Monday, July 27, 2015

Of Money And Media

The presidential election of 2016 is still over 15 months away.  Yet the campaign for that office has been underway since the beginning of this year.  I had set a personal goal to avoid for a while longer any blog discussion of candidates or the issues they are talking about (or more likely avoiding).  This was to be my protest of silence against the ridiculousness of the excessively long and nonstop campaign cycle we have created in America.  (In the United Kingdom, they allow only two months for an election period!)  Our election has become a marathon that frankly has little relationship to producing the “best” president from among the candidates.  Instead , it has become an overly-produced product from media corporations desperate to fill air time and create year-round corporate income, and from political professionals to justify their ongoing fulltime employment and campaign paychecks.

Nevertheless, there are two general observations about the forthcoming election that warrant commentary even at this early date.  Because they give us clues about how this election may be determined, and who is really running this most important function of our collective society.

First is the blatant and indisputable reality that politics has fully become all about money.  With the unfathomable Supreme Court decisions that corporations have “free speech” rights just like people, and that there should not be effective limits on campaign donations, the cash is flowing like a tsunami over an arid flatland – with far more cash still to come.  Recent candidate filings show that even at this early stage, all Democrat and Republican presidential candidates combined have already raised close to $300M – $200M by Bush and Clinton alone.  Most of this money has gone into insidious Political Action Committees (PACs) with benign-sounding names hiding secret donors invisible to public scrutiny.  The theoretical independence and legal separation of PACs to their related candidate is a cynical joke.  For skilled political operatives, it is just a matter of which trick (of many available) will be used to get around these legal “restrictions.”  By the time 2016 gets done, we will most likely exceed the $3B price tag that pundits are predicting.  $3B any of us could likely find far better uses for.

With that much money being spread around, does anyone think that there is no expectation of quid-pro-quo “reward” for such largess?  The money trail inevitably shows a link to party and candidate platforms, proposed legislation, Congressional votes, and presidential executive orders and policies.  My paltry double-digit political donation carries little influence versus those giving out 8-9 digit donations.  My one vote into the ballot box may count the same “1” as everyone else’s, but my influence in the country’s direction, governance, fairness and way of life are nowhere near the same.

But before I get to cast my ballot for anyone, there is the question of whom I will be able to choose among.  As of this writing, there are sixteen Republican and four Democrat official candidates for president.  Under the wide-open Republican banner, there are around 3-4 candidates each polling more than 10% of the voting base, with the rest trailing in the single-digits (or near “0”).  This is where the broad spectrum of the news media is supposed to step in and help us sort out and understand who all of these people are and what they are about.  But so far, it seems that they have another idea of their job: pick a couple of favored candidates, concentrate on marketing them to the public, and ignore the rest of the field.

The first Republicans presidential candidate debate is scheduled in early August.  Fox “News,” the host selected by the RNC, has decreed that it will only allow the top ten polling candidates to appear on stage with an opportunity to speak.  The other six just-as-worthy candidates, only a “margin of error” statistical difference from each other, will be declared unimportant and thereby ignored.  In the meantime, the Huffington Post has made a policy decision to relegate Donald Trump to its Entertainment section of reporting, even though his polling leads all Republican candidates.  Joe Scarborough, host of MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” program, said that ten minutes of discussion about Trump’s campaigning versus one minute spent on John Kasich’s candidacy announcement was justified because “Trump is a major poll driver and John Kasich is not.”  Polls, not information needed by the public, equals coverage.

So that seems to be the media’s premise: our job is not to give all candidates an equal opportunity to speak to the American public about their proposed solutions to America’s needs.  Rather, or job is to bless only the poll leaders and help them lead even more – six months before anyone in the voting public actually votes on these candidates.  So we already see the shift in campaign strategies: it is not about saying anything meaningful, or saying it to the early voting states.  It is about saying or doing anything that will get you media attention.

Fox “News” thinks it is their job to anoint who is worthy of being on their stage.  I prefer the alternative proposal that 16 RNC-certified candidates deserve to be treated equally.  Meaning simply that two debates of eight randomly-chosen pairings are required.  At this point in the cycle, Lindsey Graham’s 1% poll is as valid as Jeb Bush’s 12%.  And when the time comes, Bernie Sanders’ poll number will be as valid as Hillary Clinton’s.   No one is a winner yet!

In truth, I am not sure that I will have much in common with most of the Republican candidates for president announced so far.  Or have much confidence in their track records, credentials, or their plausibility to be the “leader of the free world.”  I am not sure that Mike Huckabee or Rick Santorum or Rick Perry has anything new to say to us.  Or that George Pataki, Bobby Jindal, Carly Fiorina or Ben Carson has any ultimate viability.   But a Rand Paul, Jeb Bush, or Marco Rubio perspective on some specific issues might bear some interest.  Regardless, anyone who has done enough work and accumulated enough support to be able to formally declare his/her candidacy deserves a respectful and equal hearing from the voting citizenry.  That is the true meaning of our democratic way.

Our democracy has always suffered from “rigged” elections, backroom deals, party bosses, and media propaganda for favored candidates.  But in the end, it is supposed to be the voters who pick their leaders, at all levels.  In 2016, it is going to be an uphill battle for voters pushing back against the Money and the Media.  Unfortunately, at this early moment, any expectations for real discussion of real problems seeking real answers from real leaders seem highly unlikely.

©  2015   Randy Bell