Friday, June 20, 2008

Pennies for Votes

For many, many years, in elementary and middle schools across the south and perhaps other regions in the nation as well, at a certain time each year, the student body would perhaps `nominate' several young boys and girls to be Mr and Miss `small town' (or whatever the name) of that particular school may be.

But, this contest would not be based purely on popularity, being a good citizen or high academic achievement per se, but instead, by the number of pennies that each student was able to raise since each penny counted as one vote.

After the votes, no, actually, the pennies were tallied the winners would be crowned, perhaps photographed for the yearbook, maybe even ride on a float in a local parade and then carry the largely insignificant title throughout the rest of the year.

After execution of this widely accepted practice by which these schools would raise much needed funds for things like chalk, art paper, kick balls or other necessities utilized for richer educational experiences in the classroom there was an unfortunate fact that remained embedded in the minds of the millions who witnessed or lived through it.

The children who took the title Mr and Miss local school, was in fact the student who in the end, turned in the fattest check to the powers that be at that school, a check that was often written by a wealthy parent.

In the end, the contest was not about merit or popularity but wealth although perhaps in rare cases, childlike money raising prowess. Still, for millions of children, it instilled or perhaps at least reinforced the bitter pill that money equals title, perhaps too power.

What often got lost in the drama of those contests that appears to have rewarded those children who had wealthier parents, was the cold hard fact that the schools who conducted them, often operated under umbrella school systems that under-funded them, a greater system that in many states bore the stench of inequity from district to district that left individual schools in desperate need of cash to operate fully.

It was a greater reality that was complained about, but many parents and others felt powerless to change.

Interestingly, many of our most treasured rights, the very fundament(s) of what we cherish as a free democracy are tainted by similar flaws.

While there is no doubt that Barack Obama did in fact go back on his word when he announced that he would opt-out of the public financing system, irking many, both Republican and Democrat along with those who would like to extinguish the flames of influence that large moneyed private donations, be it corporate donors who bundle, be it lobbying interests who disguise donations through other methods, be it even individuals who accept the fact that in order to win an election in these free and open United States they must contribute dollars to help their choice win votes, the facts in today's electioneering process are what they are.

The United States electoral system is broken.

It truly does not matter who is nominated or who chooses to enter a campaign for any office in this country because, in the end, that candidate must go out and raise vast amounts of dollars because in this nation, in the end, a dollar can be likened to a bullhorn by which to broadcast a message more effectively and thus win a vote.

Until we as a nation begin to aggressively address the fundamental flaws that money in politics has grown into over the past few years, we are only going to continue to witness the political pollution that money buys on an increasingly grand scale.

Yes, presumed Democratic nominee appears to many to have gone back on his word. But, the nominee from Chicago is only operating under an umbrella, a system that has relegated him to this unfortunate choice. It is his political reality and more importantly, it is ours. We as a nation have yet to raise our collective voices and demand change in the way we pick our leaders.

It's really not fair for critics to bombard the Barack Obama campaign machine with criticism or to express profound disappointment in the candidate for choosing to opt out of public financing. It is more appropriate that we express our displeasure with our system of electing our leaders.

What makes this all similar to the analogy of students who go out and raise pennies for the tile of Mr or Miss School?

Well, that's fairly obvious.

But, this is not just a `title' that Senator Obama and Senator Mc Cain are raising their coins for. It is in fact, the most powerful title in the world.

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