Sunday, August 2, 2015

Politics, American-style - part two

We laugh at Donald Trump. We complain about the political circus in the GOP. But this is America, and we've done this to ourselves.

Sure, some people have brought us here deliberately - for money, for political power. But the rest of us let it happen. This is our fault - not as individuals, necessarily, but collectively.

And here we are:
On June 9, The New York Times ran a useful, detailed consideration of the finances of Marco Rubio. Publicly, the Florida senator describes his everyman’s struggle to “finally pay off his law school loans.” Privately, according to state records unearthed by the paper’s Steve Eder and Michael Barbaro, he spent “$80,000 for a luxury speedboat.”

The detail revealed a larger pattern: Rubio has been financially in the hole for nearly his entire adult life. The reason this mattered, noted the Times—whose work on Rubio has been a welcome exception to the rule of bad campaign reporting—was that it “has made him unusually reliant on a campaign donor, Norman Braman, a billionaire who has subsidized Mr. Rubio’s job as a college instructor, hired him as a lawyer, and continues to employ his wife.”

These details were explained in the Times a month earlier. The same two reporters described the 82-year-old Braman, an almost comically plutocratic figure who sells Rolls Royces and Bugattis for a living, and almost single-handedly recalled Miami’s mayor. Braman, who implored the Times reporters, “I don’t consider myself a fat cat. Don’t make me out to be a fat cat,” has been able to call the tune for the 44-year-old Rubio.

Then came Politico’s bubble-headed media reporter Dylan Byers with a scoop: Rubio’s “luxury speedboat” was “in fact, an offshore fishing boat.” Speedboats, you see, are for rich swells; fishing boats, even ones costing almost $100,000, are for jes’ folks.

Immediately, this supposed error became the shiny bouncing ball the political media decided to chase.

Politico covered Boatgate eight times over the next two weeks—Byers twice in two consecutive days. They didn’t mention Braman once.

If the billionaire bankrolling a candidate for president - indeed, funding his entire adult life - isn't important, what is?
The name of today’s game is TV commercials, not endorsements, door-knocking armies, and “walking around money.” TV is costly and it takes don’t-call-me-fat-cats like Norman Braman, Sheldon Adelson, and the Brothers Koch to pay those kinds of bills.

The bottom line is that the penumbras and emanations of Citizens United are changing the campaign game in ways that throw all previous understandings of how Republicans nominate presidents into a cocked hat. To see how it’s working on the ground, come with me to Southern California, where last year David and Charles Koch convened one of their dog-and-pony shows, where the aspirants lined up to stand on their hind legs to beg before their would-be masters. Politico spoke to two people who were there, and offered the following account of the performance of Ohio’s Governor John Kasich.

“Randy Kendrick, a major contributor and the wife of Ken Kendrick, the owner of the Arizona Diamondbacks, rose to say she disagreed with Kasich’s decision to expand Medicaid coverage, and questioned why he’d said it was ‘what God wanted.’” Kasich’s “fiery” response: “I don’t know about you, lady. But when I get to the pearly gates, I’m going to have to answer what I’ve done for the poor.”

Other years, before other audiences, such public piety might have sounded banal. This year, it’s enough to kill a candidacy:

“About 20 audience members walked out of the room, and two governors also on the panel, Nikki Haley of South Carolina and Bobby Jindal of Louisiana, told Kasich they disagreed with him. The Ohio governor has not been invited back to a Koch seminar.”

Which is, of course, astonishing. But even more astonishing was the lesson the Politico drew from it—one, naturally, about personalities: “Kasich’s temper has made it harder to endear himself to the GOP’s wealth benefactors.” His temper. Not their temper. Not, say, “Kasich’s refusal to kowtow before the petulant whims of a couple of dozen greedy nonentities who despise the Gospel of Jesus Christ has foreclosed his access to the backroom cabals without which a Republican presidential candidacy is inconceivable.”

Caring for the poor? How un-Christian of you! Sorry, no billionaire sugar-daddy for you.

