Long ago the late great British writer Wolf Mankowitz, for whom I briefly worked as a secretary/scribe, made a penetrating comment that I’ve never forgotten. In response to some news phenomenon of those early 80’s, he remarked that though Europeans would never believe such a thing, “Americans equate being rich with being good.”
Over later years I’ve watched our national “mentality” start believing that wealth itself is virtue, i.e., that money is a god—good old Mammon. Notice the religious awe with which Americans contemplate the iconic dollar sign—and really big numbers. Millions used to be a lot, then it was billions, and now we toss around trillions. Mammon is obviously a megalomaniac. I’ve recently come to believe that the operative word for our civilization is “More.”
The holy magic of numbers of dollars is nowhere more rampant than in the electoral process. Political races have come to be characterized and predicted by the amount of funds raised by the candidates. The media blithely compares fundraising totals as clues to who is running “ahead,” as though dollars equal votes (and political virtue), as though reporting on a horse race.
In the electoral process, a composite total of many mega-millions—perhaps billions— is raised from supposedly civic-minded donors, all looking for a bang for their bucks. And then there are the mega-millions the government has to spend to manage the process at thousands of polling places—as well as staff costs for the counting/accounting.
Overall, I expect that elections are a trillion-dollar industry right now—tomorrow it will probably be a jillion. Some might say that’s not a high a cost for running our huge democracy, and sadly they could be right. My problem comes from seeing where that trillion goes.
The tax money that the government spends naturally goes to the enormous workforce needed to operate the electoral process—a job program. But what about the countless millions raised for campaigns? And public financing means that the government is paying for a large part of that. Some funds do pay for a temporary job program and operations to organize trips and events, but the lion’s share of election funds flows directly into the media/advertising industry. For it, elections are bread, butter, and roast beef—simply for playing both sides against the middle. Our election cycles have become the media’s cash elephants!
I have a distinct problem with this being a closed financial loop. You see, campaign donors are basically the same class of people who are getting paid by the campaigns. What’s more, they get a tax-break for donating (ultimately to themselves). Sounds like a racket to me.
Instead, let’s get honest and admit that our elections are in truth theatrical fundraising races. Why not just admit that whoever nets the most money over campaign (i. e., fundraising) expenses should win. Big spending then would become a handicap, most government expenses would be eliminated, and the public wouldn’t have to suffer through empty or obfuscating campaign rhetoric, except as pleas for donations.
And to make this a really sweet deal: Whatever campaign funds the candidates, winners and losers, don’t spend would have to be turned over to the government for the imperiled Social Security Trust Fund and the crucial Medicare/Medicaid programs. Political donations thus would become reasonable tax-deductions, and the onerous governmental process of elections would produce revenue rather than expense.
Of course, the media industry would raise holy hell about trading its monetary mammoths for mere cash cows. No matter how rational and reasonable this proposal, it wouldn’t mean More for them, just More for the public weal.