Saturday, January 10, 2009

Indictment, Impeachment and the Corruption Element

It took me a while to decide on the title for this post. "A New Frontier in American Politics," was the closest contender but alas I did not go for it. It is only the second week in the year, and already Illinois State governor Rod Blagojevich has been impeached. Blagojevich is not the only public official to get the axe this week, Baltimore Mayor Sheila Dixon was also indicted. Neither of the events come as a surprise though. It was pretty obvious that sooner or later Blagojevich would be impeached, and as for Mayor Dixon, reports of her illegal activities made headlines in a very prominent magazine late last year. The wave of corruption and scandal that have hit the news media over the past twelve months leaves a lot to be desired from elected public officials. It seems like no official is immune from getting caught with their hands in the cookie jar. Even for those who manage to escape, a trail of crumbs often serves as incriminating evidence.

Corruption in government is quite common. It's a fundamental employed by almost every government. Most governments like to believe they operate on principles of diplomacy, but the argument can be made that clandestine agreements are the bedrock of what we call diplomacy. Diplomacy is certainly not all about shaking hands and signing treaties. There's a lot more to the art of conversing behind closed doors. Deals are struck and bargains are made. The rule of the game is reciprocity. The hand shake comes after each party feels they have gotten more than should be legally allowed, but is that really ever the case? Unquestionably, there is a time and a place for such but to what extent should such bargaining methods be employed? Further, should such bargaining be used as tools when doing so is outrightly criminal? We like to think of the United States as a democracy hence it's only a given that bargaining be employed in most decision making. As a result, the players in the pool can range from small town mayors to big city council women. They all have something to offer and they expect payoffs in return. So, with Senate seats to be filled and construction projects looming, there's a lot to work with. However, Blagojevich and Dixon did not invent corruption in American government.

Corruption in the United States dates back to the era before the Revolution, and it has been argued that most of the rhetoric in the Federal Constitution of 1787 was inspired by anti-corruption sentiments. From the time the first colonists landed on the shores of this nation, there have been opportunities for illegal activities, opportunities which still abound. From the Bureau of Indian Affairs down to Halliburton to Jack Abramoff, illegal activities have flourished. Unfortunately, almost every facet in the American government is riddled with corruption, including the way we select our leaders. There's been no bigger scandal in American politics than there was in the 2000 Presidential elections when all sorts of mishaps in Florida put George W. Bush in office. However, George W. did not set the precedent for electoral fraud. The 1876 contest between Ohio Republican Governor Rutherford B. Hayes and Democratic New York Governor Samuel Tilden still goes down in the records as the most corrupt United States Presidential Election ever. Although Tilden won the election by 265,000 more popular votes, he still lost to Hayes who had the support of the Republican governed southern states. Following an impasse that lasted four months and at times erupted in violence in the nation's capital the Electoral College decided in favor of Hayes in what was regarded as the greatest fraud of the century.

Subsequently, there have been several attempts at reform, beginning with the Pendleton Act of 1883. The Pendleton Act was created after the assassination of President James Garfield by a disgruntled job seeker. The Act required that Federal Government jobs be awarded through merit and that employees be selected after competitive exams. The Pendleton Act transformed American Civil Service which until that point had been riddled by uncontrolled corruption. Following on the heels of the Pendleton Act were the Tillman Act of 1907, The Federal Regulation of Lobbying Act, the Federal Election Campaign Act, the Federal Corruption Practices Act of 1977 after the Watergate Scandal (I'll avoid this can of worms), the Ethics in Government Act of 1978 and several other pieces of legislature all aimed at controlling corruption.

Nonetheless, corruption has and still continues to pervade the fabric of American democracy. Despite legislature, corruption is still common place in the United States calling into question the fundamentals of American Democracy. If this is what democracy is all about I wonder why there is such a desire to spread it to the rest of the world. Like I will always argue, democracy is home grown. The United States democracy is what it is today because it has been nurtured by a style of corruption that only thrives on American soil. There is a lot of brown nosing, bribery and illegal lobbying that have helped shape it. From the colonists down to small town mayors in Wasilla, Alaska corruption is the golden thread in the American fabric. So, it's time to stop pointing fingers at developing nations and attempting to punish them for being corrupt. If African and other politicians choose to stash their loot away in foreign banks, then so be it. Maybe that's just their style just like it's the American style to have your brother as governor in a key state where the votes go awry. It's all corruption at the end of the day but what differs is how it is executed.

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