During the recent Presidential campaign Bernie Sanders criticized Hillary Clinton for a Hollywood fundraiser with George and Amal Clooney – a crass clambering for money to fuel a campaign already financed by high rollers. He, on the other hand, is proud of the legions of small individual contributors whose checks may be small but represent a more honest, sincere, and ultimately more moral support.
His support among young people and committed progressives was not surprising. Socialist policies whether articulated in the former Soviet Union, Europe, or America in the early 20th century have all focused on a redistribution of wealth, an institution of educational programs engineered and administered by government to promote and inculcate principles of social equality, social programs to ‘empower’ the disadvantaged, and economic programs designed less for profit than for the public good.
Soviet communism, the most radical attempt to socialize a society, bankrupted the economy, profited the powerful, abridged civil and human rights, and threatened world stability. European socialism has been gradually but surely eroded by free market forces, and even the most ‘progressive’ governments have been forced to adopt more conservative economic policies to compete with the newly enterprising nations of former communist East, Asia, and the United States.
George McGovern’s neo-socialism was largely discredited, and he was trounced in the 1972 election in which Nixon won 97 percent of the electoral vote and over 60 percent of the popular vote. Hubert Humphrey, a committed progressive, lost the 1968 election to Nixon by a wide margin.
Times have changed, say progressive commentators. The nation is tired of monied politics, the One Percent, the vast inequality of wealth and social opportunity, the continued influence of established power and privilege, and persistent prejudice. Only drastic structural change and aggressive public policy and programs can set the country on a more sensible, reasonable, and just course; and Bernie Sanders is the man to lead the revolution.
Once again as in the case of 1972 and George McGovern, the young have rallied to a radically progressive candidate. The electoral results will be no different. Most Americans do not want dramatically higher taxes, more intrusive government, divisiveness caused by ‘diversity’ and social separatism, affirmative action, and the domination of secularism and cultural relativism.
It is understandable, predictable, and expected that Bernie’s political philosophy and fundraising strategy are in harmony. It would be unconscionable for him to raise money with glitz, glamour, and sex appeal when thousands of Americans are starving, disabled, marginalized, and put upon. Only the idealism of modest but heartfelt donations (the Sanders average contribution is $30)) can match the idealism of his policies.
This strategy and these principles, however, put Sanders in a double bind. He can never match Hillary Clinton’s campaign treasury if he relies only on little widows’ mites, and he can never win without an overflowing war chest.
Are the Bernie Sanders and George McGoverns of the country always doomed to electoral favor because idealism and campaign financing are contradictory?
The answer is an unequivocal ‘yes’. Not only is the country fundamentally economically, socially, and religiously conservative and not ready to accept the radical changes that Sanders proposes; not only does idealism live and survive only in the young and the unreconstructed older liberal voters of the Northeast (a very small proportion of total voters); but money, always and without exception, rules.
Candidates with the sparest of qualifications but deep pockets have managed to rise in the polls because name recognition in the age of media can be bought. Image can be created in politics just as successfully as it is in Hollywood or Madison Avenue. A candidate with money can create himself in whatever image he wants, be seen in key electoral markets, and stand a good chance of winning.
Our media age is one where careful, detailed scrutiny of policies, programs, and character is not required. Images go viral, emotions are touched, and commitments made based on flimsy, superficial, but widespread ‘evidence’.
No serious voter would ever consider the sponsorship or even presence of George Clooney, Brad Pitt, Angelina Jolie, or Scarlett Johansson as politically relevant. Outside of Hollywood celebrity, good looks, and acting talent, these stars are political amateurs like the rest of us – no particular credibility of credentials. Yet we listen.
Any candidate who understands that money buys image, reputation, and especially recognition and fame has an insurmountable edge over his or her opponent. Of course candidates stumble and misspeak. Media coverage works both ways and candidates can be tailed mercilessly; but those with money still have the advantage, for they can often spend their way out of trouble.
Campaign finance reform has never gotten anywhere because politicians on the Left and the Right know that money talks; and without it candidates are doomed. Money funds not only electoral politics but corporate and citizens’ lobbies. AARP has power and influence not only because of demographics but thanks to donations. Environmental groups would get nowhere if they relied only on MoveOn.Org petitions and viral support.
Jerry Falwell, Jimmy Swaggart, Rick James, and a hundred other televangelists would not stand at the head of wealthy, influential mega-churches without money. Money influences what we buy, how we vote, where we worship, when we play, and who we marry. “The business of America is business”, said Engine Charlie Wilson, former president of General Motors; and nothing could be more true 75 year later.
Money from the pockets of individuals, groups, corporations, churches, and foundations fuel everything in America Nothing runs on ideas alone. We are a capitalist society down to our marrow.
So while it is understandable and politically expedient for Bernie Sanders to howl at the excesses of the Clooney political gala, it is only sour grapes. There are few in America who really believe in or want to return to a simpler, more modest life where much of their hard-earned income is transferred away from them; where Big Government, finally turned back and held at bay returns; and where a secular politically correct rhetoric becomes even more shrill and insistent.
When all is said and done, Hillary and her monied interests won out while Bernie’s young faithful and old Eastern liberals licked their wounds and decried American crassness and capitalist greed.
The popularity of Donald Trump is no accident. He is the very image of monied America. He has made millions, flaunts his wealth and the power it affords, runs on a platform of opportunity and prosperity, has no patience for ruffling progressive feathers, and is applauded as a national hero. He is the anti-Bernie. He and Hillary are cut from the same monied cloth but wear it differently. Among other things, money won in November.