The Sport of Kings

I just finished tuning out NPR’s “Talk of Nation” listening to these educated boobs talking about the GOP horserace in the primaries. And, oddly, the actual picture came into sharp focus entirely outside the perception of the pundits, and even Mike Huckabee’s former campaign manager. And as they started getting into the weeds of presidential campaign financing, I realized that the most important story of the upcoming election cycle isn’t being reported, won’t be reported and probably nobody wants to report (lest their Korporate Masters spank):

Classic Party Game

The only important issue in the upcoming GOP primaries is money from large donors.

Period.

Let’s begin with that thesis and then I’ll wander off into sideroads:

In 2000, it was apparent to me that whoever had the cash would win the prize. John McCain came up to “Super Tuesday” — that mostly Southern phenomenon put together in 1988* by Albert Gore, Sr. and various Southern politicos to a) increase the political muscle of the Old South in presidential selection and b) give young Al Gore, Jr. a good shot at the nomination — John McCain came to Super Tuesday and having started to catch up to Bush, even after the Confederate flag flap in South Carolina (mistakenly reported in the media as the “whispering campaign” that McCain “has a black baby”), but McCain didn’t have enough cash to compete in the several Super Tuesday states and he was, in essence, forced out of the race — even though he was clearly starting to WIN.

[ * Wikipedia (emphasis added):

The phrase “Super Tuesday” was next used to describe the primary elections that took place on March 8, 1988, in the Southern states of Texas, Florida, Tennessee, Louisiana, Oklahoma, Mississippi,Kentucky, Alabama, and Georgia leading up to the 1988 November election. Southern Democrats came up with the idea of a regional primary in an effort to nominate a moderate candidate who would more closely represent their interests. (Their plan ultimately did not succeed as Jesse Jackson, Al Gore, and Michael Dukakis split the Super Tuesday primaries, and Dukakis was subsequently nominated.) Since then, the particular states holding primaries on Super Tuesday have varied from year to year. Subsequent “Super Tuesdays” have taken place on March 10, 1992; March 12, 1996; March 7, 2000; and March 2, 2004. In 2000, 16 states held primaries on Super Tuesday, the largest presidential primary election day in U.S. history. ]

The Bush Investors (who made huge amounts of cash from their investment off the cumulative effects of their tax cuts) had seen the handwriting on the wall: because of the grouping of early primaries, if you don’t have the cash to compete, you don’t.

And in the past eleven years, nobody has talked about that. They still seem to think it’s 1972, when the primary process was a long roller coaster ride, beginning in cold January in New Hampshire and concluding with the June primary in California. The candidates would win or lose, with each contest either filling or emptying their coffers.

In the interim — which no one has seemed to notice — that feedback loop has fundamentally vanished. You either have the cash up front (and now, without limits via “superPACs”) or else you get your vanity time on the tube and then go back to your MSNBC or Fox News gig. (Mostly Fox News, to be fair.)

Now — again to be fair — most of our public pundits on the airwaves are blithering idiots and their “Tommy”* routine is to be expected.

[* from the rock opera Tommy, by The Who:

Deaf, dumb and blind boy, he lives in a quiet vibration land/
Strange as it seems, his musical dreams ain’t quite so bad/
Sickness will surely take the mind/
where minds can’t usually go/
Come on the Amazing Journey and learn all you should know …

 — ‘Amazing Journey’]

But, as they blather more and more, earlier and earlier since 2000, you’d think that somebody would notice that the game is rigged to whoever has enough CASH to compete on Super Tuesday and the earlier primaries.

I remember when Iowa decided to steal New Hampshire’s traditional “first primary” primacy back in 1976. Since then, two obscure candidates have emerged from the Iowa caucuses (which allowed Iowa to steal New Hampshire’s thunder by NOT holding a “primary”): Jimmy Carter and Barack Obama.

