The End Of Jefferson’s Dream

22 01 2010

The Jan. 21 Supreme Court decision to essentially gut the McCain-Feingold act and open the door to unlimited spending by corporations in political campaigns represents an untrammeled purity of constitutional interpretation that is utterly divorced from practical reality and, if allowed to stand, effectively ends the last shreds of Jeffersonian democracy. Now, corporations can dump any amount of funding into the campaigns of bought-and-paid-for candidates. further, as noted in the dissent, foreign corporations, even ones directly owned by foreign governments, can do likewise – clearly raising the rather scary prospect of “Manchurian Candidates.” There are only two ways around this development: a court reversal of itself or a constitutional amendment. Considering the fact that even a popular amendment is a long and difficult process and in this case, every corporate principality in the newly feudal U.S, Republic, from Citibank and J.P. Morgan through Verizon and the health industry giants – not to mention the credit card SOBs, would stand ready to dump unlimited funds into fighting it, the possibility of an amendment is not a very bright one.

In the wake of a depression brought on by corporate mismanagement, thievery and chicanery on a scale so vast it is difficult to comprehend, the advent of this decision leaves the intelligent citizen in open-mouthed astonishment. It is precisely as if the court has said “in view of the fact that unregulated corporate greed has not in fact managed to as yet bankrupt and enslave EVERY single citizen and absolutely corrupt our political process, we need to give them more tools to get the job done.” The court has done this in the name of  perfect freedom of speech – and yet it has long been well established that such freedom does not  and should not exist. We are all familiar with the classic dictum that freedom of speech does not allow someone to cry “fire” in a crowded theater when there is no fire. The logic of this latest court decision throws doubt on that principle.

The parameters of freedom of speech have shifted greatly in the course of our history, generally in the direction of greater freedom. The history of pornography legislation demonstrates this. In living memory, any positive reference to homosexuality was deemed pornographic and could not be sent through the mail. The landmark Supreme Court decision in the freedom of speech/press case brought against the Post Office by the groundbreaking One magazine, the first gay publication in the U.S. (Roth Vs. U.S. 1958) entirely changed the rules and was one of the most important victories in the long struggle for LGBT liberation. A broad view of freedom of speech has been key in our struggle. Even more basic to our liberation however, has been the lingering Jeffersonian ideal of the rights of the individual citizen to be heard, to pursue his or her life in freedom according to each person’s idea of the sumum bonam. We have compromised this ideal over and over again in the interests of  communal society – knowing that the individual’s happiness can not be based on the infringement of the rights of others. None the less, it remains a bedrock value in liberation philosophy. While this court decision ostensibly reinforces the principle of individual liberty, it is in practical application a ravening wolf in sheep’s clothing.

In Jefferson’s day, the playing field was virtually level. Yes, there was economic inequality, as there always is in human society. The gulf between the planter aristocracy of Virginia, the East India merchants of Boston and New York, and the yeoman farmer of the frontier was certainly large. Compared to our present day gulf between the economic power of the private citizen, even organized by Facebook and Twitter, and the resources of, say, Goldman-Sachs or Microsoft, those historic differences of Jefferson’s day are so insignificant as to be non-existent.

Even with previous regulation, the fact that the health care industry bought the congressional debate on Obama’s reform initiative is a matter of public record. Anyone who cares to can access the dismal public record of massive campaign contributions to key legislators.  In fact, perhaps the saddest part is to note how cheaply some legislators were purchased. Under the new court decision, even those modest safeguards as we have had for the past few years are out the window. Is there now the slightest obstacle to, say, Aramco donating millions to the campaign of a candidate committed to keeping the medieval, Wahabist royal house of Arabia in power – the same royal house that has funded fundamentalist extremism throughout the Muslim world? No, there is no obstacle. Is there anything to prevent Mastercard from supporting candidates pledged to remove barriers to skyrocketing interest rates on credit cards? None whatever. Could chemical companies fund the campaigns of tame candidates committed to the use of the U.S. military to colonize  and exploit the resources of the Congo? That exact sort of thing has happened before in our history and would be ever so much easier to pull off now.

“But,” you say, “regardless of the amount of money pumped into a campaign, wouldn’t the citizen voter see he or she was being bamboozeled into supporting candidates who do not have their best interests at heart?” Oh child – if you think that, I fear for you indeed. The incremental destruction of the U.S. system of public education undertaken by an unholy alliance of the political right-wing and Christian fundamentalists has already created a nation in which the level of literacy has declined significantly. The average voter’s level of political and intellectual sophistication has consequently plummeted to a point where we see such utter junk as creationism taken seriously by a broad spectrum and one fears we may soon revive such notions as a flat earth and a geocentric universe. In the words of the Beadle in David Copperfield, “”I shall retire to Bedlam.”

Welcome then to the new America of corporate feudalism. It is feudalism of a far more refined construction than that of the Middle Ages. It is a feudalism is which we are constantly told that this is the best of all worlds and our unseen masters are doing everything for our welfare. Unlike the feudalism of history, we peasants can not even see the castle or the Big House, up there on the nearest hill and serving as a target for our rage. We can not gather in a pitchfork armed mob and storm the battlements. We do not know where they are. In the case of some corporate giants such as Facebook, we can not even contact a human being or find out where the head office is. This new nobility has evidently learned a thing or two from the revolutions of the past and are well aware they can not be dragged from their eminence and hauled to the guillotine if we can not physically find them. And yet it is their interests that now govern our daily lives. Thomas Jefferson weeps.




One response

22 01 2010

Let us also remember that a corporation is not a person, and thus is not entitled to freedom of speech.

I’ve been reading comments on this ruling today, and so many people think that no one will be bamboozled by corporate spending. Absolutely ridiculous. Pour enough money into a campaign, and you’ll win. It doesn’t matter what a politician’s position is on key issues. Look at the Corzine vs. Christie – all you had to do was blame Corzine for the economic downturn in NJ, and Christie won. Now, if Corzine had used more of his economic might, he probably would’ve won.

My friends who voted Christie are consistently surprised by his “family values” standards regarding access to abortion and gay rights because they didn’t bother to look up his position. The social sciences tell us that people vote with their heart and not with their mind.

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