Has Nobody Learned Anything From the Election?

OK, I’ll admit up front that this post has precious little connection to LDS matters. But hear me out.

Have either the Democrats or the Republicans learned nothing from the last few years? Back in 94 and then slowly over the following years Democrats lost strong control of the legislative branches of government. A lot of that was due to a perception of elitism, corruption, and out of control spending and growth of government. There was a real perception that they sought power for power’s sake. Then Republicans got in power and quickly did exactly the same thing Democrats did. Corruption, expansion of government, and earmarks “bribing” their constituents. They were justifiably thrown out.

So what are both parties doing? Well Trent Lott who was booted out of Senate leadership for racially and political stupid comments is back. This is the guy, when some Republicans and Democrats the last year were trying to control earmarks (i.e. bribes of constituents) say, “I’ll just say this about the so-called Porkbusters. I’m getting damn tired of hearing from them. They have been nothing but trouble ever since Katrina.” He isn’t a reformer. He embodies all that went wrong in the Republican party. And the house minority leader competition doesn’t look much better.

But are the Democrats doing any better? No. We have Murtha being pushed by Pelosi and who is little better than Lott in terms of ridiculous spending. Weren’t the Democrats running on not being the Republicans? And it’s now looking like Alcee Hastings is seriously being considered as head of the intelligence committee. This is a guy kicked off the bench for accepting $150,000 in bribes to let some mafioso off the hook. The reasons for this (his appointment, not the being kicked off the bench) are a bit complex. The Black Caucus wants a member in a key role in the new government since Jefferson was arrested on bribery charges this year. (You remember him, the $80,000 in the freezer?) Understandable, but don’t you think they’d want someone not caught accepting bribes from the mafia?

Now you’d think Democrats, after seeing what a mess of things the Republicans did would be at least a little more intelligent. But by and large a lot of the regular old gang from ’94 is coming back. Despite lip service to reform the Democrats appear to have learned nothing from the Republicans. There is almost a sense that if they can end the Iraq war that nothing else matters. Even gun control is starting to get pushed among some circles. Have they learned nothing?

33 thoughts on “Has Nobody Learned Anything From the Election?

  1. Clark,

    good questions. I think on both sides, both parties, who else is going to step up to lead? Both parties are very corrupt. Both parties have a serious lack of clean candidates, at least at the top of the leadership pole. This is not something that will change as long as both parties remain in power.

  2. And, just to show they really haven’t learned, it looks like K-Street is getting ready to be a Democratic institution. Yes there is the lip service of “passing reforms” and “not simply reversing who’s in control” but all indications are, as I predicted before the election, that it will be more of the same with a different name.


  3. Don’t forget Murtha’s Abscam troubles. Quite the classy guy he is. So much for getting rid of the culture of corruption.

  4. It’s not really a matter of whether there is corruption or not. It’s a matter of how prevalent it is.

    All these tidings of foul play don’t trouble me much. They honestly didn’t trouble me much about the GOP a few months ago either. It’s hard to overcome the institutional requirements of political participation and success. I expected no more from either party. I expect the same from the Libertarians and the Greens on the miniscule chance that they ever succeed at the federal level. Washington will have any who court her and she will bend them to her ways. Changing the guard matters not a whit.

    No, what bothered me was the uninterrupted dominance of the GOP. They’d had things their way for a little too long and it was time to oust them. I would have felt the same way if the Democrats had been in power for that long.

    In the end, what worries me is that government will be too effective.

    Effective, results-oriented government ALWAYS comes at the expense of fairness and liberty.

    Most people don’t understand this, but you can either:

    1) have a fair government, or

    2) have an effective government

    You can never have both.

  5. Seth, I don’t think it wise to downplay the problem of corruption (of either the overt or more benign form that earmarks take). It simply is essential for the voting public to take politicians to task. We might not be able to eliminate corruption, but hopefully we can reduce it.

    Having said that I think there’s something to be said for no one party being in power too long as well as the argument for divided government. (Such as we had in the late 90’s)

  6. ABC news is reporting that Abramof has been squealing on Harry Reid. Combine that with his four sons who are all lobbyists and his penchant for using campaign contributions for personal expenses and we’re left with a prominent Mormon politician who has become the epitome of all that’s wrong with Washington.

  7. This should be a lesson to all those people complaining about how bad Republicans are. The reason the Democrats regained power has nothing to do with the war (the democrats replacing outgoing Republicans are pro-war). It is because after 12 years out of the limelight, people forgot what low-lifes the Democrats are. The truly bad news is that now we’re all in for a reminder.

    You have low-life, pond-scum like Harry Reid babbling on about a “culture of corruption,” and when he’s not in power everyone just eats it up. Now that the spotlight’s back on him, Reid will quickly become the Dan Rostenkowski of the 21st century. He’s corrupt to the core, and if you ask me, it couldn’t happen to a nicer guy.

