Watching the Democratic Presidential candidates' televised debates has become painful for me. Oh, sure: watching the Republicans' version of the rainbow coalition (white, off-white, grey, bone, ivory, buff and cream)in action on television in (pardon the expression) "living color" is even more dreadful, but we know those guys are going to lose, so who cares how bad their act is?
The Democrats, on the other hand, are in all likelihood sifting through the options leading up to actually picking a winner-the next occupant of the Oval Office. If the point of these debates is to give us, the voters, any insight into what our next Chief Executive is going to be like, we are in big trouble. I say this knowing that the Press has already accorded Senator Hillary Clinton not only the Democratic nomination, but the ultimate prize, the White House, as well. This was done without a single vote having been cast and simply on the strength of one solitary measure: dollars raised. She must be ahead, the pundits reason, because she's lapped the field in the money-grubbing sweepstakes.
I know that all the commentators realize that technically some sort of voting has to take place before the coronation is allowed to happen, but to the skilled political observer's eye, this is just so much red tape and hokum. The matter has been decided. She was the first in the sprint to raise $10 million this year, which shot her to the forefront in the early analyses and which then generated an avalanche of additional money from those eager to be lined-up on the same side as the ultimate victor. Then that extra money was widely interpreted to mean she was enjoying soaring, even skyrocketing popularity, far more than her primary opponents...and that attracted yet more contributions. A classic snowball effect played out.
It should be no surprise that the polls show her well ahead of Obama, Edwards, Richardson, and the rest of the pack. She's riding a tsunami of cash, and she seems expertly shrewd in the art of spending it wisely. Her commercials (definitely carried on network television, not the dusty back shelves of cable rerun channels) are certain to be slick. Her mailings will be models of Madison Avenue wizardry. Her telephone push polls will, of course, be put together so subtly that no respondent will ever be aware they've been pushed or polled. If money can buy it, Hillary will have it in her arsenal and all the gadgetry of modern political "witch doctorism" will be immediately at her disposal.
You've got to hand it to her: Senator Clinton plays this version of the political game like the old pro she is, and she plays it to win, with nothing left to chance. So I admit to a certain admiration for this tough, smart, supremely polished woman. She might have made a terrific President at one time, but now when I see her in action in front of the cameras, I cringe. She has become the number one symptom (and not the solution) of all that ails American Democracy in these most cynical of times.
In her probable victory a year from now, we will have reflected back to us the dismal portrait of what we have devolved into: a culture that can't be bothered to decide the value of anything except by one solitary measure: the marketplace.
Equally on full display is the frightening picture of how corrosive the influence of money is on political processes. I can't blame Hillary for playing to win by these rules; she didn't write them, she just figured out how to make them pay. It can be argued that it was the Supreme Court that did the dirty deed when it ruled some years ago that any attempt by law makers to limit the influence of money in elections is an unconstitutional attempt at limiting free speech!
One corollary to this ruling has always seemed to me to be: he who has the most money has the most free speech, and the poor, by virtue of their lack of money, have practically no free speech. A second corollary is what Clinton appears to be demonstrating so precisely this primary season: when dollars are the equivalent of votes, who needs elections as long as we have bankers?
This, then, is the American political malaise. Our worship of money has logically produced an electoral process in which nothing will be said that might antagonize the sources of political cash: the wealthiest of the American Corporate lions. Senator Clinton's rhetoric becomes increasingly bland and forgettable as her campaign treasury deepens. In the end-stages (now), she says nothing and promises only to avoid (her favorite word) "irresponsible" action. Wonderful! We will get four years of "responsible inaction" if she assumes the mantle.
This rapid ride to the bottom of insipid inoffensiveness was on pathetic display most recently when she forgot herself during an answer to a question on issuing drivers licenses for undocumented persons. She said something just a wee bit venturesome-then spent five minutes thrashing around trying to re-establish herself as sitting squarely on the fence on this (and every other) issue imaginable. "I can see all sides of this controversy," she seemed to me to be saying, "and you can be assured that as President I will do absolutely nothing about it...for fear that taking action might offend someone, especially someone who possibly might have supported my campaign financially. I just can't take that risk. Nor will I promise to end the Occupation of Iraq during my term, either."
A campaign run the way this one is being run seems exquisitely crafted to produce record low voter turn-outs. The message is clear. Our leading candidates feel passion about nothing but the size of their campaign's bank deposits. They intend to do nothing to change the status quo. When Democrats and Republicans are indistinguishable, will voting make the slightest difference? There isn't a whole lot of Democracy left in this country: just a powdery covering with a lot of bare spots. Watching our leading Democratic Presidential contender brush away even those remnants isn't a pretty sight.