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Corruption in government

By Henry Lamb
web posted April 14, 2008

It isn't the toe-tapping in public restroom stalls.  It isn't the bundles of cash stashed in the freezer.  Salacious sex scandals and the sale of influence are superficial symptoms of corrupt individuals.  Individuals can be replaced.  The corruption that permeates Congress may have no cure.

The structure of Congress may have been an unintended consequence of political compromise in the heated debate in the hot Philadelphia summer of 1787.  In retrospect, many call its creation by the U.S. Constitution nothing short of Providence.  The reality is that the structure provided the best possible arena for ideas to be hammered, shaped, and polished into public policies for the people of America.

The delegates to that now-famous Constitutional Convention were as diverse in their views as were the people they represented.  They were bound together by two common bonds: the determination to shed the tyranny of a dictatorial government, and the desire to construct a new government on the foundation of equal rights of all people.

This idea was not practiced by all the participants, but the idea prevailed nonetheless.  James Wilson (1742-1798) expressed this idea quite succinctly: "All men are by nature equal and free.  No one has a right to any authority over another without his consent…."

This idea underlies the purpose for the government the founders created, and is described exceptionally well in the Constitution of Alabama:

"…The sole object and only legitimate end of government is to protect the citizen in the enjoyment of life, liberty, and property, and when the government assumes other functions it is usurpation and oppression." (Section 35)

Congress, and the executive branch of government have completely lost sight of this fundamental purpose, and, consequently, have no idea how to achieve it.  Congress is the primary culprit.  It is in the Congress where representatives of the people should debate proposals that affect the life, liberty, and property of the people they represent.

Open, honest debate – with the hope and expectation of producing the best possible policy outcome – is the best way yet discovered to take an idea and knock off the rough edges, knead and shape, and finally polish a proposal into public policy worthy of the consent of the people. 

The corruption of Congress has overwhelmed the idea of honest debate with the hope and expectation of producing the best possible policy outcome.  This high ideal has been replaced with procedural maneuvering.  Deceptive discourse has replaced honest debate.  The only purpose is the hope and expectation of retaining (or gaining) the control of power.

Policy proposals are no longer advanced by the people, but by the interest groups who expect to benefit from the proposals at the expense of the people.   Neither inherent merit nor the protection of life, liberty and property, are the bases for Congressional support.  The generosity of the PAC of the proposing interest group, or the number of potential votes influenced by the group, are the motivating factors for a corrupt Congress. 

C-SPAN reveals a Congress that is no longer an arena for open, honest debate – or debate of any kind.  It has become a stage for performing actors to convince the media, and their audience, of why they should be in power, and why those who disagree are not worthy of holding power.

How long has it been since there was a real debate about the merits of a policy proposal, either in Congress, or among the presidential candidates?  In a debate, a proponent presents an idea, and the opponent identifies the flaws in the proposed idea and offers a counter proposal – with hope and expectation of the best possible policy outcome.   What passes for political debate today is little more than an exercise in name-calling, side-stepping, and often, eloquent ambiguity.

The root cause of corruption among the elected representative in Congress is the absence of character.   Character is that invisible quality that compels a person to do the right thing, even when no one is watching.  Character is that quality that compelled George Washington to step down from his office as President, when he could easily have become king of America.  Character is that quality that extends to every other person, any right that one claims for himself.

Character is a quality closely associated with the source of the "unalienable right" to life, liberty, property, and happiness.  There is no character in a government that usurps the authority to grant or deny these rights.  While Congress offers a daily prayer before its proceedings, the prayer cannot escape the chamber where corruption prevails and the consent of the governed is a long forgotten impediment to the exercise of power.

Every dictatorial government in the history of the world has eventually failed.  The only hope for perpetual freedom is a government that honors the idea that its power must forever be limited by the consent of governed.   The exercise of this belief by those who are elected is the ultimate measure of the representative's character.   The exercise of this belief is also the ultimate measure of the people who do the electing. ESR

Henry Lamb is the executive vice president of the Environmental Conservation Organization (ECO), and chairman of Sovereignty International.

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