  8. We have learned by sad experience that it is the nature of almost all men, as soon as they have got a little authority, as they suppose….unrighteous dominion. Is this really that surprising? I mean, it’s in our scriptures.

  9. I was personally shocked that Trent Lott was politically redeemable. If the Republican party was looking for ways to redeem itself, this wasn’t the way to do it. This is _not_ a case of one step backward two steps forward.

    I also am wondering a little bit about what is going on with the Democratic party.

    My impression is that there is some hardcore cynicism and hardball politicking going on in some smoke-filled rooms somewhere.

    These are our results.

  10. I just read some analysis … it appears Trent Lott knows all the arcane Senate rules, and that is why they want him in the minority whip position. I remember reading a week ago that Harry Reid is an expert on these rules as well, and that is why he has been as successful as he is.

    It seems to me, if knowing all these rules is such an advantage, that the parties ought to be able to spare some money to have full-time experts advising them on these matters.

    Maybe it’s not so simple.

  11. Can somebody remind me what Trent Lott did that was so unethical, enough that we’re all throwing him in the same boat with Murtha, Hastings, and Jefferson?

    Oh that’s right, he is guilty of being politically incorrect. The worst crime of all these days.

  12. He’s guilty of opposing reform and promoting earmarks – the very thing that has been expanding government. He also (and this is more key) was guilty of not really pushing the conservative movement forward. i.e. he’s part of the problem. It’s not about corruption, unless you consider earmarks for pork a form of corruption. However I think his racial insensitivity is more than just “politically incorrect.” Especially if you want to attract people to the party.

  13. BTW – I can’t believe the grammar police have come after me for my title…

  14. I don’t think earmarking, disgusting as it is, can be technically considered corrupt as it is not illegal.

    I will agree that Lott is a hot potato that Republicans would have been wise to quickly toss away. I just wanted everybody to be clear that, while he’s not the GOP’s best bet to attract new members, he hasn’t committed a crime like the others you mention.

    Frankly, I can’t believe Murtha and Hastings are still in Congress, let alone now in powerful positions and fully supported by the woman third in line to the Presidency.

  15. It seems to me that some of the worst kinds of corruption are the sort that are illegal. Just because it is legal doesn’t make it ethical. Ideally these sorts of unethical behaviors would be handled by elections since I just don’t think laws or the ethics committee can handle them. What in theory is suppose to happen is that the public throws the bums out and the politicians learn from their mistakes. That’s sure not happening this time.

  16. Clark, I know you’ve warned me against trivializing political corruption, but…

    Really, if you want to make me a list of America’s great politicians who were free from corruption (and I don’t just mean ambiguous stuff – I mean stuff that almost anyone today would consider bold-faced corruption), you’re going to have an awfully small list. We can start with George Washington of course, but the excercise really starts to break down after that.

    Americans largely seem to want their politicians likeable first, ethical second. And I really think that’s how they vote.

  17. Whoops. That should have read, “some of the worst kinds of corruption are the sort that are legal.” I bet there was a lot of head scratching going on.

    I agree that politics was once far more corrupt. We should make it even less corrupt. American democracy is inherently a work in progress. I’d add that it is to some degree unfair to judge people in the past by the standards of today.

    BTW – great editorial in today’s WSJ on Murtha.


  18. No one who has ever won major elected office is without some degree of corruption. And that goes for Mitt.

  19. BTW – for the kind of legal corruption I find troubling, I’m thinking of things like this:

    Reid called funding for construction of a bridge over the Colorado River, among other projects, “incredibly good news for Nevada” in a news release after passage of the 2005 transportation bill. He didn’t mention, though, that just across the river in Arizona, he owns 160 acres of land several miles from proposed bridge sites and that the bridge could add value to his real estate investment.

    Reid denies any personal financial interest in his efforts to secure $18 million for a new span connecting Laughlin with Bullhead City, Ariz.

    “Sen. Reid’s support for the bridge had absolutely nothing to do with property he owns,” said Rebecca Kirszner, Reid’s communications director. “Sen. Reid supported this project as part of his continuing efforts to move Nevada forward.”

    But some Bullhead City property owners and local officials say a new bridge will undoubtedly hike land values in an already-booming commuter town, where speculators are snapping up undeveloped land for housing developments and other projects. Experts on congressional spending say Reid’s earmark provides yet another sign of the need for reform.

    “It’s a really bad idea for lawmakers to earmark projects when they have a financial interest that could in any way be affected by it,” said Norman Ornstein, coauthor of “The Broken Branch” a recent book that examines earmarking and other practices.

