Money matters

FI-EditorialDuring a time of year where we honor the brave men and women who have paid the ultimate price to preserve freedom and democracy, it must be stressed that sometimes threats to the American way of life are not always obvious.

This Memorial Day we will salute the flag, honor patriotism and pay tribute to those who have died defending this country. As always this is a time when Greenwich shines, whether it’s through multiple parades, the moving Monday ceremony at 8 a.m. sharp at Indian Harbor Yacht Club, or even the simple gesture of proudly placing flags along both sides of the Mianus River Bridge in Cos Cob.

But threats to democracy do not solely exist on the battlefield. U.S. Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) made that crystal clear when he came to Greenwich last week to talk about one of the biggest threats to the American political process … money.

Wait, you might say. Money? Is that truly as big a threat as there is today?

There is a difference between the kind of fights so many brave Americans have given their lives for and the ones we can and should be fighting domestically. But money is a problem in America, especially when it comes to our politics, and if we truly want a government built around the idea of “We the people” then this is something that cannot be brushed aside.

The issue that Sen. Murphy so rightly rang the alarm bell on this week in Greenwich is about the influence of big money donors on our politics. It’s not as obvious a threat as the terrorist or the opposing army, but what is it if not a perversion of the idea that America was built upon, that one person gets one vote. The idea of big money donors using “donations” to get their way with politicians  predates even the idea of America, but only someone either profiting from it or willfully burying their heads in the sand wouldn’t admit that things are getting worse.

We have a rising income gap in this country. More and more of the wealth is concentrated among fewer and fewer people and more Americans are struggling to just stay afloat. That is itself a huge problem. And more of those extremely rich Americans also want to make sure they exert as much influence as possible on our political process. And they are aided by enough justices on the U.S. Supreme Court who believe that money equals free speech.

Ultimately the enduring legacy of the eight years of President George W. Bush won’t be the debacles in Iraq and Afghanistan or even the botched Katrina response, but the Roberts-led Supreme Court that has gutted campaign finance law through Citizens United and subsequent decisions. It’s opened the door for wealth to dominate politics, practically ensuring only the well off can run for office and that the constant fund-raising cycle gets worse. Sen. Murphy is right to point out that only coarsens our politics because it’s so much easier to raise money by calling the other side terrible than by calling your side good.

This is not meant to be a partisan issue. The perpetual state of outrage that infects our politics today is a direct result of candidates always having to raise money. This impacts everyone because it keeps things from getting  done and keeps our legislators in constant opposition.

Our country was founded on the idea that the average citizen had as much say as the wealthiest one. That’s a belief that so many have fought and died for. So why aren’t we doing more to protect it at home? This is a fundamental part of our democracy. Let’s treat it like one.

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