They're spending ungodly sums on campaigns.
There is one byproduct of this mess, though, that is unintentionally fun to observe: Americans get to watch billionaires hijack the election process like a bunch of shit-hammered uncles blindly destroying a pious family gathering we wanted to skip in the first place.
Currently, just five donors are controlling 25 percent of funds pouring into GOP super PACs. In the last week alone, faux cowboy Foster Friess made Rick Santorum's "aaaiiiigh! intercourse!" campaign about aspirin and women's knees, island builder Peter Thiel came to Ron Paul's aid by upping his investment to $2.6 million, Sheldon Adelson gave Newt Gingrich another $10 million, and we learned that Mitt "I Like to Fire People" Romney has a huge backer in Frank "I Like to Sue Blogs out of Existence" VanderSloot.
(We won't talk about VanderSloot here—because he likes to sue blogs out of existence—except to say that he looks like Alternate Universe Dick Cheney's opening-credits photo from Queer Eye for the Straight Guy. He's the one who knows about wine and shaving brushes.)
In years past, we would never have met these guys. Even as far back as 2000, if you wanted to be a billionaire who ran a campaign, you actually had to be the one campaigning. Ross Perot set the standard in 1992, opening the door for men like Steve Forbes.
Forbes, unfortunately, demonstrated how troublesome rich-guy candidacy could be: Namely, he proved that being rich is proof of nothing other than being rich (his major life accomplishment was emerging from Malcolm Forbes' wife), and wanting to keep being rich is a shitty platform for the 270 million-plus Americans who are not. In later years, we came to think of Forbes as "the creepy version of Rory Gilmore's grandpa from The Gilmore Girls," but in 1996 and 2000, it was obvious why he steered any question back to the need for a flat tax. That stuck out. Herman Cain perfected this failing greedheaded tax formula by replying, "Nine, nine, nine..." endlessly on the stump, like he was going through some celestial voicemail, begging for an operator to come on the line and tell him what Libya is.
What Citizens United has done, however, is create a formula for actual campaign surrogacy. Billionaires with two ideas ("I want to keep being a billionaire!" and "Something else!") can remit funds to the person whose job it is to have all the other ideas. It's great fun. We're lucky to get the chance to meet these guys.
Take Adelson, Gingrich's sugar daddy. His consuming passion is Israel, going so far as to support Gingrich's comment that the Palestinians are "an invented people" and founding Israel's newspaper version of FOX News. He considers Barack Obama an existential threat to Israel because he's raised objections about Israeli settlements in the West Bank-to no avail, like every president since Carter. Obama's menace to Israel recalls Robin Williams' old line about English cops who aren't allowed to carry guns: "STOP! ... or I'll say 'Stop' again!" Meanwhile, the U.S. supplies $8.2 million per day to Israel in military aid, to say nothing of discounted access to matériel and diplomatic cover in the region. In short, Adelson's spent $21 million on a candidate to defend a nation that gets more than that amount in military aid every 72 hours.
Then there's Foster Friess, whose name is ruining a perfectly good chain of California restaurants and whose mug is ruining being a cowboy. The scope of his horribly misguided sexual universe is already well known. For instance, if you suffer an unwanted pregnancy, simply lash the two fastest colts to the family buckboard, then sit in a box of andirons and try to set the county speed record on Old Rock Road. The only cure for bouncy-bouncy is more bouncy-bouncy.
But Friess is even worse than that. He basically bankrolled Tucker Carlson's god-awful website, ostensibly so Carlson could stop masquerading as a newsie for cash at NAMLBA conferences. Friess believes Christians should be less tolerant than they already are, and he's helped fund stylish-eyebrow-raiser and Islamophobe Frank Gaffney. (There's too much to be said about Gaffney. Just go here.)
Lastly, there's Peter Thiel, occasional speaker, National Review essayist, and Randroid internet mogul. He's perfect, isn't he? Thiel made his money from and staunchly believes in two things that essentially function on a contempt for other people or an outright fear of interacting with them. Any actual dependency on another crushes the idealized edifice of both and reveals a hollow dysfunction powered by teenagers. Thiel sincerely wants to build island libertopias in international waters, and it's going to be hilarious when they're torpedoed by pirates and Thiel vainly tries to call
Daaaaaaaad the U.S. President for naval assistance, only to be told, "We're sorry, Peter. You moved out, and we converted your bedroom to our crafts area." (Either that, or his personal security forces turn their guns on him because, hey, rational economic self-interest.)
In past years, limited contributions would have forced these guys out of the limelight. But now we get to watch them closely. Their imperiousness, petulance, impatience or general nuttiness can hold an entire campaign hostage at a moment's notice if they so choose. We were already stuck in America's yearlong Thanksgiving get-together with family, but now we get the strange relatives who natter about how liberals caused Columbine, or the beauty of sea-floating liberty pods, or about how America's future depends on the survival of a 60-year-old country of 7.8 million people over 6,000 miles away.
And all of it might seem nauseatingly oligarchic and indulgent and disgusting if it weren't for their biggest mutual opponent, Mitt Romney, who has more money than Croesus—whom he recently paid to have baptized retroactively. It's a gross and stupid process that's only gotten worse with more corporate money, but, when Romney can buy ads against his chief rivals at a rate of 65-to-1, all of it almost seems fair.
Image by Jim Cooke.
"Mobutu Sese Seko" is founder of the blog Et tu, Mr. Destructo? and a former political blogger for Vice.com. He has also contributed to GQ.com and SomethingAwful.com. You can follow him on Twitter and Facebook and email him here.