Who will step forward?
With speculation already rampant about the 2008 presidential candidates, is there anyone out there with the courage to tell the truth about the nation's dismal state?
And if such a person exists, will he have the funds to run?
Several campaigns are already in full, if unofficial, swing. Which among these well-worn Republican professional politicians stirs you? Would it be Senators John McCain, Bill Frist or George Allen? How about Rudy Giuliani or Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice?
What do you think of these Democrats: John Edwards, Wesley Clark, Al Gore or Hillary Clinton?
The one thing that all those would-be candidates share is that their election would insure four more years of the same: the country going in the wrong direction.
Several weeks ago, I read a fascinating online editorial written by Bill Moyers titled Restoring the Public Trust.
Using the accidental shooting incident involving Vice-President Dick Cheney as a microcosm of politics today, Moyers provided insight into today's elite government world.
Here are the troubling details.
Cheney was hunting on a 50-thousand acre ranch owned by the Armstrong family, heirs to a fortune earned from banking, cattle, oil and real estate.
The party's host, Katherine Armstrong, was once a lobbyist for a powerful Houston law firm founded by the family of James A. Baker III, chief of staff to Ronald Reagan and also Secretary of State under the first George Bush. One of Armstrong's most recent lobbying jobs was for a large construction firm with contracts in Iraq.
Moyers makes this point:
"It is a Dick Cheney world out there – a world where politicians and lobbyists hunt together, dine together, drink together, play together, pray together and prey together, all the while carving up the world according to their own interests."
Or substitute the name Bill Clinton for Dick Cheney and the results are the same. Clinton, as we all remember, came up with the idea of renting the Lincoln bedroom in the White House for a cash fee.
Moyers' key words are "according to their own interests."
In politics today the little guy's voice is smothered.
The two most worrisome explanations of how this happened are, first, in the decade since 1996 the cost of presidential and Congressional elections has doubled from $1.6 billion to more than $3.9 billion.
And second, since 2000 the number of Washington, D.C. registered lobbyists has also more than doubled from 16,300 to 34,800. That works out to 65 lobbyists for every Congressman.
Those lobbyists spend $200 million monthly—every month—wining, dining and corrupting the people you voted for.
Michael E. Toner, chairman of the Federal Election Commission, speculates that by 2008 each major-party presidential candidate will need to raise $400 million, well in excess of the $274 million and $253 million collected by George W. Bush and John Kerry in 2004.
Toner considers $100 million the minimum ante for primaries. [Money Is Going to Talk in 2008, By Thomas B. Edsall and Chris Cillizza, Washington Post, March 11, 2006]
As sobering as Moyers' article is—he describes it as "bleak but true"— it also serves as a wake-up call for disenchanted Americans.
All is not necessarily lost. Clean money is on the way.
In Connecticut, contributions to politicians from lobbyists and state contractors are banned. In races for governor and state legislature, candidates must fund their own campaigns. And to qualify to run, they first must raise a significant number of small contributions from voters in their district. This allows competitive candidates with something to say a chance without needing access to big money.
Arizona and Maine also have similar public financing regulations.
And in California, the Clean Money and Fair Elections Act, AB 583, passed the State Assembly in January and moves on to the Senate.
Americans must insist on cleaning up political campaign contributions.
To quote the great Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis: "You can have wealth concentrated in the hands of a few, or democracy, but you cannot have both."
Joe Guzzardi [email him], an instructor in English at the Lodi Adult School, has been writing a weekly column since 1988. It currently appears in the Lodi News-Sentinel.