Echoing the shameful Citizens United ruling of the Roberts Supreme Court that unleashed millions of dollars from anonymous sources into electoral campaigns, Mitt Romney emphatically assured a questioner that: "Corporations are people, my friend!" The decision has, of course, been a boon for big-money and corporate interests, allowing them to drown out all voices that cannot match their unlimited resources. It has also been a bonanza for major media outlets -- corporate-owned, of course -- who are making enormous windfall profits from the television, radio, print and online messages that this unprecedented flood of campaign money is purchasing.
Rather than promoting free speech, as the Court's ruling would have us believe, it has had -- and will continue to have -- the opposite effect, since it privileges the voices and will of the wealthy few at the expense of the rest of us, the majority. This is not the democratic system that the Founding Fathers envisioned -- quite the contrary, since they were very fearful of the corrupting effect of money in politics. They believed government should be representative of all the people, not just those who can pile the most money into the electoral process.
This is not an entirely new phenomenon, of course. Corporations and other big-money interests have tried to subvert the American democratic system before. What we are seeing is an attempt to turn the calendar back a hundred years to the time when huge monopolistic corporations made their first appearance on the American political scene. Those who controlled them and accumulated unprecedented personal wealth through these new and completely uncontrolled capitalist enterprises sought to use that wealth to advance their own interests. During the so-called Gilded Age, the Carnegies, Rockefellers, Morgans, Vanderbilts and others came close to sewing up the country for their exclusive political and economic benefit.
Many politicians were in their pocket and it took a nationwide reform movement, involving Progressives, Populists and others, to push back and say: "No. Just because you have come to own most of the country's wealth, by fair means or foul, you do not own the country. We the people do." They were supported in this effort by a number of principled members of the moneyed class, most notably President Theodore Roosevelt. Calling those who would corrupt the system for their own ends "malefactors of great wealth," he and his reform-minded allies succeeded in returning the country to some semblance of its foundational principles. TR's nephew, Franklin, would have to repeat this exercise in the 1930s and would be called "a traitor to his class" for reining in the type of corporate excesses that brought about the Great Depression, although, in effect, he helped save capitalism from the capitalists.
Both Theodore and Franklin would be appalled by the Roberts Court's Citizens United decision, with TR likely including the ruling majority in that case among today's malefactors of great wealth. They would expect us to take the country back from the big-money and corporate interests, their bought-and-paid-for political lackeys, the self-serving main-steam media, and the majority on the Supreme Court who have facilitated the corruption of our democratic system.
What can be done? The top priorities are, of course, to re-elect Barack Obama, hold onto the Senate, and weaken the Republicans' hold on the House, especially by the extreme right wing. This alone will send an important message nationally that the days of unfettered greed and corruption of the political process are over. The president is not without sin, of course, in the matter of fund-raising from corporate interests, but it is significant that this source has been drying up as he adopted a more populist message -- the need to address the interests of all the people. To fail to support his re-election and that of enough Senate Democrats to ensure their majority would have devastating consequences for the country, with no hope of purging the political process of uncontrolled and anonymous money.
If the Democrats hold on the White House and Senate, can we be sure that corporate and other big-money interests will be significantly weakened? No. But we can insist -- and have a reasonable expectation -- that the necessary reforms be enacted. On the other hand, if Mitt Romney is elected, Republicans control both Houses of Congress, and one or more of their appointees are added to the Supreme Court, what we can be certain of is that we the people are going to be sold out -- big time -- to the individuals and corporations who are spending unprecedented millions to see that their will is done in Washington and throughout the country.
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