© Josh Sager – February 2015
Last Friday, Mitt Romney announced that he was not planning on a 2016 Presidential run, aborting a great deal of speculation about the potential GOP primary field. To many, this decision was a shock, particularly considering the fact that recent polling on the 2016 GOP primary electorate indicated that Romney was the most popular candidate (likely due to his very high name recognition).
In response to Romney’s announcement, the media published dozens of articles speculating about the possible reason for his withdrawal and analyzing the responses of the candidates still in the race—most prominently, Jeb Bush, Chris Christie, and Scott Walker. During this coverage, large portions of the media illustrated that they have become so immersed in the corruption afflicting our political system that it no longer sees it as anything more than “politics as usual.”
The Oligarchy in the Room
While covering the political vacuum left by Romney’s exit from the race, most mainstream media outlet have paid significant attention to the effect of donors on Romney’s decision not to run. They argue that Romney’s wavering donor base caused him to abort his run, even in spite of his strong support in the polls.
For example: In CNN’s article “Mitt Romney Will Not Run in 2016” the authors quote Romney as saying that “Our finance calls made it clear that we would have enough funding to be more than competitive. With few exceptions, our field political leadership is ready and enthusiastic about a new race. And the reaction of Republican voters across the country was both surprising and heartening,”
They have Romney, on record, as saying that he has a base of voter support and a strong infrastructure ready to go, but lackluster support from the moneyed donor class overrides the opinions of these organizers and voters. While I have little doubt that this is accurate, it is an extraordinary admission by Romney that goes completely unchallenged as just “normal” politics.
At no point does CNN—or any other mainstream media outlet that I have seen—point out that a political system which uses a small group of powerful interests to select the “acceptable” candidates for a popular election is technically an Oligarchy (rule by the few). Additionally, at no point do they mention that a recent Princeton/Northwestern University study concluded that the vast majority of American public policy since 1980 has represented the preferences of Americans in the top 10% of the income distribution (another characteristic of an oligarchy).
The mainstream media decries this kind of anti-democratic activity in Iranian politics (the Ayatollah decides who can run for president), but that is because the small group making the selection is a cabal of religious elites rather than a cabal of economic elites. They are so used to covering the so called “money-primary,” where rich Americans/corporations whittle down the potential electoral choices by pledging money to their selected candidate that they just mention it in passing and continue on to the rest of the story.
Unfortunately, the average American has a very short political memory and virtually no knowledge of political theory, thus won’t recognize this problem unless the media explicitly point it out. Given the media’s inattention in this matter, I seriously doubt that the average American will end up understanding the truth behind what they are seeing.
The Donor Blitz
In addition to covering donor activity as a reason why Romney dropped out of the race, the media has spent a great deal of time covering the attempts by Bush, Walker, and Christie to entice ex-Romney donors.
For example: The New York Times ran an article titled “G.O.P. Campaigns Scramble to Add Romney Donors” where they call the billion-dollar donor pool freed up by Romney’s exit as “the biggest unclaimed prize in American politics” and describe a deluge of calls to donors from campaign offices immediately after Romney’s announcement.
I found similar articles on most mainstream media sites, including, but not limited to, The Washington Post, ABC News, NBC News, Huffington Post, and Fox News. In these articles, the authors describing how Bush and Christie appear to be splitting up the ex-Romney donors, which potentially makes them the dominant candidates in the coming primary.
In virtually all of the coverage surrounding the movement of ex-Romney donors, the mainstream media treats the donors as a vital political resource that could decide help decide the primary election before candidates even declare that they are running. While, technically, this is true, the media ignores that donor money is an investment, not philanthropy. Donors give money to candidates because they hope to affect policy (ex. cut taxes, protect subsidies, etc.).
In effect, the media is describing how major political candidates are prostrating themselves in front of the rich and begging for money, while covering this debasement as a race where the best beggar is the best politician. At no point do they point out how perverse or antithetical to American values this begging is, nor do they warn the American people that they are watching an auction for their democracy.
The influence of money in modern politics is so pervasive that many media figures and pundits simply see it as normal and acceptable (like how few people feel their own heartbeat on a regular basis). They cover the pursuit of big-money donations as simply a function of campaigning rather indicative of a grave danger that our politicians are selling their office.
The lack of outrage in the media over this translates to a lack of mainstream coverage; in turn, this results in a misinformed population. During election time, the vast sums of money donated by wealthy interests is turned into thousands of hours of propaganda which inundate the American people—without the media informing the public about who funds these advertisements (never mind the potential strings attached), the American people is poorly equipped to critically analyze their legitimacy.
Even if you don’t support a candidate personally, you should be outraged that a lack of money could keep that candidate from entering an election. When money creates a political gateway that only those who beg for money from the elite can pass, a democracy degrades into an oligarchy—when the media ignores this problem, it reduces the possibility of change and creates an environment where the population is filled with misdirected anger at a problem that they intuit, but not accurately conceptualize.