To hear the punditry tell it, the priority Washington has given to deficit reduction over job creation reflects an ideological revolt from the grass roots against big government. Yet, listening to such Tea Party ravings as “Keep the Government’s hands off Medicare” hardly suggests the presence of deep thinking about political philosophy. Moreover, the polls don’t show much division on the deficit/jobs question at all. Majorities think that the government should put the unemployed to work by investing in infrastructure and education and should get the money by taxing the rich.
So why the gap between what the people prefer and what their elected representatives are doing? The answer is money, which ironically is rarely mentioned by the talking heads and columnists who instruct the public about economic policy. I’m not talking about the money supply, here. I’m talking about the money that the typical politician spends 75 percent of his or her time raising for the next election.
The present quasi-lunatic state of our political debate is no accident. It is the inevitable product of the large amounts invested by corporate America in politicians who promote its interest in government de-regulation and low taxes. In 2010, for example, Tea Party- connected candidates received at least $20 million in contributions from Wall Street and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.
Why? After having been rescued from the consequences of their own greed and folly by President Obama, Wall Street is now outraged at the modest restraints put on their recklessness by the Dodd-Frank Bill, and any hint that they might be asked to pay a little more in taxes to help pay for the economic damage they have done.
With last year’s Supreme Court’s Citizen United decision, economic policy will be even more hostage to campaign spending by the rich and powerful. My own view is that public financing of campaigns has not worked. So Progressives need to directly attack the Supreme Court ruling by organizing a movement for a constitutional amendment aimed at controlling money in politics. The opportunity for educating the public on how their government really works alone would make the effort worthwhile.
Pie in the sky? Maybe. But it is even more naïve to think that we will ever have an economy that works for working people if the interests that are sucking our economy dry continue to choose the policymakers.