Strangling the Republic
For several decades, Corporate America has been squeezing the life out of what’s left of the democratic Republic, applying steady pressure from well-funded right-wing media and political groups. This year, under the cloak of Citizens United, the deed might finally be completed, observes Beverly Bandler.
By Beverly Bandler
“The Hostile Takeover” of the United States by Corporate America and the plutocrats is now well advanced and brazen. Corporations and their CEOs have achieved unprecedented power. Of the world’s 100 largest economies, 51 are now global corporations. And they have created a different world.
A 2005 Citigroup report to its investors advised: “the World is dividing into two blocks, the Plutonomy and the rest.” [Plutonomy is defined as a country where economic growth is powered by and largely consumed by the wealthy few, a condition now associated with the United States.]
A super-elite has been created that, writes Chrystia Freeland, view themselves “increasingly as a global community, distinguished by their unique talents and above such parochial concerns as national identity, or devoting ‘their’ taxes to paying down ‘our’ budget deficit.”
In the United States, the super-rich of Corporate America, who seem to have detached themselves from national loyalty and obligations, can now promote or destroy a U.S. politician or a political party.
While Big Business has basically co-opted the Republican Party, both parties have fallen prey to corporate control. Author William Greider notes that President Barack Obama “inherited the Democratic Party’s awkward straddle between monied interests and working people.”
Charles H. Ferguson, producer of “Inside Job,” the Oscar-winning documentary on the Wall Street meltdown, puts it strongly: “both political parties have been remarkably clever and effective in concealing” the new reality that the United States is becoming “a declining, unfair society with an impoverished, angry, uneducated population under the control of a small ultra-wealthy elite.”
Over the last several decades, the United States has undergone one of the most radical social and economic transformations in its history, leaving the masses ripe for “religious and political extremism,” Ferguson writes.
The system is unstable, and driven deeper and deeper into the pockets of Corporate America, especially its financial sector where, Ferguson writes, “there is now abundant evidence of widespread, unpunished criminal behavior.”
“The rise of predatory finance,” he says, “is both a cause and a symptom of an even broader, and even more disturbing, change in America’s economy and political system.”
Ferguson’s film, “Inside Job,” explains how the ongoing financial collapse that began in 2008 was caused by “the criminal greed of the global financial elite that ordinary citizens had (unwisely) trusted, empowered by government deregulation and by the viral spread of rapacious free-market ideology.”
The financial sector is the core of a “new amoral financial oligarchy,” he says, “that has profoundly changed American life.”
Going Back Decades
Fundamental changes in America’s economics and politics were underway in the 1970s. By 1980, the political parties were dead and “the old-style bosses were out,” writes Danny Schechter.
They had been replaced by a “new style media-driven system a whole retinue of advertising specialists, market researchers and pollsters” — a “presidential electoral complex,” almost on the same scale as the military-industrial complex, he says.
“Politics is now a growing industry with money and politics more joined at the hip than ever,” says Schechter. The overriding goal is to keep big money flowing into the bank accounts.
Prior to the 1970s, a member of Congress who aspired to a position such as a committee chair got it mainly through seniority and service. But the system changed — they started having to put money into the party coffers in order to get ahead, a topic studied by political scientist Thomas Ferguson.
“Both major parties now operate virtually a ‘posted price’ system in which representatives essentially have to buy their committee chair slots by raising money for their colleagues and, crucially, for the national party political committees,” states Ferguson, a professor at the University of Massachusetts in Boston.
The whole political system has become dangerously corrupted. Harvard Law professor Lawrence Lessig calls it “dependency corruption.”
Thomas Jefferson expressed similar concerns about the emergence of corporate power nearly two centuries ago, in 1816, saying: “I hope we shall crush in its birth the aristocracy of our monied corporations which dare already to challenge our government to a trial of strength, and bid defiance to the laws of our country.”
But Jefferson could never have imagined how prescient his early warnings were, as today America’s democratic process is increasingly dominated by moneyed interests.
“Political sovereignty is largely replaced by economic sovereignty as corporate power takes over the reins of governance,” notes cultural critic Henry A. Giroux.
“Our government, which used to be in the business of protecting us,” author David Sirota wrote in 2006, “now sits by and allows us to be abused, or worse, actually helps the abusers. Government’s business has become protecting business, not people.”
“There is supposed to be a counterweight,” Sirota states, “a government separate from Big Business whose job is to prevent the corporate profit motive from destroying society.”
In the United States, Sirota emphasizes, corporations aren’t supposed to be allowed to pursue “the relentless, single-minded pursuit of profit, no matter who gets shafted.”
We have a Congress that has become “a forum for legalized bribery,” writes New York Times columnist Thomas L. Friedman. The financing demands of political campaigns have made that almost unavoidable.
We have become victims of the “permanent campaign,” Danny Schechter reminds us, the idea attributed to Pat Caddell, one of Jimmy Carter’s advisers who reportedly first used the phrase in 1979.
The nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics’ Open Secrets tracks money in U.S. politics and its effect on elections and public policy. According to Open Secrets: Abraham Lincoln’s 1860 campaign spent $2.8 million, in inflation-adjusted dollars. The expenditures of the 1976 presidential candidates totaled $66.9 million.
To get to the White House in 2008, the costliest political campaign in history, Barack Obama spent $730 million, 260 times what Lincoln spent, and twice what George W. Bush spent in 2004. The 2012 Obama campaign, which reportedly does not take PAC money, is believed to have a goal of $1 billion.
The average cost of winning a House race in 2008 was over $1 million, and almost $6.5 million for a Senate seat. It has been said that members of Congress have to allocate half of their time to raising funds for the next election.
Who invests in an election is as important as the amount invested. In the 2010 midterm elections, the average contribution of the One Percent of the One Percent group was $28,913, more than the national median individual income of $26,364.
The latest estimate for the minimum amount spent by both sides in the Gov. Scott Walker “recall election” in Wisconsin: $63.5 million.Most of that investment came from billionaires and corporations and the vast majority went to support Walker.
Walker received $500,000 from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce alone. The Republican Governors Association Right Direction Wisconsin PAC received $1 million from billionaire David Koch in February.
Karl Rove’s “American Crossroads” Super PAC, the Koch brothers, and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce plan to funnel $1 billion of corporate money into buying the White House and Congress this November.
How serious are the stakes of the 2012 election? In the 2012 election cycle, outside groups are expected to invest more than triple what was spent in 2008. Journalist Joe Hagan sees the 2012 campaign as an ugly “coming tsunami of slime.”
Money buys access. Money buys policies. Who pays more, gets more. The ballooning cost of elections has left the candidates indebted to those with the biggest pockets, with the result that the lower- and middle-class American voters are left with almost no voice in Washington.
Writer Douglas Rushkoff points out: “Commerce is good. It’s the way people create and exchange value. Corporatism is something else entirely. Though not completely distinct from commerce of the free market, the corporation is a very specific entity, first chartered by monarchs for reasons that have very little to do with helping people carry out transactions with one another.
“Its purpose, from the beginning, was to suppress lateral interactions between people or small companies and instead redirect any and all value they created to a select group of investors.”
The goal of corporations is the same today. For Rushkoff, “the real lesson of the Twentieth Century is that the battle for total social control would be waged and won not through war and over repression, but through culture and commerce.
“Instead of depending on a paternal dictator or nationalist ideology, today’s system of control depends on a society fastidiously cultivated to see the corporation and its logic as central to its welfare, value, and very identity.”
The January 2010 Supreme Court decision of Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission has been called the “absolute worst and most dangerous” in our lifetimes. The decision permits corporations, unions and issue-advocacy organizations to spend unlimited amounts of money from their treasuries on independent political expenditures in support of or opposition to a candidate.
The Super PACs are a new type of PAC allowed by the Court’s ruling. Casino tycoon Sheldon Adelson and family contributed $20 million to Newt Gingrich’s Super PAC, Winning our Future.
Corporation donations are on the rise but the exact amount is unknown. On June 13, Laurence Tribe, one of the nation’s pre-eminent legal scholars, offered legal language that he suggests will allow citizens to unite and undo Citizens United.
According to columnist E.J. Dionne, the Supreme Court decision is best understood as part of “a larger initiative by moneyed conservatives to rig the electoral system against their opponents.”
It is no secret,” writes David Schwartz, “that the Koch brothers and others of the super-rich seem to have undertaken a final push to consolidate control through the conversion of a marginally democratic to an essentially fascist state; extreme right-wing, authoritarian, and demagogic.
“This kind of government is ideal for control of a populace by the moneyed elite. To carry this out requires the employment of many ‘kept’ politicians to excite and misdirect scared and angry and ignorant voters.
“Lest the citizenry realize who stole their money and storm their castles with torches, the rapacious elite need politicians who will carry out the work of re-directing anger at teachers, or labor unions, or the poor.”
The Blame the Victim syndrome is alive and well. The anti-government corporatists have done an effective job with their propaganda.
Rolling Stone’s Rick Perlstein writes: “The party of conservatism, the Republicans, has labored mightily … to convince the populace that it is business, in fact, operating according to the profit motive, that is the generous protector of middle-class interests.”
That their case is contradicted by history has gone unnoticed. The result of the Right’s propaganda and a weak, intimidated Left is an American society that appears to have forgotten the principles of a democracy and a republic. The society has become confused, internalizing the values of corporations as their own. This is what Occupy Wall Street asks Americans to examine.
Writer Chrystia Freeland points out: “The lesson of history is that, in the long run, super-elites have two ways to survive: by suppressing dissent or by sharing their wealth. It is obvious which of these would be the better outcome for America, and the world.”
As former MSNBC host Cenk Uygur said in 2011: “There is only one issue in this country: Campaign Finance Reform.”
Beverly Bandler is a public affairs professional whose career spans some 40 years. Her credentials include serving as president of the state-level League of Women Voters of the Virgin Islands and extensive public education efforts in the Washington, D.C. area for 16 years. She writes from Mexico.
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