Disgraced former U.S. congressman Jesse Jackson, Jr. has suddenly developed a “mood disorder,” making him eligible to collect $8,700 per month in government disability payments. Ironically, Jackson showed no signs of such a malady until he faced a prison sentence and the possible loss of his federal pension.
Understandably, situations like Jackson’s invite outrage. But while his particular case is egregious, it is the banal forms of government corruption that are endemic in our system that should really concern us.
Chief among these is what Jackson’s case illustrates: the political class is subject to a different set of laws than the rest of us.
Instead of a nation based upon the idea that all citizens have equal rights before the law, politicians, bureaucrats, and their minions are regularly shown special preference. In the words of George Orwell, “some animals are more equal than others.”
While some states are now liberalizing their drugs laws, America — the Land of the Free — has the highest incarceration rate in the world due to the War on Drugs. The United States’ incarceration rate has shot up 800 percent since 1980. More than half of the convicts are serving time for non-violent, usually drug related, offenses. This mass incarceration disproportionately impacts minorities.
On the other hand, Presidents Bill Clinton and Barack Obama have both admitted to using marijuana when they were younger. In private conversations, George W. Bush hinted that he had also smoked pot. Many other high government officials are on the record as marijuana users. But that doesn’t stop them from writing, signing, and enforcing laws that ruin the lives of people — usually the poor and minorities — who are busted with marijuana.
Politicians seem to think that their lives are somehow more important than the lives of the citizens they claim to serve. For instance, in the wake of the mass shooting in Tucson, AZ that critically injured Congresswoman Gabby Giffords, Congressman Peter King wanted to prohibit people from carrying guns within 1,000 feet of members of Congress.
But why just members of Congress? The Giffords shooting was terrible, but 18 other people were shot in Tucson. Six of them died. Nevertheless, King’s knee jerk reaction was to address the concerns of the political class.
Senator Dianne Feinstein is one of Washington’s leading gun control advocates. Feinstein once possessed a concealed carry permit because she feared for her safety. Nevertheless, today Feinstein would readily deny that right to the rest of us.
Politicians talk a good game about “public service,” but their generous salaries and lavish perks tell a different story. One of the best ways to become wealthy in America is to get elected to Congress.
This problem is not confined to Washington. Across the country, and especially in California, municipalities face fiscal calamities precipitated by exorbitant, unsustainable public sector pensions.
Then there are truly mundane examples of politicians’ special treatment. For instance, I recently learned that members of the state legislature are given preferential parking privileges at the airport near my home in Tennessee. In what other business would the employees be assigned the best parking, while the ostensible bosses are expected to walk a couple hundred of yards?
During the 2004 presidential campaign, John Edwards, a multi-millionaire trial lawyer, coined the phrase “two Americas” to refer to the stratification of American society along socioeconomic lines. Of course, since Edwards belonged to the privileged political class, he didn’t mention the stratification of America along the lines of political class.
America is a country where people are supposed to get ahead by realizing their potential talents and putting them to use in a free market system — not where certain individuals are allowed to enjoy arbitrary advantages and privileges thanks to nothing more than who controls the reins of power.
There are two Americas. One is populated by common folks who pay the bills. The other is populated by self-anointed elitists who live at our expense.