Cash, campaigns and what counts
The race for the presidency is upon us. We, the beleaguered members of the telecommunications industry, can collectively cringe under the barrage of media blitzes that each of the campaigns is churning out. We can either ignore the entire fracas until some semblance of relevance is apparent, or we can cautiously begin weeding out the “wannabes” from the “gonnabes.”
On the Republican side, there is a plethora of candidates from which to choose. There’s Bush without a drawl, McCain without the cash, Dole (the one without E.D.), Alexander without the flannel, Quayle without a clue, Forbes without a credit limit, Buchanan without a chance and Smith without a vote. On the Democrat side, there is Gore without Clinton and Bradley without a tissue.
Of the 10 candidates listed above (I may have missed a few candidates from the Aleutian Communist League), few willbe taken seriously by the electorate. People like to vote for a winner, and the stable of party stalwarts will definitely be winnowed by primary voters, who will politely inquire:”WHAT WERE YOU THINKING ABOUT?!”
As the 10 hopefuls crisscross the early primary states, gobbling up potato salad, barbecue and pundits, the media are tossing in their two-cents worth. Your favorite candidate may be pilloried by a scornful press looking for gaffs and guffaws to fill the front page. Your champion may also be the grateful recipient of kudos from that same press corps, which is awed by anyone who can withstand its volleys of inane questions. (Some journalists often appear to be asking questions of beauty pageant contestants rather than of the prospective leader of the free world.)
Most campaign news reported these days focuses on how much money each candidate has raised. The fun facts of financial doings among the candidates are somewhat repulsive to me. I know that running for office is a pricey business. I know that campaigns have been won and lost based on the size of a war chest. But the media’s fascination with this topic is so pervasive that it leaves one with the impression that the U.S. presidency is for sale.
Don’t get me wrong. Campaign finance is important, and the ability of a candidate to attract contributions from committed voters is an indicator of that candidate’s viability. But the press has not reported, for example, how many of Bush’s millions came from corporations that have also tossed money into the Gore campaign. Corporations are big on hedging their bets.
So what is the point? For the media, it’s about creating a horse race with “front runners,” “late bloomers” and “dark horses” to tout the race and to sell more newspapers. If there is a front runner, exciting challengers can be promoted that might knock that person out of the post position. “Winning” and “losing” can be written about in a way that focuses on the fortunes of the candidates rather than on those of the country. In the final analysis we, the American public, are the only potential winners or losers, not the candidates.
At this juncture, the media have anointed Bush as the front runner for the Republicans. My polite question is a simple “Why?” No vote has been cast-or will be-for about six months. Polls have been taken, but without a clear articulation of opposing views among the candidates, what do those polls mean? Little. If Bush should declare himself in favor of “Naked Day” on the White House lawn (beats the heck out of the Easter Egg Roll), the polls could change rapidly.
So, rather than taking our cues from a manipulative media, perhaps it would be wise for us to focus on the issues that separate the candidates. One issue that springs to mind is campaign reform, a topic that McCain has placed on the table. McCain is looking for ways to rein in soft-money contributions to the candidates, which he believes result in the politics of special interest. His suggestion that we stem the unregulated flow of cash from political action committees and contributors, laundered through the national party coffers, seems like a noble idea, albeit political heresy.
Consider the amount of money that large telecommunications corporations and industry behemoths toss at the political parties. These groups are buying wholesale what they are precluded from buying retail, one candidate at a time. This “buying-in-bulk” approach is quite effective. It gives you access to a host of politicians as a “friend of the party.”
It also presumes that you would accept any candidate within a given party. Taken to its logical extreme, it means that if you were a Democrat you would vote for Laura Fryer for president of the United States before you would vote for George W. Bush Jr. (Laura is a fine Democratic member of the Borough Council of Lansdowne, PA; Bush is the Republican Governor of Texas.) I know Laura, and I have worked on her past campaigns. I’m just not convinced she’s ready for the White House.
So, if you think that campaign reform is needed, you might lean toward the guy who’s in favor of the idea. If you think that campaign reform isn’t important, move onto another issue that you think is important. What you choose as your search criterion isn’t nearly as important as a thoughtful selection process.
What most members of our industry should be looking for is a candidate who reflects our interests and values. For example, where does the candidate’s record show that he or she stands on small business rights, taxes, federal agency oversight, the economy, the duties of the FCC, access to government process and a host of other issues that will define the candidates by more than their respective bank accounts?
When you examine the candidates based on a litmus test of ideas, values and priorities, your choice becomes clearer and you will be able to support a candidate, not just an image crafted from sound bites and B.S. that anyone can buy with a few million bucks of contributors’ largesse.
Once you’ve made a selection, then support that candidate. I am always amused by those people who give lip service, and little else, to the political process. Any idiot can have an opinion about government. It takes a little more to put action behind those words and do something to get your candidates elected. So, if you’ve made your choice, then send that candidate a few bucks to give tangible force to your opinion. Don’t let hot air be the only byproduct of your thoughtful selection.
Cash is a personal commitment only when the donation is one-on-one. It’s only slightly about party; it’s more about your expression of hope for improving government and the environment in which your business will operate. So, throw a backyard fundraiser, and invite your customers at $20 a head. Get involved in your own future.
“Wait a minute, Schwaninger! You said earlier in this column that money is the wrong litmus test of a candidate’s acceptance with the voting public. Did you change your mind, like Clinton trying to decide whether the rate on the Lincoln Bedroom is for single or double occupancy?”
Let me clear that up, dear reader. Money alone is the wrong indicator, but the source of the money isn’t. If your contribution to the millions it costs to run a campaign is only $10, or the cost of putting a sign on your front lawn, that’s the type of grassroots politics that counts.