by | Nov 21, 2008 | Detroit Free Press | 0 comments

You want to know why no one trusts politicians? Take a look at campaign finance reform, which is now, after a year’s worth of hype, lying in shreds on the floor of Congress while lawmakers point fingers at one another and yell:
“Your fault! Your fault!”

Honestly, I’ve seen more admirable behavior in “The Sopranos.” At least they admit they’re crooks.

Our congressmen, meanwhile, under the guise of representing the people, continue to represent their pockets. Money talks. Character walks. The only admirable part of this sham is its creativity. The derailment of this good bill was a work of art — if your art is sabotage.

First, let’s be clear how important a thing this is. Never mind how boring the words “campaign finance reform” may seem. What’s at stake is keeping rich people and rich corporations from buying government for their own purposes — and thereby ignoring poor and unconnected people.

That’s pretty critical to a democracy, don’t you think?

So critical that our lawmakers have been “struggling” with it for years. Of course, when politicians use the word “struggle,” it usually means they know you want it, but they don’t want it, so how many ways can they come up with to delay it?

Several times before, the House passed versions of a campaign finance reform bill. You know why? Because the House knew it would fail in the Senate. This way the congressmen got to say, “Hey, WE wanted it, but THOSE GUYS screwed it up.”

This time, the Senate already had committed. Which meant the House vote would actually — gasp — count!

Got to love those loopholes

So what do the congressmen do? They do what every sleazy lawyer and tax-cheating accountant does. They find loopholes and technicalities. And they hide behind them.

On the eve of the vote, Republican leader Dennis Hastert feared this thing actually might pass and politicians would have to surrender the soft money that has been filling their coffers for years. So he decided to yank out a technicality.

Hastert proposed that the bill be split into 14 separate amendments, voted on one at a time. This, of course, would make it more difficult to pass. Sen. John McCain, who has been all over the news wagging a fist for reform, called the move “the last refuge of scoundrels.”

(Scoundrels? Wow. This is a Republican talking about a Republican! Then again, many Republicans consider McCain a scoundrel himself, since he speaks to Democrats.)

Anyhow, the proponents of the bill — which included a good number of Republicans — saw this divide-then-vote move by Hastert for what it was: divide-and-defeat.

So they rallied and, by the end of the day, voted 228-203 to defeat the idea of voting to defeat the idea.

At which point, Hastert turned his tail, said “Never mind” and yanked the bill from the floor. He has no plans to bring it back before fall. By that time, what he hopes will happen is what every selfish politician hopes will happen: That the people will forget about it.

A reason for cynicism

Which brings us back to where we started: why people don’t trust politicians. What average American can keep up with all this legal and technical mumbo jumbo?

The average American is very logical: Propose a change, vote on it, put it into law. But if it were that easy, things might actually get done.

Congress prefers its traditional way: backroom deals, voting blocs, using parliamentary procedure as a hammer and filibusters as a nail.

What kills me is how these same people emerge from their cloistered chambers and say, “Americans don’t care about campaign finance reform.”

The truth is, there are few things Americans care more about than having their elected leaders represent them — not big money. We just can’t seem to find very many who want to.

“The public is cynical,” U.S. Rep. Steny Hoyer said after the vote. “They don’t think anything we do will make a difference.”

Gee, I wonder why.

Contact MITCH ALBOM at 313-223-4581 or albom@freepress.com.


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Mitch Albom writes about running an orphanage in impoverished Port-au-Prince, Haiti, his kids, their hardships, laughs and challenges, and the life lessons he’s learned there every day.

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