There must be something in the DNA of Democratic governors that gives them a very specific sort of superpower — the ability to endure doses of irony that would disable an ordinary mortal, or at least cause him to blush. In my recent jaunt through Illinois (National Review subscribers can read about my adventures here), I frequently was reminded of the intensity of the violent crime plaguing its cities — not only in murder-happy Chicago (“Gangsterville”) but also in the bedeviled city of East St. Louis, where the incidence of criminal violence is five times Chicago’s rate. Illinois is of course a wildly corrupt state — its prisons function as pension homes for its politicians — and Governor Pat Quinn, either through sheer fecklessness or with malice aforethought, allowed his signature antiviolence program to be converted into a political slush fund, currently being investigated by federal criminal authorities. Which is to say, Governor Quinn’s main anticrime measure is being investigated as a criminal enterprise.
I have a writer’s superstition that the fundamental truth about a politician can be revealed through anagrams, though the best I can do for Governor Pat Quinn is “porn-quoting raven,” which sounds like it ought to be a literary motif from the poems of Edgar Allan Hoe. Andrew Cuomo’s anagram — “Owed ACORN . . . Um?” — is probably more fitting. And Cuomo the Lesser is having some troubles quite similar to those of the flighty Quinn, having empaneled an inquisition into corruption in New York State government, known as the Moreland Commission. The Moreland Commission was supposed to be independent, but it wasn’t, and Governor Cuomo is accused of having “interfered” with it, the usage of that word in the context of Albany bringing to mind the ancient euphemism “interfering with children.” According to the New York Times, the executive director of the commission, Regina Calcaterra acted as Governor Cuomo’s spy on the panel and as his factotum, notably by blocking subpoenas directed at the state real-estate board. Real-estate interests have been among Governor Cuomo’s most reliable financial supporters.
When the stink of corruption upon the anticorruption panel began to waft as high and wide as the Manhattan penthouses and Bedford mansions in which dwell his masters, Governor Cuomo killed the commission, pronouncing it a waste of taxpayers’ money. But not everything about it was an obvious waste: Ms. Calcaterra continued to draw her $175,000/annum salary after the dissolution of the board. She is, according to the New York Post, currently negotiating a comfortable landing place at the State Insurance Fund. One has to admire the lady’s chutzpah: She very nearly got herself elected to the New York state senate a few years ago, even though she lives in Philadelphia. She ran an earlier similar investigation into the state’s utilities and their response to Hurricane Sandy.
According to the Times account of the commission — an excellent piece of journalism, incidentally, one of those periodic reminders that as much as the moribund dinosaur dailies seem intent on annoying us, they perform an irreplaceable service — the trouble began almost immediately. Investigators began looking into the work of a Democratic media-buying firm, which they believed might be connected to violations of campaign-finance law. The firm counts Governor Cuomo among its clients, and his office was quick to declare investigating it verboten: “Pull it back,” was the command issued by Lawrence Schwartz, Governor Cuomo’s right hand.
And the subpoena was withdrawn.
So much for the independent investigation.
In more civilized times, leaders with the records of Andrew Cuomo or Pat Quinn would go into retirement, tending to the vineyards at their villas in decent obscurity, far from the seat of power. That in our own time such miscreants endure and thrive is enough to make one nostalgic for the Roman practice of exile, if not for the Japanese practice of ritual disembowelment.
The point here is not that the state governments of New York and Illinois are corrupt, or that the Democratic party is, in my friend Michael Walsh’s piquant but accurate phrase, a criminal organization masquerading as a political party. We try to publish and discuss news here at National Review, and that is not news. But it is important to take this in context: What is happening in New York and Illinois, and in practically every city and state in which what amounts to one-party Democratic rule is in effect, is not simple, old-fashioned graft, political bosses skimming 10 percent off the top or installing mobsters’ nephews in $400,000-a-year no-show jobs. What is happening instead in today’s Democratic party is something very much like the corruption that characterized the Republican machines in the 19th century: not straightforward criminal corruption for financial purposes, but corruption of the political process itself, not only for the purpose of greed but also for the purpose of power. The Apostle Paul advised his correspondent Timothy that the love of money is the root of all evil, but he lived in a gentler time, when the most rapacious political bosses were Herod Agrippa and Augustus Caesar, neither of whom ever dreamt of such pomp and power as accompanies an American president.
This will not end well: While the IRS is being used to persecute the politically unpopular, Governor Cuomo’s office is protecting the politically connected from legitimate investigation. While the people of East St. Louis can’t get a sidewalk repaired, the program that is supposed to be pacifying their shockingly violent streets is instead being used to fatten the politically connected as part of a vote-buying scheme. Politically supercharged Democratic prosecutors have attempted to imprison Tom DeLay and other political figures for the crime of winning elections — they succeeded only in ravaging his life and destroying his political career, and that, not prison, was the intended outcome. The persecution of Governor Scott Walker in Wisconsin — complete with gag orders that prevented the targets of political abuse from complaining about it in public — was a straight-up Gestapo operation.
When President Obama confuses himself with President Dredd and shouts “I am the law!” he does so as a colleague and cooperator of Governors Quinn and Cuomo, as a man who has a hand in what they have wrought. When the likes of Ezra Klein and his fellow partisans argue that the law as such is a mere nicety of “grammar” that stands between them and the things that they propose to do with such power as they are able to secure, they, too, have a hand in this. The leap from willfully ignoring the law to actively subverting it requires very little moral athleticism. No doubt Governor Cuomo and Governor Quinn each thinks that he is doing what is best for his state, and that the good things he can do with power justify the wicked things he must do to keep it. No doubt Barack Obama sincerely thinks that, and Lois Lerner, too.
Osama bin Laden was utterly sincere in his beliefs, too.
Sincerity has its limits. And so must political power, if we are to survive and stay free.
— Kevin D. Williamson is roving correspondent for National Review.