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Monday, March 1, 2010

Ambition Trumps Party Loyalty

The recent controversies and scandals -- oh, that's all the time -- bring to light an interesting misconception.

Some people think that politics is a death match between Ds and Rs, that all Ds have a loyalty uber alles to the Grand Donkey and all Rs pay similar fealty to the Elephant in the Center Ring.

Party loyalty may hold with a significant portion of the electorate, and particularly with small contributors (sub $500). However, when it comes to big business and the well-heeled, labels don't matter.

Individual ambition is the mother's milk of politics and the reason many successful politicians seem to vanish once a scandal hits a tipping point. You see, at such a point the famous politician stops being feared -- or respected -- and starts being seen as vulnerable to the death blow. Afterwards, there is the silent scorn of the fallen (and often, convicted) politician. It is all about when the politico stops being viewed as someone who can help others advance, and starts becoming a barnicle, serving no purpose (some will argue he never served a purpose) but to block someone else's ambition.

Remember: the ambitious have no true friends.

And so it goes in politics.

There is a lesson for those of us who care about legislation and regulation, even about justice (which is affected by the former as well as the quality of judges). It is never enough to appeal to the merits of a position. Unfortunately, one must often appeal to the supersized ego of the cheshire-cat grinning officeholder who cares little except for what is in it for him. From such selfishness arises greed, and therefrom oft comes the senses of privilege, entitlement and ultimately, being able to act with impunity.

The honest services statute is currently before the Supreme Court (which this fall heard several cases and has yet to rule). There are flaws of vagueness in the statute which are likely to be remedied by Congress even if the statute survives. It is important to note that in many instances, a crime may be hard to define -- in which case it can fairly be said one has not occurred. However, in many of these cases, one cannot help but evaluate a case and get the sense that something is just not right.


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