By Chet Yarbrough
Narrated by Lawrence Lessig
Lawrence Lessig is a professor of law at Harvard Law School. In “Republic, Lost” Lessig crystallizes the reasons for American apathy about voting in general elections; i.e. the state of America’s current “moneyocracy” makes a vote hardly worth exercising. Wake up America.
Though one appreciates Lessig’s critical evaluation of the American election system, his ivory tower solutions only reinforce voter apathy. Like the “Occupy Wall Street” movement, Lessig’s book is mired in a fantasy. Neither the inchoate “Occupy” movement nor Lessig’s intellectual exercise can change the inborn cause of American inequality; i.e., pursuit of money, power, and prestige, the unchanging nature of humankind.
Rights inherent in the freedom of American capitalism reward greed and denigrate or ignore altruism. The burgeoning gap between rich and poor aggravates and insures an American aristocracy of wealth.
As long as corporations continue to endorse executive pay at 50 to 500 times the income of average employees, money will continue to distort democratic policy. Lessig presents the idea of paying legislators higher salaries to blunt corruption. To suggest, which Lessig does, paying a million dollars a year to a congressman to mitigate undue influence by corporations will only raise the stakes for moneyed interest’s distortion of public policy; not to mention, increase the chasm between haves and have-nots.
One readily understands Lessig’s disillusion with Barack Obama and his campaign to change the way government works. Admittedly, Obama steps away from Lessig’s academic tower by recognizing and following entrenched rules of political combat when he takes office in America’s executive branch. Lessig correctly points out that any talk of a single-payer system for national health care disappeared after Obama took office.
National health care would have been dead on arrival without a real-politic appreciation of what it would take to get this important legislation passed in the United States. Obama chooses to co-opt the insurance industry by making them the vehicle for getting the legislation passed. One can intellectualize the ideal but, in the hurley burly of real life, money in America always talks. Trying to legislate against human nature is a waste of intellectual and practical effort.However, the Affordable Health Care Act is a tribute to Obama’s tenacity and rectitude. Despite opposition of many Obama’ advisors, Obama chose to pursue national health care for Americans as a first goal of his presidency.
Today, we are again mired in a battle over health care for all Americans. Congress refuses to agree on a policy that endorses health care as a human right. It is considered too expensive, a product of welfare economics and socialist doctrine, even when we see the horrendous consequence to the poor and disabled. Who in congress does not take advantage of health insurance coverage?
Hillary Clinton had a better understanding of the ways of Washington D.C. than Barack Obama in her campaign for President; i.e. she knew that big legislation would only get passed through political cooptation and/or cooperation. But, we elected Donald Trump, a dissembler and acolyte of the philosophy of personal greed. Obama relied on a Democratic majority in congress to squeak ACA through the political process. Trump has a Republican majority but only knows the ways of a bully. Trump fails to understand the difference between might and right. Trump mocks majority rule and cannot get Republican cooperation.
Obama realized, after taking office, his original idea of universal health coverage would become mired in the same political swamp that Ms. Clinton did as a national health care advocate in the Bill Clinton presidency. The difference is that Obama successfully maneuvered a national health care bill through congress. It may be defeated or gutted by the judicial branch but Obama gets credit for getting Americans one step closer to universal medical coverage.
None of this is meant to depreciate the truth of what Lessig writes in his well-documented book about the undue influence that money plays in the legal manipulation of elected officials, and falling public confidence in government. What he writes is important because it cogently explains how money colors the political process. Lessig’s writing gives opportunity for American introspection and organized political action.
Capitalism is not a perfect system and people like Lessig are important because they reveal those imperfections. Americans are frustrated with politicians and the current political environment. People like Lessig and Obama give reason for hope that change for the better will come; never fast enough but always incrementally forward.