Monday, February 26, 2007

Empire for Sale- American Style

It is an occasional intellectual game to compare the American Empire to the Roman Empire and to ask if, like that first world power, we might not be in a period of accelerated decline. Our prestige and efficient use of power outside our borders seems in decline while inside a subtle corruption of our core political values appears to be underway.

An exact description and analysis of the latter event is still to be done, but it is in part characterized by a loss of interest and participation in the political life of the nation (how many vote anymore?) and a willingness to give up personal freedoms in return for “security.”

It’s ironic that we are willing to give up some considerable measure of those freedoms and liberties to a political system and government in which a majority of us no longer has sufficient trust or belief to participate.

This Rome/America comparison came to mind as I chewed on the consequences of the 100 Million dollar price tag to run for President.

In the year 193 AD the Roman Empire, in the person of the position of emperor, was put up for auction by the Praetorian Guard. It had long been the practice of newly established emperors to offer the guard a “donative” to assure their allegiance, but this was a flat out auction…who wants to be an emperor? Marcus Didius Julianus did.

The Praetorians effectively held the key to the empire. Who in the American empire might our praetorians be? It is tempting to point out the leaders of corporate America, but I’d suggest that our praetorians are the media---television, print, radio, and the political mercenaries who feed them. These are the primary recipients of most (if not damn near all) of the one hundred million dollars the candidate pays for his key to the empire. You can’t get elected without them.

The Left is nearly always fascinated by the prospect of publicly financed federal elections, but such elections still pay the praetorians and the Supreme Court has decided that money equals free speech which effectively allows end runs around campaign finance limits.

What, then, is to be done? Considering the political passivity of most Americans I don’t look for massive street actions. There is a seductive fascination in the net but except for fundraising I’m not sure there is evidence of its real effectiveness except in raising money for the praetorians.

What is the Left to do?


Zelph said...

Why wouldn't a system like "Clean Elections" work at a national level?

Why not require national broadcasting networks to provide free air time to candidates?

Art Jacobson said...

A federal "Clean Elections" system might work if we could find a way to constitutionally limit all other contributions.

Would federal election support be available before the primaries or only after the primaries?

In addition to requiring the TV networks to provide free air time, would we require printers to provide mail pieces for free?

Rather than spending hundreds of millions of tax dollars, why not limit all campaigning to the thirty days immediately prior to the general election?

Zelph said...

The difference between require printers to provide free printing and requiring TV networks to provide free air time is that the airwaves are owned by the public. So no, I would not make printers provide mail pieces for free.

Clean Elections has so far been found to be constitutional. I don't see why it wouldn't work at the federal level. Just as we do with state Clean Elections, the candidates would forgo any private contributions if they wanted to run "clean" and the level of spending by a privately financing opponent would trigger additional public funding for the clean elections candidate.

Art Jacobson said...

Well-taken point about printers and the fact that air waves belong to the people.

You're right, of course, that public funding has so far been found constitutional...but so have independent campaigns, the major loophole in campaign finance reform.

Kralmajales said...

Well another loophole is what Nintzel and others have argued about Clean elections in Arizona. It can have the effect of benefitting incumbents. Challengers need more resources and airwaves (as Zelph gets at) to get name recognition...especially in statewide campaigns or campaigns, like ours, that are city-wide. This benefits incumbents who have name recognition already and that have a stock of political capital.

Another curiousity about the clean elections system is that it gives tax dollars to fringe candidates in primaries and can lead to more extreme candidates. Look at the right for a little evidence of this. Our friends on the right would say the same about those who get through primaries on the left.

Just some thoughts to add to the discussion. Im curious.