What's Wrong With Washington
If you're looking for a leading symptom, among many, of what ails our system of government, you need look no further than Chris Dodd's appointment last week as chairman and chief executive officer of the Motion Picture Association of America. Oh. At a salary of $1.5 million a year.
You may remember Dodd as the long-serving senator from Connecticut who decided not to run for re-election last year after being associated closely with the Countrywide Financial/AIG bailout scandal. Associated. Nothing proven, of course.
This appointment is perfectly logical, since Connecticut is well known as the movie capital of, well, Connecticut, and Dodd's wife once served on the board of directors of now-bankrupt Blockbuster Video.
Dodd will of course not unduly exploit his contacts or do any lobbying, because congressional rules clearly prohibit such activities. He cannot do anything to influence directly his former colleagues until far-off 2013; he can merely "supervise" others doing so.
I don't know about you, but I'm very relieved to learn that the rules are so tough. At least he'll be able to stay in Washington with all the friends he won't be influencing, instead of having to go back to good old provincial Connecticut.
Dodd replaces fired former Kansas congressman and Secretary of Agriculture Dan Glickman, and was second choice after former Nebraska Governor-then-Senator Bob Kerrey turned down the job. Do you see a pattern here? Wouldn't Tom Cruise or Denzel Washington be a better choice? Of course, they wouldn't take the pay cut.
Dodd is certainly not the first congressperson to tread the lobbyist trail, nor will he be the last, though he is at the top of the pay scale because of his long years of noble public service. What are the chances of Congress doing anything remotely serious about this ongoing conflict of interest as long as the pay is good and there are more than 70 openings for registered (that's registered) lobbyists for every congressperson?
There will be lobbying; that pesky First Amendment guarantees it. It would be interesting to know exactly what Madison, Hamilton, et al., had in mind when they guaranteed freedom of speech. I'd bet they were thinking about newspapers and public discourse, and the notion that there would ever be something approaching 40,000 paid mouthpieces in the malarial swamp that was the District of Columbia never occurred to them.
Dodd is of course entitled to any job he can get, and for the purposes of the MPAA he may be well-qualified; but his case is illustrative of a principal cause of our fiscal distress: Washington has become an almost closed loop. The only way anyone ever leaves is in a solid oak, brass-trimmed casket. The players change teams, but the game goes on. They never retire, and their salaries go up with every move. Even Brett Favre had the decency finally to hang it up. So far.
Is there any way to break up the incestuous power-money-power cycle that infects our politics? That is what the new tea party folks are trying to do. It will take a lot more of them to make much headway, and that assumes they won't join the game themselves.
The Supreme Court essentially has held that anybody can give anything to political candidates, and though that may follow the letter of the Constitution, I would argue that it violates the spirit.
I find myself returning regularly to the blasphemous idea that the Constitution is not up to the issues of modern governance. Its principles remain unassailable; its mechanics are obsolete. In fact, the mechanics have become an impediment to realizing the principles, with perpetual election cycles and limitless money.
If we cannot somehow devise an election system that reduces the influence of money and dramatically increases the turnover of bodies, elected and otherwise, in the capital, the entire Constitution may become irrelevant. We could begin to look like one of those Mediterranean countries.
Let's hope it's Greece.
Fred Wolferman lives in Southern Pines. Contact him by e-mail at email@example.com.
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