January 26, 2006
Capitol Hill's Lobbying Scandal Isn't All Bad News
funny country when it comes to outrage. Our decisions about what
sets us off are often unpredictable.
we disagree about what should spark American anger. Conservatives
can't believe more people were not furious with Bill Clinton;
liberals are baffled that the Bush wiretaps are not unanimously
heralded as the New Watergate.
intriguing mix drops the lobbying scandal – the story of
crooked lobbyist Jack Abramoff and the members of Congress who
received money from him.
awaken a righteous indignation in the electorate that will have
ripple effects lasting several elections? Will Mr. Abramoff drag
several congressmen with him into the reputational abyss?
on either one.
story first broke, reporters were breathless in their anticipation
of congressional careers dashed against the rocks of avarice.
Network news packages urged us to brace for the sight and sound
of careers collapsing.
it when I see it.
no doubt that Mr. Abramoff is a bad guy. But there are miles of
distance between unearthing one crooked lobbyist's tentacles and
confirming the "culture of corruption" that is on every
Democrat index card in this election year.
some won't leap to that journey. Time magazine's comically
conspiratorial tone upon seeing (but not publishing) photographs
of President Bush with Mr. Abramoff reveals the longing it shares
with Mr. Bush's political enemies for this to become a major story.
A key ingredient
is missing, however: a large body of Americans who care. Jack
Abramoff isn't exactly the buzz at water coolers and coffee shops
across most of America.
are plenty of Americans who follow the sport of politics who are
pretty fired up about it, and, heaven knows, both parties are
positioning to be the knights on white horses who ride in with
just the right flavor of reform.
But we will
have to see a body count before this lobbying scandal approaches
a big deal in the November elections.
totally implausible. Republican Rep. Bob Ney of Ohio is in a world
of trouble amid allegations that Mr. Abramoff gave him gifts and
contributions in return for a promise to use his office to aid
Mr. Abramoff's clients.
wait to see whether that sticks and whether there are other casualties,
this story has actually yielded a benefit – a fairly honest
debate about how to get lobbying abuse under control.
have an urgent interest in portraying themselves as agents for
change. The majority of Abramoff money went to Republicans, and,
as the majority party, any congressional scandal will accrue to
their detriment to some degree.
part, on the occasions when Democrats have put aside the dishonest
"culture of corruption" mantra, they, too, have offered
As a result,
we might see changes in how much members of Congress can accept
from lobbyists. We might see changes in the practice of "earmarking"
legislation with pet priorities that are not always honorable
and not always detected.
Just as the
Enron meltdown was a warning to businesses that they misbehave
at their peril, lawmakers are now looking in the mirror harder
than ever, knowing that the public, at least for the moment, has
caught a whiff of something we have always said we were upset
about but did precious little to remedy.
are so deep and pervasive that we grow numb. The notion of politicians
on the take is a burden we usually powerlessly endure in a nation
that re-elects even highly flawed incumbents at an astronomically
once in a while, our short attention spans are jolted by events
that galvanize voter attention and maybe even action.
Abramoff political bodies are buried, we may be left with a Congress
that crafts and actually pays attention to improved ethics rules.
will last as long as we choose to pay attention.
Davis is a columnist for the Dallas
The Mark Davis
Show is heard weekdays nationwide on the ABC Radio Network.
His e-mail address is email@example.com.