A Possibility: Real Change for a Change
Perhaps the most common complaint citizens voice about their political leaders is that they're oblivious to the concerns of ordinary Americans. And there's a lot of truth to this.
Many of the recent priorities of Congress and the White House have been strange at the very least – bailouts of Wall Street cronies, who drove their companies into the ground, bankruptcy "reform," an avalanche of tax cuts for economic elites, and ex-post-facto legalization of White House lawbreaking, to name a few. Meanwhile, real issues that affect real Americans, such as energy costs and the health-care crisis, have received only passing attention from our elected officials.
There's historically been a good reason for this: politicians will listen to campaign contributors and lobbyists before they listen to the public. In Washington one has to pay to play, and the more you pay, the more access you get. The general public is largely shut out of this process. Do you have a personal lobbyist on Capitol Hill?
This sad reality has warped national politics to the point that "constituent service" has become a quaint notion for most congressmen. Al Wynn's recent exit from the House serves as a good indicator of the situation.
After his primary loss to reformer Donna Edwards, Representative Wynn didn't even bother to stick around to finish out his term. He resigned his seat and walked straight into the welcoming arms of K Street. And his case is hardly unique. Congress has become little more than a steppingstone to a lush career in lobbying.
The good news is that we now have a real opportunity to put a stop to this legalized political incest in the form of Barack Obama's candidacy for president of The United States. As historic as his run is by dint of his being the first African-American to be nominated by a major party, Senator Obama offers a near-unprecedented chance to free Washington politicians from the shackles of the lobbyist industry. And that's where an Obama presidency could have its most far-reaching impact.
Senator Obama telegraphed his intentions early by refusing to accept money from lobbyists during his primary campaign. Beltway "experts" (the same people who insist how "resolute" President Bush is) huffed and puffed at such an audacious move. But Mr. Obama enjoyed the last laugh, far out-raising his primary opponents and, more importantly, winning the nomination in the process. His unorthodox approach to financing proved effective enough to topple the formidable Clinton fundraising machine.
And where did Obama's money come from if not from wealthy special interests?
It came from ordinary, regular Americans, all pitching in $10, $20, or $50. Two million of them, in fact – and not one single lobbyist. For the first time in memory, a major presidential candidate is owned by no one but the voters. And once he clinched the nomination, Senator Obama placed the same restrictions on the Democratic National Committee that he’d placed upon his own campaign: No PACs. No lobbyist money.
So, if Senator Obama ascends to the presidency, he doesn't owe K Street one damn thing.
And this is why whiny, self-absorbed Beltway mediots like David Broder and others are so busy trying to make an issue of Obama's opting out of public financing for the general election. If Senator Obama wins in November, the K Street lobbyist trough suddenly becomes a lot less tasty. And nothing frightens the Washington establishment more than a loss of power and influence. So they beat the campaign-finance drum, while simultaneously ignoring John McCain's own troubles with the Federal Election Commission.
And why do they give Arizona Senator McCain a pass? Well, the Beltway mediots give him a pass on everything. But he is such a lobbyist-drenched Washington insider that he is completely unthreatening to the K Street status quo. Any other chief executive wannabe who can't tell the difference between Sunnis and Shiites would be laughed out of the room.
Under a John McCain presidency, the public interest will continue to take a very small back seat to the interests of the powerful – and the D.C. media is every bit as much a part of that power structure as the K Street crowd is. That's what political incest is all about.
So, when Barack Obama touches on his theme of "change," he's not just talking about Iraq, or the economy, or energy policy, or health care, important and central as those issues are. More transcendentally, Senator Obama aims to change the way Washington does business – in a way that puts the voting public first, second, and third, with lobbyist-fueled special interests on the margins. And that is real change.
I'm willing to take a chance on being represented in Washington for the first time. And the current polls show most Americans feel the same way. When K Street loses, America wins.