Money in Politics:
Scandal as Usual
By James McCarty Yeager
Washington, D.C. You know, it isn't the influence of foreign money
on American elections that bothers me. Foreign money is as green as anybody
If it's legal tender for all debts public and private, you ought to be able
to spend it on the elected officials of your choice. Even if you are a low-life
scuzzy furriner who made the irretrievable mistake of not being A Merican.
It isn't even the influence of money itself that's particularly troubling.
People with money are going to spend it on elections just like they're going
to spend it on boats, luxury cars, lawyers, accountants, traveling, and
houses so big you have to hire someone to live in them with you (technically
known as mansions.)
Here's the poor bastard Chinese who spent $2 million in 1996, maybe $100,000
of that illegally on direct campaign contributions. The rest of it was on
lobbyists, travel, advertising, and other legal forms of influence. Of course,
the Japanese happen to have spent $100 million on influencing the US in
the same time frame: $100 million that they admit to, nudge nudge wink wink.
I don't have figures on the Krauts, the Brits, the Israelis, or the Mexicans,
just to name four more likely candidates who might just have an interest
in how American elections come out, and enough sophistication to know where
to grease the skids. But you betchum Red Ryder these four are closer to
the Japanese level than to the Chinese.
Scandal? Business as usual.
Yes, that's a scandal in itself. But it's a regular scandal, not a surprise.
Senator Fred ("Dumb Enough for TV") Thompson (R-Tenn.) seems to
think there was some conspiracy by the Chinese to influence American policy.
Holy Batman, Fred, ever hear of Madame Chennault? She kept a big mansion
on Kalorama Road NW overlooking Rock Creek. She fed money hand over fist
to whoever Chiang Kai-Shek told her to. Senators. Representatives. Newsmen.
Richard Nixon. Joe McCarthy. The Luce empire of publications. Throughout
the 1950s and 1960s the national Republican party was a primary recipient
of Nationalist Chinese money, while Time magazine was practically a wholly-owned
subsidiary of the rump government on Taiwan.
Either Fred's never heard of the China Lobby, which controlled Republican
party policy on China (and therefore American policy) throughout the entire
Eisenhower administration, or he's never heard of the proverb, "Don't
talk of rope in the house of the hanged."
The Republicans (now rechristened the Reporklicans in honor of their control
of Congress) seem to have a penchant for fake issues. Whether using rabid
anticommunism to attack federal workers 45 years ago, or using the budget
deficit to attack the middle and lower classes nowadays, the Reporklicans
always like to show that, truly, they are the party whose members invented
the advertising industry.
The massive irrelevance of international communism to domestic life in the
U.S. was hard to miss during the 1950s. Yet the Reporklicans not only managed
to ignore its complete uselessness, but went on to organize public spending
around resisting it.
Education was funded to beat the Russians. Ships and guns and planes and
tanks were bought to beat the Russians. The Interstate Highway System was
built to beat the Russians. The Reporklican-enforced concentration on a
shadow image was so strong it bled over into private life. Books were banned
to beat the Russians. Citizens were fired and imprisoned to beat the Russians.
Ah, wasn't that a time! At least, if you were a white suit-bearing male
The deficit is an equally fake issue. The richest economies of world history
have not only been able to afford large public spending programs, they have
perhaps prospered because of them. Our principal public spending programs
are, of course, on uniforms, weapons, and places with barbed wire around
them, whether military, prison, or judicial.
Weapons-related spending still dwarfs people-related spending by a disgustingly
large multiple. Will Roger said we were the first nation to go to the poorhouse
in a car. To update that saying, nowadays it'd be we're the first nation
to fly to the poorhouse with advanced avionics and high-tech materials.
However, as a percentage of national economic output, the budget deficit
is down to where it was under John Kennedy 35 years and at least one real
Concentration on the deficit is therefore quite deliberately the principal
means by which Americans are distracted from focusing on their real political
problems. We could afford a deficit twice the size of the one we have, if
we spent the money on actual national improvements in urban infrastructure,
health, education, and economic redistribution.
The U.S.'s critical national security problems are those of social disintegration,
economic injustice, and the maldistribution of public costs and public benefits.
But none of that repair work happens because we are busy cutting taxes for
the rich and cutting spending for everyone else.
Children are neglected so that the truly notional number called "the
national debt" can be prevented from growing.
The deficit-reduction worship of Fed Chairman Alan Greenspan and the corporate
shills he works for is so mechanically irrational that it resembles nothing
so much as primitive social rituals such as sacrificing virgins to the cloud
The Reporklicans even like fake data. They're complaining the 2000 Census
might be too correct, and have voted to prevent the Commerce Department
from spending any money on increased accuracy.
The statistical sampling methods being proposed to count everyone properly
were first devised as part of those W.W.I artillery firing tables whose
elaboration led directly to ENIAC and thence to the computer and the space
program. Yet the Reporklicans deride perfectly practical mathematics as
fanciful when it might be applied to correcting the inherent undercount
in the Census. They'd rather not know who lives here.
Apparently this is because so many of the uncounted seem to be some other
color than white. No other theory explains their opposition; certainly no
genuine mathematical theory does. So from fear of furriners in elections
to fear of ex-furriners as voters, the Reporklicans are remarkably consistent.
They're willing to use statistical sampling methods to estimate the deficit,
but not to count the population.
I guess the only way you get away with avoiding that much reality is when
you view the resulting fantasies through a thick film of wealth.
Nothing wrong with wealth, per se. But when you can't see as a result of
it, it is less a socially-useless luxury than an active affliction.
James McCarty Yeager can be reached by the argumentative on the banks
of the Potomac at email@example.com (or c/o this newspaper).
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