Monday, June 29, 2009

Will Obama Repair A Thwarted Democracy?

First, a rant.

It's true, I'm no fan of Hillary. Never liked her, but I felt I should be fair, so I read Carl Bernstein's book Woman in Charge. Case confirmed. One of the things I remember from it most vividly is the description of "Hillary Land," her part of the White House with aides who were sworn to agree with her and support her, just what you absolutely don't want in a President. Now that is in the process of being reborn in the State Department. Part of the deal for her going to State was her ability to stock the place with Hillary people. One of them is EllenTauscher, 8 term Congresswoman from just east of here, a great friend of the ever more Rightward-leaning Dianne Feinstein. Matter of fact there is a wonderful woman who is a self-made bank president here in Oakland who was an Obama backer. Tauscher and Feinstein really got on her about deserting the woman, Hillary. Big time. And now who gets appointed to be in charge of arms control at State? Ellen Tauscher. Hard to see where her expertise would come from, but you know she would agree with Hillary. Too hard to find an expert who knows something about the field, Hillary?

But that's all a diversion, which I though I need to introduce a small bit of praise for Hillary. In one of the early debates, it was Hillary who ran the flag of election financing reform up the flagpole. I was impressed. Maybe I was supposed to be. After all, I'm exactly in Obama's demographic, and this point would resonate with me. But she did say it. And it went nowhere. Never mentioned again.

In the mid 1980's I think it was, Elizabeth Drew started publishing articles in the New Yorker about the influence of money in the Congress. She totaled up how many nights per week a Congressperson would have to be raising money in order to have enough to be reelected. Her point was that money was calling the tune as never before. She called for reform, again and again. She predicted that democracy would be perverted as never before. Nothing happened.

Everyone talks about the "conservative mood" of the nation since 1980, and the communicating power of Ronald Reagan. I think it's more than that, actually. I think there are two basic factors to consider, rather than the nebulous mood of the country. One, as the great American political theorist Robert Dahl opined at the end of his life, the un-democratic nature of the Senate with its over-representation of rural populations. Look at who is making decisions now - used to be the South's long serving representatives and senators, now it's Wyoming and North Dakota and Nebraska. Along with Oklahoma's star Senators, of course. And two, the super-influence of money in the Congress. You can't reform the banks very well because of their money. The hedge funds owners are taxed at 15%, and they are not giving ground. Health reform has the barrier of entrenched interests with lots of money, as will be coming out more and more now.

No one listened to Elizabeth Drew. In business all participants praise the market and try to avoid it by collusion, oligopoly, or monopoly. In politics, all participants praise democracy and try to avoid it by gerrymandering and using money. It will be pretty tough to break.

Hillary was thinking about public financing of campaigns, I think. That's what I've always thought about, but it has never taken hold. Instead of taking the perversion of money on directly, Obama's fabled internet approach takes concentrated on indirectly. We still hear about his entertaining and being influenced by big money, but the leverage has changed with the internet. That's OK for the presidency, but I think it's doubtful that the same forces will work on Congress. So, I think the influence of money can never really be quelled until we have substantial ease of entry to congressional politics through public financing, and state laws that restrict gerrymandering. That's all long range, and I understand how it's a bit arcane for the general public, as Hillary's sally showed once again.

Not that I'm a populist. Hell, I'm really an elitist. I just want it to be my elite.

Budd Shenkin

In Iran, candidates are chosen by the Theocracy.

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