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I am William S. U'ren and I am dead. I was once a big noise in Oregon politics, an activist back in the days when Republicans were called progressive and there was an actual Populist Party. The history books say I am largely responsible for things like the initiative, referendum and recall here, as well as the direct election of US Senators. I ran for governor, once, when William Howard Taft was the Republican president, and I lost. Then I retired from politics and, thirty years later, I died. And almost everything I accomplished has been turned on its head and against the very people it was meant to help. Enough is Enough in Oregon!

Monday, March 23, 2009

Decentralize Economic Power -- Part Two

I said yesterday that you should understand the elephant in the room, so to speak--the real, unsolvable problem of American politics that you have to work around in trying to regain influence to create a livable society.

That problem is, of course, money.

I, for one, never underestimated the power of handing out rail road passes, little bribes, to people who work in Salem, if you get my drift.

And you can't underestimate the power of handing out campaign contributions, big bribes, to people who work in any capital, state or federal.

You will never really bust up the Trusts and the "too big to fails" because they have the power of money and you will never break that power.

Anyone who says you can is lying to you and setting you up first for disillusionment and then for bitter, irrelevant radicalism.

And those say all this money is not corrupting the system are those with whom one should not associate except in most formal or wary ways. Such people are either deluded or deluding (or both). Both delusion and the motives to delude others are contagious.

None of the remedies envisioned to take the influence of money--and end the control of the "too big to fail"--will work. Even President Obama (and isn't he something?) took the money when he could get it. Sure, he needed to. Get it?

You can be both cynical and optimistic. You have to be both cynical and optimistic.

Buckley v. Vallejo may be remembered as the epitaph of the Republic but it's really just the final FDA (Federal Democracy Apparatus) approval of that almond scented snake oil that has been accumulating in the body politic since the day that Benjamin Franklin challenged us to keep what he and the rest of the Constitutional Convention had come up with.

The idea that spending money is free speech would seem ridiculous but for all the money behind convincing and bribing people to believe it's true. If we really want to do that why don't we just say I can use "speech" to persuade voters by sending each a check? Why do we settle for half measures? Why allow money be spent to lie to voters, scare and flatter them, manipulate their emotions and symbols but not just pay them off?

If there is buying and selling going on, and it always will be, then political power will be just one more market commodity. With apologies to both Woody Gutherie and Mao Tse Tung, political power grows, at least in this time and place, out of the barrel of a fountain pen (or an electronic transfer of funds). And as much as you try to prune that bush it will always grow back.

Get over it and work around it.

I do have a modest proposal, if you are still interested in a futile quest for "purity." Not my cup of tea but one has a lot of time, where I am, to think about stuff that is theoretically possible but out of any realistic question.

Start with the basic truth: dollar for dollar all Americans are equal.

If one person has $500,000 to spend on a politician (or a group of them) then he (and that person is most likely still a he, at least for now) is equal to anyone else who has $500,000 to spend the same way.

Notwithstanding the fact that you have the same number of ballots to fill out (probably) in November that those two have you are not their equal.

Are you with me, here?

Say you spend $50 on a politician, say a Senator. Say you go to see that Senator and you are in the waiting room with one of you fellow citizens who spent $500,000. (Actually, that $500,000 citizen is not going to be sitting in the waiting room with you, but you know what I am saying).

Who gets to talk to the Senator and who gets a few minutes of some intern's time?

Whose input is going to influence the Senator's judgment?

Will that judgment be about what's the best policy or what's the policy most likely to get another $500,000 scoop of ice cream?

So you don't think this is good, do you? Don't you want everyone to have an equal influence over politicians? You want citizens to have an equal chance to help their representatives get a clear picture of what's involved in a situation, right? This decision maker is elected on the basis of the voter's confidence in his or her ability to assess such situations and to, on the basis of the information you all give them, make the best judgment possible about what to do. Right?

To have a system like that everyone in that Senator's waiting room has to have an equal opportunity to tell her story and, if what she says makes sense and has fact behind it, to influence the ultimate outcome.

The only way to do that is to figure how all of you can be worth the same number of dollars to that Senator. And the the only way to do that would be to limit the price of access to something most people could afford (say $100 per candidate per election) and to provide that only individual human beings could contribute. The limit would apply to everyone, including the candidate.

That way, when the Senator looks at those in the waiting room they are all worth the same amount of money, in his eyes.

Ah, but yes, Buckley v. Vallejo. The Supreme Court has found that this kind of scheme is not Constitutional. It's not a sound decision but there it is. So, you would need a Constitutional amendment to limit campaign contributions this way, to make you all equal--not equal dollar for dollar but actually equal--in the eyes of political office holders.

And now we are are back at where I was telling you that there is no way you can wring the bribery and its attendant corruption out of American politics, there is no way you can actually decentralize economic power.

Do you think that there is a chance that the members of Congress who see those $500,000 voters--or, more likely, their lobbyists--every day are going to go for limiting campaign contributions to $100 per person per campaign? And if you can envision that (having been into the silly smoke, apparently, or a high school civics class recently) can you see enough state legislators going for that to approve the amendment?

If you can see that then you are not seeing all the money those $500,000 voters will spread around in both Congress and state legislatures to make sure you'll never really see what you are hallucinating.

They will say, aside from claims that "free speech" is sacred, that this system would not raise enough money to run the kind of campaign it takes to get elected these days. The answer to that, although it won't do you any good to give it, is that such would be one more great benefits of such a system.

Without all that money candidates would have to do something other flood television airways with 30 second shots of waving American flags, children, mushroom clouds and scary people of every imaginable ethnic group. They might have to discuss issues and say something other than making affirmations that they "approved this message."

So. Like I said: you are not going to be able to really decentralize economic power except by striking at the foundations and you can't do that given the fact that centralized economic power built and control the system. You cannot use the system to destroy the system. If you try to go outside the system you can't do it, either. They will kill you. That is what you are up against.

But do not despair, Progressive Republicans, you can make inroads into the problem, and the inroads are worth making. Your half measures are taken in a world that will always will be a more or less evil place--but it means a great deal whether it is more evil, or less. So make those half measures.

Next I will talk to you about how Progressives should lay down class warfare--or, at least, turn it into something like a class football game--as a way of re-asserting themselves in their own party or in a new party and then in American politics.

By the way, did you notice how Democrats have taken the title "Progressive" lately, to re-brand themselves from "Liberal?"

Think about that.

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