We moved to Washington from Rome in 1977. It wasn’t much, frankly, after years in Italy. The most dramatic difference was restaurants. Rome was full of great and wonderfully affordable eateries, but Washington, aside from a few great dives, only had 3-4 spots with food worth the expense. For the most part, you didn’t go to restaurants; you went to dinner parties at people’s homes.
Today, D.C. is awash in expensive restaurants, some with Michelin stars even, and most of them have private dining rooms. Dinner parties in those spaces abound, and if you’re a foreign agent, or one of the FBI’s gang of spooks, you want to get inside the “private” rooms, either physically (get one of your own invited to the table) or electronically.
The proliferation of expensive eateries requires money, as do private schools and costly colleges and universities, which are important to Washington parents. A smart friend pointed out to me that you can’t pay for all this with a government bureaucrat’s salary. Not even with two. But they do pay for it, and the restaurants. That means extra income from somewhere. Writing books and blogs and op-eds doesn’t come close to generating enough cash.
Ergo, corruption. We’ve got people paid by Russians, Chinese, Iranians, and Saudis. Even Malaysia is playing. Just this week, a former Justice official admitted to setting up a scheme to smuggle tens of millions of dollars to Washington to defraud the government (that is, defraud us).
Corruption starts early, as diplomats see their costly future can be covered by foreign regimes if only the dips do the right things in office. The same applies to corporations, foreign and domestic, especially in the military and intelligence agencies. We’re talking about helping the businesses get billion-dollar contracts, so the kickbacks and rewards are fulsome. All this money supports the high style of life in our capital. Take a look at what a night in one of our best hotels costs; most Americans will be astonished. And that’s without dinner.
This helps us understand why politics—elections—are played for such high stakes: there’s a lot of money to be had. You want to dine at one of those Michelin-starred restaurants in your own private room? There are lots of friendly corruptors happy to defray your expenses. If you’re tied in to one of the establishments — and who isn’t nowadays? — you’d better hope yours wins. Ergo, election fraud is rampant. Don’t be so surprised at the violent opposition to voter ID laws; the wrong side might win if that were instituted.
These are not so much matters of principle as matters of money. And as Washington booms—and man, does it ever—the corruption spreads and deepens.
What to do? Unless you believe the police and the FBI can effectively thwart it (and you’d be foolish to believe that; just look at the corruption of the Bureau, far greater than anything I ever imagined), you’ve got to move at least some significant parts of the system out of D.C. Once upon a time, when most sensitive messages were carried by couriers, it was imperative to have all the agencies here in one place. That no longer applies. Messages now move through the ether at the push of a button, and the offices between which they move can be anywhere. So get the corruptible Washington bureaucrats out of town, and into flyover country, where there’s less corruption, fewer fancy restaurants, and maybe even decent public schools.
There are plenty of benefits out there in real America. Doesn’t it make sense to have the Department of Agriculture in Nebraska? Wouldn’t it be an improvement to relocate special operations from the Pentagon to, say, Alabama? And just think how much better off we could be if CIA were taken out of the Washington policial/social cesspool and quietly moved to West Texas.
Sure, there are corrupt people everywhere. But we need to encourage virtue. And there’s a great deal more virtue in the hinterland than in the capital.
Plenty of yummy food, too.