It's The Plutocracy, Stupid
I received an email from a Capitol Hill aide who thinks my criticism of AIPAC, the powerful pro-Israel lobby, is overly simplistic. He doesn't dispute the fact that AIPAC has a disproportionate influence on our Middle East foreign policy. He argues, however, that AIPAC is no different than other powerful special interest lobbies.
I think his whole email is worth a read:
I work on Capitol Hill and I disagree with you about AIPAC. You make it seem as if AIPAC is the only lobby that gets what it wants through threats of cutting off campaign contributions, as if only AIPAC dictates legislation through intimidation.
WRONG! My colleague who handles the Israel issue confirms your analysis. But it's no different on the domestic issues I cover. The issues of jobs, health, taxes, the environment, regulation to protect kids' health, oil drilling, workers' safety, education, guns...they are all dictated by lobbies just as overbearing as AIPAC. All we do up here is cater to rich, selfish people and their special interests. And their interest is cutting all social programs so we can keep cutting taxes to make them even richer.
True, most of them don't brag as much as AIPAC but that doesn't make them any better or worse, just smarter (AIPAC gets more negative attention because of its swagger). Big deal. The public is getting screwed eight ways to Sunday by special interests and AIPAC is just one of them. Don't mislead your readers into thinking it is unique. Not only is it not unique, it's insignificant in the sense that it's not the guys robbing the poor to put money in their own pockets. They own US Middle East policy. But the real fat cats own everything else.
I agree with everything my correspondent writes. The American democracy we learned about in school no longer exists. It's been sold to the highest bidders. And the highest bidder is not, as the Tea Partiers like to say, "We The People."
Bill Moyers, the highly respected longtime PBS commentator and President Lyndon Johnson's lieutenant in creating Great Society legislation like Medicare and the Voting Rights Act, calls the American political system of today a "plutocracy" — that is, one that is governed by the few and for the few.
Last November, Moyers delivered a speech at Boston University (the Howard Zinn Memorial Lecture) explaining how this plutocracy was created. Suffice it to say that it was no accident. (You should read the Moyers speech here or watch it here. It is simply the best explication by anyone of how we got to this miserable moment in our history.)
Moyers explains the loss of American democracy like this:
The Gilded Age returned with a vengeance in our time. It slipped in quietly at first, back in the early 1980s, when Ronald Reagan began a "massive decades-long transfer of national wealth to the rich." ... The trend continued under George W. Bush — those huge tax cuts for the rich, remember, which are now about to be extended because both parties have been bought off by the wealthy — and by 2007 the wealthiest 10% of Americans were taking in 50% of the national income. Today, a fraction of people at the top today earn more than the bottom 120 million Americans.
Over the past 30 years, with the complicity of Republicans and Democrats alike, the plutocrats, or plutonomists ... have used their vastly increased wealth to assure that government does their bidding. ...
Everyone knows millions of Americans are in trouble. As Robert Reich recently summed it the state of working people: They've lost their jobs, their homes, and their savings. Their grown children have moved back in with them. Their state and local taxes are rising. Teachers and firefighters are being laid off. The roads and bridges they count on are crumbling, pipelines are leaking, schools are dilapidated, and public libraries are being shut.
Why isn't government working for them? Because it's been bought off. It's as simple as that. And until we get clean money we're not going to get clean elections, and until we get clean elections, you can kiss goodbye government of, by, and for the people. Welcome to the plutocracy.
Moyers, not surprisingly, is spot-on. And so is my correspondent who complains about my emphasis on AIPAC. My only defense is that my job is limited to foreign policy issues. If my job description were different, I'd be happy to write about the undue influence that the Chamber of Commerce and the Koch Brothers have within the halls of Congress. It's just that on the Middle East issue, the big foot money lobby is AIPAC, and it has no competition.
But I am not going to argue that AIPAC, or any foreign policy lobby, does anything like the damage done to this country by corporate interests. The "greed lobby" at the national and state levels has successfully implemented policies that take money from the poor and middle class and put it in the pockets of their friends (the rich and super-rich). AIPAC, for all its faults, does not lobby for legislation to make its members rich. (They don't get a kickback from the Israel aid package.)
None of this, however, makes me feel any friendlier to AIPAC and its satellite organizations. The policies they inflict on America are deeply damaging to our national interests. It is just that, right now, AIPAC is part of an infinitely larger problem: a thoroughly corrupted political system.
But it is far from alone. There are hundreds of AIPACs, many infinitely more powerful than AIPAC itself, and they are turning the American dream into an American nightmare. From now on, I'll be more careful about putting AIPAC's sins in their unholy context.