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Thursday, 03 January 2013 07:41

Washington Doesn't Work? Depends on Who You Ask: People, No; Corporations, Yes

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“Washington Doesn’t’ Work,” or “Washington Just Doesn’t Work,” or “Washington: the Gridlock has to be Broken,” or some such.  One hears it on the media all the time, both reactionary and liberal: Fox”News”Channel, Joe Scarborough, Ed Schultz, and certainly on CNN.  “We’ve got to fix ‘Washington.’ ” But is it really true that “Washington doesn’t work” and that it “Has to be fixed?”  Well, it all depends.  It all depends who you are and what your interests are.  There surely is gridlock in the Congress and between the Congress and the President, most of the time, as demonstrated by what will have happened, or not happened, by the time this column, written at around 6:00PM EST on Jan. 1 makes its way onto the internet.  But that doesn’t mean “it doesn’t work.”  It works just fine for a variety of interested parties, taken here in no particular order.

Washington works just fine for the gun industry, that is the gun and ammunition manufacturers and the gun dealers.  Nothing that can get in the way of their continued sales of weapons and ammunition, the main interest of the NRA’s major funders, those very industries.  A majority of the Congress is owned by that dreadful alliance and no meaningful legislation will ever get through it as long as that state of affairs is maintained, no matter how many Newtowns there might be.  Just consider how clever the NRA is, converting the debate in the aftermath of Newtown from one over some minimal approaches to gun control to one as to whether there should be armed guards in every school (like there was at Columbine) and whether teachers should be armed (think “Gunfight at the OK teachers’ lounge).  As for the Executive Branch, they have left the position of Director of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms unfilled for six years.  That gap not only affects the gunners but also affects the two even larger killers of US citizens, the tobacco and alcohol industries, (440,000 and 65,000-100,000 deaths per year, depending upon how one counts).

Washington works just fine if you are a major smoke polluter.  Very early in his first term, Obama dropped any pretense of going after cap-and-trade legislation and it works just fine if the last thing you want is any set of meaningful measures to deal with global warming and climate change.

Washington works just fine if you are a wealthy person, a la Mitt Romney, who has stashed a good deal of wealth overseas, beyond the each of the IRS.  For all the talk of “tax reform” and “fixing the tax code” that comes out of both parties, if such initiatives were ever to get down to the nitty-gritty in the House and Senate committees concerned with such matters you could bet your bottom dollar that the lobbyists would tie those committees in knots and any meaningful reform would become a dead letter.

Washington works just fine if you are Grover Norquist and your real aim is not “no new taxes” but “shrinking the size of the Federal government to the size of a bathtub and then drowning it in the bathtub” (1).  Of course by that phrase Grover means those sections of the Federal government he doesn’t like the non-military/non-prison operational arms, the paid-for benefits programs, and virtually any form of regulation.  His game was in fact given away when the final form of the “pulling-back-from-the-fiscal-cliff” “compromise” was being negotiated. Grover said that an agreement that included certain tax increases on the very wealthy was OK with him (2).  Why?  Because he was fairy salivating over the unspecified spending cuts that would be part of any deal, spending cuts to that tiny proportion of the Federal government beyond the paid-for benefits programs, that provider real services (like say air traffic control, infrastructure construction, and the National Weather Service) to real people, that would be fully controlled by his beloved GOP-front Tea party in the House.

Washington works just fine if you are one of the various beneficiaries of the so-called “War on Drugs:” the prison industrial complex, the drug cartels (whose business and enormous profits would go to zero were the “war” to be ended), the tobacco and alcohol industries (which might see attention turned to the real killer substances, drug and drug carriers that they produce and sell), the pharmaceutical industry (that might be called to account for the epidemic pain-killer addiction that has gained such a prominent place in the real drug-use problem), the gun industry (which benefits from the selling of illegal guns both here and abroad); and so on and so forth.  Even with marijuana legalization starting to take hold, there are few politicians ready to risk it all for an all-out assault on this “war” that originated as a complement to Nixon’s racist “Southern Strategy.”

Washington works just fine if you are the oil or factory farm industries, with their huge subsidies that aren’t going to end anytime soon.

And of course Washington works just fine if you are part of the military/industrial complex.  You may see a real drop in money spent, as part of the resolution of the “fiscal cliff” crisis, but a) in percentage terms it isn’t so great, and b) apparently a significant chunk of the savings will be coming out of the hides, literally, of service members and civilian employees, in one way or another.

And so on and so forth.  The primary point here is that the State, that is the legislative, executive and judicial branches (see Citizens United) of government works in the interest not of the “We the People of the United States” which supposedly are the underpinning of the Constitution (see that least-read part of it, the Preamble), but in the interests of the economic ruling class of the United States.   When the political commentators cited at the beginning of this column talk about “Washington not working” they are referring to either some abstract concept of “working” or to legislation, judicial decisions, and regulatory policies that would actually benefit the majority of “We the People of the United States.”  But as long as the ruling class, and you know who they are, remains in control of the state, that ain’t going to happen.


1.    Jonas, S., “Grover Norquist’s Wet Dream,” http://blog.buzzflash.com/node/12601. April 20, 2011.

2.    “Norquist Throws His Support Behind Biden-McConnell Plan,” Newsmax, http://www.newsmax.com/Headline/Norquist-Biden-McConnell-support/2012/12/31/id/469608?s=al&promo_code=11598-1.


Steven Jonas, MD, MPH is a Professor of Preventive Medicine at Stony Brook University (NY) and author/co-author/editor/co-editor of over 30 books. In addition to being a columnist for [email protected] he is the Managing Editor of and a Contributing Author to The Political Junkies for Progressive Democracy.