August 4th, 2013
02:13 AM ET

How Washington lost its way

By Fareed Zakaria

The entire political system creates incentives for venality. Consider just one factor – and there are many – the role of money, which has expanded dramatically over the past four decades. Harvard's Lawrence Lessig has pointed out that Congressmen now spend three of every five workdays raising money. They also vote with extreme attention to their donors' interests. Lessig cites studies that demonstrate that donors get a big bang for their campaign bucks – sometimes with returns on their "investment" that would make a venture capital firm proud.

Now, taking money out of politics is a mammoth challenge. So perhaps the best one could hope for is to limit instead what Congress can sell. In other words, enact a thorough reform of the tax code, ridding it of the thousands of special exemptions, credits, and deductions, which are, of course, institutionalized, legalized corruption.

The most depressing aspect of This Town, by Mark Leibovich, is how utterly routine all the influence-peddling has become. In 1990 Ramsay MacMullen, the great Yale historian of Rome, published a book that took on the central question of his field: Why did the greatest empire in the history of the world collapse in the fifth century? The root cause, he explained, was political corruption, which had become systemic in the late Roman Empire. What was once immoral had become accepted as standard practice and what was once illegal was celebrated as the new normal. Many decades from now, a historian looking at where America lost its way could use This Town as a primary source.

Watch the video for the full take and read more in the Washington Post

Topics: GPS Show • Politics • United States

soundoff (33 Responses)
  1. John

    Washington DC need new orientation. The key points: 1. America should work with EU and NATO alliance countries on important strategic issues. 2. non-NATO countries, such as S.Korea or China should not be a priority. 3. Discontinue military cooperation with S.Korea. 4. Limit imports from S.Korea. 5. Limit imports from China. 6. New Washington DC advisors should not be from Asia, but from NATO alliance countries, such as: Netherlands, Great Britain, France, Turkey, Italy, Sweden, ...!

    August 4, 2013 at 4:01 am | Reply
    • George patton

      Thank you, John. Posted like another ignorant, lame brained Tea Partier! Do you truly believe what you posted above or are you trying to be funny? We need to strengthen relations with Russia and drop this insane pursuit of Edward Snowden. As everyone knows, Edward Snowden can never hope to get a fair trial in this country, only the mere appearance of one!!! Yes John, Washington has truly lost it's way due to the sheer ignorance of the general public.

      August 4, 2013 at 11:26 am | Reply
      • jim g

        calling someone names over an issue that you do not agmuch agree with them on doesn't lead to much of an adult discourse, does it?

        August 12, 2013 at 12:02 pm |
    • Ricky

      Just watch the movie, "The Fall of the Roman Empire" with Sophia Lauren in the 1960s. That movie will tell you exactly how the Roman Empire started to collapse. In the end of the movie a wealthy Roman asked the Roman General, "How much do I have to pay to become the Emperor?" And MacMullin had to write a book about it in 1990s. What joke.

      August 5, 2013 at 11:57 am | Reply
    • Andre W

      John, SOUTH Korea is in fact a NATO country, as well as a democratic country and a long-standing ally which plays host to a decent chunk of our Pacific military might. Why would we want to limit imports from an ally, particularly one who holds a key position in keeping the North Koreans occupied? Our economy is too well-vested into China to damage foreign relations with them too much; this will continue until we figure out a way to re-gain a manufacturing economy in this country, or shift import majority to another country (even the democratic Taiwan would be a better choice and we do get some of our imports from them), which will not likely happen soon.

      August 7, 2013 at 11:24 am | Reply
      • John

        No, South Korea is not a NATO member and never will be. We know that South Koreans play a hard anti-American game and are no alliance to the USA. Many USA problems arise from this wrong collaboration. USA need stop this for new bright future and success.

        August 9, 2013 at 11:37 pm |
      • Dan H

        Not a NATO country. How do I know that? I took 30 seconds, went to the NATO website at NATO.INT and looked to confirm. Honestly, your passion on a subject is overshadowing your ability to research the basis of your argument. As soon as the foundation is compromised, your position, regardless of intent, is essentially nullified. Our interests in South Korea are not dependent on their NATO membership.

        August 12, 2013 at 3:09 pm |
  2. Kailim


    The unbridled, or legalized, corruption of the US federal government is caused solely by the politicians that are the POTUS, Senators and Representatives. There is nothing related to Koreans and Chinese. Racism cannot save the venal government from further decaying.

    August 4, 2013 at 8:15 am | Reply
  3. John

    This has nothing to do with racism. They have different ´programs´, and if they are not in the NATO alliance, means: no, they cannot do this.

    August 4, 2013 at 8:31 am | Reply

    Comparing the U.S. with Denmark or Canada is just silly. The U.S. is so very much larger and more diverse than they that the comparison, without acknowledging the vast differences, is not helpful. Your Harvard professor guest came the closest to touching on the problems of scale when parsing this issue.

    August 4, 2013 at 10:37 am | Reply
  5. lobbylobbylobby

    Obama mouthed off in 2008 about abolishing lobbyists from his admin. Many of them are his advisers !
    It is true that when a baby is born it is covered by placenta and fluids and no way it will be squeaky clean.
    it seems the same is true of our politicians. But where the baby is cleaned up the politicians collect more grime and CANNOT be cleaned up.
    Our bad luck.

    August 4, 2013 at 10:50 am | Reply
  6. veleda

    The most valid analysis of what is wrong with our political system I have heard – this is not government of the people by the poele for the people is government by the lobbiyists for for the rich corporate clients

    August 4, 2013 at 10:51 am | Reply
    • George patton

      Good posting, veleda. Thank you.

