Saturday, January 13, 2007

"I can contradict myself in one paragraph, Bob!"

Matt Stoller, Make That Contradiction!
I'm as outraged as anyone at Harry Reid's apparent move to protect secret earmarks. I have a call into his office, and I'm told that there were some negotiations going on that suggest that Reid's work isn't as bad as it's being reported. I tend to trust Josh Marshall on this, but my general reaction is less annoyance at this specific fight and more frustration at the avoidance of the real issue at hand by various parties involved in the ethics and corruption field.
'I am as outraged as anyone over Harry Reid's move on earmarks. Except I don't think earmarks are the problem.' He is outraged, but not over the same thing, except he wants his outrage to count as the same thing, so that he can start from a position of agreement, even though he does not agree.

Think I am being unfair? Two paragraphs later, he writes "These reforms do not and never have worked and I'm tired of liberal groups focusing on them as some sort of panacea." Funny, I do not recall Stoller ever saying he was tired of liberal groups focusing on ethics reforms when Republicans were in power. But that snide little swipe from humble old me aside, if we take Stoller's points quoted here together, we have that he is outraged as anyone at Reid's move to protect secret earmarks, even though he believes that reforms in this area do not and never have worked and he's sick and tired of liberals focusing on them.

I am being too harsh though. I actually agree with this:

Let's be honest - quasi-corrupt practices such as secret earmarks are not the result just of bad people in politics, they are the result of structural factors that encourage the legalized bribery of our governing class. If you restrict secret earmarks without changing any other incentives, you'll simply push the quasi-corruption into another legal vehicle designed to bilk the public and hide the costs.
I totally disagree with him over his answer, which is public financing of campaigns. Everything with these guys seems to have the same answer-- have the government run it, and have everyone in the world (except the poor) pay for it. Whenever there is a monopoly, as there would be in this case-- the monopoly being over the control of campaign cash, who gets it and what hoops they must jump through-- then the result is corruption and abuse. You can bet whichever party is in power would tailor the rules to benefit that party. Take it to the bank. Moving from one corrupt system to another corrupt system is not a good idea. At all.

Do you want reform? I have an idea-- vote out those who abuse the system. If those who abuse the system are not in your voting area, then do not support them with your words or your money. Do not support their party if the party supports them. Stoller wants to say that the problem is not Senator Byrd or Senator Stevens (well, knowing Stoller, he probably would prefer to say it is not Byrd but is Stevens), but a corrupt system that taints them all. But there is no perfect system. There is only the people being accountable.

If there was an opponent to challenge Sen. Byrd, would Stoller have suggested to vote for that opponent? Heck no, even if it was a relatively unknown Democrat, who somehow managed to get advertising. If that opponent was a Republican, Stoller would have reflexively opposed him. If it was a relatively unknown Democrat, Stoller would not have wanted to put the seat at risk, knowing that Byrd is an institution to himself. Even with public financing, that calculation would be unchanged. Incumbents could bribe their voters with earmarks, shamelessly naming buildings and roads so developed after themselves (drive through West Virginia some day). A publicly financed campaign system would entrench porkers even more, not less.

The answer is for people to hold the candidates and the parties accountable. We are accountable for the government we elect. If it sucks, then we have sucked in our job as voters. When voters start punishing Democrats for Senators acting like Byrd, Republicans for Senators like Stevens, Democrats for giving a home to Representatives like William Jefferson or District Attorneys like Mike Nifong, Republicans for Representatives like Duke Cunningham, etc., then the system will start being cleaner.

Hey, we got one! Maybe there is hope for us voters yet!

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