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.