John Feehery: Speaking Engagements


Supreme Court Decision and the Age of Deform

Posted on April 3, 2014

Lobbyists groaned.

If there was any immediate result that came from the decision by Supreme Court to invalidate the Federal Election Commission, that was it.


It all started with McCain-Feingold.

They were the ones who started this process towards the Age of Deform.

They were the ones who destroyed the viability of the political parties by making it impossible for them to compete with billionaires in setting the direction of the political discourse in this country.

Now, we have Democrats using the Senate floor to launch a fake filibuster on global warming to show their fealty to billionaire Tom Steyer.

This is the party that likes to call the Republicans the party of billionaires.

Nothing makes a politician swoon more than the prospect of meeting a very, very rich person.

It doesn’t matter what party you are in.

The campaign finance system is fundamentally broken in this country.

Whatever flawed system we had before McCain-Feingold was immeasurably better than whatever system we have now.

You would think that the billionaires would be more careful with their money and their own reputations.

But I suppose that it’s their money and they can spend it how they want to.

And if they want to spend their billions on the political process to game the system so they can make even more money, well I suppose that is their right.

At least, that is what the Supreme Court has decided.

The Age of Reform

I am re-reading Richard Hofstadter’s famous book, “The Age of Reform” an analysis of the populist and progressive movements at the turn of the century.

In Hofstadter’s construct, the Populists were an agrarian movement that fought to preserve the economic power of rural America, and frequently descended into nativism and sectionalism.  The Progressives, on the other hand, were urban reformers who saw their political power decline amid the crush of Catholic immigrants and wanted to take that power back.

In modern times, the Populists (the Tea Party) and the Progressives (the Progressives) are funded by billionaires.   You scratch the surface in both of these modern movements and you find the fingers of a really, really rich person.

Back in the Gilded Age, billionaires would build Universities and Museums and Hospitals as a way to give back to society.   They still do some of that, but these days, they are far more likely to build political parties.

F. Scott Fitzgerald said this about the wealthy:  “Let me tell you about the very rich. They are different from you and me. They possess and enjoy early, and it does something to them, makes them soft where we are hard, and cynical where we are trustful, in a way that, unless you were born rich, it is very difficult to understand. They think, deep in their hearts, that they are better than we are because we had to discover the compensations and refuges of life for ourselves.”

To which Earnest Hemingway blithely responded, “Yes, they have more money.”

The rich, whether you love them or not, are currently pouring more and more of that money into the political process than ever before.

It’s hard to see this as an Age of Reform.   More like an Age of Deform.