06/26/2010 12:49 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Markey vs. Gardner: The Problem with Selective Outrage

NOTE: We will be discussing this story on the AM760 morning show from 7-10am on Monday. Tune in on your radio dial or on the web at

Colorado Republican candidate Cory Gardner has taken his share of well-deserved local and national media flack from progressives (including from me on my radio show) for holding a fundraiser with energy lobbyists. He undoubtedly deserves the criticism he's received (and on a personal note, just remember that I've said repeatedly on the radio that I hope he loses in 2010 in part because he'd be a far worse vote on energy issues than his Democratic opponent). However, the problem with outrage at corruption is when it is applied selectively.

Here's what I mean: It's perfectly fine - even admirable - to criticize Gardner for sucking up to energy interests, as long as the same voices expressing outrage at him express outrage at his Democratic opponent, Rep. Betsy Markey, for engaging in something very similar earlier in the same week. Note this report from the Ft. Collins Coloradoan:

Betsy Markey's re-election campaign will get a boost from one of the Democratic Party's top fundraisers, a former party official now working as an energy industry lobbyist.

Brian Wolff, a former executive director of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee who's currently senior vice president of external affairs for the Edison Electric Institute, volunteered to help Markey raise money and develop re-election strategy...

Wolff helped organize a meeting in Washington, D.C., earlier this month in which a number of the party's top fundraisers - many of them lobbyists - agreed to help 16 of the party's most vulnerable incumbents, according to an article in Roll Call, a newspaper that covers Capitol Hill.

Although lobbyists have long been major donors to political campaigns, Roll Call quoted unnamed participants in the meeting as saying this level of involvement in congressional campaigns was new.

While the Markey story was reported in one local paper, it didn't generate nearly as much residual huffing and puffing from other media or the blogosphere as the Gardner story did. And in that disparity, there's a larger lesson, especially because this kind of selective outrage is so common.

Anger at lawmakers for their all-too-close ties to the industries they regulate is justified in this age of corruption. But pretending that corruption is the disease of only one party is to try to suck the last shreds of honesty out of our already debased political debate. That undeniable truth may offend partisans (for example, I bet you'll see Democratic activists whining and moaning about this post, somehow insisting energy lobbyists' cash given to both parties only ends up influencing Republican recipients but not Democratic recipients) - but, alas, it is the undeniable truth.

Yes, be angry at corruption - but at least be honest about it and apply your outrage equally across the political spectrum when it is warranted. Otherwise, you are just adding to the meaningless red-versus-blue noise rather than working towards fixing the real underlying problem.