This Week in Elder News: 26 July 2008
Generic Drugs Redux: Reader Beware

The Other Election

category_bug_politics.gif On Friday evening, former Senator Fritz Hollings was a guest on Bill Moyers Journal. Hollings spent 38 years in the Senate where, according to Moyers’ introduction, he had

“…a long and colorful run during which he made a name for himself as a passionate advocate for the hungry, a champion of balanced budgets, and a fighter for jobs in the textile industry. He called it quits four years ago and went home to South Carolina. But he was back in town recently, to see old friends and sign his new book, Making Government Work.”

All summer, all eyes have been on the two presumptive nominees for president. It has been a long time since there was such a stark difference between the two candidates and whoever is elected will govern differently from how the other would. But the federal government is not only about the executive branch.

There is another, equally important, election in November that is being ignored. All seats in the House of Representatives will be on ballots this year as well as one-third of the Senate. Congress’s latest approval rating is the lowest for any Congress in history – nine percent - because nothing gets done and we the people can easily see that. Senator Hollings, unlike the media that never reports anything but candidates' gaffes and horse races, made crystal clear the two reasons Congress is useless.

Below are some highlights. There is nothing you don’t already know, but Senator Hollings gives some startling details that bring it home – stuff you won't find in newspapers and on most television, is never discussed by the political pundits and therefore never made an issue.

FRITZ HOLLINGS: As a senator, in the last two or three years, that's all I was doing was raising money. And working for the campaign and for the party…All the time is fundraisers. All the time is money, money, money, money. In 1998, ten years ago, I ran and had to raise eight-and-a-half million. The record is there. Eight-and-a-half million is $30,000 a week. Every week for six years. Each and every week for six years.

The game is money. I got to get the money [and] to heck with constituents, I gotta get contributors...

We didn't go home on the weekends. We tried to get out Thursday afternoon or night or at least early Friday morning to go to the West Coast for fundraisers. That's why Hollywood and that's why Wall Street has got that much influence. I'm not going to South Carolina. They got no money for a Democrat. I have to travel all over the country.”

BILL MOYERS: Years ago, you write, "On Washington's birthday, a freshman senator would read the farewell address at 12 o'clock noon and then we'd have votes in the afternoon."

FRITZ HOLLINGS: We'd have votes. Now we have merged Lincoln's birthday with Washington's Birthday and take ten days off in February for fundraising. We have St. Patrick's Day, ten day break for fundraising. Easter, Memorial Day, Fourth of July, the month of August, Labor Day, Yom Kippur and Columbus Day - that's ten days gone in October. September, October is fundraising. Everything is attuned for the campaign, the hell with the country.

BILL MOYERS: A constant, permanent campaign.

FRITZ HOLLINGS: That's exactly what it is.

BILL MOYERS: Commercial television is the big winner in this because that's where so much of the money goes.

FRITZ HOLLINGS: That's right; the rich have got all the speech they want. The poor got lockjaw. He can't articulate out onto the television.

BILL MOYERS: The poor can't. They have no voice.

FRITZ HOLLINGS: Yeah, and that's the trouble. They tell you, don't go waste time and don't go see people...

BILL MOYERS: The clear message is money has a stranglehold on our democracy.

FRITZ HOLLINGS: You gotta untie that money knot and then the government will begin to work.

BILL MOYERS: And who gives them the money?

FRITZ HOLLINGS: Wall Street, the banks, and business.

BILL MOYERS: What would you do about the power of the press in our society today?

FRITZ HOLLINGS: Tell them that by gosh, tell the truth. You know the debate between Walter Lippman and John Dewey. And Walter Lippman said, what we oughta do is get the experts in finance and defense and education and the various elements of government, and let them determine the company's the country's needs and give it to the Congress and let 'em pass it.

John Dewey, the educator said, no, no, let the free press report the truth to the American people and the needs will be reflected to the congressmen and senators in Washington. And he was right. But they're not telling the truth anymore…

They’re all getting by with perceptions; they're all getting by with pollster politics. They're not talking about the needs. The country is ready, willing, and able to work; the government's not working.

These are the two reasons (money and a corporate-controlled press) it hardly matters which candidate is elected president in November. A war might be shorter or longer with one than the other. I suspect (or hope) we might have a chance to restore the Constitution with one over the other, but…

Politicians' need for today’s equivalent of $30,000 a week in 1998 campaign funds assures that the next Congress – even if we throw out all the incumbents in November – will be no different from this Congress (nine percent approval). It will continue to be the handmaiden of Wall Street, banks, corporate America and individual rich people because that's where the money is. I wish I could believe I am wrong.

You can view the Moyers/Hollings interview or read the entire transcript here.

[At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Mike Nichols tells us about The Night I Was a Leprechaun.]


As if we didn't already know this? This goes across party lines, too. Elections are not about who can do the job. It's about who can campaign best and raise the most money. Who looks best on TV. Who presents the best "image". This has been true for some time. And don't leave out Hollywood. That is perhaps the scariest factor.

