"Brazen." "Staggering." "Outrageous."
Last week, the political class was working overtime consulting Roget's Thesaurus to find just the right word to express their indignation over Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich's plot to sell a U.S. Senate appointment to the highest bidder.
Blagojevich's pay-to-play scheme has all the trappings of old school Chicago-style politics: influence peddling, backroom deal making and a would-be political boss with a vindictive streak.
But there's a twist. Until recently, the senate seat that was up for sale belonged to none other than President-elect Barack Obama. As if Obama didn't have enough to contend with already, even the hint of scandal surrounding this transition could doom his presidency.
As political theater it doesn't get much better than this. Even the transcript of telephone conversations between Blagojevich and his aides reads like something out of a David Mamet play: "I've got this thing and it's fucking golden ... I'm just not giving it up for fucking nothing."
"We are living in a time when politicians and business leaders routinely get away with high crimes and misdemeanors."
No matter that Blagojevich and his Chief of Staff John Harris turned out to be remarkably inept conspirators, you've got to admit these two have got chutzpah. Call it the audacity of avarice.
And yet, despite the monumental stupidity of this scheme, I can't help but feel a little sorry for Blagojevich. After all, we are living in the age of impunity -- a time when politicians and business leaders routinely get away with high crimes and misdemeanors.
The past eight years have been riddled with scandal: "cooked" military intelligence and flagrant violations of international law, illegal detentions and state-sponsored torture, secret government surveillance programs and patronage appointments. And in recent weeks, there have been a series of daring daylight robberies of the U.S. Treasury.
Talk about a "corruption crime spree."
"Call it the audacity of avarice."
Compared to the Bush administration's track record, Blagojevich's scheme was small potatoes. Nevertheless, while Blagojevich's political career is certainly finished, and he is likely to do a little jail time, come Inauguration Day, Bush and company will be free and clear.
After all, it's a good bet W. will issue a blanket pardon for himself and his cronies before he leaves office. Besides, Obama and the Democrats have made it clear that they don't have the stomach to pursue war crimes charges against Bush, Cheney and the other architects of the Iraq War.
Bush isn't the only one who is immune from punishment. Despite the fact that predatory lending practices coupled with reckless investment schemes and lackluster federal oversight have decimated the economy, Wall Street insiders, corporate lobbyists and their government enablers are laughing all the way to the bank with $700 billion in taxpayer money.
Rather than shore up the economy, the Wall Street bailout has simply opened up the floodgates to one of the most "brazen," "stunning," and "outrageous" episodes of corporate welfare in U.S. history. After all, why should Citigroup, for example, suffer the consequences of its own greed and incompetence? The American people are a charitable sort, and besides, "We're all in this thing together."
"If anyone knows from economic collapse, it is the working people of this country."
Next in line were the Big Three automobile manufacturers. While Congress debated this latest "rescue" package, Obama cautioned: "We cannot simply stand by and watch this industry collapse." As if to suggest that the economic meltdown was a spectator sport.
If anyone knows from economic collapse, it is the working people of this country. But time and time again, it's the people living on Main Street who are scapegoats for the fat cats on Wall Street, K Street and Pennsylvania Avenue.
Case in point. When the Senate rejected the automobile bailout bill last Thursday night, the media spin was that it was the United Auto Worker's (UAW) refusal to give up compensation that nixed the deal. Never mind that the Big Three have pursued shortsighted business strategies for the past 30 years.
Likewise, we should forget, as Republican leader Sen. Mitch McConnell of Kentucky clearly has, that Congress refused to enact legislation that would have compelled American automobile manufacturers to make more fuel-efficient vehicles.
Speaking on the floor of the Senate, McConnell claimed: "None of us want to see them go down, but very few of us had anything to do with the dilemma that they have created for themselves."
In the age of impunity, hypocrisy is the coin of the realm.
In the age of impunity, corporations are too big to fail.
In the age of impunity, only the most ham-fisted political scandals, like Blagojevich's pay-to-play scheme, evoke outrage from politicians and pundits.
Kevin Howley is Associate Professor of Media Studies at DePauw University. He can be reached at email@example.com.