CORRUPTION….Jonathan Alter ate his Wheaties this morning:

A decade ago, I paid a call on Tom DeLay in his ornate office in the Capitol. I had heard a rumor about him that I figured could not possibly be true. The rumor was that after the GOP took control of the House that year, DeLay had begun keeping a little black book with the names of Washington lobbyists who wanted to come see him. If the lobbyists were not Republicans and contributors to his power base, they didn’t get into “the people’s House.” DeLay not only confirmed the story, he showed me the book. His time was limited, DeLay explained with a genial smile. Why should he open his door to people who were not on the team?

Thus began what historians will regard as the single most corrupt decade in the long and colorful history of the House of Representatives….

Let’s think about this. Alter is right about the corruption at the soul of today’s Republican leadership, but it’s not necessarily the technical legal infractions that are most likely to resonate with voters. Indictments help, of course, if only because they get people’s attention, but the actual charges against guys like DeLay, Frist, and Abramoff are pretty complex and hard to explain. The question is, what’s at the core of all these charges?

Alter has it right: it’s Republican leaders’ abject fealty to corporate donors:

Yes, special interests have bought off members of Congress at least since Daniel Webster took his seat while on the payroll of a bank….But never before has the leadership of the House been hijacked by a small band of extremists bent on building a ruthless shakedown machine, lining the pockets of their richest constituents and rolling back popular protections for ordinary people.

How do you get people to understand this? I’m not sure. Maybe a McCarthyesque piece of theater: “I have in my hands a list of 205 tax breaks bought and paid for by the wealthiest corporations in America. Republicans in Congress have eagerly passed them all in return for a few pieces of silver.”

Maybe not. But it has to be something simple. Something that gets across the key concept that the Republican leadership is in thrall to corporate donors and will do anything they ask as long as the donations keep pouring in. What’s the most colorful way of doing that?

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