Other than that, Iowa has generally served as the Graveyard of Nomination Runs — most recently as Tim Pawlenty dropped out after the Iowa Straw Poll, a lovely event where campaigns literally buy votes by purchasing and giving out $25 tickets, which allows the ticket-holder to vote in the meaningless event, which becomes meaningful because having nothing better to do (like, say, covering the protests on Wall Street, or the Tar Sands protests that got over 1000 protestors arrested in front of the White House a few weeks back), the Talking Head Class breathlessly reports the results of the fundamentally ethically corrupt event, which causes the politicians’ managers to react to the non-news of the non-event by making strategic decisions, thus elevating the Cracker Jacks free toy prize to the level of Oracle of Delphi.

But the real story is the money, and by money, I mean HUGE amounts of money. The former Huckabee huckster on “Talk of the Nation” was talking about how the internet had changed everything, and created this HUGE instant money flow. If you do good in a debate, he said, you could bank $100,000 overnight.

And I turned off the radio.

If you tap two donors at a private get together, you easily can get that much (now that the kid gloves are off, thanks to the Alter Boys’ Citizens United Supreme Court decision.) Mitt Romney just dodged a “scandal” wherein one of his old Bain Capital partners created an LLC (Limited Liability Company) funded a million bucks or so’s worth of contributions to Mitt’s superPAC, and then dissolved the LLC.

It was like Dr. Evil, awakening from cryonic suspension in the 1960s, putting pinkie to cheek and intoning “we’ll demand … a MILLION dollars!”

Ooooh. A HUNDRED thousand dollars!

The primary process has been utterly corrupted by money, as have our “local” elections. What’s important to be a “player” is that you have the cash to own a horse and pay the entry fees. If you win the race, the purse (say, the Bush Tax Cuts and the Capital Gains tax rates) is enormous. If you’re an “activist” or you are a “grassroots donor,” at best, you’re a two dollar better at the window. You get to watch the race, but you play no actual part in it, except that your continued patronage keeps the track open.

But the presidential stakes has devolved into the “Sport of Kings” like horse racing. (I sometimes think that its name is meant a bit ruefully, since many a king has lost said kingdom from foolish bets and not-quite-fast-enough horseflesh.)

The several and petty states all have rushed to be first in line, thus negating their “increased influence” by making the feedback of a rough and tumble campaign into a ‘one shot’ winner-take-all stakes that happens almost before anyone knows it.

Now, that’s not to say that money is the SOLE factor. Back in 1996, a Senator Phil Graham (R) from Texas (he who got Glass-Stegall overturned in 1999, leavening the bread of the 2008 bank meltdown) waltzed into the Iowa caucuses with a then-astonishing amount of money — “Gramm ran unsuccessfully for the Republican Party nomination in the 1996 presidential election, for which he had raised $8 million as early as July 1994” –won the straw poll and then lost in Louisiana caucuses to Pat Buchanan and was never seen on the presidential stage again. (Well, he WAS the co-chair of the 2008 McCain campaign).

But if you AIN’T got the dough, you can’t play. At least in Republican circles.

Instead of banding together as a UNITED States, the states have clumped together in a “meee first” set of primaries that virtually assures the Golden Rule: whoever has the gold gets to rule.

Increasingly, our congressional and even state campaigns are dominated by out-of-state cash. Now, with mystery rules, we may never even get to see who paid the TV stations and radio stations to run the ads that the slick political media shops come up with. No issue can be worth more than 30 seconds, no bad commercials get elected.

And various “activist” communities get a bigger voice in your local election than you do, even IF you’re an activist. Money has supplanted popularity as the bottom line of politics. And the quaint notion of “local” vanishes by the day, as the Parties and Players put down their cash on the most “competitive” horse races.

We saw that in the obscene flush of money from Club for Growth and stealth cash from Long Island computer trader Robert Mercer in my congressional district in Oregon (See “Peter DeFazio and the Daughters of Mercer”  22 OCTOBER 2010)

Which perhaps explains why this weird game show “Who Will Be America’s Next Presidential Candidate?” keeps popping up on my television set.

Our Current Contestants

The nature of the game is unmasked in the WE NEED ANOTHER HORSE kerfluffing of New Jersey Chris Christie by the selfsame gazillionaires who Charles Koch thanked for donating a million dollars to the Kochian slush fund at their secret confab recently:

Business Insider notes, Charles Schwab, Paul Singer and David Koch.

