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 else's.

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 it was.

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 war ago.

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 gods.

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 (or c/o this newspaper).

Home Page

News | Current Issue | Back Issues | Essays | Links

About the Progressive Populist | How to Subscribe | How to Contact Us

Copyright © 1997 The Progressive Populist