Saturday, March 03, 2012


Defending Clean Elections is about more than Clean Elections.

29 Feb 2012 07:20 pm
Posted by: Donna

I’ve been meaning to blog about this since I saw it Saturday morning but other things came up. Now that Clean Elections repeal appears to be headed to the ballots in November I figured it was a good time.

Up With Chris Hayes on MSNBC (which is excellent BTW) had a panel discussion last Saturday morning that included Dr. Victoria DeFrancesco Soto, a political analyst and Arizona native. Meghan McCain dropped by as a guest and the topic of discussion, of course, turned to Arizona wild ‘n wacky political climate. About 3:25 into this video, Dr. Soto trashed Clean Elections. She invoked the standard conventional wisdom in Arizona that blames the program for people like Russell Pearce getting elected because Clean Elections gave ideologues an “edge” over Chamber of Commerce establishment candidates. She incorrectly claimed that the program was abolished (the Supreme Court rescinded matching funds, not the program itself) and hailed that as a good thing.

It being a national show, the panel seemed perplexed by Dr. Soto’s harangue against our state’s public financing program and Chris Hayes pushed back on it, asking her why she felt it was good to get election money out of the grassroots and back in hands of big business. Soto repeated the evidence-free assertion that Clean Elections must have caused all the problems because, well, look at all these wingnuts in the Arizona Legislature! You know the drill: If we just get rid of that dastardly Clean Elections we’ll return to that (nonexistent) glorious era of moderation and collegiality. You know, just like how Alabama and other Red states with no public financing are today. Dr. Soto then made the remarkable comment that she might reconsider her opinion in 10 years. At which time ordinary citizens might have evolved enough to be trusted with public campaign financing, I suppose.

I’m not suggesting there’s no room for improvement in the Clean Elections program but I’ve explained at length in previous posts why the “moderation” argument in opposition to Clean Elections is false on the merits, intellectually dishonest, and elitist at it’s core. It’s that last point, the elitism, that’s the most visceral for me. Amanda Marcotte, as usual, has an excellent post at Pandagon analyzing a behavioral study demonstrating an inverse relationship between wealth and ethics.

2) The rich shouldn’t be the moral arbiters of society. There’s a strange tendency in the Beltway media to assume that viciousness in politics originates with the working class, and that the rich are above anti-choice sadism, racist a**holery, and homophobic nonsense. Part of that is that the very narrow demographic of professional urban people in the upper middle class influences their idea that privileged people are liberal, but if you take a snapshot of the country on the whole, that theory tends to fall apart. Anyone who looks at the giant gap in fund-raising for liberal and conservative non-profits could tell you that the money is on the right. Duh.

But the larger point is that the false assumption that the rich are better than ordinary people keeps us from interrogating how it is that the more power our leaders have, the more likely they are to be really rich. Not like upper middle class privileged, but straight up millionaire rich. Since we have scientific evidence that extreme wealth reduces empathy, this should concern us all. We want ethical people in government, and ethical people tend to come from the ranks of the ordinary more than the wealthy.
The professional class in Arizona isn’t nearly as liberal as that in DC and other urban regions (proving Amanda’s point there) but the media and punditocracy here do share the same assumption that ideological extremism (on the right, at least) is largely a working class phenomenon. That is the whole basis of their disdain for Clean Elections and the Chamber and lobbyists are only too happy to let them persist in it. This state is chock full of racists, misogynists, homophobes, and global warming deniers with political aspirations who can self-fund and/or raise funds raise funds very easily through traditional channels. This is the state that spawned Congressman Trent Franks, who has never gotten a dime of public financing for his campaigns and who got his start in political activism by chaining himself to the Phoenix Planned Parenthood clinic, after all, and he votes pro-business every time.

The truly powerful people in Arizona (and everywhere else in this country) aren’t even politicians. They are the very rich people pulling the strings of the politicians and the media. That’s what ticks me off most about ostensibly progressive political operatives going on national TV and repeating the ruling class’s anti-democratic talking points. It reinforces the false and un-examined notion that the rich are innately superior and the only ones qualified to be leaders.

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