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Who actually controls the force of government? The politicians and interest groups control the American political process. The politician seeks power. Special interest groups – big business, small business, unions, education, seniors, and a multitude of others - seek favors: tax breaks, subsidies, exclusive legislation, etc. Interest groups give enormous money to political campaigns, and receive gigantic benefits in return.
The changes we are currently debating amount to rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic.
In Time magazine, Fareed Zakaria describes America’s political malaise. Elected politicians pander to special-interest organizations in exchange for campaign donations. Zakaria writes:
… American politics is now hyperresponsive to constituents' interests. And all those interests are dedicated to preserving the past rather than investing for the future. There are no lobbying groups for the next generation of industries, only for those companies that are here now with cash to spend. There are no special-interest groups for our children's economic well-being, only for people who get government benefits right now. The whole system is geared to preserve current subsidies, tax breaks and loopholes. That is why the federal government spends $4 on elderly people for every $1 it spends on those under 18. And when the time comes to make cuts, guess whose programs are first on the chopping board. That is a terrible sign of a society's priorities and outlook.
In Federalist Paper Number 10, James Madison addressed the universal problem of groups seeking the power of government versus the best interest of all the citizens.
By a faction (interest group), I understand a number of citizens, whether amounting to a majority or a minority of the whole, who are united and actuated by some common impulse of passion, or of interest, adversed to the rights of other citizens, or to the permanent and aggregate interests of the community.
James Madison opined that factions would not coalesce because of diverse geographic and private interests. Unfortunately, the politicians’ lust for power and the special interest predators have coalesced. Presently, our government is incompetent and unjust, because of the corruption Madison sought to prevent: interest, adversed to the rights of other citizens, or to the permanent and aggregate interests of the community.
Zakaria correctly observes the trivial political discourse in D.C. as a contest for power:
We have a political system geared toward ceaseless fundraising and pandering to the interests of the present with no ability to plan, invest or build for the future. …
What is really depressing is the tone of our debate. In place of the thoughtful concern of Jefferson and Adams, we have its opposite in tone and temperament — the shallow triumphalism purveyed by politicians now.
Zakaria wishes for enlightened politicians selecting beneficial infrastructure, education and technology projects. Unfortunately, the corruption will continue special-interest politics, which caused the welfare state and gigantic government debt. In the name of progress, the ruling élites will continue to select wonderful sounding projects, e.g., The Great Society or No Child Left Behind, which will increases taxes and the predatory special-interest groups.
Another view of American Exceptionalism is offered in the Wall Street Journal by British historian Paul Johnson, author of Modern Times. Johnson reveres Americans’ freedom of thought and ingenuity. Responding to advancing modernity and threatening internal and foreign dangers, Americans have embraced evolving societal and governance systems. Johnson recalls that America’s prowess has been doubted since colonial times and has adjusted to a developing world for over two hundred years.
Insightfully, Johnson sees the Tea Party uprising as a strong antidote to Zakaria s sclerotic malaise. In accordance with D.C. elitism, Zakaria totally ignored the spontaneous rebellion against the corrupt relationship between politicians and the special-interest predators.
Realistically, instead of hoping to change corrupt politicians, America must reinstate the restricted and dispersed governance powers intended by our Founding Fathers - a government of defined and limited powers that facilitates the free exchange of ideas and commerce. A stable legal order unleashes the creativity and ingenuity of all Americans. This is how civilization advances.