The one constant in these mailings is that political opponents are usually portrayed in the most unflattering way possible (to say the least). Is it any wonder America is so polarized when, in addition to increasingly vitriolic campaigns, we must also endure non-stop appeals begging for money to stop the demonic hordes of the opposition party?
The relentless and never-ending effort to finance the campaigns of those seeking office has fed this beast; coarsening discourse to the point where we are now barely governable. You often hear people talk about speech needing to remain free for a republic to function, and that is true, but respectful discourse which allows for mutually beneficial compromise is pretty darn important as well!
Our system has become a biennial contest of mutually assured destruction… no matter which side wins, the public’s belief in the government’s ability to work for them erodes just a bit more. In the end, it doesn’t much matter who’s in charge if all that remains to rule are the scorched remains of a once-great country undone by our inability to cooperate.
A few potential solutions:
~ Create a federal clean-money system which provides qualifying candidates campaign funds in order to compete against the well-financed establishment candidates who are typically little more than mouthpieces for special interests…corporate, union or otherwise. This would offer voters alternatives to candidates beholden to special interests, although it wouldn’t completely forestall fundraising efforts. However, it very well might make going negative more difficult as the conversation expands beyond the narrow (special-interest approved) paradigm currently constricting most election discourse.
~ Similarly, universal transparency of political donations and/or spending might discourage some of the nastier stuff campaigns and PACs will sometimes mail out. Just as candidates often tend to be slightly more civil at debates when their target is standing there ready to defend themselves, so too would the tone modulate if people knew who was financing all political activity. Politicians surely know who’s behind these ads (they have to so the back-scratching loop can be closed) – increased transparency would allow voters, media and regulators (or whatever passes for one at the completely worthless FEC) to operate on a more-level playing field. This alone would not significantly improve the quality of discourse, but among its many other benefits, it might take some of the harder edges off political rhetoric.
~ There are numerous other proposals out there to lessen money’s influence on elections & public policy, up to and including constitutional amendments. In fact, Senate Democrats recently unveiled a bundle of reforms they intend to use as an election issue. Of course, they're willingness to openly admit this should give pause to progressives and reformers before they charge blindly behind Democrats who will happily reap the benefit without ever delivering any tangible results if allowed to do so (more on that another time).
~ As for a constitutional amendment, most proposals suggest taking private money out of elections entirely and/or allow Congress to regulate political spending. Either would surely have an impact, but given the way money always seems to find a way in, it would likely only be a partial one at best. Further, some of the amendment proposals being floated could easily lead to unintended consequences should they ever be ratified.
Additionally, an amendment limiting speech or granting Congress extended powers is extremely unlikely to gain the broad public support necessary to gain passage when conservatives have a much different idea about how to fix the problem of money in politics via an amendment (term limits are another popular conservative solution).
Thus, the text of any amendment needs to be precise, and for this reason alone it is unlikely any amendment capable of actually passing would close even half of the avenues currently being used to funnel money into the political process.
We would all do well to remember that this onslaught is designed to paint the opposing side in the worst possible terms. This has an immensely corrosive effect on our perception of our fellow citizens, and on our ability to effectively govern ourselves, and it hits the most politically active the hardest.
Under such relentless reinforcement of the ‘Us vs Them’ narrative, it takes a conscious effort to remind ourselves that most people who disagree with us politically are not our enemies; they are simply people just like us working towards a similar goal. Their ideas for how to get there might differ from our own, but they are not our enemy; they are our brothers and sisters...who we just happen to sometimes feel like hitting upside the head with a whiffle-ball bat.
Unfortunately few are willing (or capable?) of making this effort with any sort of consistency, and the quality of discourse and governance alike have suffered accordingly…and will continue to do so until we recognize the severity of the problem and stand up to demand change.
The ironic part is that we don’t even like the people shoveling this swill. Opinion polls would not be so universally low if most Americans agreed with the platforms of either of the two major political parties. Yet it is our unrelenting acquiescence to this two-party dynamic which helps to ensure that little ever really changes.
Politicians cannot effectively cooperate so long as they must raise money by portraying their opponents in the absolute worst possible terms. Unfortunately money rules all in Washington D.C. and cut-throat operators run most well-funded campaigns, so there is zero incentive to do anything but viciously demonize political opponents in order to secure votes and inspire maximum contributions.
This winner-take-all, scorched earth campaign unleashed on the American public every two years is without a shadow-of-a-doubt a major contributor to the widening partisan divide in this country. The fact that it is delivered so innocuously doesn’t make it any less of a threat.
In fact, it makes it a far, far graver one.
Cooperation shouldn’t be a dirty word, and those whose political beliefs differ from our own shouldn’t be our sworn enemies demonized at every turn. Money in political campaigns creates a direct motivation for political campaigns to perpetuate a harmful narrative…especially when voters keep rewarding them time & again for doing so!