By Greg Ellis
“One of the chief obstacles to intelligence is credulity, and credulity could be enormously diminished by instructions as to the prevalent forms of mendacity. Credulity is a greater evil in the present day than it ever was before, because, owing to the growth of education, it is much easier than it used to be to spread misinformation, and, owing to democracy, the spread of misinformation is more important than in former times to the holders of power.”
–Bertrand Russell (1872-1970) British philosopher, mathematician
The deluge of controversy encircling Eliot Spitzer, New York State’s crusading Attorney General is tantamount to the controversy surrounding any rainmaker’s. With an appetite for corporate malfeasance, Spitzer has successfully taken on Wall Street, mutual fund firms and pharmaceutical behemoths with an unrelenting grace. The ambition of Spitzer bites the nails of his success, his record speaks volumes. With billion dollar settlements and the creation of an increasingly punctilious regulatory environment, Spitzer’s mission acts without any possibility of plateau. Spitzer would have made a wonderful teacher.
Grade 12 social studies is the class I credit with sparking my interest in the social sciences. The class was a train ride through the concepts and framework that remains with me today. While in the class, attentive and eager, I earned a multi-syllabic introductory lesson about the language of politics and society. Totalitarianism, despotism, geopolitical–the list read out, the glossary of a new textbook, its language adhering to brevity while the definitions and theories had widespread application, endless value. The annals of democracy were a core component of the course. The textbook deified democracy, exalting it to the highest status, defining it from its Greek origin–the people, to rule. The idealism of the textbook was appealing in a premature sense, only possible of being believed by a Pollyanna. Yet, the textbook had made a grave omission. Nowhere was there a mention of the NRA, Moveon.org, Swift Boat Veterans For The Truth, Planned Parenthood and their role in Western democracy. The very lifeblood and pulse of current western democracy lies in the hands of special interests and their propensity to organize into groups.
The lobbies incarnated by “527” special status advocacy groups in the United States and other special interests are arguably the most important influence in our political climate. Perhaps such groups are the manifestation of unadulterated representative democracy. These organizations represent a unification of common goals, the puppeteers of elected officials and they perpetuate their success with extraordinary fund-raising. Two of the less-known advocacy groups in the U.S., America Coming Together and The Progress for America Voter Fund raised IPO style capital and their funds chased the highest rate of return–the political contender they wanted in office. America Coming Together raised over $38 million this year, all in the name of the now despondent narrative of John Kerry. Their largest donors wrote superfluous checks to supply the sustenance of the tentacles of the special interest’s intrinsic rage. Groups such as Planned Parenthood employ hundreds of arduous employees that every day reshape laws and change values. The group’s vehemence bolsters a level of influence, it’s significance derives from the method these groups use to mobilize and wedge in ideas that influence elected officials.
Perhaps the Achilles tendon of our Western democracy is shelved in its failure to redress the disparity between those who catalyze with the support of funding and those whose votes count merely as one. The electorate’s ideological malleability is submerged by the ambitions special interest groups espouse in political attack ads, government-level lobbying and from the funneling of funds to special interest groups that dabble in the art of clout and sway. The special interests of many replace the influence of the rest–tyranny of the minority, any minority that has congregated in a collective objective. The results are staggering, our government is run by those who embody the most avidity, seething passion, and a means to achieve it through organizational directives.
While reading December’s issue of the Atlantic Monthly, I came across an article entitled “A Spectator’s Guide to The Political Action Universe”. The article wrote a scathing essay of how special interests have, for the most part, hijacked the ideals of democracy introduced to me in high school. Democracy is now abandoned as an unappetizing leftover for a society who dabbles in the art of insouciance and indifference.
Eliot Spitzer need not mobilize, seek funds from the rich, nor shuffle the loaded decks of the mainstream media; Eliot Spitzer is his own special interest group. We should flatter him with a little imitation.