This is an open message to all incoming Representatives, Senators, state and federal officials.* If you know any folks who fit that description, pass this warning on to them!
First, congratulations on your achievement, drawing enough votes to be deemed the lawful delegate of your state or district, or winning appointment to an office of public trust. That trust is worth discussing. In an era that’s awash in money and special interest groups, there’s been a rising sense of cynicism. Crimes like gerrymandering make us feel that its not so much a contest between parties or doctrines as it is between the political caste and the rest of us.
No doubt you are heading to Washington (or your state capital) stoked by righteous eagerness to end all of that! Brimming with determination to restore both honesty and common sense, you see the path ahead as crystal clear, free of complexity or compromise with evil forces. Some will call that naive and at one level… it is! Life is complicated and if you truly want to govern, it will involve give and take. Negotiation, even compromise…
…but that’s not what I’ve come to warn you about. Nor about the temptations or flattery, or campaign contributions, or promise of higher office, or even outright bribery. Either you are a person of character, or you aren’t. If you are one, then you will strive to reduce the role of money in politics. You will cultivate arguments that are fair and complex and that involve listening — maybe even a little attention to scientific fact — no matter what party you are in.
No. I am not here to warn you about traps that a person of good character can struggle against and generally (despite some lapses) avoid. I’m talking about something far more insidious that can reach out and snatch you in a single moment, permanently transforming and wrecking all your idealistic goals, your career, even your life. A failure mode that we can see before us right now, illustrated in the news.
I describe this calamity elsewhere in much more detail. But here’s the distilled gist:
There are powers out there who would love to own their own politicians, legislators, bureaucrats. Name whichever side of the political spectrum that you loathe. Now name one that you like. It doesn’t matter! There’s somebody at the extremes, or some foreign power, or some mercenary or criminal interest, who will seek to collect their own secret-servants in Washington. The methods that get the most attention are lobbying, campaign donations and outright bribery. But there’s a problem with all of these methods. A drawback for those use use them.
Satiation. A representative or senator or civil servant might accept some lobbyist favors, even some contributions, then draw a line: “I’ve helped you up to this point, but no further. That’s enough for this year.”
You might say no out of a sense of honor, or self-preservation, or to avoid the stain being too obvious. Or not wanting to admit it to yourself. Or cynically, in order to keep your price up.
Do you think I am the first to think of this? Imagine how it often gets started. Take some starry eyed idealist, newly arrived in DC and determined to clean up the town. Invite him or her to a high-class party on a yacht. Flattery, movie starlets. Slip him some drugs or cater to some brief-bad impulses, snap some incriminating images, and you’ve got him in your pocket!
== Examples in the News ==
Are you saying it can’t happen to you? Why do you think General David Petraeus had to swiftly resign as director of the CIA, after it was revealed that he had a minor, brief, consensual sexual affair with his biographer? By 21st Century standards, if you confess that in public and if your wife, standing next to you, conveys genuine forgiveness, then your chances of political survival aren’t zero! Such redemption may lie in the general’s future…
…but not for the job of CIA Director. The intelligence community is extra, extra sensitive about the possibilities of blackmail. That was the sub-text speeding things along. And note, in this case there wasn’t any actual blackmail going on!
The lesson? If a super-straight arrow can get in trouble like that, you had better take this seriously. Guard your back and front. Hire a staff whose advice about these things is wise, experienced and listened-to. Take your spouse along.
== The worst case? It’s widespread! ==
Truly, envision the forces in this world that you consider to be evil. Why would they not try to do this? And what’s to stop them from having succeeded, time and again, in a climate as florid, egotistical and money drenched as Washington? Shouldn’t you stay alert for signs that it has already happened to some of your comrades?
Moreover… if the blackmail gambit really is being used heavily, by many nefarious forces, then envision three things:
1) how it fits what has happened to American Politics in the last generation, and
2) how they must be wringing their hands over the recent arrival of so many middle-aged women in high elective offices! and
3) how desperate they must be to hold on to gerrymandering. (But I cover that crime elsewhere.)
== If this happens to you, don’t give up! ==
All right, that’s my warning to newcomers, the freshman congressfolk and all, coming to town brimming with zeal and suddenly invited to every sort of party. Be wary. Be circumspect. Don’t drink strange beverages at “discreet” galas thrown by powerful interests or let yourself be suckered into that hot tub or that orgy. And if you suspect something, there are FBI and other agencies who have skills to help you.
You wanted power? Wield it as an adult.
But what if it’s too late?
Too late? Yes, I’m talking to you. Not my regular readers, but you, the one who feels a burn of shame, while reading these words. Yes, you, the already-fallen.
Here’s some good news. There is probably still a away out. A hard and risky path to redemption. Above all, it is vital that you realize that you are very probably not alone!
They want you to envision yourself not only trapped and helpless but isolated. Only, think about it. What if you are but one in a house of cards… and you were the one to bring it down? Imagine how the country would feel about a sullied person… who then tore the masks off villains far worse than himself. The first person to do that… well… he’d earn a lot of forgiveness.
I go into more detail in my earlier posting about blackmail. I hope you’ll read it carefully and consider how great you’ll feel, if a way can be found to turn the tables on your Masters!
Perhaps even with honor and the thanks of a country that truly does often forgive flawed characters.
Especially when — in the long run — they finally do their duty.
* This is the first of a series of “Suggestions for Congress and the President.” In the effrontery and delusion that perhaps something found on these pages might be useful, worthwhile, noticed, or even seen by those who could use some fresh ideas in helping to guide civilization back on track.