Apr 072010

American democracy is in tatters, and there’s an essential truth that the public needs to understand — the professional politicians we keep sending to Washington are not going to do a damn thing to fix it. As I’ve already written: it doesn’t serve their purpose. Their collective objective is not the resolution of tough issues, for resolution would require not only advancing partisan ideologies but also admitting validity in the opposition’s case. Such validation would go a long way toward the adoption of real solutions, but unfortunately, it does not serve the primary goal of our politicians — to be reelected.

Elections today are expensive, extremely expensive. According to the Campaign Finance Institute (CFI), the average amount spent by 2008 Congressional winners was $1.4 million for the House and over $7.5 million for the Senate. Costs like these obviously require high levels of campaign fund raising. This money has to come from somewhere, and unfortunately for the average American citizen, both the PACs (Political Action Committee) and big-money donors are there to meet the need.

CFI reports that the campaign fund receipts from PACs for the period leading up to the 2008 election totaled $78 million for the Senate and a whopping $308 million for the House. Add to these totals, the war chest proceeds flowing from $1000-plus donors ($295 million for the House and $158 million for the Senate), and you’ve accounted for the vast majority of funding for any given race (Senate = 60%, House = 71%). Sadly, you’ve also accounted for who will control the United States Congress.

Our dysfunctional form of election practically guarantees that, in order to fulfill their campaign obligations, representatives on either side of the aisle will pander to the special interests. Like students who borrow to fund their education, our elected officials are burdened with debts they must repay. So, they service their debt to their major financial supporters by passing sweetheart legislation, and even more insidiously, by doing nothing at all — by clogging the legislative pump and stalling the adoption of regulation and reform.

If you have any doubt about how active this destructive form of self-serving politics is, you need look no further than the current activities of our Congress. If you’re a liberal, do you really think that the recent healthcare legislation was pro-citizen? Did you ask yourself why the public option lost support so early in the debate? The sad truth is that the entire debate was little more than a stage show. Without either the public option or provisions to control costs, the bill amounts to a government subsidized influx of 32 million new patients. It’s a big win for both the medical insurance industry and the big pharmaceutical companies. More patients, no cost controls, no competition — you apply the logic.

So does this suggest that the conservatives might have taken the high road in the healthcare debate? Come on, surely you jest. The Republican role in this sick little dance is even more despicable. Conservative leaders are even deeper into the pockets of the health sector than the Democrats, but with liberals having majorities in both houses, they were able to sit on the sidelines and just let the legislation pass. If they had desired to do anything but feign resistance, they would have offered real criticism and alternatives, rather than ridiculous hyperbole. Once the public option was dropped, there really was no legitimate debate left in Congress. The Republicans kept beating the “socialism” drum, although it had completely lost its relevance, and did everything they could to shroud the debate in a smoke screen of polarizing rhetoric, while passively acquiescing for the benefit of their financial masters.

One could argue that at least the Democrats did provide a service to the 32 million and others, albeit very likely at a severe cost to the future of America. Meanwhile, the Republicans served only themselves (and their benefactors), and in the process fueled the left/right rift with heated hyperbole that consisted mostly of lies and damn lies. At the end of the day, one thing is certain: neither party took the side of those of us in the middle, even though we are the ones who will foot the bill.

Once again, healthcare is just an example of government bought and paid for. For another, witness the speed at which our illustrious leaders have effected responsive change to address the banking collapse. The worst blow sustained by our economy since the Great Depression, and two full years after the fall of Bear Stearns, we still have no legislation passed to prevent it from happening again. When the investment bank “house of cards” collapsed, our federal government did nothing but write checks to the very people who brought about the disaster. Those responsible are now, of course, back to business as usual, while the rest of us, the people who will again be forced to pick up the tab, are left out in the cold.

Should this be a surprise? Come on, just look at the numbers . . . the important numbers: who’s giving to whom? Senator Chris Dodd, the number one Democrat on the Senate Banking Committee, the folk who should have been scampering to address the mess, is a puppet for the very interests he’s charged with controlling. Over his career, Chris Dodd has received more money from securities and investment interests than any other sector. In the 2008 and 2010 campaign cycles alone, he took nearly $3 million from this biggest of money industry. Is there any wonder why he’s taken the “do nothing” tack? He has sponsored legislation that recently leaked out of committee, but even at this late date, he’s pushing for a weak solution that’s palatable to big banking. And before you claim a partisan foul, you’ll need to consider that Senator Richard Shelby (R-AL), Dodd’s Republican counterpart on the banking committee, is also getting his palms greased with financial sector green. He’s not as successful as Dodd, but his $1.8 million from the securities and commercial banking sectors has obviously been enough to buy his silence.

