On July 4, 2011, the United States will be led by President X of Party A or Party B. What will be different on that day?
Probably not much. American troops are likely to still be in Iraq. Nearly one out of every six Americans will still be without health insurance. Attempts at immigration reform (whatever that means) will still have been eroded by more objections by many more interests with particular beefs. No coherent, consistent, effective American policy that begins to undo climate change will exist. American school children will continue to lag far behind other nations in math and science â€” and still have decreasing abilities as critical thinkers. Spending by lobbyists to influence federal regulators and members of Congress will be on its way to passing $3 billion for 2011.
What will be different? Very little.
The income disparity between the top 1 percent of Americans and the rest of us — the other 99 percent — will have widened. The continual tension between those who demand increased security and those who fear erosion of civil liberties and constitutional rights will continue unabated. The debates and difficulties involving voting fraud and reform will have been heightened by the 2008 election as election foes bicker endlessly in courts about outcomes. And, figuring a 10 percent increase per election cycle, the top 50 industries will be en route to shelling out $850 million to just members of Congress alone in political contributions for the 2012 election cycle.
President X will have his or her hands full. By July 4, 2011, he or she will probably be facing a primary challenge. With so many candidates running for president in 2008, it’s likely a few will be bitter losers (or their financial and ideological backers will be) and want big donors to ante up so they can grab another chance to pick the desk in the Oval Office.
In mid-2011, President X will have serious financial problems. He or she — and his or her assigns — will have spent pretty much a half billion dollars getting elected in the first place. Elections — and the TV ads through which “debate” is conducted — are pricey.
So he or she will have to find another half billion, which sounds like a full-time day job. Running the country and pushing meaningful legislation through Congress might be relegated to nights.
Because so much money is tied up in presidential and congressional elections, how is he or she going to find the time, energy and (presumably) talent to cause the glacier known as the American political system to turn away from the governance fiasco that exists now to a better one in the future? It could be one operated by a president from Party A or Party B. Don’t care. Party A might control Congress. Maybe Party B does. Or A gets the House and B the Senate. Won’t matter. Members of Congress will be looking for money, too, for the same reason as President X. They might differ in ideology, but they’ll all be united in the pursuit of the political dollar. The bulk of those political dollars — the hard and the soft — do not come from individuals like you or me. They’ll be looking for fat-walleted folks — or PACs or corporations — with really big checkbooks.
It’d be nice if, by July 4, 2011, health care had become more equitable and affordable, if more school children had become competent critical thinkers, if more women had received equitable pay, if climate change had slowed, if voting had become fraud-proof, equitable and honest, if no more Americans had died in Iraq, all because President X had done something. But he or she will have been too busy raising money.
So nothing will change. And stop screaming about meaningful campaign finance reform, because I’ll no longer be listening — or doing the screaming. (I’ve lost sight of what meaningful really means, anyhow.)
Any future attempts at campaign finance reform that restricts corporate political donations were preemptively eviscerated last month by the Supreme Court in a 5-4 decision.
The Court, in Wisconsin v. Right to Life, “establishe[d] a constitutional regime in which corporations are entitled to the same First Amendment protections as individuals.” That means campaign-finance restrictions designed to lessen the influence of corporate contributions that constitute political speech are unlikely to pass court muster.
That means far more corporate money is likely to flow into politics despite the current limitations on campaign contributions.
So President X of Party A or Party B will be preoccupied with what officeholders have always been preoccupied with — obtaining power and retaining power. And he or she will know where to turn for help in paying the campaign bills.
Come July 4, 2011, nothing will have changed.
xpost: 5th Estate