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Response to 'Money, Special Interests, and Political Equality'

Points of Agreement

There is much to agree with Kim Conger from her first post on ‘Money, Special Interests and Political Equality’.

As long as it comes from a voluntary attitude within a Christian mindset, that is, as opposed to using the coercive power and nature of our civil representative democratic form of government to force change or impinge on other people’s freedoms of expression, speech, political alignment with others and freedom of the press to express those views, we might have lots of common ground to share.

She is right to be concerned about all of our citizens being able to participate equally in our democratic republic. It is always surprising to folks outside of the government or political realm when they find out that perhaps 35% of all adults eligible to vote in any election are not registered to vote for whatever reason.

It is even more surprising to them when they find out that about 50% of all of those who are eligible to vote actually cast a vote in quadrennial presidential elections. When they find out that less than half of those who vote in a presidential year actually vote in an off-year congressional election every other year, they are even more stunned.

And when they find out that a sheer minority of voters actually show up to vote in the various primaries and then the general elections of the off-off year municipal elections in most states, they are flabbergasted and shocked.

‘Why wouldn’t anyone not want to express his or her right to vote in a free democratic republic such as ours?’ they might say.

Apathy is usually the main culprit. Lack of interest and awareness of how the people we elect affect everyone’s collective life together in this country on a daily basis is another. A third reason is usually they forgot when the elections were, especially for Mayor and town council of a larger city.

A fourth reason is that many people just do not believe their vote makes a difference.

If they only knew how much emphasis campaign managers, operatives and staff put on getting people out to vote for their candidate or incumbent official, they would vote 100%. Each vote is considered that critical to each and every candidate for public office.

It is a massive science nowadays out there but that is a subject for another time and place.

The ‘easiest’ way to achieve political equality is to find ways to get everyone to vote every time in every election in which they are eligible to vote. That would be the purest way to achieve equality and put away any notions that someone is gaining an advantage one way or the other by supporting this or that candidate with hard money, soft money or word-of-mouth campaigns.

For some reason, the utopian goal of very high voter turnout has eluded observers and experts of the American political scene for decades now. Voter turnout spiked somewhat in the two Barack Obama election cycles, especially among younger voters and African-Americans but both fell back to historic norms in 2016 for whatever reason.

People are just as ‘free’ to vote as they are to ‘not vote’ in the same way they are free to believe in whatever God or religion they choose or don’t choose to believe in at all.

We can’t ‘force’ anyone to vote in America because we want everyone to do so in the name of ‘equality’. Just as we can’t, and shouldn’t, use the coercive force of government to suppress anyone’s freedom of expression, speech, political assembly or ways to communicate with the electorate, especially those whom the candidate wants to encourage to vote for them, through electronic or written media including social media and the myriad of ways a candidate can now connect with voters.

All of which is not free and costs money.

We should never try to be suppressing that freedom to communicate with the voting electorate. If anything, we should be working on ways to expand that voting electorate which would force candidates and campaign managers and operatives to figure out how to communicate with the new voters and gain their trust and their vote.

I also agree with her statement that ‘literal corruption is actually a relatively minor threat to our democratic (republican) system’. I always add that distinction because try as some people may, we simply do not live in a ‘pure’ democratic system such as what we know about the operations of ancient Athens when the men, and the free men only, went to the Stoa every day to vote on matters of public policy themselves. Not through duly-elected representatives such as we have in America.

The very few times that I heard about any ‘literal corruption’ in Congress usually had to do with a representative from 1) Louisiana; 2) New Jersey and/or 3) Chicago with all due apologies to anyone from those states who might be reading this post.

Congressman Billy Tauzin of Louisiana might have been joshing when he said the following, but it rings so true that many believe it about such politicians from Louisiana:

‘My vote can’t be bought….but it can be rented for a little while!’

Points of Disagreement

There are several points of disagreement which might result more from my 22 years of working on Capitol Hill, 12 years as a chief of staff to a Congressman and US Senator and 10 as a lobbyist myself, plus the past 4 years here in North Carolina working with the state legislature and Governor’s office.

1) Minority rights in our Constitution are protected and cherished jewels we should all protect. Our Founders were geniuses if nothing else when it came to understanding the human spirit and our basic capacity to be greedy, selfish, power-mad and essentially evil when we think it serves our best purpose and goals.

Minority rights are not just protected through civil liberties and the courts as Ms. Conger asserts. One of the reason why our Founders made it so difficult to get legislation done was to protect the rights of the minority in Congress and the US Senate, not primarily to frustrate their political objectives.

