The Lonely Centrist

A place for reasoned debate about the issues of the day.

See my complete profile

Monday, July 18, 2005

Who Cares! One Small Way in Which Campaign Finance Reform and "Gotcha!" Journalism are Harming Democracy

Well, Friday marked that wonderful deadline for political candidates to file their quarterly reports with the Federal Election Commission. Of course, this always leads to stories in newspapers around the country, such as this one from Saturday's Columbus Dispatch:

It's more than a year before the fall election of 2006, but a number of
Ohio members of Congress already have amassed significant amounts of money for
those races. At the head of the pack in campaign cash among central Ohio
lawmakers is Rep. David L. Hobson, a Springfield Republican. He had more than
$1.3 million as of June 30 in his re-election committee, according to a report
filed with the Federal Election Commission. Hobson, a senior member of the House
Appropriations Committee, raised more than $395,000 during the previous three
months. The most recent quarterly campaign-finance reports were supposed to be
sent to the election commission by midnight yesterday. Rep. Pat Tiberi,
R-Columbus, had nearly $1 million on hand after raising more than $230,000 since
April 1. Rep. Deborah Pryce, R-Upper Arlington, had more than $642,000 in her
campaign committee. She took in nearly $187,000 during the quarter. Pryce, the
fourth-ranking House GOP leader, had about $475,000 in her leadership political
action committee, Promoting Republicans You Can Elect, according to a report
filed by her committee. Rep. Bob Ney, R-St. Clairsville, had about $471,500 in
his campaign account, reaping nearly $405,000 in contributions during the
previous three months, according to his report....

My response to this type of story is: BORRRING! WHO CARES! Who can read this stuff without their eyes glazing? Is this what people care about in politics? We've got soldiers dying in Iraq, a colossal battle brewing over the Supreme Court, Social Security Reform hanging by a thread, and this is what the newspapers think is of interest?

These campaign finance reports are not the only type of insider mumbo-jumbo the public could not care less about. Look at all the ink spilled in the last week on the Karl Rove/Valerie Plame saga. WHO CARES! It seems obvious no law was broken, no damage to an agent's security was done, nor was there any malicious attempt to endanger an agent. All the charges and countercharges are exactly what turns off the public.

Thirteen years ago Ross Perot emerged on the scene and was a national phenomenom. Running as an independent for President, he took nearly 20 percent of the vote, more than any such candidate in nearly 80 years.. "Let's look under the hood and fix it," was his simple cry. Of course, it turns out not to be so easy - issues and ideas matter. But Perot struck a chord with Americans precisely because he seemed to break free of all this inside-the-beltway "gotcha" game playing and posturing. People don't want to be bored to death with raw numbers, put in no context, about political fund-raising. They want to know what Deb Pryce or Bob Ney have done and intend to do in Washington. And people can be foregiven for thinking, as Perot seemed to think, that it was all simply a matter of willpower. After all, if you read the papers you'd hardly believe that ideas matter, and that candidates often do have differing positions on issues.

In his book, "The Enduring Revolution," Major Garrett argues that Republicans won control of Congress in 1994 when they focused on issues - the "Contract with America" - and lost ground in the ensuing elections when they seemed more concerned with lynching Bill Clinton than discussing issues. This is exactly right, I think. Americans want intelligent political debate. But papers don't report on issues any more, and so naturally candidates and politicians themselves discuss issues less and less. It all becomes posture and pose, insider stories that distance most Americans from politics and leave them feeling that they've got no stake in what goes on in Washington.

Want to know why Americans don't vote? Read that intro from the Dispatch story again, and tell me if it makes you feel like discussing politics.

  • The Skeptic
  • Andrew Sullivan
  • Michael Barone
  • The New Republic
  • National Review
  • Democracy Project
  • Bob Bauer
  • Center for Competitive Politics
  • Ryan Sager
  • Going to the Matt
  • Professor Bainbridge
  • Volokh Conspiracy
  • Mystery Pollster
  • Amitai Etzioni
  • Alexander Chrenkoff
  • Middle East Media Research Institute
  • Right Democrat
  • Democrats for Life