By Arthur H. Gunther III
Increasingly, special interests can buy an election, influencing sitting officeholders and deeply directing U.S. domestic and foreign policy. Investigative media that once would have looked at such a growing web of influence has shrunk in corporate downsizing and in declining readership of a citizenry that ought to ask more questions. Attempts to bring light to deeply rooted, hydra-like interests, including the military/industrial complex, Wall Street-managed health care and lobbies of so many sorts, are met with planted news pieces, talking heads and the blitzkrieg of misleading advertising and loud din that seeks to give lie to truth. Mr./Mrs. Smith are simply shouted down, those who still ask questions.
Yet this nation has not arrived in the 21st century – after war, division and economic and social calamity – without a moderating factor, an accurate description since it has been the moderates in both major parties who have always represented basic common sense in America, the dream that is this nation, that is the ordinary person. Moderates have kept the extremes — they are more so today — from getting us into too much trouble, and they have provided much-needed course correction in various elections. They have done this, this middle-way steering of the American experience, by being so vast in number.
But in 2015, moderates are in danger of extinction. The power of special interests to wither away moderation is frightening as they seek high, sustaining corporate profit that forces downsizing, not new jobs; as they lobby for a banking and financial industry which grows profit but not re-investment in Main Street; as they boost a moneyed health-care industry in which Hippocrates’ model of serving the ill is too often shamelessly missing; and as they support a military/industrial complex where expensive, long-term wars are the only way to maintain blood profit.
The complexity is so great that the simple voice of Mr./Mrs. Smith, or a clergyman’s call to help your neighbor, or a fledgling candidate’s eloquence in defining how civility and the other givens of humanity require a boost in our nation are all increasingly drowned out by the orchestration of influence and money. The few, powerful voices against the many.
It is time, then, for the country to have a spokesperson for the populace, a “Secretary of the People,” a Cabinet-level post as powerful as the Secretary of State. It would be filled by someone who advises the president, who can bring to that person’s ears the drowned-out voice of all the citizenry, surely, but especially that of moderates, who speak the words of common sense, of everyday concerns.
If there were such a secretary sitting with other counselors of government, perhaps the White House cocoon that is inaccessible these days to ordinary people would at long last have an inside man to get to the man.
To prevent special-interest wooing of the Secretary of the People, the post would be held for just one year, with the president appointing each successor from somewhere in ordinary America. The chief executive would not select the individual himself, but rather an independent, volunteer group would search the nation far and wide and make a recommendation. Senate ratification would be almost a given, in the spirit of cooperation and to avoid lobbying by groups sure to be hurt by “common sense.”
Special interests already have their counselors, appointed and otherwise. Why not the people? Perhaps there is no other way to gain access to the White House for the common citizen.
The writer is a retired newspaperman who can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org These words were part of a 2011 essay still appropriate, I think.