Darrell Berkheimer: Can we finally correct the source of many problems?
After a minority of our federal lawmakers waste many thousands of hours of Congress members in a futile attempt to oust our nation’s biggest source of corruption in nearly a century, will we continue to ignore the cause of our national turmoil and unresolved issues?
Not since the presidential administrations of Harding, Coolidge and Hoover (1921-1933) have we seen the level of corruption that we face today — evident with the revolving door of advisors and cabinet members selected by President Donald J. Trump.
So, will we continue to look for ways to attack the symptoms rather than the source of our troubles?
It should be evident that our citizens want drastic changes in our nation’s capital. Voters elected President Barack Obama because he promised change — “change we can count on” we were told. But mostly, his administration failed to deliver.
Then voters gave the electoral edge to Trump because he, too, promised changes.
Well, we’re getting changes with Trump. That’s for sure. Only they’re not the changes many of us want.
Both Obama and Trump were elected as a result of the deep discontent and disgust over the failure of our federal government to deal with so many of our nation’s social needs.
Voters are disgusted because they want reforms. They want reforms in health care, drug prices, guns control, immigration, corporate welfare, taxes, gerrymandering, civil rights, income inequality — and more.
I’m compiling a list. It’s long. It’ll stretch to two dozen or more issues.
But most likely, unless we make a big change in one major area, any reform efforts that make it through the legislative gantlet, will provide only minor, mostly ineffectual changes.
Why do I say that?
Because the changes needed will either be blocked or minimized as long as many of our Congress members owe an allegiance to big contributors and the lobbyists those big contributors also finance.
In other words, the reforms that our nation needs — which the vast majority of voters want — simply won’t happen until we change our election campaign finance laws.
Unfortunately, this is not a new story — but an old one. It’s an old one of many reform failures. And situations continue to grow worse because of those failures.
This past Christmas, Mary and I have received more than a half-dozen books as gifts. And two that Mary gave to me are collections of essays and newspaper columns written by Molly Ivins, who died of cancer in 2007.
In those two books, Ivins reports how we faced the very same problems 25 and 30 years ago — and have made very little progress since. Instead, all of the problems she cites have grown worse.
In December of 1992 she cited “the despicable system of legalized bribery masquerading as campaign contributions that has corrupted the entire political system.”
And then in May of 1996, she refers to our election campaign financing as “the root of the rot in American politics.”
In October of 2000 — the month before that presidential election — Molly wrote: “The urgent, crucial need right now is to fix the money in politics. It can be done, … and we will get better politics.”
And back as early as October of 1996, she wrote: “The good news is that it ain’t that hard to fix. Public campaign financing, funded through a voluntary checkoff on the IRS form with a $100 limit, would create a more-than-adequate pool of public financing.”
Our nation has a multitude of reform organizations pressuring our politicians for this reform, or that reform, but seldom seeing more than minor results. And most often, when those minor reforms are enacted, they often do more for the corporate and special interests affected than they do for our citizens.
It all goes back to the fact that our legislators are more beholden to their big campaign contributors than they are to us — the average citizens.
Isn’t it well past time for the many reform groups in our nation realize the need to coalesce, cooperate and concentrate on the one big reform that can grease the wheels for all of the others — campaign finance reform?
And we’ve had nearly 200 years to work on this problem. Campaign contributions have been an on-and-off subject periodically since before the Civil War — with the first issues arising during Andrew Jackson’s 1828 campaign.
As we look at this year’s presidential campaign, I wonder just how much actual change can occur in Congress. Even many of the Democrat Party winners will still be tainted by the big contributors who helped finance their campaigns. Our wealthy oligarchs and corporate lobbyists will again flex their political muscles, and much of the status quo will continue.
In September, 1996, Molly Ivins advised us to “Make no mistake: The special interests that give so generously to political campaigns are not making a foolish investment. They are rewarded with hundreds of millions in special tax breaks and competitive advantages. And you know who winds up paying the tab for that.”
In analyzing the situation, it’s time for all reformists to realize the potential domino effect. Campaign finance reform is that first block that impedes progress in all the other areas. Knock over that first block, and the chances of various other reform blocks falling will multiply exponentially.
Wouldn’t total concentration on that action be the wisest thing to do?
Darrell Berkheimer, who lives in Grass Valley, is a frequent contributor to The Union. He now has seven books available through Amazon. His sixth, Essays from The Golden Throne, includes 60 columns published by The Union, plus a dozen travel and photo essays. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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