How We Elect: A Decaying Republic’s Broken System (Part One)

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On Friday, February 14, I received the following email message from Dr. Lerah Lee’s campaign to seek a House seat in D.C:

When I started this campaign for Georgia’s 7th Congressional District, I was determined to follow through, win or lose—but sometimes things don’t work out the way we plan.
Unfortunately, I have had to suspend my campaign to focus on my health, but I want to assure everyone that has supported me with volunteer work, prayers, and financial generosity that I am still committed to the conservative values we share and Republican victory in 2020.

There was more, but none of it relevant to the reasons for Dr. Lee’s withdrawal.  Having promoted her candidacy in this space and others, I felt that more was needed.  I had been persuaded—and I remain persuaded—that the Republican Party should pay more attention to wooing black voters away from the Democrat puppeteers ruining their lives.  I was reproached by some for playing “identity politics”… but I’m of Anglo-Welsh origin myself, and even I often look at Republican candidates with the thought, “One of those again—one of the doctor/lawyer class whose kids never went to jail for drunk driving, always found their way to a college degree after four or five years of partying, always graduated to find jobs falling into their laps.”  Yeah, I knew a lot of them.  And I’m white.  So you needn’t tell me that the “privileged class” perception is imaginary, especially when white “conservatives” like Doug Collins, Tom Tillis, and Lindsey Graham 2.0 continue to promote the presence of unvetted aliens among us while emptying out our prisons.  There’s something to the “country club/gated community” stereotype, my dears.  It happens not to be a racial “something”, primarily—though it is perhaps so secondarily; and the untrained eye often sees the second layer as the surface one.

Unfortunately, there’s also something to the Raisin in the Sun stereotype.  When I coached baseball for a predominantly black Little League in Tyler, Texas, many years ago, our pleasant experiences came to a skidding halt during a season when three or four of the league’s “organizers” decided to start pocketing cash from the concession stand.  One of them very nearly took a swing at me after I protested how he had scheduled road trips all over East Texas on school nights.  He said (or yelled) a little too much: it became clear to me just then that the whole arrangement was a “you scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours” concoction to isolate the boys and their families from any food right at supper time… except, of course, for the concession stand.  None of these men was driving a humble Chevy S-10 and living in a fifty-year-old house, as I was.  All of them also seemed to be far deeper in debt than I’ve ever been.

So… did I just get played in a similar way by Dr. Lerah?  The whole thing has that old savor.  I certainly wouldn’t want to pry… but something a little beyond “focus on my health” (bolded dramatically) would help.  Why not just mention nervous exhaustion, or a newly diagnosed heart condition?  We don’t need to see the file and the X-rays, but… but some of us stuck our neck out for you, Dr. L!  One would also have liked to read something on the order of this: “I have now spent all of the funds raised and am consuming my personal savings on the campaign, which will destroy my family if I do not change course.”  But no.  Nothing in that genre.

The next time a bright young constitutionalist seeking office makes an appeal to me on the basis of African DNA, I’m afraid I won’t be very receptive.  Already, I’ve begun reflexively deleting emails from some new Candace Owens PAC requesting funds for just that objective.  You might think about that part of your legacy, Dr. Lee, if you’re at all inclined to ponder the wake left by your public actions.

And tossing about in the wreckage of that very wake, I started looking at Senator Kelly Loeffler from a new angle.  Appointed to replace the ailing Johnny Isakson by Georgia Governor Brian Kemp, Loeffler is required by state law to run for formal election next November rather than serve out the entire Isakson term uncontested.  The battle between her and the forementioned Doug Collins has drawn national attention.  As a girl, Kelly would probably not have fit the “one of those again” profile that I memorized so thoroughly in high school.  Her ads, now saturating local TV, represent a Midwestern farm lass who waited tables to put herself through college: someone much more like me than like my quondam classmates in an elite Fort Worth private school.  But that endearing snapshot edits out the critical years of her more recent life when she met and married an Atlanta billionaire.  Wikipedia estimates Kelly’s current net worth at 500 million.  The figure is likely not far off target, and the claim it fuels that Loeffler is among the wealthiest people in Washington seems justified.  Besides raw wealth, other peculiarities make this case a standout.  Here’s how one source represents the rather complicated picture taking shape around the freshman senator:

Kelly Loeffler, former CEO of bitcoin derivatives exchange Bakkt and a newly-appointed U.S. Senator, has joined the committee that oversees the Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC).

Loeffler has joined the Senate Agricultural Committee, which has jurisdiction over the CFTC. Loeffler’s appointment to the committee raises concerns about a possible conflict of interest. Her husband, Jeffrey Sprecher, is the founder, chairman, and CEO of Intercontinental Exchange (ICE), which is regulated by the CFTC.

