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Corn: Our political debate is all show, no substance

POSTED: February 21, 2011 1:00 a.m.

Many people today rush home in eager anticipation of turning on the television to watch the best drama on prime time. "Desperate Housewives" and "Grey's Anatomy" may pass the time, but they cannot compete with the stagecraft found on the 24-hour "news" channels.

In fact, the theater being produced by these media outlets is far more entertaining and popular than the train of mediocrity coming out of Hollywood today. Viewing the torrent of passionate emotions exhibited by pundits and politicians, one might think there is a great ideological divide in America. And perhaps there is, but if such a divide exists at large, it is curious that neither major political party bases its actions on ideals.

To be sure, both parties pay lip service to some form of ideology, or at least to principles, but to what extent does either party believe its own posturing? Could it be that powerful forces have captured both parties, and are quite content to see high levels of illegal immigration, lackadaisical regulation of industry and unconstrained corporate welfare to banks and the arms industry? The answer is clear enough for anyone who has eyes and cares to see.

Corporate forces have spent the last 30 years consolidating control over the apparatus of state. Today neither political party represents ideology of any kind. They represent competing commercial factions, and these factions are relentlessly vying for the funds of our national government.

For a few examples, Republicans represent gun manufacturers and the oil industry. Democrats represent the interests of the trial attorneys, Hollywood and the high-tech sector in California.

Yet the most powerful entities are those that are unchallenged by either political party. Neither Republicans nor Democrats can so much as speak about opposing the Pentagon and the black cloud of defense contractors that swarm like cockroaches around the national treasury.

Then there are the banking bugs. The Wall Street cartel is now completely unrestrained by federal authority. It is an industry run by a criminal class which has recently been exposed in scathing critiques by both Michael Lewis and Matt Taibbi. Despite the fact that these enterprises are run by glorified mafiosi, a Democratic lawmaker recently admitted in a New Yorker article that no congressman in his party can get elected without flying to New York and bowing before the bond lords.

Congress and presidential candidates may not come cheap, but they can be qualified quickly by corporate bosses as useful or unreliable. The courts have taken far longer to penetrate, but from recent decisions it now seems that they too have come under the control of the cartels. For example, campaign contributions by corporations are now protected under the farcical pretense of free speech, breaking with nearly 100 years of judicial practice in America. This is the legalizing of bribery.

What is the result of this new flood of money into the political process? Any congressman with a mind for independence or the public good had better wise up and tow the party line. Otherwise he is likely to find the opponent in his next race swimming in untraceable campaign donations from shell companies, saturating local media with negative propaganda against the incumbent.

The mechanics of how money buys influence in our system is well known, but this influence must also be legitimized through appeals to public opinion. That is the reason for all the amped-up theatrics on television. After all, most Americans have some schooling nowadays and most voters are aware of the principle, if not the practice, of representative government.

 In their hearts voters still hold the will of the people as sovereign and infallible. It is for this reason that public officials savage one another on TV over topics like the "role of government," spraying their spittle on camera lenses while careening through fits of rage, insult, vainglory and indignation.

Tradition demands that our politicians at least pretend to debate on ideological grounds. This is a show. Their actions when passing legislation favor one commercial interest or another, often with the winning lobbyists writing the bills.

As a young boy I remember my schoolmates arguing about whether or not professional wrestling was real. I get the same feeling of bewilderment today when I hear folks say that their political party truly represents small government, low taxes, the unborn, civil rights or welfare for the poor.

These are no longer the concerns of politicians in America, and until this fact is understood by the majority, government deadlock will continue. To get beyond the current stagnation in political debate we must be able to separate fact from fiction, emotion from argument and spectacle from substance.

Jesse Corn is a Gainesville native and a Forsyth County resident. His column appears frequently and on gainesvilletimes.com.



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