With two primary victories behind him, we’ve had the opportunity to fully absorb John Kerry’s incredibly lame acceptance speech. One needs an iron constitution to endure the part where Kerry awkwardly begins a sentence, “If I am President . . .” and then waits for the crowd of supporters to get the cue and begin spiritedly chanting, “WHEN! WHEN! WHEN! WHEN!” Kerry then shyly smiles, “recovers” from the surprise of their spontaneous show of support and says, “I’m learning. WHEN, I am President . . .”
But the staging behind the Kerry speeches isn’t what bothers me the most. What’s really disturbing is the wealthy Bostonian’s vile rhetoric about “special interests” and “influence peddlers.” Who exactly is he referring to? The good folks at NARAL who have managed to abort the confirmation of any judge to the right of Wesley Clark on infanticide? No, no. We eventually learn he is referring to the much less frightening “drug companies,” “HMO’s” and “big oil.” In other words, private sector business is messing up your life by manipulating the government.
Kerry’s theme doesn’t play very well in the ears of anyone with lobbying experience. There are two major reasons corporations get involved in politics. Both are created by the kind of big government vision driving John Kerry Heinz and his fellow Democrats.
Reason number one: Paying protection money. Most businesses simply hope to run their affairs according to profit and loss instead of wasting valuable resources dealing with the vast detritus of the regulatory state. Accordingly, they contribute to campaign coffers with the hopes that they won’t be screwed too royally when Congress meets again. The dynamic is very similar to the little shopkeeper who pays the Mafia not to smash up his merchandise. If you think the shopkeeper is an influence peddler in that situation, then yank a molar and put it under the pillow, buddy. The Tooth Fairy’s on her way.
But just like in the movies, the local merchants get fed up and decide to enlist somebody to get them out of their abusive relationship with their “protectors.” That’s how Republicans get elected. Kerry likes to warn corporate interests, “We’re coming. You’re going. Don’t let the door hit you on your way out.” The punchy (but cliché) slogan is actually a better description of what beleaguered businesspersons said to the Democrats in 1994 and have since repeated throughout the last decade.
Another version of this sad story is playing itself out between trial lawyers and their victims, you know, doctors. Trial lawyers like John Edwards leverage government power to confiscate huge judgments from doctors and insurance companies to make themselves stupendously wealthy. (We should thank Edwards for showing us where the real money is. Forget about nationalizing the health care system, let’s nationalize the practice of law!) But doctors have wised up and have started “influence peddling” just like our poor shopkeeper. Witness the tort reform in Texas. John Edwards may have gotten out of legal practice at just the right time.
Reason number two for corporate involvement in government: Trying to take the ladder up behind you once you reach the top. It’s true that some of the worldwide corporate players do more than pay protection money to big government tormentors. Occasionally, it occurs to smart men and women at Titanic Inc. that they can obtain passage of regulations that will actually make life more difficult for new competitors seeking market share. It’s times like these when the famed cozy triangles of corporations, bureaucracy, and committee chairs start hitting on all cylinders. There’s lots of influence being peddled, but it isn’t of the kind conservative-libertarians would savor. It’s pure regulatory state evil, just the kind of stuff that will grow rather than shrink in a future (shudder) Kerry regime. Remember, it was Republican Steve Forbes who would have really closed loopholes by flattening and simplifying the tax system.
The lesson here is simple. Big government creates the problem when it extorts money from private sector business and when it tempts big businesses to circumvent the free market by invoking its coercive power. Kerry’s stronger regulatory state will simply multiply the existence of the hated influence peddlers he says he’ll kick to the curb.