One person's thoughts may change the world
Since the Cold War, federal dollars have gone to defense contractors who reap huge profits from the production of certain weapons systems. These companies have become integral to the economy of the communities in which their plants located, and they are protected by the legislators who represent those areas as well as Pentagon officials. Agricultural programs are another case where lobbying makes innovations or reductions in spending difficult.
The congressional super committee dealing with deficit reduction is spinning its wheels. Indeed, The Hill reported that members of the deficit reduction committee are receiving sizable amounts of contributions from special interest groups, many of which represent sectors (such as health care) that are opposed to what the panel is attempting to accomplish.
Without addressing the political dynamics that have fueled many of today’s budgetary problems, it will be difficult for Congress to enact substantial changes, or to make sure that any successful reforms last over time.
A second problem is the power of financial and business interests in Washington. This is a theme that preoccupies both Tea Party and Occupy Wall Street activists. Why did Wall Street receive so much assistance through TARP while homeowners have been allowed to languish? Protesters on the right and left talk about how policies are skewed toward these interests and how average middle-class Americans don’t receive the same kind of attention from the nation’s leaders.
Business and financial interests achieve their influence in many ways. But their ability to deliver dollars to the campaign chests of candidates is crucial. Donating funds helps to ensure that these interests have a seat at the table. In 2009, as Ron Suskind recounts in his new book, “The Confidence Men,” Democrats learned firsthand as the healthcare industry successfully pushed the administration to eliminate crucial measures that were intended to control costs and save money to pay for expanded insurance. This story has been repeated in a number of policy sectors.
The final problem that money fuels is gridlock. Everyone hates when Congress doesn’t seem capable of doing anything. A chronic complaint about Washington is that the parties are so polarized that agreement is not possible. Money is one of the culprits. Political scientists have shown how the money race pushes politicians to seek favor with ideologically oriented interest groups and political action committees who can deliver funds. Legislators need to make sure that the party leadership in each chamber, which maintains centralized control over money through leadership political action committees, will keep the purse strings open. Campaign money makes help certain that the parties are heard.
Without tackling core issues such as campaign finance, gridlock that Americans seem to dislike so much will continue. When he was a candidate, Obama constantly reminded voters about this problem. Now he seems to have become comfortable or resigned to working within the system that he once criticized.
At the height of the struggle over campaign finance reform in 1973, Sen. Hubert Humphrey warned that “it is a cesspool, it is a source of infection for the body politic.” One year later Watergate shattered American confidence in the political system. The result was burst of reform that created public finance for presidential campaigns and contribution limits, as well as the Federal Elections Commission. For almost two decades, the system worked relatively well and did produce changes until recently when both parties abandoned it.
Right now there is no scandal comparable to Watergate to move American politicians. With all the attention that we paid to the horse race between Romney and Perry or the decline in President Obama’s approval ratings, the fundamentals receive little attention. The basic ways in which politics works, the underlying sources of political influence and power that will have huge effects on whoever the next president is, are barely an issue. Without reform, the chances that we will see huge shifts in policy to make government more efficient and more effective are slim to none.
So now with President Obama’s re-election, we are even in a worse stalemate than before. Potential presidential candidates are already jockeying for their position, opposing everything from economic stimulus to potential foreign wars ( Syria ), and nuclear brinkmanship with North Korea and Iran. With each confrontation with the President, the political divide widens. Negotiation, is no longer a word and more than likely never has been since he has become president. The phrase “It’s because he’s black” is neither a fall back or a catchphrase, it’s true. Where was the so called Tea Party during the Bush administration? Forget the Tea Party, call them the “New Dixiecrats”.
Now we are faced with government shutdown, and entrenched congress, and fractured Republican party which its constituents are afraid of tea party activists. They are actually trying to tie a government mandate to the raising of the spending level as a means of blackmailing, to which is by no other description than treason. Is the song, “The roof is on fire” the truth when it comes to the Tea Party? Is this what our great country has become?
Perhaps we are not so great after all, and perhaps we are not “for the people” anymore….