It seems that in the land of opportunity political opportunity comes at an increasingly impossible and alienatingly high price. This must feed into the disenchantment and detachment, the corrosive cynicism too, undermining all democracies, including our own, right around the world.
Unless a challenger, either Democratic of Republican, arrives on a white charger then next year’s campaign will have more in common with England’s definitive struggle for power, the War of the Roses — 1455 to 1487 — than it will have with participatory, admirable or contemporary democracy. Should a challenger emerge from either flank that person and their supporters, will need very, very deep pockets. American presidential campaigns are now the exclusive preserve of the super rich and the super connected.
In the first six months of this year Bush — son of one-term president George Sr and brother of two-term president George W — won the funding race by a considerable margin. He is also far more successful at fundraising than any of his 15 — at the last count — party rivals.
Federal Election Commission figures show that Bush has raised €104m, close enough to double Clinton’s €57m. One donation shows how bizarre and questionable the process has become. Fracking billionaires Farris and Dan Wilks wrote a cheque for $15m (€13.69m) for the political action committee (PAC) working for Dan Cruz. The PACs are a free-market, tooth-and-claw version of political fundraising — super PACs usually have their share of billionaires who can, and do, donate as much as they like as often as feel the need to support democracy. The only constraint is that funds cannot go directly to election candidates.
It may be comparing apples with oranges but it is unlikely that all of the parties and independents contesting our next general election will, combined, spend much more than €5m. The American figures even dwarf anything spent on the recent British general election, where funding limits applied.
The gap between Clinton and Bush in fundraising may be explained by the traditional alliance between corporate business and Bush’s Republican party but the strengthening suspicions and dissatisfaction growing around Clinton must be a factor too. It would be willfully stupid to imagine that these donations do not have strings attached and that donors expect to be rewarded in some way.
And why does any of this matter on a stormy summer morning in Ireland? Like it or not, the peace and prosperity we enjoy is, if not entirely, largely dependent on on a powerful and credible America. We, and the rest of Europe, cannot afford to see the White House become a rich man’s prize that has little enough to do with grassroots democracy.