Equality of rights and obligations, in people's treatment under the law, is the very basis of democracy. When our nation was founded, the slave states demanded ignoring this legal concept, so it didn't become part of our Constitution until 1868, when the 14th Amendment was added, including its Equal Protection Clause, which requires states to accord equal rights to everyone. Since that time, the major Constitutional battles have extended the meaning, and scope, of that Clause, regarding women, homosexuals, small religions (or "cults"), etc.
Other remaining areas of Constitutional ambiguity focus upon equality of obligations, not just of rights. However, any nation that fails to accord equal rights and obligations to all citizens, is a plutocracy, a rule of some legal category of people over another legal category of people; and is, therefore, to that extent, a dictatorship, by some, over others - not an authentic democracy.
A plutocracy has nothing to do with any natural hierarchy, such as, for example, parents having an obligation to serve basic needs of their children up to a certain age, nor to do with any other situation in which a dependency exists by nature instead of being legally imposed. A plutocracy is precisely a legally imposed hierarchy; it is not a naturally imposed one.
For example, homosexuals dictating to heterosexuals would be no more natural than heterosexuals dictating to homosexuals; in a democracy, no law will grant either category of persons rights or obligations to the other category.
This is what freedom means: it means legal equality. It does not mean (as many conservatives think it means) capitalism. (For example, dictatorial capitalism is called "fascism," and democratic socialism is called "progressivism," or is called whatever other term one might apply to the ideology of legally equalitarian nations such as Denmark.)
Freedom means legal equality, and it exists only in democracies. That's the reality, not the "patriotic" propaganda, such as one often hears spouted by conservatives.
Barack Obama has been imposing upon the United States a plutocracy. A recent commentary by Robert Reich provides one clear example of Obama's doing this. Headlining "Why BP Isn't a Criminal," Reich documents that President Obama (via his "Justice" Department) has been imposing legal obligations upon BP's lower-level employees but not upon the top-level executives who had set up, and had become wealthy from imposing upon those lower-level employees, the reward-system that caused those lower-level employees to produce the Gulf of Mexico blowout and its consequent deaths and destruction. Indeed, On Nov. 18, the AP headlined "Defense Lawyers Say BP Rig Workers Are Scapegoats," and quoted lawyers for one worker saying "No one should take any satisfaction in this indictment of an innocent man. This is not justice." The entire chain of command above those workers were ignored by Obama's "Justice" Department. That's typical.
In Obama's America, benefits go upward, and costs go downward. The rights go to the aristocrats, while the obligations go to their workers. Equality before the law is merely an illusion in Obama's America. This is the basic takeaway I derive from Reich's superb essay.
There are other examples. On Oct. 2 2012, Bloomberg News headlined "Top 1% Got 93% of Income Growth as Rich-Poor Gap Widened," and Peter Robison reported that, "The earnings gap between rich and poor Americans was the widest in more than four decades in 2011, Census data show, surpassing income inequality previously reported in Uganda and Kazakhstan," both of which countries are well recognized to be plutocracies. The reason for this yawning gap is that when Timothy Geithner, whom Obama chose to become U.S. Treasury Secretary, structured the bailout of Wall Street, he insisted that future U.S. taxpayers would be obliged to bail out the then-current bondholders in those bailed-out firms at 100 cents on the dollar, as if there were no "toxic assets" at all being held by those firms.
Shahien Nasiripour, at The Huffington Post, bannered, on May 16, 2011, "Confidential Federal Audits Accuse Five Biggest Mortgage Firms Of Defrauding Taxpayers," and he reported that the Inspector General of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development had carried out audits of Bank of America, JPMorgan Chase, Citigroup, Wells Fargo, and Ally Financial, and found, in each case, that they had swindled the Federal Government. "The internal watchdog office at HUD referred its findings to the Department of Justice, which had to decide whether to file charges" under "the False Claims Act, a Civil War-era law crafted as a weapon against firms that swindle the government." All of "the audits conclude that the banks effectively cheated taxpayers by presenting the Federal Housing Administration with false claims: They filed for federal reimbursement on foreclosed homes... using defective and faulty documents."
Yet again -- as with Goldman's Lloyd Blankfein, and with Countrywide Financial's Angelo Mozilo -- the Obama "Justice" Department was being challenged to prosecute banksters. And yet again, they refused. Obama still hasn't pursued even a single one of them. Basically, Obama's team has held harmless the top executives and investors in the Wall Street firms who had structured their incentive systems to reward the most the mortgage salespeople who deceived home buyers the most, and the bond-rating firms that deceived investors the most. This is what had ended up maximizing the bonuses for those top executives, so they did it. And yet Obama has refused to prosecute any of these "control fraudsters," as criminologist William K. Black calls them. The same plutocratic operation that Robert Reich documents to have been imposed by Obama on BP, was earlier imposed by him upon the Wall Street firms whose mortgage frauds, and defrauding of investors, had crashed the U.S. economy.
Unlike Mitt Romney and his plutocratic financial backers, Barack Obama does this sort of thing only because he respects plutocrats, not because he is one. He won't gain financially by turning this nation into a banana republic. But whatever his motivation is, I despise him for continuing George W. Bush's and the Republican Party's turning this nation into no longer a democracy, but a plutocracy. He doesn't have to do it; he just wants to do it, and this is despicable, in the view of this committed democrat.
Investigative historian Eric Zuesse is the author, most recently, of DEMOCRATIC vs. REPUBLICAN ECONOMICS: NO CONTEST - Democrats Always Better, and of CHRIST'S VENTRILOQUISTS: The Event that Created Christianity.