Abramoff Fallout

Sunday, January 22, 2006
I wish Jay Cost would wrap up his doctorate soon and I hope his dissertation will be available as soon as it is accepted. Jay's current column at RealClearPolitics is the best summary of the probable outcome of the Abramoff scandal that I have read to date. The core of his argument:

From data like this, we have learned that he is a poor fit. We have learned two fundamental facts about how the average American voter thinks about politics. First, he has surprisingly low levels of political information. This is the principal mistake that many pundits make. They assume that the voter knows about as much about politics as the pundit does. Not true. Not even close. This fact has become so widely accepted among professional students of political behavior that the animating research question of the last 20 years has been: given these low levels of political information, how does the average voter make rational decisions, if indeed those decisions are rational at all? Second, he is, by and large, according to Michigan’s Donald Kinder, “innocent of ideology”. The conventional wisdom is that we are a 50-50 nation. This is not true if the 50 and the 50 are ideological conservatives and ideological liberals, respectively. It is not even true if we define the 50 and the 50 as “right leaning” and “left leaning”. Much of the public lacks the information necessary to develop a coherent political ideology akin to what political elites possess. Recent work suggests that about 30% of the public can engage in ideological thinking or effectively ideological thinking. The rest of the public organizes political information in some different kind of way.

reflects an understanding of the electorate absent from the babble generated by many political pundits. His evisceration of Howard Fineman could be written about many, if not most, of those who pontificate about an electorate that pays them no attention.

The Abramoff scandal is not about a "culture of corruption" but about the fact that power corrupts the weak, stupid and proud first. I hope that Gonzales' DoJ is meticulous and thorough in its investigation and prosecution of any office holder who clearly sold a vote for money. I also hope (vainly, I fear) that Congress might realize that no new idiocy is required in the way of a "law" which would undoubtedly be a series of loopholes with tatting around the edges to give a semblance of substance. The current law seems to be functioning quite well and legislation concerning outlawing stupidity has a dubious history. Application of the current law should be sufficient to stiffen resistance to temptation on the part of all but the weakest reeds.


David Thomson said...

“The obvious follow-up question is, will the Republicans pay?”

The answer is that the Republicans will not likely pay a price on election day. They merely need to forthrightly deal with the issue and get it behind them. Thankfully, the Abramoff scandal is being headlined early in the year. By July it should be ancient history.

There is only one real way of eliminating lobbying abuses: make the federal government smaller. This needs to be the number one goal of the Republican congress. Making it illegal to receive free lunches from lobbyists is a waste of time.

Are American voters relatively stupid? Is democracy even possible in our country? I do think we should bring back the literacy test and people on welfare should lose the right to vote. Still, most Americans pay enough attention to politics to get the job done. Democracies are not perfect, but they remain preferable to a country run by the so-called elites. William F. Buckley reportedly once said that he would rather be governed by "the first 100 names in the Boston phone book than the Harvard Faculty". I agree completely.

terrye said...


Did you actually say that people on welfare should lose the right to vote?

That is ridiculous. Believe it or not being poor or down your luck for that matter are not a crime. Unless of course you think it should be.

I see what we need to do is just make government small enough [like one of those nice itsy bitsy governments in Africa let's say] and there will be no corruption.

When I read David McCullough's book on John Adams he wrote about the period before the Constitution was ratified when the colonies were held together in a loose confederation and the corruption was a real problem for the locals and the fouders. In fact the situation made it obvious that smaller and more local was not always more honest and that impacted Adams considerabley.

I don't care if the government is a King and three barons who don't think they owe the population a damn thing, there will be corruption if the King and three barons are thieves.

Look at the administration of U.S. Grant and Taft, did the nonexistence of social programs keep them honest?{Grant may not have been a thief but he was surrounded by a lot of them}

For that matter the limited size and scope of government was a real boon to the robber barons, they greatly benefited from hands off laissez faire government.

The people of the United States have made it plain that they do not want to live in a country that resembles a Charles Dickens novel, so I really don't think that returning the good old days of the Great Depression is something that most taxpayers or voters support.

Getting rid of earmarks and providing greater transparency will do a lot more to dealing with corruption than taking the away the poor's right to vote.

terrye said...

And btw I know Republicans on welfare too. I see a couple of them in my job. One is a quad and another is a veteran who had a very bad stroke a few years back and was wiped out. I will ask them if they think they should lose the right to vote. It will be interesting to hear what they have to say.

The truth is most people are tired of the partisans from both parties. They just don't want to hear the ranting the raving from the bases. Turns them off.

Sometimes the true believers do more harm than good.

I know I am getting tired of it all myself.

Buddy Larsen said...

Remember the RR dream, the 'line-item veto'?

That's the EZ way to dump 'earmarking'.

vnjagvet said...

The Democrats will not succeed in making this an exclusively Republican scandal.

Item 1: The Abramoff money (direct and indirect) has gone to a significant number of Democrats.

Item 2: The Patty Murray and Harry Reid factor. This factor illustrates the Democrats' inability to forthrightly reject the benefits of the Abramoff largesse.

Item 3: As Tip O'Neill, the sage Irish pol, and astute commentator on all matters Congressional, said many times, "all politics is local". Most people will give their Congressional Representative a pass if he/she is not indicted.

And, as Adam Clayton Powell proved, sometimes they will give them a pass even if they are ousted by Congress for corruption.

David Thomson said...

“Did you actually say that people on welfare should lose the right to vote?”

I most certainly do believe this in principle. Will I spend any time and effort to accomplish this goal? Nope, I pragmatically know that this isn’t worth the effort. There is far bigger fish to fry. On a rating of one to ten---this issue doesn’t even make the top fifty in my personal agenda.

Syl said...

I, too, think further changes in the law is a waste of time. More transparency, yes, but beyond that?

I believe each Congressman should have the right to choose not to be corrupt.

flenser said...

I agree that the Abramoff scandal is being wildly overblown, but there are elements in each party with an interest in doing so.

The Democrats feel they can use it to pin the "culture of corruption" label on the GOP, while many Republicans seem to think they can use it shrink the size of government. My money would be on the Democrats here.

In the worse case scenario we will end up with state funded elections. Then the politicians will have even less incentive to care what people want.

ex-democrat said...

flenser - Durbin pushed for just that on Chris Wallace this afternoon. fairness doctrine next!

CF said...

Rick.I love Jay's work, too. Thanks for catching this. I'm writing up a shortie and sending it to AT with a h/t to YARGB.