September 10, 2007

More Democracy Isn’t Always Better Democracy

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According to the presidential candidates, the best way to clean up Washington is to get rid of the interest groups. This mantra has been repeated over and over again. Interests groups and their lobbyists donate money and inform politicians to advance their own agendas. Now, the whole world knows that John Edwards takes no money from lobbyists, Barack Obama used to but has since seen the light, and Hillary Clinton takes the lobbyists’ money but does not let it influence her decisions. These are all great sound bytes, but interest groups are not to blame. It is the current system of government that so many of our presidential hopefuls support, that is at fault.
Thanks to C-SPAN, people can see every action that Congress takes in every step of the legislative process. It used to be that a bill was debated with little transparency. Lobbyists could persuade politicians as to how to vote, but they could not have an impact on the actual legislation. At some point, this all changed and we now have dozens of congressional watchdog groups that monitor Congress’s every. Now, lobbyists can influence debate, amendments, and other changes to a bill. While this may seem like a good thing to many people, we only have to recall the last important piece of bipartisan legislation…wait, when was that? Congressmen must now cater to every interest or they will be voted out of office. By opening up our democracy, we have gridlocked it.
In the 90’s, many military bases needed to be closed after the Cold War. How did Congress handle this? A special nonpartisan committee gave recommendations as to which bases to close, and an up-and-down vote was taken without any amendments or influence from outside pressure. This led to an effective and efficient closing down of many obsolete bases.
The point here is that interest groups are not the bad guys. Should we blame Mothers Against Drunk Driving for lobbying Congress? We cannot blame the interest groups for trying to help themselves. Gauging the public’s opinion on every issue might be the popular thing to do. However, with the next president most likely facing one of the toughest foreign policy problems in American history, doing the popular thing may not always be the right thing. We need to keep this in mind when voting for a president. What we need is a leader who is strong enough to strike a balance between an open and an insulated government.