The Many Flavors of Political Corruption

Corruption comes in many flavors. Earlier this month, former Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell and his wife were found guilty of the kind of petty, gross corruption that we usually think of when we employ the word, trading on their official capacity for private gain. Such corruption is real and offensive and it should be punished, to be sure. But, as is often the case, less obvious varieties of corruption (and other sins) can pose a deeper threat to the political life of the nation. Two otherwise unrelated events this week point to such deeper corruption.

An emerging meme at Fox News, championed especially by Sean Hannity, seeks to link the threat posed by ISIS and other Islamicist militants with immigration issues, specifically the perceived need to close our southern border. The two issues are not meaningfully related. Latino children fleeing the violence in Central America and farm workers from Mexico are not in the habit of beheading journalists and aid workers. Indeed, the danger that ISIS and other Islamicist militants do pose to the security of the American homeland lies precisely in the fact that some of them have legal documents to cross into the United States. This last observation sets aside the more glaring threat that ISIS poses to the regional stability of a region vital to U.S. interests, which is why the U.S. and its allies must act: The prospects of an attack within the territorial confines of the United States is more remote.

So, why link ISIS with the situation of Latino immigrants? Because scratching the ugly itch of xenophobia and its kissin’ cousin racism apparently is good for rating at Fox News. The thing that ISIS militants and Latino immigrants share is that they are “not like us,” they are foreigners, they are not WASPs. They are both, you know, more like that black guy born in Kenya who lives in the White House. It would be easy to dismiss this nonsense as mere race baiting, but millions of people watch Fox News – and those watchers count as more “well informed” then many other citizens! Except that the information is not well, it is a lie, and a sin, and evil.

It is easy for me to call out this nonsense here at NCR. Where are the conservative Republican voices – especially the conservative, Republican Catholic voices – calling out this latest manifestation of nativism? Where are the responsible conservative politicians and thinkers denouncing this linkage that does not, and ought not, exist, this fear of the other which has so often been a cancer in American culture and society? The silence is deafening.

The other instance of corruption is contained in a General Accounting Office (GAO) report that found many insurance plans sold under the terms of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) included elective abortion coverage. This inclusion is despite the fact that the law requires insurers to collect separate premium payments for abortion coverage from customers who want it, so that taxpayer money in the form of subsidies for coverage is not used to pay for elective abortions. Here is the corruption is a lack of respect for the principled views of others.

Let us recall that the passage of the ACA was a close run thing and that the last hurdle to be overcome was precisely this issue. Let us recall that the ACA could not be passed without the votes of pro-life Democrats who refused to vote for a law that would contradict the logic of the Hyde Amendment, which has long barred federal funds from paying for elective abortions. The issue was, and is, categorical and not easily finessed. President Obama, in order to secure the votes of those few stalwart pro-life Democrats, issued an executive order that attached the essence of the Hyde Amendment’s approach to the ACA. There was a colloquy on the floor of the U.S. House to guarantee that the executive order was understood to be a part of the legislative history of the ACA, a key point for any future court challenges. Those principled, pro-life Democrats voted for the ACA and it passed.

Now, the Obama administration has apparently decided that they can ignore their commitment to those pro-life Democrats, implementing the law in clear contradiction of the promises that were made. I know that this is Washington, and usually a principle has the shelf life of an over-ripe peach. But, there are few people as principled as pro-life Democrats. They have survived in a political climate that heavily favors or-choice Democrats in primaries and other party nominating mechanisms. They have withstood the well-funded assaults of EMILY’s List and NARAL. Many of them lost their seats in the House because of their votes for the ACA. How dare the minions at the HHS and in the Obama White House run roughshod over them! They dare to do so because the idea that anyone could put a political principle above a partisan advantage is unthinkable and, I would submit, this is a form of moral corruption that is as ugly as it is deep.

It is no use appealing to the fact that the ACA is complex. Many conservative Republicans objected to the ACA because of its complexity, but the law was complex because the delivery of health care is complex. I wish to high heaven there had been the votes for a single-payer system, Medicare for everybody, which really would have simplified both the law and its implementation. And, because the Hyde Amendment applies to Medicare, we would not be facing the ugly implications of the GAO report. The Obama administration should find the time and the means to redress this clear insult to the integrity of those pro-life Democrats who put the ACA over the top. If they fail to do so, they deserve all the scorn that we on the left heap on Sean Hannity for his race baiting and xenophobia.

Cardinal Sean O'Malley, who chairs the Pro-Life Committee of the bishops' conference, issued a statement calling on Congress to act in this matter. Whatever your views on the Hyde Amendment, everyone should recognize that failure to address this glaring failure to follow the law undermines one of the most necessary political virtues in a democracy, a respect for the deeply held views of others. 

Any political system is susceptible to corruption. Modern liberal democracy is especially susceptible to those varieties of corruption that can either whip up an ugly populist fervor and those which can fly under the radar screen of the necessarily cumbersome federal bureaucracy. It is certainly the job of the press to expose such corruption but it is the job of the people to punish, not in the courts the way petty, gross corruption is punished, but at the polls.  





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