When you want to clean up the neighborhood, there's generally very little you can accomplish until you get the actual criminals off the streets. Once that's done, you can knock down the abandoned buildings, reseed the park, refound the neighborhood watch organization, whatever.
But the true, immediate and overriding problem with a crime-infested neighborhood is the criminals.
Congress, and thus the country, faces a similar predicament.
The talk of the day now in DC is 'lobbying reform', which Mark Schmitt aptly pillories over at TPMCafe. We may need new laws to curb the power moneyed interests now have over policy-making. In fact, I think we do.
But that's not the problem in Washington. The problem is a network of criminal activity stretching from the House of Representatives (and, to a lesser degree, the Senate) to K Street and then into the Executive Branch -- a network of bribery, money-laundering and fraud all aimed at selling public policy and official actions not in exchange for political contributions but money rewards to members of Congress, administration officials and their families.
It's not an abstract problem or a merely a few politicians lining their pockets or high-speed log-rolling. As Schmitt puts it, it's a betrayal-of-public-trust, a group of high-ranking politicians who've committed crimes against their constituents and a Republican establishment that wasn't against it then and can't bring itself to turn the folks in even now.
To date, the president hasn't even pledged to cooperate with the investigation, despite the fact that one member of his administration is already under indictment, another is under active investigation and another member of the White House staff was a principal participant in many of the scams about which Jack Abramoff has now agreed to testify.
Pretty much the same applies to Denny Hastert.
In Congress, these aren't backbenchers. It's the former Majority Leader, several of his key allies, at least one committee chairman, probably two or three more, and various officials in the executive branch.
Consider that now the two key lobbying outfits of Tom DeLay's Washington have both been engulfed and destroyed -- first, of course, Jack Abramoff's operation at Greenberg-Traurig, and just today, Alexander Strategies Group, which will shut down at the end of the month.
ASG and Abramoff weren't corrupt because of lax lobbying laws. And they didn't corrupt Tom DeLay. DeLay is the one, in truest sense, who set them both up.
This is a scandal of the people running the show.
And as long as we're discussing it, does anyone notice that every corruption case we're now talking about -- Abramoff, Cunningham, and pretty much all the rest -- either started or shifted into high gear right about the time that George Bush was elected?
Think about it.