributed with little regard for the law -- almost exclusively favoring Republican candidates.
The Democratic Strategy
The Democrats are playing this up -- they are making the scandal the center point of their 2006 campaign strategy. They have a catchy little slogan, the "culture of corruption", and they are going through all of the little tricks that professional marketers like to use in order to establish a brand. In this case, they are seeking to brand their opponents as "corrupt".
No doubt, the marketers have done their polling and they have discovered that if the Democrats can make this label stick (and stick only to Republicans), that they will persuade people to vote for them.
Right now, the Democrats seem to be having some trouble with this. The voting public seems to think that the "culture of corruption" applies equally to Democrats and Republicans, and gives them no reason to favor one party over the other.
The Republican Strategy
Several media outlets are reporting that the Republican strategy for 2006 will focus on fear mongering (e.g., the Washington Post). The Republicans are apparently going to try to convince voters that if the Democrats win, each of us is far more likely to be blown to bits by a terrorist bomb.
The Republicans, it seems, will argue that Democrats want to close down the spying operations that the Republicans have been doing in the name of protecting "civil liberties". They will charge that Democrats think that we should live by certain rules such as no searches without a warrant, no arrest (for a major crime) without an indictment, trial by jury, and no cruel and unusual punishment.
Of course, for the Republican strategy to work, the Republicans have to make sure that we feel this fear as we cast our ballots. They need to have people walk into their local polling place with their palms sweating and their heart pounding in fear at what will happen to them if they put a check box next to a Democrat's name.
The Difference Between Them
I consider it a sign of distorted priorities that a candidate can -- for all practical purposes -- stand before the American people and speak in favor of violating the principles behind the Bill of Rights and expect to get voted back in office, while a candidate who admits to violating some obscure campaign financing laws (broken more because of carelessness than malice) destroys his chance of re-election.
This is why I have little interest in the Abramoff scandal; because of its triviality, in comparison to other issues.
I wonder what the pollsters are telling the Democratic leadership about this issue. The evidence seems to suggest that their advice would go something like this:
“According our research, the Republicans are going to accuse the Democrats of being in favor of such things as no searches without a warrant (4th Amendment), no arrest for a major crime without an indictment (5th Amendment), trial by jury (6th Amendment), and no cruel and unusual punishment (8th Amendment). Our research shows that this will work in the Republican’s favor. The worst thing any Democratic candidate can do is say that he actually favors these things.
“In contrast, the best thing that we can do is to charge the Republicans with violating campaign financing regulations. The Republicans have sought to brand themselves as ‘moral.’ If we can show the people that they broke obscure campaign financing laws, this will certainly tarnish their image.
On the other hand, if we try to make this an issue about who condones torturing people sometimes to the point of death, grabbing people from the streets and hauling them to secret prisons, imprisoning them for life without a trial, subjecting them to harsh interrogation until they confess to a crime (even if they do so only to avoid more torture), and similar acts, we will be playing to Republican strengths. The People will react to this campaign by viewing us as evil and the Republicans who support these policies as good.”
So, maybe the Abramoff scandal will have some power as a political tool. However, this is not a blog about political strategy. It is a blog about morality.
Is the Abramoff scandal an important moral issue? Perhaps, to some extent, it is. However, there are more important moral issues out there. Those are the issues that I will continue to focus on.