Will We Ever Get Change if We Keep Electing People Who Represent Special Interests?

We can see the positioning and the messaging on the Democratic side beginning to take shape for the 2016 elections. Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren with nods to Thomas Piketty and various economists have stepped forward to offer the themes of salvation for the middle class, moderating the extremes of inequality in American society, and doing something real about jobs and wages.

Clinton World seems to be responding, not yet with forthright statements from Hillary Clinton, but recently with articles by stalwarts of neoliberal Clintonism (and veterans of the Obama Administration) such as Larry Summers and Peter Orszag, expressing concerns about inequality and proposing measures to alleviate it, even including increased taxation on the wealthy.

It is likely that such statements are harbingers of what Hillary Clinton will run on when she begins to talk more broadly about issues that concern those with both economic insecurities and pronounced economic need, and to make promises about how she and the Democrats will bring change and blunt the power of Wall Street to continue to increase inequality and concentrate more and more wealth in the hands of a decreasing number of people. Clinton world it seems, will try to sell the idea that Hillary’s the one we can trust to do the job of restoring democracy in the United States and it will reinforce that claim with statements from “advisers” Summers, Orszag, Gene Sperling, John Podesta, and I’m sure eventually Jack Lew, designed to show that they are in the forefront of the battle for greater economic equality, and that since they will likely be part of Hillary Clinton’s economic team, she will be getting the right advice to do something about the inequality problem during the eight years (they hope) of her coming two terms as president.

How are we to feel about this obvious attempt to create a narrative associated with Clinton World that will counter the concerns about extreme inequality expressed by Sanders and Warren? Well, forgive me if I view these recent conversions to concern about inequality as less than authentic. First, all the people mentioned are professional and very long-term participants in the maelstrom of the system of political influence in Washington, DC. They thrive in that maelstrom by sensing the rise and fall of popular issues and adapting themselves to what seems to be the politically correct positioning on these issues and by trying to frame their messaging to benefit the people they serve and hope to serve.

It would perhaps be too much for me to say that they believe in nothing but access to power, since I know none of them and cannot read their minds. But it does seem to me that since all have been a part of the Clinton/Wall Street/Obama axis, have supported many of the important policies and Administrative measures that have exacerbated inequality, been hugely responsible for the increasing inequality characteristic of the past two decades, and increased their own personal wealth as a result, that a healthy dose of skepticism about their willingness to really do anything about inequality is in order.

When we add to this, that President Obama promised change to the voters too, appointed these very people to help to implement it, and then received advice from them that produced continued whippings, but this time with scorpions, one’s mind just screams: “do not trust these people and do not for a moment believe a thing that say.” Let us ask instead:

— Do they state concrete and explicit goals such as full employment, at least enhanced Medicare for All, at least a federally-funded job guarantee at a living wage, at least enforcement of the laws against banksters and fraudsters who brought the economy to its knees and who still commit frauds daily, and at least the ending of the carbon-based economy that is fueling climate change?

— Do they tell us how they will do the things they advocate for while they still call for the increasingly small deficits, or even surpluses, they have advocated for in the past?

— Are they ready now to advocate for the very large deficits that will be necessary to deliver full employment, a robust economy, and real prosperity to the American people?

— Do they understand and tell us that creating and maintaining full employment will require running deficits the size of both the trade deficit, and the private sector surplus consistent with the savings desires of people and non-government organizations combined?

And, if the answer is that they don’t say things like this, then why should we even begin to trust what they say? And, if we consider that when we vote for a presidential candidate we are voting to elect not only she or he, but also the team of people she or he wants by their side who they intend to rely on during their presidency, then why should should we trust she or he to implement a concerted and successful program to reduce inequality?

To put this another way, do we really think that people who have always represented the interests of the few, the 1%, will suddenly start to implement policies favoring the 99% if they get into power once again? Do we really think that advisers such as those I’ve named, working for a candidate like Hillary Clinton who never seems to have met a Wall Street contributor she didn’t like, will produce change in the form of reduced inequality or even economic gains for the 99%? Do we really think that she and her advisers will cease to represent special interests and the 1%? Tell me another one, please!

It is time to end this cycle of failure of the American political system, and we will never end it if we keep electing people who, along with their top advisers represent special interests. So, what we need to do now is to consider it a disqualification for candidate/adviser teams to have served in previous Administrations that have failed the 99% by passing measures that have increased inequality and failed to create full employment. Since that includes every Administration for a very long time, in effect, I am proposing a clean sweep of Washington, DC of those who have served in previous administrations or are closely identified with either Clinton World or Bush World.

Let us look for and find entirely new people to govern our country. Let us demand that all political parties recruit competent candidates for office who have not made the mistakes of the past. Let us not above all, continue to reward failure and poor performance by investing our trust in people who are responsible for the sorry state in which we find ourselves and our, increasingly, failed democracy.

4 Responses to Will We Ever Get Change if We Keep Electing People Who Represent Special Interests?

  1. Perhaps, the question isn’t about the individual “people” we keep electing, which “represent special interests”. Perhaps, we should be asking: “Will We Ever Get Change if We Keep Electing [Political Parties] Who Represent Special Interests?”

