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