I just got a postcard of a smiling Obama family, robosigned by Michelle, saying:. "Thank you for your support." I haven't given her, or any other candidate, my support. But her card reminded me that in this rocky recession during which so many of us are un- or under-employed, there is one growth industry in this country. It's called politics.
This month, the primaries over, both presidential candidates are out hustling, but not for votes. They just want your money. Barack Obama and Mitt Romney are both panhandling in the hope of raising $1 billion, which not only demeans them but demeans us, too. After the election the big donors -- not the majority of us -- will call in their favors. The oil industry will frack gas fields, health insurers will gut Obamacare, and LGBTs will want favorable rulings from the Justice and Labor departments. If recent trends are any indication, this election will cost even more than the $2.4 billion in 2008, which was more than 2004, and more than... you get the idea.
What would $2.4 billion buy if it was pumped into the economy and not wasted on what promises to be mostly negative advertising?
With $2.4 billion you could buy a baseball team like the Los Angeles Dodgers and have something left over for hot dogs and beer. You could fund an entire city school district such as Philadelphia's, where students are starving for new books and computers. Or you could, if Facebook (Nasdaq: FB) critics' figures add up, buy 13 million expensive hoodies, which would clothe most of the children in Africa.
What really happens is that $2.4 billion generates a lot of noise, which no one really wants to hear, but we all do. It seeps through to our subconscious. Results have shown that enough negative ads put a stink on a candidate, and get his or her opponent elected. Romney's victory in the recent primaries was largely due to his ability to "out-Super PAC" his rivals, sometimes with a 20-to-1 advantage in advertising.
You can blame the US Supreme Court for creating this coterie of "hired guns" with its Citizens United decision. But let's be honest. Who benefits the most from all this slush money and negative ads? The media. Newscasters and talking heads love to whine about how money corrupts the political process. But who pays their salaries? By November, virtually every ad on the morning news will have a grainy and ugly black-and-white photo of a candidate along with a smarmy voiceover accusing him or her of being someone's stooge.
Wouldn't it be nice to emulate the Brits, whose campaigns start and end in a certain time and whose candidates are limited in spending? Never gonna happen. Every effort made to keep money from corrupting politics and abusing the airwaves has failed.
So here's a suggestion. Let's go back to the politics of the 1850s. Back then everyone gathered at a camp meeting where each party opened a keg of whiskey for the crowd. Then candidates like Abe Lincoln wrestled to see who was the strongest. That would be a lot of fun and a real reality show ratings grabber.
But meantime, you keep your postcard, Michelle, and I'll keep my money.