Fearing he'll be out-fundraised for the second month in a row by Republican nominee Mitt Romney, President Obama reached out to several donors of his 2008 election win in a conference call on Air Force One. He warned that while his campaign has "a better grassroots operation ... and a better message," Romney has way more money and "the special interests that are financing Romney's campaign are just going to consolidate themselves. They're gonna run Congress and the White House." He laments that during his first presidential term his hair has turned gray because it's been so hard and slow making change, "especially when you've got an obstructionist Republican Congress," whose presidential nominee has billionaire backers like David and Charles Koch spending more alone on Romney than all of Obama's backers combined. However, the president does strike one positive note, seeing it as a "nice thing" that Americans "agree with our [Democrats'] message when they hear it ... A few billionaires can't drown out millions of voices."
In my opinion, Obama's lying to himself and his donors, and knows full-well that a few billionaires can in fact determine an election. One way is through super-PAC ads. What's baffling is how cheap they look. One strains to believe they could sway even the most simple-minded voter. But apparently they can, provided Americans are relentlessly assaulted with them via television and the internet, bludgeoning their critical intelligence. Even more absurd is the 2010 U.S. Supreme Court decision in favour of Citizens United defining corporate donation as a form of human free speech, making it unconstitutional to limit the amount a corporation may contribute to a super-PAC. In his Harper's magazine essay, "It's a Rich Man's World: How billionaire backers pick America's candidates," Thomas Frank argues that super-PACs "have imported market logic directly into our politics," the U.S. becoming a country of, by and for the rich.
Once Obama may have held social-justice ideals, such as the one that the poor, despite contributing little or nothing to the national economy, deserve handouts like hospital care financed by taxes on the rich and the working-class, medical attention being a privilege then not only for those who actually contribute something in return. However, by asking his donors to give him more money, he concedes that he can't beat corporate America, so instead he'll join them. In February his campaign manager Jim Messina assured potential contributors in New York's finance industry that Obama promises not to "demonize Wall Street as he stresses populist appeals in his re-election campaign." The president understands the clear and present danger that corporate money may fork over another Republican majority in Congress, and even worse, a Republican president.
It's not that a majority of Americans aren't smart enough to know the bile spewed in super-PAC ads consists largely of lies; surely they suspect Romney could care less about them, and his presidency would hinge solely on placating the so-called "one-percenters" who really run America; it's just there's something omnipotent about the way unlimited amounts of money slowly, steadily steer our thoughts and desires.
In Romney's ads, the viewer imagines Obama a foreign-born socialist; ominous sounds and images accompany bolded text read in voice-over by a man who intones with apocalyptic earnestness that the current president is responsible for unemployment rates hovering near 10 per cent in several states, hundreds of thousands of jobs lost, including those in the manufacturing and construction sectors, the heart of the American working-class. It also shows Obama's stimulus spending has gone haywire through radical tax hikes across all socio-economic levels.
Through repeated exposure to such ads, voters grow cynical and info-glutted and may cease to care what's true and false. Obama's campaign will unleash its own torrent of anti-Romney vitriol and do so with increasing ferocity, spoiling whatever integrity and vision he may have held when first elected. Furthermore, I suspect the American people no longer trust their president and are seeking a reason, any reason, not to vote for him. No doubt Romney's campaign will save the biggest and most venomous onslaught of propaganda for the weeks and days before the vote, which, given our split-second media-blitzed attention spans, form the crucial moments that decide who wins an election.
Democracy, per se, has yet to exist in reality, and while it has acquired a veneer of authenticity, now the thought of an American presidential election reflecting a "democratic process" seems absurd. Whoever wins will further entrench America's corporate elite as the true governors of the nation. After all, money may be our single greatest invention.
According to John Buchan, money is widely considered the only true measure of success and failure, of happiness and misery, and a language we can all speak and understand, even the poorest of the poor. No longer the means to convey our desires, but an end in itself, money, be it our own or someone else's, shepherds us in most of our decisions.
As Adam Smith wrote in The Wealth of Nations, we hold from conception in the womb till death the belief that "[a]n augmentation of fortune is the means by which the greater part of men propose and wish to better their condition." Perhaps Romney's campaign will frame broadcast revenues for states it targets with ads as windfalls for their cash-strapped residents, especially those living in states that have suffered huge losses of jobs and industries. I fear the colossal and superior spending on ads by Romney's super-PAC will play a major role in securing his election victory.
If it's bulldozed into the minds of enough Americans that higher ad revenues means Republicans are infusing more cash than Democrats into their state economies, voters may choose Romney as the one who can augment their fortune and better their condition.