Part I – A
Problem with a History
October 28, 2014 "ICH"
of special interests or lobbies was one of the
foremost concerns of the Founding Fathers of the
United States. In their day they were called
factions. James Madison, who is considered the
architect of the U.S. Constitution, devoted the
entire tenth Federalist Paper (1787) to the
problem. He defined a faction as “a number of
citizens, whether amounting to a majority or a
minority … actuated by some common … interest,
adverse to … the aggregate interests of the
community,” and believed that within the context
of liberal republicanism, they could never be
eliminated. However, he did feel they could be
controlled. To this end he sought to create
representative bodies with high numbers of
delegates and a wide diversity of interests in
the hope that they would counterbalance each
George Washington delivered his famous Farewell
Address in 1796, he too noted the problem.
Washington warned of “combinations and
associations” which attempt to “direct, control,
counteract and awe the regular deliberation and
action of the constituted authorities” and
thereby substitute their own desires for the
“delegated will of the nation.” As Washington’s
continued concern implied, James Madison’s
approach to controlling special interests or
factions never proved adequate.
problem is still with us and is worse than ever.
That is why in April 2011 I coined the word
“lobbification” to describe the corruptive process
that bends politicians to the will of special
interests – that is, to the will of lobbies. The
vehicle that makes this process possible is, of
course, money, usually in the form of campaign
contributions to a politician.
politician defies the lobby making the offer (a rare
event but not unheard of), that special interest
will throw its support to the defiant politician’s
electoral opponent. The result is that most
politicians are in lockstep with the demands of
multiple powerful special interests.
Madison believed that this corruptive process is a
consequence of human nature – self-interest in
action. Perhaps that is so, but the results are no
less debilitating. So Pavlovian are the responses
created by lobbification that, today, politicians in
this state of mind cannot tell the difference
between the parochial interests of those powerful
factions to which they are indebted and the actual
national or local interests of their country or
two recent examples of the power of lobbification.
On July 18, acting in response to the urgings of the
Zionist lobby, the U.S. Senate unanimously voted to
support Israel’s ongoing attack on the Gaza Strip.
This from a Congress known for its inability to
agree on just about any legislation important to its
senators voted their support even though the Israeli
action was of the same character as the German
attacks on London during the Blitz and the Allied
destruction of the German city of Dresden toward the
end of World War II. In other words, the Israelis
were engaged in a large-scale operation targeting a
civilian population. That is a war crime and cannot
be justified as an act of self-defense. Yet the U.S.
Senate, to a person, publicly supported this
It might be
noted here that there were serious divisions of
opinion about Israeli behavior among the American
public – that is, the Senate’s constituency. But the
senators seemed immune from the popular debate and
responded as if they represented the Zionist lobby,
not the American public.
domestic front, meaningful regulatory gun
legislation, be it national or local, appears to be
politically impossible because of the influence of
the National Rifle Association (NRA). This is so
despite a proliferation of gun-related deaths and
injuries in our homes, on our streets, and in our
arguments of NRA supporters usually imply that
regulation of firearms would be the death knell of
hunting, of target shooting, and of gun collecting,
and even the ability to act in self-defense. Yet
rational and reasonable gun regulation is not the
same as prohibition, and to act as if they are the
same is, in my opinion, a paranoid point of view.
is the Second Amendment argument that allows many
supporters of the NRA to fantasize that they are
enrolled in a “well regulated militia” without which
the U.S. cannot remain a free society. Free from
what? From the authoritarian potential of the state
with its immensely better armed police and military
branches? This is just naive. If the government
wants to act in a dictatorial fashion, armed members
of the NRA will not be able to stop it.
rational control of firearms does not threaten our
freedom. It makes us freer by enhancing our safety
from the growing plague of gun violence that NRA
lobbying presently forces most of our politicians to
ignore or deny.
Here it is
important to note that the National Rifle
Association leadership often fails to accurately
represent its own membership, much less that of the
general public. A 2013 Pew survey found that 74
percent of NRA members supported universal
background checks for private gun sales (as did 94
percent of the general American public).
Nonetheless, at the urging of the NRA the Senate
voted against this requirement in the same year.
As with the
Zionist lobby and public concern over its
particularistic foreign policy, many senators are
immune from the popular debate on gun control and
respond as if they represent the NRA lobby and not
the American public.
right in one regard: regulation of the power of
factions/special interests/lobbies to influence
politicians and policies is an absolute necessity.
However, here we run up against a real Catch-22
dilemma. That regulatory legislation, and other
related efforts such as campaign finance reform,
must come from the same politicians who are
financially bound to special interests.
with a strong addiction, these politicians seem
unable to free themselves from the monkey on their
If there is
a way out of this dilemma it must come from the
general public. The long-standing dissatisfaction
with politicians, especially on the national level,
must be channeled into a popular campaign to free
the legislators and policy makers from the influence
of narrow interests.
this as an effort to clear away an historical
obstacle to good governance. If this does not
happen, the foreign policies that have promoted so
much anti-American hostility worldwide, and the
domestic policy that has allowed the indiscriminate
murder of so many innocent citizens, will continue
and indeed grow worse.
Davidson is a history professor at West Chester
University in Pennsylvania.