The Pasty Little Putz, Dowd, Friedman, Bruni and Collins

The Pasty Little Putz is just seething with righteous indignation.  In “The Taxman vs. the Tea Party” he howls that at the I.R.S. we get a glimpse of the paranoid style of liberal politics.  It’s really all projection all the time with him…  MoDo is gearing up for Benghazigate.  In “When Myths Collide in the Capitol” she says it’s a glorious spring weekend of accusation and obfuscation as Hillaryland goes up against Foxworld.  The Moustache of Wisdom is in Sana, Yemen.  In “The Yemeni Way” he says the national dialogue taking place in Yemen is a lesson for other Arab nations.  Mr. Bruni thinks we’re stupid.  In “America the Clueless” he says on subjects ranging from Obamacare to the Supreme Court, our body politic isn’t especially brainy.  Well, considering that there’s a brand spanking new cable channel called “The Blaze” that’s being advertised down here as “straight from the brain of Glenn Beck” I’m not surprised…  Ms. Collins, in “Is Yours More Corrupt Than Mine?”, says with 32 state officials arrested, New York is setting quite a standard. But it has competition.  Here’s The Putz:

As a taxpayer and a conservative who hopes to remain on good terms with the Internal Revenue Service for many April 15ths to come, I don’t want to speculate too freely about the motives of the “low level” I.R.S. employees who decided to single out Tea Party groups for an inappropriate level of attention during the heat of the 2012 campaign.

But I’m willing to guess this much: Even though an American Civil Liberties Union official described their excessive interest in right-wing groups as “about as constitutionally troubling as it gets,” the bureaucrats in question probably thought they were just doing their patriotic duty, and giving dangerous extremists the treatment they deserved.

Where might an enterprising, public-spirited I.R.S. agent get the idea that a Tea Party group deserved more scrutiny from the government than the typical band of activists seeking tax-exempt status? Oh, I don’t know: why, maybe from all the prominent voices who spent the first two years of the Obama era worrying that the Tea Party wasn’t just a typically messy expression of citizen activism, but something much darker — an expression of crypto-fascist, crypto-racist rage, part Timothy McVeigh and part Bull Connor, potentially carrying a wave of terrorist violence in its wings.

The historical term for this kind of anxiety is “Brown Scare” — an inordinate fear of a vast far-right conspiracy, which resembles the anti-Communist panics of our past. As the historian Philip Jenkins wrote in 2009, Brown Scares no less than Red Scares recur throughout American history. They fasten on real-enough phenomena, from homegrown fascist sympathizers in the 1930s to the militia movements in the 1990s, but then wildly exaggerate both the danger these extremists pose and their ties to the conservative mainstream.

In the ’30s, Jenkins noted, this mentality inspired the persistent media-fed fear that “the U.S. was about to be overwhelmed by ultra-Right fifth columnists, millions strong, intimately allied with the Axis powers.” In the ’60s, it persuaded many liberals that Dallas’s right-wing fever was somehow responsible for John F. Kennedy’s assassination even though the president’s actual assassin was a Communist sympathizer. (This idée fixe persists to the present day.) After the Oklahoma City bombing, it led many people to tar the entire militia movement as terrorist, not just extremist, and then to conflate the militias (this was one of Bill Clinton’s defter moves) with the mainstream small-government right.

Our own era’s Brown Scare followed a similar pattern. Early in President Obama’s first term, a Department of Homeland Security report predicted an increase in right-wing extremism, citing real threats but also employing “a definition of extremist so broad,” Reason magazine’s Jesse Walker noted, that “it seemed to include anyone who opposed abortion or immigration or excessive federal power.”

As the Tea Party movement gathered steam, liberals consistently echoed the D.H.S. report’s themes, warning that the movement’s fringier elements and often-overheated rhetoric (which were real enough, and worth criticizing) were laying the groundwork for a wave of far-right violence.

Invoking J.F.K.’s assassination and Oklahoma City, these critics then leapt to connect the dots every time a kook pulled a gun or set off a bomb somewhere — whether it was a lone neo-Nazi shooting a guard at the Holocaust museum in Washington, the apparent murder (ultimately ruled a suicide) of a census worker in rural Kentucky, or even the failed Times Square bombing (which turned out to be the work of a would-be jihadist, but not before Michael Bloomberg had suggested that it might be “someone with a political agenda that doesn’t like the health care bill or something”).

