The struggle in American government today is one between hypothetical ideology and stark reality. The ideology lives in our national and state capitols and the reality is borne by the Americans our governments are supposed to serve.
Neither group seems to understand the other. Elected officials are isolated from the thinking of the people they serve which is laden with of fear and anxiety about their future. The elected cannot feel or understand that except in the abstract. The people can’t understand why the elected are so clueless.
Government exists, paraphrasing Lincoln, to do for the people what they cannot do for themselves as individuals. Over the centuries the needs of the people and treatment of others has changed, not because of technology, but because of humanity.
We no longer imprison debtors, we try to not let people starve, we educate the children—all of them, for the most part we take care of the elderly, the sick, and the infirm. The argument is not so much about what we do for ourselves, it is how it is accomplished, which these days boils down to government or the private sector.
For decades, the private sector was neither competent nor wanting to provide universal education, affordable healthcare, public transportation systems, prisons, ad infinitum.
However, thanks largely to the hypothetical ideology of Milton Friedman, father of Trickle-Down economics, the private sector saw that they might be able to make a buck or two by taking over those very government functions that they had previously shunned.
Ideological ideas such as trickle-down economics or deregulation of the financial industry take a while to put into place, and then it takes still more time to see if they actually work or if they seem to work, or if it could be argued convincingly that they might eventually work. For the most part whether they work or not doesn’t affect the life of working people in an obvious way, it’s more insidious, like the death of 1000 cuts.
When it doesn’t work it ruins lives of everyday Americans, but not the lives of the elected or officers of the deregulated industries.
There are some very simple solutions to serious problems that can’t even be entertained because of the opposition of business coalitions with vested interests in the status quo. The most obvious of these is universal health care which could be accomplished by extending Medicare to everyone, regardless of age. That is totally opposed by the insurance industry. They are mighty influential in Washington, but they’re not influential because they have good ideas and good arguments to support them. They have something better, they have money
The workings of government are mysterious to the common person, but the workings of lobbyists are not.
America is run, not in the best interests of the citizen, but in the best interests of industry, which they assure us is really better for us in the long run. It has been that way for a long time, but the decision in Citizens United, that corporations could contribute unlimited amounts of money to political campaigns, really consummated the purchase of Congress by industry.
For years such Presidents like Teddy Roosevelt, Taft, and, yes, Nixon fought the large corporate trusts for the benefit of Americans. Now it seems that the corporate trusts will be fighting the citizens.
Jim Elliott served sixteen years in the Montana Legislature as a state representative and state senator and four years as chairman of the Montana Democratic Party. He lives on his ranch in Trout Creek.