The Corruption of Power

At first blush, the sordid Eliot Spitzer affair can be dismissed as another example of hypocrisy at the highest levels of government. But the larger issue is not about sex, or wealth, or even hypocrisy — it is about the abuse of power, the ongoing corruption of our political institutions, a malignancy the effects even the highly touted “clean government” of Oregon.

In a recent column, Thomas Sowell — one of the most important thinkers in America today — wrote this about the Spitzer scandal:

“Many in the media refer to Eliot Spitzer as some moral hero who fell from grace. Spitzer was never a moral hero. He was an unscrupulous prosecutor who threw his power around to ruin people, even when he didn’t have any case with which to convict them of anything.
* * *
“What Eliot Spitzer did was not out of character. It was completely in character for someone with the hubris that comes from the ability to misuse his power to make or break innocent people.”

Sowell goes on to describe an encounter between Spitzer and John Whitehead. Whitehead, who was the former head of Goldman Sachs had written an op-ed column for the Wall Street Journal in which he criticized Spitzer for his attacks on Maurice Greenberg. (Spitzer had launched a highly publicized investigation of Greenberg that forced his resignation from AIG. That publicity fueled investigation led to an indictment of Greenberg by Spitzer — an indictment that was thereafter dismissed because there was absolutely no facts substantiating the charges trumped up by Spitzer against Greenberg.) Spitzer was quoted as telling Whitehead,

“I will be coming after you. You will pay the price. This is only the beginning, and you will pay dearly for what you have done.”

New York State Assembly Republican Leader James Tedisco recalled that Spitzer, during one of their numerous confrontations, yelled at him,

“Look I’m a f””king steamroller and I’ll roll over you and anyone else.”

That basically defines the persona and the career of Eliot Spitzer. He would stop at nothing to get what he wanted and the danger here is that he had the full power of the government — the unlimited resources of taxpayer funded government, all of its institutions, the armies of investigators, lawyers and subpoena powers, the quasi-judicial power of the administrative agencies — available to be used at his whim and caprice to punish his enemies, bury his foes, and “steamroll” everybody else.

All of that awesome power in the hands of a sociopath — a person who did not think that the rules applied to him. It isn’t just the hypocrisy of courting prostitutes, of repeatedly cheating on his wife, of copulating with young women nearly the same age of his own daughters, it is the essence of everything he did. He used the power of government to do whatever he damned well pleased.

Everybody in the political circles of New York knew exactly what kind of person Eliot Spitzer was and most turned a blind eye — some because they feared him and many because Sptizer was abusing his powers to attack their own enemies. Those that feared him understood that they would have to utilize their own private resources to combat Spitzer’s use of taxpayer funded government resources. And the mainstream media, including the predictable New York Times fell squarely into the other camp — those who approved of the unscrupulous attacks against a “common enemy.” The mainstream media glorified Spitzer as some kind of warrior hero battling the dark forces of big business. They referred to his braggadocio of his abuse of powers as “plucky”, “gritty” and “fearless.” They gave front page coverage to his attacks and buried the aftermath when they turned out to be false. No one held Spitzer accountable for his actions — not until it was unavoidable, not until he became part of a federal investigation into an international prostitution ring.

So what does this have to do with Oregon? Well nothing and everything. No, there is not even one of those tenuous ties to anyone or any place in Oregon that the Oregonian loves to unearth in trying to give relevance to big stories.

There is no Eliot Spitzer connection but there is an Eliot Spitzer attitude the prevails in Oregon’s dominate political party. It is an attitude that manifested itself first in the acknowledged leader of Oregon’s governing elites, Neil Goldschmidt, and has been growing ever since in the uninterrupted twenty plus years of Democrat governors and administrations. It is an attitude that has grown to the point now that these politicians are, like Spitzer, willing to use and abuse the awesome power of government to attack their enemies and bestow favors on their friends. And like the “affaire d’ Spitzer“ Oregon’s mainstream media turns a blind eye because the abuse of power coincides with their own political agenda. Only the presence of a Republican majority in one or more of the houses of the legislature slowed the progression of that abuse. Now that the Democrats control every statewide office, both houses of the legislature and the courts, the exercise and abuse of that power is now unchecked.

Let me give you a couple of examples and then you decide whether the abuse of power has corrupted Oregon’s historic “clean government.”

1. The voters of Oregon twice approved a substantial reform to its abusive land use system. Simply put, the reform required the government to pay landowners for the value of property rights taken from them, or refrain from taking those property rights. The first time the voters approved this requirement, the Democrats used the courts — dominated by their political appointees — to invalidate the requirement. The second time they used the legislature to bypass the requirements of an accurate ballot title by removing the authority for drafting that ballot title from the attorney general and barring the courts from reviewing it. They used pollsters to identify language most likely to mislead voters into accepting it and forced that language onto the ballot.

2. The voters of Oregon approved a constitutional amendment to define marriage as being limited to a union between one man and one woman. The Democrat legislature, on a strictly partisan vote, invalidated the intent of that amendment by creating “civil unions” between homosexual couples and giving them carte blanche all of the rights, privileges and responsibilities of married couples. When the supporters of the constitutional amendment gathered signatures to refer that blatant abuse of power, the government, under the “guidance” of the Democrat Secretary of State, disallowed valid signatures and refused to reconsider those invalidations despite affidavits from the signers that the signatures were their own.

3. The voters of Oregon, tired of special elections at which property taxes were raised, voted for a constitutional amendment requiring a double majority (a majority of voters and a majority turnout) for such tax increase elections when held at times other than regularly scheduled primary and general elections. The voters concern about the abuse inherent in these special elections was proven by the routine failure of subsequent special elections — to the point where few are even attempted anymore. This provision has driven the teachers and public employee unions crazy because they were the primary beneficiaries of these “special elections.” With the Democrats, beholden to the public employee unions for campaign contributions and “volunteers,” now in control of the governor’s office and the legislature, and having witnessed the success in invalidating land use reform, have again bastardized the initiative process. They have again bypassed the requirements of an accurate ballot title by removing the authority for drafting that ballot title from the attorney general and barring the courts from reviewing it. They again used pollsters to identify language most likely to mislead voters into gutting the double majority requirement and forced that language onto the ballot.

4. And finally, there is the question of Gov. Kulongoski involvement in the cover-up of Neil Goldschmidt’s rape of a fourteen-year old girl. The only venue for holding Kulongoski accountable has been an ethics charged filed with the State Bar of Oregon. After a minimal review, a failure to interview either Kulongoski or his accusers, and a statement that both sides were credible, the state bar, his wife’s former employer, dismissed the complaint and effectively buried the issue.

The willingness to abuse power grows as the perception of accountability wanes. Where in Oregon are the government elites held accountable?