Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Time for Action

     I've written about campaign finance before and this piece pertains somewhat to the subject. Our elections suffer greatly because how much money a candidate can raise supersedes what new ideas he can come up with. Our election process is in this state because nothing has been done  to address this problem. Both parties are at fault.  In the fifty years since Rep. Wright called for campaign finance reform in his Harpers Magazine article in 1967, politicians have devoted all their efforts in regard to campaign finance reform to getting an edge rather than solving the problem.
     But it is also about learning a bigger lesson: Fix problems when they are still fixable.

Time for Action
     Former U.S. House Speaker Jim Wright recently died. He was expelled from the House for shady money dealings, coincidently at the hand of Newt Gingrich, who would himself be tied to shady money dealings. Prior to his expulsion, I never paid much attention to Wright, even though he had served in the House for over thirty years.

I have to admit when Wright’s problems first surfaced, I concluded for myself that he was nothing more than another crook who had used the system for his own personal gain.  But then I read an article written by him for Harper’s Magazine in 1967 and was impressed by this quote.

“No facet of American life cries our more loudly for reform than the dingy gray area of political campaign financing, which casts a lengthening shadow across all else we do in our elective political institutions…The price of campaigning has risen so high that it actually imperils the integrity of our political institutions.  Big contributors more and more hold the keys to the gates of public service.  This is choking off the wellsprings of fresh, new thought and severely limiting the field of choice available to the public…One curious by-product of big money in politics is the slick, shallow public-relations approach with its nauseating emphasis on ‘image’ at the expense of substance.”

After reading that quote, I decided I might have been wrong. Maybe he was not so much a bad man who had used the system, as he was a weak man who had let the system destroy him.

Keep in mind this quote is from 1967.

Kennedy and Nixon spent a total of $20-million in their 1960 campaign, one that was so close, probably every nickel spent was necessary.

The 2012 presidential election cost about $2.5-billion.

The 2016 presidential spend-off is predicted to exceed five billion dollars with one billion coming from just two guys. It is helpful to remember that actual expenditures in this country for almost anything, almost always go beyond predictions.

At this rate, a trillion-dollar election cannot be too far down the road. That’s a lot of 30-second ads, balloons, and yard signs—all for a job offering $400,000 and all the abuse you can stand.

It should be clear to everyone that all three branches of government have failed in their effort to reform campaign spending. Reform has never been the goal; only getting an edge. I don’t even know if it’s possible to stop this train wreck we call the election process.

Maybe we shouldn’t even try. Perhaps we should write it off as the cost of doing business. That would be the business approach to throwing that much money down the toilet.

Possibly there is a lesson to be learned from Speaker Wright’s experience.  Maybe we can find another area where this “slick, shallow public-relations approach with its nauseating emphasis on ‘image’ at the expense of substance” is actually causing the nation more harm than good.

Whatever the cost of addressing global warming—and I’m not a scientist, so I am going to defer to the scientist on this one—wouldn’t it be better, and cheaper, to act now rather than later. As with campaign finance reform, the cost of doing nothing far exceeds the price of doing something in a timely manner.
For that matter, wouldn’t it be better to approach every problem facing our nation this way: immigration reform, rebuilding our infra-structure, addressing student debt, and yes, improving Obamacare instead of continually trying to dismantle it. Our politicians talks about American exceptionalism, but everything they do speaks to mediocrity.    

It's time for them to embrace that ‘can-do’ spirit they are always talking about—the one our forefathers had, which they seem to lack? With all the problems facing our nation and the world, wouldn’t this be a good time to do something—something besides giving the people that are buying our elections a tax break?

If they did this, and I know it is a big if, but if they did, maybe, just maybe politicians wouldn’t have to spend a billion dollars telling us what a good job they do.