Friday, March 24, 2006

Of Cars and Cash

Lately I've been reading Mark Twain's speeches and essays and at times I get the feeling that we're stuck inside of a wormhole permanently linked to the Reconstruction era.

In a speech delivered in Hartford in 1873, Twain quipped that the press
has defended official criminals, on party pretexts, until it has created a United State Senate whose members are incapable of determining what crime against law and the dignity of their own body is, they are so morally blind, and it [the press] has made light of the dishonesty till we have as a result a Congress which contracts to work for a certain sum and then deliberately steals additional wages out of the public pocket and is pained and surprised that anybody should worry about a little thing like that.
Or, as Josh Marshall sums it up in far more pithy terms:
When you follow this stuff for a while, you start to get jaded. But step back and the level of corruption is truly breathtaking.
To detail Duke Cunningham's garish avarice would be to beat a dead jackass. But partly because of Duke's overt rapacity, we've learned that GOP members of Congress have been merrily funneling their campaign funds into their personal bank accounts, and are proudly defending the practice as a matter of routine.

And now, thanks primarily to a heroic prosecutor and only secondarily to a press finally stirring from its slumber, we are beginning to discover the awe-inspiring extent of DeLay's ill-gotten fortunes--not the relative chump change to which Cunningham and friends helped themselves, but a quarter of a million bucks (and even a million dollars) a pop, all filtered through a "charity" whose chief beneficiaries seems to have been the political careers (and probably the wallets) of DeLay and his Republican colleagues.

But, thank goodness, we are relieved to see that at least DeLay knew where to draw the line (via TPM Muckraker):
At one point, Koulakovsky asked during a dinner in Moscow "what would happen if the DeLays woke up one morning" and found a luxury car in their front driveway, the former associate said. They were told the DeLays "would go to jail and you would go to jail."
Here, then, is the CliffsNotes version of the lesson we learn from the diploma-mill education offered by the Tom DeLay University of Political Ethics: ostentatious, traceable luxury items, bad; obscene amounts of easily laundered cash, good.

For thirty (million) pieces of silver, DeLay and friends blithely betrayed the trust of the American people. Or as Mark Twain (in a letter to the editor written the same month as the above excerpt) so delicately put it, "To my mind Judas Iscariot was nothing but a low, mean, premature Congressman."