Small Town Courage
We face an unlikely prospect in American elections today.
Following the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision, which let loose on the nation unrestricted cash under the guise of saying that corporations (and unions) were just like people, whose Constitutional rights were impinged upon by not being able to donate as much money as they wanted during an election cycle, PACS of all kinds were suddenly free to go underground and inject the earth above with gold. The idea that unrestricted giving could lead not only to the appearance of influence-peddling but also its reality did not play a large part in the Court’s decision.
The Court next expanded the “constitutional” rights of overly blessed influence peddlers, telling a young Alabamian he certainly could donate money to more than a handful of candidates. In fact, the Court allowed as how this poor abused fellow could donate to 100 Senate campaigns and 535 House campaigns if he chose. In other words, rather than supporting a few candidates for Federal office, Mr. McCutcheon in future would be able to donate to an entire one half (if not more) of Congress, so that he would be “buying” the entire Congress rather than just a few members.
Last week the Court decided that not every citizen in America need be treated equally before the law, as the fourteenth amendment directs, by knocking down what is called Affirmative Action, which though flawed was devised to offer educational accomplishment to men and women who otherwise would have no chance in our modern world. The willingness to do away with that 14th amendment could also be interpreted as willing away equality before the law in electioneering.
So what do we face in the future?
Huge sums of untrackable money coming into state and local political races. Support for a variety of candidates who may make no sense at all but on a party basis. The seeking of “safe seats” much like the process in Great Britain where members of Parliament try always to run in a district favorable to their own party, whether or not they live in that district. (Senator Scott Brown leads in this undocumented effort, but he’s had forerunners: Senators Bobby Kennedy and Hillary Clinton, for two.) An avalanche of outsiders directing their resources to men and women of whom, let’s be honest, local voters may know nothing at all.
The popular political theory is that all this money will swamp the electoral system, backing candidates unknown to local voters, assuring a gerrymandered map of party strongholds.
Taken to its extremes, this theory posits a time when voters will be asked to choose between candidates they’ve actually heard of and those of whom they have no idea whatever. And if the money is big enough, and the time spent advertising these unknowns is great enough, and IF the voters are lazy enough to enter a voting booth with the echo of a man’s or woman’s name last heard in a commercial as the better candidate, we’ll end up with a nation of unknowns doing their party’s bidding, and ignoring once and for all the wishes and dreams of localities with real needs and problems. The man in the street will have no one he actually knows to vote for.
The common belief seems to be that money alone will buy the day.
BUT FOR ONE ENORMOUS ARMY WITH WHICH TO COMBAT THIS KIND OF CARPET-BAGGING.
In any small city or town, Big Money simply cannot (we hope and believe) persuade voters that their own favorites are somehow corrupt, selfish, and willing only to follow a party line, ignoring that small town’s deep knowledge of the candidate.
Your local hardware chief, Joe Smith, has been bitten by the public service bug. He’s a good guy, husband, father, proverbial Little League coach, without a shadow on his reputation. He wants to be mayor of his town. Local voters are eager to support him.
But being new to the game, no one outside of town knows him or what he would do for his party. On the other hand, a gigantic PAC has a candidate on whom it can depend to buckle when told to, and who will support the Party in every important way. That PAC decides to smash Joe Smith. It invests thousands of dollars in local radio, print, and television advertising; it calls in guns from the state level to excoriate Joe Smith. It may even bring in a recognizable honcho on the national level to tell Joe’s friends and neighbors how unsuited to public office Joe is.
But here is the glory of a small town. They KNOW Joe. They cannot be persuaded. They get angry when they hear disputable facts and perhaps even lies about Joe. They determine to work hard for Joe and, wonder of wonders, beat back the outside pressures – the national machine – and actually elect Joe mayor.
You think there is a happy ending here? Who becomes that PAC’s greatest enemy, that PAC’s number one target next time around? Joe may indeed be lucky to survive his two year term, but chances are it will be his last.
Without Joe in the race, there might really be two candidates selected at state or at the national level of whom no voter in Joe’s district knows anything. What are they to do? They cannot vote for candidates they do not know; they cannot vote for candidates who have yet to put feet inside their town.
Pretty soon Joe’s friends and neighbors shrug, mutter, turn and walk away. What’s the point? What’s the use of electing someone who has no idea of life in Joe’s town and its needs and problems?
Looking down this particular road recalls Fascism in mid-European countries in the thirties.
And the only way to defeat this looming memory is IF the SMALL TOWN voter sticks to his guns and supports his Joe Smith not only for his first run, but for his second and third.
This is one tough task. Cynicism is hard to beat. Hope needs success to flourish. True enough, Joe Smith may not know as much about governing as others, but he’s a straight-forward, good-hearted man who cares. Without Joe and his pals at home, we face a future of political operatives, not political independents willing to vote as their consciences dictate but only as their party dictates. We’ve already had enough of this.
Friends of Joe Smith, arise, unite, and fight hard for the sake of the future of your country.