Rep. Omar apologized for her controversial tweet on Sunday, after many Jewish Americans, including New York Democrat Rep. Max Rose, called attention to its anti-Semitic undertone. It was wise of Rep. Omar to apologize, and many of us can use this as a teachable moment to learn more about the history of anti-Semitism and the common tropes that perpetuate it.
But an important truth was lost in the uproar over Rep. Omar’s careless tweet: special-interest groups have too much influence on our government. Whether by courting elected officials or by funding political campaigns, special-interest groups like the NRA, American Petroleum Institute, Pharmaceutical Research & Manufacturers of America, AIPAC‒and even foreign governments like Saudi Arabia‒have outsized influence in shaping our policies.
While there are many citizens who actually support these organizations and agree with their politics, those everyday citizens who disagree with the lobbyists too often lack the clout to make their own voices heard. Rep. Omar clarified this point in a tweet apologizing for her earlier comment, reiterating her opposition to “the problematic role of lobbyists in our politics.”
The majority of Americans agree with her. A 2016 Gallup poll found that 64 percent of Americans think major donors have “a lot” of influence on how Congress votes, and 55 percent think that lobbyists also have “a lot” of influence. Only 14 percent of Americans think that ordinary people have that same amount of influence on their representative in Congress.
Thankfully, the new House majority is listening. The For the People Act (H.R. 1), a bold and comprehensive reform package, includes important provisions to make government more responsive to everyday citizens. It would require Super PACs to publicly disclose their donors and would strengthen the oversight of lobbyists representing foreign governments. Naturally, lobbyist organizations have already started lobbying against it.
Republicans and lobbyists would like nothing more than to shine a light on Rep. Omar’s unfortunate word choice while leaving her broader point about our broken political system in the dark. In fact, they’re downright giddy about the opportunity to use Rep. Omar as a wedge to divide Americans‒with President Trump wasting no time in calling for Rep. Omar to resign. Given President Trump’s own anti-Semitic tweets and those of Rep. Kevin McCarthy, the GOP’s sudden righteous anger seems all too disingenuous.
Could it be that Rep. Omar, as one of only two Muslim women is Congress, is being unfairly singled out by Republicans for attack? After all, they were labeling her anti-Semitic well before this latest tweet. At the same time that we shouldn’t play into tropes of anti-Semitism, we mustn’t fall for the trap of Islamophobia. Even while we disagree about policy, we must respect everyone’s religion and should value every citizen’s full participation in our political process.
Let’s not lose sight of the bigger problem that even Rep. Omar’s apology can’t fix: our government isn’t listening to its people. We all need to come together to curb the power of every lobbyist group‒no matter which industries or special-interests they represent.