Cass Sustein's Politics By Other Means, which was published in New Republic in 2002; Mark Green's The Evil of Access, which was published in The Nation in 2002; Bill Moyers' Journalism and Democracy, which was published in The Nation in 2001; Anthony King's Running Scared, which was published in Atlantic Monthly in 1997; and, Peter Ford's Why Do They Hate Us?, which was published in the Christian Science Monitor in 2001.
The paper includes a synopsis of the main points of each essay, and an evaluation of the main points of each essay.
Cass Sustein's Politics By Other Means, is basically a review of Kenneth Starr's book First Among Equals: The Supreme Court in American Life. The essay looks at the Rehnquist Court and its successor, and compares the two, from the viewpoint of the author, and also of Starr, through the review of his book. It is argued that the Rehnquist Court is a great step forward, in that it offers moderation, examples of which are its reluctance to overrule controversial decisions.
Some differences arise throughout the essay: Starr praises the Rehnquist Court for its support for the "tradition of restraint" and "the principle of individual conscience," the author disagrees, saying all Courts offer this support. Another example of difference is the issue of Boy Scouts and their discrimination against homosexuals: Starr praises the Rehnquist Court's restraint over this issue, and from the tone of the writing of the author, we, the reader, sees he disagrees. The issue of racism and equality are discussed, and seem to bring some concurrence of opinions: Starr argues that "the Congress acts as though its powers were not limited by the Constitution, as though it could legislate on any subject it chose," i.e., branding the Congress arrogant. The author, in his absence of disagreement, leads us to believe he agrees with this statement, which is further supported by his assertion that greater limits should be imposed on the power of national government.
The author then begins to pick holes in Starr's reasoning, which is not consistent: he asks, "Would Starr argue that the Rehnquist Court is simply applying Warren Court decisions, and doing so neutrally?," almost mocking Starr's arguments. The author says that, unlike the picture Starr tries to paint, that the Warren Court is liberal, and reckless, whereas the Rehnquist Court is conservative and cautious, is too simplistic, as he says, "when text and history are ambiguous, political convictions matter too."
The essay is concluded with the following sentence, "Too much of the time, there is an unmistakable connection between the Rehnquist Court's reading of the Constitution and the political commitments of the Court's most conservative members." It is a rather finely controlled sentence, with which to make a stab at a man with whom he has disagreed - in a finely controlled manner - throughout the rest of the essay. The points raised for discussion within the essay, based on points raised in Starr's book, with which the author does not agree, are all argued in a very subtle manner, with restraint, perhaps mocking Starr's opinion of the Rehnquist Court. It is a very well written essay, with all points very subtly, but very powerfully, executed.
Mark Green's The Evil of Access looks at the issue of campaign financing, and shows that in the U.S., the Democrats are often out-spent by the Republicans, in 2002, to the tune of $184 million. He also presents evidence that spending great amounts of money can help to win elections, showing that bigger spending congressional candidates win 94% of elections, and that the cost of winning elections has increased, from $87-000 per House seat in 1976 to $840,000 in 2000.
In the essay, he argues that this inputting of such amounts of money into the political system is leading to an erosion of the democratic process, arguing that minority special interest groups, who are often willing to give large contributions to candidates, can buy attention, even votes, if candidates are willing to take these contributions, in exchange for votes. He points out that the access money buys does not guarantee legislative success, but that lack of it probably guarantees failure.
Through the course of the essay, he also says that this fundraising by candidates, to support their campaigning, leads to a reduced amount of time that the candidates are available for their actual, proper, jobs. He quotes a Senator, who said, "Senators used to be here Monday through Friday; now we're lucky to be in mid-Tuesday until Thursday, because Mondays and Fridays are for fundraisers." He quotes another Senator who admits making 30,000 phone calls over two years to enlist potential donors.
He puts forward further arguments to show that this special interest funding of public elections hurts the democratic process, because, as Robert Reich says, "...it is difficult to represent the little fellow when the big fellow pats the tab." He also argues that this system acts as a circuit breaker between popular will and public policy: a donor may ask a candidate a question, to find out where they stand on an issue, the candidate feels they have to reply in a certain way to get the donor's donation, and then realises that the cost of paying for the issue in hand will fall on the shoulders of taxpayers anyway.
He argues that this system developed in the U.S. As more millionaires became involved in the business of government; these millionaires are abstracted from the issues of interest to non-millionaires (such as government services etc.), and so do not need to worry about how their decisions to take 'special interest money' will affect the people they represent. He argues that big issues, such as terrorism, and pollution, which are also important, pale into insignificance when compared with the problem of strings-attached money: he asks, "how can we produce smart defence, environmental and health policies if arms contractors, oil firms and HMO's have such a hammerlock on the committees charged with considering reforms?"
He then argues that the issue of "special interest money" will reach a climax between now and 2004 as a result of three developments: i) once the issue of the Iraq war calms down, the impact of scandals, such as Enron, will issue in a new era of politics, as a century ago, corruption led to the Progressive Era; ii) the McCain-Feingold fight has re-educated the U.S. public about the issue of money in politics; iii) the Supreme Court will rule on the main provisions of McCain-Feingold, firstly the issue of banning soft-money fund-raising by national parties, and the issue of restricting the use of soft-money for sham 'issue' adverts.
He then turns to the issue of whether political process reform can adjust the hard-money system, as well as the soft-money system. He quotes government people as saying that the McCain-Feingold fight has encouraged people in government to want to push forward more reforms. He says, however, that this will be a difficult fight, as the people in government, who got there through special interest support, do not want to push such reforms through.
He concludes his essay by saying that democrats, through their 'Don't Let Enron Run Your Democracy' campaign, need to embrace three fundamental reforms: i) public financing; ii) spending limits; and iii) free, or discounted, TV. The points he makes about free TV are important, as the U.S. is almost alone in democracies in declining to provide free airtime to political parties during election time: broadcasters take the time they are given, and then sell this time on at highly inflated prices to candidates, so that only the candidates with huge monetary support can afford to pay for airtime.
He says that the current situation, where 0.1% of the population can use money to dictate policy to the other 99.9% of the population, is wrong; his last sentence, a quote from Henry See, is chilling: "History is like waves lapping at a cliff. For centuries nothing happens. Then the cliff collapses." agree with many of the points made throughout Green's essay; many of his points are valid, and need to be considered as important by people with the power to change the system as it stands, because as the system stands, the rich minority in the U.S. are controlling not only the poor majority of Americans, but also, it seems, much of the policies controlling the world economy, in these times of globalization. This issue is therefore fundamental for the correct exercising of democracy within the U.S., but is also important worldwide.
Bill Moyers' Journalism and Democracy is a humorous essay, dealing with a serious subject (the role and responsibilities of political journalists), from an autobiographical perspective. It is an adapted form of a speech he gave to the National Press Club, and reads a little disjointedly, not smoothly, as with the previous two essays. One point he makes in this essay is that in journalism, what is important is not how close you are to power, but…