by Patrick Appel

One of the larger cognitive biases we fall into when discussing politics is we often act like politicians mostly rely on ideological principles and the strength of arguments when deciding how to vote. This is part of the equation, but I view politicians as vessels for interest groups first and influenced by ideology only at the margins. I share some of Daniel Larison's perspective on Obama and on Taibbi's article:

Some progressives are just as invested in the idea that Obama has “sold out” to corporate and financial interests as neoconservatives are committed to the fantasy that Obama’s foreign policy has recently undergone dramatic change. The reality is that Obama never had to “sell out” to these interests, because he never challenged them in any serious way in his national political career before he became President. We are not witnessing “one of the most dramatic political about-faces in our history.” We are seeing Obama do pretty much exactly what he did during the general election and the months before his Inauguration: he has been careful to position himself squarely as a conventional center-left politician, and he has done this most of all as far as it concerns the financial sector.

Larison undersells conventionalism to some degree. Special interests are a vital part of the system and bowing to said interests is a sometimes necessary evil. 

Unwavering ideological voting, of the sort Ron Paul or Dennis Kucinich exhibit, is the exception in politics for good reason. It is impossible to separate wealthy or powerful groups from the centers of government. And trying to do so can make a country less stable. Opposition movement must enlist opposing powerful elements in order to achieve success, which means one group of powerful individuals is replaced with another. Look at the relationships between the wealthy, the military, and the government in any number of anti-democratic or marginally democratic states. That Goldman Sachs, to take Taibbi's favored boogeyman, is able to influence the political process through lobbyists is far preferable a government where the most powerful interests might need stage or threaten a military coup in order to influence the stewards of government.

This is not to say that we should always capitulate to powerful interests, but that these interests will always have a say in government and that our system of lobbying is an alternative to much less desirable arrangements. Pretending that if Obama were more liberal that the government would suddenly have to tools to oppose these interests is wishful thinking. These problems are systemic and not attributable to any individual.

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