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Republic for sale

Observer Viewpoint | Tuesday, January 24, 2006

American politics has devolved into the art of gaining and maintaining power. The two major political parties cast off ideological beliefs when they appear to be politically damaging and thus run the risk of losing re-election. The recent corruption scandals are indicative of the crumbling ethical foundations that are necessary for the maintenance of a republic. Republics rely upon the people entrusting statesmen of their choosing to carry out governance for benefit of the body politic. If the statesmen are not ethical and the people’s trust is misplaced, then the social contract particular to a republic begins to be torn.

Contemporary American events show the bonds of our republic being strained and put to the test. This is not to say America is in danger of abandoning its representational system, but rather that America is in danger of continuing to function as an actual, healthy republic. The largest danger is presented by the role that large monied interests continue to exert upon the state via lobbyists. Lobbying has evolved to the point where influential powerbrokers funnel enormous sums of money to politicians with the understanding that a quid pro quo will occur. Timorous politicians, deathly terrified of losing their positions, accept these “campaign contributions” and then proceed to forward the agenda that the particular lobbying group is interested in. The will of the people is bypassed, and government becomes a republic of interests. Powerful interests help to make and break politicians by their contributions; many politicians have decided that their true electorate consists of these interests, and have accordingly governed in their benefit and not that of the body politic.

The Jack Abramoff scandal has brought a widespread problem to the forefront of the national news. The man crept so deep into the roots of American government that had faced or faces investigations by the Justice Department, the Senate Indian Affairs Committee, the IRS, the Department of the Interior and the FBI. He has already pled guilty to three felony charges and has been connected to numerous members of congress from both parties – most prominently Representative Bob Ney from Ohio. Lavish contributions, personal gifts and exotic trips were bestowed upon prominent politicians of both parties. The blessing of the enormity of his crime is that it brings to light a serious problem in American politics. Abramoff and his client politicians are by no means alone – in the recent few years many other less dramatic, yet equally troubling, scandals and convictions have occurred. The former governor of my home state, Connecticut, John G. Rowland, accepted free work from contractors to improve his weekend cottage and pled guilty to corruption charges on Dec. 24, 2004. For brevity’s sake, I will pass over the numerous other examples of corruption that have come to light within the recent years.

It is not enough merely to decry the sad state of public corruption; rather, a solution must be posited. Complaining about a problem never solves it; one must arrive at a solution if anything is truly to be done. As the influence of wealthy interests has grown to the point that it is deeply entrenched in the current political status quo, it is imperative to cull this venomous root. Campaigns should be publicly funded with equal funds assigned to the two major parties. A threshold of signatures could be required where if met a third party would be allowed to receive funds as well, corresponding to the amount of support they can demonstrate. The threshold should not be high, because the two-party system is already far too entrenched to begin with – this entrenchment has created a system where the two major parties are essentially coalitions of various interests that have united in an effort to get a voice in governing. This system could indeed promote the growth of third parties by allowing them access to federal funding and by eliminating fundraising from the equation. The elimination of fundraising from political parties would help to eliminate the vast logistical barriers that exist for third parties to challenge the well-established and powerful Democratic and Republican parties.

The rise of third parties would most likely have a positive effect upon the corruption that is plaguing the current American political scene. Although the majority of current corruption scandals seem to involve Republicans, the issue is not contained to one party. It is true that the Republican politicians are to blame and the party must be held accountable, but the fact that more Republicans seem to be implicated has a lot to do with the fact that they control all the current branches of government. If the Democrats were in control, the lobbyists would apply more pressure on them, and their interests seem to be the same as the Republicans’ – namely, the acquisition and maintenance of power. New blood needs to be injected into the system. This increased competition from less-established parties would increase pressure upon the two major parties to become more ethical and refrain from accepting favors from lobbyists.

Ian Ronderos is a senior majoring in the Classics with a supplementary major in Ancient Greek and Roman Civilizations. Having retired from the College Republicans and adopting independent politics, he has entered the private life of peaceful contemplation. Ian can be contacted at [email protected]

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.