And, urging Chris Christie to be a late entry in the Presidential Stakes? Charles Schwab, Paul Singer and David Koch, as noted in the New York Times.

A HUNDRED THOUSAND dollars!

Put a hundred G’s on Perry’s nose, Charlie!

And now, in that future news that reportage increasingly fixates on (‘so and so WILL be saying such and such’), we find that Florida has decided to shove their primary ahead of South Carolina’s which took place right after New Hampshire’s. The jockeying to be “number one” only increases the front-loading “pig in a poke” nature of the evolving “primary” system. What’s primary here is cash. And the notion that doing well one week will get you enough money (at, say $100,000 a day) to compete in another state the following week breaks down entirely. There will only be a few weeks, not hardly enough time for anyone to get a clear sense of what’s actually going on.

So, we hold our Game Show, and that’s a terrible way to pick a nominee. As the old saying goes: act in haste, repent in leisure.

If you don’t get zillions from “bundlers” and, well, Charles Schwab, Paul Singer, David Koch and their plutocratic allies, you can’t compete. No matter how many voters might be inclined to vote for you. The money buys ads on the same media covering the horserace.

Does that seem like a formula for a fair horse race to you?

The old formula for “presidential primaries” bears no relationship to the current landscape, but our punditocracy seems perennially stuck in 1976, which was one of the last times their narrative model actually worked as advertised. Now, it bears only a superficial resemblance to their rhetorical Rube Goldberg machine.

CNN reports:

Washington (CNN) — Florida is now expected to hold its presidential primary on the last day in January 2012, a move likely to throw the carefully arranged Republican nominating calendar into disarray and jumpstart the nominating process a month earlier than party leaders had hoped.

Florida House Speaker Dean Cannon told CNN on Tuesday that a state commission exploring potential primary dates is likely to choose January 31 to hold the nominating contest.

If that happens, it would almost certainly force the traditional early states of Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina and Nevada to leapfrog Florida and move their primaries and caucuses into early- to mid-January….

But don’t believe all the pontificatry on the boob tube: sound bites matter, but substance is immaterial. (See the “Rick Perry Flameout” and the “Obama Gaffe” kerfluffing which continues throughout the week. Swiftboating is what matters these daze in the mediasphere.)

Money matters. Voters are immaterial.

Otherwise, why would anyone in their right mind say this:

Meanwhile, the bottom 50 percent of earners pay just 3 percent. About 47 percent of American households pay no federal income tax at all.

[…]

According to the Tax Policy Center, the breakdown works like this: The bottom 20 percent pay -3.8 percent (that’s minus 3.8). That means they actually get money from the federal government. The second 20 percent gets even more — they pay -4.3 percent. Thus, the bottom 40 percent not only pay nothing, they get cash back (your cash).

“Your cash”? You mean, obviously, you aren’t talking about the bottom 40 percent of the electorate, or, pretty obviously, the bottom 50 percent of the population?

How can this be rational in any sense in a representative democracy? Seriously?

You’ve already insulted and dismissed HALF the electorate? Really?

Unless money is all that matters, that is.

As we settle back to watch the Sport of Kings on our flat-screen, wall-mounted televisions, in high definition video and 5.1 surround sound.

Who will be the GOP’s Seabiscuit?

The coveted award

Courage.

===============

A writer, published author, novelist, literary critic and political observer for a quarter of a quarter-century more than a quarter-century, Hart Williams has lived in the American West for his entire life. Having grown up in Wyoming, Kansas and New Mexico, a survivor of Texas and a veteran of Hollywood, Mr. Williams currently lives in Oregon, along with an astonishing amount of pollen. He has a lively blog His Vorpal Sword. This is cross-posted from his blog.

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About Hart Williams

Mr. Williams grew up in Wyoming, Nebraska, Kansas and New Mexico. He lived in Hollywood, California for many years. He has been published in The Washington Post, The Kansas City Star, The Santa Fe Sun, The Los Angeles Free Press, Oui Magazine, New West, and many, many more. A published novelist and a filmed screenwriter, Mr. Williams eschews the decadence of Hollywood for the simple, wholesome goodness of the plain, honest people of the land. He enjoys Luis Buñuel documentaries immensely.
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