Saturday, October 25, 2008

Civics 101: a Rant

Democratic elections in free nations are, by their nature, messy affairs. Nearly everyone, on all sides, complains about the level of chaos. In many ways, that is a good thing.

Why is that a good thing? The alternative is worse. There is a way to reduce the messiness: take control. That is, allow politicians to control the political process. Remove it ever farther from the people. That is not a solution that would get much popular support when put that way, but it is precisely with what occurs with much "campaign finance" and "ethics" reform.

That thought occurred to me while reading this news article, which boggled the mind in numerous ways. For example, there's this part of the article complaining that lobbyists work with Political Action Committees:

These groups, known as PACs, are ways for businesses, lawyers, real estate agents, unions and other special interests to pool their money to give to candidates they support. They are sometimes criticized for advancing the narrow special interests in the corridors of power at the state Capitol, at the expense of the larger public interest.

They are blaming the wrong scoundrels here.

A basic, fundamental First Amendment right of Americans is the right to try to influence our government. We have the right to do that as individuals, or as groups of people with a common interest. Lobbyists represent every sector of American society: AAPPO represents old people; the Chamber of Commerce represents evil rich people; the AFL-CIO represents union thugs; the Sierra Club represents tree huggers. When I went to a meeting of the National Conference of State Legislators a couple of years ago, I even met a lobbyist representing naked people (the American Association of Nude Recreation).

We all have a right to pursue what we think is important. Now, hopefully, we are individually trying to keep the public interest in mind. However, it is rather natural for most of us to think that what is important to us is in the public interest.

Who's job is it to sort through all of that and determine what is in the public interest? Legislators and other elected officials and public servants. When bad decisions are made not in the public interest, who is to blame? Legislators, elected officials, and public servants.

Here is the basic problem. The blame is being assessed toward lobbyists, who are just representing all sorts of people wanting to influence what the government does to them. The direction of the law is to reduce the ability of the public to influence their government. This is exactly backwards. The credit and blame for good and bad decisions belongs with public officials.

Do some lobbyists do illegal or unethical things? Yes. We believe in free speech, even though much speech is not in the public interest -- we allow flag burning and lap dancing under the banner of free speech. Not all lobbying is good either, and there should be reasonable laws protecting against the unscrupulous. However, rather than tighten the controls and make government more remote, I will gladly take a little chaos.

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