Thursday, June 14, 2012

New Gingrich gets one right

It's almost impossible to know what to make of Newt Gingrich and the things he says. Recently, he said this in an interview with Al Sharpton on MSNBC:

It is very difficult in America today. If you look at New York where Mayor Bloomberg spent an extraordinary amount of personal money to buy the mayor’s office for the third time. It is fairly hard to compete with a billionaire if — if they get to spend all the money they want and the middle-class candidate's raising money in $2,500 units. So I think the current system is rigged, frankly, in favor of the wealthy.

Of course, Newt is right, and that doesn't happen very often. It would be easy to chalk it up to sour grapes. If Gingrich could have raised the kind of money it took to win the GOP nomination, he certainly wouldn't be complaining at this point. But Romney was able to dispatch him with cold hard cash, and that was that.

More typically, right-wingers want to argue that spending your own money any way you like is simply an expression of freedom. If someone like, say, billionaire Sheldon Adelson, wants to give $10 million of his own money to a Pro-Romney Super Pac, that's freedom. It's his money, or so conservatives like to say.

What is unstated is what you can do with that money. And what you can do with money is bombard voters with messages, through various media, in a way that eventually makes it impossible for them to think for themselves. We don't like to say it, but what money in politics proves is that most people aren't very well informed. Money can effectively manipulate their biases and fears and take advantage of their inability to distinguish between truth and lies. It can inflame voters to care too much about things that shouldn't matter and ignore things that should.

Money is only a problem in politics because so many people are so easily manipulated by the dark arts of political messaging.

Unfortunately, the way it works is that Sheldon Adelson's freedom to spend $10 million on Romney's campaign interferes with the freedom of many people to think for themselves. I understand that we are drawn to the fiction that people make up their own minds and are, as Milton Friedman once said, free to choose.

But unless we regulate (there's that word) the amount of money candidates can spend and make it relatively fair, democracy is a sham. Even Newt Gingrich gets that.

(Cross-posted at Lippmann's Ghost.)

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