I have always been interested in politics, but the upcoming presidential election has probably been the most important election in my life so far. Maybe that’s an exaggeration, and many people think that of the remaining candidates, there isn’t enough difference between them to make it worth the effort. Apparently this was true for lot’s of people in the last election, where people really couldn’t see a difference between George Bush and Al Gore, as amazing as that seems in retrospect. I suppose if your only measure of how a candidate stands comes from their relationship to corporate America, you might feel justified. But for me, affiliation with corporate backers is a ridiculous predictor of what a president would do, and especially in relation to the symbolic event the choice of a party is. The point of this blog is to whine about about the anti-corporate point of view in politics.
In most political conversations, I am the token leftist. I have a group of friends to whom I seem a moderate, and compared to others, I am must seem somewhere to the right. I think what is unique about my political views these days, especially these days, is that while I do have pretty strong opinions, and while nothing short of torture could make me vote for George Bush this fall, I still seek out a wide range of opinions. And if corporations are not short of buckets of cash to “buy” any election to force politicians to do their bidding, they are even less short of opinions on how to solve any problem. Corporations have very deep pockets when it comes to opinions. Get the managers, those people used to having to make judgments on any number of complex and confusing issues every day, to opine on any given topic, and you will get many different answers. For 1 question, you could get 10 opinions from 15 managers, and they wouldn’t match. In fact, not only wouldn’t they match, if they had to come to a consensus, unless it was an obvious one like lowering corporate taxes, you would probably get some strongly opposing opinions and nothing like a consensus. Take some of the recent mutual fund company scandals. There are many different types of solutions offered, some of which are complete opposites of others. If you are from a fund company, you would want a solution that benefits you, compared to the retirement industry that wants a solution that benefits them.
So Daddy Warbucks decides to buy a candidate, and we hear they’re going for rock bottom prices these days, somewhere around the price of pork bellies. Big Mutual Fund Warbucks, Big MF for short, is gonna make a generous donation to his candidate in exchange for a positive vote on his big issue. Now as it happens, the retirement guy is also philosophically aligned with the same party, and also makes a big donation to the same candidate.
So how does the candidate vote? Take this times thousands of contributors, and how does this play out? There is probably a good chance that some of the big contributors match the candidates and the candidates parties opinion on some of the major issues. You could say, gee Big MF Warbucks donated 10,000,000 to candidate X, and wouldn’t you know it, electee X voted just the way Big MF Warbucks wanted. But wait, the retirement industry guy also donated 10,000,000 but wanted his man to vote *his* way, just the opposite of the other donor. There could be some pork barrel politics that benefits a particular donor, but with 525 or so legislators, these pork barrels have to be used pretty judiciously, cause you aren’t going to get too many of them to spread around. One of George Bush’s biggest backers is Merril Lynch. Kerry’s, Citibank.
So what does this mean for the fairness of elections? Not so much. Dean proved you could raise good money a small bit at a time. He didn’t have a message, or style people understood and he’s out. What does it mean for the integrity of our elected officials? Again, not that much, at least in that I really don’t believe that congressmen and women have some tally sheet they use when gaging how they will vote on any given issue. Imagine writing software that would compare the relative merits of this particular bill against a database of thousands of donations and donors wishes. Utterly impossible, and I think for most votes, it is also impossible for the legislator. Don’t get me wrong, corporations are capable of great wrongs, as any reading of business headlines of the last 5 years has proved over and over again. Enron, Martha Stewart, Arthur Andersen, Nike, Clear Channel, and the list goes on and on. I don’t have any doubt that corruption exists, and I think that it should be vigorously pursued. It just isn’t the main story.
The philosophical framework a candidate is connected to is a MUCH MUCH better predictor of how a candidate will vote than the list of donors or the size of their checkbooks. It’s the philosophical framework that attracts donors, and just as the Democrats philosophically are populist, union supporting and possibly more idealistic about the role of government, the Republicans are philosophically more tied to the idea that government can only make a mess of things and that the private sector will do a better job, unless it’s the military of course. Now that is cynical, and I think unpatriotic, but that’s a topic for another blog. I guess this has been on my mind because I have been worrying about the numbers of voters who may not come out because they think that money has polluted the situation beyond repair. I really believe that the truth is that it’s the power structures that have polluted the situation, but that these can be changed by participating. Apathy will definately produce the wrong results.
If Bush wins again, I have a number of friends who claim, without convincing me, that they will move to Canada. I wouldn’t, as if it would even be an option with their extremely restrictive work visas, but the idea would be a lot more appealing than having to listen to four more years of saber rattling, false claims and bad planning, not to mention the embarassment I sometimes feel when I have been out of the country.
So, go Kerry!