A Republic… If You Can Keep It

eyeglasses and newspaper blue background

“Well, Doctor, what have we got, a republic or a monarchy?,” inquired the anxious woman outside Independence Hall.

Benjamin Franklin’s response to Mrs. Powel was profound. “A republic, Madame, if you can keep it.”

His answer was more than a revelation of the government the framers had constructed under the new US Constitution. It was a charge – a challenge – to preserve what Abraham Lincoln would later characterize as “government of the people, by the people and for the people.” Franklin understood the need for a perpetually vigilant citizenry to curtail a government, one such as ours today. Our government has forgotten its original intent, which is to represent the people.

A new study, “Testing Theories of American Politics: Elites, Interest Groups, and Average Citizens,” by two political science professors reveals how prone our government is to wondering from we the people.

Examining nearly 1,800 policy issues, Martin Gilens of Princeton University and Benjamin Page of Northwestern University used statistical analysis to determine the influence “average citizens, economic elites, mass-based interest groups and business-dominated interest groups” had on “policy outcomes, including both policies that are adopted and rejected.” [1] Their findings were alarming.

“The analysts found that when controlling for the power of economic elites and organized interest groups, the influence of ordinary Americans registers at a “non-significant, near-zero level.” The analysts further discovered that rich individuals and business-dominated interest groups dominate the policymaking process. The mass-based interest groups had minimal influence compared to the business-based interest groups.

The study also debunks the notion that the policy preferences of business and the rich reflect the views of common citizens. They found to the contrary that such preferences often sharply diverge and when they do, the economic elites and business interests almost always win and the ordinary Americans lose.

The authors also say that given limitations to tapping into the full power elite in America and their policy preferences, ‘the real world impact of elites upon public policy may be still greater’ than their findings indicate.” [1]

In short, money talks, which is why K Street and its relentless lobbyists have poured millions, if not hundreds of millions, in to influencing lawmakers on immigration. Despite “70% of Americans believ[ing] illegal immigrants ‘threaten traditional U.S. beliefs and customs,’ and 63% believ[ing] ‘immigrants place a burden on the economy,’” [2] the US Chamber of Commerce, FWD.us and many others are not letting public opinion get in the way of their pursuit of comprehensive immigration reform.

According to Open Secrets, the Chamber has already spent more than $40 million in lobbying for immigration issues this year, [3] while “FWD.us’ registered lobbying efforts total $780,000.” [4] Factor in labor unions, the tourism and hospitality industries, the technology sector, etc., and you have big money and big corporations trying to affect big change.

What these “corporate elitists” forgot is one simple element – the true power of we the people. Just like 2007, the rally cry of Senator Jeff Sessions caused concerned citizens to melt the lines at the Capitol, sending a very loud message to members of Congress. This tsunami of grassroots activism ultimately thwarted a weak border bill, causing representatives to go back and draft legislation with teeth – one that protects the borders, not the President’s interests.

This victory, while only temporary, shows that a study can be just that – a study, which doesn’t have to reflect reality. But, like Mrs. Powel only those willing to wield power continuously will keep the Republic.