ELIZABETH DREW. The Corruption of American Politics: What Went Wrong and Why. BIRCH LANE PRESS. 278 pages. $21.95
IS AMERICAN POLITICS corrupt? Those who raise the issue usually think it is, and the reason they think so is money. The specter is a grim one: Vast moneyed interests — corporations, wealthy individuals, single-issue groups — seek to work the political system to their own advantage. Our politicians either eagerly assign themselves as tools of these interests, in order to enrich their campaigns, or soon find themselves the victims of them, targeted for political destruction for hewing an independent line. A political process in which politicians are bought and sold — that is the condition of American governance we are invited to contemplate.
Not, to be sure, that most of those making this accusation are quite willing to pull the trigger. Almost no one names Rep. X, Sens. Y and Z, and administration officials A, B, and C as having been bought and paid for. We do, after all, have laws against bribery, taking illegal gratuities, using your office for personal financial gain or for the personal financial benefit of others, and other forms of corruption in office — as well as corresponding laws aimed at those trying to influence public officials improperly. These are serious crimes. Nor are the laws merely window dressing, the tribute vice pays to virtue in an otherwise corrupt system. From time to time, public officials and private citizens go off to prison for running afoul of them. So in this system supposedly shot through with corruption, where are the specific accusations of corrupt action?