"When logic and proportion have fallen sloppy dead"

"When logic and proportion have fallen sloppy dead"
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Money in Politics  

Posted by howard in nyc in , ,

2017_07_16 19:45

(I am working with a friend on a possible podcast series.  My preparation for one of our trial runs developed into this essay.  We posed the question, how to move past the undue influence of money in politics. What began as a two minute script enlarged into this much longer rant. )

How to move past the effect of money on politics.

TL:DR - Money has always had influence in our politics, in opposition to the power of the masses of voters.  The relative power and influence of these two forces has varied over time, but in recent decades the power of big money has reached 100% control of national elections (congress and presidential); the federal government is free to completely ignore the needs and desire of the masses, and serve only the interest of the big money interests.  We can fix this, simply (but not easily.  It takes awareness, education, and intelligent (as opposed to emotional) voting out the bastards.  But awareness, education and non-emotional intelligent voting is hard.

“The love of money is the root of all evil”

I may not be a Christian, but I am a big fan of the words and deeds of Jesus of Nazareth.  I like this quote the best.  The whole quote, each word.  Not ‘money is evil’.  Love of money.  Not merely evil, nor simplistically all evil.  The root of all evil.

Money has significantly corrupted nearly every institution and nearly every aspect of American society and culture.  ‘The love of money”, to the near exclusion of all other considerations may be a more accurate statement.

I can speak for hours just describing the corruption of education, from preschool to graduate school, corruption of medicine and health care, corruption of our previous efforts to clean up and preserve our water, air and general physical environment (Flint much?), corruption of our police and criminal justice/prison systems (all that surplus military gear that cops now routinely wear ain’t gonna buy itself),

And by corruption, I do not mean simply bad people stealing money; I mean the gross deviation from normal, natural goals that were previously a given, in favor of devotion to the singular goal of profit’ to the exclusion of any other ends, and the total fealty to the false idol of ‘the free market’. 

I’m gonna see a unicorn before I see a free market in any major area of American life.

But while correcting these corruptions are complex and multifaceted, the effect of money on politics is, by contrast, incredibly simple to describe, and even simpler to fix.  So simple and easy, even I can see it clearly.

First, to describe the problem.  Money has been central to American politics since the founding, when Madison and Hamilton made the deal regarding the location of the nation’s capital on the banks of a Virginia river, in return for central government assumption of wartime debts owed by the states.  This debt assumption Hamilton parlayed into capitalizing the early northeastern private banking system (leaking word of the deal to his buddies in New York), and establishing the creditworthiness of the new nation.  Part good, part shady as hell, but set the tone for the next 250 years.  (This is pretty sugarcoated in the musical play; you have to actually read a book on Hamilton to learn the real story, w/o a beat or bass line.  Or stay tuned for a future post or podcast, cuz I love this story.)

Since then money has been integral to the electoral process.  Despite the constant of monied influence over the decades, there has been a shifting balance between the power of big money, against the power of, for lack of a better term, the masses of the people.  A balance whose equilibrium shifts towards one pole, then back toward the other.  In a time of Andrew Jackson, shifts one way.  In the gilded age of the late 19th century robber barons, the other.  Teddy Roosevelt’s time sees a shift, the 1920s of Harding and Coolidge, a shift the other direction.  The rise of organized labor and the necessities forced by the great depression empowered the masses; the postwar prosperity of the 1950s saw (slightly) more power in the now larger than ever, now international corporations.  But the people held significant influence and power in the system, as evidenced by the spread of opportunity to brown and female people, and the general good economic health of the middle and working classes.

This balance between the power of big money and the influence of the masses is a natural component of a capitialist system.  Eliminating the influence of money, establishing a utopian system, is not a worthy nor reasonable goal.

But, as this ebb and flow moved toward one pole quite steadily in the last three decades, the vector steadily increasing, something happened.  It reached the 100% point.  It reached an extreme state, which I believe had never previously be achieved in the USA, save maybe the moment of the establishment of the Constitution, but certainly had been reached in many societies in history. 

The electoral process became 100% controlled by big money and big money interests.  We only recently reached a status in which the voice of, the influence of, the needs of the masses of people holds zero sway in the actions of federal politics.  The 538 elected members of the national government (435 house, 100 senate, president + vice president), plus the top tier of federal judges including the supreme court justices, are free to completely ignore the voice of, needs of, and desires of the masses, as long as they satisfy the people who give them money.  Elections are nearly always won with only money and dishonest rhetoric; the actual record of voting and other behavior of elected officials and the public’s judgment of those records and behaviors have no impact on winning elections.  Politicians win reelection despite complete failure to fulfill prior campaign promises.

The exact historical moment this status was reached is a matter of opinion and dispute, but there is one example I like to cite as an important marker.

