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Can we have a revolution yet?

January 23rd, 2010 Leave a comment Go to comments

The most important American political news story of the year went by without much attention. The year is young, but it will probably remain the most important story, and even when its first effects begin to take hold during this Fall’s mid-term elections, the mainstream media still won’t be talking about it.

I’m referring to the Citizens United case recently brought before the Supreme Court in which it was left up to the nine justices to decide whether or not corporations should be allowed to contribute unlimited amounts of money to political candidates. In other words, should it be even easier for corporations to buy politicians? John Roberts and four other justices, in their infinite wisdom, decided that yes it should.

Well thank heaven! Those poor corporations have been left out of the political process for far too long. Constantly having their wishes overruled by the tyranny of the majority, the ignorant masses, the commoners, the street-rabble, the plebs…it’s been terribly unfair. All the corporations want to do is exercise their God-given right to maximize their profits at everyone else’s expense, but how are they supposed to do that when their hands are tied by lawmakers insisting that they can’t use their profits to buy the votes they need? Well, those dark days are over now. Corporations can finally have a seat at the table in Washington and hopefully get them to pass legislation that will allow them, once and for all, to do whatever they damn well please with no accountability. Just as God intended.

Obviously I think this is a horrible decision, the worst the Supreme Court has made since Bush v. Gore in 2000. That led to the eight most disastrous years in recent American history. This decision completely buries any hope we had (and to be fair, there wasn’t very much to begin with) of undoing the damage from within the existing system. That system is now effectively owned and operated by Corporate America. The U.S. Capitol is now officially the property of Goldman Sachs.

“But wasn’t Washington already owned by large financial institutions and corporate special interests before this decision?” one might ask. The answer is, to a large extent, yes it was. Corporations could still make campaign contributions and spend as much money as they wanted on political ads. The difference is that now they can spend unlimited amounts of money on ads either endorsing or attacking a particular candidate. It may be true that most of the lawmakers in Washington have been operating out of pure self-interest with no regard for the public good for quite some time, but there are at least enough honest, well-intentioned representatives in Congress to put up a fight. Now the corporations can systematically target every congressperson they don’t have in their pockets and inundate the airwaves with attack ads, manipulating the already heavily-manipulated electorate into voting against their own best interests.

We’ll basically see everything that’s already wrong with the political system start to magnify itself to absurd proportions. If you thought political candidates were little more than brand names before, wait until you see what happens now. Candidates will not merely be comparable to retail products, but they will actually be products, each virtually a registered trademark of whatever corporate industry offers the highest bid. That industry will then market them just as they market a product, all substance will be brushed aside and people will choose which candidates to vote for in the same way as they decide which laundry detergent to buy. Again, this is already happening now but thanks to the Supreme Court’s decision it will get exponentially worse as time goes on and non-corporate friendly candidates are gradually purged from Washington.

So what can we do about it? Well, we can sign petitions and call our representatives, but that won’t do any good. Is a politician really going to lift a finger to try and undo this decision? Almost nothing short of a constitutional amendment can undo a Supreme Court ruling, and how many members of congress are actually principled enough to stand up and fight this fight? Certainly not two-thirds. Most congressmen see this as a potential gold-mine. It certainly makes their lives much easier. Now they don’t need to bother going to the public for small donations a few hundred bucks at a time, but can simply find a corporate sponsor to provide them with everything they need to hold on to their seat, just as long as they do everything the corporation wants them to. Mark my words—this decision will never be undone from within Washington. The payoffs are too lopsided, and for an individual congressperson the strategy of going with the flow strongly dominates that of standing up against it. One thing we can count on is that things are going to get a whole lot worse before they get better.

We have to step back and look at the bigger picture of what’s been happening to government for the past several decades. The Citizens United decision is merely the latest step in a long series of maneuvers on behalf of Corporate America to tilt the balance of power away from government and back towards private industry. The further that pendulum swings in favor of the corporations, the greater the gap becomes between rich and poor, the more eroded the middle class becomes financially, and the less power the people have to actually stand up and do anything about it. Certainly with the middle-class in as bad a shape as it’s currently in, you couldn’t possibly expect a candidate fueled purely by small donations from individual donors to compete with candidates bolstered by corporate money. The corporations have all the money right now. They have all the power, and they are using it to accumulate more and more.

Most importantly, the corporate powers have zero interest in helping restore the standard of living that average Americans used to enjoy. As long as unemployment is high, wages are low, and everyone is living in fear of the next financial blow to their already debt-ridden bank accounts, there will be a seething undercurrent of anger that the corporate powers can use to their advantage if they play it right. Major media outlets, themselves all owned by major corporations (who surprise surprise have not been paying much attention to this story at all) are quite adept at misdirecting this anger, pointing it away from private industry and at the federal government. The more the federal government is weakened by the corporate powers, the angrier people get at the federal government.

Meanwhile, by consistently presenting every issue in a right vs. left framework and focusing almost exclusively on left vs. right culture war issues like abortion and gay marriage, they block the only chance average people have of coming together to fight against the powers that are oppressing them. The tea-bagging right-wingers hate the government and the big banks, but not as much as they hate liberals. Whiny left-wing bloggers such as myself are profoundly disappointed in government and hate the big banks too, but most of us still spend a great deal of energy going after the tea-bagging wingnuts.

But almost nobody stops to point out that the whiny bloggers and the tea-bagging wingnuts aren’t actually separated by as wide an ideological gulf as it appears. We may have irreconcilable differences over issues like abortion and gay rights, but these issues can take a back-seat in the face of our common enemy, the enemy of all free people: the consolidation of power.

Misinformed conservatives believe that too much power is in the hands of the government, but many of them, angered by the bailouts and Wall Street bonuses, might be open to the idea that it’s actually corporations and not the federal government that has too much power. What they perceive as the evils of government are actually the evils of the corporations operating through government. They may insist that too strong a central government is a bad thing, but we don’t necessarily disagree with that. We’re against the consolidation of too much power wherever it might be, whether it’s in the hands of the federal government or private industry. We only disagree over the facts—that right now it’s private industry—not government—where the power is consolidated.

Certainly plenty of conservatives won’t be willing to listen and they’ll just go on believing whatever Glenn Beck or Rush Limbaugh tell them to believe. But I honestly think that there are enough reasonable conservatives out there who can be persuaded to lay down their arms for awhile and join forces with liberals to attack this problem that threatens all of us.

Every revolution begins with too much power in the hands of too few at the expense of too many. I’m waiting anxiously for the moment when the corporations—who will only continue to accumulate power at our expense because it’s in their very nature to do so—finally overplay their hand and the kettle finally boils over. The passion and fury of the tea-party conservatives, combined with the knowledge and insight of the left-wing intellectuals, would be a force that not even Corporate America could reckon with.

One thing is for sure—change only comes from the bottom up. Politicians spewing their rhetoric about hope and change will inevitably bend to the will of those who run the system, and the system will never be changed from within. The Supreme Court’s decision this week only solidified that truth. How much longer are we going to wait while politicians lie to us and the media manipulates us? When are we going to finally take to the streets and demand that they return the power they’ve taken from us? If not now, when? What are we waiting for?

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