Big Hope for Small Donors

New Orleans      Money in politics, boo!  For years under the Supreme Court’s Citizen United decision money has flooded into politics like water, as the superrich, corporations, and others try to buy their way through an ostensibly democratic system.  Billionaires and bigtime millionaires, whether Trump or Daddy Starbucks or Bloomberg on the national level or others supposedly “giving back” at the state or local level, try to buy their way into office.

The so-called “money primary” in presidential contests until recently was all about the ability of a candidate to get support from big donors. Obama’s success at small dollar fundraising was a game changer in the 2008 contest against Hillary Clinton, except that she continued to operate as if the game was still the same and a pile of cash could anoint a candidate when she ran in 2016.  Bernie Sanders took the Obama playbook and ramped it up even higher with small donor contributions to the point he was virtually neck and neck with Clinton.  His ability to move the needle allowed him to amass such a pile of money that he was able to continue his campaign almost to the point of the convention.

Much of this has to do with the magically low barriers of the internet and modern payment systems which allow a sudden impulse to seamlessly travel from an itch to phone or computer into a personal bank account and voila on to the candidate’s coffers.  That doesn’t mean there’s a level playing field by any means, or at least not yet, but there’s hope.

Finally, this may be a lesson that won’t be ignored in 2020 this time. Fingers crossed.

Elizabeth Warren has said she will not solicit from big donors.  Sanders raised $5.9 million in the first 24-hours he announced he was taking another grab at the brass ring.  Amazingly, Beto O’Rourke, the three-term local Congressman from El Paso who came within a hair of unseating Texas Senator Ted Cruz, raised over $6.1 million from small contributions in the first 24-hours after his recent announcement that he was throwing his hat in as well.

Even if the potential for corruption and transactional politics that is ever present in big time campaign fundraising is not dead candidates from Corey Booker to Joe Biden and the rest have to be worried that the mass appeal represented by millions of small mom-and-pop donors will force them to curtail their usual fundraising circuit and well-worn rolodex.  Skin in the game also motivates citizens to work as volunteers in the campaign, which has to be as scary to the candidates from the old school as well.

The money primary is alive and well, but if its based on small donors, it might actually be a good thing.



New Orleans     Gaslighting is an interesting concept, but when I first heard the term, frankly, it meant nothing to me.  Talking to psychologist and attorney Bryant Welch on Wade’s World gave me a much clearer understanding of the concept and its dangers.

According to Wikipedia “the term owes its origin to the 1938 Patrick Hamilton play Gaslight and its 1940 and 1944 film adaptations, in which a man dims the gas lights in his home and then persuades his wife that she is imagining the change.”  The experience is common enough, but since none of us use gas powered lighting inside our homes anymore, the reference doesn’t prompt an immediate, “oh, yeah!” when you hear it.  The term has become a standard in psychological practice and research studies, making it easier to morph into the polarized political environment of our times.

I had associated the term more with the Fox News and Breitbart crowd, but Welch persuaded me that this was the state of play on all sides of the political spectrum.  His book State of Confusion:  Political Manipulation and the Assault on the American Mind was released in 2008 opening the window wide into the partisan divide around Obama’s election, but he has reissued the volume now perhaps to even more relevance in the Age of Trump.

Welch would not be the first psychologist to argue that Trump is somewhere dangerous on the mental health spectrum, but his argument is more pointedly about how some of what seems so bizarre about Trump and his tactics, lies in his masterful attempts at gaslighting the public, particularly his base.  Take for example the constant lying.  Rather that that being simply a manifestation of Trump’s amorality and at best his tangential relationship to reality, it really is his ongoing gaslighting project in trying to replace reality with his own fantasy.  In chapter after chapter Welch makes this case for why the basic Trump insecurities bend him so firmly in this direction.

Not that any of this is news, even if there’s now a better name for it all.  Welch makes the case for the chicanery of Karl Rove and provides vivid examples from the McCain campaign against Obama as well.  In the Cold War generation, the “big lie,” is much the same thing.  A fundamental of propaganda was that repeating the same lie often enough made the lie more real than the truth.

Gaslighting, big lies, and other manipulations, including the Facebook mayhem from the Russians and now almost every country, are all part and parcel of the same problem.  People can be easily manipulated by falsehoods in the hands of haters or authoritarian leaders.

Now that we know the problem, how do we find the solution?