Occupy the Media

This guy does a great job of characterizing politicians’ current rhetorical tightrope-walking between the populist support of #OccupyWallStreet and the big dollar support of their high-finance-industry campaign backers.

What I most love about this clip is that this reporter makes no attempts to be unbiased. He puts useful information out there within an obviously progressive frame of reference, makes fun of his sources, and still gets the message out. To me, the style of The Young Turks (who made the video above) represents a facet of the kind of disruption needed to make this country the very different place it needs to become.

It got me thinking. How could we make it so that votes can no longer be bought?

The reason politicians take huge bribes campaign donations is to fund their propaganda machines. (They also have a bit of an incentive to take a lot more than they need: they have no obligation to give any of it back! Talk about a nest egg.) The challenge for politicians is to try to balance the implied influence of their biggest donations against the concerns of the vast majority of people.

In the world of Congress and political action committees, things are not always as they seem. Members of Congress all want to vote for Clean Air, but they also want to get campaign contributions from corporations, and they want to pass a law that business will see as “reasonable”.

Republicans in particular have become extremely good at getting people to vote against their own best interests, even in the face of massive contradictions in their philosophy. The democrats appear to be catching up, judging by the video, though they still come out sounding pretty dumb.

The reason politicians need huge campaign funds is in large part because they need to buy expensive TV commercials and other advertising across the nation. We don’t even KNOW how much money has gone into political advertising, because a lot of data have suspiciously gone missing, but it appears to be in the billions of dollars.

Presumably, then, it is drastically important to propagandize the populace wherever and whenever possible, and it is assumed that the majority of the populace is watching a lot of TV.

And there’s a memetic arms race, isn’t there. As a political candidate, one cannot allow one’s competitor to outspend one’s own campaign. Not when there’s a direct correlation between campaign spending and voting outcomes.

Says Meredith McGehee of the Campaign Legal Center in Billion-Dollar Obama to Run Moneyed Campaign,

“It’s unrealistic to ask candidates to forego this money, when by definition, if you do what you think should be done, you are going to lose.”

Which frankly should sicken us. Why can our votes be bought? Because if we could figure that out, then maybe we could find a way to make campaign donations not be worth a damn.

There is absolutely no check-and-balance for campaign funding right now. There is the abstract idea of “campaign reform”, but when it comes down to the final vote tally, the amounts that politicians spent to get into office merely serves as a gee-whiz side note in history. There is no social shaming of profligate spending, and only cursory amounts of inquiry into the hidden funding sources that occur as a matter of course.

Right now, there is simply the mandate of spending more profligately than one’s competitor — and by extension, the mandate to whore oneself out to as many big donors as possible.

TV Isn’t Rotting OUR Brains…

A number of things have changed since the heyday of television, which I would argue persisted until the mid-90s.

Generation X has very little trust in the nightly news and doesn’t watch daytime TV. Generation Y (who are all voters now) is far more likely to watch videos on a laptop than any TV.

So the only importance TV has for campaign elections is in terms of a dwindling percentage of Generation X, and the older generations. You know, the ones with all the money.

Are we basically just stuck behind the older generations’ TV-addled brains at this point? They sure are worried about the death of “traditional” media. You know, the stuff created by old people with money who purport to be “objective” while selectively leaving out anything of importance or value to the vast majority of voters.

Generation Y has no interest in “saving” print media or television. They get what they need from the internet. What they don’t have are jobs, or any financial stake whatsoever in the continuation of the status quo.

That’s why we’re angry. I (personally) am better off than the average person in their mid-20s, but I’m no less despondent at the state of the country, and at the stark landscape of continued environmental destruction and human rights abuses at the hands of huge, inhumane, multinational corporations who can buy their political support wherever they go…

…because without that money, politicians couldn’t reach… whom?

(Ahem. We Have The Technology. It’s called the internet.)

What if we made a virtuous goal out of reducing campaign expenses. What if we decided that it was not a glorious display of support, but rather a dreadful, shameful, and — as is to be understood from the video — a DANGEROUS waste to be seen throwing gazillions of dollars at the acquisition of votes?