      August 4, 2013 at 11:27 am | Reply
  7. j. von hettlingen

    Money makes the world go round. In the 1990s Microsoft had been able to use "experts" in Washington to win court cases, to build relationships to the government and to rehabilitate its public profile.

    August 4, 2013 at 11:51 am | Reply
  8. JAL

    US and EU unemployment rates have been too high for too long. Uncool.

    August 4, 2013 at 9:26 pm | Reply
  9. KF

    We wanted a separation of church and state.... and sadly money and materialism are our religion.

    August 5, 2013 at 9:54 am | Reply
  10. Robert Bruce

    If only, Mr. Zakaria. The US has reverted to the robber baron, unbridled crony capitalism period of our history, before Teddy Roosevelt broke up the trusts. Now with the Supreme Court ruling and the shell PACs unlimited in their power to promote their vested interests and agendas, the (ever-shrinking) middle class (so crucial to democracy) doesn't have a fighting chance. Please keep a spot light on this. Thank you.

    August 5, 2013 at 12:42 pm | Reply
    • Joseph McCarthy

      Well put, Robert Bruce. Mr. Zakaria needs to pay more attention to what you just stated above. Yes, our middle class is indeed shrinking and if things don't change, this country will wind up as an hour glass society one day!

      August 5, 2013 at 4:00 pm | Reply
  11. Gully Foyle

    Well, if the media actually investigated and reported corruption rather than abetted it, that might make a difference.

    August 5, 2013 at 1:51 pm | Reply
  12. GloriaT

    Gully Foyle: "Well, if the media actually investigated and reported corruption rather than abetted it, that might make a difference."

    Thank you for pointing out the fact that when Fareed Zakaria cracks on the bought and paid for politicians, it is nothing more than the pot calling the kettle black.

    Keep in mind that Mr. Zakaria may have more power and influence over our government than the people we elect to send to Washington. He is certainly part of the ruling elite.

    August 6, 2013 at 4:12 pm | Reply
    • lachman

      I think Gloria T , you're absolutely mistaken, Mr. Zakaria is certainly not a part of the ruling elite, he is an intelectual, who with his articles literally opens the eyes of the public, and to the admistration points their failures.

      August 6, 2013 at 7:54 pm | Reply
  13. Wolcott Gibbs, Jr.

    Though Mr. Zakaria is right as far as he goes, I'm afraid the rot has pretty well pervaded our whole society. Even if we could identify another Teddy Roosevelt, would enough of us support him (or her) to get a counterrevolution started?

    August 7, 2013 at 10:54 am | Reply
  14. JAG

    A king (or a corrupt congress) cannot hold power if the people do not participate in the monarchy (or do protest against the plutocracy vehemently). The previously comments pretty much represent what most Americans would opine, I believe, but the America people let the corruption and dysfunctional governing continue. How do the American people come together and change the United States?

    August 7, 2013 at 6:25 pm | Reply
  15. Andy S.

    I respectfully submit that one-term limits are probably the best answer. If a sitting Congressmen cannot get re-elected, he/she will not spend three of every five workdays raising money, as the Zakaria article suggests. I also submit that elected service in our government should not be a career; much of the gridlock we now face comes from the fact that we have officials holding offices so long that they seem to have forgotten why they are there.

    August 7, 2013 at 11:21 pm | Reply
  16. shrinkDave

    Unbridled, unregulated capitalism diverts meaning from doing meaningful things to increasing capital for the sake of capital. Our social fabric has changed from one where young intelligent people look for intellectual challenge, to one where more capital is the end product. There is a better way of utilizing capitalism for the benefit of our country, but I'm not holding my breath.

    August 10, 2013 at 9:36 pm | Reply
  17. vistar hornbill

    Simply put, America's politics is utterly riddled by corruption! American politics is bad for democracy. The rich political donorscontunue to get richer , thanks to Congres – as Americans at large continue to struggle to balance their personal balance sheets.

    August 10, 2013 at 10:26 pm | Reply
  18. vistar hornbill

    Simply put, America's politics is utterly riddled by corruption! American politics is bad for democracy. The rich political donors continue to get richer , thanks to Congres – as Americans at large continue to struggle to balance their personal balance sheets

    August 10, 2013 at 10:27 pm | Reply
  19. Rosanne Gascoigne

    Interesting blog! Is your theme custom made or did you download it from somewhere? A theme like yours with a few simple adjustements would really make my blog jump out. Please let me know where you got your theme. Bless you

    August 11, 2013 at 4:29 pm | Reply
  20. jim g

    blaming just the republicans or the democrats for all our troubles really does us no good. both parties are hopelessly corrupt, bought and paid for. the 1%/ elite corporations that truly run this country are satisfied as we fight right vs. left, liberals vs. conservatives, etc. it creates a diversion which leads us away from the real problem, that we need to confront the power and control of the 1% owners.

    August 12, 2013 at 12:05 pm | Reply
  21. Rick McDaniel

    That one is easy........people chose to elect a man on the basis of his skin color........and not his managerial skills.

    Bottom line.

    August 13, 2013 at 5:32 pm | Reply
  22. Abobakar Ibrahim

    it is written, 'the love of money is the root of all evil'.

    August 15, 2013 at 7:39 am | Reply
  23. Sharonda Mcclanahan

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    October 3, 2019 at 11:08 pm | Reply

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