Washington Libertarian Review

Political commentary from the State of Washington with a libertarian perspective.

Wednesday, October 20, 2004

Re: The politics of consumption

Seattle Times guest columnist Philip Cushman laments the consumer mentality in modern politics here. We are destroying American democracy, he says, because we live in a consumer society, and the candidates themselves have become a consumer product. He notes, for example, "that representatives in the House have to raise an average of $100,000 per day when they are on recess in order to defend their seat every two years." So far, so good.

But after all this wringing of hands, Cushman's answer is atrocious. He argues, "we must increase our efforts to institute a governmental agency that would force political ads to be scrupulously honest and accurate, both in fact and in spirit, before they could be released to the public."

Uh, lessee. We are reduced to political consumers of packaged candidates and so we should demand truth in advertising. As if advertising was ever truthful. The whole point of marketing is to get people to buy something they probably don't need in the first place. This is done by presentation of selective facts and "puffery," the fine art of stretching the truth. Everybody knows this is how it works, and yet Cushman thinks a government agency can stop political consumerism by regulating free speech.

There is no doubt that money is one of the driving forces in politics. And Cushman is right to complain of its predominance. But his solution throws the baby out with the bathwater.

The other driving force in politics is ideas. And without the fullest protection of the First Amendment there is no point in the exercise at all.

There is, to my mind, no way to eliminate the influence of money in politics. The cure, to the extent there is one, is not to suppress free speech, but to protect it. Develop electoral systems that encourage the marketplace of ideas, such as by relaxing ballot access laws for independents and minor parties.


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