What if we limited total campaign donations to $5 per source? A laughably small amount, I know. Would we then see political campaigns “go viral” through hilarious meme mashup videos that cost nothing to spread, but have far more impact than the average $5,000 TV commercial?

Sure, then there would be hidden campaign financing all over the place. But at least then it would be a Bad Thing, rather than just the Way It Is Done.

Nationalize TV?

And if it’s impossible to run a political campaign without broadcasting video repeatedly over a broadcast medium that can’t support itself without begging people and corporations for money, then what we’re saying is that television access is a mandatory component of the political process. And in that case, seeing as it is such a crying shame that the traditional, mainstream media are dying in the face of YouTube and Netflix, why don’t we just nationalize broadcast TV?

We’d get to “save” the media, truly democratize access to people who still consume that shit, and even maybe stop pushing sugary breakfast cereals on hapless children.

Of course, it would be horrible TV and no one would watch. Haha!

I welcome discussion from here on in. I’ve gone a bit off the rails. Don’t think I believe in most of what I’ve said above; I don’t. I’m just exploring, and I should really just establish a cap on my words and go outside and play.

So I’ll just restate the question:

How do we counter the demand for insanely spendy political campaigns? How do we boycott propaganda?

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  • http://www.chuckmoulton.org/ Chuck Moulton

    Make the government small enough so special interests have nothing to buy (e.g., eliminate corporate welfare; on the flip side stop regulating corporations into bankruptcy), and politicians will cease getting huge campaign donations from corporations.

    Capping campaign donations at $5 just means that fame talks instead of money. It would increase the incumbency advantage and increase the number of politicians that are movie stars, rock stars, etc. (who don't need to spend massive money on name recognition because they have it already). Money levels the playing field by allowing a challenger will low name recognition to get the message out if people care enough to donate.

    Nationalizing television just kills television. You seem to consider that a feature. Many others would characterize it a bug.

    • nthmost

      >Money levels the playing field by allowing a challenger will low name recognition to get the message out if people care enough to donate.

      But that's just the thing I'm addressing. I don't think it makes any sense to talk about money "leveling the playing field" anymore, not when the engines of fame are accessible to anybody with an internet connection and a domain name.

      And frankly, I don't think the incumbency advantage is large enough right now. America is characterized by a very short, myopic view of the future that (I believe) would be ameliorated by having people sitting in the same offices for a longer period of time.

      It's not that I consider killing broadcast TV to be a feature. Only that I don't think the coming generations consider the technology at all useful, so it's no loss to make it suck. :)

      • Chuck Moulton

        Oops, I completely forgot about this post after I left my comment weeks ago.

        nthmost wrote:
        > And frankly, I don’t think the incumbency advantage is large
        > enough right now. America is characterized by a very short,
        > myopic view of the future that (I believe) would be ameliorated
        > by having people sitting in the same offices for a longer period
        > of time.

        There are certainly good arguments for making politician incentives different so they think long term rather than with a 2 year time horizon. I strongly agree that politicians are currently too shortsighted. They tend to create big messes, then be long gone by the time people figure out what happened (e.g., the public employee pension crisis).

        In my opinion though if the goal is to make politicians less myopic by sitting in office for a longer period then a more appropriate fix would be to lengthen terms of office rather than make incumbents harder to defeat. U.S. Senators (with 6 year terms) seem to be more thoughtful and insulated from public opinion swings than U.S. Representatives (with 2 year terms). Perhaps both terms of office ought to be lengthened through a constitutional amendment.

        But incumbency is really maddening. Roughly half of state legislators and a surprising number of congressmen run uncontested — not because they are wildly popular, but rather because it is near impossible to overcome the incumbency advantage in name recognition… so people don’t bother. I like elections because they keep politicians honest by keeping them accountable to an electorate. I think every politician ought to have vigorous and credible opposition.

    • Anonymous

      I take your point, though, about how there would be less money in the game if there were less at stake.

    • praveen sinha

      “making government small enough” — how do you propose getting 10s of millions of people off the gravy train of the military-industrial-pork complex for example? because the libertarian idea of privatizing things is just leading to massive public/private behemoths where it’s the worst of both worlds….

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