Problems in Democracy 01

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By:Thomas Fleming | July 02, 2014

The House Ethics Committee has changed reporting  requirements for members who receive free travel from a variety of groups. The travel will still be reported but only on the House Clerk's website, making it less likely for watchdog groups—aka paid snoops—and journalists—aka professional liars—to keep track of their indubitably corrupt activities. To answer Nancy Pelosi's complaint that this is not a step toward transparency, John Boehner's staff told reporters that Pelosi's own staff signed off on the changes.

None of this is terribly interesting except for the feeble beam of light it shines on the "ethics" of the two parties. Publicly, the Democrats are always squealing about the need for transparency, for campaign reform, for high ethical standards, while the Republicans take their stand on freedom, the Constitution, and the g-d-given right of all Americans to spend their money on whatever illegal or disgusting activity stirs their blood, so long as Republican voters will not be offended. Glaucoma patients may not buy dope but, if they and their allies have the money, they can buy a congressman or two.

Most Americans, unless they are stupid enough to belong to a political party,  know it is a sham, because both sides are equally corrupt. The only difference is that in most years Republicans stand a better chance of getting big money—which makes them unmoved by the siren song of campaign reform—while Democrats know that if they can hamstring the Republicans with rules that they themselves intend to break, leftist judges and the leftist media will do everything they can to look the other way or find a loophole in the prosecution. The last honest Democrat in the Senate, Russ Feingold, was openly ridiculed by one of the masters of corruption—Ms. Clinton. (It is an insult to the dignity of wives to refer to such a thing as "Mrs.")

If we were to get seriously "real" about political reform, there are several possible remedies to entertain. One of them, which I have discussed briefly in the past, would be to auction off political offices to the highest bidder or, alternatively, to require elected officials to post an appropriate bond to indemnify their constituents for budget enormities, deficits, etc. But I save that proposal for another time. What I propose today is to take a page out of the Athenian "constitution."

In the Golden Age of Greek Democracy, Athenian politicians (as well as politicians in most democratic states) who assumed high office were assumed guilty. Typically, they held office for only a year, and as they made way for the next crook, they were subjected to a routine scrutiny of their accounts. Even if they passed, they could still be sued by any citizen within a specified time period. If they could not prove themselves innocent, they could be convicted theft—the plain word they used for embezzlement—or of receiving "gifts" (as well as of lesser crimes). A politician convicted of theft or bribe-taking would be required to pay ten times the sum involved, and until he did pay up, he and his descendants were deprived of civil rights, such as the rights to vote, hold office, sit on juries, sue in court, etc.

Athenians were crazy enough to make their experiment in democracy, but they were neither stupid nor naïve. They were perfectly aware that men who pursue power will almost certainly abuse it in the course of their relentless pursuit of wealth, power, and other men's women. They took every conceivable step to limit the mischief their leaders could do: They imposed strict term limits on offices, allocated most political positions to a drawing of previously scrutinized candidates, though they exempted important positions, such as that of general and treasurer, and they assumed their leaders were guilty of corruption unless they could prove themselves innocent. Even then, they failed to prevent their democratic leaders from sending them over the cliff. Nonetheless, they tried.

What can Americans say:

"We were too stupid to know what our leaders were up to?"

"We knew but we didn't care so long as we got something out of it?"

"We knew and cared, but we were just too busy watching images on a screen and gibbering into our iPhone to do anything?" 



San Antonio
7/2/2014 05:32 PM

  Dr. Fleming, I have no intention of voting this year at all. Instead of auctioning the seats to the highest bidder, why not have a lottery? No campaigns, no campaign contributions, no broken campaign promises.

7/2/2014 06:26 PM

  One remedy: " auction off political offices to the highest bidder or, alternatively, to require elected officials to post an appropriate bond to indemnify their constituents for budget enormities, deficits, . Tom,I would suggest both the auction and the bond. I think potential candidates should be allowed to take money for not running. Also, in a perfect world, I would prefer Dr. Clyde Wilson as auctioneer to anyone else given the times. .

7/3/2014 12:40 AM

  I love too how the Greeks tried to make democracy work. I recall reading they even for a while just had a lottery every year, to see who would "represent" - (it must have been funny how one by one everyone became corrupt - [king] for a year). Also they had any number of judges per trial who were the jury too, from 501 to 5,001 (wasn't that the number involved with the conviction of Socrates)? Presumably so no one could bribe, as so often happens, the one and only judge on the case. ... At least make a verdict cost the magnate, some serious bread or lettuce, here in our world of the fallen. I can just see them doing their math: '5001, times a thousand each, what's that come to, Pittance?' ... 'Gee boss, I'm working on it now...'

Karl Keating
San Diego
7/3/2014 12:55 AM

  "Glaucoma patients may not buy dope but, if they and their allies have the money, they can buy a congressman or two." So, they can't buy dope but they can buy a dope?

7/3/2014 02:32 AM

  Another oldie but a goodie: "Anyone who proposed a new law, or the alteration of one already existing, had to appear before the Citizen's Council with a rope round his neck. If the Council voted against the proposal the proposer was immediately strangled"


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