“Make America Debate Again” is what I saw on a meme the other day. Someone had taken one of the those red baseball caps that Trump likes to wear, and turned it into a blue and red work of Photoshop art. Really, we need to start talking again. But what I see more and more these days, is people trying to silence their opposition. And failing that, they seek to discredit their opposition without actually touching the facts.
Donald Trump is a master at this tactic. I have seen him time and again chastising, denigrating, even mocking his opposition without actually engaging in debate. At the same time I also see “old guard” Democrats doing the same thing to their progressive factions.
Just the other day, I saw this op-ed from David Brock, telling us that criticism of Beto O’Rourke will only have the effect of damaging the chances of any Democrat defeating Trump in 2020. I did notice how he closes his article by warning Sanders to focus on policy rather than criticizing Democrats, yet most of the criticism is not from Sanders himself, but from people who support his policy positions.
I was a fan of Beto after watching him debate Ted Cruz and after watching that debate, I began to watch for news of him. Once I heard that Barack Obama met with Beto shortly after losing the election to Cruz, I became suspicious. Then David Sirota wrote an analysis of Beto’s voting record and I flipped on Beto. No longer do I support him.
Now some of you may say that I need to be supportive of any Democrat who has a chance of defeating Trump. I was hearing the same chants during the last presidential election, too. I have also read articles saying that if I did not shift my loyalty from Bernie to Hillary after she won the primary, that I was sexist, as if I should be embarrassed for my preference. There was one guy on Google+ who made vitriolic comments to my posts whenever I was critical of Hillary. He wanted to change my mind at first, but eventually, he blocked me, preferring censorship to actual debate.
I will admit that I am #stillsanders. He is the only candidate who said, during a debate on national TV, that unless we get big money out of politics, there can be no other reforms. No other candidate has ever said this during a presidential debate. Big money in politics chills the debate.
I’ve written numerous articles in the past on this point and studied the role of money in politics. It is hard to do the will of the people if you’re feeling obligated to the big checks you got at the fundraiser. If we’re just going to follow the money, why even bother to run?
When I see David Brock chastise progressives for criticizing Beto, I see someone who is listening to the money, not his conscience. When I see someone criticize Sanders supporters for not voting for Hillary Clinton in 2016, I see someone who follows identity politics. Identity politics is for zombies.
If we just run horse races and rave about the person running for office, we lose sight of the debate on policy. No matter who runs for office, I am looking for the policies that are actually supported by the candidate. That means I don’t really care about the party, the person or the label you want to hang on that person. I am only interested in policies. I ask a simple question about the policies supported by any candidate: Do those policies promote the well being of everyone or just a few of us? Is that what a candidate is talking about?
Removing big money from politics would have the effect of focusing our minds on the policy debate. Instead of having to please a few really big donors, we’d have to please many, many more people. We’d have to make policy proposals that on analysis, make it harder to predict who benefits from a law. A sign of a good law is one that makes it near impossible to predict who will benefit from it, unless that set is all of us. We should be making law that benefits all of us, not just a few of us.
Money, personality cults and the marginalization of dissent prevent us from having that debate, a debate over public policy proposals that would reveal how one moneyed interest will benefit at the expense of the rest of us. Big money in American politics is a feature not a bug. It is designed to divide us. If this country will ever be united again, we must be aware of the money behind policy proposals and be willing to engage in vigorous, thorough, and thoughtful debate before we enact them.