The corruption of corruption

Sam Smith
As a young reporter in Washington, I soon learned more about the complexities of corruption. I came to see Adam Clayton Powell and Lyndon Johnson as examples of politicians you wouldn’t want to let near your daughters yet had somehow managed to get more good legislation passed more quickly than just about anyone in American history. I couldn’t justify it as a moral principle, just as a fact.
In the 1960s, I also handled media for a young civil rights activist named Marion Barry who did a good enough job that he went on to be elected mayor. And then things went sour, thanks to drugs and power. Marion became the icon of DC political corruption, but in fact that was because  corruption hadn’t been institutionalized yet.
A few days ago, out of the blue, I get a tweet from Marion. Hadn’t had any contact with him for years. I tweeted back him, “Still a friendly critic, pointing out that unlike most pols today you gave something back. Hang in there.”
His reply: “Was discussing neo-liberalism today. Hey, we’re buying a really cute billion $ streetcar & moving homeless to the morgue.”
It’s true. The capital’s latest solution for the homeless: dump some of them in an old morgue.
I tweeted back one of my favorite examples of the collapse of local Washington: “Barry started big youth program. Lately, a city councilman found guilty of stealing $350k from one.”
Barry grew up in the Crump machine years of Tennessee. I figure that’s where he learned a lot of his politics. I sometimes call him the last of the great white mayors because, as with these such pols, you got something back.
Now it’s only campaign contributors that get something back.
Test it out. List what Barack Obama has done for black Americans who supported him so loyally.
At the beginning of the Clinton years, I wrote in Shadows of Hope:
[A] Chicago politician described it this way:  “Not a sparrow falls inside the boundaries of the 24th Ward without [ward leader Jack Arvey] knowing of it. And even before it hits the ground there’s already a personal history at headquarters, complete to the moment of its tumble.”
There was plenty wrong with the Daley machine and others like it. One job seeker was asked at a ward headquarters who had sent him. “Nobody,” he admitted. He was told, “We don’t want nobody nobody sent.”
Among those whom nobody sent were women and minorities. The old machines were prejudiced, feudal and corrupt.
And so we eventually did away with them.
But reform breeds its own hubris and so few noticed that as we destroyed the evils of machine politics we also were breaking the links between politics and the individual, politics and community, politics and social life. We were beginning to segregate politics from ourselves.

What is truly striking is that not only has the electorate lost a working  relationship with corrupt politicians, but massive public relations and masochistically submissive media have combined to convince voters that this is a good thing.

If this was old Chicago, Louisiana, or Boston and a Clinton was running for mayor or governor, everyone – from supporters to media – would know and talk about the candidate’s faults. Some would be opposed and some would let it pass, but all would know. You might laugh about it, you might be angry about it, but at least it would be on the table. And the final question would be: did it help you or not?

On the other hand, the story that the media and her liberal supporters are telling these days about Hillary Clinton bears little connection to realityThis was also true when her husband was Clinton in Chief. Hardly any of the regular media bothered to look into Bill Clinton’s past, preferring a cleverly constructed but false campaign image.

Arkansas was one of the most corrupt place I ever looked into, but few citizens had gotten anything out of it. There was also a striking lack of pay back to the people for the corruption
But you weren’t meant to talk about that. The same is happening now with his wife. And if you challenge it, you are a right wing hater.

The reason you could have reform movements under the old system was that people knew what was going on. They either accepted it or rejected it but they weren’t blindfolded. So when they got fed up, they rebelled.

But today people are being inundated, helped by an extraordinarily subservient media, with fantasies that are never challenged, so getting voters to consider a better reality is virtually impossible. From Walmart to Iraq, there is no good reason for liberals to support Hillary Clinton any more than, from Glass Steagall repeal and job stealing trade deals to his war on social welfare, there was no reason for them to support Bill Clinton. But somehow they never knew it.

Corruption is certainly not the best route, but at least when you got something in return and when it was judged by its real benefits to real people, it did nowhere near the harm that happens when, as is the case today, corruption itself has become totally corrupted. It is now not just politics that’s corrupt, but information, logic, ideology, policy, decency and loyalty.
When the quid pro quo benefits only campaign contributors and the public is so badly misled that it doesn’t even know where its own candidates stand, the whole game goes down the tubes.

Thus, instead of protecting us from a dishonest, corrupt and deeply prejudiced Republican right, the result is a Democratic Party that just tells lies in a different way. The corruption is total, and the benefits non-existent.

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