Welcome to the Money Primary

The first presidential primary is underway, not simply because the political press cannot wait but because he or she who signs up the most megabucks wins that primary and is well on the way to a nomination. Step right up and participate--that is if you can write a very large check.

This is the saddest commentary on the state of American "democracy" a concerned citizen can think of. Campaigns cost money, a lot of money. Somewhere between 75% and 90% of that money goes to media advertising, even as media commentators (whose salaries it pays) deplore how mercantile campaigns have become. What's left over goes to compensate increasingly highly paid "strategists", consultants, media advisors, time buyers, professional organizers, and so forth.

This is fundamental corruption recognized as such by theorists of the republic since Athens. That corruption is not bribery; it is placing narrow, personal, or special interests ahead of the common good. By that definition, the 21st century American Republic is massively corrupt. The money contributed in the Money Primary buys access and access produces results.

And it begins with campaigns. Big donors, including now--thanks to the U.S. Supreme Court--giant corporations who can make huge contributions to promote their corporate interests, set the national agenda and reap their rewards. James Madison is restless in his grave.

Given this circumstance, who is best positioned to win the Money Primary but candidates who have built or inherited national financial networks over decades. That is why political pundits and odds-makers have narrowed the presidential campaign to two candidates, both of whom meet this qualification.

Most people accept this with a shrug. What can you do? It is what it is.

Except, it is wrong and it is poisonous to our Republic. Political health rests with the competition of ideas not with competition for money. At this moment there is more competition of ideas in the Republican Party than in the Democratic Party which, until recently, was a coalition of groups generating competing notions for the country's future.

The Republican Party encompasses angry Tea Partiers, neo-libertarians, neo-isolationists, nation-building interventionists, Wall Street bankers, neo-conservatives, Reagan worshippers, and so on. Having drifted into something called "centrism" in the 1990s, for lack of a successor to the New Deal, the Democratic Party is intellectually adrift and reluctant to take principled stands that might find disapproval, especially among the moneyed elites.

Throughout much of our history we welcomed unknown dark-horse candidates as the source of new thinking responding to new realities. They challenge the system, conventional wisdom, established power, old coalitions, shopworn policies and stale party networks. Intellectual innovation rarely comes from front-running, establishment candidates. They have too much to lose. Why rock a boat which you already command?

Meritocracy makes way for fresh thinking and new faces. But even those who originally emerged into positions of power on merit, soon become resistant to change, innovation, creative thinking, status-quo challenging, and the kind of leadership that looks over the horizon and offers bold new directions. Those in established positions and power becomes cautious, vague, careful, and guarded.

The nation will not benefit from a Money Primary that nominates two candidates before a voter is heard from. Unlike big political investors, and that is what major contributors are, everyday voters want new faces and new ideas. Party activists who participate in caucuses and vote in primaries should have a choice.

Nomination of candidates in a Money Primary is the inevitable outcome of a corrupt, money-driven political system that is more concerned with power, position, and privilege than with the national interest.

There are more than two families who can govern America. If we permit our national leadership to be selected by money changers in the halls of politics, we will be little different from Argentina.

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