I believe a Government is a collection of individuals representing the whole of a nation. There was a time when America had such a Government, with a capital G.
Somewhere between town hall meetings and pork barrel politics, between war for freedom and war for oil, between General George Washington and George “Dubyah,” a mystique was lost. Our sense of immediacy became numb, like that of a war veteran coming to grips with the reality of new peace. We became lazy. The drive toward individuality disappeared, and with it went the concept of Government as a bare utility. Now we politely ask for universal access to health care and minimum wage increases, and doing so fulfills our sense of civic duty for the day.
Unfortunately, we have aided the destruction of the concept of government. With a rapidly growing population demanding a greater number of government responsibilities, there has been a substantial increase in federal regulation of the economy, health care, real estate – all leading to the redistribution of power and authority into the hands of politicians. Thus we cannot point the finger at corruption, for what is corruption?
We have willfully endowed politicians with power and trusted them, individually, to act in our favor. On the other hand, we have given those individuals the opportunity to use power selfishly. And if there is a no man’s land linking these dimensions of Government and government, it is in lobbying.
As the population grew (and the government did not), many interests went unrecognized. Groups began to appoint persuasive individuals as representatives of their firms, sending them to Washington for visibility. Over time, lobbyists began to affect public policy, but always with the condition that they take the common good into account. This placed few conditions on the morality of their actions, so long as they made a positive contribution.
It is important to keep in mind, however, that corruption as a means cannot justify the end. Outright corruption is isolated and not as much of a concern as corrupt tactics with seemingly neutral results. Armed with five-star restaurant invitations, Superbowl tickets and “fact-finding missions” to the Caribbean, lobbyists are marshaling armies of American citizens aiming to steal legislative supremacy from one another.
There are now 14,000 lobbyists in Washington, according to CNN. That’s 26 for every member of Congress, with each member receiving about $25 million on average in campaign contributions. As a result of this excess, interest groups with little financial firepower are left to starve. Groups representing industries with money to spend, such as oil, tobacco and private health care, influence decision-making so much that, by nature, only a select few benefit heavily, and the remaining masses must take dent after dent. Over time, the underprivileged groups that cannot fight back, such as producers of alternative fuels and public schools, are silenced by the sound of private jets and money machines.
The government is a bloated shadow of its former self, but it is not corrupt. It cannot be corrupt; it is a system, and thus incapable of self-interest. It is the self-interested individuals we tolerate, those who protrude so perversely from the political process like cold sores on the lips of Washington, who are capable of corruption. Corporations mocking genuine interest groups in pursuit of a higher profit margin are capable of corruption. Lobbyists are only corrupt as a result of this network of corrupt individuals.
If we are to restore any sense of Government, we must demand stringency. We must punish corruptors as conspirators, for those who corrupt the government are conspiring against the Constitution. We must reform campaign spending and limit pork barrel spending. Democracy is a lobby for the interests of the entire nation, and we must fight to keep it as such.
Mohammed Ibrahim is a senior majoring in pre-med biology.