Paltry Politics: The Age of Big Money and Little Action

In a survey conducted in February 2014, only 24% of Americans said that they trust the government in Washington always or most of the time, a shocking statistic but not altogether a recent phenomenon.  While fiascos such as the Teapot Dome Scandal rocked the 1920s and 1972’s Watergate represented one of the darker moments in America’s history, nowadays, Americans are used to corruption, deception, and inaction.  Yet it’s 2015 – about time the government is actually of the people, by the people, and most importantly, for the people.

They take bribes, they take long vacations, and they filibuster.  Some, I assume, are good politicians.  All sweeping generalizations and presidential candidacy announcement references aside, with the 2016 presidential election looming, some of these faults are pushing themselves to the forefront.  Hillary Clinton, for example, finds herself caught between a rock and a hard place, with potential scandals and accusations closing in.  As her campaign heats up, so does the scrutiny over her email server.  But it doesn’t end there, as the Clinton Foundation mishandled tax returns, leading many to question whether Hillary Clinton was using foreign donors’ funds to support her own campaign under the guise of helping charitable causes.  Donald Trump, on the other hand, perhaps a capable businessman but certainly no politician, has resorted to mudslinging that has not been seen since, well, the last presidential election.  But while he prides himself on not being politically correct, his audacious comments about immigrants and women have cast the American electoral system in a negative light.  The list goes on, but talking about seventeen Republicans and five Democrats does not bode well for our short attention spans. The media is to blame for some of this though, as it often pits candidates against one another, hoping for clash and controversy, but oftentimes this diverts attention from talking about important issues such as income inequality and foreign policy issues.  The point of the matter is that America needs strong leaders, and these candidates need to transcend petty squabbling and corruption if we hope for a prosperous future.

Rand Paul at work: filibustering or wasting our time?

Rand Paul at work: filibustering or wasting our time?

The problem is these candidates don’t have very good role models in Congress.  Several months ago, when it came time to vote on whether to extend the powers of the Patriot Act, in magnificent fashion, Senator Rand Paul started a speech with the words “There comes a time in the history of nations when fear and complacency allow power to accumulate and liberty and privacy to suffer.”  Apparently Paul didn’t get the memo that there comes a time when one ought to stop talking, as he stood speaking on the Senate floor for a whopping twelve hours and fifty two minutes, the ninth longest filibuster in history.  Paul himself declared this stint a filibuster, as he wished to delay discussion on the surveillance legislation, but this only prevented constructive dialogue from occurring.  Not to be outdone, fellow Republican Ted Cruz back in 2013, in an attempt to slow a debate on Obamacare, said “I intend to speak until I cannot stand,” before launching into a lengthy speech highlighted by him reading Dr. Seuss’ children’s story “Green Eggs and Ham” to the Senate.  Some politicians would probably filibuster over anything if they could.  But filibusters have no place in modern-day politics.  With millions of Americans in poverty, instability in the Middle East, and a myriad of other pressing issues, we need politicians to spend every possible moment trying to brainstorm solutions, not wallow in partisan squabbles.

But perhaps the most distressing trend of all: corruption.  In its 2014 report, corruption watchdog Transparency International ranked the U.S. as the 17th least corrupt country in the world, not bad at face value.  But when you look closer, the U.S. lags behind most other industrial nations, including Germany and New Zealand, and is roughly on par with Barbados, Chile, Uruguay, and the Bahamas; hardly impressive for the country that prides itself on democratic values.  Most notable among the concerns listed was the influence of big money in politics.  Former Virginian governor Robert. F. McDonnell, for example, was charged with “illegally accepting gifts, luxury vacations, and large loans from a wealthy Richmond area businessman who sought special treatment from state government.”  If the rich can bribe the powerful, at what point is the government representing the interests of the wealthy instead of the common people?  And even when politicians don’t accept bribes, big businesses still manipulate politics through spending exorbitant funds on lobbying.  Some eye-opening statistics include: corporations now spend around $2.6 billion on lobbying a year (more than even the House and Senate budget of $2 billion), the biggest companies use at least 100 lobbyists to represent their interests, and “For every dollar spent on lobbying by labor unions and public-interest groups together, large corporations and their associations now spend $34.”  True, lobbying isn’t new to the U.S., but currently massive corporations dominate the political sphere, crowding out other groups that represent certain peoples and causes.  In fact, in the span of five years, the leading corporate lobbyist, General Electric, spent around $134 million in lobbying activities to haggle over taxes and other issues.  While big businesses do form a vital part of the economy, we cannot allow them to disproportionately influence our politicians.

