Sunday, March 30, 2014

Very Appealing Candidates

Having chimed in on a few national political issues over the years, I am constantly deluged with requests for funds to support political candidates and advocacy organizations that represent the interests of the less corporately connected elements of society.

The running theme in most of these appeals is that billionaire backers are bankrolling the forces of destruction and my $3 or $5 or $10 or sometimes an odd but symbolic amount like $12 will go a long way to help in the fight against oligarchy, plutocracy, runaway capitalism and all the ills of our wealth-worshiping culture. This is grass roots fundraising.

It seems sensible: ask the people of limited means for tiny little contributions. But in reality the processing costs for such a small donation probably eat much of its value. Even worse, a site that appears to support one candidate may actually be raising money for the other side. Or some other sinister interest might have a fish hook in the bait. The one time I did make a contribution to a political candidate I discovered my credit card had been compromised. It's made  me leery, since I am one of those people of limited means who can't afford any financial errors. The card company covered me, but I still had to go through the inconvenience of changing card numbers.

The problem starts with the reliance of political candidates on copious amounts of cash. Even if the candidates and their direct organizations are limited in their sources and use of money, the outside groups that support them channel huge sums to shape public opinion. And even though the campaigns seem to go on forever, they start and end with emotional appeals rather than level-headed discussions of the pros and cons of proposed courses of action. That discussion is never conducted in public because manipulative interests don't really want it done in the open.

You might observe that even a number of small contributions add up to less than I spend on coffee every year. True, but when I pay for a cup of coffee I get a cup of coffee. I know the people at the coffee shop. I know my money helps them in their lives just as the money they spend where I work helps me. The money I throw at social change provides no such assurance. It's like when millions of people chip in after a natural disaster only to discover later that the money was mostly wasted on unhelpful bullshit. You want to feel good, you want to do good, so you trust the people who say they're going to take your contribution to provide that good. In the world of natural disasters there's a clear set of problems and a slate of obvious remedies. And even then the remedial organizations manage to screw it up.  In politics it's even worse, because of all the power and influence at stake. Participants have many built-in motives to mislead.

Assuming for the moment that many of the candidates and organizations trying to fund their resistance to tyranny a few dollars at a time are legitimate it still doesn't change the fact that we little people are in a spending contest with billionaires and rich corporations. We should not be in that position.

The fundamental problem is our undue respect for wealth. If a little rich is good, more rich is better. So most rich is best, right? They call it meritocracy, wrongly assuming that money is an accurate gauge of all values.

Sorry, people. There IS something wrong with being rich. But where is the line between "doing okay" and "filthy oligarch?" Personally I put it down the scale, not far above "doing okay." But just releasing that money into the wild won't make everything fine. If all the newly-minted thousandaires decided to spend their money on destructive, polluting equipment and activities and rampant development we would destroy our ecosystem even faster than we already are. We still need to talk about problems as rational adults.

I'd like to say I didn't think we're screwed, but I think we're screwed. I've heard more about Gwyneth Paltrow in the past week than about efforts to reform campaign finance, promote sustainable energy production, support family planning, rein in climate change and on a large scale treat each other with more courtesy and respect. I just don't see what my $3 is going to get me. How many commercials will it take to instill those values?

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