Nobody Does It Better: Unpacking Political Corruption

28 01 2010

Before she knew Barack Obama much less Sarah “Pallin’ around with Terrorists” Palin and Joe “You Lie” the Plumber — um, Wilson — JJ once wrote:

I feel like we’ve been fighting each other so long that it’s not about fighting for competing goals or visions any more, as much as it is the fight itself. . .

I’m not in the hole alone, and dirt is flying all around me.

IF it’s really completely hopeless, and we always must be at war among ourselves just because we’re human, then progressive thinkers can at least admit it to ourselves and figure out how to integrate THAT into our world view. It would be more honest.

She concluded much later by asking, “So — now what?”  None of us could answer that then, beyond another shift in party power.  Can we (any of us) do any better now?

In October 2006, Culture Kitchen was hosting serious, honest good-government talk among Thinking Citizens.  Remember way back then? The GOP was in authoritarian command and control (government as god and guns for private profits) but an election was on the horizon and Scientist-Democrat-blogger Mole wrote a post making the case that

“Democrats Stand for Honest Government
The Republican Party is imploding because of corruption. Their corruption has already sent Randy Cunningham to jail and forced the resignation of Tom DeLay and Mark Foley. In Ohio and Missouri and Kentucky their corruption is shocking. And voters are tired of it.

The Republicans try to cover up their corruption, lying for each other. They even protected a sexual predator for six years! When faced with corruption in their ranks, Republicans lie and cover their tracks. Their final defense is to whine pitifully, “but the Democrats do it too!”

Well, Democrats have indeed been known to be corrupt. But there are differences.  .  . We attack Republican corruption and on the rare occasions it comes up we attack Democratic corruption as well. I see no comparable reform movement within the Republican Party. All I see are more lies, more sleaze and more greed. All I see are Republicans and companies like Halliburton and Exxon and Enron in an orgy of greed and profit, looting America and sacrificing American troops for profit.

. . .Republicans wallow in corruption. Democrats are fighting corruption.

So Nance (longtime Democrat) and JJ (longtime independent non-partisan) engaged this argument, in ways disconcertingly relevant this morning in January 2010, knowing what we know now and having just watched the State of the Union last night — President Barack Obama (longtime Democrat) appealing to GOP power brokers and especially to us longtime independent non-partisans.

I recommend you go to Culture Kitchen and read the whole conversation because we weren’t the only ones thinking and talking, but here are some excerpts just from JJ and Nance:

Just Can’t Buy It

Submitted by JJ Ross on 11 October 2006 –

That ship has sailed, hopefully for the last time with a majority of American voters innocently at the pier waving goodbye and welcoming in the new.

However earnest and sincere individual candidates and operatives may be, polls and personal observations persuade me neither Rs nor Ds will be able to dump a load of “purity and honesty” cargo on us to just buy on faith and pay for later, and maybe that’s a good thing.

Some new third party for the same old system isn’t my idea of change, either. The system is corrupt, nobody does it better, and we’re just not in the media mass market for any more cheap and peeling tricks with a fresh coat of paint slapped on,peddled as progressive government.

I suffer from chronic liar,liar, pants on fire exhaustion, like nearly everyone I know in ordinary family life. Say we ARE collectively in the mood for real change, toward something that really is more honest and productive than we’ve constituted as government in our lifetime. What would we suggest, without the union (or any other) label I mean? There ought to be ideas other than soundbite-slogan partisan ones we can at least start imagining and working toward, building new frames, having new conversations . . .

Unpacking Corruption

I’d unpack the sins and slogans a little differently is all (I am not R or Green or any other festive party color.)

Yes, of course, honesty is the right direction, so great for us all if some Dems are heading that way or at least acknowledging it’s the right direction. But it’s not just because they ARE Dems though, is it, really? And they aren’t all alike, nor are all R pols or us independents.

And are they really the only ones you see moving that way? That’s all I’m saying, not throwing out rhetoric, honest!
The poll says I’m not alone in seeing dishonesty in too many places and all the wrong faces . . .

