When the felonious Duke — that is, Duke Cunningham, former U.S. Rep from California's 50th District — left office last December, we had every reason to hope for something better, someone at least a little less criminal. We even had hopes for honesty!
And things looked up. A candidate entered the running promising to cut back on pork.
Candidate Brian Bilbray had been to Congress before, and he looked back on that time fondly, claiming to have been on the right side in 1995. "There's still more to do," he clarified in his recent campaign. He went so far as to offer a specific: "not allowing members of congress to put in private so-called earmarks for funding."
So of course he won the special election. That's how he gained the incumbency advantage for the next election, all on an interim position requiring a mere seven months of capitol industry.
While the ship of state creaked just a bit, allowing on one more captain to help decide her course, some of us wondered: how long will it take to corrupt the man? Terms? Years? Months?
More like: one week.
Bilbray was in the House just a handful of days when he voted for the latest appropriation bill, this one with over 1500 earmarks.
Fifteen hundred! Well, maybe the country just couldn't get along without that bill. Maybe we should let it slide. Pork is bad, but not that bad, not bad enough to risk the stability of the state.
But what can we say about Bilbray's voting down each of Representative Jeff Flake's four anti-pork amendments? That's not one no, not a mere two, not even three.
That's four nos. (I feel like Abraham deciding the fate of Sodom and Gomorrah. Peradventure, do I hear five?)
I guess this is Bilbray's idea of the Reagan Legacy, the sole remnant of his commitment to less government: "Just Say No."
He can't hide, however, what he's saying "no" to: his own promises.
So that's the Bilbray Story. But what's the Rest of the Story?
Before the special election Bilbray seemed to be fighting a bit of an uphill battle. You see, he had been a lobbyist for several years. The opposition made much of this. Jadedly, he admitted, "Everyone is trying to say that everyone in Washington is tainted."
Hmmm. I wonder why. Could it be because everyone in Washington is tainted?
Well, I'm not even that cynical; I know a few good people in Sodom, a few more in Gomorrah.
But Bilbray certainly is tainted. Thus we add another crumbum into the ranks of the congressional crumbumhood.
Lying politicians are not, of course, a new breed. The fragile ecology of the paved-over marshes north of the Potomac does not suffer from an invasive species, Boobus prevaricatoris politicos. It's an old and native species indeed.
But now, with that ecology invading all other American ecologies, overrunning our flora and fauna with predators and parasites, killing some of the best of our efforts and leaching off nearly all, the entry of yet another Boobus prevaricatoris is not exactly a thing to stand up and cheer.
Bilbray's variety of brazen promise breaking does cut to the very heart of our republic. It does no good to talk about "citizen control" when our most effective means of controlling our politicians — the ballot box — amounts to no control at all. Politicians say one thing to get elected. And then, once firmly ensconced, they act precisely as they want . . . which often has no bearing on what was said before election.
So, what do we do about pork? Or about all the other policies cooked up by the crumbums?
Can we give citizens some measure of direct control? The initiative and referendum process, used by a huge chunk of the states of this union, could be established nationally. It would certainly give the Bilbrays fits, just as it does the little Bilbrays in the states.
You say it's impossible? Too unwieldy? Well, what about starting with a small step, a national election once a year wherein the citizens get the right to veto one law? The law the citizens choose with most gusto, I mean, the most votes, is the one that goes out that year.
It could be fun. It would get the people excited about the particulars of policy. Unlike voting for Bilbray — or his opponent — this vote would actually accomplish something.
But, of course, to put such a system in place would require the co-operation of the crumbums.
I mean: politicians like Bilbray.