Primarily a Waste
Texas Governor George W. Bush has now spent $60 million dollars on his primary-election campaigns out of the $71 million he has raised. Steve Forbes spent over $40 million before dropping out. The Republican and Democratic nominees will each get $66 million in federal money for the general election campaigns. Republican candidate John McCain is receiving federal money matching the first $250 of every campaign contribution he gets.
by Fred E. Foldvary, Senior Editor
The money the candidates receive is being spent on television ads, mailings, telephoning, fund raising, and travel, the Bush campaign chartering its own airplane.
The candidates are all calling for "reform". They are reflecting the view of most Americans that our big-money political and voting system is way out of kilter.
A few states like Iowa and New Hampshire which have by historical accident the first votes have an influence far out of proportion to their population, making candidates obliged to go there first with their big spending. The whole concept of sequential voting, each week bringing a new set of state votes, is so arbitrary and haphazard it is amazing that few are opposing it.
The current fad of having all the voters for any of the primary candidates in any party has degraded the functioning of political parties. Democrats vote for Republican primary candidates? It is absurd. The whole point of primary elections was for party members to chose their candidate, not to have an advance general election.
Let's think about how elections would best operate if we could start from scratch. The first question to ask is, is it better to vote in a large group or a small group? In a large-group, almost all of the mass of thousands or millions of voters don't know the candidate and are unable to hear him personally and ask questions. The candidate must reach the voters with TV ads, mass mailings, and those annoying telemarketing calls.
Does this mass media provide for thoughtful analysis of issues? Of course not. The candidates must project a sympathetic image, and they hire advertising experts who know how to sell soap to provide the graphics and attacks on other candidates. The naive majority are swayed by superficial appeals to their prejudices.
Reporters for TV and newspapers then compound the problem with their focus only on the candidates with a chance of winning, for the most part ignoring other candidates regardless of their stand on the issues or ability to win debates. A good example is Alan Keyes, the most principled Republican candidate (though I don't agree with all his principles).
Keyes has been the best speaker and is probably the best informed of all the candidates. He fearlessly takes radical stands, such as abolishing the income tax. But he has little money, and reporters mostly ignore his campaign, even though he has confronted political and economic issues better than the others.
So while the Forbes campaign has shown that money by itself can't win elections, one cannot win in mass democracy without money. This demand for campaign spending provides an opportunity for special interests to supply it, and get favors in return, the biggest favor and privilege being the mass-democracy welfare state system itself. The interests pay to perpetuate the basic system.
The alternative is voting only in small groups, with several hundred voters at most. The group should be small enough that the voter can personally talk to the candidates and ask them questions. Political parties could still try to get their members elected, but candidates can counter this with personal appeals, and it would be easy and inexpensive to run for the local neighborhood council.
Small-group voting would also eliminate the need for sequential elections. All neighborhoods would vote at the same time for their local candidates. There would be no party primaries. You would vote in one non-partisan election for your local council. Once elected, the representative could be recalled at any time with a special election, so folks would not be stuck with a bad member.
The local councils would then form groups of 20 or so to form a higher-level council, and these would elect higher-level councils or assemblies from their members on up to the top national Congress or parliament. This small-group cellular communitarian democracy would provide a human-scale democracy where votes would be more important and voters could participate in person.
Such a radical reform in voting will not take place soon, but if you agree that our voting system would be better if done in small groups, this provides us with the direction for reform. With mass democracy, campaign finance reform must ultimately fail, because the structure compels candidates to spend money. Government funding only compounds the problem, since it favors the big parties with their status-quo interests.
Think globally, act locally. Therein lies true democracy. Nature did not create our bodies in one mass heap of flesh. Our bodies are instead divided into small cells. Shall we not heed mother nature's wisdom and apply it to our voting and elections?
-- Fred Foldvary
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Copyright 2000 by Fred E. Foldvary. All rights reserved. No part of this material may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, which includes but is not limited to facsimile transmission, photocopying, recording, rekeying, or using any information storage or retrieval system, without giving full credit to Fred Foldvary and The Progress Report.