The recent blood baths in Iowa, New Hampshire, and South Carolina may all be prelude to the death match coming in Florida. All the stops have been pulled in the 2012 GOP primary, and the ball is so high in the air, it’s impossible to say which side it’s coming down on.
On the one hand, Romney has polled consistently for months. On the other, the rise of Newt Gingrich spells disaster for the former Massachusetts governor. The politics of frustration have propelled the former speaker of the House to the top of the nomination list, shaking up the race once again.
At the heart of all this election drama is the Supreme Court decision, Citizens United, a piece of legislation so controversial that just earlier today on NPR’s Talk of the Nation, a caller described it as treason and called for the SCOTUS justices to be put on trial.
Independent electioneering groups known as Super PACs can funnel as much money as they can raise into election advertising now, so long as they don’t coordinate with candidates. Corporations can empty their treasury into the electioneering process if they so choose, now that political advertising is considered free speech.
This has upset many, especially on the left, who think that corporations already control Washington. I tend to disagree. As I argued recently, Super PACs and political advertising in general are small potatoes compared to the power and influence of the media, and especially the television networks. (I specifically took on Colbert’s recent lampooning of Citizens United here.)
If you look closely, you’ll see what I mean: have Super PACs destroyed any piece of democracy in the election season so far?
I’d argue that they haven’t even hurt Democrats so far. All that Super PAC money has been used to attack fellow Republicans and, if anything, has done President Obama a huge favor.
His people won’t even need to write attack ads in the general election – they can just replay Super PAC ads designed by other Republicans.
Here’s why Citizens United doesn’t bother me.
1. Political ads are only marginally effective.
2. The media is far more powerful, and the corporations who control the media already have unlimited funds to spend during political campaigns.
3. Elections are only one part of democracy. Corporate money influences the legislative process, too, and that’s more troubling than the election process.
4. Money is just a proxy for power. If not money, then something else has to be used. In the past this was guns. I prefer money.
5. Both parties in our political duopoly are already beholden to corporate money.
6. Technology and activism are other proxies for power. With the rise of social media, we’ll see money play less of a role in politics if people care to harness the power of social media, online activism, and so forth to influence political outcomes.
This last point is key. Technology is changing how our political process works. New sites like Votizen are working to take money out of politics not by rules and regulations but through actual participation. If we ever have online voting in elections, this will also change the political dynamic in ways that no amount of corporate money could ever achieve.
Technology allows us to participate more directly in some form of democracy or community or artistic endeavor than ever before. All that Citizens United does is allow big corporations to spend their money in what is, quite frankly, a pretty stupid fashion. Elections are, obviously, haphazard and unpredictable. It makes a lot more sense to influence the outcome of legislation, where deep pockets can buy lobbyists with dangerous Rolodexes.
The point being, the future of elections in this country is going to look a lot different in twenty years not so much because corporate money is flooding the airwaves, but because technology will have changed so much. Someday we’ll all be on Twitter – every generation.
We’ll all be online, connected, and tapped into the process. That may have its own downsides, but the last thing we’ll be worrying about is the ability of Target and Walmart to spend their money buying attack ads.
When democracy becomes just another piece of social media, rather than something outside the confines of our day-to-day lives, that’s when we know we’ve achieved something meaningful – a true evolutionary step in the sort of participatory government we’ve long envisioned.
Exit question: If you are opposed to Citizens United, please explain why GE can spend unlimited funds on electioneering vis-a-vis its media holdings, but Walmart cannot. That is the crux of the problem for progressives who think it’s the end of democracy in America.