Holding Politicians Accountable

Within our Federal Government there exists two sets of rules: one set is for civil servants while the other is for politicians and political appointees.  Within the former are a set of very strict standard which must be adhered to.  This group includes the members of our military which has an even more strict set of rules than those for civil servants.  The latter, however, seem to have no particular set of rules save that one indicated in the Constitution, “high crimes and misdemeanors.”  So very vague is that rule that only two presidents and a rather small handful of others have ever been held to it, and none successfully.

The members of our military are held to what is called the Military Code of Conduct, a set of 131 rules to which the must adhere, some of which seemingly contradict the Constitution itself, but which when challenged in the US Supreme Judicial Court have never been found lacking or at fault.  Civil servants are required to undergo an annual code of ethics training course which is given, generally, by a lawyer from that department’s office of ethics.  One portion of those ethics quite clearly set out a standard that states unequivocally any semblance “of a conflict of interest” will not be tolerated.  In any given year, hundreds of federal employees are tried in a court of law for violations of this code, and that is a good thing.  It is meant not only to enforce the law, but to give the public confidence in how federal employees conduct themselves.  To show the strictness of such rules, one states that no federal employee may accept any gift of greater value than $25 which includes meals, educational opportunities, etc.  The lone exception is if such gift is open to the public in general and that anyone, upon application, can avail themselves of such gift.

Now comes our political appointees.  In particular I want to bring about the person of General David Patraeus.  He graduated from West Point in 1972 and got an advanced degree from Princeton University.  He served a particularly distinguished career which elevated him to four stars, the greatest rank any military person can aspire.  Then in 2011 he was appointed to head the CIA.  In every respect he is an American hero who rose the well-earned heights.  It all came crashing down when it was revealed he had had a dalliance with Paula Broadwell.  The shame in all that is not that he had the affair, but that he was forced to resign.  If such dalliances meant an end to political careers the wreckage of such during our history would have easily end the career of half our presidents and probably equal numbers of Congress.  So corrupt was the administration of warren G. Harding that is has long be speculated had he not died first he would definitely have been one President who would have been removed from office by Congress.  If you want to know more about this, look up what is called “the teapot dome scandal.”

Most, if not all, of our US Senators are millionaires and are either so far removed from the middle-class, if they had ever been a part of it, to remember what it is like to be a part of it.  None came from poverty.  The same can be said for much of the House of Representatives.  That might not be so bad if not for the fact that they seldom represent the will of their constituency.  For them, quid pro quo is the only business they understand.  Simply put, that means those who contribute the most to their reelection get the greatest part of their attention and can count on their vote going their way.

They say it is impolite to speak ill of the dead, but to make a point I feel I must.  Sen. Edward Kennedy represented Massachusetts from the early 1960s until his death.  He was a decidedly unethical and devious man.  He was absolutely at fault in the death of Mary Jo Kopechne, July 18, 1969.  He was obviously not run from office, as he probably should have been, but was given a 2-month suspended jail sentence for “leaving the scene.”   Even though I have always been a registered Democrat, I never once voted for the man as I felt him incapable of honesty.  When he ran unopposed, I wrote in my own name on the ballot.  I also requested assistance from his office with a problem I was have one time.  After visiting there I never got so much as a polite “we cannot help you” response from them.  But then, that is what unprincipled self-important people do.

Today, Senator Charles Schumer, a New York Democrat, is acting in much the same way.  He claims he wants Wall Street reform and stricter regulations on financial institutions.  He says he wants to kill the 15% tax of earned interest that only the very wealthy enjoy.  That means, the top rate paid on all earned interest, by millionaires in particular, is 15%.  An average person who got lucky and won a million dollars would pay close to a 35% rate on that income while the millionaire will be assessed only 15% on his multiple of millions earned in interest.

Members of congress are regularly wined and dined at very expensive restaurants, given expensive gifts, given free memberships in exclusive clubs, and so forth.  It is hard to imagine that these members of congress will concern themselves quite so much with their constituents who sent them to congress to do their bidding than with those who spend lavishly on them.

I think politicians should be held to many of the same rules that civil servants are held to.  I also think campaign finance laws should be written to prohibit contributions to any single person or party except from individual voters, and that such amounts would also be limited.  The only way we will ever get Congress to listen to the will of the people is to limit the ability of the will of the PAC, the corporation, or any non-individual to be minimized.


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