In regard to my piece today, some have pointed out that I did not include any Republican corruption scandals, not that there is a want of them. This is true, and I suppose I should have made one point more explicit: Just as Republicans are held to a higher standard on sexual scandals because the GOP claims to be the party of traditional values and such, Democrats should be held to a higher standard when it comes to the corruption, inefficacy, and low performance of the public sector. (Neither party, to be sure, runs on a pro-corruption or pro-anonymous-public-restroom-sexual-encounter platform — yet — so we should not get too carried away with those distinctions.)
Democrats are the party of the public sector, not only in rhetoric but in fact. The Democrats consistently seek to claim for the public sector a larger role in our community life and a larger share of the economy; its defects are their defects. Not that corrupt Republicans should not be run out of town on a rail, but Republican corruption or incompetence does not tell us much that is important about conservative ideas, which assume a relatively high level of dysfunction in the public sector. Progressive ideas largely assume an effective and honest public sector, which, as Ray Nagin — and Barack Obama — and others remind us, we do not have. Every Enron scandal is presented as evidence against capitalism per se; but political scandals are rarely if ever understood in the popular mind, and certainly not in the incurious American media, as evidence against political management of affairs that fall outside the natural jurisdiction of politics (i.e. the provision of public goods). Until Goldman Sachs has a navy, a nuclear weapon, police, or prisons, we probably should consider political corruption and incompetence much more dangerous and consequential than its corporate counterpart.