Whatever the particular political disagreement, the other side—those bums—are usually a bunch of “Special Interests” or people at least heavily influenced by “Special Interests”. All of my friends and allies agree that’s so! But funny thing is, everybody on the other side is likewise crying “Special Interests” at us, the white/black hats (depending).
Fact is, that term “Special Interest” is totally devoid of any meaning, and is beside the point. Obviously, every one of us who is not comatose has “special interests” and, worse, is a MEMBER OF SPECIAL INTEREST GROUPS!
My wife has a special interest in choral music, and shares that interest with others, a Special Interest Group it seems. My one neighbor is a beekeeper, the other a skilled photographer. They too are allied with people of similar interests! My brother-in-law builds model boats, along with a GROUP of other men. (Yes, all men—illustrating just how special that group is.)
Our networks are endless.
One interest that we all share is that we want to make money, we want to advance our financial position. Show me someone who denies it, and I’ll show you…one very odd dude. (DJT?) “Making more” is a good, totally worthy aim, one that underlies capitalism and human nature itself.
It follows that many groups are organized around this proposition: we have business interests in common, so let’s get together to push ideas that will make us more money. Like a Society To Aid The Homeless, these too are “special interest groups,” though fundamentally devoted to the personal financial gain of their members. (Still, prosperity is a plus, and my gain will be good for you too: I’m now able to spend more money at your store, helping to pay the wages of your local employees, who sing in choruses and aid the homeless.)
(Associations like I’ve described almost always purport to advance members’ and community interests in many other ways too–education, charitable efforts, bonhomie, etc.–but who among us doesn’t think the primary objective is to make the members’ more money? This doesn’t mean those community benefits aren’t super, and much appreciated.)
So all that said, how many special interests groups—formally organized or not—might you belong to? A bunch that are for fun (the shooting club?), civic minded (Rotary perhaps), cultural (the cinema society?), or ones focused on personal financial gain (National Ass’n of XYZ Practitioners, or, for retired folks, an investment club).
So let’s get back to the idea of political arguments, whatever the substance, and at whatever level, from Talbot County to the G7. The right solution to any issue (assuming the parties agree on what the problem is!) should be based on facts, evidence, logic. The identity of the advocates on either side ought to be beside the point. The sticky wicket, of course, is that in any situation opposing groups are likely not to agree on the facts and evidence (and very often not on the definition of the problem)—so who are you to believe? That is where the motivation of the advocates needs to be distinguished and fully understood.
False equivalency is a great danger here. Some (when it serves their purposes) claim that the advocates for both sides are “special interests,” so its even-steven and lets not discuss respective motivations and purposes. That’s personal and somehow out of bounds.
But false equivalency must be rejected; the underlying motivations of both parties to any issue should be recognized for what they are–not because that alone determines the correct answer (it doesn’t), but to provide perspective on the competing efforts to define the problem and the competing “facts and evidence” advanced.
In assessing positions of opposing parties in any political discussion, the complaint about the influence of “Special Interest Groups” is meaningless. The question is, what is the core motivation and purpose of the particular opposing interest groups in the discussion? An adult, clear-eyed focus on that will enable anyone to better assess the definition the problem (often key) and the competing “facts and evidence” put forth.
Ok, I agree all of this is pretty obvious. But I’ve been hearing that meaningless “Special Interest” charge thrown around way too much, along with the false equivalency defense that tries to blunt an honest evaluation of the motivations of competing parties. Just thought it’d help to put a spotlight on it, obvious or not.
By the way, I was just kidding there at the beginning, for effect. The people who disagree with me of course are not bums. In every case they are all well-intentioned folks of good character and impeccable morals. They are simply confused about the facts, impatient as hell, very poor listeners, and unable to reason properly. Ok, I’m kidding again. I’m just going to drop it, ok?
Dan Watson is the former chair of Bipartisan Coalition For New Council Leadership and has lived in Talbot County for the last twenty-five years.