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A lot of weeds in the silly season

... and, we’re deep in the midst of the silly season.

My annual revisiting of “... mixing memory and desire, stirring dull roots with spring rain ...,” while a bit quotidian in my realm, is still not sufficient enough to say this is the silly season. Nor is it because April 1 causes me to get creative and dream up some elaborate prank or practical joke (I drew a blank this year).

I say it’s the silly season not because the Rockies have a hurler on the mound that might have been a kid I was beating the hell out of in high school or that the Nationals are currently tied for the third best record for the month.

It’s not the silly season because, characteristic of our little slice of paradise, some evenings find me basking on my porch in the precocious warmth of a sunset but others have me hunched at a heat register, fingers splayed to collect what succor it offers, while hail pelts those dull roots stirred with spring rain.

Back when the weather was more May than March, I took advantage of a lascivious spring tease by moving big rocks, trying to fashion a french drain at my sump pump outlet and keeping a leg up on this season’s crop of weeds, attempting to fend off an aperçu of the inevitable invasion in July.

It was during a particularly vigorous battle with prostrate knotweed (after Canada thistle, my other nemesis) that my mind turned towards the silly season and all the hyperbolic hooey that goes with it. Although I tend towards optimism (in spite of what you often read in this column), the silly season makes me grumble, tremble with frustration, seethe with despondency as I throw things at my television.

Unfortunately, the silly season extends until November 7 and has been dragging on since mid-December. As I tussled with the knotweed’s substantial taproot, my thoughts turned towards what the silly season would bring this year and what, if anything, should be done about it.

In my estimation, the silly season is about 10 months too long, a monumental waste of money, time and our collective attention. For almost a year, we’re subjected to mindless blather by candidates, inane chatter from the punditry class (those august and very serious beltway insiders who rarely, if ever, get anything right), all to fill the vacuous space on 24-hour cable news with pointless prognostication and laughable missteps.

Unwilling to move beyond the first step of admitting that I am a sick addict, I leap to consume any morsel tossed my way on the Tee Vee or through the intertubes. It’s a perverse fascination I have with the process, unable to turn my gaze from a horrendous car accident, appalled by the carnage as much as I am titillated.

Despite my unseemly pleasure with election politics, I desire a solution to our broken system. There are few Americans who would disagree that we need to develop a better way for determining who our leaders are.

My first solution — because it is, I believe, the most important — is to get the money out of the process, not just elections but politics in general.

Eschewing folderol such as “Money is the root of all evil,” I believe that money taints our system to the degree that it usurps our democracy. If the homeless were able to pump the kind of cash into Congress that Wall Street does, do you honestly think that anyone would be living on the streets?

Yet, we allow special interests to dump mountains of money into our system in order to ensure that our elected representatives vote “the right way” on this issue or that, often to the ill of society as a whole.

Compounding that is the effect of the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision, a ruling that will be looked back on as the most deleterious since the Dred Scott decision. Without addressing the craziness of assigning corporations the same rights as individuals, Citizens United has damaged our political process in ways that we are still determining. With so-called Super PACs flooding the process with billions of dollars and with almost no oversight or accountability, this year’s election promises to be the dirtiest and, for all intents and purposes, most annoying in history.

Although Super PACs are only supposed to address issues and are prohibited from donating to any particular candidate or political party, we all know that restriction is a spurious joke. With bare accountability required, ads funded by Super PACs can pretty much say anything they like about a candidate — often bordering on libel — while the candidate supported by those ads is speciously free from any connection to the mud slinging.

Worse than that, foreign corporations and interests can, with impunity, donate huge sums of money into Super PAC coffers, all without accountability or identification. In essence, Citizens United has opened the door for countries outside the U.S. to have undue influence on our electoral process.

Still, money has been a problem since long before Citizens United and this year continues a long tradition of obscene amounts being spent in order to spark some life into the lumps of flesh vying for the GOP nomination. Without counting in the billions already spent by Super PACs, the most recent Federal Election Commission filings by those candidates shows a ridiculous amount of money spent to collect votes and delegates.

As of the last Federal Election Commission filing, Mitt Romney had spent almost $67 million, with a cost-per-vote (CPV) total at $16.18 and cost-per-delegate (CPD) a princely sum of $118,218, amounting to 4,127,917 votes and 565 delegates. Apparently, tacking to whichever was the breeze blows results in lots of dollars flying out of your pockets.