Anyone who served in the minority for even a second would fully understand and appreciate this fact of life up there. I worked with a Congressman for a decade who was routinely 85+ seats in the minority from 1985-1994 as a Republican. There were many times we were just praying that the 60-vote margin to close debate in the Senate would not be met and therefore some piece of legislation we thought was dangerous would die in the process.

Just as we hoped Presidents Reagan and Bush 41 would veto any bill that somehow made its way to the White House that we thought was ill-advised as well.

Keeping the Senate filibuster right where it is at today and limiting the use of executive powers in the White House are two critical things people who truly support the rights of the minority should contemplate seriously.

2) It is simply untrue to assume that the only people any representative meets with are his/her supporters or financial contributors.

We used to estimate that 2/3rds of the meeting times allocated to the Congressman I worked for was dedicated to meeting with people who held opposing views to his.

Why? For one thing, people who agree with a Congressman on an issue typically don’t waste their time talking to them. They spend their time talking to people who might be on the fence and might be persuaded to vote in the direction they would like to see them vote.

For another thing, once a person is elected, they become ‘public servants’ of all of their constituents, not just the people who elect them. Liberals and minorities had problems with Social Security checks not being sent to them just as conservatives and more wealthy white folk in Charlotte did who may have supported Congressman McMillan in the last election.

80%+ of the issues faced by any elected representative at any level are inherently non-partisan and therefore, to be a true public servant of the people, each and every elected representative should be meeting with people of all races, all incomes and all strata of life no matter who they are.

Or at least they should be.

3) There seems to be a disconnect when it comes to understanding ‘Citizens United’ in its entirety. Many feel as if a ‘corporation’ is a lifeless, bloodless monster that represents everything that is evil especially when it comes to participating in public life.

What is a ‘labor union’ then if it is not some similar affiliation of people associated for the same purpose, as guaranteed in the First Amendment, just like people who work for Apple, GM or Coca-Cola? They might not be part of a labor union per se but they have as much right to express their opinions through collective political involvement as members of a labor union, don’t they?

Why should a person working at Coca-Cola in the middle-to-lower echelon of management making $40,000/year be precluded from contributing to a PAC or being associated with a 527 sponsored by Coca-Cola when a line worker at GM could be part of a labor union making $100,000 and contributing to political activities on their behalf sponsored by the AFL-CIO?

It is a distinction without a difference really. People who work for any organization are still ‘people’ too. They are all guaranteed the right to assemble and that right to assembly means coming together to work for political goals in their common interest.

They should not be excluded from the public square of debate and dialogue just because they happen to work for a corporation and are not part of a labor union.

The other somewhat fine philosophical and metaphysical point comes when anyone tries to define precisely when a ‘small company’ of, say, 3 hard-working visionaries such as Steve Jobs, Steve Wozniak and one other partner who cashed out early for $800 (big mistake) working in a dingy garage making the first Apple Computer all of a sudden becomes a ‘big bad corporation’ with hundreds of thousands of workers directly employed and indirectly employed through supply chains and distribution channels.

Is it at 10 employees? 25? 100? 1000? 10,000?

At what point precisely does that small company with 3 people whom no one would dispute having the right to participate in the political process make the metaphysical leap to being a ‘corporation’ that some people want to preclude from participating in the political process?

It seems as if through basic logical deduction that the people who had those political rights as a small company should be able to retain those same rights if they are so fortunate as to have a great business success as Apple has achieved.

Insights Gleaned from Ms. Conger’s Initial Post

The thing I think was the most impactful from the initial post of Ms. Conger was the concept of pulling in the Christian concept of ‘loving your neighbor’ as a tool for effective politics.

I am not sure that I have ever heard anyone over the past 38 years of being in and out of and around politics and government make that specific connection. Politics is often seen as a ‘I win/you lose’ game and occasionally a ‘win-win-win’ proposition but seldom as a ‘love thy neighbor’ mission.

Aristotle said that the purpose of politics was to help make each person virtuous and that any piece of legislation should have that as its main purpose and goal. Anything short of the goal which fails to make everyone ‘virtuous’ should be rejected by the legislative body in question says he.

American history is rife with examples of religiously-led and inspired people who have entered the public square and achieved great things for their ‘fellow neighbor’ whom they probably have never met in many cases but have loved nonetheless.

The Transcendentals prior to the Civil War brought their righteous sense of the injustice of slavery to bear through political activism but also through literature such as ‘Uncle Tom’s Cabin’ and in the newspapers across the North.

