Posted January 17, 2014
by Jerry Alatalo
“It is wrong to say that God made rich and poor; He made only male and female; and He gave them the Earth for their inheritance… The Earth, in its natural uncultivated state was, and ever would have continued to be, the common property of the human race.”
– Thomas Paine (1737-1809)
At one point in America’s history the only people allowed to vote were rich white men. That was it. With the Citizens United decision of 2010, has America turned back the historical clock?
Journalist John Nichols of Madison, Wisconsin and communications Professor Robert McChesney of the University of Illinois have co-written “Dollarocracy”, and talk about the book here in the state of Washington. These are two fellows who have focused on politics and fought for progressive initiatives for many years, having been around the block more than a few times. One must give them credit for staying in the game, persisting though seeing deteriorating societal conditions around the world.
Mr.’s Nichols and McChesney earn extra credit for remaining optimistic through the years of shifting conditions, including increasing concentrations of wealth, elections going to the highest bidders and best marketers, greater levels of cynicism, malaise, and apathy, and a general resignation of citizens to having no success in doing anything about the current weakness of democracy in America.
With their book “Dollarocracy” these men have come out with vigor and energy and ready for the fight. Although I haven’t bought a copy, I can sense that they have laid out reality in a very powerful way, through examining historic events and their real consequences for real citizens. They are calling for action of highly energetic variety, beginning with a constitutional amendment to overturn Citizens United.
Given the results of Citizens United on the election process in America, results being a tremendous increase in spending that advantages the wealthy, the pendulum has swung as far as it can toward plutocratic control of every level of government from county to state to federal. It has become painfully obvious for many Americans that this is absolutely not acceptable. There is a broad sense across the nation that the pendulum now must swing back toward the people as a whole, away from the 1% or less at the top of the wealth pyramid.
Nichols and McChesney argue that the American people have been too timid in recent years, and that now is not the time to tinker around at the edges with compromise and settling for less than what one’s beliefs tell them is right and required. Professor McChesney notes that the problem is a very straightforward, simple one – the people with the money having all the political power while those without money have no political power. He notes that Jimmy Carter, similar to a Mitt Romney caught-on-tape moment, spoke that “the United States is no longer a functioning democracy”.
Huge world consequences of non-functioning democracy
In America 47% of the people are living in poverty or low-income status, inequality has reached levels not seen in 100 years, and the top 1% are making efforts to eliminate government programs which do not benefit them. McChesney points out that there has been a decades-long movement by the plutocracy in America to eliminate as well any threats to their privileged positions which may come from “the threat of too much democracy”.
Quite simply the 2010 Citizens United decision to allow unlimited third-party spending on election campaigns has met a fiery pushback from the American people, with many organizations banding together and demanding its overturn. Spending on the 2012 elections has doubled from 2008, and is 10 times as much as 25 years ago. McChesney points out that the “more money in elections, the more bogus”. He adds that the United States outspent the Germans 34 to 1 in the last national election.
So, the situation in American elections has become such that money is not being spent on candidates who have the best interests of all people as their honest focus, but to “transact” business resulting in low or no taxes, cuts to spending on Social Security and Medicare, slashes to public education, and the smashing of labor unions. Negative political advertisements are now, depending on the size of the media market, representing 15-20%, up to 35-40%, of revenues for media corporations. In many nations outside America political advertising is illegal.
The reason for efforts to suppress voting and allow unlimited spending is that without such efforts what would occur are fair elections, and the plutocrats would lose. So, Americans must become bold and demand fair elections, a constitutional amendment that guarantees every American the right to vote – and have their vote counted, as well as significant national reforms of the election process, such as overturning of Citizens United, ending the electoral college and political campaign advertising, inclusionary debates, etc.
John Nichols gives the Seattle audience an example from their home state of Washington. Recently the people were surveyed and it was found that 70, 80, and 90% of Washingtonians were in favor of labeling GMO food products. So, the people were given the chance to vote for or against GMO food labeling. Before the vote, food corporations spent millions of dollars, much of the millions coming from outside Washington, to defeat the labeling initiative through intense spending on advertising. The people of Washington, who had been up to 90% for labeling, voted labeling down.
Mr. Nichols points out that a mother concerned about the food she is giving to her child has been over-ruled by corporate money spent to protect the corporate money – profits – which would have been lost when people declined to buy food labeled “GMO”. He reminds the audience that the great original American Thomas Paine was blocked when he wanted to vote in his last presidential election, eventually blacks were no longer denied the vote, women fought and won the right to vote, the poll-tax was banned, and that the United States constitution has been amended many times for the best reasons – to form a more perfect union.
“In the First Amendment the founding fathers gave the free press the protection it must have to fulfill its essential role in our democracy. The press was to serves the governed, not the governors. The government’s power to censor the press was abolished so that the press would remain forever free to censure the government. The press was protected so that it could bare the secrets of government and inform the people.”
– Hugo L. Black (1886-1971) U.S. Supreme Court Justice
As political campaigns are spending more on advertising, media corporations have basically ended any real reporting on issues of importance to citizens. Political ads have become the debates and analysis, resulting in victories for those candidates who spend most on marketing managers, polling, and slick, negative ads. Media companies fight against any real campaign finance and election reforms to protect their significant revenues coming in from campaigns.
John Nichols tells the audience that great changes in American history came about with efforts from men and women who gave their lives in the process. He asks the audience if they are the equals of their parents and grandparents, some of whom died to help bring about necessary changes in the United States of America. Finally, he asks the audience the direct, profoundly important question:
Is this nation – America – a Democracy or Dollarocracy?
(Thanks to Freespeechtv @ YouTube)