Meanwhile, Libertarian (Poli-Sci for “simpleton”) elvin action figure Ron Paul is, by far, the most penny-wise pound-foolish candidate, with his $33 million reported to the FEC two weeks ago showing a $30.35 CPV total for 1,079,753 votes while his 66 delegates cost him a whopping $496,461 CPD.

The stand-in for Reggie from Archie Comics who just dropped out and the rabid badger (who thinks poor kids should be cleaning toilets at their schools to pay their own way) spent a combined $60 million as of two weeks ago.

All told, counting in the previously failed candidates, there’s been over $300 million squandered on an ultimately inconsequential dog-and-pony show.

Good money after bad, as my grandfather used to warn, many pundits and analysts expect this primary fight to continue on well until June. The rhetoric and mountains of cash will not end, however.

So why, with Romney holding a clear advantage with money (he has the Wall Street and establishment Republicans behind him) and delegates, do those other dolts stay in the race?

Because, while those halfwits hopefully know they have little chance of winning the nomination, they’re seeking to prevent Romney from collecting the necessary number of delegates to secure the party’s nomination — not an entirely unrealistic scenario.

What the lesser-rans are pushing for is a brokered convention: Promising their delegates only after winning concessions from Romney. What those concessions might be are known only to those candidates and their campaign advisors but they could be anything from promises of a cabinet position, being locked into certain policy positions to being offered the position as a running mate.

Thus, the GOP dogfight and the accompanying money sewer will most likely continue on until the end of August.

The two months following will be when the real fun starts. The infantile Rev. Wright/William Ayers/”He’s a Muslim! He’s not an American!” twaddle of the pre-Citizens United 2008 campaign will look like a prom queen/king election. It shouldn’t surprise anyone when the Bowling with Satan and Turning Alabama into an Internment Camp ads come out.

As I wrestled with the knotweed root last weekend, it struck me that we need two things in order to end the abuses and the interminable extent of the silly season.

First of all, we need to put an end to the obscene amounts of cash that buys our votes and replace the current system with one that relies on modest public financing. The huge amounts of cash coming from mega-corporations, unions, moneyed megalomaniacs (of all political stripes) has to come to an end.

Over the weekend it was announced that an “anonymous donor” wrote a check for $10 million for Crossroads GPS Super Pac (the execrable Karl Rove’s group), an organization that will, without a doubt, use that money to tray and defeat President Obama.

Think about it — some whiny Richie Rich presumes that his vote — $10 million worth — is much more valuable than yours, or mine. It is the very antithesis of democracy and is, at its core, entirely un-American.

The time has come to stick a fork in Super PACs, cap individual donations at $200 and provide a minimal sum of federal funding to candidates who have raised enough money to meet a predetermined funding threshold.

Secondly, we need to restrict the general election to six weeks. Other countries do that and there’s no reason we can’t do that in the U.S. Any serious candidate will have planned their campaign well in advance of that six-week election cycle and will hit the ground running. Let both parties decide their nominees after four weeks, hold three or four debates during the final two weeks and then be done with the whole mess at the end of week six.

There is no reason the silly season needs to drag on for nearly a year. There’s no reason the voters need to be held hostage to the extended tomfoolery that has become our election process.

Unfortunately, taking huge amounts of outside money from political campaigns will be opposed by the moneyed interests who have become accustomed to buying candidates and perniciously purchasing votes at every level of government. Those special interests see no return on investment by honoring the “one person, one vote” philosophy that our Founding Fathers intended (despite their short-sided institution of the Electoral College, which also needs to be eliminated).

Those special interests will pay dearly from their deep pockets to see that we, the voters in this country of modest means and basically pure intent, do not have a voice.

As I finally wrenched the root of that knotweed from the ground, tossing it into the pile of weeds I had already accumulated, I looked over my yard and saw another 100 prostrate knotweeds to be pulled.

It’s going to be a long, long silly season, one with unmatched stupidity and venal rhetoric, I thought as I continued pulling weeds, hoping that next year won’t be nearly as bad. As I finally wrenched the root from the ground, I was not just satisfied with my success but also with the knowledge that the weed had been denied its chance to return, much less spread its seed.

Catching my breath, I looked around my yard, deciding where to plant my shovel next. Another root to dig and tangle with. If only I had $10 million to pay someone to dig them up for me ...

jim@pagosasun.com

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