Monday, January 23, 2006

Deceptions Large and Small

Here's the opening paragraph of Michael Barone's latest article.
It is not a pretty season in our politics. Both our major parties seem to be busy disqualifying themselves. The Republicans are desperately trying to avoid getting caught up in the scandal of the disgraced and disgustingly greedy lobbyist Jack Abramoff (his clients contributed to Democrats as well as Republicans, they are quick to assert). The Democrats are fortifying their reputation for being unwilling to defend their country from its violent enemies, by attacking George W. Bush for ordering National Security Agency electronic surveillance of calls from al-Qaida suspects and by filibustering reauthorization of the Patriot Act.
Did you get that? The Republican's problems are the Democrat's problems as well; the Democrats problems are that they are filthy traitors.

But wait, do Mr. Barone's comments line up with reality? Let's see.

First of all did Abramoff give money to both Democrats and Republicans? Nyet! But even Mr. Barone seems compelled to note that it was Abramoff's clients who donated to Democrats. It should be noted that the Indian Tribes Abramoff handled are the only ones who gave more money to Republicans than to Democrats. Of larger interest are the illegal campaign contributions; how many of those went to Democrats compared to Republicans? I suspect we'll find out.

Barone clearly is in favor of lobbying and campaign contributions, even when such activities fall outside the law.
The Republicans may be facing lobbying scandals -- but lobbying is protected by the First Amendment (the Constitution gives us the right to "petition the government for a redress of grievances"), and a government that channels vast sums of money will always be so petitioned.
Yes that's right, Mr. Barone, as long as there is money in Washington, there will be lobbyists. That's why we regulate them, to prevent, as much as possible, corruption of our political process by those with the means to corrupt it. It's not the lobbying that Mr. Abromoff is in trouble for. It's the illegal and corrupting funds and perks that Mr. Abramoff provided.

Secondly, the problem isn't George W. Bush ordering "electronic surveillance of calls from al-Qaida suspects." The problem is him doing it without oversight. The mechanisms exist for Bush to do what he claims to have wanted to do. He chose to act outside those mechanisms. Why? The paranoid among us might suggest that he was monitoring calls that couldn't pass muster with a judge. Like say, a call from Senator Kerry to his campaign manager. It's hard to imagine a judge authorizing that call, right? So that would be a good reason to jump outside the official mechanism. I'm not saying that's what was done, because there is no way of knowing. I'm saying we don't know.

The rest of Barone's article is interesting; mostly it's about Joseph Schumpters theory of Democracy, which was that it was a good way for the powerful to keep control over the masses. Barone prefers a more uplifting description of Democracy, but doesn't disagree with it.

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