I drifted over to the American Association of Political Consultants 2013 Regional Conference at the Sheraton the other day. Along with everyone else in the United States, I was weaned on the elementary school version of How A Bill Becomes A Law, and How Anyone Can Grow Up To Be President. I worked in politics for awhile when I was a teenager, so I saw quite a bit from the inside.
For example, I made $350 per month working 126 hours per week.
Yes, you read that right.
Like a lot of young people, I harbored my own political ambitions, which I was gradually cured of as I got closer to the process. I'm not saying we don't have a beautiful system; we do. And, I am not saying we don't have good (and some great ) people involved in politics on both sides of the aisle; we do. I'm not even all that cynical about politics, for a political cartoonist.
I would say I was heavily concerned, however.
I listened to a presentation by John Burton, the California Democratic Party chair, and Jim Brulte, the California Republican Party chair. It was moderated by Dan Schnur, a very sharp guy who was John McCain's 2000 communications director and currently the director of the Jesse M. Unruh Institute of Politics at USC. The man introducing Schnur pronounced Unruh as "Oon-Raw," which , to this crowd, was kind of like referring to the last president of the United States from California as "Ree-Gain." During that presentation, I was really struck by one thing.
I heard John Burton, the Democrat and liberal, say that there was no way to get big money out of politics, and Jim Brulte, the Republican and conservative, say that big money in politics was essentially shutting out middle class candidates from ever holding statewide elected office.
I am not going to make any personal observations about Mr. Burton other than he indeed uses colorful language, which was refreshing and jolting all at once, nor about Mr. Brulte other than he seemed cordial and low-key.
But the message from Burton about there being "nothing we can do" about the massive amounts of campaign cash in an already money-bloated political system made me feel a little less like I lived in a democratic republic and a little more like I lived in a plutocracy, and that the plutocracy really doesn't give a damn about how it operates.
The Supreme Court's Citizens United decision, which really opened up the floodgates for independent political "committees" to spend unlimited amounts of cash saying whatever they want, true or not, is truly the seminal moment in 21st century American politics. For his part, President Barack Obama makes noise about not liking Citizens United, but gamely went along in 2012 instead of making it the centerpiece of a reform campaign for president.
Too much hope and change, I suppose. And, naturally, the personally plutocratic Mitt Romney wasn't going to say anything against it, either.
Brulte cited Meg Whitman, Steve Westly, and others, D and R, and correctly observed that unless this changed, the system could completely shut out anyone other than the massively wealthy.
Imagine a Republican saying that.
Maybe if a Republican said that a bit more often, they wouldn't be on the sharp end of the stick in California for the indefinite future.