During the dubya administration, I am too lazy to look up exactly when, there was a major bipartisan immigration bill, which would continue the flow of cheap labor to feed the profit beast.  Apparently this seemed sure to pass.  The vocal opponents were dismissed as racist reactionaries, and they were discounted or ignored.

However, the vocal opponents, in time honored fashion, organized.  And went to work.  They wrote thousands of letters, made tens of thousands of phone calls, and sent literal hundreds of thousands of emails to congresscritters.  Mostly to GOP members.  Making clear not only their reasons for opposition to this bill, but their willingness to work against the re-election of those politicians.

And the bill failed.  Despite the desire of the big money to pass this particular law, despite the desire of democratic politicians to gain more voters for their side (Mexican-American immigrant families still consistently favor dems), a mass of voters stopped it.  Yay democracy.

Now, move ahead to 2008.  The financial crisis.  The usuals blasted over the media the crucial imperative to give the banks and wall street, who had caused the crisis, hundreds of billions of dollars immediately or there would be Blood and Tanks In The Streets. Dem and GOP leader alike spoke in solidarity for the immediate necessity to hand over $800 billion.  Now!  Or else, All will be Lost!

Again, a group of vocal opponents flooded Congress with objections.  The bill came to a vote.  And It Lost.  Enough members of Congress were told, and believed, that enough of their constituents would vote against them if they supported this bailout, they voted against passage.  Yay democracy again.

Here is the but.  But, the leaders of our government, twisted some arms, amended the bill with some giveaways, and loaded up the news media with a propaganda message on loud blast.  And they voted again, about eleven days later. And they passed the first installment, $800 billion of the great Bailout.

Interestingly, despite the assurances of the people ‘in control’ that if this money was not forthcoming MMEDIATELY, the ATMs would stop working, the entire economy would grind to a halt and there would be horrific violence and the army in the streets, somehow none of that came to pass.  The interim between votes proved this scare tactic to be a lie.  Back then I watched the main news media closely; they failed to point out this simple, giant lie.  The massive transfer of wealth, though, proceeded after that eleven-day delay.  They probably charged us interest and a late fee.

So, what is to be done.

Any attempt to reach for a utopia of zero influence of money on the electoral process is pointless and frankly impossible.  A simple return to the status of a short while ago, is not only possible, but incredibly simple.  It is a simple matter of political will of the masses.

They still let us vote.  If we simply vote em out, vote in only members of congress who actually vote for and pass legislation to this end, problem solved. 

Ah, but there is a catch.  The catch is equally as simple as the description of the situation, and the remedy.  The catch is, the masses need to become aware of the situation, the remedy, and be willing to do it.  Political will requires awareness, understanding, education to get there, setting aside myths and emotions about how bad the other side is compared to My blue/red side. 

I hope I’m wrong (this four word phrase may become my official catch phrase for this podcast series), but I don’t see that happening before our vote is negated either practically by various control methods of surveillance and propaganda which grow more powerful and ubiquitous each day, if not negated literally by removing the vote, or controlling the outcome of the vote via hacking. (PAPER FUCKING BALLOTS, people.)  It’s not who are the candidates that counts, it’s not who votes that counts, it’s who counts the votes that counts.

I wish all the major issues of the day were so simple to describe, address and solve.  Sadly I think this is much less likely to be addressed and fixed than many of the more complex problems.

There is another incident of the dubya era that is an example of the various forces and methods that led us to this state of 100% to 0% equation of money power to mass people power. 

One of the precious few positive things John McCain worked toward as a senator was legitimate, effective campaign finance reform.  Again, somewhere in the middle of the dubya years, McCain working with Russ Feingold crafted a bill with teeth, a bill that had bipartisan support, a bill that would not have fixed the problem but potentially could’ve made a huge difference, maybe even reverse the slide of the balance point to the other direction.  Possibly even a veto-proof level of support.

But.

But, McCain and Karl Rove discussed the issue.  And they made a little deal.  If McCain watered down the bill, so much as to have no real effect in slowing much less revering the progress of big money toward 100% full spectrum dominance, in return the Bush crime family, and further elements of the GOP hierarchy, which Rove had influence over, would not stand in his way of his bid for the 2008 nomination.  In fact, some not insignificant support for McCain was promised, and subsequently delivered.  (Rove does have a good record of keeping his promises, so there is at least sometimes, some measure of honor among thieves.)

McCain wanted to be president more than he wanted campaign finance reform.  Perhaps he lied to himself that once his end was achieved, including this corrupt means, he would as president push the reform.  Somehow such coursed of action rarely work out.

But this compromise by McCain, on an issue that had become a signature of his political career, could’ve been punished by Arizona voters, had they elected someone else after this betrayal to the cause of campaign finance reform.  Not only Arizona voters failed to punish this corruption; millions of voters checked his box when he subsequently ran for president.

