There Is No MAD In Politics

by Bob Schwartz

The Supreme Court decision in American Tradition Partnership, Inc. v. Bullock confirms that states like Montana must follow the rule of Citizens United and allow corporations the same political speech rights as individuals, including speaking money in elections.

War Games (1983) is a charming movie with a serious message. The charming comes from a young Matthew Broderick, playing a computer geek whose gaming nearly starts a global thermonuclear war. He is able to avert it, and the serious message for everyone is spoken by the computer: “The only winning move is not to play.”

When nuclear weapons were used for the first and only time in 1945, and it was obvious that portions of the world could be destroyed in an instant, responses followed.  There were moves to keep them out of the hands of “bad guys”, there were demonstrations to “ban the bomb” from everyone, there were attempts to limit and reduce the weapons that everyone eventually got.

And then there was the idea of Mutually Assured Destruction (MAD). It was simple: If anyone with those weapons could as easily be destroyed as they could destroy, it would be “madness” for them to strike. And as much as our deepest humanity wants to deny it, MAD is the reigning paradigm that has prevented nuclear weapons from being used even once in the almost seventy years since Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

In post-Citizens United politics, there is no MAD. There is worthwhile talk of disclosure, transparency and constitutional amendments to at least moderate the influence of corporate money in elections. But there is also a realpolitik sense that in the meantime those with the biggest weapons may well win. And the prospective winners have no worries about being destroyed by any opposing arsenal. That is why, understandably, the Obama campaign very quickly pivoted on the issue of Super Pacs. It was a matter of political survival.

MAD has saved us from blowing ourselves up. It is not available to save the politics of democracy. It is time for the most creative minds to figure out something beyond the virtuously obvious but ineffective. Whatever that might be.