|Hillary Clinton shaking hands with George Soros, a wealthy donor to her campaign|
I have been following the US presidential election with keen interest. Usually I don't, and I didn't really care about the Obama elections. The difference this time around is that Bernie Sanders is making things interesting, and raising issues that I believe affect not only the US, but all of us.
The article "Clinton blasts Wall Street, but still draws millions in contributions" on The Washington Post, details Clinton's relationship with the financial industry, and quotes some of her responses to the accusation that she is being influenced by her financiers. First, it is a fact that she is receiving a lot of money from the financial industry, and that her increased criticism of them did not stem the tide of dollars flowing toward her campaign. Her response to the accusation?
“Anybody who knows me, who thinks they can influence me, name anything they’ve influenced me on. Just name one thing,”
I don't write about U.S. politics, but this quote, to me, reflects a deeper misunderstanding of the nature of corrupt politics. An excellent book that illuminated the topic to me was Bad Pharma, by Ben Goldacre. Goldacre writes about the pharmaceutical industry, and how they get their way around regulation. Far from surreptitious suitcases of money passing under tables, corruption is much more insidious. What campaign contributors are paying for is not to let a list of policies they wrote to be put into effect, or having veto on bills that could be negative to them, it's about friendship.
These donors are friends of Clinton, and friends do what friends do. They move in the same social circles. They go to the same dinner parties. They have the opportunity to sell their point of view to a political candidate in their circles. This very same audience is not afforded to those with other points of view, who aren't allowed a seat at the dinner table. Clinton may not realise this, but the friends she keeps shapes the way she looks at the world, and it is no surprise that what they want to shape in her worldview agrees with theirs. To their eyes, they are not corrupt either. They are merely supporting someone with whom they agree. Influence needn't be direct and conspicuous to work.
These friendships usually have invisible strings attached. There is an unspoken agreement of what is acceptable and what is not. Without even seeing these strings, it is likely that Clinton will move according to where they tug. Sanders on the other hand, receives donations from common people, so by the same logic, the public is tugging at his strings. This is exactly what voters want in a candidate. Clinton may represent voters to a good degree, but will she have dinner with you, an ordinary voter? Will she have dinner with the CFO of the bank that is exploiting you? Are you comfortable with the answers to those questions?
You may believe you are not influenced by someone else, but if they shower you with compliments and boat loads of cash, it isn't hard to form a favourable opinion about them, and by extension to give more weight to what they have to say as opposed to those who disagree with them. If you have to be tough on them, won't you try to reason with them to find compromise? I can't say that I wouldn't. I don't have enough faith in the objectivity of the human animal to think that getting millions in contributions, or hundreds of thousands of dollars just for speaking, will not skew the opinion of any human being. So unless Clinton is a Vulcan, resigned completely to logical thought, I wouldn't bet money, and even less so a vote that she will not be influenced by her wealthy donors. I'll end this post with a quote from Bal Das, one of her wealthy donors, which I think speaks for itself:
“She is not saying anything that someone deeply involved in the financial services sector would disagree with.”