I want to start with a quote from 1839:
We have not only the most numerous nobility of any country in the world, but perhaps the most powerful. The privileges of the nobility of other lands are limited by laws, and the King on the one hand, and the people on the other, sec that these laws are not transcended. Laws made to restrain our American nobles, have hitherto been found to be but little belter than cobwebs. If a case comes before a Court involving any of the fundamental principles of this system, the boasted " independence of the Judiciary" is soon found to be mere independence of common sense and common justice. And when infractions of the law by any great number of banks are so glaring that even "judicial blindness" can be blind no longer, the State Legislatures are forthwith convened to shelter the transgressors from the penalties they have incurred.
-- The United States Democratic Review, Volume 6, issue 23, p. 459.
That paragraph could be just as easily written today.
If a baseball player slides into home and hands the umpire a hundred dollars before the ump makes his call, we'd call it bribery. But if a businessman sitting in a skybox at the same game sidles up to a congressman and hands him a hundred dollars as that legislator contemplates a bill that might regulate said business, that's a campaign contribution.
Next, take a look at a more contemporary piece, from Amitai Etzioni:
You may not wonder why the auto dealers won exemptions in Congress from the new financial regulations. But the behind-the-scene deals the White House has made are enough to make you sick.
These include deals with private hospitals to drop the public option in exchange for their support of the health care bill and with the pharmaceutical industry to block Americans from purchasing low-cost drugs from other countries.
Some of us have learned to live with these maneuvers as long as something comes out at the other end.
However, many Americans are busy working or looking for a job, taking care of their families and trying to find some spare time to follow their favorite sports team and have a beer. But when they are made aware of these shenanigans, they are nauseated. As they should be.
I choose my words carefully. I suggest that the sense of the tea partiers that they have been had is largely a valid one. At the same time, their ideas of what ought to be done are very much off the mark.
The desire to gut the government ignores the fact that there are many important missions that the government is best-suited to accomplish. However, before those of us who do not belong to this movement can carry this message to the tea partiers, we first need to validate their feelings, rather than dismiss them.
And we must be honest: Reforming the government so that it will be less captured by special interests and more responsive to the public interest is a difficult road to navigate.
If there is anything about the Teabagging movement that pisses me off most, it is that they are SO close to having the right answer, yet cannot get past this last gasp to the truth of this nation.
America has a nobility. It is a plutocracy-- more correctly, an oligarchy-- run by an aristocracy that did not gain its power by force (altho they will not hesitate to use it. Ask any early union member.) but by fraud and luck.
The con that the nobility maintains on the rest of the nation is simple: You, too, can become a member of this club.
See, a titled nobility, such as they have in Europe or Japan, is near impossible to become a member of. You can marry into it, of course, but you cannot, thru the myth of hard work and thrift, earn yuor way in. You might buy a title, and all the trappings that come with it, but you will soon find the cost to you is greater than the initial price. And even there, you still would not be noble. Your children might be, perhaps. Maybe.
A monied nobility, such as we have in America, is just slightly easier to get into. It's a lottery, to be sure, one that costs dearly. But you know most of the names: Kennedy, Bush, Cabot, Lodge, Penn, Adams. And there are others who have, thru hard work and luck, earned a place in nobility: Gates, Clinton, Perot, and now Obama.
Indeed, one of the reasons our right wing compatriots are so angry with Obama is he opened the door wide to the possibility of minorities entering the club. This is disguised, of course, as "they're taking our jobs," as if somehow being a wage slave would make you wealthy and charismatic enough to become a member.
In fact, even hitting the largest lottery jackpot in American history would not make you a member of this club. Accomplishment might, which is why actor George Clooney is a pro-tem member, but if Clooney's influence dies with him, if it is not passed onto another generation, he will lose his nobility.
It is this nobility-- less the more visible ones, who consider themselves accountable to public opinion but the private ones, who shield themselves behind boardroom doors and show little regard for the public weal-- that control things around you. They buy politicians with campaign funds and contributions to their private charitable organizations. They engage in the quid pro quo of co-opting our political and judicial process, right up to the Supreme Court and its recent decision that corporations (and as a sop to the working man, labor unions) can directly fund advertising that effectively endorses a candidate for office. They effectively wrote legislation for the Bush administration, manned the various regulatory agencies that oversaw their industries, and lobbied in Congress to the exclusion of any private citizens.
Here's the kicker: there's no reason to believe that any of this has changed under Obama, except our faith in his good heart and nature. And to be frank, anyone who believed that going in has probably had cause to doubt themselves by now. What Enron was to Bush, Goldman Sachs may end up being to Obama.
Let's focus for a moment on banks, since I've brought up Goldman. Thirty years ago or so, President Carter abandoned Regulation Q, which essentially prevented savings and loans from engaging in any behavior more risky than lending mortgage money. Banks were running red ink, and needed a boost. President Reagan in 1982, took deregulation of the S&Ls and ran with it, and ever since, every President, EVERY President, has gone one step beyond.
In those thirty odd years, we have had no less than six major banking crises: the S&L scandal, the 1987 junk bond market collapse, the Mexican, Argentinian and Russian foreign exchange crises, and now we have the mortgage collapse. Who knows what other crises could have happened without someone pulling a brake in time?
Banks used to be a place where you could be reasonably assured you could put your money for safekeeping. Bank stocks used to be among the most stable (only utilities were more stable, but that's changed too). The prices rarely fluctuated and you could count on a quarterly dividend.
In the 2008 Congressional campaign, banks, insurers and real estate interests donated a half billion dollars to candidates. Five. Hundred. Million.
No doubt most of that came before, you know, September. I'd hate to think that TARP money flowed right back into the pockets of the people who gave it away.
I said, "I'd HATE to think that."
It's not the government, altho it's hard not to blame them for their own greed. Campaigns cost money and the irony is, if we could take the money out of politics, we could take the politics out of money. Right now, it's impossible to raise funds without kowtowing to some nobleman or other.
Maybe that's what we need to do, change the language. Maybe, instead of "special interests", call them what they are.
Maybe then the Teabaggers will get it.