    I guess, if one is a Democrat, it’s hard to imagine life outside, or to the left, of the anti-democratic Democrat Party (which colludes with the Republican Party, the (private and unaccountable) Commission on Presidential Debates, and others to create barriers to entry for alternative political parties). “[T]hemes of salvation” may be invoked by political celebrities. But the reality of individual celebrities, not to mention people of conscience, forfeiting their political power to the rigged paradigm of the two-party dictatorship is not.

    Joe Firestone wrote: The “people mentioned are professional and very long-term participants in the maelstrom of the system of political influence in Washington, DC.”

    That’s one way of putting it. Another way of putting it is to say that the “people mentioned” are all enablers or promoters of the anti-democratic two-party dictatorship, which deprives the people of alternative political parties, narrows political discourse, reduces voter turnout to stagnant rates (which seem to even fail to ‘make quorum’, as it were), and disengages most people from the political process beyond spectatorship.

    Why are we discussing whether or not this or that individual Democrat is the ‘one to trust’, when the fact is we cannot trust the very Democrat Party itself? It goes without saying that any left-of-center Democrat, even if in the Oval Office, is unable to revolutionise the Democrat Party into a sincere opposition party. The Democrat Party leadership will, ultimately, always side with business interests against the public interest.

    It doesn’t seem very important to concern ourselves with individual politicians, such as Clinton or Warren or Sanders, nor being able to “read their minds”. It does seem more important to take a sober look at the track record of the political party with which they affiliate. It seems dishonest to characterise our frustrations with the Democrat Party, as having been only the result of ‘a few bad apples’, i.e., “the Clinton/Wall Street/Obama axis” when we know very well the pathologies of the Democrat Party extend before Clinton and will extend long after Obama. Simply cutting out this current “axis”, this latest incarnation, will not transform the Democrat Party into an opposition party because its institutional structure of top-two party hegemony, corporate campaign funding, and corporate-government collusion, etcetera, will still be in place to perpetuate the existing conditions.

    It seems we need to expand our discourse beyond the personal details of individual politicians and into serious critiques of the institutional structure of our political party system, which can be conducive to political diversity or to political dualism. I agree with the spirit of Firestone’s critique. But I don’t agree with his apparent refusal to confront the fundamental problems of a cartel-like two-party system. It seems Firestone’s frustrations would be more appropriately placed on the institutional nature of the Democrat Party, writ large, than any of its individual politicians. The individual politicians we cheer or jeer operate only within the socially acceptable parameters inculcated by the influence of their respective political parties. Our public political discourse is circumscribed by the political parties we allow to flourish.

    Basically, it seems Firestone has a complaint against a particular political party or two. But he never comes out and says it explicitly. That’s a shame. It’s as if he doesn’t want to bash the Democrat Party, much less the Republican Party. This smacks, however, of Democrat Party apologia. The closest Firestone gets to acknowledging the significance of political parties is when he asks us to remember “that when we vote for a presidential candidate we are voting to elect not only she or he, but also the team of people she or he wants by their side […]” ‘Team of people’? It seems to be taboo, among polite society, to mention or discuss political parties. Firestone concludes: “Let us demand that all political parties recruit competent candidates for office who have not made the mistakes of the past.” Yes, but competent at what? Mistakes by whose standards?

    Let’s call it how we see it. Malcolm X wasn’t afraid to speak plainly back in the early ‘60s. He explicitly stated: If you keep voting for a Democrat Party that always betrays you, you’re a chump. Why are we so polite nowadays that we can’t tell it like it is?

    Besides, writers reveal their political party affiliation, or lack thereof, regardless. Let’s not feign ‘objectivity’. Why not be candid about it? Most well-meaning people support the corrupt and irredeemable Democrat Party. But it’s an issue we—the people, the left, the liberals, the progressives—seem to be afraid to confront. We seem to act like any question about what political party we support in public is as private as what sexual company we keep in private. You ask somebody who they voted for. And they look at you, as if you’ve disrespected their mother.

    It seems Firestone skirts around the real issue of our anti-democratic acceptance of the political oligopoly that is our two-party dictatorship. Supplication or mobilising of moral appeals to a two-party dictatorship, which is beholden to its campaign funders (not its voting constituency), is futile. This is especially true when the only leverage the people have is in oscillating between two sides of a two-party dictatorship, which are largely funded by the same corporations and elites. That is not leverage. And when our society only allows political extremes on the right, but extinguishes them on the left (even in discourse amongst progressives), the result of this dualistic oscillation is a perpetual rightward shifting of the political center.

    2016, just like, 2012, just like 2008, just like 2004 … When will we learn? Are we doomed in the USA to eternal political dualism? Some of the most politically exciting times in the USA occurred when there had existed greater political diversity, when there were vibrant social democrats, labour parties, unions, socialists, and communists contributing to the national discourse. When will we finally be utterly sickened by contemporary political theatre? When will we finally reject the two-party dictatorship?

  2. Joe Firestone

    Well, first, I never said I was a Democrat. The post discusses the situation in that Party because I see Democratic candidates as preparing to run on the issues I named, and that at least one of them, Hillary Clinton, completely lacks credibility as a candidate promising to act on these issues due to her past record and the past records of likely members of her team.

