Tuesday, October 18, 2011

A Bad Road Team

Only eight Major League Baseball teams are good enough during the regular season to make the playoffs. And only one of those teams will win its last game. Every other team's season ends with bitter disappointment. But the fact that this ended up being the Brewers' fate doesn't diminish the team's accomplishments. The Brewers had a helluva year.

The Crew was especially good at Miller Park. The Brewers' home record was 57-24, while they couldn't reach .500 on the road, finishing 39-42 away from home. Not bad actually when you consider the Brewers at one point in the season had the National League's worst road record at 16–29.

Watching the Brewers sparkle at home and struggle mightily on the road got me to thinking about Democrats of all things.

There are two sources of political power – organized people and organized money. When the U.S. Supreme Court declared that money is speech 35 years ago, organized money gained the upper hand. Big time. It is no coincidence that the nation's highest court so ruled just as television was becoming the dominant medium of political communication. It is also no coincidence that national policymakers made sure that the U.S. remained the only major democracy on the planet without some system for providing free television air time to those seeking public office.

When money is speech, speech ceases to be free. And with the exorbitant price of television air time, political speech is prohibitively expensive speech. Getting a message out to voters via the primary means of political communication costs an arm and a leg. Which means that the few who have great wealth get to do most all of the talking in election campaigns, while the many effectively have no voice.

For generations the Democrats have fancied themselves the party of the working class and have sought to brand the Republicans the party of the rich. If you buy their labeling, that makes the Democrats the party of organized people and the Republicans the party of organized money. Which makes it all the more curious that Democrats over the last three decades have so meekly acquiesced to and even enthusiastically embraced organized money's cornering of the political marketplace.

It's as if the Democrats are a team that has willingly chosen to play all its game on the road. And they're willing to play the game by rules that decidedly favor their opponents. Like a National League team agreeing to allow an American League opponent to use a designated hitter while its own pitchers hit. Like an NBA team giving its opponents the three-point shot while all its own shots count for only two.

Now that the rabble are rousing, the Democrats are not at all well-positioned to take advantage of the 99% movement. Author Michael Lind recently listed six reasons why Democrats can't (or won't) go populist in response to corporate greed and Wall Street malfeasance. You don't really need to read beyond the first reason to get the picture. "Reason No. 1: The Democrats depend on Wall Street for campaign donations."

Democrats took up the tin cup three decades ago. Some of them – like Obama nationally and Jim Doyle here in Wisconsin – have flourished politically as corporate Democrats. That's not to say the president and former governor are exceptions to the rule among Democrats, only more electorally successful than many of their brethren. Wisconsin Democrats across the board have been getting six times as much campaign money from business interests as they get from organized labor. And that was before Scott Walker and his allies in the Legislature made it substantially harder for unions to collect dues and even to continue to exist.

Democrats are on a playing field that requires them to forever run uphill while their opponents run downhill. Look, corporate executives and other filthy rich types are much more likely to consider themselves Republicans than Democrats. For every Warren Buffett or George Soros, there's a David Koch . . . and a Charles Koch . . . and the whole Walton family . . . and several dozen other titans of industry who pledge allegiance to the GOP.

The bottom line is that in a system where organized money is king and organized people barely matter, the Republicans possess an enormous competitive advantage.

And for three decades now, the Democrats have been more or less fine with it.

How stupid is that?

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