The Supreme Court has drawn a line in the sand with their recent decision to strike down limits for campaign funding advertising by corporations and unions. This ruling is comparable to a political tsunami, wiping out over one hundred years of laws designed to curb corporate influence on state and national elections.
In a 5-4 vote, the conservative justices prevailed in the decision on Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, overturning two court precedents. Citing the example of free speech contained in the First Amendment, Justice Anthony M. Kennedy stated that government must not use "censorship to control thought."
I think we are on very dangerous ground here. Who's to say major corporations will not attempt to "control thoughts" of the electorate by pumping huge amounts of money into negative ad campaigns against candidates that do not serve their interests?
This will bring new meaning to the term "swiftboating". I thought the last election was about ending special interest and lobbying influence in DC. This will increase it ten fold.
To see who this will affect the most, one need only watch the different kind of coverage this story received by the cable media. It was barely mentioned on Fox, a network often accused of being the mouthpiece for the GOP, yet it was the headline story for Keith Olbermann (who said it was the worst Supreme Court decision since Dred Scott v. Sandford) and Rachel Maddow of MSNBC, which is considered a more liberal cable station. Fox was busy grooming their new rising star, Republican Senator-elect Scott Brown of Massachusetts and reveling in the apparent (in their eyes) death of health care reform.
Democratic lawmakers seem worried about the future ramifications of this ruling with President Obama sharply criticizing it, saying this gives "a green light to a new stampede of special interest money on our politics." Sen. Charles Schumer (D., N.Y.) said, "The Supreme Court just predetermined the winners of next November's elections.. .It will be corporate America."
A handful of Republicans expressed some concern including Sen. John McCain (R., Arizona) calling the decision "disappointing."
To me, the line in the sand being drawn is clear. The election this year has become one of big business represented by the Republicans vs. big government touted by the Democrats. In the past, both parties have used the politics of fear to influence voters. This has been done successfully by the GOP during President Obama's first year in office. They have painted him as an out of control, big spending, liberal Democrat who is supposedly pursuing a socialist, big government agenda.
Never mind that he inherited a huge deficit, two wars, and a collapsing economy with failing banks, high unemployment and a mortgage crisis that was mostly created by the previous GOP administration. When President Obama attempted to stop another potential "Great Depression" by passing a stimulus package and taking over the automobile industries, he was accused of overusing his powers.
President Obama's detractors are fueling the conspiracy oriented, fear controlled element of American society that distrusts the government. The GOP has also accused Obama as being weak on terrorism and have criticized his administration's handling of the December 25th attempted terror attack on a plane that landed in Detroit. This tactic of scaring the public about terrorism goes back to the post 9/11 years where it was used to successfully get President George W. Bush re-elected.
The Democrats have also used fear in campaigns dating all the way back to President Lyndon B. Johnson's daisy ad in 1964 which shows a small girl picking a daisy and ends with a shot of a mushroom cloud exploding and a voice saying "the stakes are high," implying that his challenger, GOP Sen. Barry Goldwater would be a dangerous, trigger happy choice for President.
More recent Democratic fear tactics have included scaring older voters in Florida and other states into thinking the Republicans would take away their Medicare and Social Security in the 2000 and 2004 elections.
The Democrats could possibly frame this upcoming mid-term election as a referendum against big corporations and Wall Street. Already President Obama is striking a populist tone by turning his attention to reforming big banks and creating jobs.
What it will come down to is this: which do Americans fear the most: big government or big business? That, and which party will better paint the other one as the scariest? The Republicans have seemed to be better at that lately. Maybe the Democrats should take a page out of LBJ's playbook.
The GOP will probably get an assist from many corporations by this new ruling while the Unions may help the Dems. Will it all balance out or will both parties lose control of their messages as "unfettered corporate speech drowns out candidates' own ads?" (which could happen according to Larry Ceisler, a Philadelphia political consultant.)
One thing is clear: fear inducement will remain a method used by political parties, corporations and unions alike. Because it works. Nothing motivates voters more than fear. To me, the only thing we have to fear are fear mongers themselves.