Last month, we were in the throes of the “season to be jolly,” according to one old familiar song. Now, we’re in the season to be nervous.
Nervous about what, you ask? Well, nervous about numbers. Lots of different numbers . . .
Nervous about stock market numbers, at least if you are an investor (as roughly half of us are). 2015 was an ugly year on Wall Street, and January 2016 has not exactly slammed the door on those bad times. The global picture isn’t better; there’s a lot of uncertainty in every quarter. So . . . nervous.
Nervous about one’s campaign numbers, if one is a candidate for president: poll numbers, fundraising numbers, and, very soon, votes and delegates. Personally, I’m not expecting Iowa or New Hampshire or South Carolina or Nevada to ring the death knell of very many campaigns, given the power of independent expenditure groups, but several campaigns probably will be on life support by Super Tuesday in March. These are high-stakes games; of course candidates and their campaign teams are nervous.
Nervous about one’s fundraising numbers, if one is a candidate for a newly drawn U.S. House or state Senate seat here in Florida, or a candidate for a state House seat opening up due to term limits or new opportunities for the incumbent. It has been a very long time since Florida’s political landscape was so in flux. Candidates and their supporters are, understandably, nervous.
Nervous if you are an observer of all of these numbers games (and that would be most of the rest of us). While Wall Street isn’t the economy, we know that it’s ups and downs, and those of markets around the planet, have effects on job and wage growth, on the cost of goods and the cost of loans. In this campaign season, more so than in many, certain at least plausible outcomes could have profound, and profoundly unpredictable, effects on how we live our lives. The range of options is vastly broader, perhaps a good thing, but also a thing that makes many people I know rather nervous.
What all these numbers have in common is their power. Wall Street money talks in mergers that eliminate thousands of jobs. Poll numbers and delegate counts and fundraising figures can themselves produce a torrent of additional support, or cause support to dry up completely. It is remarkable, perhaps even bizarre, that simple numbers have such profound effects.
Into this nervous, high-powered, big-numbers environment, a member of Congress from Florida has thrown a new number, one that hasn’t been heard in national politics for more than a century and a half:
That’s how much money a candidate for federal elected official could request from individuals, organizations, PACs, corporations and anyone else with a dime to spend on campaigns, if the STOP Act were to become law.
I’m enough of a realist to be highly skeptical of this proposal. Political money moves around like air in a balloon. Constrain the balloon one place, and it just expands in others. Actually shrinking the role of money in politics . . . almost physically impossible without shrinking the economy.
Prevent candidates from asking for money, and others will do it on their behalf. The asking and the giving may be an arm’s length away from the candidate that way, but an arm’s length may not be that far, especially not when the arm is snugly wrapped around the candidate’s arm . . . or waist . . . or neck.
Still, the idealist in me loves the thought. A politics driven, not by who has the most money or the toughest organization or the smartest contact strategy, but by the power of vision, of experience, of compassion, of ideas, and of shared values. A politics where the people, with good information, make the decisions they deem are best for the country, the state or the municipality.
Of course, we, the people, can be profoundly wrong when it comes to knowing what is best. Democracy has been said to be the worst form of government for precisely that reason (worst, that is, except for every other form of government that ever has been tried!). But at least we would be responsible for getting it wrong, and deserve to have to deal with making it right.
It wouldn’t depend upon the stroke of a pen on a multi-million-dollar check, or upon the extent to which candidates manage to convince donors that their checks will not be wasted.
STOP may not be a viable solution. But it is an interesting place to start a conversation about what we can do to foster a democratic process driven by voters’ views, not dollar signs.