Thursday, October 29, 2009

The NASCARization of Politics

I have a simple two-part solution for campaign finance reform here in the United States. First, remove all limits on campaign spending. Second, require that all elected officials, and all candidates for elected office, wear the logos or some other insignia that identifies each major organizational donor to their campaign.

Eliminating limits on campaign finances conforms with Buckley v. Valeo,
the 1976 U.S. Supreme Court decision that holds that campaign donations are a form of speech and thus cannot be limited or regulated. Requiring office holders and seekers to wear logos makes good use of the growing cultural trend to identify with brand names and symbols. The resulting openness and transparency should make for better politics, or at least, great entertainment. Politics, sports, entertainment and business continue to merge into one gigantic amorphous mass. My idea is just one more stage in this grand fusion.

This win-win-win idea simply recognizes reality. Since 1976, Buckley v. Valeo has stymied efforts to reign in campaign finances. Perhaps not entirely coincidentally, life in the U.S. has become more commercialized over the ensuing decades. Corporate logos appear everywhere now. People walk down the street wearing T-shirts and jackets proudly proclaiming their allegiance to Nike, Ford, Budweiser, and on and on. Stadiums and arenas are no longer named after heroic sports figures, but instead wear the names of Qualcomm, Target, Conseco, et al. Even colleges and universities are beginning to succumb to the trend. The University of Houston has an Enron Teaching Award. My own employer, The University of Iowa, recently considered naming their College of Public Health after the Wellmark Foundation, which is affiliated with Wellmark Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Iowa.

My admittedly brilliant idea will solve all our campaign finance problems, and I'm sure it will prove to be extremely popular. Politicians will love it, because it will do away with all those pesky campaign finance laws they have to follow. They'll finally be able to receive unlimited amounts of cash without the risk of penalty (not that there was ever much risk of penalty to begin with). The general population will love it because we Americans love to identify with large, extremely wealthy organizations. We proudly wear logos on our clothes, plaster them on our cars, hoist them above our sports arenas and even our institutions of higher learning. Organizations will love it because not only will they continue to be able to use political donations to exert influence--they'll also be able to leverage their donations to market themselves.

All those pickup decals showing Calvin peeing on a Ford-Chevy-Dodge logo (pick one) will now have greater political significance. As the idea takes hold and our elected officicals begin to look more and more like NASCAR drivers, I look forward to the day when I can turn to C-SPAN and watch a senator emblazoned with the Microsoft logo respond to a senator sporting an Apple emblem. I can only hope that some day, in the halls of Congress, we will finally hear the political debate that epitomizes our current system: "Less filling!" "Tastes great!"