June 28, 2005

Pigs at the Public Trough, Revisited

Time Magazine has an unflattering story about lobbyist Jack Abramoff which builds on some of the points highlighted in this earlier posting:

...The spreading scandal is a particular concern to Republicans in light of next year's midterm elections. Abramoff's name has become associated in Washington with more than just typical lobbying excess. He is an intimate of the self-described revolutionaries who took power on the Hill in 1994 on promises of cleaning house after decades of Democratic control and, as such, is seen as the personification of the Republican revolution gone awry. It doesn't help that the Indian tribal money that made Abramoff so influential around town came mostly from profits from gambling, which many conservatives view as immoral. Some Republicans are even arguing that the party should distance itself from those tied too closely to Abramoff. "If someone within your family is doing something that's certainly wrong, if not illegal, you have a duty to say, That's not us," says David Keene, chairman of the American Conservative Union. "That's what people are saying."

Last week's e-mail dump was the first detailed look the public has got into how Abramoff combined his top-tier connections with vast sums of money from his tribal clients to advance his interests. It shows how easy it is for seasoned operators to violate the spirit of the law--possibly while staying within the letter of it--as they peddle influence...Most of all, it shines a bright light into the dark places of Washington where money, politics and lobbyists meet.

Norquist, Abramoff and Reed first worked together in 1981 as members of the college Republicans organizing protests against communism in Poland. From there, the three rose steadily to the tops of their fields. Reed, as leader of the Christian Coalition, built a national grass-roots following of religious activists. Abramoff tapped into massive casino profits by representing newly rich tribes. And Norquist, head of Americans for Tax Reform (ATR), established himself as the high priest of tax cuts...

Abramoff's spokesman released a statement last week saying that with an investigation ongoing, "Mr. Abramoff is put into the impossible position of not being able to defend himself in the public arena until the proper authorities have had a chance to review all accusations." Norquist says he believes the direction of the Indian Affairs Committee's probe is being driven by an old rivalry between him and the committee chairman, Republican Senator John McCain. "This is completely political," Norquist says. McCain said last week's hearings sought to uncover fraud against the Choctaws, not investigate Norquist or Reed...

What of the friendship among the three men? In 2002 Abramoff came to see Reed as competition and cut him off the Choctaw gravy train. "He is a bad version of us! No more money for him," Abramoff wrote Scanlon. Norquist was still standing by Abramoff last week, in a way. "I've known Jack for a long time," he said. "He's never approached me for anything improper. But we have led very different lives over the last 20 years."

The WSJ also published a story on the issue, available here for a fee.

When politicians of both parties compete for power and money in the political arena, they cause all sorts of unfortunate outcomes, none of which benefits working families and retirees across our land. Consider these examples:

First, here is a related story about Ralph Reed.

Second, here is an example of government waste within the pork-laden highway bill.

Third, here is a story about the FEC blogging regulation debate which shows that, even within the Republican Party, John McCain's proclivity for political machinations could end up reducing freedom of speech for average Americans.

Fourth, here is a story about House Majority Leader Tom DeLay and his political opponents which shows how the drive for political power affects the behaviors of both DeLay and his political opponents.

Fifth, here is a story about how the Supreme Court now says government can take our homes away when there is money to be made.

So what is the average American supposed to deduce from all this? Here are some thoughts that I wrote in this posting:

I remember well that election night in November 1994 when it seemed real change might occur. Unfortunately, we have - yet again - relearned the lesson from the words of Lord Acton who taught us how power corrupts, regardless of party affiliation.

Big government means there are plenty of spoils to divide among the many powerful pigs at the public trough.

The next time your Senator or Congressman tries to impress you with the spoils he or she is bringing home to your district, take a step back and remember that the true price you are paying for any suggested benefit must also include the pro-rata cost of feeding every other pig across America who eats from the public trough.

