book that shook my world was journalist Hedrick Smith’s “The
Power Game,” published 35 years ago in 1987. It was about “How
Washington really works,” and what I remember about it is how
it made me feel, as in discouraged and outraged. I learned about the
power of lobbyists, the power of money, and what money gains you,
which is access. More-or-less legal forms of corruption in 1987 are
now most definitely legal, with the Supreme Court decreeing that
corporations are citizens and that money is speech. It’s
amazing how the law can be twisted to serve the interests of the
powerful. I for one do not believe that Raytheon and I are both equal
citizens and that we both have equivalent access to elected
representatives through our “speech,” i.e. our money. But
the Supreme Court professes to believe this so there you have it.
you look at who runs America, it’s a fairly short list. Wall
Street, Big Pharma, the fossil fuel companies, Big Tech and Silicon
Valley, the military-industrial complex (National Security State),
the major banks and insurance companies: any “citizen”
with access to billions of dollars who can then buy or rent
politicians with millions of dollars. It’s a great deal for
them, “investing” in politicians, making them dance to
their tune, but it’s a lousy deal for the rest of us.
makes me think of one of my father’s favorite sayings: He who
pays the piper calls the tune. If I toss a penny and ask for a tune,
and another “citizen” tosses twenty bucks and asks for a
different one, I’m not surprised when the piper doesn’t
play my tune. So when the Princeton Study said that the U.S. is an
oligarchy and that politicians in Washington don’t listen to
us, I wasn’t surprised. I learned it from Hedrick Smith in 1988
when I read his book.
when Smith wrote “The Power Game,” America had just over
4000 political action committees, or PACs. In 2014, America had well
over 7000 PACs, including “Super” PACs, which have far
fewer constraints in how they can use their money in the political
realm. Now we even have “dark” money, and so we’re
barraged by ads on TV and elsewhere attacking a candidate or an issue
without any clear idea of who’s behind it all and why. But,
remember, money is speech and corporations are citizens, so let the
good times roll in the U.S. political process.
Hedrick Smith wrote, things weren’t quite as bad in America.
There were more newspapers, more media sources, more real
journalists. Nowadays, five or six corporations own all the
mainstream media outlets, and it’s not in their interest to
promote views that are honest and provocative. Indeed, they love PACs
and Super PACs and all the money spent by them and political
campaigns to influence voting.
gotten to be so corrupt, and so tightly controlled, as in rigged,
that it almost doesn’t matter who runs for office. Clearly, Joe
Biden and Kamala Harris aren’t driving policy in America. The
few decisions they themselves truly make are almost inconsequential.
thing I really liked about Hedrick Smith is his honesty. He gave a
on his book. Where he explained that, if you’re a
politician and you accept certain campaign donations, it’s
understood between both parties that when the donor needs you to vote
a certain way, you will vote that way, no questions asked. Everyone
in Congress understands this. It’s why every effort by real
citizens to get big money out of politics fails. It fails because the
big donors won’t have it. They like to be able to buy
politicians, thank you very much. That’s how democracy works,
so says the Supreme Court. If you don’t like it, start your own
corporation, make a few billion, then you too can buy your own
revival of democracy in America starts with campaign finance reform,
which most politicians say they’re for even as they vote
against it. Sounds like a conundrum to me. Can we solve it by
explaining to our esteemed justices (John Roberts, can you hear me?)
that money is not the same as speech and that corporations really
aren’t the same as citizens?
a rather obvious point, but it bears repeating. Justices like Thomas,
Roberts, Kavanaugh, Gorsuch, and Barrett weren’t just selected
because they were reliable votes against abortion. They were really
vetted and selected because they will always rule with the powerful
against the powerless. They are, in a word, pro-corporate.
if the Supreme Court is pro-corporate, if Congress is pro-corporate,
and if the president is a figurehead known for his pro-corporate
policies as a Senator from Delaware, what kind of America are we
truly looking at?
the power game that is Washington, it’s the American people who
suffer the agony of defeat.