Anyone who remains indifferent to the perpetual inflation in campaign spending in America is exactly the kind of person holding this country back. In a recent article found in the Observer Reporter (Washington, PA), Barbara S. Miller and Linda M. Ritzer co-wrote that “The two candidates vying to fill the unexpired term of the late U.S. Rep. John Murtha in a May special election spent well over $1 million each on the effort.”
Why is that kind of spending so necessary? The fact also begs the question: Is political involvement merely viewing slander ads for several weeks up until the last few days before the election?
People close to me often respond to my political instigation with doubts about my own effort, reducing me to simply a contemptuous writer that talks the talk, but, well, you know the rest.
I was in Pittsburgh last fall for the G-20 Summit. I drove to the trolley station in South Hills, and it took me near the Blvd of the Allies. Following a map I got close to the Convention Center, only to be turned away by an out-of-state cop who was surprised that I had gotten so far. I walked through the destitute Hill District, up hill, in 90 degree weather. I stopped in a local Dollar General for a bottle of water. The cashier, an African-American who seemed roughly my age, told me to “be safe.”
On I went, passing the local NAACP office which looked like it had been abandoned ten years earlier. The only establishments that were open a few blocks past the Dollar General were bars. I saw senior citizens sitting outside who probably have lived in the Hill District since they were born. And I saw guys either my age or a little older that I was, frankly, a little wary of.
I was in the part of the city that every city in America has, and ignores unless there’s been a murder or robbery that the local news reports. It’s the kind of area that cried out for help, or at the very least, understanding from mainstream America when Grandmaster Flash & the Furious Five released the music video for “The Message.” And now it’s the area exploited by Hip-Hop, and left to die through the mechanisms of modern day capitalism.
I reached the Monumental Baptist Church for “The Bail Out the People Movement” and witnessed a slew of anarchists preparing for their march. The air smelled of body odor and clothes that had been worn, but not washed for days. I stayed behind when the marchers left, and joined a tent of organizers who were discussing the past protests they had been a part of. An African-American man, probably in his 50’s & presumably local, started to talk. He wore sharp, black cowboy boots. He was outspoken, and a little temperamental, but it was easy to see he had seen and experienced a lot in his life. When he first spoke, a female organizer who seemed to be the host of the forum, politely admitted, “I’m sorry, I didn’t get your name.” The old man responded bluntly, “I didn’t give it.” Still, they shared in experience with cities in California: the woman as an organizer; the old man as a worker in a service sector that’s now eluded me.
I had lunch with the organizers of the “Bail Out the People Movement” in the basement of the church. I shared in many of my desires for our country with a middle-aged woman, one of the key organizers. We talked about the need for single payer health care, and she divulged that she’s been involved & organizing for decades. 25 years old I was, and it was the most politically involved I had ever gotten.
On my way back to downtown I was accosted by an African-American man who seemed a little older than me. He was handing out fliers for the gathering I had just left. I explained to him that I had just left the church, and I was heading home now. He was surprised to learn that I wasn’t planning on marching. We ended up shooting the shit about the condition of the Hill District, and I sarcastically remarked, “They’re just lazy, right?” He knew where I truly stood. He said the young men (predominately African-American) turn to drugs & the black market for income because there are no other ways to make a living. With that in mind, I found it pretty sad that leaders from the wealthiest countries in the world were gathering in the Convention Center, feigning to care for the poor & oppressed. What did they have in mind for the Hill District’s of America?
On 5th avenue in downtown, a long line of dozens of Asian protesters marched while chanting & holding signs that said “Free Beijing.” They may have only been outnumbered by the contract cops flooding every street corner, ready to trample on the first amendment, all in the name of a “new” America. Second to the overbearing amount of law enforcement may have been the local Pittsburgh Penguins fans who thought it was the right time to express their love for hockey and their adored Penguins. Look to them to meet a few of the people included in the more than 40% of eligible-to-vote Americans who don’t in elections that are held as often as the Olympics.
The Center for Responsive Politics reported on their website, OpenSecrets.org, that the then presidential candidate Barack Obama raised nearly $745 million for his 2008 campaign. His “main” opponent, Senator (R-Arizona) John McCain, raised about $368 million. The obvious relationship between a victory and money raised & spent is found in the House & Senate elections as well. As the Washington Times reported, “The winning candidate in more than 90 percent of the 2008 House and Senate races was also the candidate who spent the most money.” The article goes further in discussing the reality that self-funded billionaires don’t necessarily earn a victory with their wallets, and it matters more that a candidate can raise a lot of money, and matters less that he/she can spend it. In other words, campaign contributions are a pretty accurate indication of a candidate’s approval among voters.
But whose contributions count the most? We’d like to believe our money talks, and our power in numbers is a force that politicians fear. To some degree, there’s no question of its effect. But with the frightening flooding of the gates through the Supreme Court’s decision this past winter to remove the limitation on campaign contributions, we better be prepared in the near future for the largest & most grotesque amounts of money to ever be spent on elections. Congress must step up and address the threat of corporate dollars before it distorts our politics even further, and the recently passed bill by the House to require corporations, unions, & advocacy groups to disclose their sponsorship in political advertisements is a solid start (For additional ideas about what Congress can do to mitigate the threat of corporate contributions, click here).
As for us, we need to talk to our neighbors, to our friends & family, and discuss what really needs to change in this country. We need to listen instead of argue, and we need to think independently, and disengage from the party lines & the talking points. And we need to make our voting decisions based on verifiable facts, and ignore the incessant slander ads that invade commercial break slots during every campaign season (My advice would be to check out VoteSmart.org when you are ready to vet a candidate’s record). But, most of all, we need to hold our politicians accountable, and recognize when the impact of special interests is trumping the mandate of the ordinary citizen, and instead of accepting politics for what it is, do something about it, and make politics what it should be: the puppet of the people.