On Corruption, Ethics, Special Interests And The Reason They Exist

(cross-posted at www.thehayride.com)

This video from Dan Mitchell of the Cato Institute is a must-see, as it addresses an issue we’ll be discussing again and again on this blog:

As Mitchell says, if you want to reduce corruption and promote ethics in government, while eliminating the influence of special interests in Washington – or, for that matter, at the state capitol here in Baton Rouge – then shrink the size of government. People go where the money is, and when it’s in the hands of politicians bent on distributing it for their own ends you’re going to have influence-peddling.

There is a terrific article by James DeLong in <a href=http://www.american.com/archive/2009/april-2009/the-coming-of-the-fourth-american-republic>The American</a> from yesterday discussing how the third phase of the American republican experiment is on the way out. DeLong defined our history in the period beginning with the Revolution and ending in the Civil War, when America was defined as a union of sovereign states and very limited government was the rule at all levels, another period between the Civil War and the New Deal when while the federal government trumped the power of the states its primary focus was the preservation and promotion of individual liberty and self-reliance, and the current period, in which government balances special interests against one another. DeLong thinks the current model is playing itself out and will disintegrate soon, as it is unsustainable. It’s hard to argue with such a position given this graph published by the Washington Post regarding our current budget deficits:

DeLong says the fourth iteration of the American polity is coming soon, though he doesn’t by any means suggest that a violent revolution is on the way. Rather, he thinks, and I’m tempted to agree, that what will happen is a sea change in the conventional thinking about government in this country rather than shootings and bombings. The day the country is bankrupted by government spending, which is coming a lot faster than anybody thinks, will make our current entitlement state unacceptable to the majority of Americans – to the extent it even matters. When you don’t have any more money to redistribute, and you can’t find anybody to lend it to you (which is fast on the way; the Chinese have already begun putting the brakes on the amount of Treasury debt they’re going to buy and the Fed is beginning to monetize that debt, which will inevitably devalue the currency), you start to realize you can’t sustain your operations.

On this blog I’ve argued that the results of the election last November were less a referendum on capitalism-vs-socialism or left-vs-right than what essentially came down to a popularity contest between two candidates who presented themselves as slightly to the side of center. John McCain was Democrat Lite and conservatives around the country knew it; his defeat at the hands of a candidate whose background, qualifications and political leanings would have made him unelectable in virtually any other cycle came in no small part due to the fact that the conservative coalition which had produced victories in seven of the 10 previous elections – five of which for candidates largely unworthy of that coalition’s support on ideological grounds – failed to produce for McCain.

If I’m right that the conservatives in the country still have the ability to win national elections if leaders emerge who can energize that segment of the population while articulating its values to the electorate at large in a way they can understand and agree with like Ronald Reagan did, there is an opportunity to kill lots of birds with decidedly few stones. The Tea Party rallies of last week mobilized better than 750,000 Americans to demonstrate for limited government and against the redistribution of wealth, which indicates a movement is afoot to eliminate or at least draw down the current system. No leader of that movement has yet emerged, which is at this point a very refreshing phenomenon. One will have to surface, though, to carry its momentum forward. Should that happen there might be an opportunity to begin the real change that at least some of those voters who helped elect Obama were pining for but now are beginning to realize they’re not going to see from this administration.

The lesson? If you’re part of this movement, don’t settle for less. One reason the Republican brand is so tarnished is that in the minds of those people who are most committed to what the party says it stands for, we’ve seen eight years of something unrecognizable disguised as conservatism. The opportunity is now available to purge that from the GOP, or at least effect a takeover of the party and refuel its intellectual gas tank with a commitment to the promotion of American liberty, self-reliance and exceptionalism. Surely if the George Soros/MoveOn.org moonbats could seize the reins of the Democrat Party in 2005, a constitutionalist wing of the GOP could do the same.

I think the opportunity to make major gains in removing Leftist control of the House of Representatives and possibly even the Senate will be available next year, but the movement might not be in place to take advantage. Regardless of that circumstance, it’s time to develop a coherent message and coherent leadership where possible. There are crucial party primaries coming up in U.S. Senate races where Arlen Specter and John McCain will find themselves pitted against excellent conservative candidates in Pat Toomey and Chris Simcox respectively, and the challengers should get all the support conservatives can give them. If those races mean the Democrats get those seats, so be it – Specter and McCain have been entirely unreliable senators for a long time and represent exactly what the American people hate about Washington politicians; shedding them would help draw a distinction between Republicans and Democrats that they help to blur.

Back to the basic point, though, if you want to fight the backroom deal-making and corruption which so disgusts the American people, it’s going to require a movement to destroy the problem where it lives. And it’s going to require a much more revolutionary spirit than the electorate has shown to date.

But as the tea parties serve as evidence, that might be changing.