Instead of election, an auction

December 26, 1996|By John Brain

A PLETHORA OF political-contribution scandals has again pushed both parties to pledge reform.

But no political system that runs on money is capable of reforming itself. One might as well ask an automobile to give up gasoline. Money in politics is not like a drug habit an addict can kick; it's food that politicians must eat or starve.

Demanding that pols give up money makes no sense at all. What sort of people do we want running the country anyway? Do-gooders? Philanthropists? Saints? Come off it! Get real!

Rather than fight money in politics, it makes more sense to turn the system around and make money work for us. The solution is breathtakingly simple: auction political office!

The good old days

Whoever thought up that old one-man-one-vote idea must have been dreaming. We started out with only qualified men of substance voting. No women, no slaves, no poor, no deadbeats. Pay your poll tax and vote!

Over the years the system degenerated. First slaves, then women, then blacks. Anyone who could pull a lever. Soon, the rabble was in control, Shakespeare's ''many-headed multitude,'' at the mercy of demagogues.

No wonder wealth and privilege fought back with campaign contributions restoring the balance of power, so the real stakeholders could have their say.

Let's face it, democracy is un-American! America is a capitalist, free-market society, the best political system money can buy.

We didn't win the Cold War with bombs and rockets, but with cold cash. Simply put, we outspent the competition, the highest bidder in a world where winner takes all.

Mend it, don't end it

So let's not knock money. Rather, let's fine-tune a system that already works so well and legitimize it. What could be fairer than electing leaders at public auction? Make the voters put their money where their mouths are! Electors can decide how much a candidate is worth, just as they decide what a house or car is worth, on the free market.

What am I bid for Jesse Helms or Strom Thurmond? A little long in the tooth, but sound conservatives. What are candidates worth not only to the thousands of two-bit voters, but to R.J. Reynolds and Texaco and Archer Daniels Midland? Auctioning off leaders doesn't cut out the little guy, it just makes him ante up for the causes he supports: unions, clean air, spotted owls, white tigers, whatever.

The auction principle doesn't have to stop at elections either. Representatives flush with auction money can bid on the legislation they support. ''Clean air repeal act passes by $15 billion.'' If you want a say in government, work hard, save up and pay for it.

A radical proposal? Hardly. If we introduced it tomorrow, no one would notice.

John Brain is a Baltimore free lance.

Pub Date: 12/26/96

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