Jimmy Zuma

Jimmy Zuma
Washington, District of Columbia,
August 01
After ten years haunting online political forums and much longer as a disability rights advocate, Jimmy Zuma started the online political journal, Smart v. Stupid. Since then, he has emerged as one of the left’s most direct new voices. Almost immediately, Jimmy was offered the opportunity to join the political team at Technorati where he writes DC Water Cooler, a weekly feature on what the politicians and pundits are talking about. Most recently, his columns began appearing in the Tucson Sentinel in Tucson Arizona. He is also an occasional contributor to OpEd News. Jimmy's goal is to return vetting to the marketplace of ideas, by elevating the status of smart ideas and debunking dumb ones.

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JUNE 8, 2012 8:09AM

The new American politics: voting with dollars

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Money didn’t win the Wisconsin recall for Scott Walker. Wisconsinites voted for, and got, what they wanted. Twice. Still, this election season marks a tipping point for American politics. We are at the moment when money is poised to replace voting as the way that elections are decided.

This is not the first time elected offices were for sale. Around the dawn of the 20th Century, local government seats were commonly bought from and sold by local party bosses. We also can’t forget the “company towns” of the 19th and early 20th Centuries. In many of them, the mayor and sheriff were officially chosen by the owner of the mine or factory. (These company-owned towns led directly to the formation of labor unions.) And Meg Whitman – lacking any sort of qualifications for the job -- recently tried to buy herself a California governorship.

But as far back as I can remember this is the first time that individual people were rich enough to buy their own, pet presidential candidates. Newt Gingrich would have flamed out in 45 days or less without billionaire Sheldon Adelson personally funding his campaign. So the game has clearly changed.

This influence of money pervades both sides. You need only look to how quickly President Obama’s surrogates – Cory Booker, Deval Patrick and even Bill Clinton morphed into finance industry surrogates when the president took a small stab at vulture capitalism. This mayor, governor and former-president-philanthropist depend heavily on the finance industry. They’d gotten a call, it seems.

Most recently it was Wisconsin, where liberals learned they can no longer simply rely on labor unions to get out the vote. Something more is required.

So if money is more powerful than votes these days, the next election will surely turn on an unprecedented barrage of negative television advertising funded by some really unsavory characters – gambling moguls like Sheldon Adelson and big polluters like the Koch brothers. How can the average American have even a tiny bit of influence?

Well, when money is top dog, so are consumers. Two bright spots in our current politics were successful consumer boycotts of corporations that advertise on hate radio and fund ALEC. Consumers convinced dozens of corporations to fundamentally alter their advertising and corporate giving strategies. Sure, these boycotts weren’t terminally successful, but as strategic works in progress, they provide invaluable lessons about the power of consumerism and Internet organizing.

The future center of libaral activism won’t be labor unions. But it may well be consumer unions. When an Adelson spends $25 million on a Gingrich candidacy, he’s spending money that Joe and Emily originally put in a Sands Casino slot machine. When Bob Perry swiftboats someone, he’s spending dollars that Buck and Irma originally paid for him to build them a home. And when the Koch brothers underwrite a Scott Walker, that money came from Nancy and Ben who bought plywood from Georgia-Pacific or paper towels from Brawny.

The notable thing about these products is that it is dead easy to make another buying choice. Consumers have other options in almost every town in America for almost every product in America.

So imagine if there was a membership organization, say a Liberal Consumers Union; one that had cheap dues and good communications (like AARP) and kept its 10 or 20 million members apprised of date-specific, time-limited product boycotts. When a company offended a set of standards, the union could give them a deadline to stop, engaging its members to personally contact the company. If that didn’t work, members could hold a time-specific boycott (say 90 days) to give the company a clear downside metric about its politics. Many buyers, I’d imagine, would never go back to the offending product. After a while, conservatives would play too.

That’s great, because in the end, the goal is to blunt the influence of corporate money in politics by making it prohibitively expensive for a business to buy a national, state or local government. The mission is to make sure companies suffer by participating in politics. Few corporations would willingly throw away all of their liberal (or conservative) customers. Most will simply stand aside. Labor unions can run up the cost of playing. But a consumer union can run up the cost of deciding to play. It’s much better leverage.

Still, the emergence of consumerism as a political force is far off. In the meantime, your vote alone isn’t enough. Set aside some money to send to a political candidate you like. Your $10 or $50 or $100 is direct opposition to a similar amount from a corporation. With it, you buy some measure of influence for the average voter. And right now, we could sure use some.

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Consumer unions can't and won't work. The global nature of business ensures that even with robust boycotting, nothing can truly stand in the way of the corporate giants.

Political ads are powerful and sway the ever important middle in politics. The problem is that many people are stupid, and the flip flop political voter isn't going to wise up any time soon with our current educational models.

I agree that action must be taken, but I have yet to determine or identify a strategy with a high probability of success when the 'troops' are pushed around in the breeze like leaves whenever they see a negative ad on television.

I won't say it's hopeless, but damn!
I suppose the next step is allowing corporations to run for office.
The corporations are not likely t run for office. If they gained office they'd have to be responsible for their decisions and actions. By staying "the power behind the throne" they are not held responsible by the electorate - their bum-boy sacrificial goat politicians do that.