Giving money to a political party is like feeding a stray cat. Do it once, and it’ll be yowling on your doorstep for the rest of your natural life. Jesse Unruh may have been right about money being the mother’s milk of politics, but isn’t it time that an adult electorate was weaned?
The U.S. Supreme Court is foregoing some valued vacation time to hear arguments about how far campaign donation limits can be drawn within the bounds of the constitutionally guaranteed right of free speech. The effort to put the brakes on massive donations has led into a thicket of advertising do’s and don’ts, a parsing of what is “soft” money and what is “hard.” What is advocacy and what is all-out hard sell. The assumption of all of it is that the American voter is a Menckenesque dolt addicted not just to watching television but obeying it — or at least obeying whichever party or issue musters the greatest mass of advertising.
Were this assumption true we could save a lot of money. Simply tote up the amount of money in the coffers of the opposing candidates, and cede the sought after office to the candidate, or party, that has the most. Forget elections. Count dollars, not votes. There’s no such thing as a hanging Ben Franklin. (Though his vision of separate hangings has not been sufficiently explored in the view of many.)
Has it come to this: an electorate that cannot see the issues beyond the ads? Surely the other forums of discussion and elucidation count for something: debates, personal appearances, position papers, all to be arbitrated at the dinner table or the barbershop. Does an after-tax paycheck not speak as loudly as a 30-second spot anymore? And doesn’t the mystery of demeanor weigh heavily on an open mind?
We forget, too, the real weapon of mass instruction: the opinion column. President Bush, for example, was gifted with one just this week in the Washington Post. One Courtland Milloy headlined his remarks with “Bush’s Absence At Soldier’s Wake Insults the District.” Yes, Milloy decided that since the President of the United States did not attend the last rites for a District National Guardsman killed in Iraq it was a gross insult born of uncaring. Milloy points out that the place of service was not five miles from the White House. “Bush could have jogged to the wake,” Milloy suggests, “had a courier drop off flowers and a card, or at the very least, telephoned the slain soldier’s family.”
“Call Bush AWOL, missing in action — or just too busy fundraising. But he blew it,” pronounces Milloy, who finds an aunt of the deceased to quote: “I am not pleased.”
The Post column draws further unflattering comparisons, mentions the carrier landing, the declaration that the war was over.
It warms to the task and declares the war has produced “little more than fat contracts for fat-cat friends — Bush has demonstrated his obvious disdain for average Americans.”
And it excoriates Bush finally for failure “to show respect for an African American who proudly gave his life in a war that the vast majority of African Americans oppose.”
Milloy concludes on the enduring theme of District representatives lacking a vote in Congress, suggesting the man who died did so “trying to bring democracy to Iraq while being disenfranchised at home.” And President Bush would have seen these contradictions had he only had the wit to attend a funeral service for a man he did not know and to which he was not invited.
This is the sort of journalism that no amount of money can buy.
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