Lord knows I’ve tried! To be a little more objective when reporting the news, that is. Mother and father early on explained, somewhat nervously, that touching certain pressure points on my body more than twice a day and for longer than five seconds at a time would result in near-instantaneous deafness, weakening eyesight and the first small dust storms of a gathering insanity. It was remarkably good advice considering that neither were professional people and, knowing what I do now about the powers of suggestion and the self-fulfilling prophecy, accurate to a fine degree. Thus, when they suggested some while back that I “knock off this crap and do something serious,” I assumed they spoke of my style and were telling me, in their non-professional manner, that opinion is the kiss of death for any writer less well known and more liberal than James J. Kilpatrick or William Safire.
These men, of course, are less opinionated than programmed in their idolatry of anyone in pinstripe that goosesteps, but this has not hurt their careers as the premier cheerleaders of American reactionaries. On the contrary, the predictability of their preferences has made them favorites of editorial page editors across the land. This is not so hard to understand either when it is realized that while the editorial page is designed to promote opinion, the newspaper it appears in is designed to promote income. Being right is totally beside the point. Being rightwing, totally expected right down to the last misrepresentation, allowing the American burgher to read his paper and sup his morning glass of Tang unencumbered by conjectures alien to his universe, that is the art of these men. Re-tooling the extraordinary to give it a comfortable, mass-produced feel is not at cross-purposes with most American papers.
So I tried. I wrote not a single word on Robert Dole until after the election. That is how hard I tried. Not a single word on the premier junkyard dog in national politics. I thought I would find myself permanently cured of the lust to opine.
Alas. I have learned that for junkies there may be a respite, but there is no cure for the craving. For the averagely bright, average citizen, there is not even a respite when it comes to the assault on the sensibilities by our elected right honorables. The nerve endings beg for relief, synapses fatigue, the body mercifully begins to numb from the airwave blitzkreig of hysteria as our office-hustling grandfathers strut their stuff and dry hump our senses.
Power failure. The pain caused by this colossal, un-ending burlesque just begins to fade into oblivion when, like a ball peen hammer slamming into the elbow’s funny bone, they thrill us once again with outrage couched in nonsense. I write of a ridiculous-acting class of people, but one that is not without craft and guile. Public office seems to attract people who are just smart enough to realize that elected positions of “public confidence” are the easiest and safest of possibilities for not especially bright individuals to get rich. Imagine a shoplifter who has died and gone to that great, understaffed Macy’s in the sky to understand the euphoria an “aspirant” for public office feels at the prospect of pulling a majority.
“Aspirant.” Kick back in your chair, close your eyes and hum through an abbreviated dream of the most delicious object of passion you can imagine. Do you “aspire” for his or her, or to be totally non-sexist, its perfect body? “Lust” is the word that more easily springs to mind and lust is what those who seek office feel coursing through their loins.
As television patiently explains and illustrates a hundred times each day, fulfillment equates with money. The greatest romances in history pale in comparison beside your average secret rendezvous on the golflinks between congressman and defense contractor lobbyist. In short, American public office has become, at the federal level at least, the biggest piggybank in the world and the successful candidate owns the hammer, donated, no less, by the same folks who faithfully drop in the nickels and dimes. Got to give the outside a tap, just to hear the innards jingle.
“Tap taap tap Tap taap tap tap Tap tap Tap taap.” Morse code. KCIA. Korean Central Intelligence Agency. Operating in Washington Stop Desecrating democratic principles with bribes Stop Call girls Stop All expense paid trips Stop Defiling perhaps the same Executive Office Building where Spiro “My Hero” accepted payoffs from Maryland contractors Stop.
Stop? Not likely. The newspapers have written long and hard, and in a few cases well, on the subject with little visible impact on the reader. Even those several millions of Nixon apologists have managed only a short “See, see?” before busying themselves with the more pressing task of rooting for tubers or whatever. Everyone else is dismayed . . . sort of.
Mary McGrory, a columnist who has somehow managed to be both liberal and well-known, is dismayed . . . completely. She recently wrote a column entitled “Make honesty pay off” that dealt with an official study paper, “The Report of the Commission on Executive, Legislative and Judicial Salaries.” In brief, as Ms. McGrory reports, the commission found in favor of rather substantial increases for all three departments. Nothing new there, but they did slip in a wrinkle that had Capitol Hill howling. Fat salaries, but nothing else. No checks for luncheon speeches, no free trips to Disneyland, legal fees, testimonial dinners. Nothing “which might have, or appear to have, an influence on the public’s business.” Translated from bureaucratese: No more influence peddling.
Expect the report to die from neglect. A congressman may indeed bite the corporate hand that feeds him, but only when backed into a corner and never on an empty stomach. A Washington Post article lists a US senator, six congressmen, three governors, two US attorneys and nearly 400 lesser fishes at the state and city level indicted for accepting bribes in the last three years. Indicted. That list does not include those who copped a plea when the heat moved in. Remember one especially devout law n’ order vice president? Remember one pardoned president?
Who can forget? At least thirty congressmen suspected of accepting bribes from the Koreans have been able to forget, it seems. And that is only one vested interest. Members of the “greatest deliberative body in the world” turning tricks for any John with the price. Insult added to injury, they turn cheap tricks, selling their charms for a fraction of what Lockheed spent in half a dozen foreign nations buying a single aircraft contract. Cheap tricks!
This naked lusting for greenbacks, of course, is the basis for the rationale that bigger pay would curb the appetite. And Congress is welcome to pay hikes, I don’t care. I am unsettled, however, by the idea that such a move is being considered as a remedial measure. Higher pay has become a reward for greed. Having eaten so long and well at the public trough, we now offer public officials dessert. Sending Care packages to Fat City.
Here ends my feeble attempt to maintain an objective outlook. It is clearly impossible in the face of so many self-righteous old frauds, well-fed to the point of bursting, bemoaning their malnutrition from mouths stuffed with goodies.
I would like to submit that violations of public trust, corruption of inherently noble and just ideals, in short, wrapping one’s thieving carcass in the old Red/White and Blue, the better to hide the national boodle, is a felony of the first order. I think it ranks above car theft, homosexual contacts, the more mundane sorts of prostitution in which the individual sells his or her own body instead of the nation’s, gambling . . . make up your own list. Consider the majority of the laws designed to restrict, deny or jam down our throats the aberrant behaviors of whatever group of bozos happen to be in office at any one time. Some of these laws are side-splitting until you realize that people without connections go to jail for breaking them.
Members of Congress hardly ever go to jail. Along with a medical degree or passing the bar exam, election to a national office is, prima facie, a license to steal. It is hard to believe that offering bigger pay would change this. Far better to let them stay out of the slammer by the same craft you and I exercise: living within the crazy laws of the land. God knows that elected office in Washington is not like being assigned to a North Carolina textile mill or Appalachian coal mine. In most nooks and crannies of the land, forty-five big ones is considered a living wage. If they are unable to survive on such a stipend, then let them not run for public office. Even I am smart enough to avoid occupations that will not maintain me at a level of poverty to which I have become accustomed. Let them let an honest man or woman have their position and let them go back to selling insurance or pickles or whatever. And how about some jail time for those who can’t tame their greed? Just to see what happens, with no time off, because how do you cure a wealthy person of greed? How about just dropping the pretense of “correction” in such cases (as indeed they have been dropped in all others) and simply locking the scoundrels up?
“You took bribes given for the purpose of influencing your vote? But you didn’t let the bribe influence your vote? Doubly guilty! Ten years! You can’t even deal honestly with another criminal!”