Decline of the American Empire

Nothing is more dangerous in public affairs than the influence of private interests, and the abuse of the law by the government is a lesser evil than that corruption of the legislator which inevitably results from the pursuit of private interests. When this happens, the state is corrupted in its very substance and no reform is possible

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

The Growth of Private Influence in Washington

One of the articles I linked to in the previous post is worth some further discussion:

The title of the article is "Welcome to the Machine: How the GOP disciplined K Street and made Bush supreme". At first glance, it looks like a bit of a tiresome read about the type of internal Washington politics that most of us never think about. But if one perseveres in reading it all, one will get a realistic picture of the unprecedented corrosive corruption in Washington brought on by the Republican party (and to a far lesser extent by the Democratic party).

It may seem hopelessly idealistic, but when many of us think of the American political system, we imagine that politicians make decisions for the good of society as a whole. Those politicians may take input from private interests such as corporations, but in they end, the laws they make should serve the public interest. If a private group or corporation secretly funnels money to a politician to cause that politician to vote for laws that are not in the public interest, then we might consider that bribery, subject to criminal prosecution.

We all know that isn't quite how it works in Washington. Members of congress regularly receive compensation from private interests, and they are not usually punished for it. However, the type of corruption hinted at in the article goes beyond mere bribery. What we are currently seeing in Washington is a merging of government and private interests into a larger entity. Government officials and politicians increasingly serve private interests, and the private interests increasingly serve the government. Often, government officials have a limited hand in creating policy. For example:

While environmental groups complained loudly about being excluded from meetings of Dick Cheney's energy task force, Bush's own energy secretary, Spencer Abraham, was barely involved. As Public Citizen pointed out in a February 2003 letter to Congress, Joseph Kelliher, a senior advisor to Abraham and his point man on the task force, didn't write white papers or propose ideas of his own, but merely solicited suggestions from a cross-section of energy lobbyists and passed them on to the White House, where they were added to the task force's recommendations nearly verbatim. Top administration officials then handed the package down to the House, where it was approved almost unaltered.

It seems likely that the creation of legislation is increasingly being privatized. If private interests, and not elected lawmakers are main forces behind legislation, how can America be a democracy?


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