Republic Lost, How Money Corrupts Congress and a Plan to Stop it, Lawrence Lessing, 2011
Lessing makes a compelling case that the republic a government responsive to the will of its citizens has been lost. Since 89% of Americans believe that Congress is broken, this seems like a simple job. But Lessing, the lawyer, goes out of his way to complicate the case, relying on the legal practice of judges recusing themselves to avoid even the appearance of bias if they have a financial or other conflict of interest with a party appearing before them. Since today’s judges including supreme court justice Clarence Thomas seldom recuse themselves in the face of obvious financial bias, this seems a strange argument that congress should refuse all the money because it doesn’t look and smell right to us.
Our system of corruption which creates a mutual dependency between funders (rich individuals and corporations and their lobbies) and the government including Congress is now a very sophisticated set of methods used to get around whatever is the current definition of corruption (quid pro quos) to enable money to “legally” corrupt the government. Lessing is concerned that current academic studies have failed to scientifically identify this corruption but doesn’t point out the obvious that the studies are too simplistic to identify and track the way that corruption works. Lessing himself points out obvious corruption that one would think would prove scientifically that corruption exists; the killing of legislation before it ever comes before either house for a vote; the hiring of congressmen for multi million dollar contracts immediately after their work as congressmen has succeeded (Medicare Part D no negotiation drug pricing, Comcast merger, etc. etc. Half of former congressmen and their staffers go to work on K street or giant corporations. The maintenance of massive corporate welfare subsidies with agricultural subsidies going to many members of congress itself. The inability of Congress to do anything except support the status quo. Financial reform must be acceptable to the financial community as it exists today. Health care reform must be acceptable to the health care industry as it exists today. I don’t think Lessing needs to worry that Americans are going to identify with the corruption deniers.
Lessing is convinced that this state of affairs prevents the government from confronting any of the major problems confronting the country – man made climate change, dependence on carbon based energy; runaway health care costs; self induced health risks due to obesity and Type II diabetes; runaway foreign policy and defense spending; financial markets heading headlong for the next cliff they can find; etc. etc. To meet these challenge, a Congress that can’t even fund the government it itself created. His solutions: Focus on a single issue – get dependence creating money out of politics. Make sure politicians are dependent only on the citizen voters and no one else. He calls this Strike the Root. His strategies to accomplish this?
1. Get Congress to pass a bill to publicly fund elections. Chance – 0%
2. Create a group of bogus candidate to threaten the seats of any congressman who won’t support strategy 1. Chance 5%.
3. A trans-formative president. Lessing clearly thought Obama was going to be this trans-formative figure. Lessing was a colleague of Obama at the University of Chicago, so has known him before Obama entered politics. His disappointment is all the sharper as a result of what he thought of as a friendship. He spends a considerable time quoting presidential candidate Obama to us simply to highlight the contrast between that man and the president.
Lessing likens Obama to Lucy who pulls the ball away from Charlie Brown every time he comes to kick it. Like us, Charlie never learns, and continues to try to kick the ball – he is fooled every time by Lucy’s empty promises. Adding insult to injury, he calls Reagan the professor for developing and acting on a set of (flawed) principals that he codified in the late 1970′s. Obama seemingly has no principals governing his actions. Lessing sites the current example of Buddy Roemer as a possible trans-formative figure though Roemer has no chance of getting nominated much less elected. Chance 2% (Obama really, really disappointed Lessing!)
4. Create an Article V Constitutional Convention with 34 states supporting such a convention. This convention would propose an amendment to the constitution to public fund elections. This is the strategy most commentators have focused on. There is even activity out there now trying to move this strategy along. Lessing chance? 10%.
Looks like we are truly and finally doomed doesn’t it. His best bit though is probably the most revealing. Lessing says that King George III at the time of our revolution, King Louis XVI at the time of the French revolution, and Czar Nicholas II at the time of the Russian revolution all had public approval rating higher than our Congress’s current level of 11%. Sounds like a revolution is primed and ready. How it may happen is anyone’s guess.