11/12/2011 01:53 pm ET Updated Jan 12, 2012

Think Again: It's All Connected (and That's the Problem)

Jon Stewart went to town on fellow New Jersey-born-and-bred, ex-senator/governor/ex-Goldman Sachs CEO Jon Corzine on "The Daily Show" Tuesday night, describing him as "the living, breathing avatar of "the corporate-industrial-government complex." He had a point. Corzine famously argued on behalf of tough financial regulations in office, only to return to the world of finance as the exact kind of high-flying gambler (with other people's money) who needed to be regulated but preferred not to be.

And because rich financiers tend to get what they want from this government, the now-former head of MF Global got what he wanted and proceeded to prove why he had been right in the first place -- not that it matters.

Stewart summed up the situation thusly: "Politician Jon Corzine saw Lehman Brothers as a cautionary tale; financial firm honcho Corzine saw it as a dare."

The Corzine tale demonstrates the impossibly intertwined nature of big money and politics. It can hardly be considered a coincidence that the ex-CEO of Goldman Sachs would become not only a senator and a governor but also the head of the party's senatorial campaign committee, in charge of raising cash.

But the complications go much deeper than just money and politics. The problem is not simply that moneyed interests can buy what they want and make the connections with one another necessary to see that their interests are properly overseen. What makes the impossible tangle of money and politics even more difficult to unravel is the fact that the various interests who hire lobbyists to ensure legislation serves private, rather than public interests, work together to ensure if one lobbyist wins, every lobbyist wins. And if a legislator is indebted to one of them for campaign cash, or access to a private plane, he is indebted to all of them.

A pioneer of this tactic, unsurprisingly, is the conservative activist Grover Norquist. The man Politico aptly terms "America's No. 1 anti-tax activist" has built a "sprawling lobbying empire that leverages his iconic status to influence politicians on issues completely unrelated to those about which he professes to care.

What, for instance, does the State Department's decision regarding the controversial Keystone XL Pipeline have to do with taxes? Why does Norquist lobby on Pentagon spending, get involved in postal issues, or care about payments to the people of Guam for injuries suffered during World War II? Why do lawmakers, according to Politico, "from both parties contend Norquist is the chief obstacle to a $1.2 trillion deficit-reduction deal?" That sure is a great deal of back-scratching, and none of it is good for the smooth legislative operations of a representative democracy. Norquist is particularly powerful with conservatives. But the syndrome is evident everywhere in Washington.

Take a look at the so-called pro-Israel lobby, The American Israel Public Affairs Committee, or AIPAC. Allegedly concerned exclusively with issues related to Israel, AIPAC's lobbying reaches far and wide. During the 1980s it would punish liberal legislators who did not support Ronald Reagan's wars in Central America because those nations' U.S.-supported dictators would, as a favor, vote with Israel in the United Nations. (They would also invite Israeli mlitary advisers to train their forces in counterinsurgency.)

AIPAC lobbied lately to get the United States to, in the words of one former AIPAC staffer, "stick it to Turkey." AIPAC, it will surprise no one, also appears to be behind the demand that the United States punish itself and its interests by withdrawing from the U.N. Education, Scientific, and Cultural Organization as a piece of misguided retaliation for the organization's admittance of Palestine into its membership role.

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