Friday, June 27, 2003

A Question of Priorities
That is, essentially, what politics is all about. Whose priorities and agendas will be enacted into law or will dictate fiscal policy and budget expenditures. This has been the case since the dawning of the American Experiment. But today's political decisions are driven more and more by the corrupting influence of money. As a former political consultant it has been hard for me to accept this reality. Yet, being around state government and observing the federal government, I can come to no other conclusion.

However, where I may have a slightly different take than many others who decry the influence of money, is that I place blame on both parties. Many of the anti-money crowd tend to focus their scorn on the GOP, which sometimes seems more like a partisan stance than an objective one. The reality is that big money flows to both parties, and ebbs and flows based on which party is in power. Over the latter part of the 20th Century, when the Democratic Party dominated Congress, corporations pumped hundreds of millions of dollars into party coffers. To claim that either party is worse is disingenuous. (I will note that the Bush administration has been objectively worse than the Clinton administration in vacuuming up dollars for access.)

What makes the difference, for some of my more liberal peers, is the interests represented by each party's big money brokers. The GOP tends to derive its cash from big business while the Democrats tap into big labor. For many campaign finance reformers, big business dollars are more corrupting than labor's greenbacks. This is a subjective conclusion based on ideology. If one is truly concerned about democracy and the influence of money, then one must decry both parties.

It is not hyperbole to state that the interests of big labor are potentially as opposed to our common interests as are those of big business. We now have a political system that is controlled by monied interests, where public policy is driven by narrow constituencies. The common person lacks any real representation in our system. If you are not able to cough up a maximum contribution or mobilize a phone bank, you have no voice. It does not matter which party is in power, because it is the money behind the party that calls the tune.

And it is our society's apathy that allows this to continue. We are reluctant to scratch beneath the surface of news reports; unwilling to challenge our leaders to defend their positions; oblivious to the decisions made in our names. For many, the solution is public financing of campaigns, but that is as simplistic a panacea as were term limits. What is needed is a major effort to reinvigorate our public discourse. That means more voices in the media; more civics classes in our schools; more grassroots activism; more dialogue with our neighbors. For those of us who are already involved and informed, we have a responsibility to bring about this change, to make politics more accessible, to show our friends, family and neighbors the importance of being engaged. In short, we have to be the change we want to see in society.


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