Beat back big money: We must not let feudal lords buy our democracy
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One element of the failed attempt to recall Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker that is most disturbing to Americans who retain some faith in democracy was the apparent impact of big money in the balloting.
As much as $80 million was poured into the Wisconsin circus, much of it from big, rich, out-of-state sources, few if any of whom are worthy of respect. Although the largesse of pro-Walker donors apparently outweighed that of the antis by 7 to 1, it is the phenomenon that I object to, not the outcome of the contest, although I am not crazy about union-busting.
What happened in Wisconsin, and the concern it aroused in my mind about what might happen in the rest of the 2012 U.S. elections, prompted thoughts of what the American people -- the middle class, the 99 percent and even parts of the 1 percent -- can do to tame big money. Here are the results of my reflection.
The gigantic sums of money injected into electoral contests are used in a variety of ways. These include television and radio ads, robocalls, the financing of canvassers going door to door and rallies with giveaways and refreshments for the marks. All of these instruments are capable of being blunted or avoided.
Television and radio ads are the easiest to deflect. One of mankind's most inspired inventions was the remote control. (Another was the "delete" button on the computer.) The minute a TV ad for a candidate appears, especially if it is one with the candidate accompanied by an adoring spouse and children, grab the clicker and hit "mute," then the channel-change button -- quickly, even if the fall-back channel is carrying an exercise workout or a jewelry promotion. Simply do not watch TV political ads or listen to them on the radio, no matter what.
Robocalls are equally easy to deflect. I would say get caller ID and don't answer the phone if you do not recognize the number or name except that it might be one of your children calling from prison or a bar. Rather, answer the phone and the minute the voice starts with, "Hi, there, this is former president William Henry Harrison calling to ask you to vote for dog-catcher Barack Romney," hang up. If you sense it is a real person at the other end of the line, scream into the receiver as loud as you can, then hang up. Really cut loose.
Door-to-door canvassers present a problem, since we are not by nature predisposed to be rude. At the same time, bear in mind that these people are paid to bother you by rich people like Sheldon Adelson, the Las Vegas and Macau casino billionaire, or a show business airhead, and that they are not worthy of respect. So tell them politely to get off your porch. If they keep talking, slam the door, or remind them that one is permitted to shoot home invaders, or take your cell phone out and ostentatiously dial 911.
Rallies are harder to blunt. Normally they are attended by older retirees who don't have anything else to do so it doesn't really matter, but there are sometimes bands and gifts and other bait to draw other types to these affairs. What I suggest is that you not go but send instead an older uncle, suffering (as I think I do) from early dementia, pre-election in origin, and insist that he ask an ugly, aggressive question of the candidate repeatedly until he gets a response. If he doesn't want to go, bribe or threaten him.
If the impact of the big, "Citizens United," Supreme Court-inflicted donors on the coming campaigns can be neutered by the means I suggest, there is a decent chance that sensible American voters will make some choices this fall that will help us as a nation get out of the horrible tailspin we are in.
Looking at the matter in as nonpartisan a fashion as I am capable of, I would say that what we should look for in candidates include these two things:
• 1) An expressed aversion to categorical party or other partisanship. This is certainly not the first time in American history that our so-called leaders have lined up in ways that virtually preclude cooperation in pursuit of the general good. Think of slavery, the gold standard, Prohibition, the whiskey tax. At the same time, the bile that has been expressed so far in the Congress and in the media -- which have distressingly lined up in a partisan fashion in defiance of their duty to inform the public -- is truly appalling and promises to be even more disappointing between now and the end of the campaign season.
• 2) Candidates should publicly and in practice renounce their own and their opponents' grubbing for campaign money that is used to harass the voting public. No one should think for a minute that the big donors trying to control the outcome of the elections are acting to the advantage of the country. It is, instead, with the clear objective of retaining or increasing their own wealth.
Campaign contributions are bribes, paid in advance, sure to be collected upon if the recipient is elected to office. They take the already gross inequality in the distribution of wealth in American society -- look at the 99 percent-1 percent split, the compensation of a CEO compared to that of a middle-class employee, not to mention the 15 percent of Americans who live in poverty -- and turn the one-person, one-vote rule that is supposed to govern our democracy into a feudal lord-to-serf approach.
Our country is rotting from within. The hope of the poor is being systematically, definitively taken away -- at the ballot box of all places. But don't forget, we do still have our remotes, delete buttons, phone hang-ups, "go aways!" and disturbed relatives' attendance at political rallies with which to defend ourselves. Don't let these people roll us.
First Published June 13, 2012 12:00 am