Sunday, August 17, 2008

A Tale Half Told

I haven't read this book. And based on this review, and what I know of the author's previous work, and my years living and working in the city about which he writes, I probably won't.

It's not because he blames Republicans -- the "wrecking crew" of the book's title -- for everything that's screwed up and corrupt in the capital city's political culture. As the party largely in charge since 1994, Republicans certainly deserve plenty of blame, not just for falling prey to the city's many temptations but for abandoning what ideals they once had. And they'll face a well-deserved reckoning for that in just a few short months, when the Democrats take control of the White House.

No one's rougher on the party than those of us who at one time labored in the GOP vineyards, only to see the fruits of those labors turn sour. But I also lived in Washington long enough, and followed goings on there closely enough before plunging in myself, to put the issue into the context this book obviously lacks. All the corruptions the author decries or could decry -- fiscal irresponsibility, lobbyists, earmarks, abuses of office, patronage-building -- were pioneered (and in some cases perfected) by Democrats when they ran the show. Has the author so quickly forgotten names like Tony Coelho, Dan Rostenkowski and Jim Wright, to name just a few?

Republicans simply took things to the next level. And if the author imagines these things will vanish when Democrats are again completely in charge, he's imagining things. Has earmarking ended since Democrats regained control of Congress, promising to clean things up? Have lobbyists packed their bags and left town? Is Congress run by a bunch of rabidly partisan politicos, who will bend and break procedural rules, and throw basic fairness out a second story window, to get what they want? The correct answers are no, no and yes.

And none of this will change as long as so much power, money and regulatory clout remains centered in Washington. The corrupting influence of so much centralized power will eventually take root in whichever party is in charge at the moment. It was there before the Republican "revolution." It will continue during the Democratic "devolution" ahead. But will the author, 8 or 10 years hence, be penning "The Wrecking Crew Revisited"? Don't bet on it. His sort of "muckraking" conveniently ignores both sides of the pig sty.

The author takes shots at libertarians in the book, according to this review, but libertarians at least recognize that the only way to end power's corrupting influence in Washington is for states and people to take their power back, by returning to the limited government ideals the founders espoused. Liberals, like the author, fail to grasp that their own support for big government -- their Statolatry, as Von Mises called it -- creates the optimum conditions for abuses of power and corruption to flourish.

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