Dear Auntie Pinko,
With all the money that George Soros has given to political
groups, do you think that he is a threat to democracy?
In Auntie Pinko's opinion, any time money is exchanged for
influence on the outcome of elections, the potential exists
for a threat to democracy. This is true whether it is Mr.
Soros on the left, or Mr. Scaife on the right. The potential
is always there, unless we are vigilant in ensuring that the
playing field is sufficiently leveled that no cabal or individual
has a disproportionate amount of influence.
At the same time, the restriction of individuals' rights
to express their political opinions and attempt to influence
their fellow-citizens is also undesirable. There is no perfect
answer that will settle the matter equitably for all time.
Rather, it's a complicated cycle that includes many elements:
(1.) Constantly working to build a public consensus about
our comfort threshold on the issue of money in the democratic
(2.) Keeping a vigilant eye on the "big picture"of
how money is affecting the democratic process;
(3.) When the "comfort threshold" is crossed,
developing a regulatory remedy that will re-open the process
and re-level the playing field on a new basis;
(4.) Monitoring the inevitable process of people learning
how to subvert or circumvent that regulatory remedy (because
it will always happen, eventually); and
(5.) Starting all over again from (1.)
The damage done by money in the political process does not
relate to the agendas of the people with the money. Rather,
the problem is posed by ensuring that the interests and agendas
of those citizens who do not have millions to spend receive
similar consideration in the political process. Without a
concerted attempt to keep the playing field level, we run
the risk of becoming an oligarchy of wealth, rather than a
representative republic governed by democratic process.
This issue, like many others, is part of the cycle of American
political life. The problem manifests itself, concern builds,
attempts are made to alleviate it until a sufficient level
of comfort is restored, and the problem "goes away"
for a time, only to recur in the same pattern later.
Mr. Soros, like Mr. Scaife, represents his giving as motivated
by a desire to maintain some kind of ideological parity in
the influence of money. It is a powerful argument, since the
wobbly wheel of the American political cycle only functions
effectively when there is strength on both sides of the spectrum
to keep it in balance. If one side of the equation is silenced,
the wheel is at risk of falling - which is perhaps a worse
risk than the risks attached to the continuing money/influence/reform
No voice - left or right - should be silenced. At
the moment, when we are in the part of the cycle where money's
influence is very high and our mechanisms to level the field
are very ineffective, we should count ourselves fortunate
that there are wealthy individuals of many different viewpoints
to keep a wide range of issues and views effective in the
It is not enough - there are important issues and views
that are still not being heard because the money is not there
to get them heard. But until we have better mechanisms to
purge money from the system for a while, it is reassuring
that the variety is there. Is it damaging to democracy? Certainly.
But until we can achieve some level of reform, the greater
risk lies in attempts to limit the influence of money to only
that which flows from one side of the ideological spectrum.
Our job is to let our legislators know that the cycle has
passed our comfort threshold, and we will hold them accountable
for acting - coming up with new ways to limit the influence
of money, while preserving as much freedom of speech as possible.
It will only be a temporary expedient, but it is long overdue.
Thanks for asking Auntie Pinko, Murray!
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