Wednesday, January 04, 2006

Culture of Corruption, Criminalization of Politics, ETC

With the Abramoff thieving on the front page, the Democrats, according to the New York Times, see this as "good political news, as they are trying to build their 2006 campaign around the Republican's 'culture of corruption' ". Several pages back in the editorial section Maureen Dowd states that "lawmakers can work on ways to game the system and wallow in the GOP's culture of corruption". Just a month ago on the same op-ed page Dowd or one of her fellow Times writers spent an entire column pointing out the onslaught of the phrase "criminalization of politics" among Republicans around the news of the Cheney aide's indictment. There is a lot to comment on here.

First, the language. When I was in the corporate world, the company I worked for had an unabashed Democrat as head of marketing and communications. They had to put one somewhere I guess. He brought in consultants who had worked with President Clinton and his administration to help us communicate to the media, shareholders, and employees(not an uninformed audience). The lesson these expensive consultants brought was that communication had to be distilled to three messages, and everyone was kept busy drawing triangles with a concise message on each point. The approach was to start any interview or speech with those three messages, then elaborate on those three points(the middle of the triangle had elaboration points), and then close with the three points. Any questions asked were to be answered by getting back to the three points as soon as possible or, better yet, immediately. Some may view this approach as condescending, patronizing, naive, etc. but it was put forth as cutting edge communications by some pretty well known names. But NOW, in the 21st century, we no longer have three points---we have three words. "Weapons of mass destruction" was of course four words, and now this communications science is down to three. One, two, three, everyone say the exact same thing depending on your team. Go culture of corruption. Go criminalization of politics. Who will win. It stinks.

Second, the Abramoff news is, well, if ever a picture did say a thousand words that of his lid and trench coat sure do. But is this guy a Republican, or is he simply a con man and a crook. Even the Times says he gave "campaign donations to hundreds of elected officials, more than half of them Republican". More than half, 51%?, or maybe equal to the split between Democrats and Republicans in Congress?, surely if the word "most" were defensible the Times would have used it. The one thing that seems very clear is that Abramoff stole extraordinary sums from clients. Was he able to do this because he wielded significant power, or because he created the illusion of significant power. It is a classic approach of legit consultants to promise to introduce clients to important people(my friend...), to have a resume of the best contacts and clients, to drop names, to put in a good word for, etc. Abramoff is a sleaze who took it the next step and didn't just bill clients very high fees, he bilked them. He's guilty. Did he illegally influence public policy? Did he explicitly trade money for congressmen's votes? He may have, but that's not clear from the reporting so far. No one likes the politicos involvement with this guy, or the advancement that some of these guys were getting or thought they were getting by associating with him. But did he have some real political agenda, or just an Abramoff power and money agenda that sought to take advantage of the weakest marks and fellow con-men.

Third, can the Democrats please make things interesting by not hiding behind some three word phrase for the 2006 campaign. Are they going to offer anything new and coherent, or are they going to let the Hollywood folks easy and self righteous ways of
making fun of Bush and Cheney be the centerpiece of their campaign. If they have any faith at all that there is intelligent life in America(and if not they should start if they want to win), then there is a lot of substantive and tough stuff to work with, and it doesn't all fit neatly within the old paradigm(see Thomas Friedman's NYT column today for a thought that doesn't quite fit between the chalk lines of the current policital debate).


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