The dots-connecting peaked, of course, with the shooting of Gabrielle Giffords, which was instantly deemed a case of right-wing incitement leading to political violence, with the blame going to Sarah Palin, Glenn Beck and conservatism in general.

When none of this turned out to be true, however — the shooter was not really a political actor at all, but just a mentally ill lost soul with no connection to partisan politics — the scare began a slow retreat. The Tea Party had won its midterm victory, and as the movement’s ardor cooled and its influence diminished, the fears of its critics began to diminish as well. With Beck off Fox and the Tea Partyers off the streets — replaced by Occupy Wall Street and union protesters, often shouting none-too-moderate slogans of their own — it became harder to look at American conservatism and see Brownshirts or grand wizards on the march.

But moods and prejudices linger even after panics recede. The I.R.S. and the conservative movement have never been on the best of terms, and perhaps the recent abuses just reflect that longstanding tension. But I suspect it’s more than that, and that this episode will be remembered as one of the last embarrassments produced by our era’s Brown Scare.

Now, gawd help us, here’s MoDo:

The capital is in the throes of déjà vu and preview as it plunges back into Clinton Rules, defined by a presidential aide on the hit ABC show “Scandal” as damage control that goes like this: “It’s not true, it’s not true, it’s not true, it’s old news.”

The conservatives appearing on Benghazi-obsessed Fox News are a damage patrol with an approach that goes like this: “Lies, paranoia, subpoena, impeach, Watergate, Iran-contra.”

(Though now that the I.R.S. has confessed to targeting Tea Party groups, maybe some of the paranoia is justified.)

Welcome to a glorious spring weekend of accusation and obfuscation as Hillaryland goes up against Foxworld.

The toxic theatrics, including Karl Rove’s first attack ad against Hillary, cloud a simple truth: The administration’s behavior before and during the attack in Benghazi, in which four Americans died, was unworthy of the greatest power on earth.

After his Libyan intervention, President Obama knew he was sending diplomats and their protectors into a country that was no longer a country, a land rife with fighters affiliated with Al Qaeda.

Yet in this hottest of hot spots, the State Department’s minimum security requirements were not met, requests for more security were rejected, and contingency plans were not drawn up, despite the portentous date of 9/11 and cascading warnings from the C.I.A., which had more personnel in Benghazi than State did and vetted the feckless Libyan Praetorian Guard. When the Pentagon called an elite Special Forces team three hours into the attack, it was training in Croatia — decidedly not a hot spot.

Hillary Clinton and Ambassador Chris Stevens were rushing to make the flimsy Benghazi post permanent as a sign of good faith with Libyans, even as it sat ringed by enemies.

The hierarchies at State and Defense had a plodding response, failing to make any superhuman effort as the siege waxed and waned over eight hours.

In an emotional Senate hearing on Wednesday, Stevens’s second-in-command, Gregory Hicks, who was frantically trying to help from 600 miles away in Tripoli, described how his pleas were denied by military brass, who said they could not scramble planes and who gave a “stand-down” order to four Special Forces officers in Tripoli who were eager to race to Benghazi.

“My reaction was that, O.K., we’re on our own,” Hicks said quietly. He said the commander of that Special Forces team told him, “This is the first time in my career that a diplomat has more” chutzpah “than someone in the military.”

The defense secretary at the time, Leon Panetta, insisted, “We quickly responded.” But they responded that they would not respond. As Emma Roller and David Weigel wrote in Slate: “The die was cast long before the attack, by the weak security at the consulate, and commanders may have decided to cut their losses rather than risking more casualties. And that isn’t a story anyone prefers to tell.”

Truth is the first casualty here when competing fiefs protect their mythologies. Some unhinged ideologues on the right cling to the mythology that Barry and Hillary are out to destroy America.

In the midst of a re-election campaign, Obama aides wanted to promote the mythology that the president who killed Osama was vanquishing terror. So they deemed it problematic to mention any possible Qaeda involvement in the Benghazi attack.

Looking ahead to 2016, Hillaryland needed to shore up the mythology that Clinton was a stellar secretary of state. Prepared talking points about the attack included mentions of Al Qaeda and Ansar al-Sharia, a Libyan militant group, but the State Department got those references struck. Foggy Bottom’s spokeswoman, Victoria Nuland, a former Cheney aide, quashed a we-told-you-so paragraph written by the C.I.A. that said the spy agency had “produced numerous pieces on the threat of extremists linked to Al Qaeda in Benghazi and eastern Libya,” and had warned about five other attacks “against foreign interests in Benghazi by unidentified assailants, including the June attack against the British ambassador’s convoy.”

