Sunday, January 31, 2010

Politics & Money

The Citizens United case has certainly evoked a lot of discussion about the role of corporations in government, and in that respect it has actually been good for the nation; that subject has been left underneath the table and out of sight for too long. The discussion of money in politics has been loud and contentious, as has that regarding the role of lobbyists in legislation, but the role of corporations has been left safely at one remove and the Supreme Court decision put them directly in the crosshairs.

What doesn’t get discussed in any of this is why money, lobbyists and corporations play such a role in our elections, and to what degree it might be the voter, rather than those other, corrupting influences, that is at fault for the breakdown.

The crux of the matter is that corporations and lobbyists provide money, and money provides paid advertising. It is paid advertising, mostly those “sound bite” television and media commercials, which to a very large degree determines the outcome of our elections.

The focus on correcting that problem has been on eliminating the money, and it clearly is not working. And so we blame “broken government” on the corrupting influence of money, the corporations that provide money, the politicians who use money, and the courts who are unable to block the influence of money.

Where are the voters in that evaluation? Consider the scenario in which
Joe the Plumber votes for Senator Blowhard because Joe the Plumber is opposed to abortion.

Blowhard believes that the federal deficit is a good thing, thinks that we should invade and bomb at least six more countries, thinks that tobacco should be given free to children, believes that illegal immigrants should be shot on sight, advocates making prostitution legal, advocates legalizing the sale of narcotic drugs on street corners, all things that Joe the Plumber would hate if he knew about them, but Blowhard is strongly against abortion and runs a television commercial saying that his opponent “kills babies.”

Joe the Plumber sees that commercial and votes for Senator Blowhard.

And the problem has nothing to do with Joe the Plumber’s lack of any effort to inform himself; we blame the money that provided the television commercial. We do not think that it is problematic that Joe the Plumber sits in front of his television, getting his information about how to select the representatives who will decide the course of the nation from sixty-second television commercials that he views primarily as interruptions in the crime drama that is entertaining him.

The problem is that some corporation gave Senator Blowhard the money to run the commercial and corrupted our “free and fair” election process.

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