Did You Get My Message?
Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton makes a phone call.
Sep 27, 2010, Vol. 16, No. 02 • By WILLIAM KRISTOL
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House D.C. delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton left an interesting voicemail on a lobbyist’s answering machine a couple of weeks ago:
Are you shocked? Probably not. If you’ve been paying attention, you know this is what politics in Washington, D.C., has come to. If you set up a casino of welfare statism, crony capitalism, and big government liberalism, this is what you’re going to get.
But you should be shocked. We should all be shocked. This isn’t the way American politics has to be. We can be hardheaded about the nature of politics (and human nature) and acknowledge that politics will always have its seamy side. But in the world of big government liberalism, the opportunities for seaminess multiply, and the constraints wither away.
That’s why it’s right that the very nature of big government liberalism is at the center of this year’s election campaign. It’s why Republican politicians and conservative activists shouldn’t focus too much on the legal questions raised by this voicemail—it might, for instance, be an FEC violation to use information about other donations to solicit campaign funds (“I noticed that you have given to other colleagues on the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee”), and it raises legal and House ethics questions for Norton to seem to be soliciting funds based on past actions taken in her official capacity in Congress (“my major work on the committee and subcommittee it’s been essentially in your sector”).
No. While Republican politicians and conservative activists can insist on a proper investigation of such legal issues, we would urge them not to focus too much on the personal ethical transgressions of Norton—or, for that matter, of Charlie Rangel. The point is not that there are individual bad apples in Congress, or that such bad apples might be disproportionately Democratic ones. The point is that this is what happens when you have crony capitalism and a big government welfare state. Tea Party activists already understand this. The Norton phone call is just more evidence for their broader point about how the current system works and why it has to be reformed.
So our advice to GOP candidates is this: Go ahead and play aloud the Eleanor Holmes Norton tape. But don’t then waste time excoriating the D.C. delegate. Instead, ask your constituents whether this is the kind of government they want. Point out to them that low tax rates do not invite this kind of extortion, while earmarks and stimulus spending packages do. Turn the ethical issues of this Congress (and this administration) into fodder for a broad reform agenda of re-limiting government. Explain that only such an agenda can begin to drain the swamp.
Then get elected, refuse to play by the rules of the swamp, and systematically work to dismantle the policies and practices of big government, interest group, welfare state, crony capitalist liberalism.
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