Wednesday, December 10, 2003

RIP Free Speech...
The Supreme Court of the United States has just decided today that the Shay's-Meehan bill passed by Congress prior to the last election cycle is constitutionally sound. Or most of it, anyway. For those of you who do not know what I'm talking about, this is John McCain's Campaign Finance Reform mantra. Know now that you, the voting public, have absolutely no voice in your own Government anymore unless you have a stack of money and a tax-emempt foundation status. Allow me to trot out an old essay I once wrote on this thing, and tell me this isn't the end of civilization as we know it (or at least the beginning of the end);

That 'giant sucking sound' you hear is not, as Ross Perot once warned us, the sound of American jobs being 'relocated' to Mexico. It is not, as you might well believe, Monica Lewinsky making her way through every married elected official in Washington D.C. It's not even remotely related to the sound French lips make when they disengage themselves from Saddam Hussein's nether regions. That sound you hear is both political parties gathering as much cash as they possibly can before their self-imposed limit on Campaign funds begins November, 6th. A date, interestingly enough, which occurs AFTER the next election.

Campaign Finance Reform (hereafter, CFR) they call it. Insiders refer to it as "Shays-Meehan". I will refer to it as unconstitutional crap, a waste of paper, a waste of time, and an insult to the intelligence of the above-average person (the average person wouldn't know what we're talking about). It reforms NOTHING, except the way in which incumbents go about keeping their jobs and political power. First and foremost let's bear in mind that due to some (maybe even most) of the provisions contained in this little gem restricting political activities by independent organizations (like NOW, NRA, NARAL, etc), this bill will likely get struck down on Constitutional review. However, if you thought the idea behind this most holy legislation was to get 'the money and the special interests out of politics' you are seriously demented. The purpose of this bill is to make your friendly neighborhood politico more secure in his fortress of ignorance, unassailable by challengers from 'outside the system'. This is more of a tenure-for-elected-officials kind of thing.

What Shays-Meehan does accomplish is to make a successful challenge to an incumbent almost impossible. It restricts free speech by preventing a challenger, or even an interested party, in saying anything negative about a candidate (or even positive) within 60 days of an election. So, you have to make your points up front, way up front, and hope people remember. Since the average American has an attention span measured in MPH, this is almost a hopeless mission if you're challenging an incumbent. They simply will not remember that you pointed out what Congressman So-and-So did and said five months ago. If you need a reminder of just how short some people's memories are you only need to see that Gary Condit is running for re-election, and that somehow, someway, somebody gave him money to do so. I suggest a real reform that would state that anyone implicated in the disappearance of a young girl, who refuses to talk to the police about it and admits lying when he said he had nothing to do with her, NOT be permitted to hold ANY office whatsoever.

If you want to see REAL CFR then we must look at how political campaigns are run and how the politicians go about the business of gaining enough votes to get into or stay in office. I have a few thoughts, naturally, on the subject.

For better or worse, a political campaign these days resembles the Miss America pageant more than it does a serious debate on issues that might matter to voters. We are subjected to pretty boys and girls who have been taught to smile even when they are reciting the same watered-down, incomprehensible, full-of-bullshit speech 12 times a day. We are fed a steady diet of 30-minute infomercials that pass for televised debate in a format that has been called 'the Town Meeting'. This is significant for two reasons; 1) to give people the impression that there is a participatory element to the whole charade, and 2) it just sounds so damn folksy and American. In fact, it's two pounds of folderol for the price of one. Really what is going on is that both (or more) candidates already know what questions will be asked (the press is complicit in this nonsense) and they have their stock answers prepared long in advance. The point of the whole thing is to leave some kind of image in the public eye, one that elevates the candidate and makes his opponent look bad. Think of Al Gore rolling his eyes and sighing a lot, or wearing too much make up, and you'll see what I mean. Everyone (i.e. the media) said Bush won the debates because of it (actually, I thought at least one of them was a toss up). CFR as an instrument meant to clean up politics will actually have the opposite effect - people who do not fear losing their jobs, and who are immune to honest criticism and public audit of their activities will not look out for the public's interest. They will, instead, secure their own interests.

If you want to talk about major CFR, then we don't necessarily have to talk about the money, per se, but maybe we DO have to talk about process. The process in question has to do with how the government receives cash and how it dispenses it. The two parties are set up along diametrically-opposed lines of thought on this issue; democrats take money and re-distribute it to those that will vote for them based on the fact that they're (one or more of the following); lazy, stupid, poor, emotional, demented, brain damaged, black, Hispanic, female, gay, crippled, or filthy rich and irrationally guilty.

