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Friday, July 25, 2014
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Published: Saturday, 7/5/2003

And visions of candidates danced ...

Nothing like a long holiday weekend to unwind. Let the menfolk follow their primal calling to fire up the grill, throw on the burgers, slabs of ribs, or whatever else they can jam over the flames. Put the kids on a short leash in the backyard and aim for the hammock, which is finally getting a workout after a soggy spring.

The seductive smells from the smoldering Weber, the din of kids happily occupied, and no immediate responsibilities under the sun provide powerful incentives to drift off and daydream. In the distance you hear a stray firecracker or two. It's been an especially patriotic few days with parades, flag-waving, bands-playing, and God Bless America speeches.

Like swarms of mayflies, politicians inevitably flock to the holiday gatherings, pressing the flesh and flashing those million-dollar smiles. In my summertime siesta they are strutting around the parade route with money-changers, selling influence tickets to the highest bidder. It is crass and creepy. To escape the dash-for-dollars dance of the 24/7 fund-raisers, I imagine flying off to Never Never Land of Equal Opportunity where everyone has an equal chance to be elected.

It is an egalitarian society where every candidate running for elected office gets the same funding, equal time on all the networks, cable, and satellite. And in a great public square there is a weird, imposing statue with the head of an elephant on one side and the head of a donkey on the other (there's a bad joke there, so hang in with me). I was about to switch dream channels when suddenly the two-headed oddity spoke.

“Let me take you to a place where all the electorate are educated and schooled on all the issues pertinent to their lives,” it said. “Their elected leaders answer exclusively to them. PACs funded by big business or big labor or any other self-serving special interest are strictly prohibited from participating in the political arena strictly reserved for the people and their representatives.” (It's a dream, OK?)

The fantasy continued commercial-free. At a beautifully ornate dining room table - circa late 1700s - sat the distinguished framers of the Constitution. I see the faces that fill a billfold and some that pad a few gold money clips. I wondered what they would think of their lofty representative government in light of today's high finance competition to buy elected office - especially the presidency.

Would they be surprised, for example, to learn that the re-election campaign of fundraiser-in-chief George W. Bush was expected to pull in at least $20 million in the two weeks before the second-quarter fund-raising period ended, utterly dwarfing the Democrats? Or that President Bush was well on his way to raising $200 million for his uncontested primary campaign? Before I could move onto a less stressful daydream, the founding fathers began talking all at once.

“You let them have a contest on how much money they can raise?” bellowed an incredulous Thomas Jefferson.

“Citizens watch 30 seconds of a point of view glossed to a sheen and decide who leads the nation?” the nation's first George W. sputtered.

“You mean to tell me that business and corporate interests claim to have a voice in this democracy that regularly supersedes that of the average American?” queried a stunned Benjamin Franklin.

They leave shaking their heads, mumbling about the power of an incumbent president to raise $4 million in a single night, of Democrats posting “respectable” fund-raising figures - albeit a fraction of what the GOP has amassed - of campaigns prying checks from elite donors to increase a candidate's take for the long haul. What went wrong?

There is the sound of sniggering as Waterford champagne glasses clink. At the tony digs of the rich and famous high atop an Enron-like fortress, the guest of honor speaks with a familiar fractured syntax and distinct twang. “Now that I gave you the benefit of a generous tax cut, it's pay back time, fellas. How about $2,000 apiece for a photo and hot dog?”

Something wakes me up. Maybe it was the motorcycle roaring by or the short-order cook calling the troops to his signature feast. Maybe it was the mosquito bite - God forbid - that stirred me back to life. Or maybe what startled me was the reality of obscene political fund-raising undermining what's left of my representative government.

Reality bites, too, you know.



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