Perspectives: The distance between you, your government is growing

OPINION – Will Rogers is credited with an old saying to the effect of “If you’re thinking you’re a person of some influence, try ordering someone else’s dog around.”

Behind the cowboy humor is a truth that applies in other areas of life where we think we have more influence than we actually do.

One of the biggest delusions under which many Americans labor is the belief that our current government is still responsive to the will of the people. This is sometimes expressed in threadbare platitudes such as, “If you don’t like a particular law, work to get it changed.”

Or this gem, “Our system of government is of the people, by the people, and for the people.”

More often than not, these catchphrases are uttered in response to someone’s criticism or questioning of some aspect of public policy. Whether they’re being wielded in defense of a particular ideology or simply out of a desire to be contrary, there’s an easy way to put such claims to the test.

Ask the person making the pronouncement, when was the last time that he or she directly influenced public policy at any level? Insist that they be specific. What law did they get passed or changed? How exactly did their efforts correct an official wrong?

Most people will either try to change the subject or they’ll start grasping at straws. Don’t let them equivocate.

Registering an opinion with the office of an elected official isn’t the same thing as actually holding that official accountable for his or her voting record. How was their influence felt?

Voting for the lesser of two evils in a national election can hardly be considered the same thing as wielding real influence in crafting public policy.

Even shaping the discussion in a local school board or city council meeting is beyond the reach of most citizens.

The truth that is difficult for many to grasp is that, in most matters of shaping public policy, the influence of the people has been reduced to virtually nothing.

To those who have been paying attention to the political process for any length of time, this should come as no surprise. Those who still trust in the shibboleths they’ve been trained to say since their youth, are going to need more definitive proof.

They should examine the study authored by Martin Gilens from Princeton and Benjamin Page of Northwestern University titled “Testing Theories of American Politics: Elites, Interest Groups, and Average Citizens.” The two professors analyzed 1,779 policy issues and compared the opinions of the American public to the preferences of well-funded special interests in how each affected the final outcome when creating legislative policy.

Suffice it to say that the moneyed elite and corporate lobbyists were the clear winners as to who possessed real influence. The influence of average American people over shaping policy was said to be “minuscule, near-zero,” and even the mass-based interest groups had “minimal influence.”

Put another way, the wealthy elite and the well-connected business organizations have great success shaping public policy while ordinary Americans do not.

Gilens and Page come to the following conclusion:

Economic elites and organized groups representing business interests have substantial independent impacts on U.S. government policy, while average citizens and mass-based interest groups have little or no independent influence.

If policymaking is dominated by powerful business organizations and a small number of affluent Americans, then America’s claims to being a democratic society are seriously threatened.

The next time you hear someone prattle on about how the people still have the ultimate say in how America is run, keep this disconnect in mind. The distance between the government and the people is growing at every level.

This gulf is not the product of some overreaching conspiracy, it is the natural result of a society whose people have allowed their principles to become corrupted. It is what happens when a nation of people become dependent or lazy and have forgotten their own history.

Joseph Sobran summarized our dilemma when he noted:

Ignorant people don’t understand The Federalist Papers, but they understand government checks with their names on them.

A principled populace would know for themselves the intent of the Founders. They would be less easily led to believe they still live under the Constitution just because government leaders say they do.

They would recognize that, even as government claims the power to tell them what the Constitution means, it also keeps changing that meaning in order to expand its own power.

They’d be less susceptible to comfortable lies assuring them that they are still free and have a voice in their governance.

Honest people, though few and far between, prefer knowing precisely where they stand over continuing to cling to false beliefs.

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Twitter: @youcancallmebry

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  • Koolaid September 12, 2014 at 10:02 am

    Oh yes, let’s mistrust and hate the Federal Government while we vote for and support the likes of Swallow, Shurtleff, Lee, Chaffetz and Hatch, not to mention some of your area council people. Glug, glug, glug, have some more of your Utah brainwash flavored koolaid.

  • Joanna September 12, 2014 at 10:58 am

    “The truth that is difficult for many to grasp is that, in most matters of shaping public policy, the influence of the people has been reduced to virtually nothing.” <– Is it really difficult to grasp? I for one, have no trouble with this concept. Anyone else? Just another unfounded blanket statement made by a profoundly amateurish opinion "columnist". Sigh.

  • Big Guy September 12, 2014 at 12:52 pm

    As usual, Bryan addresses an important issue but manages once again to mislead with some mistaken facts. In this case, he accuses “business” as the prime influencer of public policy. There certainly are “elites” which influence public policy but “business interests” are far down the list. Read on:

    **Of the top 20 organizations that have made political donations in 2014, only two favor Republicans
    **Seventeen are considered solidly Democrat/liberal while one is considered on the fence
    **Eleven of the top 20 are unions
    **Totaling the 2013-2014 contributions so far from the top 20, Republicans have received $18.5M compared with $129.3M for Democrats
    **The Koch Brothers are #35 on the list

    • bobber September 12, 2014 at 3:16 pm

      Better hide them guns. Obamas gonna come try ‘n take ’em…

  • JAR September 12, 2014 at 3:05 pm

    What KOOLAID is really saying is he doesn’t care if its Hatch, Obama. Swallow, Soupy Sales, etc., as long as his check still comes in the mail. Reminds me of a typical illegal .
    ‘And I hate Mormons’& Walmart stores. Why? because I was told to’. Jerk!

  • laytonian September 12, 2014 at 3:44 pm

    “BIG GUY” — can you tell the class which orifice you pulled your “statistics” from?
    And don’t say FreedomWorks or another skewed source.

    • Big Guy September 13, 2014 at 11:39 am

      How about “Open Secrets,” a reliably leftist web site. Start with its “Labor” link: Then note that the Koch Brothers’ donations (they were certainly large) are less than at least a ten unions. Unions predictably donate to Democrats. Now try This list of individual donors shows a distinct liberal bias. As for businesses, most companies split their contributions surprisingly evenly since they can’t afford to offend any office holder. Next time you ask for “statistics” do a little homework on your own: you might learn something.

  • Dana September 12, 2014 at 3:57 pm

    Has anyone else noticed Bryan spends a lot of time and space in his articles quoting someone else?
    Bryan, an original would be greatly appreciated, especially since you consider yourself a “writer.” It appears to me as if you cite someone else to bolster your viewpoint. A well written piece doesn’t need to lean on the p.o.v. of someone else.

    • bobber September 12, 2014 at 9:18 pm

      “A well written piece doesn’t need to lean on the p.o.v. of someone else.”

  • AeroPete September 15, 2014 at 10:00 am

    I’m familiar with the study and report published my Mssrs. Gilens and Page and am in agreement with Bryan’s analysis. He never stated which party businesses and elites prefer because the answer is “both.” So long as corporations and self-styled “elites” (because they’ve accrued wealth to themselves, they must be “elite!”) can influence public policy in their favor, they don’t care if the politician has an (R) or a (D) behind their name.

    Some of you have missed the crux of Bryan’s argument, which is that you and I have virtually no say in what our government’s policy is, at the local state and especially the federal levels. No, policy decisions are bought and paid for by moneyed special interests, often to the detriment of John Q. Public.

    I’m not sure why this is not more self-evident except that too many people still must cling to the notion that their party can do no wrong and the guy with the (R) or the (D) behind their name – who represents me and my interests! – would never vote for policy that negatively affects me and mine! Yeah, right…

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