NOTHING EVER CHANGES

Posted in Rants on June 13th, 2011 by Ed

(title cf. Brainiac)

The American fascination with the dongs of our elected officials is hard to take. On one hand I can see why the average moralistic (and probably hypocritical, but that's another story) voter would consider extramarital shenanigans to be conduct unbecoming a public official. Anthony Weiner can testify to the consequences, as can John Ensign, John Edwards, Mark Sanford, Vito Fossella, and so many others (although the occasional curious case, like David "Senator Hookers" Vitter, does get a pass for no readily apparent reason). On the other hand, why can't Americans find the same sense of deep moral outrage over Congressional corruption and malfeasance unless it involves the wang?

Yes, the occasional high profile corruption bust happens when an elected official practically gets caught holding giant sacks of money with dollar signs on them (William Jefferson, Duke Cunningham, Operation Tennessee Waltz, etc). But for the most part sex scandals are career enders whereas all manner of trading influence and favors for campaign contributions or schemes that line the Congressman's own pockets is usually greeted with a shrug. I mean, hey, Joe Lieberman may be little more than a paid shill for AIPAC, the financial industry, and insurance companies, but he doesn't cheat on his wife. What a guy. Sure, John Cornyn would support legislation to allow energy companies to strip mine Arlington National Cemetery, but we've never seen his penis, have we? Class act!

Most Americans are far too young or uninterested to remember the Abscam scandal from 1978-1981. The FBI employed the services of a professional con man (which I believe is the plot of a TV show now) to engineer a sting to catch corrupt elected officials. An undercover FBI agent posed as a mysterious Arab sheik who offered large sums of money in exchange for political favors – in this case, granting him legal asylum in the U.S., soliciting wealthy investors for a foreign investment scheme, and helping the "sheik" illegally transfer his fortune into the U.S. To their credit, some members who were approached either declined to meet with him or directly rejected offers of a bribe. Some weren't that bright. Five members of the House and a Senator (Harrison Williams of New Jersey) were indicted and, believe it or not, actually went to prison.

Suspend your disbelief for a moment and suppose that the FBI would actually do something like this today: What percentage of Congress do you think would take the bribes? What percentage do you think would spurn a bribe but accept something like campaign contributions, favors for family members, or other less obvious gifts? What percentage would, as South Dakota Senator Larry Pressler did during Abscam, say "No. Wait a minute. What you are suggesting may be illegal," leave, and immediately contact the FBI? More importantly, what portion of the voting public would be as up in arms about this kind of behavior as they are about "sexting"? Hell, unless the FBI happened to catch the exact same number of Republicans and Democrats the whole thing would probably be written off as a partisan witch hunt.

It's heartening, I suppose, that the voting public is willing to hold people like Anthony Weiner responsible for their behavior. So hooray, we are capable of caring. Now if only we could start holding them accountable for something that actually matters.