Monday, February 27, 2006

Can Public Trust Be Restored?

I had a conversation over the weekend with a teacher who works in Kingsport, and after a few minutes he began to say in hushed tones that he had grave concerns about the turn in recent years of the Conservative political movement. Daring to disagree with friends, he said, had harmed those friendships. "Something has gone wrong," he said.

You may or may not see it - the enormous divide that continues to grow between the incomes and lifestyles of a small (but growing) elite class and the rest of the working men and women in America. When I interviewed Tennessee's 1st District Congressman Bill Jenkins during his last re-election campaign, I asked him to address the concerns about "outsourcing jobs" and the difficulty in finding American made goods, like clothes and shoes for example. He replied that he too, had to spend some time and effort to buy his most recent pair of American-made cowboy boots - and that he paid just less than $200 for them. He smiled and said it was worth it to him. I kept thinking that $200 was more than a week's pay (after taxes) for someone on minimum wage.

Median incomes nationwide range between $45,000 to $48,000 annually. (Which means I suppose, they can afford those boots a little easier.) In 1960 the gap between the top 20% and the bottom 20% of income earners in the U.S. was thirty fold. Now it is seventy-five fold. Thirty years ago, the average annual pay for the Top 100 CEOs was 30 times the pay of the average worker. Today it is 1000 times the pay of the average worker.

The above information was mentioned in a speech by Bill Moyers, and he has some other mind-numbing information to share -

+ 65 lobbyists for every member of Congress

+ The total spent, per month, by special interests to wine, dine, etc federal officials is $200 million. Per month, oh faithful readers, per month!

+ Less than one-half of one percent of all Americans made a political contribution of $200 or more to a federal candidate in 2004.

Moyers speech, titled "Restoring The Public Trust" points out again and again a vast gulf between how many officials experience life and power in ways that have sown much distrust and disgust for those who labeled themselves Conservatives and I urge you to read the entire essay.

Here are some excerpts:

I will leave to Jon Stewart the rich threads of humor to pluck from the hunting incident in Texas. All of us are relieved that the Vice President's friend has survived. I can accept Dick Cheney's word that the accident was one of the worst moments of his life. What intrigues me as a journalist now is the rare glimpse we have serendipitously been offered into the tightly knit world of the elites who govern today.

The Vice President was hunting on a 50-thousand acre ranch owned by a lobbyist friend who is the heiress to a family fortune of land, cattle, banking and oil (ah, yes, the quickest and surest way to the American dream remains to choose your parents well.)

The circumstances of the hunt and the identity of the hunters provoked a lament from The Economist. The most influential pro-business magazine in the world is concerned that hunting in America is becoming a matter of class: the rich are doing more, the working stiffs, less. The annual loss of 1.5 millions of acres of wildlife habitat and 1 million acres of farm and ranchland to development and sprawl has come "at the expense of 'The Deer Hunter' crowd in the small towns of the north-east, the rednecks of the south and the cowboys of the west." Their places, says The Economist, are being taken by the affluent who pay plenty for such conveniences as being driven to where the covey cooperatively awaits."

"Two years ago, in a report entitled Democracy in an Age of Rising Inequality, the American Political Science Association concluded that progress toward realizing American deals of democracy "may have stalled, and even, in some areas, reversed." Privileged Americans "roar with a clarity and consistency that public officials readily hear and routinely follow" while citizens "with lower or moderate incomes are speaking with a whisper.

The following year, on the eve of President George W. Bush's second inauguration, the editors of The Economist, reporting on inequality in America, concluded that the United States "risks calcifying into a European-style, class-based society."


The [former] Speaker of the House, Newt Gingrich, famously told the lobbyists: "If you are going to play in our revolution, you have to live by our rules." Tom DeLay became his enforcer.

The rules were simple and blunt. Contribute to Republicans only. Hire Republicans only. When the electronics industry ignored the warning and chose a Democratic Member of Congress to run its trade association, DeLay played so rough - pulling from the calendar a bill that the industry had worked on two years, aimed at bringing most of the world in alignment with US copyright law - that even the House Ethics Committee, the watchdog that seldom barks and rarely bites, stirred itself to rebuke him - privately, of course.

DeLay wasn't fazed. Not only did he continue to make sure the lobbying jobs went to Republicans, he also saw to it that his own people got a lion's share of the best jobs. At least 29 of his former employees landed major lobbying positions - the most of any Congressional office. The journalist John Judis found that together ex-DeLay people represent around 350 firms, including thirteen of the biggest trade associations, most of the energy companies, the giants in finance and technology, the airlines, auto makers, tobacco companies, and the largest health care and pharmaceutical companies. When tobacco companies wanted to block the FDA from regulating cigarettes, they hired DeLay's man. When the pharmaceutical companies - Big Pharma - wanted to make sure companies wouldn't be forced to negotiate cheaper prices for drugs, they hired six of Tom DeLay's team, including his former chief of staff. The machine became a blitzkrieg, oiled by campaign contributions that poured in like a gusher."

UPDATE: Tam over at View From the Porch doesn't seem to care much for Moyers' opinions or what I said about them. Check it out.


  1. Anonymous5:21 PM

    Good post, horrible news.

  2. I agree with winter, this is a great post but I must say, it makes me undeniably sad of the state of our nation.

  3. You've more than done your homework on this.. A+!
    Reading Newt's quote made me queasy all over again.

  4. Sande -
    I did no homework - all the fine info in this post comes from Bill Moyers' speech. I hope you read all of his comments via the link.