Cuba celebrated its independence day on Tuesday. Using a broken mixture of English and Spanish President Bush, in a speech delivered in Miami, elucidated the differences between our country and the state separated from us by a 60-mile wide Gulf in terms of justice and freedom. Earlier this month, former President Carter visited Cuba describing similar problems with the island state. The two master politicians unsurprisingly had different remedies for the problems in Cuba, yet the nature of an increasingly powerful Cuban community in the United States forces both men to think outside the realm of our strict national interest. Lifting the trade embargo with Cuba makes logical sense-yet it is a political anathema because of this group of Americans.Similar groups within our country increasingly influence foreign policy causing what should be the overarching principles of national interest to be overshadowed by domestic politics. This situation is dangerous and destructive. Our policy in the Middle East is constrained by strong Pro- and Anti- Israel lobbies in Washington. Our policy in Asia likewise faces complications from a politically-oriented overseas Chinese community. Outside foreign policy interest groups have taken control of the political process. Major American multi-national companies have gained undue influence in our trade policy. Various industries, most prominently the music industry, have begun to use political power to legislate technological change.
The concepts of representative government that underlie our social organization are increasingly unable to deal with a heterogeneous society. We have devolved into a system where dollars have become more important than votes in determining the political process. Even to become Attorney General of a medium-size state like Wisconsin now costs several hundred thousand dollars, something well beyond the reach of most of the population. To have a government of the people and for the people we need to find a voice.
At a recent meeting, representatives of the Alumni office crassly suggested that to have a voice at Lawrence as an alum, it is necessary to (financially) support the institution. The same situation holds true of the larger political process. The only way to have a voice is to buy one. Unless some unexpected period of massive political reform occurs in our country, the interest groups that can raise and spend the most money will have the most important roles in shaping policy. This is quite contrary to the goals set forth by our founding fathers, but to make the system change it is necessary to play by the rules. When you write a letter to a politician, do not forget to slip in that check beneath that thirty-seven cent stamp.