Nuland fretted about “my building leadership,” and with backing from Ben Rhodes, a top White House aide, lobbied to remove those reminders from the talking points because they “could be abused by members” of Congress “to beat up the State Department for not paying attention to warnings, so why would we want to feed that either?”

Hicks said that Beth Jones, an under secretary of state, bristled when he asked ask her why Susan Rice had stressed the protest over an anti-Muslim video rather than a premeditated attack — a Sunday show marathon that he said made his jaw drop. He believes he was demoted because he spoke up.

Hillary’s chief of staff, Cheryl Mills, also called Hicks to angrily ask why a State Department lawyer had not been allowed to monitor every meeting in Libya with Congressman Jason Chaffetz, who visited in October. (The lawyer did not have the proper security clearance for one meeting.) Chaffetz, a Republican from Utah, has been a rabid Hillary critic on Fox News since the attack. Hicks said he had never before been scolded for talking to a lawmaker.

All the factions wove their own mythologies at the expense of our deepest national mythology: that if there is anything, no matter how unlikely or difficult, that we can do to try to save the lives of Americans who have volunteered for dangerous assignments, we must do it.

Now here’s The Moustache of Wisdom:

If you want to know how bad things can go in Syria, study Iraq. If you want to know how much better things could have gone, study Yemen. Say what? Yemen?

Yes, Yemen. Maybe the most unique postrevolutionary political process happening in any country experiencing an Arab awakening is in poor, fractured, water-starved Yemen. In its own messy way, Yemen is doing what all the other Arab awakening countries failed to do: have a serious, broad-based national dialogue, where the different political factions, new parties, young people, women, Islamists, tribes, northerners and southerners are literally introducing themselves to one another in six months of talks — before they write a new constitution and hold presidential elections. (After decades of autocracy, people in these countries did not know each other.)

It is what Egypt certainly failed to do in any serious way before rushing ahead with presidential elections that have left many people feeling disenfranchised and Islamists running away with the politics. One of the most important things President Obama could do to advance the Arab awakening is give a shout-out to Yemen’s approach. Yes, the odds of success here are still really, really long — the effects of 50 years of overexploiting Yemen’s water and soil could overwhelm even the most heroic politics — but what Yemen is doing is the only way any Arab awakening state can hope to make a stable transition to democracy.

Kicked off on March 18, the 565 delegates to Yemen’s national dialogue are tasked with developing recommendations on how to address nine issues ranging from future relations between the feuding north and south to state-building to the future role of the Army to rights and freedoms — all of which will go into the writing of a new constitution and holding of elections in February 2014.

“In the beginning, it was very tough,” said Yahia Al-Shaibi, a former education minister participating in the dialogue, but, “after a while, things started getting calm, people were sitting together and eating together and we see our different views. Now we can hear what each other says. We are starting to listen to each other and try to come to consensus.”

The official dialogue has stimulated an even bigger unofficial one. Yemeni Facebook pages and Twitter feeds have exploded with debates about politics, women’s rights and the Army. After decades of being silenced, everyone wants to talk now. Women are one-third of the dialogue delegates, and the men are having to adapt. An American democracy adviser here told me this story: “We find that the women members of the dialogue usually come prepared and show up on time. It’s open seating, so sometimes they sit in the front row. The other day a tribal leader came late and went to the front seat, which was already occupied by a woman, and he said, ‘That’s my seat.’ And she said, ‘No, it’s not.’ ”

The dialogue is possible because of the gradual (and messy) way Yemen’s awakening played out. It started in 2011 with youth-led protests that escalated into near civil war and a government breakdown until then-President Ali Abdullah Saleh handed power to a transitional government. Saleh’s party and his followers, along with the biggest opposition bloc, Islah, Yemen’s Muslim Brotherhood, still retained influence. There was no “de-Baathification” or “de-Mubarakization” in Yemen — but much more of a “no-victor-no-vanquished.”

No party was absolutely “defeated,” said Deputy Foreign Minister Mohy al-Dhabbi. It gave everyone a stake in the democracy transition and “allowed for everyone to give concessions.”

