Norm Ornstein of the American Enterprise Institute and Roll Call gets all Howard Beale in his editorial today:
In all my years of watching Congress, I have never seen anything quite like what we have now. It may be a cliché, and it may be a partisan attack term, but it is also true: There is a culture of corruption across Capitol Hill.
It still does not encompass the majority of Members and staffers, most of whom come here to do the right thing and to stay on the path. It may be true that the numbers of offenders, at least those directly breaking the law, are still roughly the same as in other comparable peer groups.
But the problem is palpably worse. While there is plenty of illegality here — and I believe a wave of indictments will hit in the coming months — it is not what is illegal that is the outrage, to use the old phrase, but rather what is legal.
Ornstein goes on to list the honest graft through earmarking of [sw: Ken Calvert] (R-Calif.), [sw: Gary Miller] (R-Calif.), and [sw: Dennis Hastert] (R-Ill.) and the abuses of campaign contributions by Vito Fossella as recent examples of this corruption.
There simply is no ethical compass here. The fact that Hastert was responsible for the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre of the House ethics committee makes his own real estate actions even more wrongheaded.
I don’t want Members of Congress and staffers to live ascetic or penurious lives. Lawmakers (and judges for that matter) ought to be paid at least as much as second-year associates in big law firms. (Currently they are not.)
Still, when I look at the eagerness of Members to score big perks from their lobbyist friends and to find ways to make big bucks by transactions that are related to their behavior inside Congress, I cannot find any justification in the large pay gap with their peers.
Illegal or not, much of this behavior is unethical and repugnant. It underscores the deep need for a real package of ethics, earmarking and lobbying reforms—which in turn underscores the shameful and pathetic behavior of the leaders in both chambers who have failed to act and who are trying to sneak through a sham bill. They hope journalists will tire of these stories and that voters won’t notice. I hope they are wrong.
“I want you to get up right now, sit up, go to your windows, open them and stick your head out and yell – ‘I’m as mad as hell and I’m not going to take this anymore!’ Things have got to change. But first, you’ve gotta get mad!”