Most importantly, what is often forgotten is that the spoils they are so eager to divide up represent a meaningful portion of the incomes of American working families and retirees - who are usually unrepresented at the table when these spoils are given away.

We must never forget that all families pay quite a price for these giveaways: It means less of their own hard-earned incomes is available to be spent on their own tangible needs, on things such as food, clothing, medical care, education, etc.

And that is why big government means less freedom for American working families and retirees.

In summary and to expand on the initial comments, here are some other conclusions taken from the DeLay posting:

Two takeaway thoughts that can help us regain perspective:

First, the intensity of the partisan fighting is directly correlated to what is at stake and big government means there is more to fight over. One of the reasons the Founding Fathers encouraged limited government was their deep understanding of human nature.

Second, since politicians and bureaucrats have no incentive to behave well, a diligent citizenry is crucially important to the ongoing success of our American experiment in ordered liberty.

Read this posting for more on the misguided incentives that drive public sector taxation.

Others have said it more eloquently. Here is a public policy viewpoint offered by Lawrence Reed in a speech entitled "Seven Principles of Sound Public Policy," which includes these words:

The "Seven Principles of Sound Public Policy" that I want to share with you today are pillars of a free economy. We can differ on exactly how any one of them may apply to a given issue of the day, but the principles themselves, I believe, are settled truths...They are not the only pillars of a free economy or the only settled truths, but they do comprise a pretty powerful package. In my belief, if every cornerstone of every state and federal building were emblazoned with these principles-and more importantly, if every legislator understood and attempted to be faithful to them-we'd be a much stronger, much freer, more prosperous, and far better governed people...

Public policy that dismisses liberty or doesn't preserve or strengthen it should be immediately suspect in the minds of a vigilant people...Ben Franklin went so far as to advise us that "He who gives up essential liberty for a little temporary security deserves neither liberty nor security."

Too often today, policy makers give no thought whatsoever to the general state of liberty when they craft new policies. It if feels good or sounds good or gets them elected, they just do it...

I would encourage you to read the entire Reed speech to get a more detailed view of the seven principles.

And here is a political philosphy viewpoint:

Roger Pilon wrote the following in a 2002 Cato Institute booklet containing the Declaration of Independence and Constitution:
Appealing to all mankind, the Declaration’s seminal passage opens with perhaps the most important line in the document: "We hold these Truths to be self-evident." Grounded in reason, "self-evident" truths invoke the long tradition of natural law, which holds that there is a "higher law" of right and wrong from which to derive human law and against which to criticize that law at any time. It is not political will, then, but moral reasoning, accessible to all, that is the foundation of our political system.

But if reason is the foundation of the Founders' vision – the method by which we justify our political order – liberty is its aim. Thus, cardinal moral truths are these:

…that all Men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness – That to secure these Rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just Powers from the Consent of the Governed.

We are all created equal, as defined by our natural rights; thus, no one has rights superior to those of anyone else. Moreover, we are born with those rights, we do not get them from government – indeed, whatever rights or powers government has come from us, from "the Consent of the Governed." And our rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness imply the right to live our lives as we wish – to pursue happiness as we think best, by our own lights – provided only that we respect the equal rights of others to do the same. Drawing by implication upon the common law tradition of liberty, property, and contract – its principles rooted in "right reason" – the Founders thus outlined the moral foundations of a free society.

Dr. Pilon concluded his essay by writing:

In the end, however, no constitution can be self-enforcing. Government officials must respect their oaths to uphold the Constitution; and we the people must be vigilant in seeing that they do. The Founders drafted an extraordinarily thoughtful plan of government, but it is up to us, to each generation, to preserve and protect it for ourselves and for future generations. For the Constitution will live only if it is alive in the hearts and minds of the American people. That, perhaps, is the most enduring lesson of our experiment in ordered liberty.

...may all of us live up to that vision authored by our Founders as we strive to be engaged citizens who are vigilant stewards of freedom and opportunity for all Americans.