Went to a reception for Joe Sestak the other night. He’s not “running” for the Senate yet, but he’s “exploring” it seriously. And if you’ve ever watched the Discovery Channel, you know exploration costs money, what with all the sled dogs and dried seal meat—and that’s just to get to the North Pole, which is much cheaper and easier than getting to Washington, DC, even from here in Pennsylvania.
Now, I don’t begrudge Joe my contributions, because I’d like his explorations to succeed (and I’ve hosted several events for Joe to prove it) and it does take a lot of money. Joe has $ 1 Million at his disposal but Pat Toomey, the evil Grinch who recently took over the North Pole (because Santa Claus gave away too many food presents to unworthy hungry people) has $3 million. Neither Joe nor the Grinch (quite correctly) thinks he has enough. Why on earth does it take so much?
It’s certainly not sled dogs and seal meat (interns and pizza). Nope, it’s all needed for TV advertising. After all, how would we know who was an evil, Muslim, socialist minion of Hitler if his opponent didn’t tell us that on TV—over and over and over? However, much more important than scurrilous information is the positive feedback loop of the money/TV connection. The more money candidates raise, the more seriously they are taken by their national party (which won’t back anyone who can’t generate a whopping nest egg on their own), by the pundits, by their potential opponents (what eager-beaver Republican would want to challenge Toomey knowing he’s starting $3 Million or more in the hole?) and by potential donors (nobody wants to put money into a losing cause). Thus the positive feedback loop. Candidates who have money are the most likely to get money, which then enables them to get even more money.
This isn’t anything new, and I’ve already written about it (Voting with Dollars). But there’s another way money in politics has affected democracy that I haven’t mentioned. Money has so obviously become the key to political success (as opposed to, say, voting) that the huge number of eligible voters without the spare cash to funnel to people who represent their hopes and dreams have become convinced that the game is rigged against them—so why bother. Why bother volunteering, why bother talking politics with friends and neighbors, why bother…VOTING.
And they don’t. This is the real triumph, and evil, of money in politics. The top few percent have used huge media cash infusions to convince the lower 75% that they are powerless*, EVEN THOUGH IN A SINGLE ELECTION THEY COULD THROW THE BUMS OUT AND VOTE IN CANDIDATES WHO ACTUALLY REPRESENT THEM. This reminds me of the pictures you see of hundreds of prisoners of war being escorted by a mere handful of armed guards. The prisoners could overwhelm their captors at any minute—but they’ve been convinced that they are powerless…and so they are.
Let’s modify the old slogan: “Workers of the world VOTE, you have nothing to lose but your chains.” Don’t let a relatively few wealthy guardians of privilege and the status quo continue to flood themselves and their cronies with contracts, tax breaks and deregulation, things that are against the interests of almost everyone who lives here (and on the earth) yet continue to be done because the beneficiaries have convinced us that we can’t stop them. Well we can, if we only will.
*Turnouts are typically < 50% for off-year Congressional elections, and often in single digits for state and local primaries—where the $$-driven decisions are baked in (FairVote.org)