“Buying” elections.

I’m slightly frightened by how many counter-intuitive thoughts I’ve been having recently, but this one relates to such a salient topic that it’s worth adding on here. Perhaps it’s a more obvious point than I think, but if it is, it certainly needs saying more often.

We hear over and over how the billionaires bank-rolling Romney’s campaign in America are allegedly undermining democracy and turning America into an oligarchy by ‘buying’ the Presidential election. Now, there’s one definite meaning that can be given to this claim which I certainly wouldn’t want to query: namely, that in funding a certain candidate, these men are seeking favours in return. That’s uncontentious corruption with an obvious ethical stench.

But I sense that a more common reading of the ‘buying elections’ phrase – which I most often hear, say, on Rachel Maddow’s show – is that in paying for so many attack ads, these billionaires are determining the electorate’s direction and rigging the ballot box. They are manipulating the result of the vote.

And I can’t think of many claims which could be more contemptible in their disrespect for one’s fellow citizens. The Koch brothers can spend as much as they like, but they will still cast one vote come November. The identical number of votes that anyone else has on Decision Day. And to suggest that in funding ads they make millions of people head off in a herd in the direction they wish, you must deny any ounce of agency to those that watch the ads, process them, and then must still decide how they wish to act in their aftermath.

Why skip over this small but paramount detail in the causal process? Why make it appear as if the Koch brothers are programming robots rather than trying to influence other persons with brains of their own?

There are many, many good reasons for opposing the current state of campaign finance in the US, but I’m sorry – this ain’t one of them.


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