Sunday, May 22, 2016

Bernie Sanders and the mythology of money

One of the fascinating things about the fact that Bernie Sanders has lost (note the conjugation) the Democratic contest is how this fits in with his central political theology.

According to Sanders and his ilk, money controls everything.  All political divisions can be reduced to class differences, class differences translate into political power differentials, and the rich control everything by buying elections with their filthy, filthy, icky money.  Insert some uninformed whining about Citizens United here.

And yet, has anyone noticed that Bernie Sanders is outspending Hillary Clinton?  By, like, a lot?!

There are two lessons here.  First, Bernie Sanders actually believes his nonsense about the influence of campaign spending on electoral outcomes.  Why is Bernie Sanders accepting so much money rather than, say, telling his supporters to give that money to charity?  Because he believes that if he can collect enough money and spend it, then he, too, can buy the presidency.

Yeah, that ain't workin' any better for him than it did for Jeb.  Sorry, Jeb!.  But, that's the second lesson.  Trying to buy a presidential nomination is a fool's errand.  The basic problem is that the biggest thing that advertising can get you is increased name recognition, and Sanders already has that among Democratic primary voters (although independents and Republicans have less specific knowledge about him because they haven't been paying as close attention).

In essence, campaign spending is subject to what we call "diminishing marginal returns."  The more you spend, the less marginal effect each dollar will get you because mostly the money just increases name recognition.

Now, if Sanders were even remotely analytical, he would understand that his loss debunks his own nonsense about campaign spending, but that's why it is so important for Sanders to construct arguments about how the process is rigged in other ways.  He must complain about closed primaries, or any other structure that might plausibly have helped Hillary because the only way he can rescue both his own sense of political efficacy and his dogmatic belief in the power of money is to find another villain.

Yes, the "democratic socialist" whose primary platform is campaign finance reform is out-spending the candidate of big money, and losing anyway.  Let's all take note.

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