In my very first economics class, one of the first things the professor taught us was the phrase ‘guns ‘n’ butter’. In economics, this phrase is used allegorically to represent two different ways an economy can allocate its resources: in foreign affairs (guns) or in domestic affairs (butter). I have to confess, I hate economics and I was only taking that class to fulfill a graduation requirement. But I’ve found this particular dichotomy interesting. Guns vs. butter…which is more important to a society? Which more definitive? How much it can shoot, or how well its people are eating?

While we’re contemplating this age-old dilemma, let’s look at something newer. In Wisconsin today, there took place an epic battle in the guise of a gubernatorial recall election. In it, the two opposing giants, Republican Man and Democratic Man, faced off and used whatever forces they could get their hands on to get people out to vote for them. (This is, of course, an extremely simplified version of what’s actually been happening for the last year or so. But roll with me a while.) One of the biggest forces available in an election?

Money. Big surprise there.

It should also come as no big surprise that Republican Man had more money than Democratic Man, because Republican policies tend to favor those with more money to donate. In fact, Republican spending in this particular election outnumbered Democratic spending somewhere in the ballpark of eight to one. So what was Democratic Man to do?

Well, he got all of his supporters to canvas, canvas, canvas. He got people to go out on the street and gather support by really trying to convince people that he was the better candidate. Together, they pointed out what the other candidate had been doing wrong, and urged people to turn out to vote. He did, in short, everything your grandmother would expect a gubernatorial candidate to do. People refer to this phenomenon as ‘boots on the ground’, meaning people actually walking around and spreading their word.

Hmm. Boots ‘n’ money. What do you think?

Tonight, my brother and I sat ourselves in front of the TV and turned on the news the way some people turn on football games. And when Scott Walker, the Republican incumbent governor of Wisconsin, the union-killing leader, epicenter of political chaos in Wisconsin and subject of recall from his own constituents, was declared the projected winner of this epic, year-long race, I have to admit we were disappointed. Money had won.

I won’t go into all of the projections that are racing through my head now about what this means for the national elections coming up, and infinite elections in the future; odds are they’re racing through your head too, and they’re definitely racing through the media–and frankly I think we all could do with a little less projection anyway. What I will point out is that this election in Wisconsin should serve as a signpost. This is where we are as a nation. Yes, it was Democrats vs. Republicans, unions vs. no unions, and a million other things; but ultimately, on voting day, what it came down to was boots vs. money. And money won.

So. Would we rather define our society in terms of how many guns we have, or in how much butter we can eat? Shall we determine our elections henceforth based on how much money a candidate can raise, or by how many citizens ‘on the ground’ actually think he has good ideas?

Wisconsin is our signpost. This is where we are as a nation.

 

 

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