LOYAL OPPOSITION: Grab a Plunger, It's Election Time!

At a recent Bush-Cheney campaign rally, former Republican Senator Alan Simpson, speaking like a true statesman, declared that electing the GOP ticket would "make you damn proud after the crap we've been through the last eight years."

Forget the past eight years, the past eight weeks have been overflowing with political excrement. In the homestretch, the presidential campaign has boiled down to this less-than-compelling face-off: is one candidate less a ninny than presumed, is the other less a fibber than charged?

More attention has been paid to such burning questions as whether Al Gore lied when he said he had traveled to Texas with the Federal Emergency Management Agency chief during a forest fire (he had accompanied James Lee Witt on other trips) and whether the Bush campaign purposefully injected a subliminal message ("rats") into an anti-Gore ad than the candidates' takes on nuclear weapons, Third World poverty, and the challenges and dangers posed by the biotech revolution.

And Gore has had to deal with more dung than Bush. Why the obsession with his tall tales and not those of Bush? The Texas governor flat-out lied when he said the Gore campaign was outspending the Bush campaign. Bush's math has been as fuzzy as anyone's. (Take his unproven claim that Gore's intiatives would require the hiring of 20,000 more bureaucrats.) Cheney, too, is a prevaricator. During the second debate, he declared that the government had nothing to do with the riches he earned in the private sector. Was the former CEO of Halliburton -- which benefits greatly from government contracts -- delusional or in denial?

Gore has to defend every anecdote he tells. Bush has not been pressed to explain the records suggesting he went AWOL during his National Guard service. Bottom line: they're both liars. But only Gore has been forced to apologize for his untruthful ways.

Simpson, though, was not kvetching about this campaign. Rather, he was referring to the alleged Clinton improbities of the past eight years. Bill Clinton and Al Gore hardly deserve a defense. Through various campaign finance shenanigans -- some lawful, some not -- they managed to further pollute an already sleaze-ridden political system. They ought to be crucified for that alone. But their foes insisted on tossing all sorts of stinkbombs at them: Filegate, Travelgate, Chinagate, VinceFostergate. Much of it was nonsense. Of course, the Republicans, led at the time by Newt Gingrich (who lied to the ethics committee and retained his post as House Speaker), mounted an impeachment crusade against a president who lied about sex in a legal proceeding. (Gingrich, it turned out, had lied about sex, too -- every time he publicly celebrated his marriage to Marianne and did not acknowledge his ongoing affair with a much younger congressional aide.)

As for impeachment, does anyone remember that damn episode? It's not mentioned on the campaign trail. The Bushies have dropped their attempts to taint Gore with the Clinton and the Lewinsky mess. Instead, they assault Gore the Exaggerator for his own supposed character flaws. In most of the races involving the Republican House impeachment managers, the impeachment miniseries is barely a whisper -- on either side. The United States of Amnesia, as Gore Vidal says? Or is everyone -- except Bill Bennett -- tired of the soap opera?

In the Clinton-Gingrich era, the crap has flowed on both sides. Some Clinton cronies did take a fall due to the Whitewater investigation. But then Republican Representative Tom Delay, the House majority whip, was caught by The Washington Post extorting corporate lobbyists. If you don't contribute to the GOP, he told them, then we won't discuss legislation with you. What affects the taxpayers more -- a scuzzy land deal in Arkansas or a rigged system in Congress?

Last month, the Democratic staff of the House government reform committee put out a report listing all the sensational GOP accusations of the past eight years that have gone nowhere. Remember when Representative Dan Burton, the chairman of government reform committee, went on to the House floor and suggested Foster had been killed because he knew too much about Whitewater? (Even Kenneth Starr could find nothing to complain about regarding the death of Foster.)

Then there was the time Representative Gerald Solomon, the chairman of the House rules committee, claimed he had "evidence" that Democratic fundraiser John Huang had "committed espionage." (When the FBI interviewed Solomon he said he had heard a rumor from a Senate staffer whose name he did not know.)

Republicans accused Clinton of selling burial plots in Arlington Cemetery for campaign contributions. (A General Accounting Office inquiry found no evidence of this.) They also charged the Clinton Administration had committed treason by easing up on China in exchange for secret cash from Beijing. (No, the White House and the Democrats were sympathetic to the pleas of US-based corporations, which fund both parties and crave access to China's consumer and labor markets.) And so on.

Simpson's outrage is selective. For instance, Republicans are keen this campaign season on the need to restore trust in government. But they have not called for the head of Representative Bud Shuster, the powerful Republican chairman of the House transportation committee. At the end of September, the House ethics committee concluded -- after two-and-a half years of investigation -- that Shuster had violated numerous House rules by maintaining a close relationship with his former chief of staff, Ann Eppard, a lobbyist for big corporations -- such as Federal Express -- that have significant business before Shuster's committee. (A Shuster fundraiser, Eppard was caught engaging in embezzlement and illegal influence-peddling. She pleaded guilty last year to federal charges.) The ethics committee's report notes that Shuster helped Eppard create "the appearance" that she could affect his official decisions (that is, win favors from him for her high-paying clients); that he improperly accepted a paid vacation to Puertoi Rico from companies concerned with legislation before his committee; that he allowed Eppard, when she was a lobbyist, to set his official schedule; and that he spent hundreds of thousands of dollars in campaign funds in a manner suggesting they were used to cover non-campaign or personal expenditures.

And after all this comes out, Shuster gets to keep his job. (The ethics committee even provided him with limited immunity.) He remains one of the more influential members of Congress, controling a committee that oversees the disbursement of billions of dollars. Since he has been dishing out the pork for so long, he has plenty of friends in the House. Where are the cries for restoring honor in this portion of the government?

Shuster's wrongdoing is far from the only disreputable behavior that has occurred lately in the Republican-controlled Congress. As Congress has raced to finish the must-pass appropriations bills -- so members can skedaddle out of Washington and hit the campaign trail -- well-attired corporate lobbyists have clogged the hallways of the Capitol trying to insert special-interest provisions into these pieces of legislation. AT&T is looking for a few lines that will allow it to own more cable stations than the law permits. General Electric has been seeking a delay in an order that forces it to clean up toxic sediment in the Hudson River. (GE hired former Representative Bob Livingston, a Republican, and former Senator George Mitchell, a Democrat, to grease the wheels.) The credit industry is looking for a legislative favor that would let it sift through more customer information and sell the material.

In other words, an unseemly corporate orgy has been under way. Where's Al Gore, a.k.a. Mr. Populist? Unfortunately, it is so routine and mundane, that this ugly spasm of special-interest lobbying is awarded a slight story on the fourth page of The Washington Post. Cute headline: "As Last Bills Leave Station, Lobbyists Grab Tickets."

There's plenty of crap to denounce -- at both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue. Unfortunately, the victory of either major-party candidate in November will do little to clear out the pipes.

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