Wednesday, February 20, 2008

The Joy Of VBFS

No matter the outcome, this campaign cycle has already produced one hallmark in American politics that will be long scrutinized, particularly by the political operatives who didn't see it coming, i.e., all of them. The hallmark is a break with tradition, and regardless of campaign spectacles sure to yet devolve into jello-wrestling, it's enormously positive, even ground-breaking. Voter-based financial support means you can win without taking money from lobbyists.

Had you asked me if that was possible two years ago, I would have simply chortled. Yet it's happening, and it's keeping the cynicism tied to well-entrenched conventions at bay. One campaign is out-thinking, out-funding, out-working, and out-flying its opposition with a broad-based solution both daring and prescient. By March, it will have over one million donors, most of whom have given less than one hundred dollars. This is no trivial accomplishment. It's unprecedented, indicates a knack for knowing what it takes to win from the ground up, and demonstrates a startling level of faith in a citizenry's ability to rally behind progressive politics. Even further, it provides a new model for how to lead a country, and hints at a deep understanding of how to tap, organize, and channel voter involvement.

Given the last 30 or 40 years of politics in the US, creating a coalition to solve the biggest issues facing the country sounds completely crazy. Yet the enthusiasm is real, the huge rallies are significant, and the coalition approach won every caucus state. It's nothing fancy. To get more supporters, you have to energize the supporters you've got and get the radical middle off the fence. Then post-election you point the coalition at carefully chosen reforms to start off with, the ones you can win, and loop back to boost what the grass roots have already devised. Example: Inner-city children in Baltimore are getting good grades because they're being paid fast-food wages to study, with bonuses for becoming scholars. A more winning, more far-sighted, wiser investment of public funds is hard to imagine, and it should be done state- and nation-wide. Connecting leadership from the top to people at the bottom to support an issue like that will work.

In a democracy, all reform should theoretically be brought about by constituent pressure. That's how it's supposed to happen; we all know that the process has been suborned by lobbyists who buy votes (sometimes with more than money, as the McCain "liberal smear" seems to illustrate). Those lobbyists aren't going away. Effectively handcuffing them means building a strong organization in all 50 states, linked by a web-based community which doesn't stop keeping people involved after an election. An electronic commons is technically possible, even easy to set in motion, and the seeds for it are already laid. If you were a politician, having a web-based voter commons in your district would probably be the #1 pain in your ass.

There is no sugar-coating our mendacity-based political system, but the fact is, voter-based financial support has allowed one candidate to say and do things others couldn't, not and have a shot at winning. It may be hard to see a broader meaning, harder still to engage in the vulnerability of belief. But whether through this particular vessel or another, we're starting to win. The approach will reward great candidates of whatever political leaning, and freethem from having to treat lobbyists as cash cows. Lobbyists whose interests are not the citizens' interest, and whose money is not as good as citizen money.

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