Outside the Box

The Corruption of American Freedom

August 26, 2015

This is going to be an unusual Outside the Box. I’ve been part of the political process, both as a practitioner and an observer, for some 40 years. I cast my first vote in the presidential election for George McGovern but by the 1980s had made a hard right turn. Over the last decade I’ve been far less involved but no less interested.

I’ve been struck during the past month by the continued popularity of Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders. A recent Michigan Republican primary poll had 55% of the top candidates as clear nonpolitical, non-insider choices. And that doesn’t even include those who would have chosen Rand Paul and other such clearly non-establishment figures. On the Democratic side, Bernie Sanders, an unrepentant socialist, is close to leading in certain states. As somebody who has viewed the process for so long, I find these choices to be both disturbing (for a variety of reasons) and a provocation to my intuitive curiosity. As the Crosby, Stills & Nash tune of my youth intoned, “There’s something happening here; what it is ain’t exactly clear.”

I had a conversation with my friend Newt Gingrich last week. I know many of my readers will not be fans of Newt, but I think any reasonable person would agree that he is one of the more astute observers of the political scene. In his opinion, there is a bubbling evolutionary change that has spread through a significant portion of the electorate. He relates that to a recent Gallup poll:

The fact that 75% of the American people believe that corruption is widespread in our government may be the most important single indicator in the US presidential race. The rise of so many outsider candidates is a signal the American people are tired of words and want decisive change.

Perhaps this is a continuation of 2008, when so many voted for what they thought was “change you can believe in.” Perhaps it is just early in the process, and people are frustrated, but I’ve been talking to a number of longtime political observers, and they too are echoing the thought that there is something decidedly different going on. Perhaps I’m running in the wrong crowd, but I find the current direction surprising. This is something new.

Today’s Outside the Box is a short piece by Newt from the Washington Times. It is on the traditional concept of corruption in politics. By that I mean what our founding fathers and their intellectual equals in Britain understood the word corruption to mean.

I try to steer away from political memes in my writings, as I know my readers are truly all over the board; but I think this is a piece that can speak to us all and help to inform us as we try to make sense of an unsettling political season. When more Americans see widespread corruption in the US than Brazilians do in Brazil, where there are massive demonstrations against corruption in government, there is something profoundly wrong. We may not see massive demonstrations here … except at the polls. This is something we all need to factor into our calculations as we think about the future.

I write this from an extraordinarily pleasant venue on Boston Harbor at the home of my friend Steve Cucchiaro. We’ll all go out to dinner later somewhere on the bay and then hit the sack so we can both get up early and spend a day working before we take off for the weekend down to Newport to go sailing in Steve’s new catamaran. While I cannot personally imagine what it would take to get me to ever buy a boat, as they essentially seem to be a hole in the water that you pour money and time into, I find it altogether pleasant and enjoyable to have friends willing to make such an investment who will invite me to partake in their enjoyment.

Sunday we fly back to Dallas for the start of a very busy writing and research month. This has been a very relaxing week, and I do find it helpful to kick back a little every now and then. I know I’m going to be sore on Tuesday after I get back into my training routine, but that’s the price you pay for goofing off. Have a great week as we come to the end of summer. For my non-US friends, those of us here in the States get an extra week of summer because the “official” end of the season does not come until the day after Labor Day, which this year is on September 7. Even though most of us will be working, there does seem to be a little bit of summer lingering on our minds.

Your really confused about the political process analyst,

John Mauldin, Editor
Outside the Box

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The Corruption of American Freedom

By Newt Gingrich

Originally published at the Washington Times

This is my third column in a row on corruption.

In the first, I suggested that 75% may be the most important figure in American politics. It is the percentage of Americans who say in the Gallup World Poll that corruption is widespread in government.…

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Aug. 29, 11:40 a.m.

A lot of good comments.  You are right about the boat.


Aug. 28, 8:50 a.m.

Seems everyone can have their favorite reasons for the rise of corruption, so here are mine.

Rise of personhood in corporations. The needs of business are often at odds with the people. The people need to decide if this is how they want it to be.

The change in demographics toward older people. While this one is not truely a corruption (it’s demoracy at work!), it pits one generation against another. The Senate concept of two votes per state ensures that the majority do not have unreasonable control against a significant minority. That isn’t the case when one generation is pitted against another. The minority generation(s) then tune out from the political process.

The rise of customized news. The internet has allowed people to easily configure their news to appear from favorite sources building up a tremendous confirmation bias. Any small corruption can be magnified many times if it is one of your known dislikes. If it isn’t one of those, you will never see it unless you go looking for it.
Having said that, by this time next year, we’ll be looking at two establishment candidates heading into the November election. The fact that you all probably agree with me , is the biggest problem we have.

Thomas Bischoff

Aug. 27, 3:16 p.m.

I am really wondering about how different would this assessment on corruption have been 1990? 1970? 1950? 1930? 1910? etc. and how differently did people view their Gvt. at these times? 

I agree with the author’s observation about people’s contempt but my thesis is that corruption is not the main reason for it and that favoring outsiders at the ballot box is not the most important consequence.

Corruption in the definition of the author has been around for decades if not centuries - while we are talking about the influence of the financial industry today, Eisenhower was concerned about the industrial military complex in the 50s. I would doubt that 74% of the people considered the government as corrupt in the 50s. Something else must be very different today. I suspect that back then the majority of people saw good opportunities to grow and the country made a lot of progress as a whole. Neither is true today in the assessment of the overwhelming majority of the people.

