WASHINGTON — Politicians are rarely competent writers. In fact, they are rarely writers. That is why they have speechwriters. John F. Kennedy was supposed to be a great writer. He actually won the Pulitzer Prize for his book “Profiles in Courage,” though Ted Sorensen wrote the book. Sorensen was one of his speechwriters, of course.
Today we have few politicians who can even read a book. One who can, both read and write books, is Newt Gingrich, and he also writes newspaper columns, which I commend to you. Last week, he wrote a column that was at the top of the chop, as H.L. Mencken used to say back in the 1920s. Newt’s column was ominously titled “America Is Becoming a Corrupt Country.” Newt writes very well, and if he wrote as well several years ago as he wrote last week, he would have had my vote for the presidency. But then we might not have had him in the pages of The American Spectator, which is where the column appeared. I urge you to read it. It is about the spreading corruption afflicting America. He covered a lot of malfeasance in but a few sentences.
Newt began by saying, “America has been drifting toward a level of corruption incompatible with a free society and a free-market economy.” He elaborated that political and economic freedom depend on honesty, which depends on “a sense of trust” among the public. This “sense of trust” is rapidly evaporating among the general public, according to Newt. In California alone, $20 billon was recently stolen from the state’s unemployment compensation program. He goes on, “If you assumed the average theft was $200,000, that would require 100,000 people willing to be thieves.” That is a large number of thieves running loose in one state. We have 50 states plus territories within the union. Whereupon Newt turns to “petty theft on a grand scale (which) has become a way of life for tens of thousands (maybe hundreds of thousands) of people.”
Next, he considers the big leagues in corruption. “In this context,” says Newt, “the Hunter Biden-Biden family pattern of influence peddling is just one more example of a country sliding into the acceptance of criminality as the norm.” Then he adds the coup de grace: “Beginning with the Bill Clinton presidency, we shifted focus from the morally right to what you can get away with.” Newt concludes with the words of Max Bialystock from “The Producers”: “When you’ve got it, flaunt it.”
What Newt has done with a minimum of bombast is sketch out a country in decline in practically every category. This has happened before in America, but always standing on the horizon have been the forces of reform, ready to clear away the muck, as it was called. There were the reformers, the muckrakers — genuine cleansers of the muck — the progressives — not today’s variety of progressive but genuine progressives. All were public-spirited citizens intent on changing the system, such as Teddy Roosevelt in politics and squeaky-clean private citizens such as Lincoln Steffens and Ida Tarbell. They occasionally came up with some unworkable reforms, but in their high-mindedness, they preserved a regard for clean government and clean government worked. America was one of the most corruption-free governments in the world. Now it verges of being one of the most corrupt.
Consider the instances of corruption cited above. Bill Clinton got away with “it” by stating that “they all did it.” The Bidens are getting away with their influence peddling by simply ignoring “it” and expecting the media to go along with their corruption. So far it works. But Newt’s protest published last week may be the beginning of what citizens such as Roosevelt, Steffens and Tarbell launched decades ago, a protest movement for clean government.
The problem is that all the instruments for assuring clean government — the government regulatory bureaus, the private organizations such the American Civil Liberties Union, the reform movements such as Common Cause — are as corrupt as the groups they try to keep an eye on. Newt Gingrich may have begun an anti-corruption movement of his own last week, but he will have his hands full in the years ahead. Good luck, Newt.
Glory to Ukraine!
R. Emmett Tyrrell Jr. is founder and editor in chief of The American Spectator. He is a Senior Fellow at the London Center for Policy Research and the author most recently of “The Death of Liberalism,” published by Thomas Nelson, Inc.