“Follow the money” is a seemingly simple, but telling popular method of discerning people’s motives, a slogan made popular in literature and movies. But it is more than that. It is also a useful key to unlocking the mysteries of social processes and institutions. In a society that assigns a monetary worth to everything, including opinions, ideas, and personal values, tracking dollars and cents becomes one of the best guides to our understanding of events unfolding around us.
This was expressed by noted Marxist journalist Zoltan Zigedy on his blog November 9, 2014, demonstrating this approach with issues related to the election process in his country.
Even before the dominance of party politics, even before the evolution of party politics into two-party politics, money played a critical factor in giving advantage to particular issues, campaigns, and candidates.
To the extent that mass engagement – rallies, outreach, canvassing, etc. – could match or even trump both the corrupting and opinion-changing power of money, electoral democracy maintained an aura of legitimacy.
To be sure, buying elections seemed a nasty business, but as long as elections remained highly-contested extravaganzas drawing interest and engagement, their credibility remained intact.
New and changing technologies cast a lengthening shadow over the electoral process. News and entertainment media, such as radio, were only too happy to take advertising dollars to promote electoral campaigns. At the same time, these technologies eroded the efficacy of traditional campaigns reliant upon campaign workers’ sweat and shoe leather.
With television, and now the internet, the power of media and media dollars has grown exponentially. It has hardly gone unnoticed that these shifts have amplified the power of money and diminished the traditional get-out-the-vote efforts of unions, civil rights, and other people’s organizations.
Most recently, the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision has opened the spigot of unregulated cash into elections, further overwhelming any counterforce to the outright purchase of candidates and election results.
For reformers, the return to the halcyon days of US electoral democracy is simply a matter of establishing financial limits on campaigns and campaign contributions. They believe or wish others would believe that, by leveling and limiting the electoral playing field, they can restore the legitimacy tainted by money.
Advocates of campaign financial reform fail to see that capitalism and informed, independent, and authentically democratic electoral processes are incompatible. Capitalism erodes and smothers democracy.
“Eliminating, or even significantly reducing, the power of money in politics under a capitalist system is an impossibility,” says Zoltan Zigedy. Since the New Deal era of Democrat Franklin D. Roosevelt, political partisanship and the accompanying flow of money have been linked to party politics.
Corporations and the wealthy gave generously to the Republican Party which opposed the New Deal. To a great extent, the people power (and significant independent money) of unions and other progressive organizations served as an adequate counterweight to the resources of the rich and powerful. The Democratic Party enjoyed the benefits of this practice.
The television and money-driven election of JF Kennedy in 1960 marked a watershed in both the diminution of issue relevancy and the maturation of political marketing. Key chains, buttons and inscribed pens were replaced by multi-million-dollar television advertisements in the buying of elections.
Things began to change with the Democratic Party’s retreat from New Deal economic thinking. Thus began a general decline of traditional party politics, and the rise of the politics of celebrity and personality. With advertising and marketing dominating electoral campaigns, constructing an attractive personal narrative replaced issues and accomplishments, contrived images replaced political content.
“Today, the two-party system holds electoral politics in its tight grip. The decline of substance in politics further encouraged the activity of sleazy lobbyists and influence-peddling. Politicians are not faced with a conflict of principles against powerful interests because electoral politics have turned away from principles,” says Zigedy.
Republican Party has cynically used its ideological zealots in the so-called “Tea Party” to energize its electoral campaigns, but challenged them after the setbacks in 2012, subordinating everything to the only important principle: electability.
“The Democratic Party, on the other hand, simply ignores its left-wing, treating it alternately as an embarrassment or a stepchild. It is this trivialization of principle and ideology that drives the flow of money today,” concludes Zoltan Zigedy.
November 12, 2014
A CubaNews translation. Edited by Walter Lippmann. http://www.walterlippmann.com/docs4223.html