Allow me to immediately put you to sleep with just three words. Are you ready? Here goes:
Campaign Finance Reform
Still reading? It just sounds like drudgery doesn't it? I automatically have the image of a stuffy McCain ranting like a senile old man no one is paying attention to. And I daresay the rest of America feels the same way since it frequently ranks the issue near the bottom in every poll of their political priorities. Its not as flashy as say, abortion or war, or as close to home as the economy or taxes. but I think if folks stopped to think about it, they might feel a little differently.
Congress and the rest of the federal government consistently get abysmal approval ratings. I can't remember the last time it was even close to 50%. but why is this constantly the case? The way the system is supposed to work, the Senator would like to stay in office (clearly the safest assumption of the whole process). Therefore, he should legislate in a way pleasing to his constituency. This second assumption is the problem.
What does it really take to stay in office? We all know the answer, cold hard cash. You need a great PR firm. You need good lawyers, campaign workers, buttons, flyers, TV spots, photo-ops, etc. No matter what your platform, voting record, or credentials are, you cannot hope to win a major election without a sizeable warchest. And if you have all these things, the formula for staying in office has pretty well perfected. The fact is we as potential voters never have the time or inclination to stay as informed as we should, and consequently, its easy for the incumbent Senator to squeeze the neccessary votes out with a well-made fear-mongering ad once every few years. In Rome, it was bread and circuses, today its McDonalds and TV.
So where does all the money come from? Well, from people, both as individuals and in groups, whether they're political parties, grass-roots organizations, political action committees, lobbying groups, or even the big bad multinational corporation. Fact of the matter is, most individuals would rather spend their hard-earned money on something with a little more tangible personal effects than give it to a politician. Heck, I refuse to even pay 99 cents for an iPhone app. And the big politicians know this. They don't even really bother targeting the constituency for funds. Instead they go for the biog potential donors only at giant $1000 per plate dinners. (Although one guy I'm known to be fond of has had success with the micro finance fund-drives, hint: his name rhymes with Con Schmall.) Consequently, your senator doesn't really give a damn what you think. He knows its more important for him to maintain his relationship with his big donors to stay in office than his relationship with Joe A. Voter.
Ultimately, this leads to the elected official's vote being for sale to the highest bidder. And your current big donor will often hint your relationship is toast if you vote yea or nay on bill X or Y. I've heard several folks inside and outside our country call this a system of legalized bribery. All of this is allegedly OK since its all out in the open and all your campaign fund sources are public knowledge. The supreme court recently took up this question, and in a 5-4 decision, concluded the system was OK as is. Clarence Thomas reasoned that people have the 2nd amendment right to give money to campaigns regardless of whether they do so as a single individual or in the form of a giant corporation. And I can't really disagree with that. Corporations are made of people after all. Nor do I blame a corporation for donating to a candidate that will serve its interests. One of my big personal rules is that it is foolish to expect any entity to act in any way other than its perceived self-interest afterall.
But we still have a problem. If this is a democracy, my political voice is supposed to be as equally influential as the next guy's, even if he's the CEO of Exxon. But this is clearly not the case. Sure, there's public funding, but its meager, and to even qualify, you have to have a certain amount of, you guessed it, money. The situation remains that those with the most resources remain the most politically influential. This surely is what the founding fathers were trying to avoid. But in their defense, I really don't think they foresaw the arrival of the mass media. Our goal then should be to cut the ties between money and political influence, a difficult task certainly, but equally worthwhile.
As a modest proposal, why don't we eliminate campaign spending outright? No signs, no buttons, no rallies, no PR and advertising people. Each candidates viability is determined by a set number of signatures on publicly available petitions, digital and hard copy. Each candidate is given equal video exposure in TV spots on public television only in the form of video shot by a public video crew who just puts a camera in front of the candidate for 30 seconds. Uniform websites with the candidates info are viewable on a publicly run internet domain. I'm sure there are a thousand problems with this proposal already, but Americans have begun to realize the system is broken. And unless we start thinking along these lines, we'll continue to head down the well-beaten path from democracy to oligarchy.
Lent Week One
2 weeks ago