Jess Unruh, the Speaker of the California Assembly in 1960s, observed that “Money is the mother’s milk of politics”. That’s because democracy only works when people have the opportunity to hear who is running and what they stand for. That takes money and the money has to come from somewhere. That said, where and how the money reaches candidates is at the root of why we have a lazy and unresponsive Congress.
Bernie has shown us the power of large numbers of individuals contributing small amounts of money to a campaign. Act Blue for Democrats and now Win Red for Republicans are harnessing this new grass roots engagement we need. Elections are about more than just watching TV and voting. We owe Bernie Sanders and his campaigns credit for pointing the way to loosening the grip of big money on our democracy.
However, more than grass roots engagement is required. The second step needed is for the public to recognize that politics is more than the top of the ticket. It isn’t just the President. It’s who she or he chooses to run the government. The teams don’t wear colorful jerseys, but their policies are well publicized. A Republican candidate is as different from a Democratic candidate as a zebra is from a giraffe. Their respective positions from voting rights to civil rights, to the environment, health care, fair wages, women’s rights, workers rights, judges, and tax policy are well known and clearly spelled out in their party platforms. That’s how they vote too. Citizens are beginning to recognize this and vote accordingly.
Choosing our leaders, the same way we choose our favorite TV programs and movie personalities has not served us well. It is not by accident that we have elected media personalities from Ronald Reagan, to Arnold Schwarzenegger, to Donald Trump and others including Jerry Brown, Mitt Romney, Al Gore, and George Bush who were first elected primarily based on being the son of a former Governor, Senator or President.
2020 will be a watershed election. Outrageous sums of money will be spent on expensive TV advertising full of half-truths or less. Our creaky election security may fall victim to Russian meddling, and there is no guarantee we will end up with more competent leadership. This year’s debates, with help from Trump, and Senator McConnell, have helped sharpen the public’s recognition that elections do matter.
In the future we must also end secret money in politics. My donations and those of other small donors are public. So, should be the millions of dollars given to euphemisms like “America First Action”, “America First Priorities” and “Priorities USA”. Likewise, we must end the immunity from fraud given to search engines like Facebook and Google. Until that happens, the best disinfectant we have is for people, like you and me, to continue to step up to the plate with our own small donations in support of the people and political parties we believe will move the country in the right direction.