An Election of Greed

Journalist H.L. Menken once said, "On some great and glorious day, the plain folks of the land will reach their heart's desire at last, and the White House will be adorned by a downright moron." 

Mencken’s prophecy about politicians has come to fruition. Our president is handcuffed and appears confused, and our Congress is incapable of enacting any significant legislation because its members are inexperienced, insular, and combative. The political stalemate that has exacerbated the financial crisis has arisen because of the way we select our political figures. 

Our election process has become flawed because fundraising has overwhelmed the process.

It is shocking to think that the candidate who raises the most money and does the most mudslinging will likely become our next president, senator or congressperson.

During the three-month period ending on June 30, the Obama presidential campaign and the Democratic National Committee raised $86 million. Many talking heads believe that the Obama campaign will ultimately raise over $1 billion for the 2012 election putting him in the proverbial driver’s seat.

About.com provides an abridged history of campaign finance reform. “In his 1907 State of the Union address, President Theodore Roosevelt ‘observed that no laws existed to hamper an unscrupulous man of unlimited means from buying his own way into office.’” Effective campaign finance law “did not come about until 1971, with the passage of FECA.” A commission was established to “oversee the collection, reporting and spending of campaign contributions.”

In recent years, efforts to rein in the influence of money in campaigns have been a dismal failure. It seems our lawmakers have become too dependent upon campaign support, and so, they are unwilling to vote for more regulation.

TV advertising, the most expensive form of campaign expenditure, has the greatest impact on voters. A barrage of negative comments can bring victory. For instance, President Lyndon Johnson’s “Daisy Girl” ad in 1964, which suggested that Barry Goldwater would initiate a nuclear war if he were elected president, was the most powerful campaign ad ever. It aired only once, but the media screened it endlessly. It was such an impactful characterization of Goldwater that it helped Johnson win the election by a landslide.

More recently in 1988, Willie Horton, a convicted murderer, was furloughed from jail in Massachusetts while Michael Dukakis was serving as the state’s governor. In a political ad, the George H. W. Bush campaign suggested that Dukakis was soft on crime and would indiscriminately release convicted felons from prison if elected president. This misleading ad also helped Bush win his election.

It is inexcusable that the U.S. has such weak campaign finance laws. Opponents of campaign finance reform depend upon the First Amendment of the Constitution, which protects a person’s right of free speech. The Supreme Court has decided that the right of free speech includes the use of private funds to support candidates.

U.S. voters generally cast their ballots based on one or two issues important to them. Abortion advocates will usually vote for candidates that agree with them. Union members tend to be Democratic. Gun advocates side with Republicans, and so on. Because of this, it is relatively easy to use TV ad campaigns to take advantage of these preferences. Huge amounts of money representing special interest groups support or bash candidates depending on their voting records. The contenders with the most money get to air the most incriminating evidence against their competitors, even if the evidence is fabricated.

A second area of concern is the printed media. Too often, biased perspectives escape the opinion pages of major newspapers and reporting becomes tacit support of a candidate. Some contend that the personal opinions of reporters are impossible to stifle completely. Well, I do not feel this way. Newspapers that claim to be balanced in all the pages leading to the opinion section are bound by their pledges and should not be a secret weapon for the paper’s favorite candidates. As a rule, U.S. voters are misled and misinformed regularly during election campaigns. A cynic might even say they are not qualified to select a candidate in an election. Those who have taken on the responsibility of delivering the facts about candidates should do it objectively and help voters make better decisions.

Campaign finance reform needs to become a reality; not just a dream. Candidates should have to win elections the old-fashioned way: with hard work and a lot of shoe leather. Relying on the airwaves should be regulated at worst and eliminated at best. It may be unconstitutional to prevent someone from supporting a candidate, but perhaps it is constitutional to prevent candidates from using certain forms of advertising.

Ignore these issues, and we may see more morons in positions of power in America.

Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons

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Sal Bommarito

I spend most of my time writing a screenplay based on three of my published novels.

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