Saturday, April 01, 2006
The issue is privilege …
A lobbyist is just a hired hand, you see. Most are skilled facilitators able to gather data, expert testimony and philosophical treatises and fashion a compelling case. Using past associations, political muscle or artificially generated pressure from the grassroots, they slither into positions where they can press this position, twisting arms, applying grease and trading horses.
There is nothing inherently wrong with this, for citizens have been “petitioning” their government from the dawn of democracy. The problem is twofold: The tremendous imbalance in the amount of pressure or persuasive argument I can bring to bear versus that wielded by the multinational corporations, unions or churches; and the main prizes they all aspire to – a leg up in the competitive market from the government.
A tax credit, a regulatory exemption, a set-aside, a quota, a subsidy. A privilege.
You have to be able to pay to play – and most of the games and the trading and the discussion of what narrow interest profits from the many privileges now doled out by government are not conducted in an open theater. They all are executed in the chambers of the Legislature’s leadership, in the controlling party’s caucus, in closed committee meetings, in the bill drafting room where staff takes the clause carefully crafted by the lawyer/lobbyist and inserts it into the bill prior to printing, or in the conference committee where the minority party is excluded.
The vote is argued on broad philosophical grounds – but the real business has already been done and most voting are unaware of what they are passing in the name of Red or Blue. And the rules of it all are designed and maintained to make this all possible, almost to guarantee it.
And what is in the best interest of the Nation is not necessarily lost, but rarely considered except as an afterthought, in the spin room where what is done is recast cloaked in the rhetoric of Red and Blue. Any and all actions quickly ratchet back up to a full-throated exchange going over the same tired ground and ending up with the same pointless standoff. And the real questions are never posed, the real debates are never begun, the real right-wrong assessments never approached.
Why are we granting this credit, or subsidy or exemption? What is the objective? Who will benefit and how will we measure whether that benefit actually results? What is the true cost? What are the alternatives? Is this role proper – and fair – for the government?
All hashed out in the light of day. One issue at a time, not all balled up into an “omnibus appropriations” bill no one has time to even read cover-to-cover before a vote, much less consider.
How does that happen? Because we let it happen. Because we have become lost in our anger and selfishness and are being played for patsies. The Reds and the Blues know how to push our buttons in ways we don’t even consider. If any debate starts to move too close to a real matter of national concern, they push the proper button and it goes nuclear, ends in stalemate and everyone goes home sated. And the system and the charlatans survive for another day because we are too tired, too busy and too angry to demand more. They are left wholly unaccountable for their actions, or their inattention.
We Reds love you because you’re fighting for smaller government, family values and freedom around the globe. So anything else you do or don’t do gets a pass. God, what a cheap date.
We Blues love you because you’re fighting for the little guy, you want to extend a hand to those in need, make the rich pay their share and protect our liberties at any cost. God, I wish you’d been handing out the allowance when I was a lad.
Excuse me, but would SOMEONE try to get a few properly armored patrol vehicles over to Iraq? Or find the person who read the GAO report on how badly the contractor fouled up the no-bid Katrina sheltering contract – and then EXTENDED IT -- and escort the stupid SOB to a room with no pens? Or the character who thinks it’s OK to give a rebate to the company that just admitted it was piping untreated Euphrates River water to Marine mess halls. Why go on – the list of examples where our money is slipping out the back door faster than seniors the first week in June is endless.
We’ve put some people in charge of a big government and they are in charge for a while. There is plenty of time to rehash the philosophical arguments as we approach a decision on whether to renew the contract.
Right now, I’d just like them to start running it in a manner that gave me some confidence in their ability to handle something beyond a two-car funeral. I’d like them to start acting like they cared about some Bayou pirate sailing into the sunset with $100 million of our money. And I’m sorry if the cheerleaders for the guy in Red driving the bus at the moment take that to mean I hate him, or that I’m secretly True Blue. I don’t hate him and I don’t see anything better poking its head out of the trough. I’ve got my own thoughts about Iraq and they probably are as confused as most people’s are right now. It’s just that when a wheel falls off – and that happens in any enterprise, run by anyone -- no one seems at all concerned with trying to really understand why it fell off, and you’ve got to slap someone up beside the head before anyone moves to get the spare.
All I want is responsibility and accountability, an emphasis on quality execution and even a passing interest in thrift. They had a hell of a fight and a lot of people died at Gettysburg, but the soldiers didn’t go there for a war. They just wanted some shoes with no holes.