. . . Thursday May 5, 2005

Divided and Conquered

Surprise. Some things in D.C. are not in the upright position. Call it deceiving on a jet plane.

You can easily imagine the following dilemma: Part of you wants to go into politics for the power. And part of you wants to go into business for the corporate perks.

Well, some members of Congress have figured out that you can have it all. Welcome to the incredibly friendly skies where people with critical voting power are invited onto the corporate jets of those who have an interest in directing that voting power.

[House Majority Whip Roy] Blunt is not alone in enjoying frequent corporate jet travel. He and 11 other current or former House and Senate leaders — each with exceptional power to determine the fate of legislation and regulation — flew on corporate-owned jets at least 360 times from January 2001 to December 2004, according to a review of records by The Washington Post.

Blunt and House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-Tex.) are the top two users of such jets among the current leadership, together accounting for at least 140 trips during the past two election cycles — an average of one flight every 10 days. They are followed by Senate Minority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.), Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.), and House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.), who used corporate jets for at least 38, 15, and seven flights, respectively.

This shouldn’t surprise anyone.

And if you are looking at these kinds of behaviors through partisan glasses, you might as well be blind to them.

There are two political Americas. One where the masses are trained by politicians and the media to scream at each other about every issue (even though we all agree on most things); and the other where big businesses and connected lobbyists fly leaders from both parties around the country in corporate jets because lobbyists are not out to cheer for one party or the other, they are out to get legislation passed.

When it comes to political power, these lobbying and business groups are cruising at 30,000 feet while we’re wrestling in a below sea level mud pit (and I don’t mean that in the good way).

Over the last several months, we’ve seen former Presidents Clinton and Bush travel together, spend time together and generally look like they’ve become pretty decent friends.

Isn’t that blasphemy in these political times? Two men from the two families whose feelings for each other are most emblematic of our national rage are actually, well, enjoying each other’s company?

Think of a political party as your favorite sports team and think of voters as rabid fans. Like in sports watching, we often hate the opponent more than we love our own team. I have yelled Dodgers Suck a whole lot more than I have yelled Go Giants (and I’ve yell the word Malt a lot more than either). When the game is over, you’d be surprised to see rabid fans from opposing cities rubbing elbows at a brew pub. That’s what sports sells. Allegiance to a brand.

But when the game ends, one wouldn’t be that surprised to see professional athletes from different teams hanging out and even becoming best friends. The stadium is empty. The show is over. This metaphor can be extended to politics. The show ends. Politicans get that, but we keep hating each other.

Too often, voters don’t realize that the endless and wanton attacks are part of the game. And in this environment, we always come out the losers. Why? Because as long as we are determined to hate each other because of political affiliation, we can’t come together to fight for the things that are in our common interest (the very notion that we even have a common interest has been all but obliterated). And that’s just where the lobbyists want us.

Take a look at two recent pieces of legislation: The bankruptcy bill and the rejection of a minimum wage hike. Both of these bills were strongly backed by big business. And the masses of people came nowhere close to making enough noise to have an impact. As always, we were too busy shouting at each other instead of shouting in unison. We’re more interested in the game than we are in our own interests.

Think the credit card companies wasted time hating one politician or another?

Guess which group of Americans doesn’t give a damn who wins elections? Big business and major lobbying organizations. They give dough to both parties. They don’t have time for the hate. They’ve got seats in corporate jets to fill.

And as long as we’re focused on attacking one another, those flights are all going one way and it ain’t ours.

Concentration is important!