November 18 2011

Sarah Palin's Winning Campaign Theme

Carrie L. Lukas

Sarah Palin may not be running for office, but she's got as good a campaign theme as any candidate: End the corrupt Washington culture that's at the root of our political dysfunction and current economic malaise.

In today's Wall Street Journal piece, she details some of the many ways the politicians abuse the public trust to enrich themselves. She calls for important, needed reforms—from greater transparency in financial matters and access to Congressional correspondence to making Congress subject to the same conflict-of-interest and insider-trading rules that govern the private sector.

This is good stuff. And importantly, Palin notes that many who claim to champion reform mistakenly try “to limit the right of "We the people" to exercise our freedom of speech in the political process.” This is important for Americans to keep in mind. The problem isn't just that there is “too much money in politics”—the tag-line for so many efforts to keep Americans from contributing to politicians or organizations that weigh in on political matters.

Yet even Palin's proposed reforms for how Congress does business—while needed and legitimate—are only a band-aid that won't fully treat the wound.

The idea, I'm sure, is that better rules will made it harder for politicians to sell votes, earmarks, regulations and legislation, and, without that temptation to get rich quick, they would be more likely to enact the right policies that better serve the people. That may be true, but the real problem is that politicians are able to put so much up for sale.

Imagine a yard sale is going on in your front yard, lots of people are waving money and offering to buy the merchandise of the table. You want the yard sale to end.

The best way isn't to set up more stringent rules for bargaining or to limit how much money people can bring to the sale. You just need to bring all the stuff back inside.

Today Congress and Washington bureaucrats are in charge of everything from deciding which “green” energy company is going to get a fat, taxpayer-backed loan, to how much taxes a company will pay for a certain transaction, to what services will be considered “essential” to any health insurance package, to how much salt should be in can of soup.

Is it any wonder that American businesses spend gobs of money trying to influence such decisions that will determine the fate of their companies?

I applaud Palin's proposal and hope that Americans are rightfully outraged about how the political class consistently abuses its power. Americans of all political strips should call for real reform in how Washington operates. But we need more than to change the conduct of Washington hucksters. We need to stop the auction itself by getting power out of the hands of the federal government and returning it to the people.

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