Purging K Street
Elizabeth Drew has a particularly depressing article in the latest on-line edition of the New York Review of Books. She writes that a decade of Republican control of Congress, and now the White House, has resulted in --
"unprecedented corruption — the intensified buying and selling of influence over legislation and federal policy — that has become endemic in Washington... .
"Corruption has always been present in Washington, but in recent years it has become more sophisticated, pervasive, and blatant than ever. A friend of mine who works closely with lobbyists says, 'There are no restraints now; business groups and lobbyists are going crazy—they're in every room on Capitol Hill writing the legislation. You can't move on the Hill without giving money.'
Drew is vivid in describing the breadth of the corruption that followed the Republican purge of ideologically unfriendly K-Street lobbyists, but she's less convincing about the remedy. Writes Drew:
"The Republican purge of K Street is a more thorough, ruthless, vindictive, and effective attack on Democratic lobbyists and other Democrats who represent businesses and other organizations than anything Washington has seen before. The Republicans don't simply want to take care of their friends and former aides by getting them high-paying jobs: they want the lobbyists they helped place in these jobs and other corporate representatives to arrange lavish trips for themselves and their wives; to invite them to watch sports events from skyboxes; and, most important, to provide a steady flow of campaign contributions. The former aides become part of their previous employers' power networks. Republican leaders also want to have like-minded people on K Street who can further their ideological goals by helping to formulate their legislative programs, get them passed, and generally circulate their ideas. When I suggested to Grover Norquist, the influential right-wing leader and the leading enforcer of the K Street Project outside Congress, that numerous Democrats on K Street were not particularly ideological and were happy to serve corporate interests, he replied, 'We don't want nonideological people on K Street, we want conservative activist Republicans on K Street.'"Drew finds that -- "the effects of the new, higher level of corruption on the way the country is governed are profound. Not only is legislation increasingly skewed to benefit the richest interests, but Congress itself has been changed. The head of a public policy strategy group told me, 'It's not about governing anymore. The Congress is now a transactional institution. They don't take risks. So when a great moral issue comes up — like war — they can't deal with it.' The theory that ours is a system of one-person-one-vote, or even that it's a representative democracy, is challenged by the reality of power and who really wields it. Barney Frank argues that 'the political system was supposed to overcome the financial advantage of the capitalists, but as money becomes more and more influential, it doesn't work that way.' Many of us have known all this for some time. So what's so depressing about Drew's article? In her view, the main hope for saving this disintegrating democracy is -- don't laugh -- the press:
"Perhaps the greatest deterrent to ethical transgression is that members of Congress don't want to read unfavorable stories about themselves. A Republican lobbyist says that the biggest factor in the growth of corruption has been 'the expectation that all this goes undetected and unenforced.'"What do you think? Is Drew right that what we need is someone who will step up to become the Woodward and Bernstein of our time? Would that really make any difference?
Or is she myopic? Is it, perhaps, really a modern-day Leon Jaworski that we need? For all that 'Deep Throat' did for Woodward's career and Bernstein's excellent writing, the reality is that without a courageous prosecutor Nixon and his criminal gang would have survived the Washington Post.
Or, as John Dean -- a man who should know -- put it recently when discussing the mysteriously prlonged Valeria Plame investigation, corruption "deserves both the pitiless light of publicity, and the laser focus of prosecution."
Personally, I have little hope for the press. They've dumbed down and sold out. It's time to unleash any independent prosecutors who may be left.
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