Let’s say that you have tickets to see a new production of Shakespeare’s Othello. You’re thrilled at the prospects for the evening, and after weeks of anticipation, opening night has finally arrived. There you sit, a first-nighter at last, among thousands of others. The curtain goes up…
…and it turns out that it’s a Punch and Judy style puppet show.
There is a vague resemblance to Othello. Some of the plot lines and characters are familiar, but it’s far from what you expected. At first, you consider that maybe this is some sort of high concept theatre and you just don’t get it. As the evening wears on though, you become more and more outraged. It’s not Othello. It’s not even artful. It’s just plain old Punch and Judy batting each other in the head.
Would you blame the puppets?
Of course not.
Yet, over the past few decades, and in particular over the past few years, there has been an ever more boisterous chorus of outraged citizens in the United States blaming our government and our elected officials for all manner of evil, both real and imagined. If we could only get rid of those bastards in Washington, or make them ever less relevant to our lives, everything would be just peachy.
That, my friends, is blaming the puppets.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m not defending the Congress, past or present, for their failures to lead, to solve problems, to respond with any coherence or common sense to any number of critical issues and dangers facing The Republic. I’m not defending the ham-handed dimwittedness of the Bush Administration, nor the calculating cynical ineffectualness of the Obama Administration. I’m just saying “don’t blame the puppets.” Blame the folks pulling the strings.
There’s no kind way to put this. The government of the United States has by now been so corrupted by our system of electoral financing that the Sons of St. Tammany would blush. It is, in effect and in the truest sense of the word, owned by the funders.
Some might suggest that I have fallen prey to cynicism myself, having made that statement. To them, I would ask a simple question. Do you believe that the United States Congress is responsive to the will of the people? If so, your opinion is at odds with 90% of the voting public. If not, the question becomes “to whom is Congress responsive, then?” The answer to that one should be obvious.
Over the past decade the financial services industry alone spent more than $2 billion on federal campaign contributions, according to the authoritative source on such things, Opensecrets.org. That amount was more than the health care, energy, defense, agriculture and transportation industries combined. Is it any wonder that one Senator recently admitted “frankly, they own the place?”
Immediately upon being appointed to the Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction (the so-called “Super Committee”), members began to see huge sums of money flowing into their re-election coffers from the political action committees of Lockheed, Pfizer, Goldman Sachs, the National Association of Realtors and others. Is it any wonder that they failed to reach an agreement that would impose a single penny of higher taxes on corporations and the wealthy, or to even consider any cuts to our bloated defense budget?
Is it surprising that the health care bill that passed in the last Congress is little more than a vehicle for subsidies to the big pharmaceutical and insurance companies? These ills, and scores more, can all be traced back to that single question. To whom are our elected officials most accountable? Who is pulling their strings?
Perhaps it’s fair to aim at least some of our ire at the government. After all, our elected officials aren’t made of wood. They are (presumably) human beings with the power of reason and conscience – but I submit that they are puppets nonetheless. Voting for new puppets, or downsizing the puppets, or placing term limits on the puppets, or getting rid of the puppets altogether won’t solve the problem.
We need to focus our attention toward the folks with their hands on the marionette bars, and we need to do our damnedest to cut the strings.
Resources For Change: