Politicians bought by the middling sort the Founding Fathers feared
The Founding Fathers, such as George Washington, Alexander Hamilton, Thomas Jefferson and so on, were what was known as “the landed gentry,” essentially, gentleman that owned land and businesses/enterprises. To the Founding Fathers, these were the men made to run the country, to be the governing folk. They made great leaders, the Founders argued, because they couldn’t be bought.
Their only ambitions, they claimed, were to run the country in the right direction and rest on their laurels without seeking further ambition. In some cases, this is not the continuing story in U.S. politicians, exhibited by lobbying and bribery.
Gordon Wood’s work “The Middling Sort in the American Revolution” illustrated a lack of respect for the Middling Sort by the Fathers. The landed gentry were wealthy, sophisticated, had plenty of time for leisure, and lots of academic training. The middling sort were described as hungry, ambitious and self-serving citizens.
The Founding Fathers, with plenty of time for fireside reading, were versed in Aristotle, who pushed the idea that the middling sort could not be noble, that they focused only on the need to support themselves with their manual labor and weren’t capable of investing proper time into the skills necessary for political leadership. This idea has advanced from manual labor to businessmen in suits devoted to ensuring their companies are as profitable and strong as possible, even by means of ceding into politics.
As the 13 colonies became more industrious and began collecting all sorts of ambitious middling folks like shop keepers, craftsmen and artisans, they began to rise in station without becoming proper gentlemen. The Founding Fathers worried that these men would seep into government positions to raise themselves and their enterprises further.
As the gentry feared, the Middling Sort were becoming more and more entwined with early American politics. The ambitious middle blood of the nation was finding its way into congress and legislature. In the 21st Century, politicians have allowed themselves to be courted by the Middling Sort by way of lobbyists and bribery.
The Center for Responsive Politics defines lobbying as “Professional advocates make big bucks to lobby members of Congress and government officials on the issues their clients care about.” The job of lobbyists is to buy legislation for their own gain by giving money to elected members of government.
Special interest groups and corporations have entire firms of lobbyists for purchasing legislation that best suits their corporate goals to sums in the billions of dollars each year. So far lobbyists have already spent $902.8 million dollars.
On the recent CARES Act, 599 organizations lobbied on the bill. Bills aren’t simply voted upon, but are subject to lobbyist bidding wars like an auction house.
Investopedia outlined the difference between lobbying and bribery, “While both seek a favorable outcome, the two remain distinct practices. Bribery is considered an effort to buy power–paying to guarantee a certain result; lobbying is considered an effort to influence power, often by offering contributions.”
So what’s the difference? “The main difference: Bribery is considered illegal, while lobbying is not.”
Investopedia defines lobbying as “Lobbyists try to shape laws, legislation, and public policy to the benefit of the group or entity that employs them.” Lobbyists don’t always immediately send money, but can use more insidious tactics such as, “they fund a study or survey or research that might sway a politician’s opinion–or their constituency’s opinion.”
Money from bribery goes straight to one being bribed, but money from lobbying usually “go to that person’s election or re-election campaign.” The article continues to explain, “There’s a tacit understanding, if not an outright quid pro quo: We supported your interests; in turn, you support us and ours–by voting for (or against) this bill.”
Lobbying is not only used by evil corporate giants, but also by civil rights and environment support groups “in their battles against commercial for-profit interests.” After the American people elect an official into office, how much the honest interest of the voter matters is questionable.
The practice of bribery and lobbying in politics is the kind of thing the Founding Fathers feared from the Middling Sort. Lobbyists buy political sway through money and contributions, and politicians and/or their campaign people take the money in exchange for support of group/private interests, and politicians and their people allow themselves to be bought, serving their own interests and not those of the people.
If it was the common will of the people, lobbying and bribery would not be an issue. Corporations and interest groups use massive funds to buy the officials elected by the common American people, making those officials essentially puppets.
Lobbying and bribery removes the idea of “by the people, for the people” and makes it “by the people, for the corporations and interest groups.”