    If I were sure the Republicans would run on this issue, as Robert Reich is I could easily make the same case about the Republicans and expect to do that when I hear them begin to talk the talk.

    Moving to the issue of the two-party tyranny we have, I certainly am no supporter of that and freely state that Jill Stein, the probably Green Party candidate along with her shadow cabinet are the sort of people I have in mind when I talk about electing competent people who are likely to do whatever they can to address the above issues. The only shortcoming I see in them is that they still seem bound to neoliberal ideas about the dangers of excessive public debt, but perhaps if they will evolve toward more progressive economic approaches than they are following now.

    Now on to my emphasis on electing different people rather than different parties. I don’t think the parties and the two-party system are the most important cause of our frustrations today. In my view, there are a host of causes, economic, social, and political institutional. The two party system is part of this causal nexus, but it cannot be broken up without the electorate deciding to rid itself of politicians who are bought by economic interests. This can happen through institutional changes that neutralize the role of money in politics. The changes that will require legislation or constitutional amendments are out of reach in the short or medium runs. Changes that do not require legislation such as creation of this platform, provide hope for the shorter run, but they incorporate the idea that officeholders who don’t represent their constituencies will not be able to survive re-election campaigns.

    The point of leverage that will bring change is the willingness and ability of people to band together to beat officeholders who legislate against their interests or who refuse to vote for legislation that is in their interests. It is the creation of this willingness and ability that will change the parties by electing people who will legislate for the people rather than their parties, and not the other way around. It is changes in the parties that will lead to legislation getting rid of gerrymandering, ending voter suppression, and empowering alternative parties so they can compete fairly.

    The key issue today is not ending the two-party system, it is making sure that no party will win elections until it runs candidates that are not bought by the FIRE Sector, big energy, pharmaceuticals, health insurance companies, hugely wealthy individuals. and the rest engaged in buying our candidates. And the only way to make that happen ultimately is to vote against candidates who take big money either directly or indirectly.

    Finally, as to speaking directly to issues, I think I’m known around here for doing that, and I urge you to read my posts and see for yourself that this is true. I’m not trying to soft-pedal anything in this post. I am saying that Hillary Clinton and her advisers are not to believed when they say they will do something about extreme inequality, any more than any of the other presidents over the past nearly 40 years now should have been believed.

  3. Any attempt to resolve the issue of corruption of the democratic process can only rely upon an educational effort by human society that identifies why they want to seek power balances. The only logical answer to that question is that advantage is seen in mutualism as well as individualism to secure both physical and emotional security. Unfortunately, the human animal, finds it very difficult to recognize those processes that act as “mutualizers” usually taking them for granted so that they unconsciously run in the background. So for example, language, nurturance and money are not readily recognized as “mutualizers.” In the case of money the social contract nature of money is not understood in the sense that it enables human beings to contract obligations with each other to provide the goods and services we all need and that insufficient of it actively circulating on a widely distributed basis will not optimize that need. The argument can be taken further by stating it’s high time we educated ourselves as a species in the ways Nature runs on the basis of inbuilt “mutualizing” processes right down to gene cooperation. By identifying those human behaviors that impede common good “mutualizing” processes and disabling them we will be able to better meet our security needs.

  4. This sounds a little extreme to me. One cannot simply “throw all the bums out” like a petulant child. Someone must run the government now, and not some mysterious time in the far future. And I reject the idea that the Green Party is anymore a Robin Hood than anyone else. They have about zero chance of doing anything. Every few years they pop up to say “here I am, elect me, elect me”. And then they disappear just as quickly. A political party must be a sustained effort at all levels of government and not a hit or miss affair.

    And in that regard the democratic party is fast becoming an endangered species at all local levels. So it is time to fix it there, or forget about fixing gerrymandering or any other local issue, like charter schools, that affect people’s everyday lives.

    The democratic party sold out in the eighties. They are run by DLC people who have more interest in Wall Street than people. Until the party casts off the Third Way, it will wander around, perhaps electing presidential candidates, but unable to control congress and no way to effect real change. There is this problem with the constitution. One cannot enact medicare for all or anything else without a majority in congress. And that is not in the cards for a decade, at least. Clinton is very clearly a Third Way candidate and will do about zero to help anyone and may instead invade some place – – you pick it.

    I would be remiss if I did not point out that Sanders has a 12 point plan that speaks to progressive ideas. But we all know Sanders can’t carry the ball. Why? Well, because it is not your exact set of ideas. You have your own most favorite solutions. The left rather enjoys criticizing anything that does not toe some imaginary line. So it will likely never be a coherent force. Unfortunately we had a chance in 2008 but we elected the wrong guy. Who knew?

    Politics is controlled by money. That is why we have a duopoly. Citizens United should be the first target. This inequality thing will likely yield nothing. Do you really think you can get anyone to enact reform or taxes to take away the wealth of the top elites? All that money will be against you. Better to let them keep the money and get those things we can for the people. You can make a list. Oops, almost forgot. First you need to elect congress.