Friday, October 24, 2014

Money in Electoral Politics

As the next midterm election draws closer, it is worth a moment of your time to consider the influence of corporate money on the United States election process.

The combined ten billion dollars spent in the 2012 presidential campaign was breathtaking indeed, and to many resulted in the perception that Obama’s campaign of ideas outstripped Romney’s campaign of craven corporate beholdenness, but really, it was just as much and perhaps even more a case of the Democrats’ money having been spent more wisely. Whereas Romney’s resources were in large part directed toward that old standby by of American brainwashing, television, the truth of the matter was that the Obama machine that had effectively engaged new media in 2008 was still exercising its advantage. As such the youth vote was already in place and had been undergoing fine-tuning in the years between the 2008 and the 2012 election. So money beat money, rather than ideas beat money is probably the more true assessment.

Not that television is a dead horse being beaten by out-of-touch coal-fueled think tanks. Its reach remains profound, and that fact is perhaps no better proven than by the popularity of the in large part demonstrably false broadcasts that flow around the clock from the Fox News Network, which has found a variety of demographics whose preexisting narratives were easily fanned from coals of discontent into flames of paranoia and irrational rage.

From phalanxes of aging, white, cigarette-smoking Hoveround operators who in between tokes from their Medicare-issued oxygen tanks wheeze their objections to wasteful and undeserved government programs, to responsible gun owners to whom a Democratic desire to make sure mental patients can’t walk out of a gun store with an AR-15 has been ginned into the suggestion that “jack-booted government thugs” were coming to take their guns away. A more time-tested piece of proof of television’s powers of persuasion can be seen in the massive reduction of smoking in America subsequent to television advertising of the Class A carcinogen having been made unlawful in 1970. For good or ill, TV works.

The notion that money rather than ideas beat money can be seen in Obama’s staunch alignment with Wall Street over the course of his presidency. The puppet mastery of the president is probably most evident in his administration having given the banks an utter pass in the housing collapse in which thousands of American lives were plunged into financial ruin, while the lending institutions whose wild west methodologies precipitated the collapse not only didn’t see a single executive conviction for this galling malfeasance, were actually bailed out by the taxpayers whose lives they destroyed.

So whether it is on the web or on television, expect an avalanche of bullshit to be coming your way, even in the midterm. The money machine doesn’t stop with senators and congressional representatives either. Everything from school boards to dogcatchers, thanks in no small part to the Citizens United decision, are fodder for financial perversion of election cycle perceptions, usually in the form of personal attacks and cheap shot gotcha “journalism.” The two-party system in America leaves little room for discernment and distinction, but there is some.

I urge you to look past the grainy photographs with the Vincent Price voice-over telling you about how your candidate kicks dogs for fun in his spare time or that he wants to take your guns away so you can’t shoot him when he comes to kick your dog. It takes more time to do your own research, but it’s the only research that’s reliable. I have seen so many smart people post stupid memes on Facebook, letting individuals with half their brains and none of their integrity do their thinking for them. Please don’t perpetuate that, and more importantly, don’t fall for it either. A modicum of exploring government websites for voting records and position papers can orient you to some enlightening details that may get you thinking that maybe you’ve been voting against your own interests for quite some time.

Before signing off tonight, I’d like to stress further that seemingly less consequential elections, those of small town mayors, town council members, city managers, school board representatives and more are the twigs, branches and leaves that photosynthesize political power that ultimately makes its way to trunk and the roots of our rapidly disappearing democracy. Like the great Tip O' Neil said, all politics is local. 

Call it a plutocracy, an oligarchy or a economic dictatorship, one man one vote has to a large extent been supplanted by one dollar one vote. It’s not too late, but the machine is firmly in place and will require a revolution at the ballot box to begin with, and relentless, daily activism in its wake, along with vigilant rejection of easy information that coddles and distorts rather than challenges and explains.

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