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Watch the money trail

Observer Viewpoint | Sunday, October 10, 2004

Tom Rippinger’s Oct. 6 encomium to the lobbying industry might have been subtitled: “If I say nice things about you, can I get a job in your moral vacuum next fall?”

After making the quasi-paranoid suggestion that the undecided voter shouldn’t trust any candidate, their party, their ads or news, “Seeing beyond the ‘spin'” argues we should make our choice based on the special interests giving the candidates cash. After all, what is more unbiased than money? Nothing. The anarcho-capitalist Rippinger says: “Usually money is a more trustworthy measure of human intentions than word alone.” Huh? Are the rich and taciturn more trustworthy than the poor but verbose? I submit there are few things less trustworthy than money. For most of us, it takes off in the morning for an early meeting with food and rent, promising to call. Sometimes, money runs off with politicians looking for lots and lots of friends and then we all really get rogered.

I’m not a negative type of guy, though, so I did Rippinger’s homework assignment: I saddled up on the money trail to see how candidates might govern. At first it was pretty frustrating: lobbyists represent everything that could possibly go wrong in United States democracy folded into one nasty diaper (Google: Congress + Speaker + Delay + lobbyist + indictment). Then I found something really interesting: the Kerry campaign had 750,000 “lobbyists” who – with average grassroots donations under $100 – broke multiple campaign fundraising records in the second quarter of 2004. Instead of taking our cue from big money, as Rippinger’s cynical real politique suggests, maybe we could take a look at the hopeful news of unprecedented numbers of everyday people contributing small amounts?

Given such great news for democracy, why does Atlas’ shrug look so bitter and pessimistic? My guess is Rippinger doesn’t like the way November looks for the GOP. One could hardly blame him: the Democratic base is united behind John Kerry and John Edwards like never before; new voters are registering in droves in states like Ohio and Pennsylvania; and “safe” senate seats are moving into play every month. I know the news is grim, but future conservative Viewpoint columnists would do well to remember, in prose as in politics, “desperation is a stinky cologne.”

Sean O’Brien

graduate student

Oct. 10