Where has Lincoln’s “government of the people, by the people, [and] for the people” gone? It seems the ideas of democracy, fair representation, and equality are slipping away from our sights. The leaders we elect today refuse to represent the interests of the people. Instead they represent the interests of the richest people in America. They refuse raise taxes on the wealthy, they refuse to force corporations to pay their taxes (looking at you Google), but they feel it is ok to cut programs that drastically reduce the quality of our lives.
As much as people want to blame the lobbyists, corporate funding, or whatever, the fact of the matter is that our elected leaders are not of the people, they are of a different class (50% of the members of congress are millionaires)*. Are many of our leaders conscious parties within the class warfare they are currently enacting on the middle and working class? Maybe. Or is it that they live in an environment so far removed from the context of the average person’s life they cannot identify with us or our issues. For our senators and representatives, it must be incredibly difficult to fully comprehend the idea of living pay check to pay check or not being able to afford to go to the doctor, or how globalization and technology, while increasing their pay/worth, is drastically reducing our income and the number of jobs in America (and rest of the world)**.
Our leaders live in another world. Our lives will never directly cross paths with theirs. They live in gated communities (a physical and symbolic separation) far away from the trials and tribulations of the people. When they do come down from their secure neighborhoods on the mountain, it is only to dine in expensive restaurants, take part in charity ball (i.e. expensive banquets), or campaign. They don’t understand the toll it takes on a single mother when they increase the cost of public transit and reduce the number of buses on the road, they don’t see how eliminating subsidized loans for graduate students will greatly increase the difficulty and deter Americans from becoming highly educated. They don’t see these issues because they don’t need the government programs and services we rely on everyday.
Let’s take a look at some of the richest members of congress… you tell me if you think they are able to represent your interests as citizen.
#12. Frank Lautenberg is a Senator from New Jersey. He is worth $76,886,611! He is the former Chairman and CEO of Automatic Data Processing, Inc, and has a degree in economics (not exactly a “science” of the people).***
#11. Senator Diane Feinstein from California. She has a net worth of $77,000,000. She graduated from Stanford University. She is currently married to an investment banker (Richard Blum the Chairman and President of Blum Capital, a company that has $4,500,000,000 in assets). ****
#10. Richard Blumenthal a senator from Connecticut. He is worth $94,000,000. He graduated from Harvard College, and eventually went to Yale for his law degree. He was a partner in both Cummings & Lockwood law firm, and Silver, Golub & Sandak law firm.*****
#9. Senator Jay Rockefeller. His net worth is near $98,832,000. He graduated from Harvard. Much of his wealth was simply inherited and was in his birthright in the meritocracy that is America. He is married to the Sharon Percy the daughter of Senator Charles Percy, and she is the former CEO of a PBS News Station. He also comes from a long list of former government leaders/business leaders.
#8. Senator James Risch. The senator from Idaho is worth $109,034,000. He received his law degree from Idaho State University.
#7. Michael McCaul. The representative from Texas is worth $137,611,000. He received his law degree from St. Mary’s University. His wife is the daughter of Clear Channel’s Chairman, and the sister of Clear Channel’s CEO.
#6. Vernon Buchanan. He has a business degree from Cleary University and a MBA from the University of Detroit. He assisted in growing American Speedy Printing through franchising. He was involved in a lengthy dispute due to unethical business practices and was eventually forced to pay $1,500,000. He owns two reinsurance companies (both located overseas). He made a great deal of money from buying and selling automotive dealerships, and was involved in a strange lawsuit related to financing a condo-hotel development.
He was also named one of the “Most Corrupt Members of Congress” by the Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington.
#5. Herbert Kohl. The senator from Wisconsin is worth $160,302,000. He has an MBA from Harvard. He, like Rockefeller, gained his position in society from inheriting a great deal of wealth from the businesses his parents owned. He also worked as a real estate and stock market investor, before starting his own company. He also owns the Milwaukee Bucks.
#4. Jared Polis. The representative from Colorado is worth $160,909,000. He received his B.A. from Princeton University. He and his parents sold the family business (an online greeting card company) for $780,000,000 in 1999. He has been able to start a variety of companies.
* Bakunin God and the State. “…is also true of all constituent and legislative assemblies, even those chosen by universal suffrage. In the latter case they may renew their composition, it is true, but this does not prevent the formation in a few years’ time of a body of politicians, privileged in fact though not in law, who, devoting themselves exclusively to the direction of the public affairs of a country, finally form a sort of political aristocracy or oligarchy. ”
**Apple only has 46,000 full-time employees while the company recently had 75 billion in liquid assets. For such a large amount of liquid assests and the amount of capital the company controls this is dismally small number of employees, especially when the majority (26,000) of these are Apple Store employees. Or look at GM which had 811,000 employees in 1980 and around 2005 it only had 311,000 employees. Also see the NY TIMES article on Apple
*** While it can be noted that Sen. Lautenberg was not born rich, he did come of age during a very different stage within American’s economic history.
**** The San Francisco Chronicle and the Washington Post have called attention to her role as a law maker to help her husband’s company.
***** I have to admit I do agree with many of the stands he’s taken as senator.