Friday, December 03, 2010

Campaign Finance Reform in the Lame Duck Session

Version 0.3

The minor lesson of the recent election was that visible money gets discounted, and heavily. Even with $140 million of her own money, the voters knew exactly why Meg Whitman was saying all those bad things about her various opponents, and she got discounted down to zero and lost badly.

However the main lesson of the election of 2010 was that invisible and anonymous money works rather well, as clearly shown by the large bulk of the election results. Not all of the voters select political leaders the same way they select laundry soap, based on the last ads they were exposed to on TV, but enough of them do that democracy is pretty much nonfunctional in America. (Remember that the largest voting bloc is the non-voters, who quite rationally understand that their votes have been gerrymandered away in advance.)

In the big picture, it's worth thinking about why McDonald's doesn't run attack ads against the other fast food restaurants such as Burger King and Wendy's, and vice versa. Obviously because they would be hurting their own business, shrinking the pie, so to speak, which is exactly what has happened to the value of the professional politicians as perceived by the citizens. About the only thing that all Americans agree on at this point is that we need far more high-quality political leaders to replace the current crop (but who quite often cling to power right up to their dying days).

The most obvious solution is campaign finance reform, and it's even conceivable. All it would take is for a few of the outgoing Republican senators to decide that they wanted to go out as statesmen who tried to save democracy in America. It's clearly in the interests of the less wealthy Democratic politicians to go along with the idea, and it's clearly what most of the people want. Unfortunately, there is absolutely no public discussion of the topic or any evidence that Congress is considering it. In the month since the election, I've only seen two public mentions of the topic. One was a letter to the editor from a defeated Democratic candidate suggesting he had been defeated because he had almost no money, which was probably true, and the other was a report that the supporters of the so-called Tea Party were determined to block any consideration of campaign finance reform, though they haven't had to lift a finger or spend a nickel on it.

Anyway, the hope would be pretty slim. The Supreme Court created new law to undo the McCain-Feingold law, and the same five so-called justices are still there and just as eager as ever to destroy democracy in America. The flood of secret money will eventually be exposed, but it's already too late to worry about it, though the full force of the damage won't be in place until next month... (I'm reminded of a law student with whom I corresponded at the time of Bush v. Gore. He said America was becoming a judicial dictatorship--and that was exactly why he was in law school.)

As it stands, the last chance for campaign finance reform is rapidly slipping away, though I wasted the last month doing what little I could to try to stimulate a public discussion of the topic. I'm convinced that if they don't pass it NOW, in this lame duck session, it will never happen. America has already suffered from one experiment with a so-called permanent Republican majority, but I don't think the country can hope to be lucky enough to get another Teddy Roosevelt.

Perhaps some of the problem is the demeaning label of "lame duck session" for the last session of the outgoing Congress? Maybe it would help if we called it the "retiring statesmen session"? Ha ha.

For my next joke, did you hear the one about the gerrymandered term limits?

(The effective discounting of votes by such practices as gerrymandering and the general abuses of professional lifetime politicians are also very important, but those problems are much more difficult and even I am unable to imagine them being tackled in a lame duck session. Congress has NEVER had that many statesmen at one time, even without regard to the consideration of extra ethical freedom for imminent retirees.)

P.S. This is really just a kind of outline post, but my new blogging policy is not to spend much time on a theme unless there are some comments suggesting someone is at least slightly interested in the topic. I will probably limit my responses to comments in responses, but if there is enough interest, I may do a full-scale consolidate rewrite, presumably as a new post.

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As a blogger from before there were blogs, I've concluded what I write is of little interest to the reading public. My current approach is to treat these blogs as notes, with the maturity indicated by the version number. If reader comments show interest, I will probably add some flesh to the skeletons...