Here’s the facts folks: whether you’re a Democrat or a Republican, whether you see yourself as conservative or liberal, it doesn’t really matter. Unless you are very rich, very poor, or already elderly, the federal government is serving itself at your expense. We, the hard working Americans in the middle, have been split by a self-serving Congress who has divvied up the arguing points to keep us divided while they serve the extremes.

In order to serve their benefactors, and at the same time energize the activists in their respective parties, the United States Congress relies on deception and subterfuge. Their con of choice has become vehement argument focused always on the aspects of their political positions that they present as mutually exclusive. The problem is that the exclusivity is an illusion. It’s the smoke screen needed to enable their sleight of hand. Keep your eye on the ball, and you’ll see that it’s a false divide. It’s two sides of the same coin.

The Republicans pound their doctrine of tax reduction and reduced regulation, casting government as the enemy of the American dream, while the Democrats play the siren song of increased services. The Republican machine targets the business class with a song of praise for free enterprise, while also tuning in some working class with the beat of the anti-welfare drum. The Democrats carve their niche straight into the heart of middleclass America, targeting unions and labor, but also casting their net into the ranks of the less fortunate, the underdogs and those who wish to help them.

If this sounds like an oversimplification, that’s because it is — but don’t assign responsibility to me. Oh no, this is the gerrymandered line chosen by the parties for their never-ending clash of the causes, and we, the American public, are held hostage by the diversionary debate. The Republicans are right that we should seek to strengthen the economics engines of our nation and not stifle growth with excess taxation or regulation. The Democrats too deserve praise for the way they uphold the spirit of our founding and insist that while we seek prosperity, we must always preserve opportunity for all Americans and never forsake our ethical obligation to assist those in need. Both sides have valid points, and both sides are tag-teaming to drive our country straight off a cliff.

I recently wrote a piece on what I consider to be our most significant substantive issue, the federal debt and unfunded obligations. This is the “Godzilla in the room,” and while it alone represents a deep, dark abyss looming in America’s future, it’s still a symptom. If we are to have any chance of permanently addressing this or any other major symptom, we must focus on the disease itself. And the disease in this case is cancer, a cancer that has laid our nation up in the economic infirmary and metastasized throughout our federal government. The root cause of this cancer is greed, and the only treatment known to be effective is campaign reform.

If you love America like I love America, please help to put an end to big-money control of our Congress. Don’t let the politicians lure you into false battles, where they attempt to label other hard working citizens as the problem. We’re all in this together, and it’s time we stop falling for this blatant misdirection. It’s time to demand results. Let’s keep our eyes on the ball and hold our representatives feet to the fire. Let’s take control of our nation back. Let’s support real campaign reform.

We want our elected officials to be beholding to us — the people who elect them. There’s only one way to make that happen, and that’s through public financing of elections. It’s already working in several states in the form of Clean Elections. And there’s a bipartisan bill in House and also the Senate to bring similar reform to Washington. Couple public financing with preferential voting, which would allow a significant increase in votes for third party candidates, add term limits and weld shut the revolving lobbyist door, and we just might return to a government of the people, by the people, for the people.

Please get involved. Spread the word. We are America and we want it back!

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  2 Responses to “Who is Congress working for?”

  1. 98% of incumbents are re-elected. Americans complain about being in poor health yet drink, do drugs, and buy high fructose corn syrup in quantities of mass destruction. People making 40K a year bought 500K houses and now complain because they got foreclosed. We spend trillions of dollars fighting wars against terror that most of the population supports. We vote for those that tell us what we want to hear, not what is true.

    What if, just what if…… the problem isn’t them, but the man in the mirror? then what do you do. As much as it pains me to say this, perhaps America is simply getting everything it has asked for. And that is delusion, foolishness, and eventual collapse.

    Donovan Moore
    Lone Rock, WI

    • Donovan, I wish I could argue with you, but sadly — I cannot. I’m afraid that we’ve lost our way, but I must believe that there’s still hope. Our government is, without doubt, a reflection of our culture. The true crisis is in our values. If you haven’t already read it, I recommend Jim Wallis’ book, “Rediscovering Values.”

      We need a new conversation in America. We need to peel back the layers of propaganda and noise, and get real. We need to stop the denial and start asking better questions. Most of all, we need to wake up, and as you suggest — take a serious look in the mirror.

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