American politics is suffering acutely from the gridlock of entrenched officeholders and election financing controlled by special interests. Over 300 of the 435 congressional districts almost never change partisan hands. Most congressmen have safely gerrymandered districts, receive the bulk of their financial support from one or a few sources, and are reliable legislative supporters of those sources. Their main additional activities are to add “earmarks” favoring their own districts to legislation in exchange for their support of other legislators’ bills. It is a log-rolling and back-scratching exercise that has nothing to do with the Periclean exercise in disinterested law-giving envisioned by the authors of the Constitution. In a 2008 campaign that was otherwise a geriatric blunderbuss, John McCain at least raised the issue of the impropriety of these methods (to the bemused dismissiveness of the winning candidate).
The role of money is greater in U.S. politics than it is in that of any other advanced country, just as the U.S. is in other respects the most commercialized of all advanced countries. Campaign-finance reform has been an exercise in futile and self-serving hypocrisy. Organized labor gave the Democrats $400 million in the year leading up to the 2008 election. Labor has already received an impressive return on its money, although its most cherished goal — the abolition of the secret ballot in union elections and the restoration of thuggish self-perpetuation of labor leadership (card-check) — has foundered on the shoals of public concern, which, beyond a certain point, overwhelms the loyalties of those legislators in whose fidelity supporters have invested.
The federal government intervened to gut the rights of the General Motors and Chrysler bondholders, and delivered those companies into the hands of the United Auto Workers, one of the most retrograde and Luddite unions in America — and the chief author, even beyond decades of incompetent management, of the demise of those companies. President Obama, in complete consistency with his effort to nationalize health care to reduce its costs, secured $50,000 of union health and pension benefits per manufactured vehicle by crushing the shareholders and robbing the other supposedly secured stakeholders.