I am indebted to my friend Bill Kristol for the shrewd observation that, in politics, a good idea starts out as a movement, turns into a business, and ends up as a racket. That isn't always true, but it is true a discouraging amount of the time, and it comes uncomfortably close to describing what has happened to the Republican Party in Congress in the past 12 years. Unless the GOP cleans up its act, fast and dramatically, it is in danger of suffering a historic defeat at the hands of the voters in the congressional elections this November.
Start with the observation that the American people have always had a double standard where political corruption is concerned.
The Democrats are pretty much always expected to be a little crooked. This conviction traces back to the Democratic city machines of the 19th and early 20th centuries -- New York's Tammany Hall was just the smelliest of an odoriferous bunch.
The Republicans, on the other hand, tend to be visualized as more prosperous, and hence presumably above the temptations of graft. The distinction may be unfair, but it has a long history. Then note that the Republicans took control of Congress in 1994, and have had majorities in both houses ever since.
The freshmen who entered the House and the Senate in 1994 were, for the most part, genuinely idealistic, and seriously intended to serve their country well. But as the years rolled by all too many of them became comfortable with Washington and its ways (after all, they had 40 years of uninterrupted Democratic hegemony to model themselves on), and bad habits began to emerge. The lobbyists, to no one's surprise, transferred their affections from the Democrats to the new chairmen of the all-powerful congressional committees, and these, of course, were Republicans.
That is not to say that corruption, today, is universal -- far from it. In accusing the Republicans of "a culture of corruption," the Democrats are exaggerating wildly, as is their right. But there are quite enough whiffs of misbehavior in Republican circles to have attracted the notice of the voters. There was, for starters, GOP Congressman Randy "Duke" Cunningham, who has pleaded guilty to accepting more than 2 million bucks' worth of out-and-out bribes from lobbyists, and is on his way to jail.
William Rusher is a Distinguished Fellow of the Claremont Institute for the Study of Statesmanship and Political Philosophy and author of How to Win Arguments .
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