Charlie Pierce at Esquire:
It had been a long time since I was around a presidential campaign when I picked this one up in Iowa a little more than a year ago. The first story that hit me was the money. It still seems to me that the money is the only story in this whole campaign. It has deformed the process almost to unrecognizability. It has created a new normal that seems insulated on all sides from the people who are supposed to matter the most. If the president manages to hang on, it will be seen as a triumph of participatory democracy over legalized bribery, and we will all be encouraged to feel very good about ourselves because things turned out that way. But, seriously, were it not for the new political universe created by the Big Bang of the Citizens United decision, and were it not for the swiftly established metric that he who has the most money wins, the candidacy of Willard Romney would be an almost impossible burlesque. Four years after the titans of the financial-services industry nearly ate the entire world, the Republicans nominate a plutocratic maladroit who can barely wrestle a coherent sentence to a draw — “We start a new tomorrow tomorrow,” was yesterday’s gem — and who is entirely a creature of the very industry that had caused the misery in the first place. It is exactly the same as if the Republicans in 1932 had replaced Herbert Hoover at the top of their ticket with Andrew Mellon.
But the election is still within an eyelash, one way or the other, because Romney’s money, and all the other money that lined up behind it, made him credible. Exactly forty years after anonymous corporate cash became the first loose thread that would lead to the unravelling of Richard Nixon’s presidency, anonymous corporate cash is the coin of the realm. It is the measure by which we determine the fitness to lead the nation, to command the armed forces, to who gets their hands on the nuclear codes. It used to be popular to complain that we had turned politics into an advertising design competition, that we sold our candidates “like soap.” Now, we’ve turned the elections into investment opportunities, and we sell our candidates like beachfront condos or cattle futures. I am not at all sure this is an improvement.
But, recently, watching things on the ground here in Florida, I’ve come to think that there is an even bigger story than the money, that the money is merely the only story within the only story. I have watched at close range how very far politicians will go to use their institutional power as elected officials to deaden the instincts of self-government. It is the money that got them into place to do it, but what they’re doing is something far more insidious and dangerous. Actively keeping people from exercising the franchise is bad enough. But to continue, over and over and over again, to make the process harder and harder until a critical mass of people decides that self-government is not worth the bother, I think, is far, far worse.