Bringing back the Gilded Age

An administration out of a Ross Thomas novel.

Josh Marshall has the nub of it: the Bush/Rove/Norquist/Abramoff/DeLay operation is fundamentally a political money machine, and all the financial scandals have their common root in that simple fact. The right comparison in that regard isn’t to Nixon, but to the Mark Hanna machine of the Gilded Age.

That’s only half the story, though. The other half is the intention of the current wrecking crew to intimidate, discredit, or destroy every institution that might possibly stand in the way of the permanent consolidation of power by the new oligarchy: the Democratic party, labor unions, trial lawyers, the courts, the universities, the mainstream media, and any individual civil servant or officer (e.g., Gen. Eric Shinseki, Larry Greenfeld of the Bureau of Justice Statistics, Bunny Greenhouse of the Corps of Engineers) or Executive-branch agency (e.g., the State Department, the CIA) that displays allegiance to the nation rather than the oligarchs.

That intention to brook no opposition is the deeper significace of the “K Street Project,” the well-publicized attempt to make Democratic lobbyists unemployable by threatening their clients with legislative reprisal.

In this context, the belief that the oligarchs’ imagination might extend to he systematic miscounting of unauditable electronic votes doesn’t seem quite as far-fetched as it otherwise might.

As I’ve said before, what I hate most about these folks is that their behavior fully justifies tinfoil-hat thinking.

Don’t believe me? Well, consider the fact that Jack Abramoff’s partner seems to have hired a Gotti-connected hit man to bump off a business rival, and that a senior federal prosecutor who got too close to Abramoff suddenly found himself demoted and forbidden to work on corruption cases.

I thoroughly enjoy reading about this sort of nonsense in Ross Thomas novels, but I resent seeing it in the newspapers.

There is, of course, something worse than seeing this stuff it in the newspapers, which is having it go on and not seeing it in the newspapers, as happened during the first four years of the Great Kleptocracy.

Author: Mark Kleiman

Professor of Public Policy at the NYU Marron Institute for Urban Management and editor of the Journal of Drug Policy Analysis. Teaches about the methods of policy analysis about drug abuse control and crime control policy, working out the implications of two principles: that swift and certain sanctions don't have to be severe to be effective, and that well-designed threats usually don't have to be carried out. Books: Drugs and Drug Policy: What Everyone Needs to Know (with Jonathan Caulkins and Angela Hawken) When Brute Force Fails: How to Have Less Crime and Less Punishment (Princeton, 2009; named one of the "books of the year" by The Economist Against Excess: Drug Policy for Results (Basic, 1993) Marijuana: Costs of Abuse, Costs of Control (Greenwood, 1989) UCLA Homepage Curriculum Vitae Contact: Markarkleiman-at-gmail.com