Sunday, May 21, 2006

Political Corruption

A couple of times I have chided the Democratic Party leadership for adopting the campaign strategy of branding the Republicans as establishing "a culture of corruption" in Washington DC. It was as if the Democrats were saying that they had a monopoly on political virtue.

Now, the FBI has alleged that they have filmed a Democratic congressman accepting $100,000 in $100 bills last summer. Apparently, William Jefferson (D - LA) stuffed the cash in his freezer.

This article is not concerned with Jefferson’s actions. Jefferson has the right to be presumed innocent unless proven guilty. Still, the accusation raises a point of criticism against the Democratic Party leadership and their proposed “campaign of corruption.”

What were the Democrats trying to accomplish in this campaign?

They wanted to go to the American people and tell us that it was not only permissible, but even a good idea, for us to take the proven guilt of a few Republicans (if and when such guilt could be provided) and apply it to every Republican Senator and Congressman. To the degree that the Democrats could get us to think that all Republicans are tainted, to that degree the Democrats could increase their own power.

If we look a the form of this argument -- the argument structure and its implications, we see that it has the same form that we find in every type of bigotry against race, religion, gender, or sexual orientation. The bigot takes the behavior of a group of individuals who belong to a group that they wish to denigrate and asserts that we, the people, should paint everybody in the group with this common brush.

The bigot’s assertions are in direct conflict with the principle of individual responsibility – where the guilty are punished and the innocent go free. They want to punish the guilty and innocent alike by focusing not on the guilt but on the skin color, sexual orientation, or political affiliation of others.

Now, nobody can seriously deny that the Republicans do this as well. However, this does not forgive the crime. There is no moral difference between asserting that all Republicans are bad people based on the actions of a few bad Republicans than there is in saying that all blacks are bad people based on the behavior of a few bad blacks. This is a paradigm case for which the slogan “two wrongs do not make a right” applies.

Even if statistics could show us that the members of the target group are "more likely" to be guilty of wrongdoing than average, it is still fundamentally unjust to consider a person to be guilty simply because he is a member of that group, when there is no evidence against him as an individual.

Democrats have argued for decades that it is fundamentally unjust to accuse an individual based on the actions of others that he had no part in and no control over. The instant that Democrats can see a way to power by promoting and nurturing bigoted habits they put those bigoted habits to work and stand ready to profit from getting the people to think like bigots.

On this matter, I want to make one point clear. What the Democratic leadership is doing is promoting the type of thinking that is the foundation of all bigotry. Those who are truly interested in ending bigotry would attack it at its source. They would say that the moral failing rests in the form and structure of bigoted thought – of drawing general conclusions from the acts of a few individuals. They would not be designing a political campaign to make use of that type of reasoning.

As the Democratic Party trains people to think like bigots, we can well expect that some who learn these lessons will apply those habits to targets other than “Republicans.”

Why No Challenge to the Idea of the Omnipotent Presidency

This, in turn, suggests an alternative explanation as to why the Democrats (with the vocal exception of Russ Feingold (D - Wisc) are not up in arms about the Bush Administration power grab. The Democratic leadership has decided not to challenge Bush's claim that he may rewrite the laws and bypass the judiciary, torture prisoners, establish secret prisons, hold American citizens in captivity without trial or charge, or any of his other transgressions.

Why would they do this?

Earlier, I suggested that the American people themselves are a threat to any politician who dares to stand up and defend our freedoms. Karl Rove seems to have accurately deduced that the American people prefer tyranny over freedom, as long as the tyrant can generate enough fear.

Several opinion polls support this theory.

However, another possibility is that there are several Democratic leaders who are looking for the opportunity to serve as or with a President of unlimited power. It may be that they can hardly wait to find out what they can learn from warrantless wiretaps and the other violations of civil rights that are currently being put to use to secure and defend the Republican Party.

We, the people, have no less reason to fear the abuses of a Democratic tyrant than those of a Republican tyrant.


Personally, what I would like to see is a shifting of the alliances in the Senate and House of Representatives. I would like to see uncorrupt politicians of good character -- Democrats and Republicans alike -- allied against the corrupt members legislators, than see Democrats (corrupt and uncorrupt alike) aligned against Republicans (corrupt and uncorrupt alike).

And I wish that neither party try to gain political power by teaching the people how to think like a bigot.


Hume's Ghost said...

Josh Marshall noted sometime ago that there is a bi-partisan resistance in Congress to ethics reform.

Anonymous said...

Interesting proposition. I have been thinking recently of an "alliance of incorruptibles" and where it might actually lead. Lest we forget, Robespierre was called "L'incorruptible." But, paranoia aside, wasn't he right? Shouldn't there be zero tolerance for corruption?

I respectfully disagree that association of corruption with one or the other of the parties is necessarily an invitation to bigotry. Although neither party is a stranger to corruption, and the halls of government would likely be quite empty if purged of all corruption, it does seem to me that the impulse to support big business at any cost, to push aside all obstacles to profit regardless of effects on the disempowered, is a corrupt impulse, and to the extent that it has been grafted to Republican ideology, the association between Republicanism and corruption is justified. Again, not that the Democratic party is squeaky clean in that regard.

Discrimination is not necessarily bad. To be called "discriminating" can be a complement. Our education, our choice of a path to take, involves generalizations based on experience. When discrimination is based on faulty criteria, however, when we have a blind spot created by our culture or environment, such discrimination may be ethically questionable or downright mistaken and is likely to be an obstacle to our development as sentient beings.

Perhaps by studying what in party ideology leads to corruption, we can be more discriminating without "thinking like a bigot."

Does the aphorism "power corrupts" breed bigotry against the powerful?