Politics & Policy

A Real Culture of Corruption

What a moment for the Congressional Black Caucus to make a stand.

That’s the conclusion we’re supposed to draw from her request that a Democratic congressman caught on videotape accepting $100,000 in bribes from an FBI informant should give up a plum committee assignment. The congressman in question is the infamous Rep. William Jefferson, the Louisiana Democrat who was discovered by the FBI to be keeping $90,000 in hard cash in his freezer along with his ice cream and TV dinners.

Ordinarily it would be unremarkable that a congressman stinking of bribery would earn such a rebuke. But Jefferson is black. So his allies naturally turn to the race card to defend him, even if it means playing it against Pelosi, about whom many critical things can be said — but not that she’s a racist.

Jefferson has said that her request is “discriminatory.” Many members of the Congressional Black Caucus — always a sucker for self-defeating race-based appeals — are backing Jefferson. A CBC aide summarized the sentiment thusly: “Congresswoman Pelosi, by pre-emption without any legal justification, has now created a new precedent for how members are going to be treated. Unfortunately, she’s chosen to single out an African-American for this honor.”

The suggestion is that, if only a white Democrat had been secreting tens of thousands of dollars in cash in his house, Pelosi would be looking the other way. What a disgusting slur. While it is true that usually members have to be indicted to be removed from committees, if common sense ever dictated an exception, this is it. Nonetheless, black-caucus members are murmuring that their voters are tired of being taken for granted by the Democrats, in a spectacularly bizarre ordering of priorities.

Rotten public schools are cheating black kids out of an education, but Democrats don’t want to do anything fundamental to fix them. The breakdown of the two-parent family is the gravest crisis facing urban black communities, but Democrats barely speak of it. The Democrats are pushing a liberal agenda on gay marriage and other cultural issues that runs counter to most blacks’ social conservatism. All of that, the CBC is happy to swallow. But discipline one of its members for a gross ethical lapse, and they aren’t going to take it anymore.

This puts the supposed GOP-fostered “culture of corruption” in Congress — a favorite Democratic campaign theme — in a different light. One place where you find literally a culture of corruption, in the sense of a deeply ingrained pattern of corrupt practices, is in black urban politics. That is so partly because it is tolerated. There apparently has never been a black politician in America accused of corruption who isn’t the victim of racism, according to civil-rights groups and other black politicians.

This is a profoundly enabling attitude, and the people hurt by it are generally poor blacks, who suffer from the resulting degraded governance. Jefferson says he won’t step aside because New Orleans, which he represents, needs him at this time of rebuilding. As if the residents of the Ninth Ward can be ably served only by a congressman venal enough to traffic in tens of thousands of dollars in cash and stupid enough to get caught.

Given the awful history involved, it is understandable that black politics sometimes is characterized by a prickly pride and an easily roused defensiveness. But those feelings should be properly channeled into a swift and angry rejection of unethical black politicians like Jefferson, as unworthy of the struggles that made black representation in Congress possible and of the black constituents who so need and deserve good leadership.

It is telling that Tom DeLay, the supposed poster boy for Republican corruption, is out of Congress without having ever gotten near a bundle of cash. Maybe the GOP caucus has higher standards, or maybe it just doesn’t like white people.

— Rich Lowry is author of Legacy: Paying the Price for the Clinton Years.

(c) 2006 King Features Syndicate

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