August 8, 1996 |
President Clinton waits to hear what they have to say about health care before he proposes action. House Speaker Newt Gingrich wants to hear their opinions about the budget. They are not lawmakers or lobbyists or scholars. They do not meet in the U.S. Capitol. Or the White House. They sit in plain rooms behind nondescript storefronts in suburban strip shopping malls across the country. The only observers are people watching from behind two-way mirrors, and clients who pay to read a written summary or watch a videotape.
September 8, 2004 |
Hats off to politicians. You're probably now bracing for an angry or sarcastic follow-up. Labor Day has come and gone, and this is, after all, a presidential election year, what is sometimes referred to as "the silly season. " So you can be excused for asking, "Where's the punch line?" But I mean it. One of my visceral reactions to reading biographies of modern politicians is: "Who would put themselves through that?" Who would suffer the calumny and libel? Who would allow themselves to become the focus of millions who just need a scapegoat for whatever is not going right in their lives?
October 14, 1991 |
Everyone can agree that congressional check-kiting and related scandals, though small matters in themselves, are symbolic. We just might disagree symbolic about what. The general diagnosis is that members of Congress dwell in an inside-the-beltway cocoon of special privileges, isolated from the concerns of the real world. The fact that they can't keep their accounts in order is taken as a metaphor for the mess they've made of the government budget. It's a metaphor, all right. My favorite aspect of the story is the hundreds of thousands of dollars in unpaid bills at the House restaurant.
February 22, 1999
What does it cost to run an effective political campaign nowadays? Judging by just the mayor's race, millions of dollars. Running for municipal court is a six-figure proposition. Council races won't be cheap. And those are just the local elections. Who owns the politicians we elect, given that they have to rely so heavily on donations to run for office? Wouldn't you want to know? In the proposed state budget being hammered out in Harrisburg is a small provision that would make it easier for the public to find out what a lobbyist gave a politician.
March 23, 1990 |
In the Outback, a buffalo herder snarls. Politicians? "I don't like any of them," he says. In Surfers Paradise on Australia's Gold Coast, a real estate man shakes his head. "People just don't trust them any longer," he says. In Humpty Doo outside of Darwin, a buffalo catcher is not coy about his opinion of politicians. "I've never got a straight answer from any I've met," he says. In Brisbane, a politician named Michael Macklin says such critics are too kind.
November 3, 1994 |
My favorite new trend in political analysis is the one that holds there's nothing wrong with the political system, it's the voters who are a mess! Amazing news, huh? Here we've been laboring along in the boonies thinking something is screwy in Washington - just because Congress couldn't pass a health-care bill, barely passed a crime bill and killed off legislation to clean up its own hockdom to the lobbyists - when, lo, comes word that all is well in this great nation, it's just the stupid, cranky voters who don't realize it. But now that I'm accustomed to the idea, sure, I see that it's the people who are to blame, not the politicians.
September 20, 1992 |
A few years ago, Doris Kearns Goodwin, the biographer of Lyndon Johnson and the Kennedys, told a group of reporters at the American Press Institute a story that should be drilled into the consciousness of every journalist and politician in this country. When she was working with Johnson on his memoirs, Goodwin said, she summoned the courage one day to ask him why he had so often told people that his grandfather had died at the Alamo, when he knew it was not true. Johnson, she said, confessed to the fraud, but had a ready explanation.
July 11, 2003 |
Whether it's for small-time shakedowns or big-time graft, New Jersey is running up a reputation these days for having more jail-bound politicians than exits on the New Jersey Turnpike. Christopher J. Christie is part of the reason. As the state's top federal law enforcement official, he has declared war on crooked politicians. In the 18 months since he became U.S. attorney, about two dozen Republican and Democratic political figures have been indicted or convicted. Now Christie is overseeing a grand jury investigation into the private billboard dealings of two former top officials in the McGreevey administration.
October 29, 2001 |
I realize the events of Sept. 11 have turned the world on its head. Still, there is something terribly wrong when a resident of our region can send a peace missive to Saddam Hussein and receive a prompt and "genuine" response from the Iraqi president ("E-mail of peace gets reply from Iraq," Oct. 22), and I can't even get my elected representatives to acknowledge my letters with a perfunctory postcard. Jon S. Corzine spent $65 million on a U.S. Senate seat, but he won't blow a 34-cent stamp on me. And he isn't alone.
March 4, 2000 |
The Roman historian Tacitus observed that "noble character is best appreciated in those ages in which it can readily develop. " Need I say what sort of age we live in? If you're not sure, just check the daily bulletins on McCain, Bush, et al. Unable to win solely on their own merits, political candidates in our era have resorted to attacks on the character of their opponents. Character assassination is a scurrilous business at best, and those who attempt to elevate their own reputations by demeaning someone else's usually succeed only in revealing their own flawed characters.