Thursday, May 17, 2012
The rich shall rule.
Yet another conservative billionaire has publicly pledged to throw millions of dollars in personal wealth behind the Republican efforts to defeat president Obama. Joining other extraordinarily wealthy men like Sheldon Adelson and the Koch brothers, billionaire and founder of TD Ameritrade, Joe Ricketts, announced that he will be spending at least $10 million of his personal fortune to back a superPAC with a plan to "do exactly what John McCain would not let us do". That being attack Obama's personal associations in the worst possible way, using racially-charged rhetoric and exploiting public fear and ignorance with everything from rehashing the Jeremiah Wright issue to picking up the well-worn conservative scare tactics of socialism and "destroying America" that have been thrown at the president ever since the 2008 election.
Back in 2008, John McCain told the PAC's to back off on the inflammatory rhetoric when it was becoming apparent that it was creating fear and unrest at his campaign stops. McCain was disturbed by the number of his supporters who believed Obama was a Muslim with a secret agenda to destroy America from within in order for his Muslim puppet masters to come in and take over, just to name one of the many outrageous conspiracy theories that were bubbling within the conservative base, fueled by Fox News and irresponsible comments from then-VP pick Sarah Palin. McCain was disgusted by the outrageous and deliberately false comments being made by the GOP and their talking heads and tried in vain to put a stop to them. It has been speculated that this highly-charged and divisive rhetoric was a major contributing factor to McCain's eventual defeat by Obama. Independents and moderates were turned off by the hate-filled language coming from the right in 2008. However, in 2012, the superPAC's believe that this type of hateful, dishonest and deliberately provocative type of mudslinging is the key to victory for the GOP.
Now, I know that my conservative friends will counter that wealthy liberals like Bill Maher have donated large sums of money to Obama's re-election effort and this is absolutely true. However, Bill Maher donated $1 million, Ricketts is planning to give $10 million and that's just a start. Sheldon Adelson has pledged to spend $100 million and the Koch Brothers have a history of spending tens of millions of dollars as well. Basically, one Sheldon Adelson equals 100 Bill Mahers in terms of political contributions. Simply put, there's just not the same outrageous personal monetary donations coming from the left that there has been from the right and that's a very important distinction between the politics of the two parties.
Yes, labor unions donate vast sums of money to Democratic presidential candidates, but those labor unions represent tens of thousands of workers, so there's still some kind of "democracy" in their actions - the are an organization representing a large group of "regular" people, even if they're backing a candidate that not all of their members support. A billionaire like Adelson or Ricketts giving tens or hundreds of millions of their own money only represents themselves and their own personal interests. There's not even an illusion of democracy in these donations, it's just a very small handful of very wealthy and powerful men using their vast personal fortunes to influence presidential politics in a way that solely benefits themselves.
This is the consequence of Citizens United. This is the consequence of the SCOTUS saying that money = speech. When money equals speech, the wealthier you are, the more your voice counts. That's the exact opposite of a democracy.
We have become a country where the wealthier you are, the more influence you wield over our legislative process. Now, lobbyists and the influence of wealth over politicians is nothing new, but never before has there been such an unrestricted free reign for the wealthy elite class to completely manipulate our democracy the way they can now. At least with a lobbyist they have to try and influence a person who was democratically elected by the people. With the post-Citizens United electoral process, wealthy interests can just make sure the guys they want in office get elected and then there's no question how they will vote once they're in there. The will of the people is supplanted by the will of the wealthiest people at every level of the democratic process - wealthy backers put forward their hand-picked candidates to run, wealthy media moguls give airtime to the guys they want to see in the general election, wealthy interests donate millions of dollars to superPACs to help their favorite guys win and then the lobbyists representing the wealthiest and most powerful people and corporations come in and essentially hand these picked and polished "public servants" the legislation that they will vote for and support. Democracy is completely out the window, it's not about what the voters want because even the votes we do get are meaningless. We're choosing between candidates who were already pre-screened to make sure that the interests of the real power brokers in this country are met. We're not choosing the best man or woman for the job, we're choosing the least undesirable option out of the crooked, corrupted choices set out before us.
If you think about our election process as a menu at a restaurant, in a true democracy we the people could order whatever we wanted to eat and the kitchen would whip it up for us. In our current "democracy", the menu has two choices, already determined by the chef and the restaurant owner, and we get to "choose" between those two options. That's not real choice, that's just an illusion of choice, as George Carlin used to say.
That being said, I don't think that Bill Maher being able to donate $1 million to Obama is any better than Joe Ricketts giving $10 million to a superPAC or Sheldon Adelson pledging $100 million to the Romney campaign. That kind of money coming from one individual in order to gain a level of influence over a politician that the average American can't have is counter to everything our democracy was founded on. We were founded as a nation where 1 man = 1 vote, but now we've become a nation where 1 billionaire = 1 billion potential votes. This is not democracy, it's plutocracy. It's not rule by the people, it's rule by the richest people.
The only way to restore true democracy and even the slightest shred of integrity to our political process is to eliminate the influence of big money on the political process. Citizens United needs to be repealed and we need to return to publicly-funded elections with hard caps on individual contributions. We need to return to a time when politicians were selected based on who would best serve the majority of the people, not who would best serve the wealthiest fraction of the 1%.
When people talk about "restoring America", it's typically a misguided call to return to a more oppressive and close-minded time in our history. However, there is an America of the past that I would absolutely support returning to - the America our founding fathers envisioned where one man has one vote and all men are created equal. Only then can we call ourselves a democracy with a straight face.