If there’s one news story you read this week, check out the New York Times article on Sheldon Adelson. Adelson, 78, is one of the richest men in America (reputedly worth $22 billion) and a huge financial backer of Newt Gingrich—he’s contributed $17 million dollars in support of Newt in recent years. It’s pretty interesting to read about the lives of incredibly rich people, but it’s also important to realize that when someone has as much money as Adelson, his or her personal interests and political commitments can have a disproportionate effect on the political process. To be good participants in an American democracy, it’s important for us to be aware of these people and the role they play in our system.
But I also think there’s something misleading about simply calling out the bigwigs like Adelson or the Koch brothers. Though these people have remarkably outsize influence in politics, it’s not as though cutting off the political influence of certain individuals would magically end the corrosive power of big money in politics. The upper class exerts its influence not through a few well-positioned individuals but through a complex network of social practices and relations, everything from the revolving door of finance and close ties between contractors and certain government branches to think tanks that connect legislators, academics, and the powerful financial backers of both. It’s these structural problems that undermine the integrity of our democracy, and the very wealthy individuals we tend to hone in on are simply extreme manifestations of the defects of the system. Only by moving on from personal attacks to attempts to address these structural problems can we make any progress in making every American’s voice heard.
By: Aaron Bekemeyer
(Photo by Bectrigger under a Creative Commons license)