I’ll admit that I’ve been a little harsh on those up on Capitol Hill, but as the saying goes, with great power comes great responsibility.  As part of the democratic process, we choose to elect these men and women to represent us, and in turn it is their obligation to fight for our rights and to advance the common welfare.  In light of recent scandals and accusations, it seems that many politicians have forgotten this.  These are our leaders; it’s time they start acting like it.

”Sources”

Alvarez, Priscilla, David A. Graham, and Matt Ford. “From Whitewater to Benghazi: A Clinton Scandal Primer.” The Atlantic. Atlantic Media Company, 21 Aug. 2015. Web. <http://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2015/08/tracking-the-clinton-controversies-from-whitewater-to-benghazi/396182/>.

“Corruption Perceptions Index 2014: United States Scores Well but Lags Many Other Developed Nations.” Transparency International. N.p., 3 Dec. 2014. Web. <http://www.transparency.org/news/pressrelease/corruption_perceptions_index_2014_united_states_scores_well_but_lags_many_o>.

DeBonis, Mike. “Yes, Sen. Rand Paul’s Latest Filibuster Is a Filibuster.” Washington Post. The Washington Post, 20 May 2015. Web. <http://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/yes-sen-rand-pauls-latest-filibuster-is-a-filibuster/2015/05/20/45c18d36-ff40-11e4-8b6c-0dcce21e223d_story.html>.

Drutman, Lee. “How Corporate Lobbyists Conquered American Democracy.” The Atlantic. Atlantic Media Company, 20 Apr. 2015. Web. <http://www.theatlantic.com/business/archive/2015/04/how-corporate-lobbyists-conquered-american-democracy/390822/>.

“Rand Paul Filibuster” by CSPAN – http://www.c-spanvideo.org/program/311354-7. Licensed under Public Domain via Commons – https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Rand_Paul_Filibuster.png#/media/File:Rand_Paul_Filibuster.png

“Public Trust in Government: 1958-2014.” Pew Research Center. N.p., 13 Nov. 2014. Web. <http://www.people-press.org/2014/11/13/public-trust-in-government/>.

Solomon, Jesse. “Top 10 Companies Lobbying Washington.” CNNMoney. Cable News Network, 1 Oct. 2014. Web. <http://money.cnn.com/2014/10/01/investing/companies-lobbying-10-biggest-spenders/>.

“WATCH: Sen. Cruz Reads Dr. Seuss During Obamacare Filibuster.” NPR. NPR, 24 Sept. 2013. Web. <http://www.npr.org/sections/thetwo-way/2013/09/24/225896535/watch-sen-cruz-reads-dr-seuss-during-obamacare-filibuster>.

Zapotosky, Matt, Laura Vozzella, and Rachel Weiner. “Former Va. Gov. McDonnell and Wife Charged in Gifts Case.” Washington Post. The Washington Post, 21 Jan. 2014. Web. <http://www.washingtonpost.com/local/virginia-politics/former-va-gov-mcdonnell-and-wife-charged-in-gifts-case/2014/01/21/1ed704d2-82cb-11e3-9dd4-e7278db80d86_story.html>.

One Comment

  1. The flood of money into our politics has increase the idea that politicians become covertly corrupt because they are thankful and have sold influence to their big donors. Trump clearly states that he expects such a thing from those he gives money to. The Supreme Court, in it naivety, thought there would be no such perception from the public, very wrong.

    My political satire, entitled “Washington Money Talk”, is on YouTube. Here is the link; http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=etPwzJvhxyI

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