And when it comes to unelected people? Bedlam! Total confusion! The influencers and the power brokers and the firebrands wield immense control over Americans and over policy, but it can be nearly impossible to measure just who is really controlling anything.
Today we’re discussing five people who hold no elected office but are undeniably power brokers. For better or for worse, they are…
5 Justice John Roberts
Strange, perhaps, that we would rank the host of a comedy show as more powerful than the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, but let’s be honest: Stewart and Colbert are markedly more influential than Justice John Roberts, if only in a de facto kind of way. But behind the scenes, as much as possible, anyway, the Supreme Court is not known for seeking attention, but the Chief Justice is arguably the most powerful person in the country, when you take the long view. Presidents pass or veto laws and policies, judges decide if they will endure. Something John Roberts decides today may affect us tomorrow next week, next year, or next century. The ruling of the Supreme Court are rarely felt in any dramatic way (Affordable Care Act and Citizens United are exceptions, people) but they’re made to last.
4 Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert
Punching right back from the left is the Dynamic Duo of Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert. These two gentlemen reach single digit millions every night, and of a demographic almost diametrically opposed to that of Rush. And while their shows, The Daily Show and The Colbert Report are technically comedy programs meant to entertain, over the years they have become very much politically charged, supporting left-leaning ideals and individuals, and often a source of valid political commentary and insight. The fact that they are on Comedy Central and thus Stewart and Colbert can comfortably swing between political wisdom and bodily function humor makes the show a stalwart of late night television and American culture.
3 Rush Limbaugh
Rush Limbaugh may be a loudmouthed demagogue who spews vitriolic hate and often plays loose and free with the facts and figures, but fortunately for him, he does so in a country where millions of people just love the hell out of that stuff. Limbaugh himself has claimed that his broadcasts reach as many as 20 million people daily, though that number may be BS, as it was cited by none other than Rush Limbaugh. But, give or take a few million citizens, the man is heard by a lot of people. And not just heard, he is listened to. People really take his words and his message to heart, letting it guide their beliefs, their perceptions, and their voting. Fortunately, most of the people he reaches are already dyed in the wool — he’s not as good at winning converts as he is preaching to the choir (this particular choir being old white men).
2 Ben Bernanke
The Chairman of the Federal Reserve Bank comes in after Grover only because it is a position, not a person. But let’s talk about specifics: right now, Ben Bernanke is one of the most powerful people in America, and, arguably the world at large. The policies he sets forth, largely related to where he keeps interest rates for government lending, have a dramatic effect over every aspect of the U.S. economy, and therefore ripple out to influence the whole world! Look at what happened when Fed Chairman Greenspan failed to see the coming housing bubble! Recession, big time. With great power, right…
1 Grover Glenn Norquist
Grover Glenn Norquist is a 56 year old white male American whose occupation is officially listed as “political.” And that’s just about right. As the driving force behind the “think tank” Citizens for Tax Reform, Norquist has shaped a platform around conservative ideals that has become so pervasive in American politics that most every member of the Congressional GOP has signed off on his [in]famous Taxpayer Protection Pledge. This Pledge is essentially a Pledge of Allegiance to the Far Right, and must be signed to gain acceptance into the ever more conservative Republican Party. By framing the language and platform of the GOP in his own ideals, Norquist has essentially elevated himself — or at least his beliefs — to a level of infallibility for one half of our effectively two party political system. All hail Grover (but the one from Sesame Street, not Mr. N, of course).
Too bad you can’t vote any of these folks out, right? Well, here’s another idea, instead: vote them in! I mean, Rush Limbaugh couldn’t run his mouth so much if he were president, right? Wait… wait, no, don’t do what I just said; I didn’t think that through…