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{Published in the Colorado Springs Gazette, July 22nd, 2010}

I love the show “[[Mythbusters]]”. lt’s the best thing on TV. l just wish the producers would broaden their horizons a little. We need a ‘Mythbusters” for politics.

Politics is inseparable from myth. or what your English 101 professor would call a “narrative.” There are certain pervasive beliefs rooted in human nature and deeply resistant to evidence that play themselves out time and time again. Skillful politicians know these stories very well. They appeal to them in order to get elected.

l’ve been traveling a lot these past few weeks (“Mythbusters” is even cooler when it’s dubbed in a foreign language.) Once I got back stateside, one myth immediately leapt off the newsstands: the myth of Evil Special Interests.

While I was away, a recent issue of Time gave a cover story to the billions of dollars spent in Washington last year. The San Jose Mercury News ran a feature on how special interests have “captured” the California legislature. And at DIA, who should I run into but the earnest, if misguided, students of CoPlRG showing their ability to stand up to special interests by boldly wearing T-shirts that said so.

The Evil Special Interest myth is a tough one to bust because it’s emotionally very appealing. It is after all a great story. It goes something like this:

Once upon a time, the fair maiden Democracy, pure and noble of heart, represented the will of the people. But Evil Special Interests besieged and corrupted her. Now is the time for heroes, courageous people willing to fight the Evil Special Interests and restore the forces of truth. justice and good so that Democracy can be pure again.

We’ve all seen the players in this drama: the crusading journalist; the hero politician; the idealistic youth; and the concerned voter. The crusading journalist is shocked, shocked to discover that people are spending money to influence politicians, and writes a scathing expose. The idealistic youth joins the fray, urging people
to sign petitions to ‘do the right thing.’

This sets the stage for the hero politician. Boasting of homespun outsider credentials, he promises
to take on the Evil Special Interests. Armed with purity of spirit, he will defeat the forces of darkness that have corrupted Democracy, if only the concerned voter will send him into battle. Anyone see “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington?‘ Or “The Candidate?’ Hollywood loves this stuff. Audiences eat it up.

There’s only one problem with taking this story outside the realm of entertainment. In reality, it always ends the same way. We play this drama out election after election. Republican or Democrat, well-meaning liberal or outsider conservative maverick, it‘s still the same.

The special interests are here, their influence continues to grow. And yet we still believe. Perhaps
we desperately need to.

Enough. As hard as it may be, it’s time to grow up. We have enough evidence by now to step out of the
story and ask ourselves if there isn’t a better way to see things.

The problem, l would suggest, is us. We now expect government to have a role in every aspect of life,
from the most intimate personal behavior and mundane economic transaction to rebuilding entire nations. There is scarcely a good thing anywhere that government isn’t supposed to have some hand in. And that, my friends, is the $3 trillion question.

lt is at best naive and at worst delusional to have a government large enough to do what most liberals (and too many conservative) want, and then be shocked that special interests are lobbying for influence.

Taxing, spending and legislating create ‘lobbyable moments’ in political economy, so of course
people lobby Washington. That’s just basic economics. Whether we want to believe that or not doesn’t matter. lt’s still true.

Think of it this way. If you leave a big pile of cheese in the middle of the floor, you’re going to have
a mouse problem. Sure, you could hire another exterminator where the last 50 have failed. Hope
springs eternal, and all that.

Better still, though, would be to ask if the cheese really belongs
there in the first place.