The Dallas Morning News gave a recent column about dysfunctional Washington the headline “Dancing with the devil.” The nation’s capital lends itself to this distinction in the 21st century for various reasons. One of the biggest, if not the biggest, is its rank now as the costliest city to do business. Not New York. Not San Francisco or Los Angeles. Yes, greater Washington now claims first place in the costs of living. And in access to the less fortunate – in either direction!
The article under the headline is a column by Jonathan Rauch, a contributing editor of the Atlantic Journal, arguing that the capital “would benefit from a return to honest graft.” It can’t happen, simply because the city has reached a state that tramples Tip’s rule that “All politics is local.” For those who believe in Satan, the capital has to look like the devil’s workshop.
Rauch and the rest of the media stars need to realize that “local” no longer has meaning in Washington, in the sense of its connection to the American people. The high cost of doing business there has virtually eliminated their voice, and turned the capital into a playpen where only Special Interests play. To play, you pay. And, no less than the Supreme Court is jacking up the price.
Twice in less than four years the Supreme Court has made the same mistake, telling us that corporations are people, because they are formed by people. But alike in form they are not. Corporations are formed by state laws. People are formed by creation.vStates give corporations no responsibility to the public interest, a glaring snub of the Constitution.
It comes from the clause that passes to the States powers not explicitly set forth in the Constitution, the very wrench that the devil counted on to jam up the works. Believers saw him using it to tear both the country and the Constitution into the Civil War that nearly destroyed both. The States should have been counted on to keep to the spirit of the Constitution in their use of this power. Consistency would and should demand it.
But the legal profession could hardly be counted on to choose the right, however obvious. There are no fat fees in that! So the rule of law perishes under a thousand nicks, giving us rule by the profession of law. No sense applying the law as it reads, when the devil dishes up details that make the practice of law a game played on technicalities, from the simple court of the justice of the peace into the machinations of the Supreme Court.
It’s a game that works this way because the lawyers own it. They tout their Bar Association as the protector of the law itself, but self-regulation is exactly that: Self first. It’s akin to expecting the NCAA to put the public interest first (e.g., child safety) in policing inter-mural football and basketball. Slavery has redefined itself in football, and by its growth into the largest entertainment industry, it writes its own rules in the exploitation of the flesh, offering enticements and rewards that make it difficult for parents and students to resist. The bigger the industry, the greater the power and influence of the lawyers it can afford to sidestep any regulation that might threaten its growth. Multinational corporations are flexing this muscle freely and, with the help of the Supreme Court, shrinking the personal worth of the Bill of Rights.
Cast your mind for a moment to a Washington visit in which you are a tourist touring the capital by car with your family. You’re looking for a parking place to pay respects to your senators, or catch the Supreme Court in session. Forget it — or park in the Maryland or Virginia suburbs and take the subway to Union Station, a short walk to the Senate offices.
It’s a playpen where money does all the talking. How easily we forget the old truth: money is the root of all evil. Personified, of course, by the devil. The capital’s isolation is the political mockery of the Safety Net, of which Washington players speak so blissfully. Remnants of the safety net are rather like a church whose members are largely the poor, but they pride themselves on keeping their minister living well, as the manifestation of the well-being to which they aspire, and for which they pray. The House and Senate appease and tease them by opening every session with prayer.
But prayers aren’t changing the reality outside the sanctuary, where unprecedented poverty is having its way — be it the devil’s work, or not. In the 21st century, poverty racks the nation in far larger numbers than its peak in the Great Depression. When sports in general, and football in particular, have become national obsessions (by far the largest entertainment industry) statisticians are thereby too preoccupied to take time to count the poor. The devil has them tallying pass completion rates and runs batted in.
Even inside the moat that money floats around the capital poverty is rampant. It’s just tougher to see, beneath the granite of the majestic seats of government or the shimmer of luxury that paves Pennsylvania Avenue, and embassy row, and the other corridors of influence. Go a few blocks north, east, or south from the Capitol — any direction but Pennsylvania Avenue west — you’ll have no troubling shaking hands with the poor.
So who’s brokering all this decadence? All the peevishness paralysis of the Congress? Where’s the root of this dysfunctional Washington? Money makes it so. Yes, the root of all evil.
The dance of democracy finds us dancing with the devil. Graft isn’t the answer. There’s no such thing as honest graft. How can it be when money is the root? It’s Satan’s coin. Will we go on allowing the Koch Brothers and other billionaire oligarchs to call the tune? Tom Toles got it right in his recent NYTimes cartoon, lampooning the Supreme Court for allowing big money to buy legislators by the handful, not one at a time.
Worse, will we go on letting football dictate the worth of high school and college educations, leaving only the boys that make the team feel like first-class citizens, and rest feeling diminished manhood — while at the same time shortchanging America’s economic competitiveness. Little wonder that boys overall are losing interest in school. They must suffer the irony of knowing that sports do zero for national competitiveness.
It’s time for mothers to take charge, and insist that their sons compete with the daughters for good grades. If necessary, leave the old boy to his couch, his beer, the TGV guide — and the devil. The 21st century is their opportunity to show the world that mothers are the real makers now of the American Dream. The truth is that they always have been. As the one true majority of voters, they can take us back to our true roots, which are “All politics is local” – the devil’s worst nightmare.
Frank Mensel — April 2014