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Elites, Special Interests, and the Betrayal of Public Trust

by John B. Judis

Pub Date: Feb. 1st, 2000
ISBN: 0-679-43254-X
Publisher: Pantheon

The senior editor of the New Republic (Grand Illusion: Critics and Champions of the American Century, 1992, etc.) wonders how we can “strengthen our institutions” when they are so firmly in the grip of “vested interests.— Surveying the American landscape, Judis identifies a variety of problems that threaten our political integrity. He is most concerned with the enormous power now exercised by interest groups and lobbyists, and by the coalition of big business and conservative Republicans that has been able to thwart recent reform initiatives. Judis begins by examining the 1960s—a period he believes actually extended from the Rosa Parks incident (1955) to the resignation of President Nixon (1974). The radical left of that period, he maintains, “wielded enormous influence over the nation’s political and legislative agenda,” and produced necessary reform in race relations, environmental policy, and women’s issues. In response to what they viewed as a dangerous increase in the scope of the government, conservative foundations and business alliances began a campaign to alter public opinion, to create the perception that the government, rather than business, was “responsible for America’s ills.— Their success bore the fruits of the Reagan Revolution, the advent of centrist Democrats, the rise and fall of Newt Gingrich, the defeat of health care and campaign-finance reform, and the Clinton impeachment, which he characterizes as a “travesty of Constitutional government.— A clear-eyed marksman, Judis misses few targets: Henry Kissinger’s lobbying efforts “confirmed the public’s perception that everyone was for sale—; the post-—60s generation was “narcissistic”; Gingrich embraced “mundane and craven strategies.— To remedy our political ills, Judis prescribes several plans, including an effort to encourage our “best and brightest to serve rather than sell out.— Although Judis cuts a wide swath through the political right, his principal targets are greed and self-interest, two persistent and pervasive enemies of American democracy.