The Democratic Party clearly thinks
President Bush is vulnerable on the issue of special interests.
Here’s an excerpt from John Kerry’s speech following
his victory in the New Hampshire primary: “I have spent my
whole life fighting for what I think is right and against powerful
special interests. And I have only just begun the fight.”

Julie Pannuto

And here’s part of Howard Dean’s speech: “We
can take … our government back for the people who built it
instead of corporations and special interests, and we will.

And Wesley Clark’s: “I responded to a call for
change … from an administration that puts politics above
principle and special interests above national interests —
that we must change.”

And John Edwards’: “We shouldn’t have two tax
systems, one for the special interests … and one for all
those families who just work hard every year and pay their taxes
and carry the tax burden in America.”

And finally, Joe Lieberman’s (I’m not wasting column
space on Dennis Kucinich): “(Our cause) is for a politics
that puts the national interest above special interests or partisan
interests.”

These “special interests” must be pretty awful. They
sit in high-backed leather chairs at the top of their dark office
towers, smoking cigars and drinking scotch, planning how they can
ruin America and harm little children — all while grabbing as
much money as they can. They’re all graying white males who
spend their free time sitting around a pool or, even worse, playing
golf.

And even though all the candidates lamented the influence of
special interest groups on government, they offered scant evidence
when it came to details. Let’s take a look at some of the
best-known special interest groups to see if maybe the candidates
have gone a little overboard. AARP, which serves the interests of
America’s oldest citizens, has more than 35 million members,
according to its website. Among other objectives, AARP works to
improve health care and economic security for Americans over the
age of 50. So, yes, even grandma has her hand in the cookie
jar.

Maybe the most powerful special interest in the country —
and probably the most effective — the American Israel Public
Affairs Committee. It exists to pressure government officials to
support Israel. So, if you support Israel — and I know there
are a lot of you out there who do — you might want to take a
more favorable view of special interests. Or, if you’re not
an AIPAC fan, there’s also an Arab-American
Anti-Discrimination Committee and the Arab American Institute,
headed by John Zogby.

Maybe you believe in a woman’s right to choose. Then you
would probably be heartened to know of the existence of the
National Organization for Women, NARAL and Emily’s List.

There’s the Sierra Club, which fights to protect the
environment. Almost every press release on its website attacks
President Bush. I wonder if the Democrats will make a special
exception in their passionate opposition to special interests for
the Sierra Club. In fact, I bet they’ll use some of these
special interest groups in their campaigns to unseat Bush.

Another powerful special interest is the AFL-CIO, which
advocates on behalf of its unions’ members. The members of
these special interests groups spend their days in factories, not
smoking cigars in skyscrapers.

Even your kindergarten teacher is a member of the evil web of
special interests. The NEA is definitely a special interest, and it
has fought any kind of education reform every step of the way.

And your friendly pediatrician belongs to a special interest
group. The American Medical Association is an advocate for
physicians. One of its top priorities, however, is to enact tort
reform.

If you can’t stand the idea of tort reform, you might want
to look into the American Bar Association, led by the nefarious
former Detroit Mayor Dennis Archer. It’s gotten some bad
press recently because it opposes limits on the right to sue
people. But if you’re a good populist, you should probably
oppose tort reform, too — even if that means aligning
yourself with a special interest group. America’s legal
system allows anyone, including the union member who makes a living
wage because of the work his special interest group has done, to
sue the world’s largest corporations and the federal
government itself. Wow, that is special.

I admit that the Democrats do have a point about money and
influence in politics.

But they have to admit their inherent connections to special
interests groups: John Kerry is married to the woman who controls
the Heinz fortune, and John Edwards is a trial lawyer.

Howard Dean deserves credit for obtaining so much donation money
from individuals making small contributions. However, individuals
are always more effective at advocating their viewpoints when they
band together.

Aren’t presidential campaigns just another form of special
interest groups?

Pesick can be reached at
“mailto:jzpesick@umich.edu”>jzpesick@umich.edu.

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