by Robert Maynard
Once again the call for more civility in Vermont’s political debate is being heard, along with the question of why that debate has to be so partisan. Without even stopping to ponder possible explanations, a large section of the political and media class is pointing to money in politics as the culprit. Did it ever occur to these people that money in politics is merely a symptom of a bigger problem? Perhaps that real culprit is the concentration of political power into the hands of federal and state governments. Here is an excerpt from a recent Vermont Digger article pointing to what they consider the cause of lack of civility in Vermont politics:
Corporate campaign money has harmed civil discourse in Washington and could soon affect Vermont, according to James A. Leach, ninth chairman of the National Endowment for the Humanities and keynote speaker at the event.
“Money is the elephant at the door in Washington,” Leach said.
The problem of money in state politics was address in this February 2010 True North Radio article:
The real problem is that political power is increasingly being centralized in our nation’s capital. This centralization of political power is what is driving the influence buying that is at the heart of the much-publicized campaign finance and fundraising scandals. A good deal of the money flowing into the political process from both groups and individuals is an attempt to influence the government to grant favors or not to impose restrictions. The government’s ever increasing ability to hand out rewards and punishments has groups and individuals at each other’s throats as they fight over the favor of government. Civility and cooperation are replaced by greed and envy as we push each other out of the way in order ensure that we get our share of the government provided gravy train. Under such circumstances civic virtue and the compassionate community quickly become causalities in a struggle to get government to take from our neighbor and give to us. If we limited government’s ability to bribe us with our own, or our neighbor’s tax money, the influence buying would disappear overnight.
We are putting an unheard of amount of power in the hands of a small political class to affect just about every aspect of our lives. Is it any wonder that the end result is a political leadership that will do almost anything to stay in power? We have all heard of the arrogance of political officials who make laws for the rest of us but do not abide by those same laws. The political class has come to see itself as above the common citizen. They wield a degree of power that would have been the envy of ancient Roman Caesars. If we are really serious about reforming this mess, we need to take a serious look at our own role in enabling this behavior. In order to ensure that we have an ethical government, we must start with ensuring ethical citizens. On what criteria do we base our decision to support a candidate for political office? Is it character and a commitment to support the fundamental principles of government, or a promise to “bring home the bacon”? If it is the latter, then we are contributing to the problem and will never see real reform in government.
As pointed out by Citizens Against Government Waste’s “2009 Congressional Pig Book Summary”:
The outrage of millions of taxpayers following the $700 billion bank bailout and the $787 billion stimulus bill did not stop Congress from passing and President Obama from signing a bloated $410 billion Omnibus Appropriations Act in March. With the subsequent approval of the President’s budget, the national debt will triple over the next 10 years. That leaves plenty of opportunities for pork to remain pervasive in the nation’s capital. This behavior will continue until the political class is convinced that the outrage of the American Voters over such scandals outweighs their desire for their portion of the pork.
The problem of the concentration of political power in the hands of the central government is even more acute here in Vermont. Isn’t it about time that we started looking deeper than at the symptoms to problems like civility in our political debate?