Watching the 50-year-old CBS black and white broadcast from 1963, the weekend when Kennedy was assassinated, made me realize how different those times were. I remember vividly the nation and much of the world standing still for those four days. I watched as leaders of 80 nations including General Charles De Gaulle and Emperor Haile Selassie walked behind the caisson carrying President Kennedy’s body from the White House to St. Matthews Cathedral. I was struck by how the event was reported. We were able to actually watch much of what was happening without the constant chatter of an annoying anchorperson. Pictures were allowed to speak for themselves. Today we would hear someone like Wolf Blitzer asking some inane question of some irrelevant commentator telling us what they thought of what we were seeing.
I reflected on how different politics is today. We no longer debate freely new and potentially soaring ideas. Politicians are primarily focused on how much money they need to raise for their next campaign. They watch every word they utter knowing that with social media and cable news it will be broadcast over and over and either raise money or cost them support.
Each day as the 20-30 email requests for money from candidates, political action committees and political parties arrive in my inbox, I am reminded of the song from the show “Evita,” “And the money keeps rolling in.”
“And the money kept rolling in from every side. Eva’s pretty hands reached out and they reached wide. Now you may feel it should have been a voluntary cause but that’s not the point my friends. When the money keeps rolling in you don’t ask how. Think of all the people guaranteed a good time now Eva’s called the hungry to her, Open up the doors, never been a fund like the Foundation Eva Peron.”
The second verse of the song tells a very different story. I can’t help but compare where that money went to where the money I am asked to contribute today goes. “And the money kept rolling out in all directions, to the poor, to the weak, to the destitute of all complexions. Now cynics claim a little of the cash has gone astray but that’s not the point my friends when the money keeps rolling out. You don’t keep books. You can tell you’ve done well by the happy grateful looks, accountants only slow things down, figures get in the way, never been a lady loved as much as Eva Peron.”
Today we do keep books and the money gets accounted for, except maybe for the 501(c) 4’s, but it doesn’t go to the poor, the weak or destitute. Today it tends to make the rich richer. It pays for attack ads on TV, political consultants, and in the end even when it convinces people to vote usually they don’t love anyone.
Yearning for the good old times of Camelot isn’t reality. While Jackie Kennedy wanted us to think of Jack’s time in the White House as Camelot, reality was we still hadn’t passed a civil rights bill; we were going into Vietnam; backroom abortions were still the norm; and there was no equality for the LGBT community. But politics was different. The quest for more and more money hadn’t gotten so out of hand and serious issues could be debated. Politicians could speak their mind for better or worse without having every word get back to their constituents, translated and dissected by some TV commentator or blogger, who often has no idea what he/she is talking about.
Ronald Reagan would ask if we are better off than we were in 1963. The answer in some ways is yes. We are a more just society but we are still a society of haves and have-nots. The rich get richer and the poor don’t seem to get anywhere. Congress won’t raise the minimum wage yet the stock market has gone from 7,000 to 16,000 in five years. Mitt Romney lost an election because he called 47 percent of the population takers, but then we really haven’t given them all that much to take and the middle class is struggling just to break even.
The world is a more complex place than it was in 1963 and it seems the more money that flows into politics the worse things become. There is still a fight against universal healthcare and the rabid right wing would rather see 40 million people do without health insurance than have those who can afford it pay slightly more. Yet no one bats an eye when presidential candidates need to raise a billion dollars to run their campaigns. And the money keeps rolling in.