Friday, February 02, 2007

Big spending wins out in our elections

Big spending wins out in our elections
Copyright by The Chicago Sun-Times
February 2, 2007

You want to live in the White House? You can buy it for $5 billion! That's what the experts say the campaign of '08 will cost. It will be split between parties and within the parties and among candidates, perhaps $200 million, $250 million for the winning candidate.

That is a lot of money. It would pay for a month of the war in Iraq. It would double the amount of money authorized but not yet paid for the renewing of New Orleans. It might pay for an aircraft carrier or two or three, which is just what the country needs these days. It might provide shelter for the homeless or for sick kids who don't have insurance. It could back up the pensions that are being taken away from workers.

Where does it go? Mostly to the media and advertising industries and to the spinners and flacks who think up dirty tricks. It pays for "research" on one's oponents with which to smear them. It also finances the yearlong drama of the election entertainment to the masses for whom the campaign is rather like a horse race, for the polls (some good, some bad) that purport to tell who's winning, and for the focus groups that tell candidates what words to use or not to use and measures the impact of their gaffes. It pays for the consultants -- soothsayers, wizards, readers of entrails, astrologers, spell casters -- whose job is to hold the candidate's hand and tell him he's making the right decisions.

My advice to candidates is to sprinkle pollsters, spinners, consultants, focus group leaders and researchers with holy water and mutter appropriate prayers of exorcism.

It has been a long time since Abraham Lincoln went home to Springfield after he was nominated at the "Wigwam" in Chicago and sat on the front porch throughout the election campaign. In those days it was believed appropriate for the candidate not to campaign at all. No one suggested that endurance of the water torture of a campaign was a measure of how a man might stand up to the pressure of the White House.

You find out what a person's character is by how he acts during a circus devised by homicidal maniacs?

The commentators who offer wisdom for the masses frequently predict outcomes on the basis of how much money a given candidate may have amassed before a campaign is announced, as in asserting that Sen. Hillary Clinton has the Democratic nomination virtually in hand because of the size of her war chest. Now, I personally like the senator and think she'd make a good president (all hate mail on the subject will be deleted), but such comments demonstrate the folly of American politics. The voters don't decide any more, but the fat cats in both parties make the decisions by their contributions and pass the word on to us plebes. Ordinary folks, it is said, who own a computer can make small online contributions that collectively can outweigh the gold of the petro or pharma barons. And the moon is made of blue cheese.

There doesn't seem to be much that can be done about this immoral extravaganza of soiled gold. The Supreme Court continues to believe most restrictions on campaign contributions violate freedom of speech. The candidates could agree to voluntarily limit contributions and eschew all negative campaigning (such as suggesting that Sen. Barack Obama went to a terrorist school). They could resolutely commit themselves to restrain their pollution of the atmosphere by capping the amount of aviation fuel they expend in madcap dashes around the country.

All of these steps would require self-restraint -- and trust that their rival would honor the agreement. It would also mean that they would repudiate the support of unofficial groups who intervene in the campaign, allegedly on their own initiative. Most of these suggestions are pipe dreams. However, one step in the right direction would be for all serious candidates to gather around the table in the old Indian Treaty room and sign a solemn compact to repudiate negative campaigning -- and create a board to monitor adherence to the compact. Then they could smoke the requisite peace pipe and remember what happened to the signers of treaties in that room.


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