By Bill Moyers
Paine" -- -- Bill Moyers is a veteran television
journalist for PBS and the president of the Schumann Center for
Media and Democracy. "Capitol Crimes," the first episode of Bill
Moyers' latest series of documentary specials , airs Wednesday
on PBS. (Check local listings.) Click here to listen to an audio
version of this commentary.
Back in 1954, when I was a summer employee on Capitol Hill, I
made my first visit to the Lincoln Memorial. I have returned
many times since, most recently while I was in Washington
filming for a documentary about how Tom DeLay, Jack Abramoff,
Ralph Reed and Grover Norquist, among others, turned the
conservative revolution into a racket—the biggest political
scandal since Watergate.
If democracy can be said to have temples, the Lincoln Memorial
is our most sacred. You stand there silently contemplating the
words that gave voice to Lincoln's fierce determination to save
the union—his resolve that "government of, by, and for the
people shall not perish from the earth." On this latest visit, I
was overcome by a sense of melancholy. Lincoln looks out now on
a city where those words are daily mocked. This is no longer his
city. And those people from all walks of life making their way
up the steps to pay their respect to the martyred president—it's
not their city, either. Or their government. This is an occupied
city, a company town, and government is a subservient subsidiary
of richly endowed patrons.
Once upon a time the House of Representatives was known as "the
people's house." No more. It belongs to K Street now. That's the
address of the lobbyists who swarm all over Capitol Hill. There
are 65 lobbyists for every member of Congress. They spend $200
million per month wining, dining and seducing federal officials.
Of course they're just doing their job. It's impossible to
commit bribery, legal or otherwise, unless someone's on the
take, and with campaign costs soaring, our politicians always
have their hands out. One representative confessed that members
of Congress are the only people in the world expected to take
large amounts of money from strangers and then act as if it has
no effect on their behavior. This explains why Democrats are
having a hard time exploiting the culture of corruption embodied
in the scandalous behavior of DeLay and Abramoff. Democrats are
themselves up to their necks in the sludge. Just the other day
one of the most powerful Democrats in the House bragged to
reporters about tapping "uncharted donor fields in the financial
industry"—reminding them, not so subtlely, of the possibility
that after November the majority leader just might be a
When it comes to selling influence, both parties have defined
deviancy up, and Tony Soprano himself couldn't get away with
some of the things that pass for business as usual in
Washington. We have now learned that Jack Abramoff had almost
500 contacts with the Bush White House over the three years
before his fall, and that Karl Rove and other presidential staff
were treated to his favors and often intervened on his behalf.
So brazen a pirate would have been forced to walk the plank long
ago if Washington had not thrown its moral compass overboard.
Alas, despite all these disclosures, nothing is happening to
clean up the place. Just as the Republicans in charge of the
House kept secret those dirty emails sent to young pages by Rep.
Mark Foley—a cover-up aimed at getting them past the election
and holding his seat for the party—they are now trying to sweep
the DeLay-Abramoff-Reed-and-Norquist scandals under the rug
until after Nov. 7, hoping the public at large doesn't notice
that the House is being run by Tom DeLay's team, minus DeLay.
All the talk about reform is placebo.
The only way to counter the power of organized money is with
organized and outraged people. Believe me, what members of
Congress fear most is a grassroots movement that demands clean
elections and an end to the buying and selling of influence—or
else! If we leave it to the powers that be to clean up the mess
that greed and chicanery have given us, we will wake up one day
with a real Frankenstein of a system—a monster worse than the
one created by Abramoff, DeLay and their cronies. By then it
will be too late to save Lincoln's hope for "government of, by,
and for the people."
Click on "comments" below to read or post comments