It ain’t necessarily so 1.

In 2002, a campaign finance law outlawed political spending by either unions or corporations during the last sixty days before an election.[1]  In 2010, the Supreme Court overturned this law in its “Citizens United” decision.  This led to widespread outrage among Democrats, who portrayed the decision as allowing millionaires and billionaires to buy all the political power they wanted.  Certainly, it looked like the Koch Brothers wanted to buy the 2016 election if it was for sale: they announced plans to spend almost $900 million in support of favored candidates.   That is as much as either of the two major parties.

Recent presidential elections haven’t done much to support this theory.  In the 2012 election Mitt Romney got beat by Barack Obama.  So far in the 2016 presidential primaries, Jeb Bush piled up a war-chest of $100 million, then got run off the road.  Meanwhile, Bernie Sanders and Hillary Rodham Clinton have raised $362 million; the last six Republican candidates raised $286 million.  Sanders, with $182 million, and Clinton, with $180 million, far out stripped Ted Cruz, with $78.2 million.  As for Donald Trump, he has raised about $50 million.[2]  Current guestimations are that Clinton will win the Democratic nomination and the White House.

Democrats fume that the rich still control everything because of their influence behind the scenes and because their ads resonate with idiots.  Even if the Democrats do win the White House on occasion, they can’t get anything done because of the obstruction by the Congressional toadies of the rich.   Journalist Jane Mayer has done much to highlight the influence—real or imagined–of the Koch brothers.[3]  It’s difficult to know exactly how much influence the Kochs have had.  Much of their money has gone to shaping the intellectual debate on the role of government.  Thus, they have donated to libertarian-leaning think-tanks and universities.[4]  A lot of it has gone to support right-wing challengers to mainstream Republicans in primaries.  This, it is said, compels mainstream Republicans to veer right to fend off challengers.

This argument works on the unspoken assumption that Republican voters themselves have moved farther right even as mainstream Republican politicians remained more centrist until challenged in a primary election.  Why might Republican voters have come to believe in a smaller government?  At the risk of forcing square pegs into round holes, consider a couple of statistics.  First, 22.4 percent of workers now need a government license to get and keep their jobs.  Nearly 20 percent of those in non-medical fields needed such a license.[5]  Second, on average, people spend 35 hours a year filling out government forms of one kind or another.[6]  However, adults fill out forms for their children and often for their own elderly parents.  For these people—who are of voting age—the real amount of time spent filling out forms might be double or triple the average.  So, a work-week or two out of their lives each year.  Perhaps this is part of what has shifted some voters to the right?

[1] “Citizens United: Has big money lost its power?” The Week, 29 January 2016, p. 17.

[2] http://elections.uscommonsense.org/

[3] Jane Mayer, Dark Money: The Hidden History of the Billionaires Behind the Rise of the Radical Right (New York: Doubleday, 2016).

[4] Recently, the editorial pages of the New York Times have witnessed much hand-wringing over the absence of conservative voices in academia.  This is attributed to an apparent liberal bias in hiring.  The effect, however, is to provide the Democratic Party with an army of spokesmen for the pro-government argument.  On the other hand, much of the funding for these spokesmen is traceable.  Much of it comes from taxes and tuition paid by people who are not on the left.

[5] “The bottom line,” The Week, 6 May 2016, p. 36.

[6] “Noted,” The Week, 6 May 2016, p. 16.

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