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Larry Wilkerson: Republicans attending casino mogul Sheldon Adelson’s event represent how oligarchs have hijacked democracy

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JESSICA DESVARIEUX, TRNN PRODUCER: Welcome to The Real News Network. I’m Jessica Desvarieux in Baltimore.

Republican hopefuls headed out last week to kiss the ring of casino billionaire Sheldon Adelson. In Las Vegas, possible candidates like New Jersey Governor Chris Christie and Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker spoke at the Republican Jewish Coalition meeting, which was dubbed the “Adelson primary” because of the billionaire’s influence on Republican campaigns.

In the last presidential election, Adelson spent $100 million trying to get a Republican in the White House, according to Forbes. With a net worth of $36.8 billion–yes, with a b–that sounds more like chump change.

Now joining us to discuss the state of the Republican Party is our guest, Larry Wilkerson. Larry is the former chief of staff of Secretary of State Colin Powell, and he’s currently an adjunct professor of government at the College of William & Mary. And, of course, he’s a regular contributor to The Real News.

Thanks for joining us, Larry.


DESVARIEUX: So, Larry, a lot of people are seeing this sort of tribute to Republicans as–that go to casino mogul Sheldon Adelson’s resort over there in Las Vegas–. Can you just break down what Sheldon Adelson represents? What are his interests? And what does this mean for the Republican Party?

WILKERSON: Let me start out by saying, Jessica, what my old boss Colin Powell said not too long ago when someone asked him about being in the Republican Party and he said, they need me a whole lot more than I need them. I echo that sentiment too.

But the reason I say that is I’m interested in the two-party system. I’m interested in having two healthy parties in the United States, Republican and Democrat. I think people like Adelson represent the very worst aspects of both parties. I think Tom Friedman in a recent–5 April, I believe it was–op-ed summed it up pretty well. And let me just read what he said:

“Adelson personifies everything that is poisoning our democracy and Israel’s … –swaggering oligarchs, using huge sums of money to try to bend each system to their will.”

Now, while they might not be successful, as Adelson spent something like $100 million trying to get Newt Gingrich into the White House, it’s still a contaminative process and it’s dangerous for our political system. And that’s what Adelson represents, a real danger to democracy.

DESVARIEUX: Larry, we also got the news last week from the Supreme Court–major ruling, the McCutcheon case. As you know, they basically removed any federal campaign finance limits on the total amount of money donors can give to all candidates in an election cycle. What’s your assessment? Are we just going to be seeing more Sheldon Adelsons come into the arena, more money in politics?

WILKERSON: I think so. I think the Supreme Court, it reminds me of the Roger Taney Supreme Court that rendered the Dred Scott decision, in terms of it’s becoming more political than it is legal. And this is bad because we’ve got two branches of government right now that are at each other’s throat, polarizing the system, as it were, and we should have a Supreme Court that is nothing but legal. Entering into the political realm this way and making decisions like this that are almost purely political is a very dangerous thing to be doing in a democracy, as well as having people taking advantage of those decisions like Adelson.

I’m not of the school that thinks that, well, you’ll have the same amounts of money on both sides, so all it’ll do is increase the economy and create jobs and all that sort of thing. I think we are ludicrous when we present to the world this picture of politics being based on essentially who’s got the most money. We’re a plutocracy right now, no question about it. One percent of this country has most of the power, if not all the real meaningful power, while the other 1 percent is out fighting its bloody wars. So how does that look to the world when the world’s leading democracy, so to speak (and I use that phrase guardedly), is having 1 percent controlling it while the lowest 1 percent go out and fight its wars? This is as bad as we’ve been, certainly, since 1929, 1890s, and maybe it’s as bad as we’ve been in our short history as a nation.

DESVARIEUX: But, Larry, what do you see as a solution? Because politicians aren’t exactly ecstatic about taking public financing to run their campaigns. What do you see as a solution?

WILKERSON: I see–let me give you an illustrative anecdote: my 12-year-old granddaughter, who was playing soccer on a beautiful, beautiful field on a beautiful day yesterday in Northern Virginia, and the referees were not calling fouls. One little girl got hurt fairly badly. I think she’s going to be alright, but she did get hurt. That’s what happens when you don’t call fouls. Each team picks up on the fact that they can foul and get away with it, and you wind up with someone injured.

Had I been the coach of my granddaughter’s soccer team, I think I would have said, I’m pulling my team off the field, I’m going away in protest, because it is more important to me that my girls stay healthy and not be injured than it is to sit here and watch you people who can’t referee well.

Now, that might sound a bit strange, but I don’t think it is. Until the American people, that 98 percent in between the 1 percent plutocrats and the 1 percent who are fighting our wars, until the 98 percent in between get angry, get mad, and get busy and take over their democracy, bring it back to the people, we’re not going to have anything but more of what we have right now.

DESVARIEUX: Alright. Some powerful words. Thank you so much for joining us, Larry.

WILKERSON: Thanks, Jessica.

DESVARIEUX: And thank you for joining us on The Real News Network.


DISCLAIMER: Please note that transcripts for The Real News Network are typed from a recording of the program. TRNN cannot guarantee their complete accuracy.

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Distinguished Adjunct Professor of Government and Public Policy

Lawrence Wilkerson's last positions in government were as Secretary of State Colin Powell's Chief of Staff (2002-05), Associate Director of the State Department's Policy Planning staff under the directorship of Ambassador Richard N. Haass, and member of that staff responsible for East Asia and the Pacific, political-military and legislative affairs (2001-02). Before serving at the State Department, Wilkerson served 31 years in the U.S. Army. During that time, he was a member of the faculty of the U.S. Naval War College (1987 to 1989), Special Assistant to General Powell when he was Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff (1989-93), and Director and Deputy Director of the U.S. Marine Corps War College at Quantico, Virginia (1993-97). Wilkerson retired from active service in 1997 as a colonel, and began work as an advisor to General Powell. He has also taught national security affairs in the Honors Program at the George Washington University. He is currently working on a book about the first George W. Bush administration.