On October 31, 1992 nearly my entire family were among the first faces that President Bush saw directly in front of him in Plover, Wisconsin as his Truman-like campaign train rumbled into that small community. We had arrived early, stood for many hours in the biting cold and light snow flakes, to watch a piece of American political history play out. When the train whistles blew loud from off in the distance, and the huge engine and cars finally came into view, the political drama that I had so wanted to see, and was so pleased that my family could witness, made the waiting all worth it.
We paid no fee to get in the gate, and my readers well know I had no Republican credentials to get such close access. My family may have voted for the GOP over the years, but no checks were ever written for any campaign. We were just Americans interested in the election. Needless to say it was an event that produced wonderful memories.
Sadly not every citizen that wants to be a part of the political process in this way can do so. It is increasingly difficult for average people to hear and meet candidates running for the White House. As a political junkie I had hoped to see President Bush in 2004 in northeastern Wisconsin. But trying to get a ticket without being a contributor, or agreeing to make political calls after the event, made it impossible to witness his campaign stop. When Democratic candidate Barack Obama visits Madison next week the rally (and the ability to hear his message) will be only for those who pay the ticket fee for the event.
The entire political process today is driven by factors other than truly getting the candidate and the voter together. What the campaigns desire is for a huge fundraiser effort to make every stop ‘worthwhile’ so that more TV ads can be bought, and more brochures printed. While I very well understand the need for cash to be raised for elections, I think it is also worth recalling that not so long ago the candidates actually just came to town and talked.
In 1988 Vice-President Bush visited Madison and there I was in the front as one who wanted to see the process up close. No ticket, no fee. Just unfettered access to a candidate who wanted to be my President. What an old fashioned idea. I know that Bush had fundraiser events scheduled during his time here, but he also had time for a truly public event. Say what you will about him, but I will never forget that part of his campaign. (BTW, he had a firm handshake, but I recall he also had very soft skin for a guy.)
I have problems with the huge amounts of cash it takes to run for President, or most offices in this nation. I know that we can never go back to the days when campaigns were less costly. But I think it important to consider how far we have come down the road from those days, and ask what has all that campaign cash gotten our country.