President Obama’s State of the Union speech this week drew the lowest ratings in 15 years. Why? Because this is America, and we get bored with anything that’s been around for six years. The President is old news, and nothing he says or does in a wooden speech to politely attentive members of Congress is going to change that reality.
And let’s not forget, too, that we’ve turned the calendar to 2015 — which is the year before the next presidential election, which means we’re due to be bombarded with an increasing barrage of news stories about the would-be candidates who want to take the President’s place at the podium. As if on cue, supporters of Hillary Clinton have made it known that she will be receiving financial commitments for her anticipated campaign that will be “astounding.” Their goal in lining up an immediate avalanche of cash is intimidate potential opponents and cause them to refrain from challenging Clinton in the first place. It’s like a “shock and awe” military campaign applied to American politics.
The article about the Clinton effort doesn’t say what would constitute money commitments that are “astounding” and “like nothing you’ve ever seen,” and it’s hard to imagine that sheer numbers are going to boggle the mind given the amounts being spent on political campaigns already. The Federal Election Commission estimates, for example, that about $7 billion was spent on the 2012 election. We’ve come to expect big spending on politics, and many of us get email fundraising appeals every day — even now, with no election on the horizon. So where is the shock level? $20 billion? $50 billion? $100 billion?
Money is important in politics, obviously, but ultimately money is just money. Americans spend lots of money on lots of things, such as $7.4 billion on Halloween, $20.5 billion on video games, and $73.9 billion on soda. You can buy commercial time and produce slick ad campaigns, but if your message isn’t resonating with voters you’re not going to win.
Perhaps the Clinton money machine will scare away some contenders for the Democratic presidential nomination, but those fraidy-cats probably weren’t serious challengers, anyway. If there are politicians out there who truly believe in their positions and want to use a presidential bid to forcefully advocate them, they aren’t going to be cowed by mere money, no matter how much it is. And don’t forget that America loves an underdog. A spunky candidate who is seen as bravely challenging the establishment and the aura of inevitability might make that “astounding” amount of money seem like chump change.