April 14, 2000

The Presidential Elections

The wealthy and well off know what they want from government, and are willing to pay for it. The poor know that they don't want to be poor and don't know what to do about it.

Many years ago, when former vice president Henry Wallace was running for the presidency as an independent , against his fellow Democrat Harry Truman and Republican Thomas Dewey, I heard him speak in Berkeley where I was a student. He made an off-hand remark, which I remember to this day: "When Chase-Manhattan decides who the Democratic and Republican nominees will be..." Henry had been in politics for a long time and had none of the illusions that most of us have about who makes those decisions.

We hear stories about how the races in conventions go down to photo finishes. You can rest assured that whomever is nominated will have the stamp of approval of the people with the big bucks. When two candidates go down to the wire in a convention, you can also bet that either candidate will be acceptable to the rich. I have heard it said that our country is a plutocracy; a country governed by the rich and I believe it. Most, if not all, countries are plutocracies.

In order to win an election, a candidate has to have lots of money to spend. This is much truer now than it used to be. Television commercials cost megabucks. You can be sure that the candidate is not going to get it from $10 contributions, or $100 contributions. He will get it from rich people to whom the financial support of a candidate is a business expense. Often the same rich people will contribute to candidates in both parties unless they are reasonably sure which one will win the election. Their contributions to the candidates are piddling compared to how much money they will ultimately make out of the deal.

The most flagrant example of this is the record breaking amount of money that has been contributed to the campaign of George W. Bush. Even before the primary elections, his contributors had been assured that, if elected, he would make sure that they will receive substantial returns on their investments. A reduction of the maximum income tax rate from 39% to 33% is worth a fortune to his contributors; a much much greater amount than they have contributed. In order not to make the deal too obvious, George W has also offered small tax cuts to the rest of us. In other words, George W is already bought and paid for

Those same well heeled people can insure that their very own man will occupy the White House by financially supporting the candidacy of the front-running candidates in both parties. Many rich people will do that and the candidates will have plenty of money to spend, mostly on TV ads.

Now that the primaries are over and the cream of the crap has been chosen, we can look forward to a continous stream of TV and radio commercial for and against Bush and Gore. Most of what Bush says about Gore and Gore will say about Bush will probably be true. What each has to say about himself will probably be baloney. No matter what they each say, neither want meaningful campaign reform. After all, it was the present system that got them nominated.

I have already made up my mind who I will vote against. I doubt that it will make much difference who becomes president, but the composition of the next congress might be important to all of us, particularly if the president is of the same party. I believe that a president's greatest influence lies in his power to veto legislation.

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