Friday, May 01, 2009Sometimes I despair. Even with large Democratic majorities in Congress and control of the White, with public opinion generally in support of liberal policy objectives, it still sometimes seems impossible to get things done. Take the mortgage law passed by the Senate recently. The key to the bill was the ability for distressed owners to reduce their interest rates, the so-called "cramdown" provision. The people want it. Obama wants it. But a group of Democrats sold out their party and their constituents and voted to strip it from the bill. According to Dick Durbin - and being the #2 Democrat in the Senate, he should know - "the bankers own the place." We can't get the zombie banks put into receivership because there aren't the votes in Congress (i.e. among Democrats), presumably because the banks own the place.
And why is this? Why does finance have so much power? Because they give so much in campaign contributions, that's why. It's not that members of Congress are necessarily bribed. A lot of political scientists (me among them) tried to demonstrate that link but were never able to do so. It's more probable that, because money is so important to getting elected, those who are more willing to sell their soul tend to, er, I mean, are favorably disposed to, wealthy interests are more able to win primaries and general elections in the first place. Alternatively, if as an elected official you only ever hear from one side of the debate - from the finance industry - AND they're carrying a big pot of money, you're going to incline in their direction. It's probably a combination of elements, but they all point back to the same core problem - the problem of money in politics.
It sounds like a boring issue, but to my mind it's the prerequisite to almost all other major reforms. Want health care? Want labor rights? Want to do something about global warming? Want to fix the economy? First you need to cut big business' political legs out from under them. Do campaign finance reform - real campaign finance reform - and then you have a chance. Keep neglecting campaign finance reform as a pointless "process" issue, and you're going to keep getting what you've been getting: the domination of American politics by elite interests.