Thursday, January 12, 2006

Dining Alone

The Moose reflects on the D.C. restaurant industry.

One of the small ironies of Jack Abramoff was that he fancied himself as a restauranteur, but his misdeeds may lead to the crippling of that industry in this town. There is now a rush on Capitol Hill to draft legislation to prevent Members and staffers from accepting free lunches from lobbyists.

Given the present climate, some version of this type of legislation will pass. As a result, fine eateries in D.C. will close and workers will lose their jobs. And not much will change in terms of the corruption of our political process.

That is because the fundamental problem is not that most Members and staff have been bought off with perks and privileges. Clearly, in Abramoff's case, there was excessive greed. Reform is indeed critical and necessary. However, the deeper problem in D.C. is the convergence of an ideology, that applies no limitations on the market and wealth, with unlimited power.

Anything could be justified in this environment - and it was embodied in the K Street Project. Hendrick Hertzberg writes in the New Yorker,

"The genius of the K Street Project goes beyond a ruthless willingness to use all the powers that come with control of every branch of government. K Street has also helped to cement the alliance between economic and social conservatives, who have different (and, in some cases, potentially incompatible) priorities. It is no accident, as the Marxists used to say, that Grover Norquist, the little Lenin of the anti-tax movement, and Ralph Reed, the conservative Christianist operative turned candidate for lieutenant governor of Georgia, were among Jack Abramoff's closest collaborators. Partly as a result, K Street cash subsidizes faith-based politics, and the abolition of the inheritance tax becomes a sacrament.

"The scandal is not what's illegal. The scandal is what's legal." So goes Kinsley's Law of Scandal, handed down many years ago by the iconoclastic writer Michael Kinsley. By this definition-probably the more pertinent one-the Abramoff affair is not just a Republican scandal, and not just a "bipartisan" one, either. It's simply the currently most visible excrescence of a truly national scandal: the fearful domination of private money over the public interest. And it's going to take something a lot more serious than the fall of Jack Abramoff - or an outbreak of bogus charity-to fix it."

The corruption of conservatism is deep and profound. The tentacles of the Abramoff empire did not just extend to Congress, they touched virtually the entirety of the conservative movement. It would be one thing if conservatism was truly dedicated to limited government and individual liberty. But, a decade of conservative governance has grown government on behalf of enriching the rich and the clients of the once right wing revolutionaries.

Shutting down free lunches is fine, but that alone will not stop this plutocratic gluttony.

* Due to technical problems, the Moose was muzzled yesterday.
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