Monday, September 22, 1997

Week of 09/22/1997

MAD Politics?
Cold War tactics to head off campaign finance reform
- by David Matthews 2

In the finger-pointing game now known as the Campaign Finance Investigation hearings going on in the Senate, there have been a ton of accusations hurled at both Democrats and Republicans alike. Charges that illegal contributions were solicited and accepted. Allegations that certain think-tanks were getting contributions that were legal but "ethically questionable."

Now let’s be brutally honest here. In Washington DC, there is NO such thing as "ethically questionable" when it comes to politics and money. Ten years ago we had members of the US House that were bouncing their own checks in a way that would earn felony convictions if practiced by their own constituents. Certainly "ethically questionable," and yet practiced by both Democrats and Republicans alike! Sure the bank that allowed it has been closed (it was run by the House!) but we’re still paying the piper for it. This past year there was heavy lobbying by special interest groups, using tactics that would otherwise be illegal, except that those laws were quietly removed for the duration of their respective political conventions. Didn’t hear about it? The media certainly gave it plenty of attention!

In the past, the two parties have played this game of tête-à-tête over issues and bills. But now things are different. Now the focus is on how their respective parties raise money - their bread and butter! It’s the one thing that keeps the two parties going. Forget "family values," political posturing, special interest polls, and power ties. You want inside the beltway? You gotta have the green!

So now the focus is on how much money is being raised, and by who, and for what reason. Republicans want to use it to finally nail the Clinton Administration and the Democratic Party. Payback, some would say, for the Watergate hearings that crippled the Republicans for almost a decade. To prevent that from happening, Democrats have been showing how the Republicans are just as guilty as they are when it comes to campaign contributions.

In other words, the Democrats are practicing MAD tactics. MAD, as in Mutual Assured Destruction.

For those of you not familiar with the Cold War, Mutual Assured Destruction was the nuclear policy set forth by the United States and the then Soviet Union. It meant that if either side launched nuclear weapons, the other side will retaliate massively, thus ensuring the destruction of both countries and the rest of the world. Since neither side wants that, they will refrain from using nuclear weapons.

A similar MAD tactic exist in politics. Certain political issues are great to talk about come election time, but not on the legislative floor. Campaign finance is one such issue. Both sides know how dirty they really are, and both sides will talk the talk when it comes to their opposition, but only as long as they don’t have to walk the walk. Now the Senate has turned the talk into a full-fledged investigation. This is essentially having the GOP launching a political first strike. The Democrats knew they had no choice but to launch their own counter-strike.

The goal of this kind of tactic is simple: prevent the next stage of attack, namely serious campaign finance reform legislation that would hamper finances for the forthcoming congressional elections. To the Democrats it would mean not having the money needed to regain control of Congress, or funding a candidate that would allow them to retain control of the White House for another term. So in order for them to prevent that, they will show that the GOP is just as corrupt as they are, and thus deserve to be just as hampered by the same laws.

Political history tells us that money alone does not mean victory in the ballot box. If it were, the ‘96 presidential election would have been between Democrat Bill Clinton, Republican Steve Forbes and President H. Ross Perot. But money does provide access. That’s the oldest political secret around. You’ve heard about the $2000-per-plate "rubber chicken" dinners, right? Why do you think they’re so popular as a fund-raiser? Certainly not for the food!

Let’s start having the Republicans putting their money where their mouths are. They think certain contributions are illegal? Start indictment hearings! If these guys are so eager to finally nail Bill Clinton on something, here’s their chance! Let’s have 100% accountability for campaign contributions, right down to the last nickel and dime in soft money from the political parties. Let’s find out how much candidates get from certain political groups via their party. And right now is the perfect time to do that, because the ‘98 Congressional races are about to start and by all accounts the incumbents have already given themselves a huge financial lead. If those in Washington really care about you or I in the real world, this would be the right time to prove it.

Another idea that the people can think about is switching to a third party. Right now both Democrats and Republicans are squabbling like the spoiled brats they are over the size of each other’s ice cream and who has more sprinkles, while at the same time passing laws and changing election rules to make sure nobody else gets a cone. It’s understandable.. after all, if they make sure there is no competition, they can act as spoiled rotten as they want to be. Both parties can scream and shout and wail about who is greedier and which is more insensitive if they’re the only choices the public thinks are available. And don’t think for a minute that your elected official can do no wrong either. That kind of thinking has allowed the politicians to continue as is! Every member of Congress has dirty hands, because they’re getting their money the same way as Bill Clinton does.

It’s time to put up or shut up for both parties!

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