Monday, January 23, 2006


Have you noticed this?

In coverage of the Abramoff scandal, certain Republicans and their allies in the press are trying to slip something under the table into our national discourse: i.e. a narrative in which the Abramoff scandal represents an about face from a ethically minded, reformist campaign in 1994 when the Republicans made huge gains in Congressional elections in which their "Contract with America" at least in part had the promise of cleaning up the House, so to speak.

Alas, the 1994 elections themselves were not about ushering in a reform minded Congress that would sweep K-street clean. The current scandal involving Abramoff is not an about face from the efforts of the Republicans in 1994 but rather the logical culmination of those efforts. The "Contract with America" was only nominally about "reform" but was in fact, and rather obviously, about the interests of big business. Indeed, one of the major funders (and beneficiaries) for the 1994 Republican take over of the House was Koch Industries whose actions in funding this "revolution" were actually rather shady themselves and certainly more dangerous to democracy than any money Soros has spent to promote balanced, open discourse in this country and elsewhere. Also, the K-street project did not hatch full bloom from the mind of the "oh-so-clever" Abramoff (and we all know what that's code for), but rather represents a decade or more long goal of the Republican party to corner the lobbying market.

I fear that certain Republicans, e.g. Gingrich and friends, will try to lay this all on Abramoff and even the current "leadership" of the Republican party. Of course, their efforts to blame current Republicans for the scandal will not hurt the Democrats politically, but it does obscure the larger issue (the airing of which would be to the long term benefit of Democrats): the Abramoff scandal is not a scandal about just Abramoff or even just the current Republican party (nor, OTOH, is it a natural consequence of having a government, as the libertarian types would like to tell us -- there is a such thing as cleaner government that does some good things), but rather about a long term project of the Republican party to corrupt Washington for their benefit.

We need to be sure to frame the issue our way and not let others frame it as "both sides do it" or "it's just the current crop of Republicans -- the 1994 crop was about reform" or "this is why government is a necessary evil, not a good". The Abramoff scandal neither represents "business as usual in Washington" nor "a break with the Republican revolution of 1994" but rather is part and parcel of that revolution's undermining of business as usual in Washington.

As George Santayana would tell us, if people are not clear about the history of this situation, we will be too likely to have it repeat again.

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