Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Money and Politics

In the recent Florida GOP primary, Mitt Romney won by a decisive margin, not just in terms of votes, but in terms of money spent to "win" those votes.  Romney's superPAC - "Restoring our Future" - raised over $30 million in the last 2 weeks to help him defeat Newt Gingrich with a slew of fiercely negative ads.  In contrast, Newts own superPAC - "Winning our Future" (gotta love those high-tested PAC names!) - only raised just over $2 million in the same time frame.  What's most telling about the fundraising numbers vs. the vote count is that - while Romney did win by a wide margin - it was a much smaller margin, proportionately, than one would expect given the huge imbalance in spending by both campaigns.  This proves two important things - one, that Romney's own unpopularity is still his biggest opponent in the GOP primary and two, that when you spend enough money, it doesn't matter how unlikable you are, you will still win.

Another important statistic that has come out following the Florida primary is that 5 individual donors have contributed the majority of all superPAC funding in the last month or so of campaigning.  5 men have contributed over $50 million out of their own pockets to support the campaigns of either Mitt Romney or Newt Gingrich.  Now, this isn't about to turn into a gripe about wealth.  I've said over and over again that I'm not anti-wealth.  I'm not the conservative mischaracterization of the progressive ideology, in fact most progressives aren't.  It's not about "hating" wealth or wanting to "punish" the wealthy, it's just about promoting fairness in our society.  I find it interesting and a little telling that "fairness" is now a bad word to conservatives, but I digress...  As I said, this isn't about wealth being a bad thing - if someone has been successful and amassed some personal wealth and wants to donate some of that wealth to help politicians who they support get elected, that's what democracy is all about.  The issue is that uncapped wealth pouring into the political process, by it's very nature, favors the wealthy few over the majority.

This was at the core of the poorly-decided Citizens United v. FEC case brought before the Supreme Court which opened the floodgates for the unrestricted flow of money from all sources into politics.  The idea that "money equals speech", at it's core, means that the more money you have, the more "speech" you are granted.  In the case of politics, "speech" means influence.  When the majority of the voting public has equal speech, the majority of the voting public is equally represented.  However, when only a handful of extremely wealthy individuals and corporations have equal speech, only an elite minority of the country has their views heard, only an elite minority of the country has a voice in our political process.

The simple solution is to get money out of politics.  I say "simple" because it takes the least amount of words to say, not because it's actually easy.  The fact that the CU v. FEC case was decided the way it was at all means that money has now completely corrupted the system all the way to the judicial level.  At this point, it would take a constitutional amendment to change our current plutocratic political course and, given the explosion of wildly misguided constitutional purism fueled by the very Tea Party voters who have been most victimized by our corrupted political system, that's rather unlikely to happen.  In short, Tea Party candidates and the other Republicans who fear their rabid base will use a false loyalty to "preserving the constitution" to argue against ratifying a new amendment to curb unchecked spending in politics and ignorant voters, who don't realize how insidious superPACs are to the political process, will support these politicians and directly help to continue the unfairness that's permeated our democracy.

Further muddying the discussion is the successful use of reverse class warfare by the Republicans to turn middle-class Americans against each other and to distort every discussion about money in politics into a trumped-up battle between the "haves" and the "have-nots".  Simply put, you can't levy a single complaint about money in politics without being accused of "envy" or "class warfare".  If you have a problem with the fact that millionaires and billionaires in this country are able to buy influence in a way that no one else can, don't try to change the system, just get off your lazy ass and become a millionaire also!  It would be laughably ridiculous logic if it wasn't resonating so effectively with people who will never, ever, in their entire lives, ever come into anywhere near enough personal wealth to make that happen.

Thus, we have our current situation, where asking for "fairness" is something to be ashamed of.  Where wanting to impose any semblance of limitation or regulation on the wealthiest individuals and corporations in this country is called "unpatriotic" and "socialist".  The idea that we would dare to tell the wealthiest Americans that they can't simply buy off politicians, buy off elections, buy off government and buy a country that caters to their every whim is seen as the worst, most anti-American thing ever imagined.  Think about that, we are living in a country where the working class is shamed into letting the wealthiest minority do whatever they want and have completely unrestricted free reign on our political process and what's even more pathetic is that a significant number of those working-class Americans are proud to defend that unbalanced, unfair status quo.

Proud to defend a system that works against their own self-interests.

Proud to make their neighbors, co-workers and friends the scapegoats for political greed.

Proud to blame the poor for the state of our economy and defend the Wall St. plutocrats who created the recession in the first place.

Fairness is not a four-letter word.  Fairness is the core of our democracy - the fair representation of the will of the people.  Our democracy is founded on a simple principle - that ALL MEN are created equal.  It's not all RICH men are created equal or the Orwellian dystopia of his book Animal Farm, where "All men are created equal, but some are more equal than others".  There are no conditions to equality in this country.  The unrestricted influence of money in politics creates a system where there is no fairness, there is no equality, there is no democracy.  It's not "All men are created equal", it's "All rich men are more equal than everyone else".  If pointing out this obscene violation of the most basic principles of our free and democratic society is class warfare, then call me a class warrior.

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