Tuesday, October 26, 2010

My Letter from the President

I've been in touch with the President. I received my first email from President Obama right after he was elected. He wrote to thank me for the part I played in his becoming president. This amounted to my making a donation of $250 toward his campaign. Before the election I'd received numerous email updates from his campaign manager, but only after he was elected did I get one that ended with: Sincerely yours, Barack. I knew it was the same email that millions of other Americans probably received, but it still seemed special. Together, we'd done something pretty amazing.

With the midterm elections upon us, I receive regular emails from Barack Obama, Michelle Obama, Joe Biden, Nancy Pelosi and numerous other Washington politicians. And that doesn't begin to account for the emails I receive from political organizations. If only I would send another $225, which will be matched by a mystery mogul, we could ensure that a Democratic majority is maintained in the U.S. Congress. So if I send my $225, does that mean that the rest of the Democratic Party machinery will know about it, that I did my part? I have my doubts. And what exactly would that money be used for?

Our national elections have devolved to audio/video shouting matches. The primary beneficiaries are the media outlets who air them. They're in a win-win situation. The stakes are high this election cycle, and both sides are determined to prevail. It's all about ad-dollars and saturation. Forget about civic innovation. Rhetoric has replaced innovation in our national discourse. Complex questions have been reduced to us-and-them sound bites. Our election process and our congress are in serious need of reinvention.

A recent faux-headline in The Onion had the American people hiring a lobbyist so they could get some things through congress. It's a funny concept, but perhaps not all that far from reality. One of the fundamental flaws in our system is that elected officials—especially those at the national level—are beholden to those who paid for their campaigns. And now more than ever, those are corporations. The government, aka the people, will have to wait in line.

Knowing this, I feel just a little strange sending off my $225 contribution, when it will simply be used to extend the broadcast madness. Does it really make sense to hit on the average voter for financial support while the congress spends billions like there's no tomorrow? There's got to be a better and fairer way to run a democracy.