This brings me to my first point: competence. The main reason why our progress is underwhelming is not corruption but incompetence. We have had administrations for decades now that were fundamentally incompetent. I define competence as the ability and capacity to drive policies and programs that are fit to achieve their intended goals without being overpowered by their unintended consequences later. We may soon approach the point where the majority of voters have never experienced a competent administration.

Which brings me to the second point: I am not sure whether the success of certain candidates is really because of their alleged status as outsiders. Or whether this is just another cynical reaction to a system full of individuals that lack relevant competencies as well as personal and professional ethics.

What can we do about it ?

Every major profession that is about delivering services to people involves a professional license: medical doctors, lawyers, accountants, engineers etc. etc. need a license to be in business. There is a board that establishes and enforces professional and ethical standards for these professions. If you constantly malpractice because you are incompetent or if you give unlawful advice as a CPA because you are unethical then your license to practice will be revoked. Is there anything similar for politicians ?

We should implement something similar for politicians - a standard of professional competencies and personal ethics that every politician would have to pass before being able to stand for an election or appointment in a public office, as well as a board to grant and revoke these licenses.

This may eventually do more to limit corruption than any direct way of addressing it.

jack goldman

Aug. 27, 9:45 a.m.

Simple point. Bankers own America and government, not the people. Wall Street runs Washington DC, not the voters. That is corruption witnessed in 2008 until now. Why does the Federal Reserve, a private, secret, foreign owned corporation, dictate out money and it’s supply, like Communist central planners? Wall Street owns Main Street using government. This has been the problem leading to World War One and World War Two, where bankers, made unlimited profits, in wars.

Main Street is being raped by bankers, who counterfeit our currency. This is a financial crime against humanity. US debt was $3 billion in 1913, $300 Billion in 1964, and $18,000,000,000,000 in 2015. This is child abuse.

Gary Erickson

Aug. 27, 9:28 a.m.

Newt’s article doesn’t really say much, but then what do you expect from a politician?  He could have at least attempted to quantify it a bit, things like hedge fund managers who earn billions but pay only minimal taxes.  Or like a very complex 74,000+ page tax code developed by special interests.  Or like NOT allowing “Too Big To Fail” banks and others to actually fail.  Or like not prosecuting those responsible for the 2008 crash (see below).  Or like eliminating Glass-Steagall and allowing banks to run wild.  Or like cutting deals with special interests in order to pass Obamacare.  Or like starting wars with countries that had nothing to do with 911 and end up costing many thousands of lives and trillions of dollars.  Or like a “Federal Reserve” that hands out QE and low interest rates that rewards the well-placed over the rest of us.  Or like an NSA that spies on everyone.  Or like not actively going after the billions in Medicare fraud.  Or like giving corporations “personhood” so they can buy elections.  Or like giving salaries and benefits to government workers that exceed private industry and effectively exempting them from downsizing.  Or like handing out jail sentences and punishment to the poor way out of proportion to their crimes against humanity while allowing the rich and well-connected slide (see The Divide: American Injustice in the Age of the Wealth Gap).

Or like How Eric Holder’s Corporate Law Firm Is Turning Into a ‘Shadow Justice Department’.

These are just a few that come readily to mind.  I’d keep going, but a complete list would outweigh the tax code.  Fortunately in this “Land of the Free” I can help effect change by writing my congressperson and voting.  NOT!!!

Gordon Davis Jr

Aug. 27, 7:52 a.m.

If Newt were to write about all he knows of political corruption, it might spark a revolution.  Newt knows that Citizen United not withstanding, every member of Congress participates either directly or indirectly in some form of illegal “fundraising”.  Newt knows that during orientation, a freshman congressman is told that his/her number one responsibility is fundraising. Newt knows that the Defense Department budget is the single largest source of illicit political money. Newt knows that illicit political money is upwards of half of the total spent by the two parties.  Little wonder we have a 90+% incumbency rate.  It’s time for all of us to wake up and do our part.  Stop supporting incumbents and in primaries, party endorsed candidates.  Our system is badly broken. The term corruption doesn’t do it justice.

Curt Sanders

Aug. 27, 7:06 a.m.

Political leaders, especially on the right are little more than puppets for the Koch Bros. Chevron, Monsanto, ect. ect. The U.S. has devolved into a nation of the corporations, by the corporations, and for the corporations. The citizen be damned.

Michael Gorback

Aug. 27, 7:03 a.m.

Regarding the the Buffalo Springfield attribution: that’s OK John, I don’t remember all of the 60s either.


Aug. 27, 4:21 a.m.

It is very difficult to reform those who write their own rules and then enforce them at their discretion.  Somehow, we need more sunshine on what these “scoundrels” do.  More public debate, public financing of elections and ..., I don’t know how to rid us of those who only represent themselves and have no good moral or political reason for running for office, other than the support of those who wish to control them.

Nick Proferes

Aug. 27, 1:55 a.m.

I’ve never been a fan of Newt Gingrich, for me his past actions speak far more loudly than anything he says, but in this case he is quoting Jay Cost and Gordon Wood.  And I feel they pretty much nailed it.  The interest in “outsider” candidates has been happening for some years now (think Ross Perot, Ralph Nader) and increasing.  Recent fraud and corruption allegations against politicians, hundreds of pages of pork barrel attachments to federal funding bills, the ever widening gap between rich and poor (47 million living in poverty), the political races becoming cases of who can raise the most money (never mind where that money comes from nor how it finds its way into the contests), on and on the list goes.  I’m happy to predict that “outsiders” will have a significant impact on the next election, if only to drag votes away from credible mainstream candidates.

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