There is so much about the breaking Jack Abramoff scandal that should sicken every American it’s hard to know where to start.
Many in the Washington establishment are shaking in their Gucci shoes wondering who will be nailed now that the once high-powered lobbyist has pleaded guilty to federal charges of conspiracy, tax evasion and mail fraud. Abramoff will wind up with a lighter sentence in exchange for fingering those who were part of his influence-peddling circle.
Perhaps we should hope first that the right conclusions are drawn about the nature of the problem and the nature of the solution. It’s difficult to be optimistic given what I read and hear so far.
Already there is talk in Washington about “lobbying reform legislation.” Washington has seen many scandals over the years, followed by a lot of reform legislation that was supposed to close the gaps allowing improper influence and corruption. Yet, despite a lot of laws about what lobbyists can and can’t do, along came Abramoff to show what a truly talented, creative, and energetic liar and charlatan can accomplish.
There are two themes here to remember.
First, excessive government is a big part of the problem. The more of our lives that we turn over to politicians and bureaucrats, the more we expand the scope of the culture of power and influence that emerges from this. When we address corruption with new laws, we just make government bigger and therefore expose ourselves to more, not less, of the same problem.
Second, the more we choose to believe that our problem is not enough laws, the more we distort the truth that the problem is corrupt people, not a corrupt system.
There is a great incentive to write new laws. After all, politicians always want to be perceived as “doing something.” As the saying goes, for a man with a hammer everything looks like a nail. Politicians’ hammer is legislation and they’re always ready to use it. Scandals provide great opportunities for those who appear to not be involved to be self-righteous and heroic. The white horse that politicians will always jump on is a new law designed to “fix” the problem.
We should also recall that one of the principal platforms upon which Abramoff was generating the millions with which he was enriching himself and peddling influence was his representation of Indian gambling casinos.
The Indian gambling industry is another grotesque product of ill-conceived social engineering. The Indian Gaming Regulatory Act passed by Congress in 1988 was supposedly going to generate new economic opportunities for the American Indian community by staking out a piece of regulatory and tax protected turf for casinos operated by tribes.
The concept of using gambling as a vehicle to cure poverty and attendant social problems like alcoholism is sufficiently bizarre. However, like all social engineering, the results wind up doing little for those who the programs are supposed to help and do a lot to enrich those with skills to milk the programs.
Estimates have been made that something on the order of 75 percent of the jobs that the casinos have created go to non-Indians. And, of course, once government programs start, new interest groups are created to keep them going and lobbyists like Abramoff get into the picture to skim the fat.
Particularly instructive is the insulting and condescending sense that Abramoff had of his Indian clients. His e-mails showed him referring to them as “monkeys,” “morons” and “idiots.”
I might be accused of overstating my case, but in fact attitudes such as these characterize the attitudes that create and drive government programs aimed at communities that are thought too pathetic to get on their feet and take care of themselves like everyone else. Abramoff simply stated this implicit attitude in a particularly bold, straightforward and obnoxious way.
There’s a lot of talk in our country today about the role of religion. It’s frightening to think that the banishment of the Ten Commandments from the public square is really a symptom, not a cause. The fundamental problem is that these commandments have disappeared from so many of our hearts, and particularly those of the nation’s elites.
Jack Abramoff came from a background of privilege and is a product of America’s best schools. We should recall, before we start trying again to fix corruption with new laws, the famous words of George Washington:
“Whatever may be conceded to the influence of refined education on minds of peculiar structure, reason and experience both forbid us to expect that national morality can prevail in exclusion of religious principle.”
(Star Parker is president of CURE, Coalition on Urban Renewal and Education (www.urbancure.org) and author of “Uncle Sam’s Plantation.”)