Rick Weiland's campaign for the U.S. Senate is really missing the boat. I admire the feisty, "prairie populist" thematics that are delivered in a slick, if textbook-like fashion. That "take it back" slogan, the constant refrain during his statewide tour ("when you're running against big money you have to do a lot of walking"), the repetitious images of Rick and us ordinary folk--they're okay, I suppose, but basically just work on a superficial level. Rick's "us everyday folk" versus "them rich and powerful folk" scenario would hit home if American political life really did devolve into those simple terms.
But it doesn't. Though I believe it's true that wealthy interests probably hold more sway when it comes to national policy decisions in this country, there's a missing aspect of that phenomenon that needs to be considered before condemning big money as the root of all political evils in the United States. Today I stumbled on to a recent study by a pair of profs, one from Princeton, the other from Northwestern, that looked at polling and policy data from 1981 to 2002. Its conclusions do indeed square with the notion that policy supported by people in middle and lower income brackets has much less of a chance of implentation than policy supported by wealthy Americans. Nothing contra-intuitive there, and to that extent Weiland is getting it right.
Where Weiland's message is out-of-synch with reality is the way it lumps wealthy interests into some sort of monolithic, unified political juggernaut bent on making life miserable for ordinary Americans. This actually is way off the mark. The politics of big money simply don't congeal that way. CNBC's Robert Frank writes a nice critique and analysis of the study I reference and calls attention to the fact that for every right wing rich guy promoting schemes that Democrats abhor, there's probably a wealthy leftie advocating the opposite. As Frank notes, for every Koch there's a Buffett. I'd add that for every George Soros there's a Sheldon Adelson--and I'd probably be able to match Big Rich Lib with Big Rich Rightie for as long as necessary to make the point. Weiland's mentor Tom Daschle generally raised millions for his senate campaigns here in South Dakota and I don't recall Weiland or any other Democrats bemoaning the influence of Big Money when it suited their party's purposes back then. So what changed? Just the fact that Weiland hasn't been able to scare up 7-figure totals for his campaign now is about all I can see.
Fact is, there's a lot of dovetailing when it comes to the interests of the wealthy with those of more ordinary incomes. Just running against wealth is not really running for a policy or against an ideology. Weiland so far hasn't clarified--at least in his mass media themes--what the differences are between him and Mike Rounds, his likely opponent. He has yet to challenge Rounds' tenure as governor and really hasn't made much of a case as to how he'd represent South Dakota more effectively than Rounds. This is the missing component of his campaign, and the sooner he makes voters realize how he differs in style and policy matters, the better will South Dakotans be able to judge who's the best guy to send to D.C.