If I had to pick one word to describe the past couple weeks of my 10th grade year I would say hectic fits the bill pretty well. First week back, I was already hit with a mountain of AP US History and Honors Chemistry homework, not to mention a scrapbook project that I had to create completely in Latin and a film project that required outside work. It wasn’t like I took a break from work this summer; I was at two debate camps and also took a psychology course, both which were quite demanding. While many of my friends were at the beach I was listening to economics lectures (honestly, the closest I got to spending time outside was running across Stanford campus to my next debate round), but it was still a bit of a rude awakening. The second big wave came the next Tuesday, when I was assigned my first AP Gov homework. I will admit I was a little daunted by the plethora of social networking sites I was expected to become a member of, as well as the amount of reading and discussions I was mandated to participate in, but I survived, and I’m probably better for it. (I will also admit that I was very pleased to net the username “thefederalreserve” for myself on WordPress…)
In the past few weeks we’ve covered several topics, including the Constitution and Federalism. I was really excited to learn about federalism because I’ve done a considerable amount of research on it in the past so I could run it as an argument in debate, but I never had the history knowledge to fully explain it, so it’s really exciting to have that now! I especially enjoyed our amendment assignment, where we had to write an amendment to the United States Constitution. Mine was about campaign funding reform (mostly focused on the banning of Super PACs, but also mentioning other corporations and independent expenditures) which I do admit I got a little carried away with – my response was about 7 paragraphs long.
It really got me thinking about the extra funding’s impact on the recent election, though – previously unparalleled amounts of money are being spent on and contributed to campaigns this year, and I really hope to be able to study or at least read about how much it really impacted the election. I read in Freakonomics that advantages in funding can only really affect a the amount of votes a candidate receives by about 1%, but Freakonomics was written before the emergence of Super PACs, so perhaps that has changed. Since super PACs are mostly confined to spending their money on advertisements, it will also be interesting to see how the media affects people’s votes. According to this article, the results of all the extra money are still unclear, and even though Romney has outspent Obama, Obama is leading in the polls. Perhaps Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner’s statement that campaign funding only affects voters by about 1% will hold true, no matter how much money is present. Of course, the trouble with this type of study is there are so many factors going into it and it’s impossible to isolate one particular variable. There are many, notably James Bopp who I was just reading about in an article in The Atlantic, who believe extra funding and advertisements are actually a good thing because they get the nation more involved in politics. I personally disagree; often, Super PAC funding just goes into negative ads about other candidates, which could mean many people who have only seen negative propaganda would be voting for candidates for all the wrong reasons. I’m also not a fan of the heavy focus of any politician on fundraising; perhaps the only solution would be to designate a certain amount of money to every candidate, provided by the government, and not allow the candidates to spend any other money on their campaign. Obviously, there are large problems with this plan and it would never be approved in the first place, but it’s still a problem that I believe is important to adress. To my alarm, in the same Atlantic article I learned that Illinois passed a new law for nonfederal elections saying that if a super PAC spends more than $250,000 in a statewide race, the contribution limit in the race will be eliminated, which seems to just make contribution limits irrelevant… but I digress.
If I can make one prediction, it’s that this year I’ll be living and breathing US history and politics. I’m taking AP US History, AP Government, doing debate, and covering American literature (including sermons by John Winthrop) in English class. Not only that, but it’s election year so even my peers that normally think of politics as boring and irrelevant have opinions to voice (though their eyes will still probably glaze over if I try to talk to them about federalism…) Not that I mind particularly; it’s just a little weird when I sit down after finally finishing my work to play guitar and any lyric I try to write includes subtle references to a quote of John Winthrop’s or the text of Article 1, Section 8 of the Constitution. That’s just life sometimes I guess, and I’m really excited to continue with the year!