If only campaign finance reform could sell the way sex does

August 21, 1998|By Myriam Marquez

THE POLITICAL SCANDAL in our midst isn't the president's "Old South" definition of what constitutes sexual relations.

Naturally, seven months of ad nauseam television coverage would make it seem that way.

It's all Zippergate this, White-House-under-fire that. Presidency-in-crisis here. Monica's-stained-dress there.

The nation is consumed with sex -- and in denial.

We say we don't want to know about Bill Clinton's White House intern adventure, yet we're hooked on "all Monica, all the time" TV.

Then there's the barrage of "pop" sex TV coverage, the so-called culture war's sexual battles.

In the news of late: those who seem to fear their own sexuality so much that they're compelled to "convert" homosexuals into heterosexuals.

"Gay for Life?" a recent Newsweek magazine cover depicting used-to-be-gay/now-straight couple asked readers.

Terrorism tease

That same issue contained coverage of the terrorist attacks on U.S. embassies in Africa -- relegated to a tease on the cover. Perhaps the editors thought that any more exposure on the cover would have given terrorists the publicity they crave.

Still, debate about gay conversions, however heated that debate might be, can't match the threat posed by terrorist attacks against Americans abroad.

But, hey, sex sells.

Which is why the true political scandal in our midst illicits only a yawn from the typical American. I'm referring to a campaign-finance system that politicians and political parties abuse all day, all the time.

Sorry, no panty raid in this story -- just the strong possibility that American taxpayers are losing the shirts off their backs to the demands of special interests.

"The way we lawmakers raise campaign money is out of control," Sen. John McCain acknowl- edged in a recent column he wrote for Newsweek.

The Arizona Republican long has advocated outlawing unregulated donations that rich people, labor unions and big business make to political parties.

How does this affect me?

Only political nerds get passionate about the campaign-finance scandal, though. A majority of Americans surveyed keep telling pollsters that they're fed up with the campaign-finance system, that it buys special access for the rich at the expense of what's best for the public. Yet they don't list campaign-finance reform as a priority.

McCain argues that's because reformers have "failed to explain to the American people how this affects their everyday lives. We need to tell them that when we dole out some pork for a special interest, it's the little guy who's paying for it. . . . It's gotten to the point where most people figure, 'Look, there's nothing we can do about it.'"

The public has grown cynical for good reason.

Every election year, we witness this little rush in Congress to "pass" campaign finance reform legislation. And every time there's something that blocks reform -- a presidential veto or delays by congressional leaders eager to run out the clock and keep the lucrative status quo that favors incumbents.

Both parties play the game.

They're at it again this year. The U.S. House of Representatives recently approved a sweeping campaign-finance measure that's not going anywhere in the Senate despite McCain's Polyannaish optimistic outlook.

'Can't be stopped'

"I may be wrong," McCain wrote, "but I think we're now at a juncture where campaign-finance reform can't be stopped."

Why would senators, most of them Republicans in the majority party who killed similar legislation a few months ago, want to revisit campaign-finance reform as they head into the November elections?

What a scandal. If only people cared.

Myriam Marquez is an editorial page columnist for the Orlando Sentinel.

Pub Date: 8/21/98

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