Republicans, on the other hand, try to get people to vote for them based on their opposition to giving away taxpayer's money to any of the above groups. However, Republicans will be very glad to give your money away to groups who instead support (one or more of the following); Pro-life positions, Second Amendment Rights, repeal of all welfare laws, more defense spending, eliminating one or more Federal programs/departments, tax reductions or reduction of Federal red tape in all it's forms.
Both parties will eagerly fall all over themselves to pay huge amounts of other people's money to farmers for planting unprofitable crops or ethanol, which doesn't provide enough energy to pull a greasy piece of string from a prostitutes backside.

Now, we can debate the pro's and con's of both party's positions and actions, but we won't. I mentioned all of that stuff because a point needs to be made about how the government operates; it no longer functions along Constitutional, legally (or even rationally) defined ways anymore. It instead caters to whatever agenda best suits the individual ideologies of either one, and they will do anything to ensure that their ideas win. It is no longer about running a Republic. It is no longer a question of 'doing what's best for the country', it is now a matter of pushing narrowly-defined ideological matters and advancing the interests of narrow-minded constituencies, and being in a position to reap the benefits that derive from such activity. Benefits like job security, money, stature, job offers after leaving office, etc. I can't tell you just how many ex-politicians are on the Boards of Directors of many of the country's Fortune 500. I would bet that number is in the thousands.

If one really wanted to reform Campaign Finance, you have to reform the Campaign. The Campaign consists of pushing your narrow ideology and interests (see above) so that people with short attention spans (and shorter IQ's) begin thinking the "right" way. That is, your way. This requires a media blitz, which entails lots of TV time, which ain't cheap. It requires lots of really colorful and shiny stuff, like buttons, posters, etc. It requires a team of writers for your speeches and catchy slogans, both of which are short and use small words so as not to further confuse your already confused potential voter. It requires flying all over the place to get the most exposure (in the media) you possibly can while you pander to whatever civic organization or labor union your "event co-ordinator" arranged for that day. After all, one must go see what his/her 'constituents (i.e. suckers who keep voting for me) are up to and what they have to say. Add in all the organizational costs and employees, catering, paper, pens, and paper clips and, well, it gets rather expensive.

It's amazing just how expensive it gets when you run unopposed, too. Wonder how that happens? Evidently, it happens a lot. Oh, and lets not forget that any unused portion of this election cycle's war chest can be used for the next cycle's activity. Unless, of course, you plan to retire from Congress, in which case, you get to keep it.

The whole system of governmental operations must be changed. I recommend a significant, meaningful change, one that doesn't require that a candidate raise or spend any money whatsoever to have his/her views made public. Want to hear it? It's called the National Referendum. What is a referendum, you ask? It's what every other Democracy (or semblance thereof) on the planet has when an important decision needs to be made. One too important to be left to politicians, that is. In a referendum, an issue is put before the voters and they vote yes or no on it, the same day, with all parties involved merely staking out their positions. The voters decide the issue, not the politicos. I'll bet that if we had a system of national referendums in place we would have none of the following things: gun control laws, the IRS, the Income Tax, Abortion, Death Row (all the guilty would have been fried already), Department of Education (two lies for the price of one), the EPA, half the Federal Government (except the Post Office), and dead/recovering from rape/molested/missing interns. Why, you ask? Because the politicians would be cut out of the process. There was always a fear of “mob rule” in this country, of the sort practiced in Europe. This is why our Framers set up a “representational Republic” and not a true, direct democracy. The referendums would have to have certain safeguards put in place; neither party could harass voters outside the polling places (as they do now), or harangue the great, unwashed massed with rhetoric; they would have to state facts – verifiable facts. This would, of course, assume an independent press, without the stain of political correctness.

This is exactly why you will never, ever see anything slightly resembling a referendum on a national scale in the United States. We see ballot initiatives locally, but never nationwide. The power structure in place (including the press) now can cope with limited challenge to its authority, but not one that threatens them on a continental basis. Since we can't reform the way we vote, the pols will make sure they instead reform the way in which we pay for the present system.

The people of this country should be damn mad about what has been done in our name. This is assuming most of them even give a damn about what's happened, which is a pretty big 'if'. There's nothing wrong with politicians receiving campaign money from any citizen or group that has point of view to express. That's fine, provided the politician in question also believes in the same things, and there is nothing wrong with supporting advocacy with cash, provided everything is legal and above board. Most people would be pretty satisfied with that kind of situation. The politicians, however, would not be satisfied. Money equals influence, which equals power. They want more money for more power and they want to be held less accountable for it. That's the whole purpose of Shays-Meehan. Don't buy the BS about this bill being a 'reform' in the way most people think of reform.

