It’s not secret that I wasn’t entirely sympathetic to the cause of Bernie Sanders and his cadre of supporters during last year’s primaries. I’m almost positive I’ve written about the reasons why already and won’t rehash them completely except as a jumping-off point to the broader topic that’s been in my head recently.
A central tenet of the Sandernistas was that we needed to get money out of our politics. It was money, I was told, that shifted the power structure of DC in favor of special interests and against “regular people.” My counterpoint was simple – if politicians supposedly “beholden” to organizations like the NRA thought for a second that deregulating firearms would cost them an election, that money would be worthless. John McCain, on every list of NRA lackeys I could find, got $500,000 in campaign donations from the organization between 1989 and 2012. In 2016 alone, McCain’s Senate campaign raised $11.6 million. Now, ask yourself, if John McCain thought opposing gun regulation would cost him votes, do you think he’d prioritize a relatively small amount of campaign money – in an environment where it’s easier than ever to raise it – over his job?
The reason the NRA – and Wall Street, and Boeing, and Monsanto – are successful politically isn’t their money. It’s that they are relentless in their focus. The NRA cares about their cause on a random Thursday in March as much as gun control advocates care the day after a mass shooting. That’s what makes them successful. They give a shit. Not just every four years. Every day. They read legislation that will impact them and their members They know what committees that legislation will come before. They know the subcommittees that legislation will originate in. They know the members of that subcommittee. They know the chiefs of staff of those members of the subcommittee.
In 2014, Pew Research asked Americans a much simpler question – what party does your congressperson belong to? They didn’t ask Americans to name their congressperson, or what committees that person belonged to, just simply “what party?” The good news is, about 75% of Americans had an answer. The bad news is, a third of them got it wrong. 53% of Americans correctly identified which political party their member of Congress belonged to – a question that you had a 50/50 chance of getting right if you guessed.
So, here’s what we need to ask ourselves – is it really money that keeps us from exercising political power?