I've been sick for almost all of last week and as I surveyed the social media scene, I noticed that being sick changes the way I look at media. Where I see hate, accusations and plenty of mind reading, I see a need for real and lasting solutions. Even looking at Slate, Salon, and the Huffington Post, places I like on social media, I felt like I've had enough of the old way. I began to realize that polarization in politics is a feature not a bug. It's almost as if, there is a hidden hand seeking to keep us all divided, to prevent us, members of one of the greatest democracies in the world, from finding common ground.
I find myself wanting and looking for a unifying issue that will bring this country together. I believe that I have found that issue. This is an issue that is so fundamental, so large in scale and scope, yet so hard to see, that we will need something like the Civil Rights Movement or the Women's fight for suffrage to bring about lasting, unifying change. When I talk about scale, I'm talking about a unifying force strong enough to bring about the Civil Rights Act, the Voting Rights Act and the Social Security Act. We need something like that. The issue? The corrupting influence of money in politics.
Polls have consistently shown that corruption is high on the minds people engaged in politics, but few candidates are willing to address the issue as a plank in their campaigns when they run for office. As Lawrence Lessig notes in his book, The USA is Lesterland, corruption didn't even get a mention in Obama's first State of the Union speech when he took office.
Few if any of our leaders discuss corruption at the highest levels of government. This is because to state the obvious, to talk about that grand elephant in the room, is to literally bite the hand that feeds you. Politicians need that money to keep their campaigns going, yet few seem to realize that by going to a few select private interests to fund their campaigns, they are subjecting themselves to the Skinner Box of campaign fundraising.
Every day, our leaders spend hours calling the wealthiest people in the country, to beg for campaign contributions. In return for the money, our leaders promote and enact laws that provide an advantage to the campaign contributors at the expense of everyone else. The evidence is there, yet the Supreme Court in their Citizens United decision (just one of many rulings over 30 years), refused to acknowledge the corrupting influence of money in politics. This is what we are fighting against: a power so vast, that it is capable to turning our best efforts to right our country against us for their own gain.
There are many good ideas for government reform on both the left and the right, but meaningful reform remains just a dream until we deal with corruption. You can take your best idea, your most highly valued political goal, hold it, look at it, and admire it. Even write about it. But it won't mean squat until we bring the money in politics to heel.
We have to ask ourselves the great existential and political question: do we want a government that answers only to the 0.05% that are the relevant funders of all political campaigns, or do we want a political class that must appeal to the widest possible audience?
If we want the latter, then we must acknowledge that fundamental campaign finance reform is a requirement before we can accomplish anything else for our great country, without hindrance from the relevant funders of the political system we have now. Your dreams of true government reform are but dreams until you take the relevant funders, the really big money, out of politics and put the elections back in the hands of the people. Read or listen to this book to learn more about the relevant funders and their objectives.
This isn't just about politicians who run for office. The relevant funders get to decide who runs for office and we get to vote on their choices. Our limited choices for office holders is a big part of the problem and needs to be addressed, but there is something else.
This is also about the scope of the debate. That tiny minority can exercise great power over the scope of public discourse to prevent real reform in any aspect of government to be discussed. You want an audit of the Fed? The relevant funders are there to stop that. You want that public option in health care? The relevant funders will prevent discussion of the topic on the talking heads shows on Sunday. You want reform of copyright and patent laws? Sorry, not on the agenda for the relevant funders.
The corrupting influence of money in politics is the biggest if not the only issue we need to address prior to 2016. There are only two candidates that I know of that have the foundation needed to run for president and that have expressed a desire to seek fundamental campaign finance reform. Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren. Does your Congressman or woman seek fundamental financial reform? If they're in the campaign finance Skinner Box, probably not.
There may be others seeking such reform and willing to run for office, but you won't hear any discussion of that. since the relevant funders won't have it. Remember that the relevant funders need our consent, they need us for them to be relevant, and they need the world to believe that we agree with them, even if we don't.
Whatever your desire for reform in government, it's not going to happen until we remove the corrupting influence of money in politics. Our best shots at removing this influence can be found below:
The corrupting influence of money in politics is not partisan. It is not conservative or liberal. It is a problem for all of us to solve, together, and we can solve it. But we must be willing to admit that it doesn't matter which side we're on, that we are all responsible for letting this happen and for changing course. This is the change in attitude that I am adopting for the new year.
Will you join me in this change of attitude and perspective? Can we work together to eliminate the corrupting influence of money in politics?