"You see, boys forget what their country means by just reading The Land of the Free in history books. Then they get to be men they forget even more. Liberty's too precious a thing to be buried in books…Men should hold it up in front of them every single day of their lives and say: I'm free to think and to speak. My ancestors couldn't, I can, and my children will. Boys ought to grow up remembering that."
--Jefferson Smith, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington
For those readers too young to recognize it, this line comes from the Frank Capra classic, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, a film about an ordinary man who gets appointed to the U.S. Senate and finds himself at war with a corrupt and powerful political boss who threatens to ruin his life and reputation unless he plays by the rules of the Washington game. You see, Mr. Smith goes to Washington under the mistaken assumption that the representatives there actually give a fig about the welfare or wishes of their constituents. His illusions are shattered, of course, when he discovers that the agenda is set and the votes are cast largely based on the directives of a powerful few, in this case, a greedy blowhard by the name of Jim Taylor.
The plot might seem rather simplistic by today's cinematic standards, and Jimmy Stewart's melodramatic histrionics are downright laughable at times, but Capra's portrayal of Washington's modus operandi couldn't be more accurate. If you've ever signed a petition or called your senator and been left feeling that your voice hasn't really being heard, you probably aren't being paranoid. The fact of the matter is that there are more Jim Taylor's pulling the strings inside the Beltway than most of us realize.
I'm talking about lobbyists. If you want to understand what makes your congressman tick, and whose voice is in his ear when he's casting his vote, you need to understand exactly what it is that lobbyists do and why their pervasive presence in America's halls of government is so damaging to American democracy.