Lost in the anti-government, anti-tax, pro-business rhetoric which has become the vocal currency of the day is an insidious assault on the American public. Those who know their American history realize there’s nothing new in dominance of our political institutions by wealthy elites. Old Ben Franklin feared the anti-democratic leanings of both George Washington and John Adams, and Thomas Jefferson’s candidacy against the incumbent Adams was an anti-monarchist and pro-democracy campaign that featured the birth of our two party system.
Since that seminal election, our nation has experienced a pendulum effect of swings in power featuring periods when government becomes a tool of wealthy elites followed by adjustments toward more balanced distributions of wealth and resources. In the 1830’s, President Andrew Jackson was so disgusted with the admixture of money and politics he closed the Bank of the United States. Following the Gilded Age, Teddy Roosevelt had this to say about political parties:
Political parties exist to secure responsible government and to execute the will of the people. From these great tasks both of the old parties have turned aside. Instead of instruments to promote the general welfare they have become the tools of corrupt interests, which use them impartially to serve their selfish purposes. Behind the ostensible government sits enthroned an invisible government owing no allegiance and acknowledging no responsibility to the people. To destroy this invisible government, to dissolve the unholy alliance between corrupt business and corrupt politics, is the first task of the statesmanship of the day.
The invisible government of today has mounted a massive assault on the “general welfare” that threatens public resources like air and water, public education, public parks, infrastructure, and services as basic as police and fire fighters.
Locally, public battery consists of the usual obeisance to “privatization” and deregulation, but also of repeated rounds of lower developer fees and routine attacks on air and water, public resources that magically revert to private ownership whenever it appears the public may begin to regain at least a modicum of control. So it is that Modesto Mayor James Ridenour and City Council members Joe Muratore, Dave Lopez, and Stephanie Burnside recently decided to go down the road to Village I again as they approved lower developers’ fees. And newly-elected Congressman Jeff Denham made an attack on Wild and Scenic status of the Merced River one of his first priorities, as he seeks to secure more public water for private use.
In 2002, retired state Senator Dan McCorquodale acknowledged who elected officials of today really represent when he commented on the presence of city council members and county supervisors on the San Joaquin Valley’s air district board:
By filling up the board with only elected officials, the cause of clean air was lost right there. It guaranteed that the only voices heard were those of industry and business.
Like water, air is a public resource, and like Teddy Roosevelt, Dan McCorquodale realizes most politicians no longer represent the public interest.
It’s easy to blame politicians, developers and corporations for our current social and economic woes, but the American people and Valley citizens have no one to blame but themselves. As much as it’s tilted toward the interest of the wealthy and the powerful, the American political system allows for broad public participation and representation. The remedy for our current malaise is public awareness and public action. Valley citizens need to start electing mayors, city council members and supervisors who support the public interest as opposed to the private interests of the few. Until we encourage and support those brave enough to oppose the status quo, we deserve the consequences of apathy and defeatism.