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An excerpt entitled "We've Got to Face the Issue of Corruption", from The Free Citizen: A Summons to Service of the Democratic Ideal by Theodore Roosevelt (edited by Hermann Hagedorn).

TR's immortal words (and my humble contribution to their relevance in today's Republican culture of corruption) after the jump.

We've Got to Face the Issue of Corruption...

Our first duty is to war against dishonesty...war against it in public life, and...war against it in business life. Corruption in every form is the arch-enemy of this Republic, the arch-enemy of free institutions and of government by the people, an even more dangerous enemy than the open lawlessness of violence, because it works in hidden and furtive fashion. We are against corruption in politics; we are against corruption in business; and above all, and with all our strength, we are against the degrading alliance of crooked business and crooked politics, the alliance which adds strength to the already powerful corrupt boss and to the already powerful corrupt head of big business, and which makes them in their dual capacity enemies against whom every patriotic man should stand with unwavering firmness. Just as the blackmailer and the bribe-giver stand on the same evil eminence of infamy, so the man who makes an enormous fortune by corrupting legislators and municipalities and fleecing his stockholders and the public stands on a level with the creature who fattens on the blood money of the gambling house, the saloon, and the brothel..


Corrupt business and corrupt politics act and react, with ever-increasing debasement, one on the other, the rebate-taker, the franchise-trafficker, the manipulator of securities, the purveyor and protector of vice, the black-mailing ward boss, the ballot-box stuffer, the demagogue, the mob leader, the hired bully and mankiller, all alike work at the same web of corruption, and all alike should be abhorred by honest men.


There can be no crime more serious than bribery. Other offenses violate one law while corruption strikes at the foundation of all law. Under our form of government all authority is vested in the people and by them delegated to those who represent them in official capacity. There can be no offense heavier than that of him in whom such a sacred trust has been reposed, who sells it for his own gain and enrichment...he is worse than the thief, for the thief robs the individual, while the corrupt official plunders an entire city or state. He is as wicked as the murderer, for the murderer may only take one life against the law, while the corrupt official and the man who corrupts the official alike aim at the assassination of the Commonwealth itself. Government of the people, by the people, for the people will perish from the earth if bribery is tolerated...The exposure and punishment of public corruption is an honor to a nation, not a disgrace. The shame lies in toleration.


The man who debauches our public life...by the corrupt use of the offices as spoils wherewith to reward the unworthy and the vicious for their noxious and interested activity in the baser walks of political life - this man is a greater foe to our well-being as a nation than is even the defaulting cashier of a bank, or the betrayer of a private trust. The doctrine that "to the victor belong the spoils," the cynical battle-cry of the spoils politician...is so nakedly vicious that few right-thinking men of trained mind defend it. To appoint, promote, reduce, and expel from public service, letter-carriers, stenographers, women typewriters, clerks, because of the politics of themselves or their friends, without regard to their own service, is, from the standpoint of the the people at large, as foolish and degrading as it is wicked. The man who is in politics for the offices might just as well be in politics for the money he can get for his vote, so far as the general good is concerned.


When the then Vice-President of the United States....said that he "wished   to take the boys in out of the cold to warm their toes", thereby meaning that he wished to distribute offices among the more active heelers, to the rapturous enthusiasm of the latter, he uttered a sentiment which was morally on the same plane with a wish to give the "boys" five dollars apiece all around for their votes, and fifty dollars apiece when they showed themselves sufficiently active in bullying, bribing, and cajoling other voters. Such a sentiment should bar any man from public life, and will bar him whenever the people grow to realize that the worst enemies of the Republic are the demagogue and the corruptionist.


No republic can permanently endure when its politics are corrupt and base; and the spoils system...produces corruption and degradation...the spoils-monger and the spoils-seeker invariably breed the bribe-taker and the bribe-giver, the embezzler of public funds and the corrupter of voters. No cause is more potent in working the degradation of American political institutions...and by cutting it out root and branch we will do more to elevate the tone of our political life than we can do in any other conceivable way. Without honesty, popular government is a repulsive farce.


We can afford to differ on the currency, the tariff, and foreign policy, but we cannot afford to differ on the question of honesty if we expect our republic permanently to endure. There is a soul in the community, a soul in the nation, just exactly as their is a soul in the individual; and exactly as the individual hopelessly mars himself if he lets his conscience be dulled by the constant repetition of unworthy acts, so the nation will hopelessly blunt the popular conscience if it permits its public men continually to do acts which the nation in its heart of hearts knows are acts which cast discredit upon our whole public life.

Originally posted to edverb on Fri Oct 14, 2005 at 02:18 PM PDT.

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