This week marks the 120th anniversary of the famous quote by British historian Lord Acton: ''All power tends to corrupt and absolute power corrupts absolutely.'' Some recent government actions prove Acton's 1887 jab at authority still applies and still rings true today.
First, the ongoing saga of Attorney General Alberto Gonzalez: In another one of those who-knew-what-and-when-did-they-know-it Washington moments, the Bush White House has changed the meaning of the acronym FOB from Friends of Bill (Clinton, that is) to Friends of Bush.
The accusation against Gonzalez is he knew about the firings of eight U.S. prosecutors and that the firings were politically motivated, the idea being to get rid of attorneys who weren't loyal to the White House. Gonzalez denied having any knowledge of the firings, but then evidence showed otherwise - that he'd attended a meeting where the firings were discussed. Now the Fifth Amendment is being invoked by at least one staff member, and we'll likely see more of that in the coming days.
Democrats smell blood and want to question Gonzalez and others on his staff. The White House, in an excellent demonstration of Acton's dictum, first refused to answer any questions at all, then said they'd answer questions as long as they weren't on the record and no one was sworn in as an actual witness, an act which was perceived as protecting those questioned against perjury charges should they stray from the truth.
This White House administration is about as transparent as the mud they sling at their enemies. Bush, Dick Cheney, Karl Rove and the rest demand unwavering allegiance, and if you deviate from the plan or are no longer of use to them, they throw you to the wolves - just ask Scooter Libby. This presidency may be more secretive than Clinton's was, and that's saying something. A clandestine government can only be up to no good.
But the Democrats are doing no better. Put back in charge by a public weary of a mismanaged war and a Republican Congress that spends money like, well, Democrats, the actual Democratic Party has squandered its opportunity. Instead of trimming the fat, the Democrats drew up a spending bill loaded with more pork than Fourth of July at my uncle's house.
The Democrats point to their successes in the House on issues like minimum wage and stem cell research, but the Senate is not repeating that success in every case. After 12 years of having the Republican agenda rammed down their throat, you'd think the other side of the aisle would be anxious to get more done. But it seems they'd rather focus on who's in charge instead of what needs doing.
The party is so focused on reminding the Republicans who won the election that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi actually said "there's a new Congress in town" and told Bush to "calm down with the threats." What's next, sticking their tongue out and making faces at Republicans? Leaving prank messages on the White House answering machine?
That kind of peacock strutting should be reserved for the playground, not the halls of Congress.
Finally, in perhaps the worst example of power gone awry, the Democrat-controlled House of Delegates in Maryland this week passed legislation that would give all that state's presidential electoral votes to the winner of the national poplular vote, which could mean choosing a different candidate than the one chosen by Maryland voters.
Under this legislation, every single voter in Maryland could choose candidate A, but the electoral votes would go to candidate B if B won the national popluar vote, thereby negating the voice of every voter in Maryland.
In a misguided attempt to avoid another Bush-Gore 2000 situation, the elected representatives of Maryland have told their constituents that they don't care about the constitution and they don't care about the will of the Maryland people. All they care about is making sure Republicans aren't elected president without a majority vote.
The thirst for power, whether by a state, a legislative body or a chief executive, is apparently never quinched. Entirely too many of today's leaders are junkies and their drug is power. And just like junkies, they will forsake everything and everyone in the pursuit of their dope.
Somewhere, Lord Acton is saying, "I told you so."
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