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The Suffocation of American Democracy

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If you didn't vote in 1932, then the election of 2012 will be the most important of your life.

Pivotal American elections -- 1800, 1860, 1932 -- have been about decisions that would change the quality of life in America. 2012 will be about such a decision. It will deal with a growing concentration of power promoted by the the Republican Party's alliance with corporate America, their joint promotion of the influence of money in politics, and a barrage of laws at state levels that diminish the influence of individual voters.

The alliance goes back more than three decades. It was in the 1970s that American corporations began an active campaign to influence and extract substantial benefits from the national government. Ronald Reagan's election in 1980 fit in perfectly with the desires of
American corporations.

President Reagan quickly lowered taxes -- though he was to raise them when it was needed -- squashed the strike by air controllers, and appointed Alan Greenspan, who opposed to regulation of financial institutions, as chair of the Federal Reserve. The pattern was thus set for government that would be pro-business, anti-union, for lower taxes and reduced or no financial regulation.

In the late 1980s, a young conservative activist, Grover Norquist, had a groundbreaking idea. He would form an organization to lobby against raising taxes for any reason at the federal level. Norquist also declared that taking away any subsidy from a corporation constitutes raising taxes.

Americans for Tax Reform quickly became a power in the Republican Party. It crafted a No Tax Pledge that today has been signed by over 95 percent of Republican federal office holders.

Republicans who attempt to exert independence can be swiftly punished by the ATR, which threatens to support primary opponents against suiting office holders who violate the pledge. 
Due to tax law quirks, corporate funders of ATR do not have to be identified.

Thus, we have the spectacle of Republican House and Senate numbers who have taken a pledge not to raise taxes or eliminate corporate subsidies. The pledge is to an organization financially supported by unknown donors.

While Americans for Tax Reform promotes tax policies that make the ultra rich and corporations even more powerful, other corporate-funded organizations wield an ever-increasing role in cooperation with Republican governors and state legislatures in suffocating opposition at local levels to centralized power centers.

The most significant of these groups is  ALEC -- the American Legislative Exchange Council.

ALEC is a coalition of the nation's largest companies that provides model laws that can be and have been used by Republican-controlled state governments.

Republicans swept to power in 2010 on a wave of economic unrest. Once in office though, Republicans in state governments swiftly pushed aside economic concerns and turned to other issues. Wisconsin swiftly became the most visible state as it attempted to kill collective bargaining for state employees. Ohio did the same. This attempt was perfect for the Republican-corporate alliance.

Unions traditionally provide the most money and manpower for the Democratic Party. Unions are also of course the major opposition force to business' total control of working conditions.

ALEC provided model laws for anti-union legislation. It also gave assistance to Republican government's attempt to balance budgets by firing state employees such as teachers or firemen or police at the local levels.

It had been less than three years since the nation was brought to its economic knees by the greed and speculation of Wall Street. The speculators were immediately bailed out with tax dollars, the Republican Party fought viciously to stop any regulation of the Wall Street speculators, and Republican state budgets were balanced by firing teachers, nurses and police while corporate taxes were cut.

ALEC also provided draft laws that are the basis for voter repression legislation introduced in 2011 in 34 states by Republican legislators. The claim was these were needed to combat voter fraud, but nowhere was the level of fraud more than a bare fraction of one percent.

The laws demanded government issued voter ID, restricted early voting, and reduced places for voter registration.

At first thought, these all seem harmless enough but analysts noted it would be the poor, minorities, the elderly and the young who would 'be most affected. These are the people unlikely to have driver licenses, passports or the ability to take time off for voter registration.

And of course, all of the above categories are likely Democratic voters.

The above assaults on the democratic process are given added power, of course, by the Supreme Court Citizen United decision, which allows for unlimited amounts of money to be given to Super PACs that support specific candidates. Private individuals like the Koch brothers, Sheldon Adelson, and Harold Simmons, as well as others, can and have given tens of millions to influence elections and promote conservative causes.

How does the private citizen, the individual voter, compete with the forces that are subverting democracy?

The simple answer is not very well indeed.

Middle class income has been stagnant for the last three decades as the strength of unions in America hit their lowest point in 70 years. Corporate income is at its highest share of the GDP since the mid-1950s and worker salaries at its lowest share since that period.

Ninety-three percent of all increased income in 2010 went to the top one percent of earners. And the richest 400 Americans in 2008 made an average of $270 million and paid an average of 18 percent in taxes.

Meanwhile, the Census Bureau reports that 46.2 million Americans are living in or close to poverty.

A Republican victory in 2012 will continue and intensify the disparity of power in America for generations to come.