Voting With Dollars

Well, John Huntsman has jumped out of the clown car for the last time, finally announcing he is leaving the GOP race to be not-Obama (see today’s NYT article). I would think the Republican Party should be pretty concerned to have lost the only relatively rational and human-appearing being in the race and to be stuck with the current disturbing mix of phony, greedy, ignorant buffoons (I leave out demonically possessed, as Michelle Bachmann has already given up).

So why did Huntsman leave? Obviously, it had to do with his performance in the polls (face it—coming in behind Stephen Colbert in SC is not a good sign). But let’s think about this. Why should these “polls” matter one whit? After all, elections are the real polls, and we’ve had only 2 of 50 so far (or maybe only 1 ½, as the Iowa caucuses aren’t even real elections)—that’s 4% of the states and, given their relatively low population, likely even less than 4% of Republican voters.

Oh, Rob, you just don’t understand. It’s all about the money (hmmm, where have we heard that before?). Poor performance in polls (and in a few trial-run elections) mean that a candidate isn’t “strong” and thus probably wont win. And thus people with lots of money wont donate any of that money to the candidate. Leaving aside the negative feedback nature of this system (which means that small perturbations of an initial state amplify themselves, usually to destruction) that creates self-fulfilling prophecies, what does this really mean for “democracy?”

Well, it means this: We actually have 2 separate, parallel elections. The first election uses not votes, cast one per customer, but dollars, cast many per customer (but only from customers who have lots). Now of course the dollar election doesn’t occur on just one day, or even 50 separate days. The dollar election is every day, and the dollar tallies are reported religiously by the media. As candidates rise in dollars, they spend them on ads. The ads help them rise in the polls. And the polls help them get more dollar votes. This is now a positive feedback amplification—the winners of the dollar vote become strong, and the losers drop out of the race. Hence Huntsman. Does anyone think Huntsman (or other departed candidates with a national following) would’ve dropped out if each of the candidates had the same sized pool of funds? Of course not. They would’ve stayed in and let the real vote (not the dollar vote) play out and we could all see who the most voters in the whole country wanted.

But that doesn’t happen. Because the dollar vote has had its destructive effects long before most people votes take place, we-the-people are left to choose only between the winners of the dollar vote. Is this so bad (rhetorical question; if I have to explain this to you there’s no hope)? Yes,Columbia, it is. Reason being that it’s not “one person, one vote.” Some people (now including corporate people, thanks be to SCOTUS) are able to cast lots and lots of dollar votes. But a great many people who can cast their single person vote just fine can’t afford to cast any (or very many) dollar votes. This means that the winners of all national and state-level elections have already been pre-elected by the dollar vote. Whomever the people voters choose, of whichever party, has already been elected by dollars, dollars that come from a tiny subset of the electorate. And this subset has its own agenda, which is not shared with the rest.

So why do we want moneyed people and corporations to have this outlandish, outsized, outrageous control of our electoral process? Well, people (and corporations) need to be free to do what they want with their money. After all, that’s democracy.