We keep voting for the people who screw us.  Who can blame them for continuing to screw us?  As long as they let us vote, we can blame only ourselves for voting for the people who then ignore us and our best interests.  Unless you bring your checkbook.

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3 comments

I agree that this general premise is a strong one. However, it doesn't seem universal. I'm interested in your view as to how Bernie Sanders came so close. And correct me if I'm wrong, but by some measures of campaign spending, Trump was behind Clinton.

That is a good question. I don’t mean to suggest that each and every time candidate A spends more money than candidate B the bigger spender will win.

This is a long answer. So long that blogspot made me break it up in two comments. But, electrons are cheap and the site bandwidth is free, so here goes.

I am talking about the present fact that congress and the president exercise their power 100% to meet the needs and demands of the moneyed interests, and pay zero heed to the needs and demands of the people as a whole. This is very much related to elections as a whole, but doesn’t spin off a rule that dictates a particular election outcome.

Generally, elections are not only decided by large sums donated by the bad guys and spent by the candidates, but also by the larger environment of ‘news’, myth, misinformation, and general manufacturing of the illusion of electoral choice in the two party system.

And when there is an exception, when a true people’s candidate manages to squeak through an election, once in office they are subjected to the pressures of the system, beginning with the pressure for cash to be re-elected. For 435 of them, this is always and only two years away.

The first round of Tea Party candidates who won in 2010 featured a few of these exceptions, who were quickly co-opted, or unelected in 2012. Alan Grayson is another exception, someone who seemed to resist the powers that be, and was quickly defeated at the polls. He is viciously targeted by both parties, as one of the more progressive and anti-war members of congress, he has had very difficult campaigns, many of them re-election failures.

Notably, Obama raised a huge percentage of his primary campaign war chest with small donations from individuals. I don't remember the details, but his support from individuals was much greater than that for Clinton; her support from the big boys greater. I think Obama spent less money in total than Clinton, but it doesn’t matter because once in office, Obama did nothing for those millions of individual donors, everything for wall street/insurance/pharma in the first two years, then for the war profiteers in his second term. His con worked through his reelection, but at least some millions of his voters sought a perceived alternative (Thump and Sanders).

So, a candidate who manages a victory w/o big money support can, once in office, wield his vote in congress or his power in the oval office for the usual suspects. That’s one way.

(continued from above)

Thump took another path. Had plenty of promises for the little people, is ruling just like any other candidate installed by wall street/MIC/pharma/insurance/et al. Additionally, he was the beneficiary of hundreds of millions of dollars worth of free TV time, because of his celebrity and his idiosyncratic ability to draw attention and eyeballs. Even during the general campaign, episodes like the ‘grab ‘em by the pussy’ nonsense put him on TV much more than Clinton.

If you could put a dollar value on that exposure, it would be considerable, and probably significant compared to Clinton’s greater spending.

As for Saunders, first the unfair support by the DNC for Clinton at Sander’s expense wasn’t free; whether you accept the allegations of widespread voter fraud, or simply the soft landings for Debbie Wasserman Schultz and Donna Brazille when they were caught fucking over Bernie, that stuff costs money.

To what degree President Sanders would’ve bowed to the corporate interests is something we will never know. What is bullshit in evaluating Obama’s time in office (he really wanted to do good things but the evil people prevented him) may have actually occurred with Sanders in office. On some issues (foreign wars) I think he is likely to have been same as the old boss, but who knows.

Sanders and Thump show you can get elected and you can come tantalizing close w/o a big corporate war chest. While this may seem to oppose my major argument (big money controls government), at the same time I think it supports my second argument, that we still have the potential means to change things via elections. But I conclude that these potential means will be difficult to employ. And unlikely to be employed. Unlikely because of the psychological sway the misinformation and emotionally stroking electoral appeals, the tools of manufacturing consent which, again, cost a lot of money (which they have).

I think Sanders came close, and Thump won, for the same reasons. I number the major reasons at three. 1) the economy sucks, overtly hurting the working class and presenting the younger class with greatly diminished opportunity, while not just the top 1%, but the top 10-20% are both doing ok and continue to perceive a better future; 2) growing frustration with the political status quo, particularly around war, health care, and social/cultural issues (right or left); 3) hatred of Clinton—a fuck of a lot of people voted against her twice in 2016, maybe not tens of millions of people, but enough to be important in many razor-thin states.

But the nuts and bolts of any particular election, and the victory of a candidate who is a legit progressive or who has less money, is only a small piece. At the same time, the fact that such victories are still possible is the fact that the popular will can reassert itself, as difficult and as unlikely as that may be at this late date.

Man, I need an editor. I hope some of that makes sense, and thanks for calling the show, dude.

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