I think your case can be made reasonably to the public but ironically, it would have to be a masterpiece of brutal, humble honesty! To work would mean full disclosure, one party owning up to ALL the lies and coverups and dirty tricks from impeachment and investigations to treating sex scandals with young pages, interns and secretaries differently depending on the perp’s party registration. Without that everyone seems like whores, and I don’t mean seduced women or boys – I mean the powerful politicians who took the oath to represent us faithfully and then screwed us and our children instead.

Speaking only for myself as one disillusioned middle-aged mom who doesn’t follow party politics much anymore, on or offline, this really is just my own thinking over time, not any party’s rhetoric — I DO see you as being personally honest and trying to head toward better government through hard truths handled with less self-serving power plays and egomania. Otherwise I wouldn’t have been likely to read your thoughts much less bother to comment.

Did you hear cable news the other day, something about the female demographic over decades being generally more liberal yet also more thoroughly disgusted with the lying and destruction of hardball party politics? If I’m any example, it’s true, believe it!

So I am honestly asking (not to quarrel but because I am interested in how you really see this and in finding solutions that work for us all) why you’d believe that shouting “we’re honest!” through a bullhorn out the front window can get Dems where you want them to go with skeptical women voters like me, when there’s an unacknowledged cigar burning a hole through some soiled blue dress “lying” in the back seat, its stale rhetorical smoke about private sex-as-power in the highest halls of government stinking to high heaven.

Campaign finance reform

Absolutely. Has to happen. Yes.

Do I think either party’s leaders can make it happen or even really want it? Nope. A big reason why I think we need to break out of the party mindset to make real progress toward our common goals.


Then from Nance:
You want to
know why the Foley scandal is so annoying? Because the Republicans paint themselves as pure as the driven snow. Then, like any other set of human beings, stuff happens. It is so much easier to turn on someone who has been preaching at you.

So, great. Democrats are against corruption. Some of them — including you — are doing what should be done.

But don’t pin too many medals on the Dems just for trying to be decent. It will be very unseemly when, inevitably, one of those pins bursts the purity balloon.

I expect and want reality from Dems. Not piety.


And back to JJ:

I Think You’re Right

with everything you say politically — about there being some important differences worth defining, and which of those favor the Dems, and that the effect of garden-variety disillusionment is to depress turnout all around, likely soften the blow against the currently more vulnerable (Rs.)

I actually don’t equate the parties, hadn’t even considered it (I connect everything, equate nothing!) So I don’t mean to distract you with having to make that case. It’s not necessary, for me at least.

But triumphant Dems in office claiming this time it will be different while controlling the same old corrupt and self-serving Death of Common Sense system, that’s failed us so many different ways already that I can’t hear any political claim without the counter-claim popping unbidden into my brain, just isn’t sufficient to compel my time and treasure any more.

And I don’t think Rs “are imploding because of corruption.” I think it’s because of decadence, as in natural decay as growth and new ideas stop, and decline sets in. And I don’t think it’s just the Rs but the system. Maybe all of us, maybe Western Civilization itself is on its last legs and ready for phoenix-like rebirth, a la Jacques Barzun. What’s imploding is SO not just about party and so I don’t see party as much of an answer.
Not So Much

disagreement as we might think, then. That helps me understand your perspective, particularly the “two fights and I fight them both” part. It must feel like playing three-dimensional chess — against yourself!

I totally get it because I’ve been there myself, through most the game’s phases: young optimism and exuberance, primary frustration, redoubling my tactical study and debate — weighing if it’s better to register with the lesser or greater evil, or not at all, to either woo, infiltrate and subsume the enemy or build an army to shock and awe them into surrender and humiliation, etc., sacrificing one’s own ambitions for the greater advantage of the cause, keeping secrets while spying to discover what the enemy is up to, framing the enemy in the worst possible light to win hearts and minds from the populace, etc.

