Money Matters, Even To Obama

Dan Boylan
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Wednesday - July 02, 2008

“Money,” the late, great California Assembly speaker Jesse Unruh once said, “is the mother’s milk of politics.” And over the past two years, Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton have spent a lot of time at the teats.

How much time? By the latest reckoning, Obama and Clinton raised, borrowed and spent a half-billion dollars on their campaigns to become the 2008 presidential nominee of the Democratic Party.

Let me spell that out with zeroes: Between them, Obama and Clinton spent $500,000,000 for the privilege of again raising that much money or more in an effort to seize the presidency from the Republicans.

Now we’re all for the hometown boy, or that first woman, or the old patriotic warrior. We believe our guy or gal - Barry or Hil or John - is the one: the most heroic, the smartest, the one possessed of the most integrity.

And we’re all dead wrong. All three of our presidents-to-be sold their souls to that devil called campaign cash a long, long time ago.

They took money from unions, savings and loan executives, pharmaceutical companies, Detroit auto makers, oil companies, health insurance companies, mortgage companies - in short, all those folks who keep the lobbying interests on Washington’s K Street busy, busy, busy the year around.

Now the late, great Speaker Unruh also provided a defense for all those political milk suckers, a way out of perdition: “If you can’t take their money, drink their liquor, *%^& their women, and then come in here the next day and vote against them, you don’t belong here.”

Well, of course our heroes can - Barry and Hil and John; they could pass Jesse’s requirements for belonging; they could “take… drink ... and *%^&” while maintaining their political virtue.

Sure they could. That’s why so many of us are commuting to town in our 13-mile-per-gallon SUVs, calculating that the round-trip will put us back $8 on this day alone. That’s $40 a week, point to point, no side trips or driving on the weekend. OK, $15 more for those. $55 per week - 49 work weeks a year. That’s $2,700. And air fares for the annual Vegas vacation have doubled. Hala!

Detroit isn’t the only city that’s hurting, and summer’s only a month old with $5 per gallon an August prospect.

We can all thank the lobbyists who knew - better than Unruh did - that all pols can be bought with campaign cash. The last mileage requirement for Detroit auto manufacturers was set more than 30 years ago. Nothin’since, save all sorts of exemptions for trucks and those sports utility guzzlers.

No, pols take their money and pols follow the lobbyists’ lead. That’s why 47 million Americans go through their days without medical insurance. That’s why we remain the only industrialized country in the world without universal health care. That’s why the United States has made a mockery of the phrase “health care system.” We have no system at all.

It’s why economic inequality in the United States grows greater every day. In 2007, the annual compensation of a chief executive of a Standard and Poor 500 company was $14.2 million, approaching 400 times that of the average American worker.

Tax policy has contributed mightily to that inequality. Three huge tax cuts in the past six years have resulted in 23 percent of the nation’s income going to the top 1 percent of the population; that’s up from 17 percent in 2002. We’ve never known that percentage of income in the hands of the nation’s wealthiest since 1928, the year before the stock market crash that launched the Great Depression.

One answer to the power of money in American politics is, of course, public financing of elections. Our local hero, Sen. Obama, opted out last week - to the feigned disappointment of Sen. McCain, who accused Obama of flip-flopping on his previous support for campaign spending reform.

Why did our local hero do it? Unruh again - twice: “Winning isn’t everything, but losing is nothing” and “Sometimes we must rise above principles.”

Oodles of money carried the day for Obama in the Democratic primaries and caucuses, and at this point he will not allow principle to get in the way of winning on Nov. 4. But he risks his political soul and the “change” about which he talks so much.

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