Monday, September 5, 2011

Stuffing the beast

By Bill Kraus

We have known for a long time that campaigns are too long and too expensive.

We have also known that the remedy for both maladies is easy: Starve the beast by shutting down the flow of money.

This is not happening. This is not going to happen. The flow of money into politics has become a flood as the U.S. Supreme Court took the open door off its hinges. It is getting bigger every day in every way.

The incumbents have been deluded into thinking that this is to their benefit. They won’t even enact the mild suppressant which the otherwise complicit Supremes have recommended: making third-party organizations which are running parallel campaigns disclose the names of the people who are funding those campaigns.

This combination of forces has led to invincible incumbents whose main ambition is keeping their jobs, and it bursts the bubble of ideas like part-time legislators.

All of this makes the deals cut every 10 years to make more seats ideologically safer almost redundant, but not redundant enough for the incumbents.

What has evolved is a situation where challengers are more and more limited to winning primary elections. The founding fathers who designed our electoral system could hardly have anticipated this since they didn’t know there were going to be political parties.

They didn’t anticipate wedging--which works best in low turnout elections like primaries--either.

What wedging does is turn elections into issue quizzes.

The people who vote in primaries are largely concerned about narrow, special issues. They are political junkies, and their drugs are things like guns, abortion rights, lower taxes, looser regulations, gay rights, gas prices, ethanol, and the like. They are ideologues.

What ideologues want are candidates who will vote their way on whatever it is that turns them on. The guy who told a reporter when asked how he felt about a gubernatorial candidate “I am all about concealed carry” typifies the breed.

The professionals who advise candidates tell their clients that the winning formula is to build a majority an issue at a time. They pitch the campaigns to the pro or anti guns, gays, social issue ideologues to get to 51 percent.

Whether the candidate has any ideas or the capability to deal with the problems and opportunities that are going to arise and that nobody is anticipating is increasingly irrelevant.

Instead of voting for candidates we are voting for automatons who will pull the levers we want pulled.

I no longer have to ask if the system is at risk. I know it is.

Follow Bill Kraus on:
twitter / wmkraus

Bill Kraus is the Co-Chair of Common Cause in Wisconsin's State Governing Board

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