Skip to content

Jonathan Rauch at the Ath

Written by: Clare Burgess 

On Tuesday, September 24, Jonathan Rauch, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institute and a contributor to The Atlantic, discussed how “corruption” could actually save the American government. He began his discussion with the fact that the United States has not passed an Appropriations Bill on time since 1997, a year before many of the student audience was even born. His basic premise is that “dirty” politics is not all that dirty. In fact, policies like pork-barreling and covert negotiations aid the progress of the American government. The focus on transparency and a “clean” government caused intense scrutiny on American politicians. With this increased attention, politicians suddenly became unwilling to compromise with their political opponents in fear that their constituents would disapprove. The 24-hour news cycle exacerbates this, and forces politicians to condemn their opponents and refuse any compromise. Through this, political idealism replaced political realism.

Rauch determined that the process of cleaning up politics rid politicians of the tools that allow them to organize themselves. Thus, they are unable to coordinate even if a consensus exists.

Instead of remaining pessimistic, Rauch puts forth many solutions to the lack of “corruption” in politics. One thing we can do is lift caps on contributions to political parties. That way, money is going toward an accountable institution as opposed to unregulated groups, such as the Koch brothers. Rauch’s controversial hypothesis raised more than a few eyebrows among the students in CMC’s Athenaeum. Students during the Q&A questioned his campaign finance policies. His desire to allow unlimited campaign contributions to political parties would only put political power in the hands of the wealthy and privileged. However, Rauch countered with the idea that the problem is not a special interest in politics but having only a few special interests. The American government should have many special interests involved in politics in order to balance each other. Rauch ended with a plea to our generation to think more realistically about politics, than idealistically. His talk was thought-provoking and well-attended by professors and students alike.