Meg Whitman, the fourth richest woman in California, is now also the Republican nominee for governor and conservative pundits like David Frum and Fred Barnes are already talking about the White House. They’re probably getting ahead of themselves. Oh, she’s vain enough, and stupid and stubborn enough, and hollow inside; she just doesn’t have the money. To get the nomination yesterday, Whitman spent $81 million — $71 million out of the pockets of her own haunting mom-khakis. She got 1,101,074 votes. That’s $73.56 a vote. And that’s just the primary. Now she has to win in November. Over the last five California gubernatorial elections, the winning candidate has won with 52%, or about 4,446,480 votes. At $73.56 a vote, Meg Whitman will have to spend $327,083,069.
It’s been said- by pundits wiser and more articulate than I could ever hope to be- that money is the mother’s milk of politics. That may have been true at one time in our history, but it’s becoming clear that money is much more than that. When it comes to today’s political campaigns, there really are only three things an aspirational candidate needs to keep in mind:
The reality is that without money, no amount of “hope” or “change” or “new ideas” will ever see the light of day. A candidate without a significant and deep funding source will go exactly…nowhere, and in one helluva hurry. If you think that this is creating a generation of political “gots” and “ain’t gots”, you should go to the head of the class. ‘Course, you’re a little late, but I’ll cut you some slack here, since I’ve been allowing my idealism on this issue to run free for far too long. I’ve long feared that the day will come when a politician will literally be able to buy their way into office. Indeed, that day is here- and it’s been with us for some time now. Indeed, in significant races, self-funding is now the norm. Candidates like Meg Whitman and Michael Bloomberg have turned American politics into an oligarchy.
What this means for our democracy shouldn’t take a Ph.D. to figure out. When the quest for political power requires significant wealth, only the significantly wealthy will be successful in their quest for political power. If you can afford to spend $73.56 per bote to win a PRIMARY, then how much will victory in a general election cost? Personally, I wouldn’t spend $73.56 on lunch…not unless there was a SERIOUS chance I was going to get laid…but to buy a vote? I may need a job, but I’d always thought a job was supposed to pay me, not vice-versa.
Here in Portland, local candidates can opt to publicly finance their campaigns, thus reducing their financial burden. It’s a good idea, but it does place limits on a candidate, and some decide they simply don’t want their prospects for victory handcuffed to a finite pot of money. This system, while a good idea, clearly is in need of tweaking, and Portland voters will be revisiting it this November. When a candidate who uses public funding faces an opponent who declines public funding, the playing field is not level. What will become of Portland’s system is an open question, but it’s an idea that deserves attention.
Of course, the same option exists for Presidential elections, but given the amount of money it takes to run a national campaign, no one with any hope of victory would use public money. So, we’re left with a system that conveys victory more often than not on he (or she) who has the bigger war chest, which more often than not means their beholden to special interests and corporations.
You know, I’d take the Tea Party far more seriously if this was anything close to being an issue for them.
The solution seems pretty simple, though I lack a clear vision for how to implement it. Until, and unless, we can find it within ourselves to separate the power and influence of money from our electoral process, ordinary Americans will have no hope of having a voice. When money talks, it crowds out all other voices. If we’re to be OK with a system that confers political power upon those with the largest checkbooks, then corporations and special interests will continue to run America. Money in politics is too often used to work against the interests of the middle class. Wealth begets wealth, and those with personal wealth will continue to buy elections in order to support and protect their own interests.
Sometimes, the America we have is not the America you and I deserve. This is one of those times. The question is, can we pull the pliable brains of enough Sheeple out of the propaganda stream in order to effect change? Or will we continue to vote against our own interests…because that’s what the teevee machine tells us to do?
WE DESERVE BETTER.