“I have worked hard to comply with both the letter and the spirit of the Senate’s ethics rules and will continue to do so every day,” Loeffler told the Wall Street Journal, adding: “I will recuse myself if needed on a case by case basis.”

Loeffler’s appointment reportedly comes at a time when the agriculture committee is working on legislation to reauthorize the CFTC. The committee also oversees approving nominations for CFTC commissioners and chairmen.

Oh, boy.  You know, one of the reasons I took my son to the north side of Tyler to play baseball was that the south side was overrun by the “one of those again” types: the pushy white males with their lucrative insurance gigs and car dealerships.  They would cut shady deals, those “coaches”, before draft night to have the two or three most grotesquely overgrown lads on their team, blow away the competition for the next two months, advance to regional play-offs, and (I’ve no doubt) assume that college or professional scouts would spot their son on the SuperTeam and immediately get on the phone about a scholarship or signing bonus.  They weren’t snitching Jacksons out of the cash drawer: they were fishing for Moby Dick.

And now Kelly Loeffler… is going to self-police on a committee that will determine the future of her husband’s vastly lucrative enterprise.  Well, maybe.  I guess it all depends on whether she has so much already that she doesn’t feel tempted to mark the deck during future shuffles.

Here is my collective response to our train wreck of a political system.  There are perhaps four types of politician.  One is a pitiful, negligible scavenger: the camp-following opportunist poised to snatch up whatever morsels slip off the table.  This person, being poor and void of powerful backing, raises a ruckus among the poor about the Class of the Powerfully Backed.  He or she may gain a bit of local traction but really never intends to go very far.  Going far, after all, isn’t necessary.  There are so many crumbs and morsels—enough to make even the also-rans fat and happy!  Why not just fill your pockets during the election season’s general chaos?  Dr. Lee, I’m not really looking at you… am I?  I wish I knew.  Or maybe I’m glad I don’t.

It is difficult to believe that the Clintons—our nation’s political Bonnie and Clyde—began as anything much other than petty scavengers.  Having watched their ascent over my own lifetime, I can discern no persistent motive in their behavior other than self-enrichment—no clear indication that they sought to subordinate this motive to ideology at any point.  To the extent that Hillary, in particular, grew to be a leftist ideologue, it is likely because she recognized in the sweeping vistas of power suddenly open before her a breathtaking opportunity to amass fortunes upon fortunes.  Sometimes the pet fed on table scraps becomes the Dog Who Has His Day.

Next we have the relatively impoverished but better connected, genuinely ideological populist who manages to get himself (or herself) catapulted into the Big Show.  This person truly intends to fight for the little guy in the beginning… and then sees what limitless fields of abundance have opened before him.  One imagines that European sailors who discovered flightless, succulent Dodo birds waiting to be slaughtered on South Sea islands must have known the temptation.  If one can ascribe any degree of sincerity to AOC in her first hours of fame, she may fit the profile; but then, she let suspiciously few of those hours pass before starting to live high and wide on her electoral success.  Perhaps she simply doesn’t understand money.  The once lovable Joe Lieberman, on the other hand, has come to understand money all too well.  He’s currently an effective lobbyist for a Communist China openly in pursuit of world domination: a nice guy no more, alas.

Now we do a kind of class/racial/economic pivot.  The third and fourth types enter politics already rich by ordinary standards.  Number Three is conservative in that he (or she) just wants to keep the gravy train rolling: form special ties with legislators, pass special laws to secure his venture’s favored position, perhaps open new markets or create new bureaucratic obstacles that will allow the venture to slip even farther ahead.  The “conservation” apparently enters the equation through the idea of providing jobs, jobs, jobs.  The crushing of potentially competitive start-ups through intrusive legislation and imperial bureaucracy… nah, who needs those jobs?  Nothing much is said by these “conservators”, either, about freedom of speech and assembly, or the right to bear arms, or due process, or abortion… nothing except on such public occasions as require checking the proper box.  Hello, Doug Collins, Lindsey Graham, Tom Tillis, John Cornyn, Mitt Romney, Mitch McConnell, Lamar Alexander… and will you join this rogue’s gallery, Kelly Loeffler?

Finally, and most ominously, we have the once-capitalist Croesus who has made so much loot in his day that he can never possibly spend a tenth of it, and who has hence lost interest in growing or even preserving it.  He is jaded with pedestrian luxuries like palatial mansions and armies of servants: he craves some new land to conquer.  The free market now bores him: freedoms of all varieties bore him, inasmuch as they encourage others to hamper his whimsical daydreams.  Perhaps if he could assume utter control over a nation and refashion it in a way that strikes his fancy… perhaps that would be amusing.  Perhaps he could become the God that children and fools used to believe in.  Becoming God… that should be amusing, shouldn’t it?

