The supporting cast
Congress, the courts, regulatory agencies, political parties, and academia are examples of institutions or groups which support the operation of both the visible and invisible elements of the power elite. They are not in and of themselves the core of the American political process. They are subsidiary institutions that aid in the exercise of power. Although most people view congress and the judiciary as part of the core of the political system, it is our belief that they are not.
Students should consider the possibility that the very public nature of these institutions serves a purpose. Socialists contend that when these groups receive publicity attention is distracted from the central economic and political forces that direct our society. People who serve in these institutions are also in the public eye. Students look to professors as role models. The black robes of judges give the impression of wisdom and propriety. Many members of congress are celebrities. An implicit deduction can be that publicity is an indication that people who receive it are really important. But only some power is based on the ability to gain the attention of the media. Other sources of power are more effective still because they exercise their power outside the glare of publicity.
In reading the following chapters students should attempt to make their own judgments as to whether this supporting cast of institutions is more or less powerful than the editors state. We have offered our own outline of how the American political system works. It is up to students to come to their own conclusions.