Union political money corrupts "change"

Unless you've been living in a tent in the Falklands you know that a campaign for president is being waged in the United States in which the main issue is the word "change." Change is the issue because the country is fed up with what is not going on in Washington. The inability of Congress to do anything but engage in partisan sparring has created a national demand for political change.

Meanwhile, as the candidates promise change and CNN devotes 99 and 44/100ths of its broadcasts to presidential politics, neither CNN nor any news medium, commentator or pundit, to my knowledge, has challenged them on how they expect to accomplish it.

We've forgotten the reality of Washington where money does the talking and good intentions are frequently spoken but seldom achieved. Even a majority in both houses of Congress is no guarantee that the president's bills will be enacted. The Democrat majority in the current Congress saw a timetable for troop withdrawal blocked by a Republican procedural move.

Nevertheless, no matter which candidate is elected, life is going to be better because they have said so. They tell us that they are going to do what the incumbent won't do and what past presidents have been unable to do.

We will have universal health care at last, higher employment because corporations will no longer send their work overseas, schools will be fully funded, the government will help with college tuition, illegal immigration will be stopped, the troops will come home, taxes and the deficit will be reduced.

There are pledges to sweep Washington clean of the influence of lobbyists, initiate a one-page income tax return and -- seven years after 9/11 -- find Osama Bin Laden "if I have to chase him to the gates of hell."

The candidates know that in Congress lobbying is as much an institution as the Pledge of Allegiance. Congress steps aside when lobbyists bring pressure for their interests.

The sole promise the new president can keep, as commander in chief , is to order the troops home without consulting Congress. As for the other gratuitous claims, it might be easier to scale the Washington monument.

How does a newly elected president stop corporations from shifting operations overseas? How does a new president cut taxes, institute universal health care or improve public education across the nation? And how does a new president, who most likely sought lobbying dollars to get elected, then send the lobbyists packing? These things cannot be realized without legislation. The claims we hear on TV are so many pipe dreams without the consent of Congress. Getting that has become increasingly unlikely in the adversarial climate that exists in Washington.

A leading example is President Bush's first-term plan to privatize Social Security, which he launched with the momentum of a new administration. It didn't fly even with a party majority in Congress because of fear. Members of Congress feared defeat in the next election if they tampered with a sacred program like Social Security.

Similar concerns will scuttle any attempt to remove the influence of lobbyists. In our political system money wins elections, or at least makes it possible for a politician to run. There is little chance that a sitting member of Congress is going give up this time-honored means to get re-elected.

The more money that is involved in running for office the more influence that donors -- wealthy individuals, companies, labor unions, and other interest groups -- have over elected officials and public policy.

Lip-service efforts to stem individual campaign contributions have been neatly sidetracked by the use of soft money contributions to political parties to promote candidates and issues indirectly. Campaign finance reform is such a tender business it's always a hotly debated issue in elections itself.

Asking officeholders to scrap the system is like voting for term limits (Huh? Who said that?). Notice we don't hear much about term limits although it is the one sure way to clean up the political mess in Washington.

Re-election madness is what keeps politicians in line and on the receiving end of lobbyist donations. Self-interest comes before the public interest. Anyone who cures this affliction has my vote.

- Don North, a Times-News community columnist, lives in Hendersonville. His column appears on the fourth Friday of every month.


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