David Axelrod, quoted in “Schmooze or Lose”, The New Yorker, Aug 27, 2012
Right now a million regular citizens sending in $20 and $50 checks can be countered and overwhelmed by just one or two billionaires without involving any true sacrifice from the the billionaires, just look at Sheldon Adelson and the Koch brothers.
Elections are a serious game to billionaires because influencing elections allows the wealthy to preserve the status quo of monetary based social status and their relative positions of economic, political, and cultural power, but ultimately politics are an egoistic game akin to a national pissing contest. The lives and livelihoods of the hyper-affluent are not in any serious danger currently within our political system: the Koch family for instance will not fall into poverty if the their team loses an election and eventually has to pay maybe 5% more in taxes on their play money. Even if the situation in the U.S. deteriorated rapidly in the near future and danger did emerge that would threaten the elite, this top class has the gross financial resources to still come out on top if everyone falls and they have the connections to leave the country and go anywhere they want with the money they have backing them if things become very dire. They can play the game of politics aggressively and take risks because they’re not really threatened or in any danger.
Contrast this with the poor for whom life and dignity can depend on electoral outcomes. Cutting money to social safety net programs can effectively destroy these lives. Reducing welfare, food stamps, Medicaid, Medicare, unemployment benefits, heating oil subsidies, etc. means people go hungry, go cold, go untreated, go silent, go unnoticed, and die. This is not a game to people who need help, nor should it be a game to those who possesses ethical decency and a shared sense of group progress and dignity. We cannot allow the poor to be treated as expendable unless we want to see all without money treated as servants to those with more.
Money is not thought or speech. Speech is a human characteristic and product; only a human mind can generate thoughts, analyze and contextualize these thoughts against experience, and form opinions based on these cognitive and emotional processes. Money only acts as a means of conveying speech and amplifying the thoughts and opinions of those with more of it. Money is a tool. If speech were dirt and money the tool used to convey speech the poor would dig using their hands, the middle class would have a shovel and maybe even a wheelbarrow, and the plutocratic elite would have bulldozers and dump trucks. This is why the mixture of money and politics is so toxic, it allows those with greater resources to dominate competing voices within a democracy with increasingly little effort due to systemically constructed advantages enabled through financial resources.
I personally come from a working class/lower middle class background, and I know how vital some of these programs can be. My family qualified for food stamps when I was very young, we’ve depended on unemployment insurance several times to maintain our home, and now my parents depend on Social Security and Medicare because my mother is disabled and my healthy but elderly father lost his job and much of their retirement savings in 2008. I am the product of publicly funded primary and secondary education, and went to college on scholarships and mix of federal grants and loans. My family may have survived without these programs, but with much less dignity or hope. My father worked 50 years of his life and paid taxes that entire time, my mother continued to watch children years into her disability to make minimal extra income, and always paid her taxes. They deserve what they were promised, and so does everyone else in the same situation. My family has been productive because we have dignity and hope, and because there were programs in place to educate me and keep us from sliding into abject poverty. My family is not alone, there are millions of family like mine or with potential to be like mine, and it’s imperative that we speak up and make our voices known. We must demand a society which preserves and seeks to increase the basic dignity and respect of all in our society, or we will fall further into an authoritarian caricature of democracy.
I reject a society which sees human lives and the dignity that all deserve as mere pieces to be played with on an electoral game board rigged against 80% of those playing. The bottom half of society cannot play this game aggressively without inordinate risk to health and home, so the bottom becomes disenfranchised as it focuses on just trying to survive not to lose to a state of utter devastation. Our country and our world should not be a game for the rich, and we should resist any and all efforts by those who seek to make the field of play one where life and dignity do not matter.