One of the lubricants that which government to function smoothly is the presence of lobbyists. They are, at best, channels of information which help members of Congress and their staffs keep abreast of the million things that cannot adequately be handled without them. The Congressional machine would probably grind to a halt if lobbies suddenly disappeared. As valuable as is their contribution to effective government, when their role moves from information to intimidation, democracy is sabotaged. Here are three examples.
Consider the nomination of Vivek Murthy to be the Surgeon General. Here is a brilliant young physician eminently qualified to fill this important post. The Surgeon General of the United States is the operational head of the U.S. Public Health Service Commissioned Corps (PHSCC), and thus the leading spokesperson on matters of public health. Murthy’s parents were originally from Karnataka, India. He was born in Huddersfield, England, but his family relocated to Miami, Florida when he was three years old. His education and professional qualifications are sterling — and no one debates either them or the value he would bring to the office. But like almost every person who has held that post, he has made comments which indicate that death by firearms in civilian hands — particularly with the use of assault weapons — is a public health issue.
That was quite enough to alarm the National Rifle Association — the fiercest attack dog in the K street kennel, Washington’s center for political lobbies. The move, in this case from information to intimidation, was instantaneous. And who was intimidated? Four Democratic Senators who promised to vote against Murthy for no other reasons than the NRA told them to.
How does this four million-member organization generate that much political power? In addition to the votes they control in States where the 2014 senatorial elections are critical, they also know how to turn on and off the money spigot. And where these really big bucks come from has been complicated by residue from the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision.
The NRA is not the only lobby that can now control enough votes to kill both legislation and presidential appointments, and can also squelch honest debate about controversial issues. Consider the lack of any serious conversation concerning our unqualified support of Israel, even when we have consistently opposed that nation’s occupation of land that is not theirs. (The question is not Israel’s right to nationhood. Before there can be progress on a resolution to the Palestinian question, the Palestinian Authority must respect that reality.)
When Russia invades Crimea we are horrified, but when Israel simply takes over Palestinian land we shake our finger and then continue to provide the billions of dollars each year which make the occupation possible. The answer to that diplomatic inconsistency can be found in AIPAC, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee. Here is a powerful lobby that advocates for pro-Israel policies and determines, almost single-handedly, American policy for that part of the world.
While the science is now clear and the ecological catastropohe looms closer daily, little is really being done about the already serious effects of global warming. A third group of lobbyists that have now moved from information to intimidation is the collection of oil, gas and coal interests who control enough Congressional members to effectively block any serious consideration of Cap and Trade, a Carbon Tax or any other meaningful response. Big money, which every member of Congress needs in order to be re-elected, lies at the root of their power.
Here are probably the three most aggressive lobbies that have and will continue to determine the shape of government. They provide just one more bit evidence that our system is bought and paid for by those who control what comes flowing out of the nation’s really deep pockets. The most recent Supreme Court decision on political donations, opens the financial floodgates lobbyists control, and thus further complicates the issue. And an important link resides in systems of information that have increasingly become citadels of intimidation.