Last night at the Yearly Kos Democratic presidential candidates' debate in Chicago, Hillary Clinton, bated by Barack Obama and John Edwards who have pledged not to take campaign money from Washington lobbyists, defended her open pocket policy:
"A lot of those lobbyists, whether you like it or not, represent real Americans," the New York senator said. "They represent nurses, they represent social workers, yes, they represent corporations that employ a lot of people...I don't think, based on my 35 years of fighting for what I believe in, I don't think anybody seriously believes I'm going to be influenced by a lobbyist."
A less hypocritical answer to the question might have looked something like this: "Yes, I am taking lobbyists' donations and I too am concerned about the disproportionate influence wealthy interest groups have on the political process. I have often had to compromise my beliefs for lobbyist cash and that troubles me as a Senator, as a citizen, as a human being. And that's why we desperately need to switch over to a public campaign finance system. But with the system we have, in order to win, I need to take their money. If I elected, I will do my utmost to enact a public campaign finance system."
But Clinton seems to be in denial about the power of campaign cash even though, as a matter of historical record, she has flip-flopped like a trained marine mammal at Sea World for major contributors. For example, as First Lady, Hillary Clinton convinced her husband to veto a credit card company-backed bill to make it harder for Americans to declare bankruptcy. Inspired by Harvard Law professor Elizabeth Warren's speech about the devastating impact the legislation would have on single mothers and their children, Hillary informally lobbied the president on what she termed "that awful bill." Yet a few years later, Hillary, now in the Senate with the help of copious contributions from the credit card companies, voted for the same bill. "The financial services industry is a big industry in New York, and it's powerful on Capitol Hill," Warren later explained. "It's a [testament to] how much influence this industry group wields in Washington that...they can bring to heel a senator who obviously cares, who obviously gets it, but who also obviously really feels the pressure in having to stand up to an industry like that."
So please, Hillary, let's not pretend that Washington lobbyists defend the interests of social workers -- or single mothers -- and that their contributions don't affect your positions anyway. The power of entrenched wealth perverts the political process and turns politicians--even those whose hearts are in the right place, as Hillary's often is -- into paid corporate spokespeople.
As the late Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis put it, "We can have a democracy or we can have great wealth concentrated in the hands of the few. We cannot have both." Hillary's hypocrisy then, is not just Hillary's hypocrisy. It is America's hypocrisy. It is the hypocrisy that says we can be a plutocracy and be a democracy at the same time.
This campaign, then, must be a time for choosing.