The “House of Cards” view of political corruption shows blackmail, presented overtly or by oblique reference, as a key factor in the process. This is also wrong. Perversely wrong, as is normal in DC.
By this time in the evolution of the US’s many interlocking institutions surrounding government, effective blackmail was of a single type : sex. Sex could not be delegated, and modern forensics and DNA tests had made it undeniable. ‘Personal’ and ‘undeniable’ meant it could no longer be allowed to be a factor in governance.
All other sources of scandal had been tamed. Financial corruption didn’t cause more than a few headlines, resulting in a promise to repay in a Congressional hearing, with subsequently never paying rating 2 inches on page 28 of the Saturday sports section some years later, most of that misleading headline. Not paying taxes, hiring relatives, false expense reports, employing illegal workers, embezzling, ditto. Mundanes may be prosecuted for such things, but lower level minions weren’t. So all senior and public members of the administration, congress and the judiciary got off with feather taps on the wrist, all lesser members were too minor for anyone to bother with, as newspapers don’t have enough reporters and such crimes were not new, not news. Mundanes, of course, committing small versions of those crimes, went to jail by the 10s of 1000s every year.
Merely stating something incredibly stupid in public had never been a bar to the Presidency, even when repeated repeatedly. By Joe Biden foot-in-mouth had been raised to an art form. The amazing part of the Gruber ‘stupidity of voters’ story was how many times he had to repeat that phrase in public over how many years and how close to the President he had to have been before anyone noticed. His close association with Romneycare as well as Obamacare was certainly why MSM had filtered those remarks – letting the 99% become aware of the 1%’s minions’ scorn was not done.
Merely treating people, even wives, as discardable had not been an issue since Chappaquidick, continually reinforced by people such as Newt Gingrich, John Edwards and all of the politicians and their rich supporters with trophy wives.
Removing sex as a cause of effective scandal had happened gradually. The US society had become accepting of quite a range of sexual behaviors beginning with the baby-boom rebelling into the hippies of the 1960s. Hefner’s orgies hadn’t gotten out of the tabloids since the 1980s. Ordinary pornography was everywhere by 1990, and increasingly emulated in private videos by 2000. After that, every young woman who came into public attention seemed to have nude photos in the hands of some sleezy ex-bf who put them on the net or sold them to tabloids. The 2 major sex toy companies had sales of $100M each and sold their wide range of products at Tuperware-style parties. Fifty years after Playboy’s philosophy lubricated the imagination of the baby boom generation, even the most Bible thumping preacher could hire male hookers, get caught, do penance, and return to the ministry of a fundamentalist denomination.
After Clinton’s advisor Dick Morris began appearing as a pundit on FOX, merely sharing White House insider gossip wth hookers wouldn’t do more than make their patron a paid-up member of the Mutual Gonad Clutchers Union – MGCU members all had each other by the balls, nobody could afford to squeeze. Even hiring under-age girls no longer matter for members of the elite.
By 2016, Congressmen and women were as free from public exposure of their sexual appetites as JFK had been in more (supposedly) innocent days. Most attended very private clubs with high admission fees. The most sought-after of these were combinations of gentleman’s clubs, salons and bordellos, run by courtesans. The private-club and salon aspect helped their clients network, LinkedIn.com + BackPage.com for DC insiders. They were permanent 24×7 parties with drugs, schmoozing and conniving in the company of beauty, smilingly available beauty. Naturally, one paid the hostesses ‘only for their time’, standard K-Street consulting rates. The networking aspect was all the facade needed to allow payment from campaign funds. Most of these salons provided contacts in the major TLAs. NSA’s authorized representatives, all recently retired senior executives, were in a position to become very wealthy very quickly as they traded favors and information.
The CIA’s rendition program had long provided cover for transporting drugs. 1% power was now sufficient that there was no need for cover, the US and Europe had the highest-possible quality drugs. Salons were the high-class crack-houses, opium dens.
By the 114th Congress, to have coercive power, a sex scandal had to include abuse of power, influence or authority over someone who could be made to look innocent. Even better if they were innocent, although genuine innocents were hard to find in the vicinity of anyone with power, influence or authority in the age of the internet – caring parents had gotten very wary, less-caring parents’ kids weren’t innocent.
Sex combined with drugs might be considered newsworthy, depending on the drugs and the innocents.
Sex, hard drugs, and abuse of power via surreptitiously dosing genuine innocents with aphrodisiacs or date rape drugs was assumed by most pundits to be enough to unseat even a popular President, although many argued the Clinton precedent made that improbable. Others said those political analysts over-rated the importance of the cigar.
There were exceptions, all government entities were not always in collusion, jostling for power at the expense of others was part of the game. Steve Scalise demonstrated that MSM could still generate outrage with ‘white supremacist’ associations, however ephemeral, at least if the politician could also be labeled ‘Tea Party’. Michael Grimm showed that prosecutors of the opposite party could still evict you from office for tax evasion if you didn’t have the right connections. Nobody expected any long-term damage to either political career, and most considered it a random lightening bolt, not a warning that rule of law was returning to America.