It was forty-one years ago that I began my career, fresh from the Army, as an investigator for the U.S. Civil Service Commission. And yes, despite the fact that it was during the Nixon Administration and the “Enemies List” had been a weeks-long media obsession about to become worse, we youngish baby boomers were nonetheless proud to serve our agency, figuratively shot out of Charles Guiteau’s gun barrel when he assassinated President James Garfield in July 1881.
That it took the Senate another two years to pass the Pendleton Act, signaling the end of the sleaze and chicanery in government during our first century and initiating a civil service based on merit, should tell us the politicians were loathe to bid farewell to the beloved corruption that had served them so well. Interestingly, the bill’s sponsor was the same George H. Pendleton of Ohio who vehemently opposed the 13th Amendment (famously portrayed in Speilberg’s Lincoln) some years earlier.
The civil service I joined seemed pure as the driven snow, relatively speaking, compared to what the Pendleton Act began to end in 1883, and compared to what we are seeing today. Abuse by interest groups and the government itself brings us full circle only 125 years later.
Let’s connect some dots. On November 19th, the Commonwealth Foundation issued a report detailing what Pennsylvania education and public service unions, amongst others, spent to oust their Republican governor: $5,642,600. Government unions alone, according to Commonwealth, gave the Democrat $3,447915, and gave another $1.6 million to a super-PAC to attack the incumbent. That means public employees (paid by us) gave their monies to a particular candidate in hopes of influencing the outcome of the election. It worked. When the new governor takes office, won’t he be expected to pay back the unions with benefits improvements and pay raises (paid by us)? Pennsylvania is the rule rather than the exception, I suspect. Bribery by any other name…?
In President Obama’s first term, much was made about an IRS executive visiting the West Wing over 150 times (more than senior cabinet Secretaries combined), as we learned that agency had been targeting conservative non-profits for extra scrutiny, thereby chilling their ability to raise funds for their candidate. Though little headway has been made against the trove of Lois Lerner emails, all the reports make clear that what had been alleged about the IRS activities was all too true. What I like to call State Media (Pravda?)—so-called news orgs that parrot White House talking points like trained Chihuahuas—has been touting the notion that the committees have failed to connect the IRS misconduct to the White House. Really? Given what we know for certain—summarized in the two sentences above—does anyone truly believe the White House did not use the IRS to hammer its political opponents?
At this point, the reader might ask: What do Pennsylvania union contributions on behalf of Democrats’ activities have to do with (what someone has called) the president’s political weaponization of the IRS?
At all levels of government, entities and individuals once in place to serve constituencies in reasonable and honorable ways have sought to serve only themselves. It is now acceptable to buy government officers who in turn corrupt agencies under their direction—all for one purpose: pay back their political creditors with government giveaways (paid by us), and with more power, impose their views on an entire populace.
In less than the decade it’s taken for governments to become transparently venal, where were the dogs, and why did they not bark in the nighttime? Or at any time? Where were the crusading journalists to pick the scabs covering the canker, not just on the presidency, but on the American way of life?
Jack Warren, author of “Turnover” is a political observer with over three decades corporate and government experience.