Politics and power

By Lloyd Brown-john, The Windsor Star

Living proximate to another great country, Canadians cannot help but become peripherally engaged in American politics. In the next few months, our relatively sedate Canadian world will be awash with American ballyhoo, visceral allegations and outright lies.

Remember that politics is all about power – acquiring power, exercising power and, most importantly, retaining power.

Somewhere after the 1960 Kennedy-Nixon debates, the culture of American and, later, Canadian politics changed. Image promotion, opinion polling and media manipulation became normal.

Theodore White identified the rapidity of change in a series of books beginning with The Making of the President 1960, followed by similar analysis in 1964, 1968 and 1972.

Spin doctors and wordsmiths came into their own as political campaigns changed from policies and information to defamation and manipulation. Pollsters readily identified how easily public opinion could be altered and managed.

Contemporary elections are stage-managed because public opinion is so easily manipulated.

American politics has descended from its lofty claim to be “of the people, for the people, by the people” to a more cynical “of the lobbyists, for the lobbyists, by the lobbyists.”

Now, unfolding before us in Michigan, we have a microcosmic political picture of how American politics is so readily manipulated.

The Ambassador Bridge and its obdurate management seem convinced that the company can own Michigan politics if enough money is ladled out in a concerted campaign of falsehoods about a prospective competitor, a new Detroit River International Crossing bridge.

Earning an estimated $50 million a year from the Ambassador Bridge, doubtless the company considers a $5 million referendum campaign for Michigan voters to be a small price for its anticipated gain should its bizarre efforts succeed.

After all, it isn’t just bridge tolls to be lost to a competitive and more accessible down-river bridge, it’s also all that revenue from ostensibly duty-free sales of gas, booze and smokes.

Creating a biased support group for your cause is common in American and now even in Canadian politics.

This is a widespread technique whereby large sums of money can be donated to an association created to promote a preferred outcome.

Votes can be bought, falsehoods spread by plentiful commercial media advertisement purchases, and – in the case of some of Michigan’s legislators – by outright targeted contributions to bottomless re-election campaign funds.

What we are witnessing in Michigan, as the bridge company desperately seeks to turn a rising tide, is the splashing of money to buy influence right down to the level of individual voters.

Apparently it is not only American politicians who can be influenced but, as the bridge company seems to be attempting, so too can individual American voters be purchased by employing the right media manipulative techniques.

Like a beached whale, the Ambassador Bridge Company is probably randomly thrashing because it cannot imagine a more productive alternative.

In lavishing a few million on Michigan voters and legislators in a futile cause we have a very open window into an omnipresent decay eating into America’s interpretation of democracy.

America’s Founding Fathers would be appalled.