Monetizing Political Discourse in America

14 May

For some time I have been disturbed by the constant flow of emails from notables in the Democratic Party that tie substance and politics to money, specifically in the form of soliciting donations. The style of such messages is offensive to me. Complete strangers address me in the first person, and assume I share their political outlook, which paints a dark picture of liberal values at risk while never mentioning the illiberal policies of the Democratic presidency. Such messages are signed in a disingenuous manner of faux familiarity, and this includes messages from either President or Ms. Obama, writing to me as if there existed a personal connection between us. The bottom line is a plea ‘to chip in’ by donating $3, $10, or more. See below for a typical such personal message sent to me by Debbie Wasserman Schultz, Chair of the Democratic National Committee. I wonder if I am alone in being put off by this way of passing the hat in the digital age.

 

It is not just a matter of personal annoyance about being badgered several times a week. It is much more about making politics and policies seem to depend exclusively on who contributes the most money. The Democrats purport in most of these appeals to be fending off reactionary billionaires, such as the infamous Koch Brothers, who are portrayed satanically as using their fortunes to buy elections and tilt the country even further to the right. Underneath this crude reduction of the political process to which party can purchase more TV prime time is the apparent realization that American democracy is no longer a marketplace of ideas, perhaps, never was. The impression I receive from these email messages is that American democracy has become an auction in which elective office and public policy automatically goes to the candidate able to pony up the most lucre, however filthy. Underneath such attitudes is the dangerous belief that the ordinary citizen has no mind of his/her own, and will most likely vote for whomever Is most often seen on TV. This kind of thinking is especially demeaning to the so-called independent voter trying to make up his/her mind in the final days of a campaign.

 

Of course, there is some truth, and even a principled rationale, for this incessant barrage of funding appeals. If the Republican side is spending in great amounts as a result of support from the ultra-rich, then symbolically it is important to suggest that a government responsive to the people means that the Democratic opposition needs to mobilize ordinary citizens who are struggling daily to make ends meet, and yet still greatly prefer political leadership in the White House and Congress that is broadly in accord with their liberal ideas about fairness and decency. Up to a point this way of interpreting political conflict in the United States is convincing.

 

My concerns are mainly of a different order. There is an implicit disempowerment of the citizen whose identity is associated with her or his bank account rather than with the substantive agenda of politics and a more public engagement with political reform. There is embedded in these messages a loopy good/evil imagery of American political realities, whereas the appeal in recent decades of the Democratic Party has been for me and many others reduced to being the lesser of evils on most, yet not all, issues. Consider the treatment by the Democratic leadership of Chelsea Manning, Edward Snowden, drone warfare, silence about the Egyptian coup and Palestinian ordeal, a slide toward Cold War II in response to the complexities of the Ukraine, and on and on. In other words, it may be pragmatically important to avoid Republican political leadership, but there are many reasons to be disappointed by and even oppose the policies and practices embraced by the current Democratic leadership.

 

Of course, underlying this objection to the sort of either/or choices is a feeling that what is being suppressed is the word and consciousness associated with ‘neither,’ that is neither Republican nor Democrat. But then what? There was that brief rush of fresh air that was brought into the political arena by the Occupy Movement, but without staying power. Subsequently, there has been regression on the public stage. America is not yet a choiceless democracy, but the choices offered do not give much ground for hope in relation to the main challenges facing

either this country or the world, for example, in relation to challenging the excesses of world capitalism, and its byproduct of unsustainable and growing inequality.

 

Getting back to the particulars of this screed, I paste below the latest specimen of this type of political solicitation. Is my reaction naïve, unfair, out of touch? Comments are particularly welcome. And more to the point what might be done to improve the quality of political democracy in this country? How can we as citizens become more effective, not just locally, but nationally and internationally, in this era of the dumbing down and crude monetizing of representative government?

 

 

**************************

 

 

 

The Text of Debbie Wasserman Schultz’ letter:

 

 

Richard —

 

The most thrilling, rewarding, and (sometimes) challenging job I’ve ever had is being a mom — between the twins and my youngest there is never a dull moment.

 

But lately, when I think of my kids, I consider all of the things Democrats are working for that would support my fellow moms and their families the most. We’re the party fighting for equal pay legislation, for raising the minimum wage, protecting Obamacare, and fixing our broken immigration system to keep more moms with their kids. These policies aren’t just good for moms, they’re good for the economy, too.

 

Chip in $10 or more to support Democrats fighting for policies that support moms and families.

