Turnstyle Democracy

Not long ago Senator Fred Thompson, who began the Senate campaign finance hearings like a knight in shining armor, announced that he was wrapping up the investigation. This startled me, because there was a lot left to investigate. Four of the principals in the hearing have disappeared, apparently hiding in China. Even more surprising, Majority Leader Trent Lott agreed with the Democrats, who had been pressuring to end the hearings. Lott apparently told Thompson, "Shut them down." But shutting down the hearings may do more than let a few scoundrels off the hook. It may threaten democracy itself. Twenty-four hours after Thompson’s announcement, it was business as usual. President Clinton spent the weekend with fat-cat donors, raising millions of dollars for the Democratic party. And then we found out why some Republicans were as eager to see these hearings shut down as Democrats were. There have been charges against Republicans involving a vast, secret web of Republican campaign donors who funneled money through Triad Management, a political consultant company. This money allegedly found its way into various congressional campaigns. Even with their premature ending, the Thompson hearings gave average Americans sufficient cause to despise our political class. Day after day we heard horror stories. One Chinese contributor said the White House was like a turnstile: You put your money in, and the turnstile opens. Videotapes showed the president talking about getting around campaign finance laws. Americans are left with a feeling that their government is for sale, and they sense they are powerless to do anything about it. So much for any hope of campaign finance reform. Both Republicans and Democrats are into the "big money business" right up to their elbows. We need to remember that democracy works only if we have an informed and active citizenry. Our experiment in self-government presupposes that we the people will do our civic duty and take care of our neighborhoods because we believe the system works. That our elected representatives represent us. That they enact the laws with the consent of the governed, as we learned in our civics textbooks. My greatest fear is that, in the wake of the shutdown of the hearings into campaign finance abuses, people will conclude that the political class takes care only of itself; that it sells government policies to the highest bidder. I fear that America will end up constituted by an indifferent many, ruled by a well-organized and well-financed few. The Christian church has been strangely silent on this question of campaign abuses—despite the fact that the Old Testament is replete with warnings against selling out the justice system to the rich and powerful. When your own congressman or senator comes home this fall to meet with constituents, tell him the people are no longer going to put up with these kinds of abuses, that campaign reform is long overdue. America’s experiment in democracy ought not to be turned into a turnstile that only the rich can get through. There’s no higher priority for this nation than preserving the most fundamental asset of a free society: the confidence of the people that they—not an insulated political class—are the real power behind the government of our land.


Chuck Colson


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