August 3, 2012

What Gore Vidal Said About The Corrupting Influence Of Money In Our Politics

A portrait of Gore Vidal

Earlier this week, celebrated author, playwright, and activist Gore Vidal passed away. “Mr Vidal was, at the end of his life, an Augustan figure who believed himself to be the last of a breed, and he was probably right,” editorialized the New York Times upon his death.

In 2000, Vidal authored the foreword to Money and Politics, a Boston Review New Democracy Forum published in book form by Beacon Press. This is what the legendary author noted about the cost of elections at that time:

Some nuts and bolts. Of the billions now spent each election cycle, most is donated in checks exceeding $1,000. But less than one-tenth of 1 percent of the general population make individual contributions at this rate. And among group contributors, better than 90 percent comes from corporations, which duly record their political investment as a tax-deductible “cost of doing business.” These happy few are prepared to pay a high and rising price for the privilege of controlling our government. In the 1998 election cycle, the average winning House candidate cost the owners about $900,000, the average winning Senate candidate a bit over $6 million. Multiply both figures by two if you want the cost of dislodging an incumbent from office—in a system where, last time around, over 97 percent were reelected. To finance a race in big media markets like New York or California, it’s a bit more expensive: as of election day 1998, something like $36 million and $21 million respectively.

Things have only gotten worse. For example, in 2010, the cost of a winning Senate seat was $10 million, an increase of 66 percent. But Vidal was fundamentally a hopeful writer, and he ended the foreword with a call to action:
 Although the heart of man is made to reconcile the most glaring contradictions” (Hume again), now let us use our heads and deal appropriately, as they say in Washington, with a corporate ruling class that has hijacked the nation, and in so doing eliminate at least one glaring contradiction: that ours is a government of, by, and for the many when it is so notoriously the exclusive preserve of the few.