Reshma Saujani, Democratic challenger in New York’s 14th congressional district, released the results of a survey of her supporters yesterday. Among the findings: 45 percent of respondents agreed with the statement that “special interests are the main reason for the partisanship in Washington”, while 33 percent agreed “that Democrats and Republicans simply have completely different worldviews”.
An effort to understand this item in Saujani’s survey requires a good deal of interpretation. In order for the survey question to make sense, there must be a meaningful distinction between “special interests” and organizations that are sincerely motivated by particular worldviews. The survey question implies that such a distinction exists, that there are organizations that have ideological foundations on the one hand, and special interest organizations that are motivated by self-interest without regard for ideology on the other hand.
Few would contest that ideological groups exist. However, many point out that organizations that claim to be ideological in nature also promote the interests of particular members of society. Worldviews often happen to be rather economically convenient.
The existence of powerful groups of people motivated purely by the desire for practical benefit should also be a matter of serious doubt. Are ambitious and selfish people truly without a coherent worldview? One might argue that lobbying firms, as an example, are motivated solely to promote the interests of their clients, but even if that were the pure motivation of those firms, lobbyists’ clients themselves can still be motivated by ideology. In some cases, such beliefs are easy to identify. In other cases, the beliefs may lie beneath the surface, but still present an active influence.
Even in the case of a corproation that hires lobbyists to explicitly bribe members of Congress to support certain legislation, ideological beliefs would still be in action. The corporation would be interested in advancing the belief that the government should serve the interests of private industry, and that financial representation is more important than the electoral influence of the voter.
There is a worldview inherent in even the most corrupt legislative activity. it may be a worldview that most Americans disagree with, but then, that’s the point. Even in extreme cases, the distinction between self-interest and worldview is incoherent. “Special interests” turn out merely to be interests with which we personally disagree because our worldviews will not admit their worth.
To identify this problem in Reshma Saujani’s survey may seem like pointless quibbling. However, attention to detail and the ability to focus with logical precision are characteristics that a legislator should not be without. It’s also important that members of Congress have the integrity to seek out the opinions of their constituents through accurate and respectful means, rather than through slanted mechanisms designed to communicate ideas favorable to their own agendas.
It’s my opinion that the phrase “special interests” isn’t meaningful enough to be included in any political survey. Your worldview may prompt you to come to a different conclusion.