Saturday, May 23, 2009

Politics and Corruption

Politics and Corruption

When does a politician become corrupt? That question has been on my mind lately. Many people here in North Carolina worked hard to elect President Obama, Senator Kay Hagan, and Congressman Larry Kissell. There was a “throw the bums out” message in this last election. And “the bums” mostly were Republicans who had stood by George Bush and his thoroughly corrupt and murderous regime.
But what do we mean by “corrupt”? I realize we toss that term around to the point that it begins to lose value as an epithet worth flinging at pols. Normally, by “corrupt” we mean that a politician (or a businessman) has agreed to take money or other valuables in exchange for something of equal value—often a vote or a decision favoring one group.
But corrupt in my view can mean something else. It can mean, in political circles, a belief that my re-election to office is more important, that indeed I am more important, than principles. That to help assure my re-election I will be willing to vote against my conscience, or at least against the wishes of my constituents. Now that latter term is always arguable—which ”constituents”, and how would I know their wishes?
When external observers look at the latest British MP scandals involving expense reporting, there seems little doubt about the facts of corruption. But when someone votes on an issue, as when Kay Hagan sided with Richard Burr to reduce the ability of the Food and Drug Administration to regulate tobacco, I suppose one could argue that she was voting with her constituents. Personally, I don’t believe that, but I can imagine her making that argument. Personally, I believe that Kay Hagan has already drunk of the elixir, and that she was trying to dispose of an issue—tobacco—that she was afraid would come back to haunt her in her next re-election bid. North Carolina is, after all, a tobacco state. The fact that tobacco is a known killer might have been taken into account by Hagan, but instead she voted with Burr.
So, now I worry about Larry Kissell. He’s a decent man, seems straight and completely honest. But I worry. Will he too begin to believe that his re-election is too important to leave to chance and that he may need to vote against his conscience to assure his victory in the next election? I hope not, but the Hagan vote does not fill me with confidence. Maybe it really is the system and this form of corruption is inevitable. Maybe that’s what they call “compromise”.
And maybe not . . .
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