Occasionally my naïve optimism about the rational vitality of the American people gets the best of me. While I am still convinced that we will most often do the intelligent thing, I occasionally see the glass as half full when it probably contains a few drops. As we are less than two months from another election, it is becoming increasingly clear that H.L Mencken was on to something when he wrote, "Nobody ever went broke underestimating the intelligence of the American people."
I would like to believe that the electorate will listen to serious arguments on every side, think through the implications of each, judge the candidates by their grasp of the issues and come down on the side of rationality. Fat chance.
There is a far simpler answer as to how many voters tend to operate. They are bought! That is not the only answer, but no election is won without it. Members of Congress who have any hope of reelection, now must spend almost half of their working hours either raising money, or bowing to those whose money buys influence.
If, on the other hand, the candidate is already a multimillionaire and is willing to put personal bucks into the campaign, the chances of being elected go up significantly. Consider the case of the two ex-CEOs each pouring their own fortunes into their races for U.S. Senate and California governor. Meg Whitman and Carly Fiorina are attempting to parley their personal fortunes into political success.
In addition, the recent Supreme Court decision giving corporations the same right as individuals to pour millions into political campaigns even further establishes money as the basic commodity necessary for getting elected. Any effort to level the playing field by trying to control election spending is immediately viewed as a denial of free speech.
Equally as startling is how these millions are spent. Every serious campaign has a staff, a budget for traveling, literature and mass mailings. But by far the great bulk of the money is spent on what is called "media." That's a code word for 30- or 60-second TV ads. And that is where Meg Whitman has spent more than 80 million of her personal bucks.
Outspending Jerry Brown 100 to one, the former eBay CEO majors in taking a phrase from some obscure source and slashing away at it. There is no serious effort to analyze anything or think through any issue facing the country, let alone suggesting a way out of our current dilemma. These tens of millions add nothing to the nation's desperate need to struggle with critical concerns. They are employed for one purpose. To buy votes! In that respect they have largely managed to accomplish what they have been sent to do. A political race that should be a slam-dunk is now virtually even.
While plowing these millions into sound bites, Whitman allows no in-depth interviews, will engage in no debate or countenance any serious discussion. Thus we witness a vapid excuse for what ought to be intelligent political discourse.
At this historic juncture there seems to be no way out the American people, and its power brokers, would be willing to accept. The honest answer, of course, is the fully public funding of elections. Candidates would qualify for a certain amount of money. Nobody would have an overwhelming advantage, even if they were filthy rich. Every campaign effort would deal with the issues, and the destructive TV ads would be eliminated. Campaigns would be far shorter and would focus on debates, rational discourse and an in-depth examination of the issues.
What are the chances that this will be the way future elections are held? None.
So we will continue to see political seats bought like luxury cars. And we will continue to get the kind of government we deserve.
But that's just my opinion.