"And then there is Jack Abramoff. A close associate of Messrs. DeLay and Norquist and a longtime Republican activist, he seems to have been determined to make gigantic sums of money. Not content with the $1 million or so a year he could easily have made, he squeezed Indian tribes for tens of millions (Indian gambling laws have created a class of naive clients) and engaged in some very shady dealings in the gambling cruise ship business. There will always be such individuals: Abe Fortas, a lawyer of the highest intellectual caliber, was not content with a Supreme Court justice's salary and arranged for outside income from a former client, the disclosure of which led him to resign from the court. There is a fine and sometimes indistinct line between bribery, which requires a specific quid pro quo, and legal mutually beneficial conduct.People in the media, as well as voters, seem to be extremely myopic. It seems as though every new political scandal and every new revelation of corruption is treated as though there have been no previous cases. As Michael Barone suggests with his short history lesson, we should perhaps learn to expect scandal and corruption. Instead of thinking we may get more honorable politicians, and instead of thinking the answer to political corruption is some new rule for our politics, perhaps we should simply assume that there will always be scandal, corruption, and abuse of power. Perhaps the answer to scandal, corruption , and abuse of power by our politicians is to return to the original constitutional design for our system of political economy and thereby to return to a national government that is much more limited in size and much more constrained in the enumerated powers we grant to it. Scandal, abuse of power, and corruption would still be with us, but perhaps the impact of abuse of power would far less significant. Or maybe not. Maybe we simply have to expect such abuses, and then when they are discovered, we throw the bums out and into a jail.
Mr. Abramoff's guilty pleas have both parties scampering to offer up lobbying reform; as fervent a Republican as he was, he made sure his clients gave money to Democrats too. His testimony could end the careers of some members of Congress and could threaten the Republicans' House majority. But there will be no end to lobbying: It is protected by the Constitution, and people will always seek to affect the decisions of a government that can have such great impact on them.
Over the last 35 years, I have watched as more and more office buildings have been going up in Washington. K Street, the prime market for my Almanac, has been spreading -- metastasizing, some would say -- and for every new 1,000 square feet some calculable number of my books will be sold. None of these buildings will be torn down, except to be replaced by new buildings with ever gaudier marble lobbies, even if Jack Abramoff resides for a time in public housing. The poor we may or may not always have with us. But we will always have K Street."
Friday, January 06, 2006
Michael Barone discusses the historical context of the Abramoff scandal: