A few weeks ago, Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz suggested that we close the spigot of contributions to political candidates until our employees in the legislative and executive branches of government (“leaders” hardly seems apt at this point) get their collective act together.
A few thousand years ago, Aristophanes, an early observer of democracy and community organizing, wrote a play in which Greek women organize to stop having sex with the men until the men stop fighting yet another war. I’m sure the analogy is flawed in more ways than I’ve already imagined, but maybe it’s good enough for government work – pun intended.
We merrily point our mouses and click our money away, happy to be part of the internet fund raising “miracle” pioneered by the 2006 Patrick campaign, and kicked into high gear by Obama in 2008. I’d like to propose an experiment: we, the “grassroots”, “netroots”, or whatever roots you like to think you’re part of, shut down the ATM we have created for political candidates.
Admittedly it’s a scary experiment, not because it could cost a candidate the election, but because we might not like what we have discovered if it doesn’t matter. It’s always upsetting to learn that you are not playing the real game, but instead are being entertained by the kiddie version so you don’t distract the big kids who are playing an altogether different game.
If roots dollars do matter, capping the well could cause candidates to alter their behavior. Imagine a senate race in which the ultimate goal is something other than blanketing the air with tv commercials to deliver a consultant branded image. That could be a race in which candidates and their campaigns have to spend time in real conversations with people, and local party committees are forced to go out and engage voters who aren’t already committed to supporting the party’s nominee. It wouldn’t take money out of politics, but it might shift the focus of government back ever so slightly toward the needs of the people who live in the economy we’ve created.
Personally, I’m going to give it a try. Along with Bill Moyers, “I don’t harbor any idealized notion of politics and democracy … but there is nothing idealized or romantic about the difference between a society whose arrangements roughly serve all its citizens and one whose institutions have been converted into a stupendous fraud. That difference can be the difference between democracy and oligarchy.”