I propose that instead of sucking up every dollar of legal money they can before their operations move out of the public spotlight, I suggest the Congress go and address some of the very serious problems that became obvious in the Presidential election of 2000. Maybe then, we wouldn't need campaign finance reform. I list them, in no particular order;

1. Illiteracy is obviously rampant in some parts of the country. Voters who cannot follow instructions, most of them posted in every conceivable, viewable space, and in the voting booth itself, cannot be counted on to make decisions, nor should they be trusted to make any. Ignorance has consequences, just ask Al Gore.

2. Democrats in Missouri reversed their long-time strategy and got live voters to vote for a dead man in Mel Carnahan. Since Mr. Carnahan couldn’t accept the office, his wife graciously did, despite the fact that the woman doesn’t seem to be able to muster enough intellectual firepower to even burn calories. Since when did political office become something that could be bequeathed to the survivors of the dead, like the family farm or the good silverware? Didn’t the dynastic, divine right sort of stuff go out with the Enlightenment? Why was there no challenge to any of this? Could it have been that Mrs. Carnahan was a recent widow, female and in a democratic state that falls over each other in a bid to remove the stain of segregation and discrimination? Maybe, maybe not. Still, the whole thing stinks to high heaven. But it’s okay; Daschle and Gephardt will tell her what to do, say and more importantly, how to vote. I wonder where the press was on this one?

3. The press, and organizations connected to them, should stop reporting election results until the election is actually over. The need, real or perceived, of having to announce results before they are official is detrimental. Florida was a case in point; a major portion of the state, the Conservative portion (coincidence?) is in a different time zone than the rest, a full one hour behind. The early announcements may have depressed turnout in that region. If voting is such a privilege, a sacred duty, does it not make sense that maybe we should give the voters the chance to invoke that privilege and perform that task, rather than discourage them by letting them think their man has no chance? I understand that the networks have time to fill, but I think most people would have been happy with re-runs of Who Wants to Be A Millionaire? And could have waited until the next day to find out who their new President was/is/could be.

4. Vote fraud is rampant; one city in Pennsylvania (I believe Philadelphia) had something like 104% of its eligible voters show up to vote. The number is ridiculous for two reasons, one obvious and the other being that a goodly number of people are unable or unwilling to show up at the polls, even in the best of times. This should be investigated, thoroughly. It won’t, however.

5. The courts are not designed, nor were they intended, to decide the issue like they were forced to. The fact that courts were involved is evidence of two things; a) the democratic belief that if a court says that something is so, it must be, and b) the whole process was obviously fishy. Gore should be ashamed of himself for carrying on such a tantrum (which definitely hurt the country).

6. The threat of riots (never stated, but definitely implied by the Revs. Jackson and Sharpton) was made if the blacks in this country didn’t get their man. I believe both Revs. should be tried for treason. This is not Zimbabwe or some other third-world cesspool where that kind of threat is the norm. If blacks in this country want to riot, let them, as they’ll only burn down their own neighborhoods and destroy their own property. Then let them live in even worse squalor than they do until they can learn to be civilized. Notice that neither Reverend is out threatening riots over the fact that the mass illiteracy rampant in their “communities” contributed to the fiasco in the first place. P.S. – Someone should tell the Reverends just what constitutes “disenfranchised”.

7. John McCain is not a man of integrity or conscious, and should not be heralded as such. His fame lay in the fact that he bucked the system within the Republican ranks, and he felt the press adulation he received would allow him to engage in what was once called “dirty tricks” of the sort that got Nixon in such hot water. The primaries were a McCain slimefest, with the nasty phone messages, vote tampering and name-calling. Mr. McCain, a proponent of this CFR stuff is still pissed that he lost to Bush. This kind of thing is his way of saying “Fuck you, Rich Boy.”

8. The practice of allowing cross-party voting during primaries should be halted. It’s nothing more than a way to get the real competition out of the way before the real show begins. Why one would want Republicans voting in a democratic primary and vice-versa, as a matter of logic, is beyond me. The reason it really exists is to skew the primary vote.

There can be no CFR until we reform the way we vote. Until we have fair elections, which have literate, interested people participating in them, and we the public have full confidence in the outcomes, then all Shays-Mehan has accomplished will be to put a new prom dress on the same old pig. We’re told that money is the issue in politics; there’s too much of it, being passed by people with our worst interests at heart, being used to bribe your local politico into doing something he normally wouldn’t, just to ensure his survival. That is not what has happened. Your Congress-critter takes the money because he can, and because you don’t know what he does with it, or what he thinks about the issue he was just sold. That happens because you are disinterested and too ignorant, most of the time, to notice it.

What’s needed is a stricter system of accountability -- referendums, reporting and a posting somewhere (thanks Internet!) of what your local politician does and says, and more importantly, how he/she actually votes on an issue. Turning on the kitchen light always scatters the roaches. It would have the same effect here. Then you punish the miscreants with either criminal charges or loss of office. That’s how you reform campaign finance – you reform the campaigners.

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