It's often hard to recognize corruption because its tools are suits and handshakes and fancy titles and serpent smiles, not guns or knives. But robbery is robbery.
It's difficult to acknowledge or confront corruption, because its victims are often paid off and made to be happy of it.
Corruption is all the more insidious because it's easier to spot from a great distance; it's hard to see it when it's right in front of you. It's more difficult to admit that friends or acquaintances might be corrupt.
Nor does corruption always have to be criminal. Corruption is always corrosive, frequently seductive, and sometimes addictive -- but often quite legal.
By almost every measure, Washington is hopelessly corrupt.
And we are at once victims and accomplices.
Career politicians are spending the country to near-bankruptcy as they feather their own nests, tighten their leash on our necks and pat us on the head. They take our money, bend it to their will, then return small portions of it at their discretion to make us feel it has all been worth it.
Washington is to the taxpayer as the drug cartels are to the addict.
Gov. Mark Sanford of South Carolina did his best to wean his state off the cocaine of federal money. He knows it's corrupting. He knows it will mask the state's needs rather than fill them. He knows we are stealing from our children.
Washington is over $10 trillion in debt already. The Obama budget blueprint calls for adding another $9 trillion to that debt in the next 10 years. And the country is already facing untold trillions -- $60 trillion or more -- in Medicare and Social Security promises we've made to future retirees, money for which we have no identifiable source.
Meanwhile, with the power to give out our money as they wish, congressmen take campaign money from lobbyists and industries they regulate. Sen. Chris Dodd, D-Conn., is only the latest poster boy for that, but boy is he a good one. There may be no one who better represents all that is wrong with Washington. The powerful Senate Banking Committee chairman got a sweetheart mortgage from Countrywide; he has received $280,000 in campaign contributions from troubled insurer AIG; and he made sure that AIG executive bonuses were untouched by Congress -- then claimed for 24 hours that he knew nothing about it, before reporters forced him to admit the truth.
Polls show Dodd is in re-election trouble. But don't hold your breath: Despite record-low approval ratings for Congress last year, we continued sending our congressmen back at about a 90 percent retention rate.
We have, sadly, been corrupted.
Gov. Mark Sanford stood nearly alone in trying to break this cycle of co-dependency. He never stood a chance.
Only the people of America can do it.
We hope the "tea party" movement that is now taking shape -- rallies are planned across the country April 15, including one on the Riverwalk in Augusta from 5 to 10 p.m. that day -- will become the foundation for taking our country back. From both parties.
We have very specific ideas about what needs to be done and how to do it. We'll be sharing those at the tea party April 15.
The term "Washington corruption" may bring to mind the fuzzy video of a congressman taking blatant bribes and such. But that's the least of the problem. The bigger problem is out in the open, but perhaps harder to see: A corrupt Washington is bleeding us dry and paying us to be quiet.
It may work for a while. But there are enough of us who are on to this corruption. And we won't be silenced.