The answer to the question of what is the problem of politics actually has two answers: one easy and the other a bit more complex. The easy answer is money. Money is the problem of politics. The more complex answer is also money.
You’d be hard pressed to find someone who didn’t believe that our politicians on both sides of the political spectrum are beholden to special interests. Their indebtedness comes quite simply from the fact that it now requires millions of dollars to run a campaign for political office. President Bush is currently engaged in a fund-raising effort hoping to gain $200 million - and this is without a primary opponent. Any Democrat who runs against him will have to have quite a monetary reserve to have a chance at the results $200 million can bring.
The problem that money presents for us is that the public has continuously demonstrated its willingness to be persuaded by political advertisements, spin doctors, and negative campaigning. Politcal parties and politicians build huge warchests to pay for ads and spin because such tactics have proven to work. The public, by becoming intellectually lazy, allows itself to be misled by politicans with their own agendas. Because we are easily misled, easily misinformed, and easily accept the status quo, we have removed one of the most basic tenets of representive government: that our representatives should be responsible to the people and not special interests. However, by allowing the special interest money to have a persuasive effect, we have allowed ourselves to be replaced as the important constituent.
Consider the recent FCC media-merger decision as an example of both the failure and success of public intervention in governmental decisions. Though almost 90% of the public believes the media is already too strong, the FCC was convinced by the media PACs to approve a huge deregulation of media ownership rules. Did the media tell us much about this beforehand? Of course not. Media outlets mentioned it afterwards, perhaps because they considered it a done deal. It seems, however, that the powers-that-be misunderstood the public outrage that would follow. Backed by a truly bi-partisan effort, it appears that most, if not all, of the FCC’s decision will be overturned. Such a situation reminds the public that they can make a difference when it matters enough to them and they care enough to make the effort to effect change.
Which bring us to an interesting situation - one that may or may not be indicative of a changing perception towards politics and people’s desire to effect change. Arnold Schwarzenegger easily won the Governorship in the California. Pundits are now scramble to analyze the demographics concerning latino, democratic, republican, and women voters, etc. However, I think a more telling analysis would consider whether people are more likely than not fed up with the political process. Might this account for the great number of democrats who crossed the political line to vote for Schwarzenegger? Or is this simply explained by the star power of a celebrity and the media adulation that followed? Maybe it’s both. California likes to consider itself a progressive leader. Might this signal a change in the public’s attitude towards politicians and the business-as-usual backroom deals that have corrupted our government?
What is even more interesting about the California recall is that it most likely started off as a right-wing power grab by a republican who thought he could finance his way to the Governorship. Republicans, by embracing Schwarzenegger as the pragamatic candidate, clearly ignored what would otherwise be deal-breakers for conservatives: specifically Schwarzenegger’s pro-choice, pro-gay rights, and pro-gun control stances. Willing to sacrifice these premises so that the Governor would have an ® next to his name, one has to wonder whether this election will start a progressive, populist movement that might come back to haunt republicans in November 2004. Futher, they continue to argue that Schwarzenegger’s win is an indication that Republicans are gaining a foothold in California. I think this is a mistake.
Backroom deals, business-as-usual politics, and the influence of money has for too long corrupted what was once started off as a noble idea some 215 years ago. Will people now, if ever, be willing to say enough is enough to the corruption? Or we will still continue to be easily led astray by the spinsters, reality tv shows, and sit-coms that have dominated our lives?