    LA Times

    I’m not sure that all politicians are corrupt. That’s too cynical for my blood. But I also find it troubling if people attempt to excuse politicians from deeply unethical behavior with a rejoinder akin to “but everybody’s doing it.” This is why before the election in the BCC thread I said it was so bad to vote for or against parties. You have to find good people and elect them. Most of what I predicted would happen in that thread (and which few appeared to believe) is now transpiring. Only if anything it is even worse than I expected. (And I had at least some hope that the losses would make the Republicans shape up)

  20. With regard to Lott, it would have been difficult for me to vote for Lamar Alexander as minority whip. I don’t think that Alexander has the sensibility to be a leader of a legislature. His experience is in the executive, which is an entirely different ball game requiring different personality traits. I also have the suspicion that Alexander’s vanity is not supported by his intellectual capacity.

    Having said that, I find it troubling that some people trivialize the need for racial equality. If Mormons were treated like African Americans the same folks would be outraged. The Golden Rule applies.

    Celebrating race baiters is not merely a violation of “political correctness” but indicates a lacking commitment to the Bill of Rights and the United States Constitution. Is it really too much to ask that our political leaders be loyal to the Constitution even if it benefits people other than their own?

    Though I realize that politics is about the nasty side of human nature, the fallen condition if you will, I am still disappointed that there are not better quality candidates. While outcomes are also shaped by institutional constraints, as voters that we have to take some responsibility for the quality of elected officials.

    Given that some people consider it OK to denigrate racial, religious, and ethnic minorities, I guess I should not be surprised with the quality of our representation in Congress.

  21. The scandal about Alcee Hastings is that he is on the intelligence committee at all. Even putting the claims of corruption aside, the Washington Post reports today that Hastings has multi-million dollar legal debts. Rendering him vulnerable to bribery, no civil servant or soldier would pass a security clearance with this credit problem.

    Security clearance standards for civil servants should apply to elected officials (may be, with exception of the United States President, since voters elect only one person to that office). The clearance process may need to be expedited but there is no excuse to relax the standards.

    If Hastings is on the intelligence committee nonetheless then the damage has been done and he might as well be chair.

    House leaders should be ashamed that they cannot institute reasonable standards to determine membership on the intelligence committee. Their failure compromises the nation’s security.

  22. Those of you hoping that the Democrats would shoot themselves in the foot will be disappointed to learn than Murtha was defeated for majority leader by wide margin (149-86) despite the vigorous efforts of Pelosi. With such a weak showing by the speaker-elect, there may be hope for derailing Hastings.

  23. Note I wasn’t hoping the Democrats would shoot themselves in the foot. I was hoping they’d do something like the Contract with America and help reform government. I’m more than willing to give credit where credit is due. For instance while I don’t like Clinton I’ll give him credit for reducing many aspects of the size of government (even if he grew others) Clinton was much more conservative than the current batch of folks.

    I’m glad Murtha was defeated. One wishes the Republicans had done the same.

    However I’m still wary of the Democrats ability to pull defeat from the jaws of victory. We’ll see how this all shakes out by January.

  24. Those collective nouns mask part of the problem. The “Republicans” in 1994 refers to different people than does the “Republicans” today. Parties really don’t learn. The party now gets punished but to a large extent individuals got what they were after. The relative few who were thrown out of office no doubt have learned some things.

    The real solutions sound too bizarre to modern ears. Stop the direct election of senators to reduce the efficacy of stupid campaigning. Roll back sunshine laws to block the access of lobbyists. Reinstate the Constitution.

  25. In the end, what worries me is that government will be too effective.

    Effective, results-oriented government ALWAYS comes at the expense of fairness and liberty.

    Most people don’t understand this, but you can either:

    1) have a fair government, or

    2) have an effective government

    You can never have both.

    If anything, Bush’s administration will have to be remembered as neither being fair nor effective. Seth, have you ever wondered what is it you’ve done to deserve this?

  26. Zohar,

    If our leadership were determined solely based on what I deserve we’d have Jenna Bush as President with WWF’s “The Big Show” as VP, and the marketing team from K Mart running the Defense Department, probably with “Flava of Love” as our Secretary of State.

    I, for one, am wholeheartedly grateful that we don’t always get what we deserve.


    Intriguing as your prescription is, it will never fly. Americans are currently convinced that an open election is like magic pixie dust that can make anything fly politically. Arguing against “free and fair elections” is like arguing for protecting the civil rights of child molesters. People won’t talk to you at church anymore.

  27. Alcee Hastings has been dropped from consideration as Intelligence Committee chairman. Evidence that something has been learned.

  28. Indeed, we don’t always get what we deserve… most of the time, we get what’s worse.

    Here’s some oven hot news about the latest election tragedy (that is, tragedy for the voters):

    ‘We Can’t Afford to Leave’
    As the debate over Iraq intensifies, leading Democrat Silvestre Reyes is calling for the deployment of more U.S. troops.

    Meaning: Those who voted the Dems back to power *hoping* that they will somehow find a way to end the war have just been… well… screwed.

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