I was preparing for my weekly broadcast on our Sioux City Catholic radio network when I came across a recent article by Angelo Codevilla—a sort of addendum to his seminal article written for the American Spectator in 2010. In that earlier article, Codevilla presented a compelling case outlining the great divide in this country being that between the “ruling class” and the “country class.” The ruling class is populated by those who operate inside the DC Beltway and who have branch offices in academia, Wall Street, the media and Hollywood. Please note that I have not identified either party. The reason is that the ruling class is populated by members of both parties. The Democrats are much better at it, but the Republicans are learning fast and closing ground. One of the reasons we have such a divide today is that little has been done to suppress the influence of special interests on those we have elected to represent us. The only special interest not represented in Washington today is the American People. The old adage has always been that when Democrats are elected, they rule. When Republicans are elected, they govern. I don’t think this is true anymore.
Diminishing the influence of special interests must be a priority for the American people or we will continue to see our elected officials perpetuate the status quo. We are, in fact, not being governed at our behest but we are being ruled by an imperial president, a congress that has abrogated much of its Constitutional responsibilities and a judiciary that is muscling up to gain supremacy in our governance system. None of this was part of the design at our founding. As Madison and the Federalists outlined in their tenth editorial, the people needed to be on guard for the influence of “factions.” These factions were the manifestation of the natural affinity of people who seek office to also seek power. The power to influence in government has become a strong stimulant for those both inside and outside of government. This desire for power has led to the natural bond between those who wield power and those who seek to influence the application of that power. As such, this cabal essentially has cut off the citizens of this country from the correct influence they should have on governing system. This phenomenon is not new, but the corrupting influence of special interest has never been more damaging to our nation. However, members of congress and the DC bureaucracy are in no hurry to disrupt the status quo.
One of the things I get to do as a college professor is lecture in various venues across the country. One of those venues is the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, CA. I teach in the Department of Homeland Security’s education program for senior leaders from various government and private sector enterprises. These are people who have decades of service and who are genuinely talented and dedicated to what they do. As with most professional people, however, they often times get absorbed into the day-to-day and lose track of the totality of what they do and the reach they have into the lives of ordinary citizens. At the end of my lecture, I ask the question—“Do you think about the impact you are having on American citizens through the decisions you make?” Dead silence has been the result every time I pose this question. I let the silence deepen before I open the topic of why it is that they have lost focus on their purpose and responsibilities. The ensuing discussions have been thoughtful and at times very emotional. The sharp reminder of why they entered public service in the first place has had profound impact on many of these wonderful people. Almost to a person, they come up to me after class to thank me for reminding them of why they do what they do. I have done nothing but remind them of what our Constitution means and what this country is about.
In the current run-up to the Iowa caucuses and the rest of the primary season, we should probably expand the questionnaire for our candidates. For those who have held elected office, we need to ask how they are going to get the executive branch back in touch with the American people. I want to know what they are going to do about reining in the executive branch and getting the bureaucracy back inside Constitutional constraints. I want to know how they are going to ensure that those they appoint will make it a priority to think through decisions and consequences. I want to know how they are going to work with congress and how they are going to ensure that the judiciary will be put back into its role as referee instead of legislator. I want to know what they are going to do about reducing, or better still eliminating the influence of special interests on our national government.
There are several things our national government can do to reduce this influence. First, as much as people do not want to talk about this topic, we need term limits on our members of congress. Second, we need fundamental tax reform. Fixing the corporate tax situation is relatively simple and such fixes will have dramatic, positive effects on the economy. Fixing the personal income tax is equally important as doing so virtually eliminates loopholes and carve-outs for special interests. After all, most of the 80 thousand pages of tax code are written for special interests. Finally, we need to balance the budget of the national government. Whether a Constitutional amendment is needed is open for discussion, but a strong president who is fiscally responsible can do a lot to drive that discussion. By forcing a balanced budget, special interests will not be able to benefit from pork barrel politics. Of course, accomplishing even one of these changes is an uphill battle. Why? Because congress has no incentive to change the status quo.
Perhaps it is time for us to do something different and elect someone who has the courage and will to do what is best for this country. Perhaps it is time for us to ask really hard questions not only of our candidates but of ourselves. Do we have the courage and the will to demand a government of, by and for the people. I am hopeful, but I have a wide streak of skepticism in me. Let’s hope we find that leader in this rotation.
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