11/02/2014 04:17 am ET Updated Jan 01, 2015

The Peoples' Business Isn't Business

Are we going to be bought?

Republican President Calvin Coolidge famously said "the chief business of the American people is business." Some argue that putting the quote in the context in which he said it changes the meaning. Nope.

Perhaps what he said was merely a tautology (x equals x) and actually says nothing (a twist on his nickname "Silent Cal" -- he wasn't silent, he just wasn't saying anything).

More plausibly he was saying something quietly that Republicans now scream: "The chief business (meaning function) of the American people is business (meaning commerce)." Despite the judicial activism of the Supreme Court and the cash-infused crusade of the Republican party, that is still not an accurate description of the American people. This perverted description in essence asserts that the meaning of life is money. Really?

Abraham Lincoln's Gettysburg Address is the simplest, most lucid description of the American experiment:

Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent, a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.

The nation was conceived in Liberty (slaves and women aside), NOT in servitude to mammon. We're part way along a tortured path to the radically modified assertion that all humans are created equal. It is ridiculous (and mightily self-serving) to believe that Lincoln or the framers and ratifiers of the Constitution thought corporations were people (humans), that money was speech.

"Business" is only mentioned once in the founding document. Article 1, Section 5 of the Constitution states that for each house of Congress a majority constitutes a "Quorum to do Business." That's it. In this context "business" is not commerce. It is the interaction of people working together "... in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity ...." That is NOT a description of business (meaning commerce). Indeed, on odd numbered days, Republicans assert and agree that the sole role and responsibility of business is making money. Corporations are creations and agents of people, NOT the other way 'round.

Lincoln's next sentence describes one episode in the ongoing test of the American experiment, the commitment to liberty and equality:

Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure.

Given the 3.5 billion dollars accompanied by unnerving amounts of venom and bile committed to the current election, it is no stretch to paraphrase Lincoln in describing a struggle seemingly endemic to our experiment in liberty:

Now we are engaged in an appallingly uncivil campaign, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure.

The fundamental question in this election is whether the function of this nation--constitutionally and by the will of the people--is the life and liberty of its people OR the wealth of corporations.

The conflict between people and corporations is not inevitable. Actually, it's stupid. This conflict is the result of overreach by (some) large corporations and the Republican Party.

This conflict is now so threatening because of the power given to corporations by a series of misguided Supreme Court decisions. Those decisions have bestowed on corporations and the rich the power to use their massive and concentrated wealth to undermine our Constitution, pervert our laws and enfeeble our people. That is a genuine, lethal threat to our collective well-being. And, a mortal threat to the American experiment.

The most effective weapons we have to fight this business (commerce) takeover and ruin of our nation are our voices and our votes. Use them. Everyone. Include a friend.