It’s a funny thing, but often ‘smaller’ matters help to crystallize larger failings. And these days there seem to be a lot of small things. With everything from court appointments to drilling in the Arctic Preserve to budget proposals being portrayed as a mandate arising from the presidential election, it is curious that a recent poll showed public approval of Congress somewhere around 38%, one of its lowest approval ratings ever. Enormous changes are being rammed through Congress over the objections of a hapless Democratic minority, and one wonders if at least a portion of the electorate has begun to notice how few of their needs are being met by those they chose to elect.
It may in fact be a series of smallish things that brought Tom Delay to the attention of a larger audience than his local constituents. Perhaps not enough attention was paid at the time to Delay’s arm twisting during the passage of the president’s prescription drug bill, when he kept the vote open for an unprecedented three hours while he pressured Republican lawmakers with favors and threats.
And perhaps the Texas redistricting story faded too soon, forgotten by a public with a nano-second attention span. Delay’s manipulation of the Texas legislature resulted in the passage of a plan that gerrymandered Democrats out of contention and led to Republican gains in The House. And in pursuit of his goal he used not only questionable financial sources to fund his effort but federal resources at Homeland Security to track down Democratic legislators who had fled the state to avoid making up a quorum for the redistricting vote.
Then there was the trip to South Korea, paid for by a Korean lobbyist, registered as a foreign agent, an abuse of House rules – – and the corporate monies pumped into Texas political campaigns which is illegal there, except when used for “administrative expenses.” Of course that is what Delay contends so it will be interesting to see what the ultimate definition of administrative expenses turns out to be.
There are those who harbor a degree of respect for Mr. Delay simply because he wields such power, despicable though some of his tactics may be. But power is not an end in itself except for those who would abuse it. Changing the composition of the Ethics Committee to add members who favor Delay and altering its rules to protect him renders the word ethics meaningless and brings shame and discredit to the Congress as a whole. That’s ‘the big thing’ – – the moral disintegration of a major arm of our government.
Likewise, it isn’t only that the production of fake news by the White House and other executive agencies is a deplorable practice. What is equally appalling is the White House refusal to accept the assessment of the Government Accountability Office that had, on three separate occasions last year, “…held that government-made news segments may constitute improper “covert propaganda” even if their origin is made clear to the television stations.” And just last month The GAO went further saying “federal agencies may not produce prepackaged news reports “that conceal or do not clearly identify … the source of those materials.” (The New York Times, 3/13/05)
However, the Justice Department and the Office of Management and Budget have since instructed “all executive branch agencies to ignore the GAO findings…because the GAO failed to distinguish between covert propaganda and “purely informational” news segments made by the government.” (NY Times, 3/13/05) Again our government has made its view of things the only acceptable one, despite GAO Comptroller General David Walker’s view that a serious ethics issue is in play.
Finally, what is most distressing these days is that everything comes with a spin. “…More than 20 agencies…created fake news clips” and “the Bush Administration spent $254 million in its first four years on contracts with public relations firms…” (NY Times, 3/16/05) taxpayer dollars of course. It is hard enough to keep track of solid news without being bombarded by phony items. And it is exhausting trying to keep up with all the administration’s non sequiturs – – support the troops but cut veterans’ benefits; spread democracy abroad but stifle dissent at home; lower taxes for the rich but curtail programs for the needy; proclaim the rule of law but allow for the extended incarceration of anyone the administration defines as a terrorist threat; keep lobbying to make the temporary tax cuts permanent but disregard the fact that greater numbers of people in the middle and upper-middle income tax brackets are being swept into the pool of alternate-minimum-tax payers, a category intended to bring the very rich into the taxpaying fold. Ignoring this unintended consequence and allowing it to continue is government’s way of avoiding the nasty truth that, without this artificial windfall, the national debt would rise to astronomic levels.
In every instance these disturbing realities call into question the very foundations of our government. One is reminded of the Army-McCarthy hearings back in the fifties. After his numerous red-baiting accusations and intrusions into the lives of so many McCarthy went one step too far, accusing a young lawyer and associate of Army Counsel Joseph Welch, of having been a member of a Communist front organization. At that point Welch said to McCarthy, in a burst of indignation, “Have you no sense of decency, sir at long last, have you no sense of decency?” (article here)
Somewhere along the line many of our leaders have lost a sense of decency. They should be reminded that the American people are growing impatient with the absence of ethical standards and the failure of government to deal honestly with them.

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