Here’s one of the most amusing quotes I’ve ever heard: “There are two things that are important in politics: The first is money, and I can’t remember what the second one is.”
It presents one of many foregone conclusions that we as a society have embraced in politics. We’re frightened by the specter of money.
I call it verdephobia. A word I made up to title the equally-fictionalized irrational fear of green, or money. We falsely assume that as individuals, we must cower before big entities simply because they are wealthier and better connected than us. That might have been true 20 years ago or so, but now things have changed. We have the Internet now. The internet can free us from the bonds of big money.
If you have a strong and worthwhile message, you can get it out there. After the 2008 election, many were surprised that Sen. McCain lost, because it seemed that he had so much exposure and so much support behind him. He had that appearance strictly from having a good relationship with the media. It wasn’t perfect, but it was enough to give him an edge, especially when you consider that he raised less than 400 million dollars while then-Illinois Sen. Barack Obama raised over 700 million dollars. The money spread might have been wide, but the vote spread did not correlate at all. What separated him from Obama was an overwhelming amount of supporters from youth groups doing his campaign work online.
I was reminded of the Internet’s power when I read about a local town vote that took place last year. A library was in danger of closing, and there was an initiative to hike taxes by a mere 0.7 percent to maintain its budget. Anti-tax interest groups used their money to heavily influence the town to vote no on the initiative. It seemed that big money was unstoppable, and that there was no way to voice opposition that would take back the conversation.
So some grassroots groups with little money instead invested in an inexpensive Internet campaign to falsely advertise a book burning party to celebrate the library’s demise. This prompted a backlash that created an overwhelming yes vote on the initiative. With almost nothing but a cohesive message on their side, they were able to shape policy and make waves around the world.
An example like that wakes us up, helping us realize that money is no longer the only tool in the political shed. The next time someone whispers ominously about a person or group or corporation somehow being too powerful, simply because they have money, scoff a little and say: “So, what? Money and power aren’t always the same thing anymore.”
Reach the columnist at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him at @coltongavin.