 

 

 

We’re celebrating Mother’s Day soon, and I hope we’re all thinking of the millions of moms out there who are doing all they can to raise their kids, support their families, and contribute to their communities. What Democrats are fighting for is personal to me, and probably for you, too.

 

Donate to elect more Democrats who are fighting for policies to support moms:

 

https://my.democrats.org/Stand-with-Moms

 

Thanks,

 

Debbie

 

Debbie Wasserman Schultz

Chair

Democratic National Committee

 

P.S. — To all my fellow moms, Happy Mother’s Day this weekend!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

10 Responses to “Monetizing Political Discourse in America”

  1. Laurie Knightly May 14, 2014 at 5:10 pm #

    I agree, Debbie’s bit sounds downright silly. Jeez, I’m a happy mommy – send money. I get frequent notices from my legislators that they are doing their regular work – so send money. They care about me – send money………. don’t they get a salary?

  2. Clif Brown May 14, 2014 at 6:13 pm #

    I despair just seeing the face of Hillary Clinton, the queen of fundraising, upon whose decision to run, the Democratic machinery and all possible contenders wait anxiously. With the Supreme Court making decisions that bow to the power of money as “speech” that only accelerates the movement in the wrong direction, there seems little hope for change.

    I am glad to see Alan Grayson going all out to reach the little guy and I have always appreciated his courage to throw the truth in the faces of Congress with catchy posters and phrases, but he is a rogue among sheep, as was Ron Paul. Though I have usually voted Democratic, I put far more hope in some new face with new thoughts appearing under the Republican banner. The populist appeal appears to be with the Tea Party, yet it is heavily compromised behind the scenes by big money. Rand Paul may have some goofy ideas, but he has some good ones, too. I look for unpredictability as a virtue.

    One encouraging development is in the the ever more frantic actions of the Israel lobby, long the giant in bringing money to bear on politics. Only when publications do what Newsweek has just done on the Israeli spying effort in the U.S., bringing out truth that embarrasses the powerful, will the people be bumped out of torpor. Political action needs an enthusiastic media backing. An irony that always strikes me is that the Israeli paper, Haaretz, is a far better paper than any we have in the U.S. for digging up the truth and exposing it on a regular basis.

  3. Georgianne Matthews May 14, 2014 at 7:17 pm #

    Dear, dear Richard: It is painful to read the last lines by that mother…the poor child that has her as his mother, poor husband that has her as his wife poor you for you have her a someone that writes to you worthless statements.

    There is a lot of ignorance. I feel for you that so many hurt your gentle kindness.  Do not let anything hurt you, you are a most wonderful gentleman and I know what I say is true.

    Good night and bless your goodness. With my respect and admiration, Georgianne

    ________________________________

  4. ahaanews May 14, 2014 at 8:43 pm #

    Reblogged this on Ahaa.

  5. Mike 71 May 14, 2014 at 10:56 pm #

    If the Marxists took over, they would have access to the full financial resources of the state and no one would ever receive a “Dear Comrade” letter!

    • Richard Falk May 15, 2014 at 8:12 am #

      You are missing my point. It not that I am objecting to fundraising
      or independent political parties, but to the style and absence of substance.

  6. Gene Schulman May 15, 2014 at 1:59 am #

    Richard, this peace is spot on. I remember my visits to the States and sales people or other people in service who didn’t even know me would refer to me by first name. Or in restaurants, fast-food or fine, the waitress or waiter would always address me with a “Hi, my name is ….. What can I get you?”

    And now it has seeped down into politics. Debbie Wasserman Schultz and her ilk are more than enough to make me eschew the Democratic (or any other) party.

    Hasn’t anyone ever heard the old adage: “Familiarity breeds contempt”?

    • Richard Falk May 15, 2014 at 8:16 am #

      Gene: It’s not in this case ‘familiarity’ but the false claim of familiarity that
      injects an immediate false note. In these fundraising communications, which are almost
      daily, it is also this idea that elections are decided by spot advertising on TV, and
      whoever can buy more time, wins. There is some truth, perhaps, to this, but to the extent
      so, it exposes a bigger deficiency in democratic governance than the outcome of elections.

  7. Valentina Capurri May 19, 2014 at 5:42 am #

    Same here in Canada. I receive daily emails from Liberal, NDP and Green party leaders asking for donations. I also find quite annoying the way they address me as if we have been friends forever. This tone of familiarity works to erase the reality that we have very little in common in terms of values or everyday experiences aside from the fact we all agree Harper is a tragedy for this country!

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