Isn't That Special?


Arnold Schwarzenegger has been telling anyone who'll listen that he's refusing any campaign contributions "from the special interests." Meanwhile, as Daniel Weintraub points out, Arnold's been scarfing down campaign contributions right and left. Guess it depends on the meaning of the word "special."

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  1. In Madisonian terms, special interests equal factions. The Constitution was designed so as to play factions off against each other; thus they were expected to exist (or at least Madison expected them to exist). In fact, as Madison clearly stated in the _Federalist Papers,_ these factions would and do focus on financial interests (class warfare anyone?).

    In light of what I’ve stated above, I’ve always been very wary of someone railing against “special interests.” I tend to view such rhetoric as (a) disingenuous (most politicians are more than willing to listen to these factions if its profits them and they fit their ideological beliefs), (b) anti-democratic (just as campaign finance “reform” tends to be) and (c) an attempt to muzzle the opposition.

  2. Kevin,

    I have to disagree to a certain extent. The incentives created when tax breaks are given to some uses of money and not others are bad, but they are not the same as if we started with zero taxation and only taxed naughty behavior.

    I don’t like the government picking winners and losers by way of tax credit, but I think that it is important to remember that each dollar that is confiscated for tax purposes is a dollar that can’t be used by the party who earned it to fund their dreams.

    Inequity is bad in tax code, but it is not necessarily the case that inequities should be resolved by raising taxes on preferred behavior. If I have a choice between retirements getting a break from a standard rate or nothing getting a break, I’d rather free the dollars from government clutches.

    If you give me the option of eliminating the inequity by reducing taxation overall, I am happier of course.

  3. Kevin,

    Get rid of third party limited liability, and I’d agree to get rid of the corporate tax!

  4. Jean Bart,

    I don’t think the, um, standard American has a clue who James Madison is, let alone how he characterized special interests. Let’s not confuse California voters with Hit & Run posters.

    There’s a cultural filter at work here. When Arnold says “no special interest money,” he’s not saying contributions from the local Police Guild, which, in Madisonian terms, IS a special interest. He means the commonly, conveniently, and popularly reviled 1) fat-cat corporations and 2) radical interest groups (ranging from tree-huggers to the California chapter of the [insert respectable lobby group with regulatory problems]).

    Like the term “luxury apartment” or “deluxe accommodations,” “special interest” evokes images of a thing that can mean anything to anyone depending on who says it and who is willing to buy a line of bull.

    Although Arnold has shown no aptitude for policy, governance, or vision, he has predictably mastered the low-road that gets lots of politicians into office: sexy rhetoric. Some politicians craft an entire career out of little more.

  5. Andrew Lynch,

    And I thought I was cynical. 🙂

    I agree with all your excellent points. Still, I do find Arnold’s rhetoric disturbing.

  6. Kevin,

    You must really hate Moody’s.

  7. Noam Chomsky (ducks tomatoes) has a pretty good riff on the political use of the phrase “special interests” (as opposed to “national interests”). His example is the use of “special interest” to characterize, e.g., environmental lobbies, whereas defense spending is in the “national interest,” even though that, too, is shaped in part by lobbying on behalf of defense contractors. If you generalize away his (unsurprisingly) one-sided gloss, the way it works is that “special” interests are the other guy’s constituency, while the “national” interest is represented by the interests of your own constituency. The tactic depends on focusing on who benefits when talking about the other guy, whereas talking about the benefit without mentioning the recipient when focusing on your own proposals. So it’s “economic stimulus” when you’re for it, and “handouts to corporations” when you’re opposed.

  8. fyodor,

    Consider it gone!

    Jean Bart,

    Forgive my ignorance, but what’s the reference?

  9. “Special interest” has always seemed to me to be a rhetorical bludgeon for demonizing your opponents without having to engage their arguments. Saying that a bill is favored or opposed by the “special interests” tells you nothing about whether or not the bill is good or bad. Furthermore,it plays into populist paranoia that hidden nefarious forces are controlling politics against the popular will. A view which I think is childish and destructive to good political discourse.

    “Special interest” is also a lie. Everyone who engages in politics has pet projects they’d like to see enacted, or defeated. By defintion, this makes them a special interest on that issue. In fact, the only people you can say are not “special interests” are those who are absolutely disinterested in every political issue: the ignorant and apathetic.

  10. Yes, but “special interests” is often shorthand for the groups that have bribed our politicians and are ruining the state — in California, public-sector unions. When Arnie says he’ll stand up to “special interests,” it’s as close as he can come to saying, “I’ll tell the teacher’s union to stick it up their asses.” I hope.

