[ Just returned from the World Humanist Congress and will post a report once I go through my notes. Believe me — it will NOT be a snooze! Some really juicy stuff to talk about. In the meantime, though, here’s some more red meat ]
As an optimist, I hold with Churchill’s famous quote that “democracy is the worst system of government—except for all the others.” Our democratic system works well when competing interests do battle. But often there is an asymmetry of motivation between interests, and that can be a problem.
It is exemplified by the recent $300+ billion bloated behemoth of a farm subsidy bill. It’s not merely a waste of money, it actually harms the public interest. It raises prices for consumers. It harms the environment, by distorting the market, promoting non-economic production and waste of resources. It robs the poor to pay the rich. It even hurts the poor in other countries, whose farmers can’t compete against subsidized U.S. products, which also undermines wider international trade negotiations, harming the entire world economy.
How can such a travesty get enacted? Farm votes are important, but they’re a tiny minority. The bigger factor is the farm lobby and its bribery, I mean, campaign contributions. The farm bill benefits farmers in far greater degree than it hurts the individual citizen. So agribusinesses fight hard and there’s no other interest group with a sufficient stake to mount serious opposition. The average schmo is even bamboozled to assent in the name of helping the family farm, which we romanticize. In fact, it’s the big agribusinesses that do the heavy lobbying and Congressional vote-buying, and they make sure to get the lion’s share of the goodies—actually making it harder for smaller farms to compete and survive. And those big businesses get quite bang for their buck. For a few million in bri – er, campaign contributions, they buy federal handouts worth billions.
It was this kind of pathology that the McCain-Feingold law attempted to combat. I didn’t think that was the right solution; but it did at least demonstrate McCain’s seriousness about confronting this monster issue.
Barack Obama runs on the one-word mantra “change.” He purports to represent a new kind of politics, breaking out of the tired old Washington game. But, disappointingly, he voted for the farm bill. This shows that for Obama, “change” is an empty slogan. When it came to this really big test, Obama went with the old routine Washington game, kowtowing to the farm lobby and suborning its shameless rape of the public.
John McCain, consistent with his whole career, denounced this farm bill and voted against it.
The really jaw-dropping thing is that Obama nevertheless still postures as the reform candidate, indeed, the anti-lobbyist candidate, trying to tar McCain as the one who’s a phony on this, as the candidate somehow in bed with lobbyists.
Actions speak louder than words.