As of a few weeks ago, the George W. Bush juggernaut reported that it had raised nearly a gazillion dollars in contributions for his presidential campaign. The actual figure was more like $50 million, but when you're talking that kind of money, it might as well be a gazillion. Maybe two.
At this point, it appears likely that Bush will raise more than $100 million for his campaign by Nov. 7, 2000. The prospect is staggering, and George W.'s checkbook alone will doubtless cause several more Republicans to withdraw from the presidential race.
Two would-be contenders — John Kasich and Lamar Alexander — have already abandoned their efforts, a full six months before the New Hampshire primary. And Dan Quayle's campaign isn't going to last much longer than an Indiana watermelon.
This is not good news for the Republican Party.
You can sense with the Bush campaign that a backlash is just waiting to happen. Here we have a candidate raking in millions from corporate donors at a time when the general public thinks that campaign contributions are nothing more than a legalized form of bribery.
Blame the Republicans in Congress for poisoning the well. They haven't even tried to cover the fact that their current "tax cut" legislation is anything less than a Christmas tree of tax breaks for their corporate patrons.
One portion of the Republican tax cut gives nearly $40 billion in benefits to multi-national corporations in the form of overseas tax shelters. Enron Corporation, for example, would be exempt from income tax on all its foreign oil and gas pipelines. Not surprisingly, Enron has already ponied up $90,000 in donations to the Bush campaign.
But even that astonishing figure doesn't count the $189,000 given to George W. by the lobbying firm of Vinson & Elkins, who happens to represent — you guessed it — Enron Corporation.
This is probably one of those really funny coincidences that you hear about all the time. Small world and all that.
The problem for Bush is — as Ross Perot has proven in the past two presidential elections — all the Texas fortunes in the world can't even buy you emotional stability, much less the White House. Steve Forbes' campaign went into the tank in 1996 — and it will do so again by St. Patrick's Day. The fact is that money will buy lots of slick television commercials and pay for extra fax machines, but that won't necessarily translate into votes.
Even for a candidate who has a coherent message. Even for a candidate not suspected of regularly abusing cocaine.
It's likely that the Republicans are going to find that the middle class doesn't want the poster boy for corporate welfare as their next president. It's going to dawn on them — possibly after it's too late — that the Democrats are going to regain control of Congress and retain the White House in 2000. What a kick in the head, huh?
So if all of George W.'s money isn't going to buy him a ticket to the Oval Office, why should liberals and progressive care? Shouldn't we just sit back and laugh ourselves silly over a bunch of corporations wasting millions of dollars on a losing campaign? You've got to admit that the prospect is pretty amusing — all of those corporate types scratching their balding scalps next Nov. 8 and wondering what went wrong and where their money went. OK, chuckle a little bit.
But this is serious. For starters, consider that by the end of this presidential election cycle, corporations will likely spend more than a quarter billion — billion — dollars on campaign contributions to both parties. Let's remember that Al Gore, after all, is no virgin at this frat house keg party. He will likely end up with more than $50 million in his own right. In a just world, that corporate money would have been spent on better salaries and benefits for those corporations' employees.
Consider the raw cynicism that the current system breeds among voters. While conservative apologists insist that corporations are exercising their right of free speech, the rest of us know better. Hell, they know better.
Sen. Mitch McConnell, one of the loudest advocates of the current system of soft money contributions, knows a bribe when he sees one. It's just that with millions of dollars at stake, he prefers to not see one.
Consider the honest and capable people who wouldn't dream of running for office because of the money involved. At $100,000 for an only fair-to-middling war chest, running for Cincinnati City Council requires more than the average Cincinnati worker earns in five years. The only way to get that type of money is to go whoring for campaign contributions.
Most honest people wouldn't do that, which leaves politics to the sleaziest segment of our society.
Tell me again why Jerry Springer isn't running for U.S. Senate?