  11. The most honorable and shocking thing Arnold could do when talking about special-interest money would be to characterize special interests so we (Californians and Hit & Run posters ;>) don’t have to theorize about what he means. What, in his brain, constitutes a special interest? It would galvanize his opponents and cause allies to swoon. Suddenly, the issues, ideologies, and influences would be utterly transparent.

    I realize this is a fantasy of Brobdingnagian proportions, but it would force his opponents to do the same. The result would be that everybody’s national interests, special interests, and common goods would be on parade for us to evaluate. As it is, we (Californians) must make critical decisions about our state’s future based only on who does the neatest job of selling his or her “deluxe accommodations.”

    I’d rather see the blueprints, not the marketing materials.

    So, Jean Bart, although I’m a big cynic, I can still take refuge in my fantasy world where truth trumps electability. ;>

  12. Kevin Carson,

    Moody’s, along with Standards & Poors, are the firms that rate creditworthiness of companies. They were given this power in 1975 by the SEC. To be frank, because their decisions have numerous legal ramifications, it makes Moody’s & the S&P far more powerful than the Illuminati ever dreamed.

  13. That sounds very Chomskyesque. It is similar to the deconstruction of ‘freedom fighter’ and ‘terrorist’ you see more often.

    What really irks me is the insistence that there is an equivalence between being a ‘special interest’ that asks for tax money you paid to be returned to you, and being a ‘special interest’ who is demanding that everyone else send you a check.

    The grouping of these entirely distinct concepts under the moniker of ‘special interests’ works out very nicely for statism.

  14. Jean Bart,

    Madison’s “faction” analysis in the Federalist is very close to the interest group pluralism of Bell and Lowi.

    The problem is that, at least since the rise of the large corporation and the centralized state, most of these interest groups are structurally connected, and have common interests in receiving benefits from the state at the expense of the producing classes. I believe the “power elite” theory of C. Wright Mills and G. William Domhoff is much more on the mark.

    As those two have pointed out, most of the conflict between interest groups takes place on the second tier of policy (especially as regards lifestyle issues, but also as regards second-rank issues like the size of the welfare state). On first-tier issues, like the structure of world economic governance, IP law, most corporate welfare, and the existence of a large M-I complex (despite some quibbling about trimming around the edges), the establishment is quite bipartisan.

    Jason Ligon,

    As different as the two kinds of “special interest” are in principle, they are very close in functional terms. The effect of things like the R&D tax credit, accelerated depreciation, the interest deduction on corporate debt, etc., is exactly the same as if we started out from a tax rate of zero, and then imposed a tax only on non-favored forms of activity. In practice, the very existence of a corporate income tax, with deductions for certain privileged activities, serves to heighten the difference in status between privileged and non-privileged firms (many of the latter paying no taxes at all).

    Unlike most who consider themselves on “the Left” in some sense, I think our best bet is to eliminate the corporate income tax altogether. It would reduce the competitive disadvantage of small, non-privileged producers compared to the present system. And since the large corporations, to the extent they pay corporate tax at all, are as oligopoly firms able to pass the cost on to consumers, it does not have at all the “progressive” effect alleged.

  15. What Chomsky conveniently ignores (or at least most likely, since I haven’t read his original words on the subject) is that the use of “special interests” as an attack-bite was cleverly borrowed by the right from its original use by the left, which coined it as a contrast with what it called the “common good,” which served the same purpose for the left as the right’s favored “national interest.”

    Kinda looks like populist Arnold’s trying to work it both ways, leading to a new level of bullshittery for the term!

  16. Jean Bart,

    Oh, I get it.


    You’re on to something. All politics is about “special interests,” because it is replacing transactions in the market realm (in which all parties act voluntarily because they consider themselves better off from it) with the use of coercion to aid one person at the expense of another.

    What I reject is the implication that ANY of these “pet projects” is good. The use of coercion, by definition, is exploitative. That’s what the state is all about–to enable a politically connected ruling class to live off of the rest of us.

    Even welfare, arguably a necessary evil under the present corporatist system, is only “necessary” because it cleans up the mess created by the system of privilege, and renders tolerable the use of coercion to subsidize the profits of a few at everyone else’s expense. Wouldn’t it be better to let the producers keep the product of their labor in the first place, and get rid of the welfare system?

    Of course, some of it, like the Lawrence Welk Museum, just reflects the fact that there’s too many shitheads.

  17. Please note that any reference to the Illuminati shouLd be taken with a Large grain of salt, as there is no proof that sUch a Mystery group exIsts. Nor is there Any facTual evIdence that any such organization ever existed. Thank you.

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