The Best Congress Money Can Buy

The Democrats’ much-vaunted escaping of the Red Wave had much to do with pouring money into advertising. Why don’t we hear more about that?

Will Rogers said years ago that the United States of America had the best Congress money can buy. The same is true of the Congress that will meet in January 2023. The campaign expenditures were more than $16 billion for the inconclusive results, and yet there has been little comment about that.

I suppose the mainstream media does not want to complicate their “narrative” about the rejection of Republican radicalism or pro-life concerns in the results of the midterms. I saw one cartoon in The New Yorker in which two people are watching returns and one says to the other something to the effect of “So billions of dollars were spent to get back to where we were?”

I was looking at OpenSecrets, an Internet site that tries to keep track of campaign spending, and found some interesting data about the close races for Senator in Arizona and Georgia. The Democratic incumbents, whose edge has been celebrated in the media, had war chests that were much greater than their Republican opponents. Raphael Warnock’s campaign had double the money of Herschel Walker’s, and yet they came to a draw. Mark Kelly had tens of millions more money than his opponent Blake Masters. John Fetterman had at least $15 million more than Mehmet Oz.

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The barrage of media advertising in the last days of the campaign had Adam Laxalt in Nevada complaining that only his opponent could get airtime on television. The Democrats’ much-vaunted escaping of the Red Wave had much to do with pouring money into advertising. Why don’t we hear more about that?

I think it is because of two reasons. First, that voters are like consumers and will buy whatever is well-advertised does not fit the narrative mainstream media wants to make about the midterms being a rejection of Republican radicalism and the overturning of Roe v. Wade. To say that their candidates were sold like junk food and were able to scrape by to election is not as interesting to the chatting class on cable as tendentious celebrations of the sophistication of voters. 

Second, it is both puzzling and problematic that campaign spending on superficial attack ads is the key to saving democracy. The voters are that uninformed? Serious people can be concerned about campaign turnarounds that are based on 30- or 60-second publicity bits used to vilify opponents or misrepresent candidates (as altar boys, for instance, when their devotion to the Catholic Faith can be questioned). It is embarrassing to the winners and demoralizing to the losers that cheap tactics work so well. 

Some big spenders lost, like Val Demings in Florida and Tim Ryan in Ohio. But the success of selling candidates like cars or sausages should give pause to anyone. The superficial, fickle voters are not about “saving democracy.” Many of them respond, apparently, like the couch potatoes they are in front of their television sets, forming political opinions on the basis of Madison Avenue pitches and their constant repetition. You could not watch television in Ohio during the campaign without being subject to shameless pro-abortion messages filled with outrageous lies and exaggerations. Junk politics can be sold like junk food.

I think part of the blame goes to the bishops. If “Catholic” politicians can be pro-abortion in public life with no consequences for their practice of the Faith, why would anyone be worried about supporting them in the privacy of the voting booth? The “tolerance” the majority of bishops have shown on the issue is culpable. Purgatory awaits you.

But we cannot be satisfied with post-game criticism. We must expose the business of these campaigns, follow the money, and make it clear how patently superficial decisions are made by voters. The slick media campaigns, reinforced by bias in reporting, should be countered by a very serious “caveat emptor.” Some people should have buyer’s remorse shoved in their faces.

My secretary included a boilerplate reminder to people to vote in the elections in the parish announcements the weekend before the midterms. Maybe we should discourage some people from voting because they lack not just the information but also the formation required for responsible participation in the confusion and chaos of elections.

There is so much work to be done, so much research required, to uncover the reality behind the headlines. There is so much courage needed to be a counterculture unafraid of moving against contrary tides and headwinds. It is often easier to blame the losers for losing than to see what really happened.

[Image Credit: Unsplash]

  • Msgr. Richard C. Antall

    Monsignor Antall is pastor of Holy Name Parish in the Diocese of Cleveland. He is the author of The X-Mass Files (Atmosphere Press, 2021), and The Wedding (Lambing Press, 2019).

tagged as: Election 2022 Politics

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