Podcast Moments: This American Life, “Take the Money and Run For Office”
April 10, 2012 Leave a comment
This American Life’s recent episode “Take the Money and Run” does one of he things that TAL does so well, which is to combine investigative reporting with compelling storytelling. If you’re interested in the details of political fundraising — not just who raises how much, but how, for example, the check is actually handed over — then this is the show for you.
I do take slight issue with how they initially present the old “two sides of the argument” argument.
ANDREA SEABROOK: There tend to be two views on this. If you’re cynical, you think money buys votes, pure and simple. Washington is owned. Money drives everything.
ALEX BLUMBERG: But lobbyists and politicians will sometimes tell you the opposite. Money has no effect. After all, they say, there’s always two sides and both are giving. Exporters versus importers. Bankers versus realtors. Businesses versus unions. The money cancels itself out.
While making sure to state the the voters also have a say in the process, Barney Frank points out the hokum in the second view.
FRANK: People say oh, it doesn’t have any effect on me. Look, if that were the case, we would be the only human beings in the history of the world who, on a regular basis, took significant amounts of money from perfect strangers and made sure that it had no effect on our behavior.
For me, the second view is simply a duplicitous way of admitting the truth of the first view. There are not always two sides. There’s always one side — people with money. Exporters, importers, bankers, realtors, businesses, unions…they all have money. So each view admits that our politics and public policy are based on money.
Despite my quibble, this is another terrific episode of This American Life, full of details and nuance, packaged in an entertaining fashion.
They end by interviewing Senator John McCain and former Senator Russ Feingold. I haven’t heard McCain be this insightful since perhaps the 2000 Presidential campaign, as he describes hearing the conservative activist judges at the Supreme Court as they decided Citizens United.
MCCAIN: The day that Russ and I went over and observed the arguments, the questions that were asked, the naivete of the questions that were asked and the arrogance of some of the questions, it was just stunning. Particularly Scalia with his sarcasm. “Why shouldn’t these people be able to be able to engage in this process? Why do you want to restrict them from their rights of free speech?” And the questions they asked showed that they had not the slightest clue as to what a political campaign is all about and the role of money that it plays in political campaigns and I remember when Russ and I walked out of there I said Russ, we’re going to lose and it’s because they are clueless.
I’m not sure why he was surprised, as Antonin Scalia is arrogant and clueless on the best of days, but I do appreciate McCain going on record.
Episode 461 of This American Life first aired on March 30, 2012.