A few nights ago there was a segment on NPR about the demise of the most recent, tepid gun control legislation. The host had the standard breadth of guests to discuss this issue, and the portion i heard focused on how a relatively innocuous measure like universal background checks could fail. The host pointed out that recent polling showed support for universal background checks at more than 90%, with even something like 88% of gun owners in favor. She asked her guests how the Senate could ignore what clearly seems to be the will of the people. Right. That’s a stupid question, but the answers were still interesting.
Both guests explained that even though politicians look at the polls, on issues like gun control they factor in the ability of interest groups – especially single issue interest groups – to wield a congressional vote against them through fear-based advertising and voter mobilization. In this case it was suggested that the NRA and like-minded groups would take a vote for universal background checks and use it to stoke fear among a subsection of voters. “Universal background checks are the first step in a string of government actions to register and confiscate all the guns.” That sort of thing. There was general agreement among the guests that politicians look at issues like this and make the decision based on their personal, political future. Vote for universal background checks on gun sales and you probably lose your next election, even in a gerrymandered and protected seat.
It’s no surprise, but it’s still disheartening. All these people who’ve been told by God to run for office for the greater good of America, and it turns out that the Lord is only concerned with their career and the greater good of America is the same as their professional advancement. A career in politics is creepy. Imagine the type of person who pursues a career in politics. Or just turn on CSPAN. Any questions about why we live in a politically dysfunctional country?
These men and women aren’t concerned with doing what’s best for the you, me, or the nation as a whole. They’re not looking at the medium or long-term future of the country. They’re concerned about their career and their next promotion. They need the corporate donations and the good favor of the special interests groups. Our votes are an unfortunate requirement on the path to their greater good.
No, it doesn’t matter which party the politicians you like more belong to. There may be a few exceptions to this that prove the rule, but you didn’t see Obama go out on any limbs during his first term to do what’s right even if it cost him reelection. And you won’t see him do it now, even with no possibility for reelection because the political career is wedded to the flow of money into politics. Clinton became a rich man after his presidency, mostly from the special interests he helped to the detriment of the nation he supposedly represented. That’s Obama’s next step. I’ve heard long-serving Representatives after retirement talk about their move to lobbying and plainly say that it’s now time to make some real money.
We’re cooked, America. We’ve put people with the temperament of used care salesmen into power and allowed them to believe that what’s best for them personally is best for the nation. So while it sounds funny that something like 4% of Americans believe the country is run by lizard people, the fact of the matter is that the country is run by people who only use their lizard brain.