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Published on Sunday, April 16, 2000 in the San Francisco Chronicle
The Really Green Candidate
by Osmond Molarsky
IT IS BOTH SURPRISING and puzzling that polls show only one-third of people surveyed would rank campaign spending reform of top concern in their choice of a president.

It is surprising in light of the stress that McCain, Gore and Bradley placed on the issue in their primary campaigns. They must have deemed it important to voters, but they were mistaken. Puzzling, because we can hardly be ignorant of the ways in which present abuses weaken the power of our votes and seriously damage the system of representative government we call democracy. Common Cause and other watchdog organizations have given us no end of reports on key congressmen bought and paid for by the National Rifle Association, Big Labor, Big Tobacco and Big Defense. Public servants are named who can be counted on to vote against gun control legislation, for minimum wage, against classification of nicotine as a drug or for appropriating billions for weapons systems and aircraft the generals and admirals, themselves, do not want. We have learned even of proposed legislation written by the lawyer/lobbyists of the special interests.

How, then, can we fail to see the damage done to our democratic system? How can we fail to realize that, if nothing else, we have lost our voice in how our taxes are spent? How, as voters, can this be of little importance to us?

This public apathy is deeply puzzling and cries out for some explanations. Are the charges too outrageous for people to believe -- that a senator or a member of the House can be bribed? Is the bribery process itself too complex for people to comprehend? Is the idea of ``soft money'' so difficult to understand -- that there is no limit to contributions to political action committees that ``support'' candidates? Do we believe that none of this really touches us personally? Do we believe that our form of government does not really give us representation in Washington, so why try to fix what never worked in the first place?

Or can it be that, since most of our personal choices are determined by massive advertising and brand-name recognition, we are content to choose our public servants in the same way and take for granted their unbridled use of money to make up our minds for us? The more they spend on television spots, the more they deserve to command our attention and support. No one questions the money spent to persuade us to buy Special K or Goodyear or Revlon. Why, then, fault the candidates for spending all they can to get elected? The candidates, themselves, must believe this, flaunting the size of their campaign chests, as if the money itself were a measure of their stature, their popularity and their chance of winning, instead of an embarrassment. Do we go along with that? Do we vote for president the way we buy toothpaste?

There is an easy way to test this cynical theory. We need only place on the ballot that towering figure on whom so much money has been spent over the years, to achieve and maintain name recognition as to dwarf the puny war chests of the the Als-and-Ws-Come-Lately to the political arena. This Titan could run as the ultimate environmentalist. Who else for president of the United States but The Jolly Green Giant? In the present political climate he could sweep the polls. With Mr. Clean as his running mate, he couldn't lose.

Osmond Molarsky, 90, is the author of 14 children's books, including ``A Sky Full of Kites.''

2000 San Francisco Chronicle


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