It also allowed time for women and the youths who started the revolution “to all get involved politically before the elections,” added Aidrous Bazara, a businessman in the dialogue. Now no one party “can steal” the revolution, he said. That has been reinforced by the recent decision by Yemen’s new president, Abdu Rabbu Mansour Hadi, to professionalize the Army, starting by purging Saleh’s relatives from the intelligence agency and the elite Republican Guard.

Yemen is a National Rifle Association paradise. It seems as if every Yemeni man owns a gun and many walk around with daggers in their belts. Yet this country may end up having the most extensive Arab awakening dialogue, with relatively few casualties — so far. It is a reminder for Syria’s rebels that better guns may be needed to topple their dictator. But, without a culture of inclusion, it will all be for naught.

Jamila Rajaa, a woman participating in the dialogue, told me she still worries that some old parties, including the Muslim Brotherhood, are happy to let the dialogue distract the country, while they are feverishly working the streets to cultivate votes to win the election in order dominate the next government. Some modern Yemeni women see how the Muslim Brotherhood is ruling in Egypt, when it comes to women, and they want their own Islamists to go through a mind-set shift before assuming any power.

It’s all part of the dialogue — why it is really hard and why it has to succeed, otherwise, as a recent United States Institute of Peace report warned: “Yemen risks falling backward into open conflict.” The good news is that — for now — a lot of Yemenis really want to give politics a chance. You’ve got to root for them.

Next up we have Mr. Bruni:

The problems with our country’s political discourse are many and grave, but an insufficient attention to Obamacare isn’t among them. We have talked Obamacare to death, or at least into home hospice care. The “Obamacare” shorthand itself reflects our need to come up with less of a mouthful than “Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act,” given how regularly the topic recurs. “Obamacare” is like “J. Lo” or “KFC.” It saves syllables and speeds things along.

So explain this: according to a recent poll, roughly 40 percent of Americans don’t even know that it’s a law on the books.

Now if I learned that 40 percent weren’t aware of when Obamacare was to be fully implemented or whether any of it had yet gone into practice or precisely how it’s likely to affect them, I wouldn’t be surprised or distressed. Obamacare is nothing if not unwieldy and opaque: “Ulysses” meets “Mulholland Drive.” The people confused about it include no small number of the physicians I know and probably a few of the law’s authors to boot.

But 40 percent of Americans are clueless about its sheer existence. Some think it’s been repealed by Congress. Some think it’s been overturned by the Supreme Court. A few probably think it’s been vaporized and replaced with a galactic edict beamed down from one of Saturn’s moons. With Americans you never know.

According to a survey I stumbled across just weeks ago, 21 percent believe that a U.F.O. landed in Roswell, N.M., nearly seven decades ago and that the federal government hushed it up, while 14 percent believe in Bigfoot.

According to another survey, taken last year, about 65 percent of us can’t name a single Supreme Court justice. Not the chief one, John Roberts. Not the mute one, Clarence Thomas. Not even the mean one, Antonin Scalia. Though when it comes to Scalia, perhaps the body politic suffers less from ignorance than from repressed memory.

That we Americans are out to lunch isn’t news. But every once in a while a fresh factoid like the Obamacare ignorance comes along to remind us that we’re out to breakfast and dinner as well. And it adds an important, infrequently acknowledged bit of perspective to all the commentary, from us journalists and from political strategists alike, about how voters behave and whom they reward. We purport to interpret an informed, rational universe, because we’d undercut our own insights if we purported anything else.

But only limited sense can be made of what is often nonsensical, and the truth is that a great big chunk of the electorate is tuned out, zonked out or combing Roswell for alien remains. Polls over the last few years have variously shown that about 30 percent of us couldn’t name the vice president, about 35 percent couldn’t assign the proper century to the American Revolution and 6 percent couldn’t circle Independence Day on a calendar. I’m supposing that the 6 percent weren’t also given the holiday’s synonym, the Fourth of July. I’m an optimist through and through.

Here’s one of my favorite findings: in a poll in 2011, after intense, closely chronicled fiscal battles in California, a sampling of the state’s residents were quizzed about which category of spending accounted for the biggest share of California’s budget. Only 16 percent correctly said public education through the 12th grade. And they did this poorly in spite of being given just four possible answers, including the correct one, from which to choose. They more or less underperformed the odds.

Apart from perennial news stories about how many Americans would flunk the citizenship test that immigrants must pass, we mostly gloss over our ignorance or deny it. Election analysts are constantly saying that voters are “too smart” for some ploy or “smarter than” they get credit for being.

