Wednesday, August 23, 2006


Government Corruption

In the latest updates I hear from NJ, it seems Sharpe James, former Newark mayor, is in trouble for corruption.

I've blogged/commented about this in the past: "all politics is local", and people get their images of government being corrupt and intrusive as well as of Dems. being particular a bane from their experiences with local governments -- either directly or based on what they hear about the nearest big city political machine. I've previously written about how Republicans use dissatisfaction with local government malfeasance to convince people to vote for the GOP anti-federal government programs (which ironically ostensibly are to increase the power of local government ... although the "local control" talking point is tapping into actually a slightly different and more sinister vein).

But there is something else going on too -- even if the junkets and what have you of a Sharpe James are insignificant budget-wise, they do leave an impression. People are going to be less sympathetic to geographical wealth redistribution schemes (which have been a critical aspect of the Dem platform in one way or another since the New Deal pioneered many of them) if they feel the money is being sucked into the pockets of corrupt urban politicians. Not only does a large part of the anti-government movement upon which the GOP capitalizes originate from disgust by voters with local politics, but also a large part of the anti-tax movement capitalizes on disgust by voters with fiscal corruption and irresponsibility (and there is also a know-nothing aspect to this, as I am sure y'all have noted).

So it's very important, especially if we Dems. want to be the party of cleaning house in the House, etc., that we first clean out our own machines. "All politics is local": if we Dems. want to start making headway in Red States (as well as keep certain Blue States safely Blue), we need it to be the case that the image of Dems. people have in Red Counties is not based on the local corrupt Dem. political machine in the nearest big city -- and more philosophically, that people don't feel that government is corrupt due to bad experiences with local government and feel that their tax money is going to waste based on reports of government corruption.

If we Dems. are to be serious about winning, we need to do some house cleaning.

Breaking throught the romance of local goverment is important. Having lived in very small towns all my life, the kind where everyone is supposed to know everyone's busisness, I can tell you that isn't true. Most towns and even most cities don't have any effective media coverage of the activities of local officials, the ones through whose hands the money flows. Corruption is rampant at the local level due to people being kept in the dark.

Your point about how Republicans play the local-federal issue is fasinating. It's an important point. Democrats will succeed if we clean up our party and the parts of goverment under our control. People will vote for people who aren't stealing their money and and the Republicans are certainly doing that. But the people have to know about it first.
Most towns and even most cities don't have any effective media coverage of the activities of local officials, the ones through whose hands the money flows. - olvlzl

I've found this to be the case in suburbia too. And the lack of effective media coverage allows for more than just corruption: it allows, e.g., fundies to take over the school boards. In general, the media shadow over local government and local politics was a key enabler in the takeover of the GOP by the far right (while lefties may talk the "think globally, act locally" talk, the right really knows how to walk the walk on that one).

That's what always struck me as odd about those who so vehemently argued for a greater balance of power for local governance based on "original intent": the idea of local control being more democratic than government power being concentrated in far away State Capitol or DC has long since ceased to be meaningful, in part based on the increasing centralization of media coverage as well as the centralization of that which government must regulate. Indeed, this shift happened relatively early on and the centralization of governance was tacitly blessed by no less a champion of "states' rights" than Jefferson himself. If the "local control" crowd really wants to go back the original intent for such localism, they would have to (following the original intent here) first ban corporations, etc.

Of course the other problem is that "people have to know about it first" -- but what people "know" is that "both sides do it", in which case, they'll go back to voting for the party which is honest about government being corrupt (even if they are the worst corruptors) and promises to keep them safe from terrorists who want to fund stem cell research by recruiting an army of snowflake babies or something like that.
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