The Republican and Democratic National Party Conventions are today little more than political infomercials designed to sell their party’s presidential candidate to the American voter. Many speeches are given and many videos are played, focused entirely on presenting their candidate as an example of deified human perfection.. When the candidates’ turn to speak finally arrives, they largely discuss the problems that cripple government and have caused recent economic catastrophes. Unfortunately, the candidates only rarely mention the disease that causes nearly all political problems: corruption. The fact that politicians have to beg rich people and companies for campaign donations in order to have enough money to buy the advertising resources that mostly win today’s elections, and that the rich only give money when they get promises for special favors when their candidate takes office, is never mentioned. The Party Conventions could be described as the most effective infomercials on television: they give a list of problems and advertise their product (their candidate) as the miraculous solution to those problems without ever discussing what causes such problems. Any simple reading of the convention speeches reveals this; we can look particularly to speeches given by President Obama, Paul Ryan, and Elizabeth Warren as examples of such trickery. The political parties and the candidates clearly believe that the American voting public is stupid enough to believe the infomercial, so the public should analyze these key speeches for content to understand what the politicians promise … and what they want to avoid discussing.
President Obama’s speech has been hailed as powerful and inspiring, but Obama made only two small references to corruption. “If you give up on the idea that your voice can make a difference, then other voices will fill the void, the lobbyists and special interests, the people with the $10 million checks who are trying to buy this election and those who are trying to make it harder for you to vote. . . .” (Barak Obama, Transcript: President Obama’s Convention Speech, published by National Public Radio September 6, 2012 at http://www.npr.org/2012/09/06/160713941/transcript-president-obamas-convention-speech) Obama argued that the people can stop corruption by voting, but he refuses to lay out a program for ensuring that the rich cannot use their wealth to threaten democracy in the first place. Obama’s indignation is righteous, but his solutions are non-existent. Obama later advised the American people that “[i]f you reject the notion that our government is forever beholden to the highest bidder, you need to stand up in this election.” (Obama, Convention Speech) Again, Obama refuses to give any ideas on what laws could be passed to eliminate a rich person’s ability to buy political favors through campaign donations.
Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney did not even imply that corruption is the main reason for most American political problems. Instead, his vice-presidential running-mate Paul Ryan was given the task of diagnosing corruption as the central disease that must be cured. Unfortunately, Ryan merely described the problems of corruption. “The stimulus was a case of political patronage, corporate welfare, and cronyism at their worst.” (Paul Ryan, Transcript: Rep. Paul Ryan’s Convention Speech, published by National Public Radio August 29, 2012 at http://www.npr.org/2012/08/29/160282031/transcript-rep-paul-ryans-convention-speech) Ryan never described how the corruption created by campaign contributions leads to patronage, corporate welfare, and cronyism. He described the symptoms of corruption’s disease without actually diagnosing the disease! Ryan merely says that Mitt Romney can end corruption: “Mitt has not only succeeded, but succeeded where others could not. He turned around the Olympics at a time when a great institution was collapsing under the eight of band management, overspending, and corruption – sounds familiar, doesn’t it?” (Ryan, Convention Speech) Ryan alludes to a comparison between Olympic corruption and U.S. government problems, and his lack of ideas on how to solve those problems sound very similar to other basic Republican statements. He simply wants to elect Romney and then trust Romney to solve problems that Ryan himself does not appear to understand.
Elizabeth Warren, the Democratic Party’s nominee for Massachusetts senator, went only slightly further than Obama and Ryan in diagnosing corruption as the central political disease that must be cured. Warren alluded to corruption in government: “People feel like the system is rigged against them. And here’s the painful part: they’re right. The system is rigged. Look around. Oil companies guzzle down billions in subsidies. Billionaires pay lower tax rates than their secretaries. Wall Street CEOs—the same ones who wrecked our economy and destroyed millions of jobs—still strut around Congress, no shame, demanding favors, and acting like we should thank them.” (Elizabeth Warren, Transcript: Elizabeth Warren’s Democratic Convention Speech, published by ABCNews September 5, 2012 at http://abcnews.go.com/Politics/OTUS/transcript-elizabeth-warrens-democratic-convention-speech/story?id=17164726#.UFq_W65kG-Y) Warren failed to indentify the campaign finance system as the source of political corruption, wasteful spending, and lopsided tax rates. Later in the speech, she talked about how such problems had been solved in the past. “About a century ago, when corrosive greed threatened our economy and our way of life, the American people came together under the leadership of Teddy Roosevelt and other progressives, to bring our nation back from the brink.” (Warren, Convention Speech) However, Warren still avoided describing what the politicians did in the early 1900s, what laws were passed, how corruption was reduced, or why corruption has re-emerged so powerfully in our own time.
Elizabeth Warren’s clearest statements on solutions to corruption are hidden within attacks against Mitt Romney and the Republican Party. “Republicans say they don’t believe in government. Sure they do. They believe in government to help themselves and their powerful friends. After all, Mitt Romney’s the guy who said corporations are people.” This ignores the fact that the Supreme Court has enforced corporate personhood and avoids any clear statements on what she would do to end corporate personhood. Instead, she moves on to discuss banking fraud, her specialty issue. “I had an idea for a consumer financial protection agency to stop the rip-offs. The big banks sure didn’t like it, and they marshaled one of the biggest lobbying forces on earth to destroy the agency before it ever saw the light of day.” (Warren, Convention Speech) Warren correctly identified bank fraud as a giant problem that could be solved by government oversight and punishment, and even correctly revealed corporate lobbying power as the greatest threat to such protection. However, she refused to say how we can eliminate corporate lobbying power, instead simply saying that having a good person in the White House is the key to winning such battle for government oversight.
Are candidates such as Obama, Ryan, and Warren too stupid to understand the central role that corruption has played, and continues to play, in castrating the United States government? No, these politicians are clearly intelligent and strategic people. They know the American voter is angry at the government, and that politicians must give voice to that anger to win elections. The problem is that politicians also need to avoid offending the rich in order to keep getting big donations so they have enough advertising money to get votes. American politicians therefore play a complex tightrope-walking game of talking about American problems without discussing the role that corruption plays in causing those problems. They are great tricksters, and their conventions resemble strange political informercials.
Instead, American voters act stupidly when they are angered by corruption but keep voting for Republicans and Democrats that never clearly say why these problems occur and never take steps to solve these problems when in power. Other parties exist, many of which have given stronger statements on how to end corruption. One idea for eliminating corruption is to cut the link between rich campaign donors and political campaigns. It can be read for free at www.machineryofpolitics.com