Michael Lewis wrote a book called, Losers: The Road to Everyplace but the White House, about the various candidates running for the Republican nomination in 1996. The front runner, and eventual nominee, was Bob Dole. Dole had a long and distinguished career as a United States Senator. He had been wounded badly in World War II and had shown enormous courage in overcoming his wounds and serving with distinction in Congress for many years. Yet, by the time he finally secured the nomination on his third try, he was no longer surrounded by people who believed in Bob Dole. His campaign and speeches were dominated by what Lewis referred to as “rented strangers.” Unlike the backers of Pat Buchanan and others, they didn’t really believe in Bob Dole, but they wanted to find a winning horse to back and get paid well while they worked on the campaign.
It now seems that our two parties are being dominated by rented strangers. Oh, they are consultants and some used to work in government, but for the most part, they are interested in helping people raise money so they can keep their profession healthy and profitable. There is nothing wrong with that in the abstract, but, in reality, we now have a political system that only relies on money which produces commercials for which consultants or rented strangers profit greatly. There is no better way to raise money than appealing to the tribal instincts which so divide us. The instant call for money to support one side or the other is now a big business and the rented strangers are the ones that keep it going.
In the special election in Georgia last month, the Democratic candidate spent 25 million dollars for a seat in a district in which he didn’t live. Most of the money went to negative commercials. While the healthcare bill was a top issue, there was no real effort to educate the people in that district about health insurance. Rather, it was to reinforce the negative impressions the people who lived there had of each side. The Republicans did the same and, by winning the election, they now have reinforced the strategy of most negative wins.
So here we are with an unmoored President and a feckless Congress. Governors are looking better, but that is only by comparison. And as Mitch McConnell tries various versions of what Republicans called “the Nebraska kickback” (a provision in the ACA meant to secure the vote of Ben Nelson of Nebraska which was later discarded), no one seems to be stepping up to shape what could be an improvement in health care and health insurance for Americans. No one Republican Senator wants to be the vote that kills the bill because they know that the rented strangers will try to use such a vote to raise money against them.
It is time for someone to “drain the swamp” that is the rented strangers in each party but it will require courage on both sides which seems, with the exception of Susan Collins and Rand Paul, to be in mighty short supply these days. Who knows, maybe finally Americans will look for some Independent candidates at all levels of government and say, “let’s start over.” Seems like we can’t do much worse.