By Arthur H. Gunther III
More than ever, special interests can buy an election, influence sitting officeholders and deeply direct U.S. domestic and foreign policy.
Investigative media that once would have looked at such a growing web of influence has shrunk in corporate downsizing. Attempts to bring light to deeply rooted, hydra-like interests, including the military/industrial complex, Wall Street-managed health care and lobbies of varied sorts, are met with planted news pieces, talking heads and blitzkrieg – misleading advertising and loud din that seeks to give lie to truth. Mr./Mrs. Smith are simply shouted down.
Yet this nation has not arrived in the 21st century – after war, division and economic and social calamity – without a moderating factor, an accurate description since it has been the moderates in both major parties who have always represented basic common sense in America, the dream that is this nation, the ordinary person. They have kept the extremes, and they are more so today, from getting us into too much trouble, and they have provided much-needed course correction in various elections. They have done this, this middle-way steering of the American experience, by being so vast in number.
But in 2011 moderates are in danger of extinction. The power of special interests to wither away moderation is frightening as they seek high, sustaining corporate profit that offers downsizing, not new jobs; lobby for a banking and financial industry which grows profit but not re-investment in Main Street; boosts a health care industry in which Hippocrates’ model of serving the ill is shamelessly missing; and supports a military/industrial complex where expensive, long-term wars are the only way to maintain its profits.
The complexity is so great that the simple voice of Mr./Mrs. Smith, or a clergyman’s call to help your neighbor or a fledgling candidate’s eloquence in defining how civility and the other tenets of humanity require a boost in our nation are all increasingly drowned out by the orchestration of power and money.
It is time, then, for the country to have a spokesperson for the populace, a “Secretary of the People,” a Cabinet-level post as powerful as the Secretary of State. It would be filled by someone who advises the president, who can bring to that person’s ears the drowned-out voice of all the citizenry, surely, but especially those from the moderates, who speak the words of common sense, of everyday concerns.
If there were such a secretary sitting with other counselors of government, perhaps the White House cocoon that is inaccessible these days to ordinary people would at long last have an inside man to get to the man.
To prevent special-interest wooing of the Secretary of the People, the post would be held for just one year at a time, with the president choosing each successor from somewhere in ordinary America. The chief executive would not select the individual himself, but rather an independent, volunteer group would search the nation far and wide and make a recommendation. Senate ratification would be almost a given, in the spirit of cooperation and to avoid lobbying by groups sure to be hurt by “common sense.”
Special interests already have their counselors, appointed and otherwise. Why not the people?