An American Editor

November 1, 2010

How Much Is That Job Worth?

I read the other day that Meg Whitman has spent $143 million of her own money in her quest to become governor of California. Today I read that midterm campaign spending will set a new record — nearly $4 billion, approximately 50% more than the last midterm election spending, and the article didn’t make it clear whether this was spending on just federal races or on all races (my bet is just federal races). These numbers started me thinking, primarily about how far down the wrong path we seem to be going.

How much is the job of governor of California really worth? Or United States senator or representative? To the office seekers, apparently a lot, but I don’t understand the return, unless it is sheer naked power or being able to say “I am 1 of 50!” Does Meg Whitman really need to be governor to influence policy? As the various pressure groups demonstrate daily, one can buy a lot of lobby power and influence for a lot less than $143 million.

But consider the other ramifications. A lot of Americans go to bed hungry, and with no health insurance. If it costs $12,000 a year to buy a family health insurance plan in the private marketplace, Whitman’s $143 million could insure nearly 12 million families for a year. Or it could give more than 12 million families $200 a week for a year to buy groceries.

And after the election has been bought, what will we citizens get in return? If the past few years are any guide, not much.

Contrast the value placed on elective office to the value placed on editing. I’m not sure we are even talking same dimension, let alone same planet. Isn’t it interesting that corporate America keeps pressuring editors to lower their fees yet corporate America keeps raising the expense of obtaining elected office. One would think if it were good enough for editors, it would be good enough for politicians, too. (I wonder when the day will arrive when we outsource/offshore our political offices because the candidates cost less?)

Okay, I’ll concede that any politician has a greater influence on most people’s daily lives than does any editor, but that may well be because we value editorial skills so lowly. Grammar skills don’t seem to matter; spelling skills don’t seem to matter; only cost seems to matter. Yet the future of corporations lies in the communication skills of the generations of leaders yet to come, which would make, to my way of thinking, editorial skills more important than they currently are viewed. Imagine the chaos that will ensue when the corporate CEO gives instruction (or the politician drafts a bill) and those whose job it is to follow those instructions do it incorrectly for the lack of clarity. (Think of simple things like: “Johnny Depp’s wife, Brad Pitt and Matt Damon.”)

Of course, the other sad thing about the cost of buying political office is that voters’ choice is generally among those who were failures but pocketed a large fortune while failing. Carly Fiorina wants to bring jobs back to America yet fired a third of her American workforce in order to make her company more profitable and thus pocket more in bonuses. Is there a disconnect? Yet she can afford to dig into her own money to run a political campaign, whereas the successful small business owner who has created American jobs in each of the last 10 years cannot afford to run for political office against a Fiorina or Whitman.

This is much like the argument against health insurance mandates. I admit that I do not like being told what I have to spend my hard-earned money on, but I also realize that sometimes you need to spend some to make some, and these mandates are like that. Consider the person who has no health insurance and becomes ill. Where do they go for treatment? To the hospital. If they cannot afford to pay the hospital bill, what happens? The cost gets spread to those of us who either have insurance or are able to pay the bill, as well as to the government (or the taxpayer). Strikes me that opposing a mandate to carry insurance is like insisting that the government raise my taxes or that my insurance carrier raise my premium rates. Someone has to pay, and it generally falls on the taxpayer to do so, which is what gets lost in the argument.

All of which brings me full circle to the original matter: Is spending $143 million to become governor of California what we citizens want to see? Wouldn’t it be better to take that same sum of money and provide health insurance or food to 12 million American families? How did we, as a society, come to be so disconnected from what is right and good? I don’t know, but I sure don’t think spending billions of dollars on politicians is such a great idea.

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