Editor’s note: Michael Ackley’s columns may include satire and parody based on current events, and thus mix fact with fiction. He assumes informed readers will be able to tell the difference.
“Power tends to corrupt and absolute power corrupts absolutely.” – John Dalberg-Acton, 1887
The maxim bears repeating, not only for its truth but to remind us of its saving and humanizing word, “tends.” Most contemporary references to the quote leave out Lord Acton’s glint of optimism. Usually people just say, “Power corrupts.”
They may be closest to the truth, being of accord with the poet Shelley, who wrote in 1813:
Power, like a desolating pestilence,
Pollutes whate’er it touches …
California has just provided a pair of examples of what Shelley was getting at. They are the recently indicted state Sens. Ron Calderon and Leland Yee.
Calderon is charged with taking $100,000 in bribes to advance legislation. Yee is charged with a number of crimes, from taking bribes to facilitating gun running for Philippine rebels.
Yee also could be charged with hypocrisy, because he has been a major gun-control advocate. In 2006, his office proudly issued a press release announcing, “For his commitment to ending gun violence, Assembly Speaker pro Tem Leland Yee … has been named to the Gun Violence Prevention Honor Roll by the Brady Campaign.” The legislator, you see, “earned an A-plus for working against gun violence …”
Perhaps promoting gun violence 10,000 miles away doesn’t count.
The Brady bunch may cringe, but there is a lovely circularity about Yee’s ties to the rebel band, known as the Moro Islamic Liberation Front. Moro warriors were so unstoppably fierce during America’s Philippine hegemony that our military pushed for more powerful handguns. A couple of .45 caliber cannons were developed, including the famed Colt Model 1911.
Anyway, hypocrisy is not a crime. If it were, it would be difficult for the Legislature to muster a quorum.
Neither Calderon nor Yee – now suspended from California’s state Senate – held absolute power. Nevertheless, in a state of more than 30 million souls, being one of just 40 state senators could be power enough. It is power not willingly yielded: Staying in public office is a prime motivator for just about all politicians.
Yee allegedly was caught in the bribery and gun-running scheme as he tried to raise money to retire campaign debt and to finance a run for California secretary of state. Calderon is charged with taking money to advance legislation favorable to bribe payers and for blocking bills they opposed.
Both senators were snared by the Federal Bureau of Investigation. And, as they are Democrats, Republicans are scarcely able to contain or conceal their glee.
The GOP should be reminded that the last time the FBI raided California’s Capitol – in 1988 – prominent Republicans were among those sent to the slammer.
Actually, it’s a bit surprising that with the feds spreading “sting cheese” around the Capitol only Democrat rats sprang the trap this year. Usually corruption is an equal-opportunity crime.
Yee and Calderon are accused of being bought, but power itself is compensation enough for most politicians. When power corruption grips enough people in any branch of government – like Congress – the institution begins to act organically, like a single entity.
Right now, power corruption is on display in bipartisan congressional attacks on the tea party, attacks that issue from the establishment on both ends of the political spectrum. Democrats and Republicans alike would prefer to hold onto their places in a central establishment than risk a principled stand for government of and by the people. They may not be taking payments under the table, but their minds are corrupted by their shared power.
Thus you find both sides denigrating the tea party and the law it exalts, which is the law our legislators are sworn to uphold – the Constitution. We hardly need to point out that in our system the Constitution is the foundation of all our laws, and without it we would have no law at all.
In the words of another English peer, William Pitt, “where laws end, tyranny begins.”
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