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Monetizing Political Discourse in America

Ted Cruz

For some time I have been disturbed by the constant flow of emails from notables in the Democratic Party that tie substance and politics to money, specifically in the form of soliciting donations. The style of such messages is offensive to me. Complete strangers address me in the first person, and assume I share their political outlook, which paints a dark picture of liberal values at risk while never mentioning the illiberal policies of the Democratic presidency.

Such messages are signed in a disingenuous manner of faux familiarity, and this includes messages from either President or Ms. Obama, writing to me as if there existed a personal connection between us. The bottom line is a plea ‘to chip in’ by donating $3, $10, or more. See below for a typical such personal message sent to me by Debbie Wasserman Schultz, Chair of the Democratic National Committee. I wonder if I am alone in being put off by this way of passing the hat in the digital age.
 
It is not just a matter of personal annoyance about being badgered several times a week. It is much more about making politics and policies seem to depend exclusively on who contributes the most money. The Democrats purport in most of these appeals to be fending off reactionary billionaires, such as the infamous Koch Brothers, who are portrayed satanically as using their fortunes to buy elections and tilt the country even further to the right. Underneath this crude reduction of the political process to which party can purchase more TV prime time is the apparent realization that American democracy is no longer a marketplace of ideas, perhaps, never was. The impression I receive from these email messages is that American democracy has become an auction in which elective office and public policy automatically goes to the candidate able to pony up the most lucre, however filthy. Underneath such attitudes is the dangerous belief that the ordinary citizen has no mind of his/her own, and will most likely vote for whomever Is most often seen on TV. This kind of thinking is especially demeaning to the so-called independent voter trying to make up his/her mind in the final days of a campaign.
 
Of course, there is some truth, and even a principled rationale, for this incessant barrage of funding appeals. If the Republican side is spending in great amounts as a result of support from the ultra-rich, then symbolically it is important to suggest that a government responsive to the people means that the Democratic opposition needs to mobilize ordinary citizens who are struggling daily to make ends meet, and yet still greatly prefer political leadership in the White House and Congress that is broadly in accord with their liberal ideas about fairness and decency. Up to a point this way of interpreting political conflict in the United States is convincing.
 
My concerns are mainly of a different order. There is an implicit disempowerment of the citizen whose identity is associated with her or his bank account rather than with the substantive agenda of politics and a more public engagement with political reform. There is embedded in these messages a loopy good/evil imagery of American political realities, whereas the appeal in recent decades of the Democratic Party has been for me and many others reduced to being the lesser of evils on most, yet not all, issues. Consider the treatment by the Democratic leadership of Chelsea Manning, Edward Snowden, drone warfare, silence about the Egyptian coup and Palestinian ordeal, a slide toward Cold War II in response to the complexities of the Ukraine, and on and on. In other words, it may be pragmatically important to avoid Republican political leadership, but there are many reasons to be disappointed by and even oppose the policies and practices embraced by the current Democratic leadership.
 
Of course, underlying this objection to the sort of either/or choices is a feeling that what is being suppressed is the word and consciousness associated with ‘neither,’ that is neither Republican nor Democrat. But then what? There was that brief rush of fresh air that was brought into the political arena by the Occupy Movement, but without staying power. Subsequently, there has been regression on the public stage. America is not yet a choiceless democracy, but the choices offered do not give much ground for hope in relation to the main challenges facing
either this country or the world, for example, in relation to challenging the excesses of world capitalism, and its byproduct of unsustainable and growing inequality.
 
Getting back to the particulars of this screed, I paste below the latest specimen of this type of political solicitation. Is my reaction naïve, unfair, out of touch? Comments are particularly welcome. And more to the point what might be done to improve the quality of political democracy in this country? How can we as citizens become more effective, not just locally, but nationally and internationally, in this era of the dumbing down and crude monetizing of representative government?
 
 
**************************
 
The Text of Debbie Wasserman Schultz’ letter:
 
Richard --
 
The most thrilling, rewarding, and (sometimes) challenging job I've ever had is being a mom -- between the twins and my youngest there is never a dull moment.
 
But lately, when I think of my kids, I consider all of the things Democrats are working for that would support my fellow moms and their families the most. We're the party fighting for equal pay legislation, for raising the minimum wage, protecting Obamacare, and fixing our broken immigration system to keep more moms with their kids. These policies aren't just good for moms, they're good for the economy, too.
 
Chip in $10 or more to support Democrats fighting for policies that support moms and families.
 
We're celebrating Mother's Day soon, and I hope we're all thinking of the millions of moms out there who are doing all they can to raise their kids, support their families, and contribute to their communities. What Democrats are fighting for is personal to me, and probably for you, too.
 
Donate to elect more Democrats who are fighting for policies to support moms:
  
Thanks,
Debbie
 
Debbie Wasserman Schultz
Chair Democratic National Committee
 
P.S. -- To all my fellow moms, Happy Mother's Day this weekend!

The Paradox of Conservative Campaign Solicitations: A Sequel to Critique of Democratic Party Fundraising

I put a post on this website a few days ago complaining about the approach taken by liberals in recent years to soliciting financial support via the Internet. By perverse coincidence, I received a comparable appeal from one of the leading Tea Party ‘conservatives,’ Ted Cruz, Republican senator from Florida, who made national headlines by delivering a 21 hour speech on the floor of the Senate denouncing Obamacare, insisting that this health plan was a menace to the nation and the constitutional integrity of relations between government, society, and citizen.
 
