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July 30, 2006

Shorter Sirota: Think Nationally, Act Locally

David Sirota, renaissance man of progressive politics, spoke to a rapt crowd at Seattle’s Town Hall Thursday evening. The event was part of a tour to promote his latest book, Hostile Takeover: How Big Money & Corruption Conquered Our Government – And How We Take It Back. As the former press secretary for independent Vermont Congressman Bernie Sanders, Sirota witnessed firsthand how the economic realities of D.C. politicking can infect the system so completely as to make good government and true public service rare commodities.

The predominant message of the book is that - despite the efforts of representatives like Sanders, who focus their policy objectives on what’s beneficial for the working people of America – the system has been rigged by special interest money filling the pockets of both Republicans and Democrats alike. Everything that happens in D.C. hinges on who has money, who doesn’t, and who is really served by legislation passing in Congress. Sirota makes the case that the worst forms of corruption are the legal ones, where campaign finance laws - and the Supreme Court - heavily favor special interests by  bolstering the theory that money = free speech.

While the media focuses on hot-button topics like gays, guns, and God, the corporate lobbyists concentrate on manipulating economic and military issues, because that’s where the impacts of legislation reign supreme. Lobbyists revel in the distraction that’s created by emotional, social issues as they quietly go about greasing the wheels of government. More importantly, it means the big money gets to frame the debates on legislation, and they succeed most when they frame the debates very narrowly. Sirota refers to this as the “artificial narrative”. Look at the recent energy bill. Congresspeople didn’t spend days and nights immersed in heated debate over whether wind, solar, hydrogen or biofuels offered the best hope for a fossil-free future. Instead they locked horns over which energy companies would receive the biggest tax breaks, and whether or not we should drill at ANWR.

This summary of David Sirota's Thursday evening talk in Seattle comes to us courtesy of "shoephone" a friend who attended and wrote about this on a new sub-blog (is that a new term?) at Firedoglake and agreed to cross-post the summary here.  Sirota has been described as being the conscience of the progressive blogosphere.  I think this summary illustrates that role nicely. Thanks to shoephone for covering this.

There's more after the fold.

The “artificial narrative” is also at work with respect to tort reform and bankruptcy law:

  • OSHA repesentatives plead with Congress to increase its budget to help protect workers from death or injury. Big business gets the president to set the tone by mischaracterizing the citizens' right to sue as "frivolous lawsuits" and workers protections as "too many regulations" on business. Result: the agency's funding is drastically reduced.
  • Senators like Evan Bayh do the banking industry's bidding by declaring that those spiraling into bankruptcy are irresponsible debtors forcing high interest rates for the rest of us. (Bayh has collected roughly $300,000 from the banking and credit card industries). Result: Bankruptcy protections for citizens are slashed, but are greatly enhanced for businesses.

So, how do we avoid getting paralyzed with despondency over the situation? We get involved, and stay involved – primarily at the local level - challenging those we elected to pass legislation that respects our values and our interests. This is a long-term fight, but Sirota notes that it took nearly 35 years for the current system to embed itself into our politics and become the routine. We shouldn’t lose sight of the fact that today’s city councilmembers and state legislators are going to be tomorrow’s U.S. senators. If we get to them now, says Sirota, and put them on notice that they can’t get away with the politics-as-usual, we can effect a change that includes public financing for all elections.

Sirota’s Progressive States Network focuses like a laser on replicating good municipal and state legislation around the country, creating a nation-wide system of good government. Forget “trickle down” strategies. For Sirota and his network, America’s political playing field is going to be leveled by the American grassroots.

You can read more about David Sirota and his writing here.

Posted by Lynn Allen on July 30, 2006 at 08:20 AM in National and International Politics, Strategery | Permalink

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