And there’s a whole subgenre of nonfiction that assures us that we shouldn’t be spooked by how uneducated we are. “The Wisdom of Crowds” suggests that if enough bumbling people act in concert, they’ll find their way to a less bumbling place, while “Blink” portrays snap judgments as the fruits of an information intake that isn’t easily measured but is meaningful nonetheless. There’s “Emotional Intelligence” as well as nuts-and-bolts knowledge, and we can be guided, profitably, by it.

I buy some of that. I’ve talked to enough voters over enough elections to recognize that their flabby impressions aren’t always antonyms of concrete information but instead cruder, lesser versions of it, colored if not governed by facts that they’ve picked up in a peripheral, semiconscious fashion.

Still. In 2010 in California, I covered a Tea Party rally at which Carly Fiorina, vying for the Republican nomination for a United States Senate seat, was scheduled to speak. I approached a couple whose profusion of hats and buttons and handmade signs — along with their willingness to spend hours in a crowded field under a punishing sun — led me to believe that they were at least somewhat politically engaged. I asked them if they were inclined to support Fiorina. With great seriousness, they said that they hadn’t yet decided between her and Meg Whitman. Whitman was running not for senator but for governor, in a race that hardly wanted for coverage. They didn’t have to choose.

At a heated point of the 2012 presidential primaries, when both Rick Santorum and the news media were making much of his faith and fecundity, less than 30 percent of voters could identify his religious affiliation as Catholic, according to one poll. Months later a different poll asked voters about President Obama’s religious affiliation, persistently mistaken by some Americans to be Muslim. The good news? The share of voters making the Muslim error had dropped, to 10 percent. The weird news? Eighteen percent said Obama was Jewish.

It’s possible, of course, that respondents just mess with pollsters’ heads. He’s a Seventh-day Adventist! He’s a Scientologist! But too many surveys over too many years show too much abject ignorance for the phenomenon to be belittled or dismissed. What’s more, there’s no consoling arc over time, no trajectory of progress. Wherever the Internet is speeding us, it’s not toward greater civic erudition and enlightenment.

Into the vacuum of substantive knowledge rush the unprincipled advertisements, the unctuous hucksters, the “super PACs,” the Swift boating, the Sunday-morning-talk-show spin. A clueless electorate is a corruptible one, and one that seems ill poised to make the smartest, best call about something as sweeping as Obamacare and how it gets tweaked or not down the line. Maybe we’ll blink our way to the right decisions. Or maybe we’ll just stumble around with our eyes closed.

And last but not least we have Ms. Collins:

Let’s talk about what makes a delinquent state legislature. I know it’s been on your mind.

The newest political trend in New York involves corrupt state legislators attempting to curry favor with federal prosecutors by wearing wires to work. Perhaps there have been worse fads. There was a time, not long ago, when Assembly members could punch in early in the day, leave to play golf and still be recorded as voting “yes” on every single bill that hit the floor.

Officials recently revealed that a 74-year-old senator named Shirley Huntley secretly recorded assorted pols who she invited over for a chat while claiming to be laid up with a broken ankle. She was sentenced to prison for embezzlement anyway, but not before putting an entirely new spin on the concept of visiting the sick.

There was also a state assemblyman who was wired up for virtually his entire two-term career, before resigning recently to pursue a new life as a defendant in a perjury case.

All of this raises some interesting questions. Is everybody in Albany now operating under the presumption that everything they say is being secretly recorded for the F.B.I.? Does that improve the legislative ethos or just lead to a lot of uncomfortable breaks in conversation?

Also, is New York’s State Legislature the most corrupt in the country? At last count we had 32 state officials get into deep trouble over the last few years, including four former Senate majority or minority leaders. The offenses ranged from taking bribes to throwing coffee in the face of a staff member. The last was not actually a corruption matter, but it was definitely behavior we wish to discourage.

It’s quite a record, but there are still other states in contention.

“We have three people in the State Legislature facing trial. Four of the last seven governors have gone to jail,” said Andy Shaw of Illinois’ Better Government Association. “And we’re a fiscal train wreck.”

That four-of-the-last-seven-governors record is really hard to argue with. New York, of course, had the disastrous resignation of Eliot Spitzer. But that was about sex. Sex scandals, while embarrassing, are far less depressing than financial corruption. I would way rather have an important elected official who patronized prostitutes than one who spent $60,000 of the taxpayers’ money on sushi and lobster. Although in New York we have recently had both.

