We often hear about the corrupting influence of money in politics. This usually means quid pro quos for moneyed interests. There’s lip service paid to the amount of cash a politician must raise in order to even run for office. Famously, former Louisiana Governor Buddy Roemer ran for president in 2012 by only taking $200 donations … proving one can’t compete in the contest for the Oval Office by only taking $200 donations.
In the wake of the Citizens United decision and a provision tucked into last year’s spending bill tripling the amount individuals can donate to national parties, money in politics should obviously be a concern. But what’s even more distressing is that just having the potential to be president has become its own vocation.
Welcome to the Also-Ran Industrial Complex.
There’s a pretty sizable, well-fed group of people who make a living pretending they want to be president: starting super-PACs, collecting speaking fees, selling email lists, selling books, scaring granny into buying gold coins, scaring grampy into buying doomsday survival kits. It’s less cottage industry, more McMansion enterprise.
Running for president has become like marathon running. No one expects to win; it’s just entering the race that’s important. Running is its own reward!
This reality is why former fraction-term Alaska Governor Sarah Palin just up and said “thanks, but no thanks” to the voters of America’s largest state. Why? Because there’s so much more money in teasing media outlets about possibly maybe one day thinking about running for president than in holding down an actual government job. It was time to cash in!
The man who pioneered making a living being a loser was really Newt Gingrich. After he left his House and speakership in disgrace, he “consulted” for Freddie Mac, started a production company and toured as an orator. So it was no shock when the open casting call for the 2008 and 2012 Republican presidential nominees came up, Gingrich was there to grab some of that limelight. First he was considering running in 2008 and then actually throwing his hat into the ring in 2012. Since running, Newt’s career has been on an upswing, landing a cushy gig on CNN.
If it worked for someone as unscrupulous, immoral and unlikable as Newt Gingrich—it can work for anyone! The also-ran mold has been cast in Newt’s image.
Now, due to forces in publishing, cable news and lobbying, it’s worth it for gadflies, hucksters, Huckabees and wannabes to run for higher office and land with a bigger platform.
As perennial-kook former Senator Rick Santorum wondered in an interview earlier this week of the GOP hopefuls like Senators Rand Paul, Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio: “Do we really want someone with this little experience? Do we really want somebody who’s a bomb thrower, with no track record of any accomplishments?”
For president? No. But Senate first-termers Cruz and Rubio aren’t running to be the next president, they’re running to be the next Newt Gingrich. And Rand Paul? He’s running to be the next Ron Paul.
Am I just cynical? Do I not believe in the magic of that one special candidate I can fall in love with and know he’ll/she’ll be my everything in the Executive Branch?
In a word: Yes.
Politics on this level is not about the voters. It’s about the fans; it’s about the fantasy. It’s about the fringy niche politicians hating the same things you hate and believing all the weird stuff you’ve read on the Internet too. It’s about selling the dream of purists being in charge of this rapidly changing and continually more pluralistic society. It’s about telling like-minded people exactly what they want to hear—that they alone are the candidate who can take us back to a better time in the near future.
Because no matter who becomes president, they inevitably become a compromiser. All presidents let down those who love them most at some point. But someone with an Internet channel (or what used to be called a website) can suspend that reality and make us believe that we can be right, be on top and things can be simple once again.
Just hit the “donate now” button.
Image by DonkeyHotey