Southern African-American civil rights leaders formed the Southern Christian Leadership Conference behind the brave actions and words of the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King in the 60s to force the issue of granting justice and equality for millions of black citizens across the nation which went far beyond the needed changes in the South.

Men and women of faith have always been at the forefront of some of the greatest advancements to civilized society since the time of Christ 2000 years ago. They were not looking for political advantage or success to begin with; they were seeking to put their Christian faith into productive action and follow the precepts of Christ who told his disciples to ‘feed His Sheep’ and ‘take care of the widow and orphans’ among us.

Many millions of Americans here in this country and perhaps billions worldwide are disenfranchised in some way, shape or form be it in terms of hunger, lack of resources or education or not being able to live in a decent form of housing or have access to adequate health services anywhere nearby.

Christians should ‘love their neighbor’ as themselves and try to help those who are not as fortunate as we are.

That can and should include forming political action committees for the poor, the homeless, the destitute and the disadvantaged. Or by being involved in social media; in the entertainment or sports world or perhaps even by running for office.

‘Loving thy neighbor’ in the political sense would be as radical and disruptive as any political campaign in American history.

However, there is almost no case I can think of where this can not be better achieved by Christian men and women of deep convicted faith acting out their faith in a productive manner instead of trying to place artificial restrictions on the rights and freedoms of others in the political marketplace by trying to find the ‘perfect’ piece of legislation such as ‘Citizens United Part 2’ designed to reverse the decision of the Supreme Court in Citizens United Part 1.

The democratization of the political world has tracked the deconstruction of virtually every other field since the introduction of the personal computer that has radically changed the landscapes of journalism, industry, marketing and other industries where individuals now rule the roost instead of big concentrations of power as in the Robber Baron days of old.

Individuals now hold the power in the political marketplace, not the political parties. With the advent of Citizens United, the amount of political power that has flowed out away from the Democratic and Republican National Committees in Washington has been enormous. Close to 70% of all the consulting and polling work during any campaign seasons is now done for 527s or 501c4s and other political organizations for better or for worse.

But that same political power is available to men and women of Christian faith if they choose to use it. It takes a lot of work, time, energy, effort and expertise to use it correctly to achieve the end results they would like to see on any particular issue.

It is far too easy to sit on the sidelines and complain about politics and point fingers from afar at big corporations and wealthy individuals for spending their money on political speech.

It is an entirely different thing to make the conscious decision to organize thousands of people for a common purpose to effect change in the public square.

That is what the committed Christian can and should do in our modern American democratic republic.

Matthew 10:16 says it perfectly for Christians entering the rough-and-tumble of the political world: “I am sending you out like sheep among wolves. Therefore be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves”

We live in what is essentially a secular civil government where freedom, liberty and justice are enshrined in our core document of governance, the US Constitution.

Christians have to learn how to play by the rules of the game as they exist today, not as they wish they would be if all they had to do was wave a magic wand and transform the United States into the ‘City on The Hill’ overnight.

In golf, it is called the ‘rub of the green’. You play by the rules of the game and take the lie where your ball is as it is as bad as it might seem at the time.

People may think there is too much money or too much power for certain individuals or companies in politics today to make too much of a difference if they got involved and tried to change things.

Christians have so many examples to choose from the Old and New Testament to use as inspiration for such big dreams and efforts. David would use the stones of Citizens United to topple Goliath if they ran against each other today in a political campaign, not try to get the Philistines to nominate another smaller foe without any armor on.

Any willing faith-walker is welcome to try.

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Reader Comments (3)

Again, I appreciate Mr. Hill's argument against much of conventional wisdom. Here's what I wonder about however. What, if any, do you think the association might be between the growing extremism of both political parties and the constant fund-raising that elected officials undertake in order to fend off challengers in the all-important primary elections in safe districts?

February 18, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterClarke Cochran


Now THAT might be the most pertinent part of this debate.

Raising money to protect yourself in a primary against a candidate who probably shares 90-95% of the basic underlying philosophy to government usually winds up being the deterrent to being primaried in the first place.

Many times an incumbent will raise large sums of money solely to frustrate and new entrant into the campaign, either at the primary level or for the general election.

it doesn't change anyone's vote per se. But it does take away time from legislating and dealing with important matters, there is no doubt about that.

February 19, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterFrank Hill

If what you say is true, then money is a major problem in politics. Just not in the way most people think. It interferes with the main function of politics: action for the common good.

March 4, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterClarke Cochran

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