Still, we’re not alone. “We used to say — thank God for Illinois,” said Gerald Benjamin, a former Albany hand who is now an executive at the State University of New York in New Paltz.

And then there was the Alabama bingo debacle and the Arizona Fiesta Bowl scandal. Louisiana showed up at the top of a study of political corruption that calculated the number of convictions per capita. Georgia came out as worst on a corruption risk report from the State Integrity Investigation, which measured factors like accountability, transparency and ethics enforcement.

New Jersey got the best grade.

“There was an audible gasp across the entire state,” said Debbie Walsh of the Center for American Women and Politics at Rutgers.

“It was counterintuitive for us as well,” said Gordon Witkin, the managing editor at the Center for Public Integrity. Witkin’s theory is that New Jersey got to be good by being bad. “Where there has been a major, major scandal, that was the catalyst for very specific reform.”

Well, New Jersey has had its problems. Over the last decade there was Gov. James McGreevey’s affair with the male Israeli poet. (The state could have accepted the gay part, and the adultery part, if only McGreevey had not decided to prove his love by making the poet head of homeland security.) That was followed by a slew of political indictments, after which the Legislature did end some of its most notorious ethics loopholes. But it’s still, you know, New Jersey.

It’s at this point in every rant about state legislators that we stop to point out that most of them are honest, and some downright heroic. Really, just try spending a good chunk of your life as a reformer in the New York State Senate. See how you like it.

Also, some entire state legislatures are both honest and effective. People speak highly of the one in Nebraska. (It’s unicameral!) I once covered the Connecticut Legislature, where people took their jobs very seriously, holding endless public hearings on every bill and then having long, earnest debates in which the outcome was not preordained. But that was way back in the 1970s, when Joseph Lieberman was the Senate majority leader, and even at that early age was being accused by the liberals of selling out.

At the time, the Connecticut lawmakers did not think they were all that great. What they wanted, more than anything else, was to be like New York. Yes! Legislators in New York, they kept noting, got serious salaries, and staff, and offices. In Connecticut you were lucky if they gave you a desk.

Reformers call this the drive for professionalization. I’m sure it helps give a good legislature more juice, but when one is off track, it just gives everybody more places to be ineffective. When I first went to Albany, I walked through a mall of offices so grand it felt like something out of the chariot scene in “Ben Hur.” Yet the rank-and-file members had nothing to do in their expansive quarters but send press releases to their constituents. There were almost never any public hearings on anything. And the debates were conducted for the benefit of those people on the golf course.

What does make a difference? I think it’s just that some states have a good political culture. Generally, the good ones are places where the lawmakers have serious work to do beyond passing thick mystery bills that come thonking down from the governor’s office minutes before the voting begins. States with two real, functioning political parties that feel at least a modest obligation to work together.

“There’s a thing down here called the Virginia Way — being as collaborative and bipartisan as possible,” said Dan Palazzolo, a professor of political science at the University of Richmond.

There’s a thing up in Albany called “three guys in a room,” in which all the serious decisions are made behind closed doors, by the Assembly speaker, the Senate majority leader and the governor. Someday, I believe, New York may evolve to the point where there will be two guys and a woman in the room. But that may be the most we can expect.

The other day in Albany, the Republicans decided to take the unusual step of having a public hearing on a campaign financing bill that they opposed. When supporters of the bill showed up to testify, the legislators closed the public hearing to the public.

It feels hopeless. But there are definitely places in more desperate straits. “We don’t have a corrupt legislature, but in part that’s because they don’t have a lot to sell — they don’t have that much discretion,” said Joe Mathews, the author of “California Crackup.”

“I wish we had a little more corruption,” Mathews mused. “That would mean we could do things.”

O.K. — not the way we are intending to go.

You can reform a political culture, but it’s a big lift. First, the voters would have to convince the legislators that they’re being watched by someone other than the lobbyists. Then they’d have to press for laws that would force a change of behavior, like nonpartisan redistricting and ethics reform. Then the voters would have to follow up, year after year, until the old guard was replaced by a whole new generation who went into politics with dreams of drafting serious legislation, rather than just bringing more stuff back into the district or, at worst, shaking down some landlord at the airport for a thousand bucks.

It’s a lot of watching. Or, failing that, we could just have everybody wear wires.

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