Wednesday, May 25, 2011

The danger of lobbies

The other day I posted Mitt Romney's reaction to Obama's Israel/Palestine speech. Romney's reaction was par for the course on the right. Basically he freaked out and thought Obama wants to destroy Israel simply because Obama reiterated what Bush and many others have set out as their peace plan.

Now its clear that Republicans aren't the only ones who don't agree with Obama on this issue. Not only did Democrats join Republicans in the House yesterday in cheering on Israel's Prime Minister. But they are publicly disagreeing with his proposals.

What this bipartisan criticism of a sitting president's foreign policy proposal (which to my memory is rare) highlights is the power of the Israel lobby. I haven't read Walt and Mearsheimer's book on the Israel lobby. But the main point is that the lobby exerts a lot of influence on US foreign policy. Its usually pretty difficult for one specific lobby to have a ton of influence. As James Madison pointed out in his argument for a democratic republic, the large size of the US makes it difficult to bring together a homogenous coalition. But because Jewish people tend to vote Democrat and Republicans love Israel for reasons I'm not entirely sure of the Israel lobby has achieved a big enough coalition to exert significant influence on policy.

There are few other lobbies or interest groups that I can think of that enjoy as much bipartisan support as the Israel lobby. Certainly Wall Street is up there. Republicans want to do everything they can to let Wall Street's interests have free reign. And Democrats are only slightly more willing to regulate Wall Street's interests. Most of the time they don't do much to hide the fact that they cater to Wall Street's interests, just look at who Obama appoints to important positions.

I'm sure there are others that aren't popping up in my mind. But the point I wanted to make is that these powerful lobbies can be dangerous, which is why Madison had to make the argument that the US wouldn't be conducive to creating them. We see the problem with how powerful Wall Street is from the massive recession we are still recovering from. And even General David Petreaus (respected by both parties) has said that our special alliance with Israel creates problems for us in the rest of the Middle East.

When a lobby becomes as powerful as those two its really difficult for citizens or even smaller lobbies to have their voices heard. On the Republican side of things, libertarians like Ron Paul aren't taken seriously when they question Republican stances on interventionist foreign policy and a blind dedication to Israel. On the Democratic side, even the huge amount of voters who don't want to keep fighting in Iraq, Afghanistan or anywhere else in the Middle East are often ignored because leaders in the party are afraid of upsetting Israel and the Israel lobby here. The only viable way for Democrats to overcome these powerful interests is to vote for presidential candidates that will take a stand against them. Even that is a difficult task. And until that happens bad policy will continue to be made.

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