Monday, December 30, 2002

Big Business - Quiet Like a Mouse


If you're tired, as I am, of hearing Republicans slammed as being in the pocket of Big Business, then I welcome you to the reason Democrats and Independents have been unable to make a case that resonates in the voter's mind. Long gone are the days of blue collar-white collar, union-non union, poor against the rich issues. Politics is a game of going along to get along, sounding independent as you try to keep your marching orders straight in your mind.

They're all in the same bind, these poor politicos. All taking with one hand, winking, pointing a tremulous finger and making Big Noise about Big Reform, then letting it die in committee. All of them. Every single one.

Committees are great for that, sort of nameless and therefore blameless. Whenever you hear of something voted upon by voice vote or going to committee, you know the fix is in.

It's the way the game is played, the way it has been played in American politics, almost from the beginning. The quietness of the mice is one thing, their smallness is another. These guys aren't rats, they're mice.

You don't need Big Cheese when you're feeding mice.

Even Enron, if I recall, spread something in the neighborhood of a million bucks across the political spectrum. A million bucks, in a company that engineered a seven billion dollar collapse. A single million, lost in the haze of seven thousand million. And, for that paltry sum, they got first-name recognition when George Bush picked up the phone. He picked it up often, before the calls became too hot to handle.

That's not being hard on George. To be fair, presidents have been picking up the phone in a steady run from Bill Clinton down through Teddy Roosevelt. Ulysses Grant didn't have a phone to pick up, but the fix was in nonetheless, so it's not anything new. Not really shocking either, except among the more naïve. It's the darkish side of capitalism.

So, a thousand dollars can move you around and among most city officials in pretty good order. Ten thousand gets you noticed in the state legislature and a limited way nationally, but certainly with your senator or representative. A hundred grand makes you a hitter. No one's away from their desk for long, when a hundred grander comes calling. Buy yourself a tail-coat, you're going to be invited to a lot of Balls.

Now I know that's not small change to most of us, but doesn't it shock you a bit to find out how cheaply the lawmakers come ‘round to your way of thinking? It does me. The surprise isn't that they're taking money, the surprise is how little they take.

Of course it's not all cocktail parties and expense-paid ‘fact finding' trips, this being a legislator. Washington is a tough place. Except for senators, it seems every time a guy looks up from his desk, there's another election staring him in the face. Try renting a decent place in Georgetown, what with the nail holes in the walls from the last politician still needing putty. Just about the time you learn who's parties are worth going to, it's hitch up your pants and run again. And it costs a lot of loot to hitch your pants these days. A last-minute infusion of campaign money is almost impossible, a guy's gotta be on intravenous drip from the moment he hits town.

So, what's to be done?

Probably nothing, probably just trot off to prison the occasional influence peddler who breaks the already accommodating rules. And it's not like We, The People aren't already out there being serviced. There are lobbying organizations for almost every public interest you can think of, from the Knights of Columbus to the American Association of Retired People. That's how we survive---they bribe a little and we bribe a little. So, the next time you get all outraged and sweaty about this or that corporate scandal being traced back to congressional support, take a moment to define your own interests. Then support the group who represents you or fund your own.

It's the American way.

And it doesn't cost all that much.