Philosopher Kwame Anthony Appiah sparked an internet meme with his op/ed entitled “What Will Future Generations Condemn Us For“? The challenge is to predict which widely accepted practices or institutions will be regarded as barbaric by future generations. Apiah argues future generations will look back in horror on our prisons, factory farms, and nursing homes, as well as our casual abuse of the planet. These are all plausible contenders.
Here’s my addition: Future generations will condemn us for legalizing bribery by proxy through our campaign finance system. In retrospect, it will be obvious that billionaires and corporations debased the First Amendment by convincing us that money is speech.
Money distorts our politics at every level. Whether you have a future in politics depends on how good you are at raising money. At every stage, the system rewards people who are comfortable hitting up rich donors for money. This is a troubling bias. Fundraising prowess has nothing to do with being a good leader, but it’s a make-or-break attribute for an American politician.
The money addiction skews pollitical priorities. Widows and orphans are never going to be players. Factory farmers have more money to spend on elections than blind veal calves and debeaked chickens. Prisoners don’t have money, but private prison companies do.
A well-funded special interest group like America’s Health Insurance Plans (AHIP) can strike fear in the hearts of legislators just by threatening to run a barrage of TV ads.
We’re going to look back and realize that we could have done something about global warming if Big Coal hadn’t bought the votes. We’ll have a lot of regrets like that.
[Photo credit: Kevin Dooley, Creative Commons.]