Cash and Carry On Government

Health care reform: stalled. Climate change legislation: on hold. Financial industry regulation: fogeddaboudit. Deficit reduction: gedoudahere. California and New York: gridlocked government. Instead of just being critical of the people who got us here and can’t get us out — how easy is that? — how about taking a moment to identify with them? Would that be too much to ask?

Okay, fine, let me put it another way. Until we realize what exactly is going on here, we do not have a prayer of turning it around. We may not have a prayer anyway, but it’s always better to understand what is killing you, isn’t it? Well, isn’t it?

Consider, as a prime example, a median case, if you will, what it takes to become and remain a Member of the US House of Representatives. The numbers are a little worse for US Senators, a little less worse for state legislators, but the ratios, and the imperatives, are the same. Forget Republican and Democrat, liberal and democrat, pro-life and anti-life, pro-gun and anti-gun, all the subjects that all the candidates and all the pundits are willing to pretend are what matters. The truth is that nothing matters except the money, and here is why.

If you want to go to Congress and stay there, you are going to have to raise $1.5 million to spend on each campaign, and you’re up every other year. That’s an average, according to the Campaign Finance Institute at George Washington University (I have extrapolated slightly from their detailed figures, which run through 2008). If you have to fight a primary campaign, or if you’re in an urban district, it can be much more. But let’s just focus on the implications of the average number.

Let’s say you win the first time. On the day you take the oath of office, you need to get right back to your office, because on that day you need to raise $2054.79 — on average — toward your next campaign. (Whoops. Can’t do fundraising in your office. Illegal. Riiiiigghht.) That day, and every other day, weekdays and weekends, holidays and vacation days, well days, sick days and mental health days. If you’re in the US Senate, it’s $3652 per day. Every day.

Can you imagine a life in which, setting aside all considerations of paying for the mortgage, the food, the car, the clothes, the education, medical care, savings — on top of all that you had to find someone, every day, to give you two thousand bucks? Imagine it, for just a minute, and then you will understand that these harried congresspeople are spending 90 per cent of their waking time, and probably of their dreaming time as well, doing one thing: begging for money. If they are not at a fundraiser, they are in a meeting planning a fundraiser; if they are not on the phone begging for money, they are doing, or figuring out how to do, something that will make it possible to beg for money, successfully.

So who has their attention? The sick, the poor and the elderly who desperately need access to health care? Or the health care industry, which according to the Washington Post delivered $1.5 million in campaign contributions during just two years to Senator Max Baucus, the Democrat who chairs the Senate Finance Committee and was central to the drafting of health care, um, reform. Do you realize what those contributions represent? 410 days of Senator Baucus’s life, that’s what. What’s your offer, sick people?¬†Note, please, that he’s a Democrat, and remember that this has nothing to do with party. It has to do with money.

There is no time in the lives of these people, nor is there motivation, for them to consider the implications of policy, or the problems of their constituents, or the future of the Republic. They are locked into the fierce urgency of cash by the gold and silver shackles of an era that values nothing but gold and silver.

They have become experts at throwing into the public arena large bones, with shreds of raw meat on them, that distract the dogs of discourse from reality. They’re coming for our guns! They’re going to kill grandma! They’re socialists/ fascists/ stalinists/ fashionistas! They’re killing babies! They’re raising taxes! Especially when the mob has been lashed with a few million dollars’ worth of TV spots, placed discreetly by the industrial handlers (Don’t want Grandma to be executed at age 59? Then tell your congress person….), the ensuing outrage! left-right-left, yin and yang, up and down, keeps everybody entertained for weeks while the ship of state continues to go down at the bow.

Faster and faster.

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