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The Carletonian

Big support or just big money? Elitism in presidential campaigns

<mney made a curious statement earlier last month, while campaigning for the Republican Nomination for President in New Hampshire.  Such spoke the former governor of Massachusetts:  “My father (former automobile executive and politician George Romney) had good advice to me.  He said never get involved in politics if you have to win an election to pay a mortgage.” 

Seizing upon the comment, former Speaker Newt Gingrich, derided Governor Romney, and characterized the former private equity mogul as inaccessible to the American people, a majority of whom have significant debts and could not “get involved in politics” if they followed Governor Romney’s father’s advice.  To dissect Speaker Gingrich’s claim and, thus, expose him as a despicably destructive dilettante would be to provide this column with too easy of fruit to pick.  The serial hypocrite, who has vaulted himself into first-place in the national polls, had, as Speaker of the House, questioned the “moral authority” of Bill Clinton to govern while, himself, conducting an affair borne into fruition from his “love of country.”  Now, he proceeds to rail against “Washington insiders” despite his own utter personification of that which ails Washington D.C., from its disgusting hedonism to its pointless egoism.  However loathesome I am to admit it, Speaker Gingrich puts forth a valid point about Governor Romney’s wealth.  Although I agree with former Speaker Gingrich’s claim, I do so not for the political reasons of creating a false dichotomy on a salient economic issue to pander to a disillusioned and dismayed electorate. Instead, Governor Romney’s statement provokes a visceral reaction because it debases a very fundamental tenet to the American system of government, to its way of life, to its very constitution.  All men are created equal in American politics.

Governor Romney’s declaration evokes an important problem with our current state of politics. Governor Romney suggests that only those who possess massive resources, of time and of capital, should become involved in politics.  This mentality entrenches a pseudo-bourgeois elite, a governing class, divorced from the rest of us; it is oligarchic and undemocratic.  It destroys the concept of each having one, equal voice and vote in the politics; governing by that edict would result in an elite few involved in political affairs.  It would establish in our great democracy a government of those who have, an oligarchy, lording over a poorer, disenfranchised mass.

Yet, even as Governor Romney engages in a warped form of class warfare that carries with it particularly subversive implications, Speaker Gingrich’s response threatens the fundamental way we run our nation. Battered by negative advertisements, repudiated by voters, Speaker Gingrich’s campaign for President, benefitted from $3.4 million spent on advertisements before the Maginot Line of the South Carolina primary and in preparation for the Floridian primary, groups in support of Speaker Gingrich flooded the state in a deluge of $5 million. The Supreme Court approved such spending in the Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission court case in 2010, which deemed corporate contributions to political candidates as akin to personal free speech.

As a direct result of the decision, the ability of candidates to raise and spend money, through whatever means necessary, is essentially unlimited. Although all are entitled to free speech, Citizens United permits a select few to amplify their voices over the rest of us.  Furthermore, the decision renders campaign organizations, finance departments, and our laws completely powerless and pointless.  Because of the Citizens United decision, groups of individuals can independently spend without regard to limits or facts on behalf of affiliated political campaigns.  A select few can, without consultation with a candidate, project a favorable or an unfavorable image of whomever they deem worthy.  As Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert demonstrated in a Super Pac ad that portrayed Mitt Romney as a serial killer – if corporations are people, and Mitt Romney bankrupted, ‘killed,’ several corporations, Mitt Romney is a serial killer.

Limitless money in campaigns allows the wealthy supporters of candidates, Democrat and Republican alike, to use substantial funds to undermine the concept of one man, one voice, one vote.   Instead, the Citizen’s United decision amplifies the voices of a select few who can afford the cost of speaking on the public stage.
The implications are dire.  As we have seen, money allows campaigns to stay afloat, despite the flaws of the candidate or his popular support.  In Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina and Florida, the power of money to sustain a message has allowed Newt Gingrich’s campaign to somehow resurrect itself.  The unmitigated and undocumented injection of cash has tremendously transformed the electorate with undeniable effects on the electorate.  Who is to say, next, that the threat of money won’t determine the course of legislation in Washington D.C.?  Who is to say that it has not already happened, with the billions of dollars in lobbying money and corporate tax loopholes flowing into and out of Washington D.C.?  To co-opt popular phrasing, this ostentatious presence of money in our elections establishes a government that not only serves, but is comprised of and chosen by, the 1%. 

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