As in my criticisms of the liberal style of solicitation, my interest is not here in the substantive implications of the appeal, but in the way of relating to the citizenry, being disturbed by Democratic Party notables who approach supposed supporters among the citizenry as of little relevance other than as cash cows available for frequent milking! Such a monetizing of the state/society relationship was further corrupted by the false note of addressing me by my first name and signing it with a similar flourish of familiarity. Whoever drafted such a personal appeal, which would certainly not be the signatory, must believe that such shallow intimacy will persuade most recipients to more readily part with a few dollars.
 
Reacting to the appeal from Senator Cruz that is pasted below for your ‘reading pleasure’(!), a few observations occur to me. First of all, there is a greater dignity in being addressed, however wrongly, as ‘Dear Fellow Conservative’ rather than as ‘Richard,’ ending with the formal signoff of ‘Senator Ted Cruz,’ which I found less off putting than ‘Barack’ or ‘Michelle,’ or in my example, ‘Debbie.’ Also, compare the subject lines used by Debbie Wasserman Schultz in messages received the last two days: “This is personal, Richard” My response: “It is anything but personal.” The subject line of her second message was along the same lines: “Can We Count on You, Richard?” My response: “Get real, first.”
 
Further, and more tellingly, the Cruz message is about the political importance of selecting the Republican candidate who will have the best chance of becoming the next senator from Nebraska because of his ideological alignment and stands on issues of principle. There is no mention of money, only a call for support, and the sly promise of promoting a political upset. In the accompanying message signed by the candidate in this primary election, Ben Sasse, substantive issues are stressed, and the appeal for funds is not personalized beyond the usual stress on the relevance of sufficient money to buy the TV time that will offset the funding power of the competing candidate whose campaign has far greater resources. An aggregate sum needed to achieve this result is mentioned, but no suggestion is made as to how much is expected to be contributed by each recipient of the message. It is left to me to decide how much I will give if I am persuaded, which for substantive reasons, I am not. Incidentally, Sasse scored an upset in this primary earlier in the week, and will be the Republican candidate in the Nebraska Senate race come November.
 
I will leave for another time, whether such Republicans relying on the label of ‘conservative,’ however sincere, obscures more than it discloses. To be clear, I support Obamacare 100%. My only wish is that the legislation had been more generous and inclusive. Without governmental empathy, tangibly expressed in action, for the many poor and marginal living within our affluent borders, there is little worth conserving except perhaps the wealth of the conservatives.
 
********************
THE TEXT OF SENATOR TED CRUZ AND BEN SASSE MESSAGES:
 
Fellow Conservative,
 
I am writing today to ask you to support Ben Sasse for U.S. Senate from Nebraska. He is a strong defender of the Constitution. Ben has the courage and character to stand on principle and to tell the bosses in Washington, “I don't work for you. I work for the people of Nebraska.”
 
Ben is a leader in the fight against ObamaCare. He has read the entire ObamaCare bill, and he has a plan to stop it.
 
We need more conservatives who will stand up to defend the Constitution the way that Ben Sasse will. Both Sen. Mike Lee and I urgently need reinforcements like Ben in the U.S. Senate.
 
Please read the below email from Ben and share it with friends? With two days to go until Election Day, I strongly encourage you to support Ben.
 
Sincerely,
Senator Ted Cruz
 
Dear Conservative,
 
I am proud to have the support of Ted Cruz. And I urgently need his help and yours right now to pull off the conservative "upset of the year."
 
The DC Lobbyist Establishment is 100% determined to stop me. And I can’t survive their onslaught without you by my side.
 
My name is Ben Sasse and my U.S. Senate primary in Nebraska two days from now is the most important race in the nation bar none.
 
The truth is simple. Right now there’s a war raging for the heart and soul of the GOP.
 
On one side stand conservatives like Ted Cruz and Mike Lee who refuse to sit back to let Obama “fundamentally transform” America. Ted Cruz and Mike Lee know the country is at stake — and they want to go on offense and fight for it.
 
On the other side stands the "Old Guard" Washington Establishment. They are raising big bucks for my opponent and will do anything necessary to stop our campaign before May 13.
 
This primary contest may well determine who runs the Republican Party: Conservatives or the Washington Establishment.
 
It's why the Washington Post is running a story with the headline "Why Nebraska is a make-or-break Senate race for the tea party".
 
I am not preferred choice of the Permanent Political Class in DC. I’m going to Washington to fight for conservative principles. And that’s why Ted Cruz, Mike Lee, Sarah Palin, and Tom Coburn support me.
 
But even more threatening, my opponent is raising a flood of cash from Washington, D.C. lobbyists who mostly care about making money off taxpayers for their clients.
 
This is a direct threat to the conservative values you and I hold.
 
Let’s understand something important: the problem in D.C. is not just that the Democrats are in charge. The problem is that we have too many Republicans who think Big Government is perfectly fine and just wish they were in charge.
 
I do not believe in that. I believe that we must be the Party that stands up for liberty, against Big Government and the Special Interests that leech off of it.
 
The DC Lobbyist Establishment is funneling money to my opponent as fast as they can. And I can’t turn on television or radio without hearing some dishonest attack ad that smears my name.
 
I need the help of conservative leaders like you to fight these attacks.
 
With two days left, I need to make an emergency media buy of $67,382 and I need your help to raise it.
 
Too many Republicans go to DC because they want to be in the “Senate Club” and have fancy dinners with lobbyists.
 
That’s not me. I’m going to Washington to fight for conservatives.
 
And today I need you to stand with me to win this primary.
 
Ted Cruz, Mike Lee, Sarah Palin, and Tom Coburn are in.
 
Are you?
 
Two days left please consider helping me raise $67,382 for my emergency media buy. Please help me right now.
 
For America,
 
Ben Sasse


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