Over a year ago, I sent my fingerprints for a standard foreign background check to the U.S. State Department in Washington, D.C., along with a money order. Both promptly disappeared, never to be seen again. A personal survey of those around me suggested that this was standard operating procedure -- which is why I suspected that America wouldn't exactly implode if this kind of federal "service" level was formally kneecapped. Still, in shock there also lies opportunity.
Sure, a few politicians have announced that they would donate their salaries to charity during the federal government shutdown -- but only right before plunging their heads back into the trough of public cash. Meanwhile, Americans are entrenched in ideological squabbles and in the left-vs.-right dichotomy at a time when they should really be rising above these differences to fix the actual problem.
A couple of years ago, I walked by the window of the French National Assembly's gift shop here in Paris and spotted a children's art kit with "Kids' Parliament" emblazoned on the box. Not only did that strike me as redundant, but it represented an impressive level of self-awareness. Then I remembered that this is the country renowned for having beheaded any lawmaker who got too greedy off the backs of the people -- which probably tends to have a lingering effect on those in power.
Given this history, it's easy to understand why lobbying cash in French politics doesn't exactly flow freely. In cases where it does, it's done commensurately with the shadiness that it represents, with manila envelopes handed off under the table of some cafe -- and often ending up in a courtroom as a result. So it follows that the most whining one ever hears in France about the political influence of the wealthy has to do with perceived taxation "benefits" that apply to their corporations.
By contrast, the shameless influence-peddling that exists in the U.S. under the guise of one's right to "buy" politicians through lobbying is the main reason why President Obama's Affordable Care Act was bound to come into being in the first place. When the tilting of the playing field leads to such obvious imbalances, the backlash is often worse than what could have been if the system hadn't been corrupted in the first place.