So another election has come and gone, and I’ve no doubt that there are already pundits out there decrying the undue influence of money on the election cycle. Hell, I’m one of them (barring the whole ‘pundit’ aspect), but I also have to admit, in all sincerity, that blaming campaign finance issues for election outcomes is simply a shifting of responsibility and a denial of reality.
Let’s be clear on one thing: Money doesn’t vote.
You can throw all the money in the world at a given issue and still garner no traction in the public eye. There may be Cthulhu For President merchandise out there, but you can rest assured that if the Great Old One decided to actually run for office, he wouldn’t get many votes even if he emptied his treasure vaults to buy all the airtime imaginable, simply because his entire platform revolves around, well, devouring his hypothetical voter base one delicious morsel at a time.
So why does money matter?
Well, there are a lot of reasons, really. Name recognition is the big one; the issues are almost irrelevant in that regard, because if nobody knows who you are, they can’t know what you stand for.
And, of course, there’s the whole ‘slandering your opponent’ angle that so many politicians are fond of. It takes money to dig up dirt, and more money to put ominous ads on media networks telling people that voting for the other guy will just result in them losing their house, their kids, their spouse, their dog, their guns, and/or quite possibly their pickup truck, which when you think about it, arguably means that attack ads are simply an offshoot of country music.
But I digress.
It doesn’t really matter where the money goes, so long as it’s spent on the campaign itself. If it finds its way into the pockets of our would-be candidates, then that’s just plain bribery and must be dealt with accordingly (preferably in a positively Hammurabic fashion), but for the rest of it?
Money doesn’t vote.
But money can sway people.
So who do we blame?
Do we blame the politicians, playing the game as best they know how and working within the system, corrupt though it may be, in order to further their careers?
Or do we blame… us?
Because if we paid attention to the issues, all the money in the world wouldn’t matter. If we held incumbents accountable, all the money in the world couldn’t keep them in office when they fail as miserably as they often do. If we researched our candidates in the primaries, all the money in the world couldn’t buy some corrupt bastard the name recognition they’d need to blitz past worthier opponents.
Sometimes I think people like the system the way it is, even as they endlessly bitch about it, because at least it gives them an easy out when their candidate doesn’t make it.
After all, the opposition are just ignorant sheep who allowed themselves to be swayed by misleading advertising, gulled into voting for someone who is a slave to special interests rather than a genuine representative of the people.
Take the money out of the equation and they’d be reduced to calling their opponents big stupid heads, and most of us outgrew that particular insult in kindergarten. They’d have to shed the whole ‘more in sorrow than in anger’ self-righteous bullshit and admit that they just don’t like people who disagree with them, and that they just might be as ideologically blinkered as the people they’re screaming at.
Sure, money sways minds. It distorts the system, shifts the focus of politicians from their constituents to the people who can give them enough money to fool their constituents, but the simple truth is that it’s not really their fault.
Complaining about the influence of money in politics makes about as much sense as complaining about the existence of the power tie. It only influences you if you allow it to.