Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Campaign finance: A corollary manifesto

The buttefly lady sees the future of the National Recycling Act outlined below as hinging on a change in how political campaigns are financed.

I strongly suspect that she views the system as corrupt because it vests immense political power in the hands of the rich and ultra-rich. But the rich and ultra-rich are as entitled as you or I to exercise their First Amendment right to free speech, and judging from how the Constitution sets up our form of democracy, I suspect the founders would be pretty comfortable with the way things work now. But they're dead, so the question is moot.

Because of the inherent conflict in politicians changing the rules they benefit from, I suspect the question of campaign finance reform is also moot.

And yet:

Over the decades all kinds of superb (and awful) public policy has been carried out. Although the voters are frequently lambasted for their collective choices or apparent apathy, they do have a choice, and they do flex their muscles.

When Newt Gingrich sold people on the Contract with America, the voters responded. When Bill Clinton sold people on the Third Way, the voters responded. When Ralph Nader called Al Bush and George Gore clones, the voters responded.

Did they respond how everybody wanted them to? No. But like newspapers' readership, voters are a bad crowd to underestimate. I think the problem isn't "fixing" the voters - or the readers - but learning to listen to what they care about and speaking to those wants, needs and fears in a way that they connect with. If you can't connect with voters, all the money on Earth won't help you.

Likewise, I don't think the problem is "fixing" campaign finance rules, I think it is voting out the candidates who behave in a manner inconsistent with the principles of democracy (i.e. by selling themselves to the highest bidders). Voting out the bad eggs depends almost entirely on the previous point, learning to connect with voters. Maybe as a side benefit, the people who are voted in will come up with a constitutional answer to the campaign finance conundrum.

So my answer is sticky, glib and bound to produce frustration:

Power to the people.

which leads to my father's maxim:

In a democracy, the people get the government they deserve.

The road ahead is a hard one, fraught with all sorts of perils. But good leaders can find a way to a more democratic future, if they can show people why they should care enough to follow them down that path.

In the words of Joshua "Lawrence" Chamberlain, "Let's fix bayonets."

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