The paradox that someone so fabulously wealthy should seek political power by populist avenues appears to shock most people—yet such is the well-established pattern.  Donald Trump would probably leap to the popular imagination, with a little nudge from CNN (whose nudges are never little); yet Trump is a weak example, in that his program—to the extent that he has one—emphasizes removing centralized authority from the lives of ordinary citizens.  It’s true that his views have not always shown this inclination, do not always show it now, and indeed show a particularly annoying pliancy toward his daughter and her husband’s games of social engineering.  Still, the superior instances of this type may be found in Michael Bloomberg and Tom Steyer, both of whom have far more wealth than Trump and also far more intrusive designs for reassembling the republic as a well-oiled machine of tiny, obedient cogs.

Is there a fifth species of politico—a “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington” type who doesn’t sell out his principles within mere weeks or months?  We all dream of that legendary savior… but he truly appears to be no more than a dream.  Even at his best (i.e., as his staunchest supporters imagine him), Donald Trump cannot audition for the role, simply because he lacks the “barefoot and backwoods” origins.  Admit it: the Donald was never really an outsider in the sense of our fathers when they screamed about a hike in property tax.  Democrats no doubt thought that they had found the genuiiiiine proletarian redeemer in Jimmy Carter, and then in Bill Clinton; but the former was a local patrician with a drawl, and the latter closer to what his minions would call “trailer trash” than to anyone who ever paid property tax.

Frankly, Ross Perot would probably have played the desired part better than any of the characters named above—but Perot’s only lasting contribution to the political scene was to clear the way for Clinton’s election.  Still more frankly—brace for devastating frankness!—Richard Nixon rose from humbler roots than any president of the past century, and enriched himself in the office, as well, less than perhaps any of his peers.

Nixon’s example only serves to show how straitjacketed our collective thought has become in such matters by the manipulative media/entertainment/education complex.  Tinkering endlessly with our perception and our memory, it prevents us from staring a stark reality in the face: the fact that we have no good options, now that fear of the Hereafter and a sense of common decency have gone the way of the watch fob.  I think Perot was probably torpedoed by whispered threats that the Public will never be allowed to learn.  (A few of you may recall that he issued cloudy statements about the sabotage of his daughter’s wedding.)  These threats would likely have emanated as much from the Republican establishment (the sanctuary of Number Three politicians) as from Democrats (a rag-tag collection of Numbers One and Two, before our decay birthed Number Four in abundance).  Nixon, too, had a good man in him somewhere… but constant hounding by the media and academe for his role in ferreting out communists during the Fifties grossly warped the man’s moral skeleton.  Good people, in short, don’t survive protracted exposure to our system: they either abandon the ship before she clears the harbor or turn pirate with the rest of the crew.

I don’t know what we do.  There’s almost a kind of tragic inevitability to the downward spiral.  People cannot be happy in this life unless they realize that this life doesn’t—cannot—contain what they need to be fully happy.  As our nation has prospered, its citizens have grown more secular; and as they discover ever more sullenly the absence of real happiness in their abundance, politicians advance ever farther by offering them yet more playthings of this world.  I don’t know what the corrective is for that, other than a plunge off the cliff which doesn’t quite crush everyone at the bottom.  The survivors limp away wiser, and start a new settlement in the chasm… what a hope, as Sir Kenneth Clark would say!

Is it a bad thing for a politician to be wealthy?  Why?  Might not wealth, rather, insulate an office-holder from being corrupted?  Yet how do we ensure that the grandee who can’t even recall the number of zeroes rounding out his net worth will not be corrupted by the far more lethal toxicity of megalomania?

The imposition of term limits wouldn’t hurt.  The one credible path to that end is a Convention of States (and there I find an organization that continues to be worthy of generous donations).  Might we not also be able to require, as part of their licensure, that outlets of news media, both national and local, contribute free time to political candidates?  That, too, is something of a pipe dream, I realize.  In an age when nonstop political advocacy is already masquerading as “straight news”, equality of time would be impossible to determine or enforce.  We’ve already had a glimpse of how that game might be rigged with the Obama era’s “Net neutrality” canard.  And, in any case, how would a candidate reach the stage of qualifying for free time, if not by having previous high visibility in the community?  That means money, unless you’re a high-profile entertainer or athlete.

Which, believe it or not, raises a serious point—and it must be my point of departure for next week, since I’ve run rather long today.

Author: nilnoviblog

I hold a Ph.D. in Comparative Literature (Latin/Greek) but have not navigated academe very successfully for the past thirty years. This is owed partly to my non-PC place of origin (Texas), but probably more to my conviction--along with the ancients--that human nature is immutable, and my further conviction--along with Stoics and true Christians-- that we have a natural calling to surmount our nature. Or maybe I just don't play office politics well. I'm much looking forward to impending retirement, when I can tend to my orchards and perhaps market the secrets of Dead Ball hitting that I've excavated. No, there's nothing new (nil novi) under the sun... but what a huge amount has been forgotten, in baseball and elsewhere!

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