In a New York Times op-ed piece (2 Nov 2002) Bill Keller writes:
The youngsters out there won't believe this, but there was a time when the U.S. Congress was an estimable branch of the American government. It was a place where people took lawmaking almost as seriously as winning elections, where strong views were tempered in the interest of solving problems. There was a prevailing aura of good will that reflected the well-meaning homeyness of America. Sometimes memorable and illuminating debates took place. Really.
Now --- to put it in the slam-dance vernacular of politics today --- it is a collection of the spineless led by the cynical, constantly lap-dancing for special-interest cash to finance the permanent campaign, deadlocked not over high principles but over petty partisan advantage ....
Good metaphors, and accurate invective about our current quasi-obscene legislative mess. One might try to argue, on the other side, that past Congresses were not always full of colossal statesmen ... that we tend to remember the high points of historical rhetoric and forget the petty squabbling of the politicos ... and that money has (almost) always spoken louder than justice.
But that debate misses the point. In a real sense, the fault is not in our political stars but in ourselves. We, the people, seem to elect a preponderance of quasi-losers year after year. Why? Buckets of cash can pay for slick hucksters who shout through the amplifiers of mass media, sure, and reach big audiences. But advertising can't sell bum products, at least not forever; folks eventually catch on that they've been fooled.
The pollution of politics by money is not a new problem. Historian Michael Grant describes Julius Caesar's career as a succession of ever-large fund-raising endeavors, each one required to pay for the next step up the Roman ladder. Sound familiar?
There's no quick-fix single-point solution to our current governmental challenges. Term limitations and campaign financing reform may be part(s) of the answer(s). But real progress will come only when we can reduce the effectiveness of money as a vote-getting tool.
Maybe "Make them spend it all" wouldn't be a bad slogan for a grass-roots counterrevolution. We need to promote (starting with ourselves) a conscious ridicule of moneybags ... a deliberate bias toward the candidate (usually not the incumbent) who expends the least on advertising ... a strong allergic reaction to junk-mailed brochures and computer-generated phone calls ... and a willingness to talk with one another before entering the voting booth --- to share information about choices one-to-one rather than one-to-many, horizontally rather than hierarchically.
Our mantra could be: "Not for sale" ....