At Redstate, I started to reply to a post about John McCain and his preference for "getting money out of politics" over defending the boundaries of free speech.
Then I decided to post it here, instead.
I know people believe that money corrupts politicians -- that somehow, you can pour money, either into their campaigns, or directly into their pockets, and this is widespread, and terribly effective.
Only it's not true!
Now, it does happen: Randy Cunningham comes to mind. There's one example.
Only, what he did was already illegal; so-called "Campaign Reform" couldn't prevent it; and insofar as he's been investigated, prosecuted, removed and sent to prison, it's hard to see how the system "failed" -- other than to keep him from succumbing to temptation in the first place. (Now there's an idea for a law!)
And, it's worth noting -- his corruption wasn't to switch from being pro-defense to anti; nobody bought a different ideology from him. Rather, he appears to have figured out he could get paid (twice) for doing more or less what he was ran for Congress to do, on his regular salary: vote for defense spending. (I.e., if you know his district, and what he ran on, you know he was elected to be a pro-defense congressman, among other issues.) So, while he was "bought," his ideology was not "bought."
And Randy Cunninghams happen from time to time. But to argue that Congress is filled with Randy Cunningham requires a kind of conspiracy-theory thinking: "of course I don't have evidence! That just shows how clever and how terrifyingly powerful they really are!"
There are so many manifestly false ideas that this "money corrupts" theme relies on.
1. That money is somehow scarce in politics, so you have to sell your soul to get it.
If you're a reasonably credible candidate in a competitive race, wherever you are from Tom Coburn (or Jesse Helms of yesteryear) on the right, or Ted Kennedy or Hilary Clinton on the left, you're going to raise lots of money just being who you are! Folks have the cause-and-effect exactly backwards: Hilary Clinton doesn't vote as she does because of the money she raises; she raises the money, because of how she votes! Like or hate her, but how is that "corrupt"?
2. Money wins elections.
Of course it helps, but it's hardly the key thing. If that were true, we'd have President Steve Forbes today, as the successor to President Ross Perot.
You can find examples of folks who spend less, but spend it better, who win; and you can find examples of folks who spend less, period, and win, because just having more money doesn't make people want to vote for you. As the saying goes, you can put a ribbon on a pig, but it's still a pig.
3. "There's too much money in politics."
Now, that is a virtually meaningless statement. First, what is "too much"? Second, the underlying assumption is the more money "in politics" makes things worse. Please demonstrate the truth and reasonability of that statement.
After all, why not argue that there's not enough money in politics? That politics is improved by more money?
Money pays for organizers to draw people into campaigns as workers, to register and mobilize voters, to advertise issues and positions, to generate interest in actually voting...
Money is spent on wages, advertising, printing, events, buys or rents goods and services, and thus generates economic activities -- i.e., it provides jobs and feeds people...
Money is a measure of value; how much money is "in politics" compared with how much is in anything else?
Newt Gingrich -- of whom I am no fan -- used to point out how much money is spent around elections, compared with how much is spent on advertising this or that consumer product. Which is more significant, in the larger scheme of things: who becomes your congressman, or which laundry soap you buy?
My point is, it's not the money, it's the causes for which it's spent.
When I did fundraising for political causes, before entering the seminary, I felt no shame in asking for large checks; if the cause wasn't worthy, then even small amounts would be too much; if it is worthy, then what is "too much" money for a good cause? I'd meet with folks who had money, and who cared about the issue. I'd open the meeting by saying I was there to ask him or her to consider a gift of, say, $10,000 or $50,000 or $100,000. And the person with whom I was meeting would often say, "that's an awful lot of money you're asking for!" and act indignant.
My response? "I know it is, but to tell you the truth, I wish I could ask you for ten times that amount--because of the good we could do with it. But, I went about as far as I thought I could get away with. But I don't apologize for wanting to win this fight, and trying to get there as fast as possible!"
I know St. Paul is quoted as saying "money is the root of all evil." We can spend all kinds of time examining that passage, how its translated, its context, etc. I think it makes far more sense to say, love of money -- misunderstanding money's place in the larger scheme of things -- is evil.
But this idea persists, and there are similar ideas about other things. Guns, for example, or politics in general, being somehow "dirty" or "bad."
I submit that such thinking is, at its root, fundamentally at odds with a Biblical, and more specifically, Christian (and even more specifically, Catholic) understanding of the world.
In one sense, things are morally neutral -- i.e., their goodness or evilness comes in the use to which they are put (I suppose one can think of things for which no good purpose could be conceived, such as a nuclear bomb, or a biological weapon. Fair enough. But then, the "use" is imbedded in the fashioning of the thing. Even then, one of these days we may have an asteroid heading straight for earth, and perhaps then, for example, we'll have a definitely good use for nukes. In any case, the broader point remains).
On a more fundamental level, all things are essentially good -- they are created realities, and reflect the Creator in some way, and even participate in his existence -- because nothing can exist unless God causes them, at all times, to exist. Nothing -- no, not even the demons in hell! -- are (or can be) intrinsically evil. Rather, "things" and created realities are by nature good, and ordained for good, and have to be twisted or corrupted to become, in some sense, evil. (Thus, the demons in hell are evil insofar as they are once-good creatures who have been so horribly corrupted. Even then -- shocking as it sounds, some good remains in them: they exist, for one; and whatever gifts or abilities God endows spiritual creatures with. There can be no being in which absolutely no good exists.)