Money Matters

I’ll say it flat-out: Randy Newman is a treasure. His music weaves the ancient motifs of American popular and folk with brilliantly sarcastic (some would say caustic) lyrics to convey, I think, the essentially dual nature of our national character.

Polite but mean. Happy but depressed. Erudite but dumb as dirt. Self-satisfied but never sated.

As I hear the overheated (but, I believe, completely beside the point) campaign rhetoric about which candidate has raised more than which other candidate for president, my mind keeps coming back to one of Newman’s masterpieces, ‘It’s Money That Matters.’ You can watch the video here. Some lyrics follow (below).

Of all of the people that I used to know
Most never adjusted to the great big world
I see them lurking in book stores
Working for the Public Radio
Carrying their babies around in a sack on their back
Moving careful and slow

It’s money that matters
Hear what I say
It’s money that matters
In the USA.

All of these people are much brighter than I
In any fair system they would flourish and thrive
But they barely survive
They eke out a living and they barely survive…

It’s money that matters in the USA
It’s money that matters
Now you know that it’s true
It’s money that matters whatever you do.”

I don’t want to see infusions of un-Godly big pots of money unduly influencing elections but I also don’t want money, and how much of it gets raised, to be either (a) used by our news media as a tool to distract the electorate from the real issues facing our country at this moment in history, or (b) an excuse used to explain why an extremely electable candidate eventually loses.

Money does matter but issues, including policy positions, matter more. One problem, I believe, is that those in our news media (especially cable and broadcast media) have shown themselves ill-prepared to discuss the substance of policy and issues. Therefore, they concentrate their coverage almost exclusively on three relatively unimportant sideshows: (1) the horserace, polls, who’s falling, who’s gaining, delegate counts; (2) gaffes, blunders and bloopers, embarrassing personal disclosures; and (3) easy to obtain and understand data, like campaign contributions.

But part of the blame also rightly belongs to the campaigns themselves. I’ve been surprised (not in a good way) by the amateurishness of even national-level campaigns this year. Lack of depth. Lack of candidate preparation for events. Lack of ‘brand’ awareness and adherence.

Money does, of course, matter in politics, in the sense that the public conversation can be seeded with advertising and so forth. But let’s be honest. Campaign contributions aren’t in any way a surrogate measure for popular support, as is frequently posited by media pundits and analysts. The truth is, rich people, including the candidates themselves, and corporations spend a lot of money on campaigns because they have vested interests in certain candidates winning.

Nothing more or less than that.

Americans aren’t complete dumb-asses; we’re just treated that way.

Maybe Randy could write us a song about it.

It’s Money That I Love

We might at times get distracted by soaring rhetoric or stadium-sized crowds or even policy-wonks on TV but leave it to Randy Newman to remind us in song what really keeps politics going – money.

In his recent reversal on accepting money from so-called ‘superpacs,’ unregulated, untraceable, and limitless sources of campaign funding, President Obama acknowledged as much.

I’ve read numerous articles over the past couple of days outlining the ‘secret’ ways candidates amass war chests, both to fund their campaigns and to keep their potential challengers at bay, as if such was really a secret to anyone paying attention. Today’s Los Angeles Times says the president’s ‘superpac’ reversal reflects a ‘new reality.’

Nothing could be further from the truth, as this turn-of-the-century (that is, the last century) cartoon from Thomas Nast shows. Our politicians have always sung along with the tune, ‘It’s Money That I Love.’