By far the biggest and most destructive lie in politics today is when lawmakers say, “I’m not influenced by the money.” Anyone who believes this doozie is delusional. The truth is, politicians will rarely turn away those who are feeding their families and egos.
As a society, we are conditioned to focus on tawdry sex scandals or illegal bribes. But, our way of life is really threatened by the legal larceny that occurs in campaigns and legislatures. Powerful lobbyists represent wealthy special interests that have the immense resources to game our pay-to-play system.
If you accompany a politician on the road, the first thing that you notice is that he or she spends a great deal of time begging for money. The phone becomes a Siamese twin and the office holder enters a co-dependent relationship with the invaluable donor list. In the race for cash, original thoughts become afterthoughts and ideals are cast aside by the need to close the deal.
The media and the pundits exacerbate the problem by judging the seriousness of presidential and congressional candidates almost exclusively by how much money they raise. We have reached a point where bank statements are more important than statesmen.
These days, getting things done on Capitol Hill requires a three-step process.
The first step is creating a legal mechanism to deliver campaign contributions. The second step is hiring a team of hotshot lobbyists (aka former members of Congress) who essentially promise their old colleagues lucrative jobs as lobbyists when they eventually step down — if they vote the “right” way. The final step is hiring top tier public relations firms to create advertising and pseudo grass roots campaigns, designed to give cover to politicians that are essentially being bought to do an industry’ bidding.
This Washington sleaze factor is evident in the healthcare battle. The drug and insurance industries have pulled out all the stops to protect profits. Their money has co-opted (some would say corrupted) the majority of the Republican Party and many of the Blue Dog Democrats. Republican operatives, often posing as concerned citizens, have raised hell in town hall meetings in an attempt to confuse the public. And, a PR campaign has tricked the most gullible Americans (there is no shortage of them) into believing in “death panels.”
Unfortunately, the Obama administration seems shell-shocked by the realities of modern Washington. It has failed to use the bully pulpit to remind Americans what they hate about our inefficient and ineffective health care system.
For example, we keep hearing about how Americans love their insurance. Why don’t the democrats run ads featuring people who were once infatuated with their health plan — until they got sick. At that point they discovered that their company did not want to pay for life-saving procedures and found a way to cancel their policies. Instead, we get dispassionate, policy wonk prattle about public options and mechanisms for controlling costs.
In the end, it may not matter what Obama does because the special interests with the most money usually win. But, the dominion of dollars over decency is important because gridlock and systemic failure produces wild electoral mood swings. The Gingrich Revolution and Bushism failed, so voters gave the Democrats a chance. While far superior to the Republicans, enough hasn’t fundamentally changed to mollify frustrated voters.
As a result, Obama’ poll numbers are falling and a thoroughly demoralized Republican Party is poised to make a comeback in midterm elections. To fend off this challenge from the far right, the Democrats are likely to put controversial issues — such as gay and lesbian equality — on the backburner. If Obama did not have the guts to gut Don’t Ask/Don’t Tell when he had a 70 percent approval rating, he sure as heck won’t take action if he falls below 50 percent.
The alternative to the Democrats is positively horrifying. While neither party can get significant traction on major legislation, at least the Democrats don’t bash gay people and immigrants to distract Americans from their failures. The Republicans, on the other hand, create bigoted bread and circuses to keep the family values crowd from noticing the GOP is picking their family’ pockets.
For all of Obama’ talk of hope and the late Ted Kennedy’ impassioned speeches on healthcare, and the stern lectures against corporate greed — the avaricious fat cats are fatter than ever. The insurers will still be sticking it to the sick and the Wall Street financiers will get their bonuses, while your average Joe falls deeper into debt, depression and desperation.
If Republican demagogues make a comeback, the Democrats should not come back asking for support unless they have a plan to fundamentally alter the broken system. Obama can talk of change, but none will occur as long as Washington is ruled by dollars.