Without intending it, it’s all very war-like.
War isn’t compatible with true social progress in anything else we do, so why believe it ever will be in our election politics? Take the HP governance scandal – is there really any such thing as an ethical leak probe of one’s own colleagues, or did you lose the moment you turn them into enemies and start fighting them? A house divided against itself cannot stand, and all that — if the political war between Rs and Ds CANNOT possibly bring us together in the peaceful, prosperous society we all supposedly are fighting to share, then isn’t that war against each other a lie, and aren’t we all lying to ourselves when we perpetuate the fight?

I feel like we’ve been fighting each other so long that it’s not about fighting for competing goals or visions any more, as much as it is the fight itself. So much invested that it’s the only way of life we can imagine, and so we soldier on. I see no victory in that and I’ve begun to listen closely to the war rhetoric (war on terror and also war in Iraq) for clues and analogies to any workable alternatives that progressives tend to see in real fights to the death, that might translate into social strategies to end partisan wars.

Stuff like a Dem quoting (was it a female MO Senate candidate to Tim Russert?) the old line about “when you’re in a hole the first thing is to stop digging.”  I stopped digging 20 years ago but I’m not in the hole alone, and dirt is flying all around me.

IF it’s really completely hopeless, and we always must be at war among ourselves just because we’re human, then progressive thinkers can at least admit it to ourselves and figure out how to integrate THAT into our world view. It would be more honest.
Lots to Think About

and I really appreciate you being so focused, thoughtful and honest about it; it’s a pleasure to have such a conversation. I feel like I’ve been needing this but didn’t have any place to find it. (So thanks to Liza too!)

Say we stipulate that partisan fighting between countrymen used to be more the “within the club” kind you describe, and now it’s become this polarized “no compromise” kind that you describe between warring tribes or factions determined to wipe out your whole way of life (extreme Rs feel that way about Ds too, except with God on their side and like all fundamentalists ready to die for their beliefs – so no compromise possible for THEM, I am certain.)

Also I hear them give the same speech about not equating the parties because THEY are so much more honorable and clean-cut, culture of life, prayer for guidance, resign rather than brazening it out, etc. Rs don’t want to be equated with Dems any more than Dems can stand being lumped in with Rs.

So let’s just stipulate that. Ds and Rs are not only “different” but as aliens to each other,estranged to the point that they might as well be middle eastern tribes fighting for the same land and neither side will ever compromise or yield or stop fighting.

And so – now what?



3 responses

28 01 2010

The Twelve Least Ethical Companies in the World:

Can ethics be quantified? Or, better yet, can a lack of ethics be quantified?

This week, the Swiss research firm Covalence released its annual ranking of the overall ethical performance of multinational corporations. The idea behind the Covalence research is that there’s value — both for companies and consumers — in measuring corporations against an ethical standard. (We’re hoping this idea also applies to Wall Street firms.)

To complete its ethics index, Covalence compiled both quantitative and qualitative data, spanning seven years, for 581 companies. The data encompass 45 criteria that include labor standards, waste management and human rights records. And because it is a reputation index, the Covalence survey also incorporates media, industry and NGO documents into its evaluation.

Of course, while the index had its winners — the first-, second-, and third-place companies were IBM, Intel, and HSBC, respectively — we were more interested in the companies with the lowest ethical ratings. Among those companies with the most awful records are some of the usual suspects in the oil and mining industries but Covalence also found some lesser-known offenders.

Check out a snapshot of the 12 companies with the worst ethical ratings, and some of the things they’ve done to earn the ranking:

My dad the UF business management professor for 30+ years 1961-1995 specialized in studying business ethics, before anyone was talking or thinking much about it politically much less generally.

He was ahead of his time, wish he had lived to have this conversation with us now!

28 01 2010
13 09 2011
“Partisan Polarization” Just Another Pathology of Hypercompetition? « Cocking A Snook!

[…] times at competition versus collaboration in different spheres, wondering whether it’s gotten all out of whack and what those experiences can do TO kids rather than FOR them. We’ve even looked at […]

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