WATCHING THE PRIMARY FROM ACROSS THE RIVER
I've had the fun of voting in six New Hampshire primaries, but this one
I had to
sit out. I've just moved three miles across the river and become a
It was strange to watch all the foofuraw from across the state
boundary. I still
bumped into the candidates as they cruised the valley, canoed on the
glad-handed in parking lots, blocked traffic with campaign buses. I
inundated with their ads. I listened as New Hampshire friends weighed
options. All I missed was the nightly calls from the pollsters and the
I wonder if other Vermonters feel both amused and neglected every four
when the spotlight beams on New Hampshire. I wonder if they all
imagine what they would do, if they could vote across the river.
What I secretly imagined was, I would ask for a Republican ballot (I was
New Hampshire's legion of independents) and vote with glee for John
I was astonished to wake up Wednesday morning and discover how many New
Hampshirites actually did that.
I guess their reasons must have been the same as mine. First, it would
to vote for a real person, not a programmed puppet. I disagree with
John McCain's positions (especially on the environment), but at least he
positions, not a mishmash of poll results massaged into high-sounding
vagueness by political handlers.
Second, it's hard to resist a chance to slow down George W. Bush, the
privilege, floating on a tide of Texas oil money, who seems to have no
serious qualification or purpose for the presidency than his own glory.
I'm not the only New Englander in whom he raises a mild nausea.
Third, and by far most important, McCain talks straight about campaign
He even admits that he himself is a captive of our system of legal
opposed to Bradley and Gore, who try to pretend they've somehow stayed
above it. Campaign reform appears to be maybe third on Bradley's
eighth on Gore's, nowhere on Bush's. George W. said several times that
campaign reform is out of the question because it would hurt
didn't even seem to realize he was admitting that his party could not
election that was fair rather than bought.
Campaign reform is number one on McCain's list and on mine. In fact
only item on my list, because everything else depends on it. Without it
of the people means nothing. Without it we have no democracy; we have a
plutocracy, a nation ruled by those with money.
A large majority of Americans think it's reasonable to require a gun
owner, like a
car owner, to pass a test and get a license. But that will never happen
as long as
gun money pours in to lobbyists and politicians.
Our pockets are picked and our natural wealth is eroded every time
trees or grazing or drilling rights on national lands are handed
essentially free to
a few profiteers. Those profiteers can easily pay, right out of the
extract from our resources, more kickback to political parties than all
environmental groups combined.
There is no way you or I can contribute as much as the oil lobby does to
Senators who fight doggedly for oil company tax deductions -- deductions
mean higher taxes for the rest of us.
Those who are desperate for affordable medicine or health insurance or
medical care can't begin to match the soft money flowing from drug
insurance companies and HMOs.
Banks kick in millions to get regulations weakened so they can take
with our deposits. Then when they lose, we get taxed to bail them out.
Time magazine this week spells out one small deal in which a single
magnate (who does not even export from the United States) paid off both
parties to the tune of $5 million in campaign contributions. For that
"access," a night in the Lincoln bedroom, the ability to call up John
Dole, and Al Gore (who coolly asked him for more money before doing his
bidding). His bidding was to pick a trade fight to open the European
market. It was done, at ruinous cost to dozens of unrelated U.S.
businesses too small to buy "access."
There are thousands of such stories. Our government is simply a machine
doles out special favors to large contributors at enormous cost to
Whatever your cause, unless you are very rich and have a stomach for
it's a lost cause without serious, thoroughgoing,
public-funding-equally-to-all-serious-candidates campaign reform.
More and more people are realizing this fact of political life. John
repeats it daily, loudly, publicly. The plutocratic power structure,
main Republican rival, eagerly wants to shut him up. But if other
react as New Hampshire's did, by the time we Vermonters get to vote for
president this year, there may still be a warrior for campaign reform on
(Donella Meadows is an adjunct professor at Dartmouth College and
the Sustainability Institute in Hartland, Vermont.)