Here's a quote from an ADN article that ran on Dec. 27. It sure caught my eye:
"Between 1984 and 2009, the median worth of a member of the House (federal) has risen 2 1/2 times ... rising from $280,000 to $725,000 in inflation-adjusted dollars." This was based on analysis of financial disclosures done by The Washington Post. The analysis did not take into account home equity since that is not required in congressional reporting.
The article then continued, "Over the same period, the wealth of an American family has declined slightly, with the median sliding from $20,600 to $20, 500 according to the Panel Study of Income Dynamics from the University of Michigan."
So why should this merit your attention? Well, for starts, the House of Representatives is traditionally considered the people's house. If our representatives have incomes most of us can only dream about, while our own incomes continue to stagnate or fall, the question must invariably arise as to how much they are really looking out for us and not just themselves and their wealthy sponsors.
Despite calls to cut benefits from programs such as Medicare or aid to families and children, you never hear a politician calling for a reduction in the benefits they get. Politicians rail against unions that try to protect a worker's salary from falling below what most Americans would consider a decent wage. But they never suggest that their salary should be cut. (Actually, I'd like their salaries to be pegged to their actual productivity, which could potentially save us millions each year.)
Our government is now seemingly controlled by the very wealthy whose main focus seems to be to protect their even wealthier backers. Take a look at the amount of money spent to get elected. You and I can't afford to fund that kind of campaign. It's almost inevitable that politicians will turn to the wealthiest for backing and that they will then cater to the wealthiest when doing the "people's" business.
Think of how many millions Mitt Romney spent in Iowa to win by 8 votes. Do you think if he wasn't a millionaire, and didn't have very flush PACs running attack ads for him, that he would have finished on top?
Yes, we still can vote for whomever we choose. But money buys a lot of publicity that can convince us to vote against our own best interests by presenting a candidate in whatever light is needed to get elected. Other voices, voices not so well funded, will inevitably be drowned out and lost. For so long as our legislators owe their elections to the extremely wealthy and powerful, for so long will the majority of Americans remain relatively powerless and under-represented by those for whom they voted.
I think most Americans agree that corporations are not people and the Supreme Court declaring them so does not make it true. Until a corporation has to face a sullen teenager or a dead car battery on a snowy morning or a wife in need of medical care that is beyond the family budget, they don't get to be people. Except that when it comes to funding political campaigns, they have the OK from the highest court in the land to spend as many millions as needed to keep their interests protected in Washington.
This is why the banks and Wall Street got bailed out but you didn't. This is why the people who caused our financial collapse are still pulling in annual salaries and bonuses that amount to more in a year than you will see in five lifetimes. This is why when Mitt Romney blithely challenges Rick Perry to a $10,000 bet without even blinking at the amount, we wonder if he really has a clue about how most of us live.
The people who pass the laws that would correct this imbalance of power and influence are its biggest beneficiaries. It's a systemic problem that respects no political or party boundaries. The wealth of our ruling class separates them from us in the most critical of ways -- they simply don't have a clue what life is like for those who can't offer to make a $10,000 bet on a whim.
Mr. Smith would never have made it in today's Washington.
Elise Patkotak is an Alaska writer and author of "Parallel Logic," a memoir of her 28 years in Barrow. Website, www.elisepatkotak.com.