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More money for lawyers, right? The special interest issue in 2002

By Roger F. Gay
web posted July 8, 2002

This is only a "mid-term" election year when there is no presidential race. There are US and state representatives and senators, governors, mayors, and dog-catchers whose terms are at an end but not as much big-money campaigning. For every American however, it is still a season for deciding the balance of power between one group of lawyers and the other.

Two-thousand was a presidential election year. The term "special interest" seemed more popular then. In January, participants in PBS NewsHour discussed the way special interest advertising might interfere with political party message management. In the February issue of National Review Yeshiva University professor John McGinnis commended Senator John McCain for recognizing that the government serves special interests instead of the public good while criticizing the Senator because he "consistently takes stands that would strengthen rather than dissolve the special-interest state." In July, Mike Allen at the Washington Post reported that spending on special interest advertising with messages similar to those of candidates "might match or exceed that of the candidates in hotly contested House and Senate races."

In 1992, Washington voters passed a spending-limits law that barred a political party's unregulated campaign funds from being spent to promote individual candidates. In August of 2000 the editors of the Seattle Post-Intelligencer were lamenting its downfall to the state Supreme Court's defense of free speech. "Voters across the nation have made clear their profound disgust with money's influence in politics," they wrote. "The court's decision comports with the Constitution, but runs counter to that public sentiment." How many of you could see that coming? The Constitution has been around for a while. So has pandering to special interests.

The "special interest" issue is a mainstay of political rhetoric almost always tied to money. But with the problems of Arthur Anderson, Enron, Global Crossing, WorldCom, Xerox, Kmart, ImClone, Tyco, Adelphia Communications, Merrill Lynch, ... to name a few; politicians may find it difficult to cope. It isn't just election year rhapsody anymore. Democrats tried to blame Republicans. Republicans hinted at the involvement of Democrats. If this keeps up someone might begin to suspect that politicians pander. That may make this just the right year for people who are not running for office, shilling for a political party, or selling advertising to discuss the "special interest" problem.

Maybe first we need to rethink the phrase "pandering to special interests." It seems the kind of phrase-turning that leads to describing a sociopath as someone who skirmishes to satisfy difficult to meet needs. What we are really concerned about is lying, cheating, stealing, pork-barreling, patronage, bribery, corruption, extortion, and deception, right? But if this is done under the color of laws written by people who are doing it we call it "pandering." Some debate on pandering seems to suggest the fault of victims for offering a weakness to exploit. At other times it seems to mean to perform a special service perhaps for people with difficult to meet needs.

Our well developed political stereotypes are of one group that favors pandering to wealthy corporations and another to "social groups." Fighting for the middle these days seems to involve damning the other party's stereotypical pandering and calling for alternative pandering as a necessary step toward moderation. Should we assume that no one in the real world needs help? Of course not. Corporations are apparently so complicated that the largest and most successful accounting corporations have difficulty meeting the needs of their clients. It goes without question that "social groups" almost always have needs that are difficult to meet.

From Women's Enews: Both Parties Say Women's Wallets Ripe for Tapping. "Party operations have for too long been viewed as mostly a man's arena," said Illinois Democrat Jan Schakowsky. "We want women to be actually investing in candidates and in the party. When you make any kind of investment, you definitely feel more connected. I think there's a whole untapped constituency out there that is ready and waiting to be engaged."

Women used to get engaged to men, marry and settle down to wrestle with the concept of mutual support. Today's progressive politicians apparently see it differently. Women's issues roared into the middle-class through welfare reform during the past quarter century. Now family support is withheld from the old man's paycheck and sent to the government for reallocation. Exactly who gets what is decided by politicians. This is exactly the moment for women to "feel more connected" to politics and to "invest." NOW brags that their PACs collect money through 550 local chapters. It is the largest feminist campaign contribution machine in the country. The aim is to gain influence in every level of government; from presidents to state court judges.

This in turn is creating a "whole untapped constituency" of men who are beginning to "feel more connected" too. The more pandering women get, the more difficult it is for men to meet their needs; like food, clothing, and shelter. Men should learn to "invest" in candidates and political parties. If it pays off someone in the government's Fatherhood Initiative might suggest forgiving a small portion of their politically created debt. This all leaves me wondering if we might be displaying too much tolerance for phrasing diversity. Pandering doesn't sound nearly as illegal as bribery for example.

Two years from now during the next presidential election campaigns you will have the opportunity to hear from hundreds of political investment counselors spilling out lists of issue titles in a tone pretending to be substantive. It may take quite a few dollars just to get your issue on a list. The good news for the downtrodden masses is that the United States is an equal opportunity nation. The money is just as green no matter who it comes from. Politics today is about investing in a way that continually increases the difficulties we face in meeting our needs stubbornly hoping that it might make things better. It is faith in achieving balance in the abuse of political power. And if nothing else it's more money for the lawyers, right?

Roger F. Gay is a professional analyst and director of Project for the Improvement of Child Support Litigation Technology. He has also been an intensive political observer for many years culminating in a well-developed sense of honest cynicism. Other articles by Roger F. Gay can be found in the Men's Daily News archive.

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