If not for the ascendancy of Donald Trump and the amazing spectacle of a walking, talking sentient wad of used wet toilet paper named Ted Cruz, the story of this election season would be the individual-donor fundraising of Bernie Sanders, who makes Ron Paul’s “money bombs” look like burnt, unpopped kernels of Jiffy Pop. Even in this crowded field of amazement that includes former future First Woman President and Future Former First Woman President Hillary Clinton and the world’s first female hypothetical potential vice president, Bernie’s achievement stands tall. He has earned the right to brag about it every 27 seconds.
There are some downsides to the Bernie Sanders model, however, that have gone largely unexamined by the media, mainstream, pro-Hillary, conservative, or otherwise. I don’t want to diminish Sanders’ accomplishment, but the context in which he and his supporters place it demands to be challenged. Their theory of the case is that raising money exclusively from small donors is not only a de facto good ensuring more representative influence on politics, but a model for political revolution that can upend the entire political system in this country, as enunciated by Dr. Paul Song in his “Democratic whores” rant when he advised replacing all of them with “Berniecrats.”
There has also been the constant, explicit charge that anyone who doesn’t raise money this way, which is no one, is automatically corrupt and unable to be trusted to fight for “the people.”
I think we can all agree that to the degree it is possible, getting big money out of politics is a positive thing, but the first Sanders assumption I would challenge is that it’s the most important thing, and if you listen to Bernie’s speeches, practically the only important thing. There are many more urgent and more easily fixed ways in which our democracy is distorted and subverted, starting with the Voting Rights Act.
If I could wave a magic wand and fix one thing, it wouldn’t be campaign finance, it would be voter turnout. If everyone in America were required to vote, there’d never be another Republican president. If we fixed gerymandering, there’d never be another Republican House. If we stopped giving small states outsize representation in the Senate, if we fixed our primary calendars so they didn’t force candidates to pander to white lunatics, if we didn’t leave our citizens’ voting rights up to a roll of the geographic dice, it wouldn’t matter how much money these people raised. All of those things I mentioned would be easier than getting big money out of politics. To hear Bernie Sanders tell it, everything was hunky-dory before Citizens United.
That’s why, while I agree Citizens United needs to be overturned, the issue doesn’t animate me the way it does Sanders’ devotees.
I also think Bernie errs significantly and dishonestly in his binary presentation. This is especially evident when he calls Hillary Clinton’s campaign apparatus “the most powerful political machine in history,” as if the Koch brothers aren’t about to spend a billion dollars to defeat her.
It is here that I’d like to narrow my focus on this expansive topic, because the contrast that Bernie draws with Hillary is the most hotly-contested point in this primary. Even Hillary advocates like George Clooney apologetically explain the necessity of competing in this Koch-Adelson-Friess-et-al environment, but I think there’s a case to be made that even in a hard-money-only world, I’d take Hillary’s fundraising model over Bernie’s any day.
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