But it's not the details which are so disgusting, but the whole process. Is this the kind of America we want?
If the winnowing of front-runners from also-rans has traditionally been a financial process (when the money dries up, so do the campaigns) Sheldon Adelson of Las Vegas and Macau began tearing up that paradigm in 2012 by shoveling money to Newt Gingrich; $20 million total, including $5 million dispensed on March 23, three days after Gingrich won 8 percent in Illinois’s primary to Mitt Romney’s 47 percent, keeping Gingrich officially in the race more than a week after the RNC declared Romney the presumptive nominee.

Now, four previously unheard of super-PACS supporting Ted Cruz, who has no support among the GOP’s “establishment,” raised $31 million “with virtually no warning over the course of several days beginning Monday.” The New York Times reported this shortly after reporting that “[t]he leader of the Federal Election Commission, the agency charged with regulating the way political money is raised and spent, says she has largely given up hope of reigning in abuses in the 2016 presidential campaign, which could generate a record $10 billion in spending.”

The Koch Brothers, you can learn if you take a deep enough dive into the relatively obscure precincts of campaign coverage, are battling to take over a major functions of the Republicans National Committee.

And all this, admittedly, gets reported, in bits and pieces. But all this noise doesn’t amount to an ongoing story by which citizens can understand what is actually going on. Not just concerning who might be our next president, but what it all means for the republic. And not just concerning the candidates, but the behind-the-scenes string-pullers whose names, really, should be almost as familiar to us as Mr. Bush, Mr. Rubio, and, God forbid, Dr. Carson.

Instead, we get the same old hackneyed horse race—like, did you know that Rick Santorum is in trouble? Only one voter showed up at his June 8 event in Hamlin, Iowa. The Des Moines Register reported that. Politico made sure that tout Washington knew it. Though neither mentioned that Santorum is still doing just fine with the one voter that matters: Foster Friess, the Wyoming financier who gave his super-PAC $6.7 million in 2012, and promises something similar this year. “He has the best chance of winning,” Friess said. “I can’t imagine why anybody would not vote for him.’’ Which, considering only 2 percent of New Hampshirites and Iowans agree with him, is kind of crazy. And you’d think having people like that picking the people who govern us would all be rather newsworthy.

It's not that Rick Santorum is ever going to become president, any more than Newt Gingrich in 2012. But whichever Republican wins the primary contest, he'll have his own billionaire owners backers.

And the other billionaires, whose preferred candidates lost, will get on board, because partial ownership of a winner is a lot more valuable than full ownership of a loser. Face it, these billionaires mostly want the same thing, anyway - corporate welfare and more tax cuts for themselves. And at the very least, they're all fine with the racism and religious lunacy required to keep the GOP base happy while they get it.

As I noted above, we've done this to ourselves. We elected the Republican presidents who appointed far-right Supreme Court justices. We elected Republicans to state legislatures, where they gerrymandered election districts, and we elected the right-wing Republicans who now control Congress.

Most importantly, we let ourselves be manipulated. No matter how much money a candidate has, he still needs votes. Money is only important because it works. It gets candidates elected. If it stopped working, even Republican candidates would stop letting billionaires buy them.

In a way, it's like the Republican Party's notorious 'Southern strategy' of deliberately wooing white racists. It worked. That's why they did it. To a large extent, it's still working. If it hadn't worked, they wouldn't have done it - or, at least, they would have quickly stopped.

The fact that it worked - and worked very, very well, too - makes it our fault. The fact that big money works is also our fault. It's not my fault, and maybe it's not yours, but collectively, it's our fault.

This is America. ISIS didn't do this to us. Al Qaeda didn't do this to us. We did this to ourselves.


Jim Harris said...

I went and read the entire TPM article and it only depressed me. The entire political system needs an overhaul. I think we need to computerize the government and let AI machines become our politicians.

The article appeared first in The Washington Spectator, which is part of The Public Concern Foundation. Do you know anything about it Bill?

WCG said...

I've certainly heard of The Washington Spectator, Jim. I've read other articles from it, I think. But I don't really know anything about it.