Saturday, October 13, 2012

Pay to play God

When you're marooned in a pointless political conversation (i.e., every political conversation), an easy way to agree to disagree is to say: "The problem with politics today is that it is all controlled by special interests." This will help you shift the conversation to more important topics, like whether or not women should be allowed to drink Old Fashioneds.

Bashing special interests is a staple of every politician on every campaign trail:

I'm going to stand up to special interests.

For too long now, there has been too much money coming from special interests.

Unlike my opponent, I'm not beholden to special interests.

Of all the red meat talking points, this one might be the filet mignon. Everyone loves it.

"Special interests" are the money people who put politicians in office; the people who do the most to hire Eric Cantor or Harry Reid for the job. The word hire is appropriate.

What happens when you, a non-politician, get hired? You are expected to perform a task, regardless of how you feel about it. Your employer pays you, so in so many words he controls what you do. To keep getting that paycheck, you will recite slogans you don't believe in, follow rules that make you retch, and associate with people who if it weren't for the shared paycheck would be your sworn enemies. Why do you do all these things that run counter to your values? Because you want to keep collecting checks. That's part of what it is to have a job; bending to other people's rules and preferences in exchange for cash.

And like a politician, you lie to get the job. You lie and embellish during the interview process to get the job. You greatly overstate your previous achievements when campaigning for yourself. Some achievements you just invent altogether. Sound familiar?

Right now some dunce is reading this and is no doubt breaking out in a cold, duncy sweat: "Screw that, I own my own business! I'm my own boss!"

Not so fast lyric from a Beyonce song. You might own your own business and sing "My Way" on karaoke night, but your customers are the boss. Let's say you have a kitchen renovation business. You might hate zinc countertops. But if all the people having their kitchen redone read an article in the New York Times telling them that zinc countertops have a centering effect on urban middle children between the ages of 25-47 months, you're either going to install zinc countertops or you're going to be on a breadline. It is that simple.

If a teacher's union or oil company pays a politician a bunch of money, they aren't doing it because they like him or care about "the greater good" (whatever that means). They're doing it to hire him to perform the tasks they want performed...votes in their favor...subsidies in their direction. Money exchange=expectation of service. No one ever gives money just because. This is true of every scenario in life, politics included. The special interest groups paid Eric Cantor to do a job and they expect him to do it. If the Grand Union of Lesbian Podiatrists gives a wad of cash to Eric Cantor and he continually votes against their interests, he is breaking the deal, and he'll be fired. GULP will do whatever it can to hire someone else. Same thing that happens to you when you disobey your boss.

That is why people go to fundraisers. That is why you give money and go to rallies with your dopey signs. You too are trying to be a "special interest." Unfortunately for you, you as a special interest aren't special enough to matter. Most of you are just mad because you're losing.

And we're not just talking about the dreaded super PACs. A huge collection of grannies sending in five dollar donations to save social security (which imposes a huge cost on younger, working age people who didn't exactly sign up for it), is also a political donor/special interest situation. Perceived voting blocs also spark whoring and duplicity.

You want politicians to be just like you? Well friend, they already are. Whoever pays them gets to tell them what to do. You tell everyone you're an independent, uncompromising maverick who marches to his own drum. Then the manager at the restaurant where you work schedules you to wait tables on Super Bowl Sunday. No Super Bowl party for your independent ass. You're going to be the help at someone else's party that day. Because he said so.

I'm glad I brought up the Super Bowl, because I know someone is going to try to counter this by saying, "Hey, I'm a taxpayer, so I pay Eric Cantor's salary!" Reminds me of the sports fan who thinks he controls Mark Sanchez. Yes, in a roundabout way, you pay Mark Sanchez's salary, but Woody Johnson, the Jets owner, is the one who pays Mark Sanchez directly and handsomely. Sorry Jim The Twice a Decade Jets Game Attendee, but Mark Sanchez is going to defer to Mr. Johnson over you, and Eric Cantor is going to do the same with the folks that pay him the most. And unless a lot of Jim The Twice a Decade Jets Game Attendees rise up and do something big (rather than just complain on sports radio), it is going to stay that way.

It shouldn't take a wonk to realize that he who pays the piper the most picks the tune. Actually, most wonks seem to understand this even less than regular people. Same goes for political junkies who love to tell everyone how "aware" they are. Remove the jargon and tell them plainly that a politician accepts a check and behaves like any other hired gun and their face becomes as empty as the prospects for changing the political system.

I don't blame politicians for any of this. I blame voters for expecting it to be any other way.

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