The Closed-Door Campaign

Photograph of an invitation to a Romney fund-raising event (Credit: Susan Barsy)

A piece of high-end junk mail appeared in my P.O. box the other day.  An invitation to an upcoming Romney fundraiser, it is a perfect souvenir of this campaign season.  For just $75,800, I can become a “Romney Victory Max Out Contributor,” and perhaps sit next to someone powerful in the old Pump Room.

Now that the suspense has gone out of the primaries, a superficial calm has fallen over the presidential campaign.  Tune out the perfunctory stump speeches and ramped-up media campaigns, and you will hear the ching-ching! of aggressive fund-raising, as both Romney and the president crisscross the country desperately scrounging up cash, now taken as a proxy for popular support.

Have you been reading about the changing style of presidential fundraising?  Whereas in 2008 Obama made securing small contributions a priority, his style of fund-raising is now virtually indistinguishable from that of Mitt Romney.  Both rely mainly on high-end fundraisers, hosted by celebrities or other ultra-wealthy Americans and typically kept at a distance from the public eye.  “Few Witnesses to Obama, Romney, As They Raise $1.5 Billion,” read a recent Bloomberg headline.

In many ways, this cozy relationship between leading politicians and the wealthy merely mirrors the relationship the two groups have enjoyed historically.  Go back to the Revolutionary Era or the early republic, and you will find that wealthy Americans led the colonies and states, wrote the Constitution, and dominated high office.  All throughout the nineteenth century, the line between public interest and private remained  suspiciously murky.  In fact, that a politician represented his own financial interest and that of his friends was taken more or less for granted; it was rarely viewed as criminal, certainly.

At present, however, the candidates’ attentiveness to wealth smacks of a politics of avoidance that is gripping the country.  For the people, indeed.  The candidates offer platitudes to a populace who are suffering, disillusioned, and angry, but it’s probably more fun to dine with the wealthy and promise to supply the things that they need.  Yet as long as the nation’s leading classes remain locked in this romantic tango, behind closed doors, a true economic recovery is unlikely to occur.

Susan Barsy, Mitt Romney as Exhibit A, Our Polity.
Julie Pace, What $40,000 Gets You in Presidential Fundraising, Yahoo/AP.

7 responses

  1. Here, here Susan – great observation and just another reason that nothing will really happen to turn the economy around: no new thinking, nothing ground-breaking coming from either the Democrats or Republicans or any other party that would have a chance of winning. Thanks for more insight! After all– it is all about the money in the end…

    • Michele–Thanks for your kind words–I love hearing from you! Yes, every politician, in every political system, needs money, even more than we do. The issue is whether the political class also manages to serve the public interest as well. Historically, those at the top of the social ladder recognized their responsibility for the welfare of those lower down in the hierarchy, and this cultural stance promoted fair policies, benevolence, and economic opportunity. Now many wealthy Americans no longer recognize this responsibility. A great loss. SB

  2. To be honest I do not think an economic recovery that is meaningful is going to happen. I say this regardless of who gets elected. The losses of the Great Recession, the Crash of 2008, and the looting of the American middle and working classes over the past 30 years will not be reversed. The world economy is much different today than decades ago….America has all the hallmarks of a declining great power……this will be a tricky thing over the next generation……..

    • Joe–What you say may be entirely true–but if so it would be better if our politics were organized around these issues. Our politics are still based on the assumption of widespread upward mobility, economic growth and a constantly improving living standard. There is little discussion about what to do as our nation’s historical advantages wane. Americans are prickly about discussing, for example, how to ensure that the poor can live with dignity, or even (on Chicago’s south and west side) enjoy physical safety in their yards and homes. . . . The US has unparalleled resources of many kinds, but is culturally and intellectually backward in thinking about how these should be husbanded and employed. Every great power declines, but–look at Britain or France–adjusting to that can take many decades. Shrewd leadership too.

  3. So hypocritical the way Obama bashes the wealthy and Wall Street, but when it comes to raising $$$$ who does he turn to first?………

    • Sam–Obama seems to love running for office and hobnobbing with the rich and famous. I agree that his style is somewhat at odds with his political message. He could do less as a candidate and end up being more popular. SB

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