Sure, we already knew this, but it still gives me a stomach ache every time it’s confirmed by someone who knows. And what I always come back to, what I always wonder, is… what will it take to turn it around? If you look into the future, what in the world is going to happen that will turn it around? Evidently the general populace doesn’t care enough about it to revolt, since it’s been going on for so long, and getting worse all the time. So, what?!? What will it take?!? I can’t get my mind around it.

I saw the Hollings interview and the one on our government's torture program just before it. Yes, it is sickening. My personal response is to keep registering voters and hope that we can collectively make some changes. I don't hold out much hope for that, but it gives me something to do that I feel good about.

Perhaps all of us blogging about how to restore democracy will gradually turn it around. If more of us were awake to the realities we would begin to see through the fog of the corporate media. Let's just keep on blogging and trying to do something. It looks pretty weak when I see it on the page, given the powerful corporate media that we face, but its the best I can do.

Pete Dominici resigned from the Senate after umpteen years, and that shook up all the NM politicos this year. All three of our Representatives ran for his seat, plus a whole lot of wannabes. The fight is down to Steve Pearce (R) who thinks that the threat of "socialize medicine" is a valid talking point and supports Bush policies, and Tom Udall (D) who has a good record on the environment and follows the Democratic policy line.

All three of our House seats are up for grabs, too, because everyone ran for Dominici's seat.

Should be interesting in our little state.

There are two factors that are behind everything (not just politics)-- money and power. We can't do much about the thirst for power except take away their money. It's a catch 22 because as long as those with money control everything there is no way we can defeat them. It isn't the puppet politicians, it's those shadowy figures pulling the strings that are scary. It's depressing.

Everything Hollings says is true -- I've handed the candidate the phone to make the money calls. (My candidates tended not to be very good at it, so they stayed in the lower echelon of politics.)

Yet I also see that when enough of us get going in a particular direction, they realize their power depends on doing what we want (or at least looking like they are.) So I do a lot of work trying to get a lot of us, far and wide, going in directions that move the politicians.

And this from the morning paper:

"Campaign contributions from oil industry executives to Sen. John McCain rose dramatically in the last half of June, after the senator from Arizona made a high-profile split with environmentalists and reversed his opposition to the federal ban on offshore drilling. Oil and gas executives and employees donated $1.1 million to McCain last month . . ."


Sigh. I knew this. My definition of an honest politician: once he;s boughtm he stays bought. It's why I want to vote no for president.

This is exactly the problem and we have to get people who are not already in office to run for the positions even of those who are at the top. These guys lose and rotate right out to high paying lobbyists positions which is what has to also be changed. As long as there are that many lobbyists with that much money to use for subtle bribes and less subtle, we will get what we have now-- the kind of government money can buy. The country needs better and it won't get it unless people care enough to vote on the issues and what has your congressmen already done. That they suddenly get the faith on the months before they are back up for election is not good enough.

It's more than obvious who the congressmen are taking care of: their contributors. When it takes millions to get a seat in Congress, can you really say that the pol does all that work for a $169,300 job? They like the power, they like the perks. They like the cushy, high-paying jobs they get when they get out of Congress.

The poll ratings for both the Executive and Congressional branches of government are in the basement. Don't know the Judicial ratings but I'd bet they're right there along with the other branches.

This just gives the big contributors another chance to buy themselves a fresh government who will do their bidding.

The voters are fed up, but the only time the pols care about the "little people" is when they are trying to get your vote. They talk a good line, how they are going to "fix" things in Washington. Then they get elected and you never hear from them again.

I'm disgusted by the whole charade. That the American people's voices count for so little after the election is really discouraging. Any wonder why the voting rate is so low?

I used to think it mattered who got elected president. But if you look at the various rankings of past presidents, only those who came along at times of great national crisis float to the top. In between high crisis, it's always been ho-hum at best, from both parties.

So I've shifted focus to US Representatives. Senators are pretty much hopeless because of the money thing. Representatives still hold out some hope.

Mostly, though, they say that all politics is local, and so my attention goes most strongly to city and county elections and state legislative races. They are the people most able to do things that screw up our daily lives.

Following up on some of the glass half-full comments above, it's encouraging that Russ Feingols (D,WI) 2008 Patriot Corps will be sending 30 trained organizers to targeted campaigns across the country.

A small contribution gives you the chance to say where in the country you'd like to see corps members go. Think I'll check with Jan at Happening Here blog for ideas.

Yes, and if you send a few dollars to one candidate that you prefer, they do the same thing the magazines do. They SELL your name to all the other candidates and/or organizations.

First I make a contribution to a person running to be my U.S.Representative. Next thing I know I have a letter from the DNC or Emily's List or some other group or even some other fundraiser for the same party or candidate.

It never stops. Except now I will leave all the politicians on their own. I'm finished. No more contributions...

They have drained me of all desire to support them.

Maybe I'll send THEM a letter asking for money for gas....

So what's the best answer for my foreign born friends who say American voters get the leaders they deserve! (Implying voters aren't educated enough to make intelligent voters.)

Thanks, Ronni. Your blog is truly outstanding.

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