Thursday, June 7, 2012

R.I.P. Democracy

It would appear that America's rather fanciful 236-year experiment with democracy is officially over. Once given the backhanded compliment of being the "worst form of government on earth, except for all the others," democracy was nonetheless touted as the best that the human race could come up with, and something to which all nations should aspire. And, when it comes to giving the average citizen a say in what happens to their lives, American democracy could once lay claim to being the best of the best. But something called the Citizens United ruling put an end to that, in dramatic fashion.

Democracy itself has a long and storied history, originating with the ancient Greeks and spreading to many areas of the world since then. It has gone through refinements and tweaking, as all dynamic, living ideas will, but there comes a time when a tweak will turn into something much more toxic and poisonous.

Big news this week was the attempted recall of governor of Wisconsin, Scott Walker. Walker and the other Republican bloodsuckers in that state went on a rampage against public sector unions - you know, representing all those greedy and overpaid teachers, police officers and firefighters - and passed unprecedented legislation to take away their collective bargaining rights, which had been in place for decades. Blaming the unions for being the source of a huge budget deficit, Walker and his stooges decided that the bargaining rights were at the root of everything that ever went wrong anywhere since the beginning of time, and they had to go. People of all types went understandably nuts, and huge protests paralyzed the state capitol daily. The country was treated to the extraordinary spectacle of Democratic state legislators fleeing to a neighboring state to avoid a quorum in the legislature to pass the heinous bill.

All this was a blatant and obvious attempt at union busting, since unions are widely seen as sympathetic to Democrats and a source of campaign funds for them. Republicans hate employee unions, for lots of reasons. They're seen as fighting for annoyances such as fair treatment of workers, equitable wages and benefits, and for taking profit out of the coffers of corporations. Back in the 1950s and 1960s unions had great power, but the advent of the right-to-work movements in states, particular southern states, curtailed that power.

Unions have been on the run for a long time now due to rapidly declining membership and influence, and Republicans smelled blood. They took a gamble on creating a showdown with the unions, and Wisconsin became the crucible for that battle. Recall petitions were signed and an election was scheduled. At first it seemed that Walker would be shown the door in quick fashion, but a little problem cropped up.

It seems that the US Supreme Court ruled on something called the Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission in 2010. That ruling stated that "the First Amendment prohibited the government from restricting independent political expenditures by corporations and unions." This meant that corporations and other outside influences, could dump as much money as they wanted into elections to try and sway the outcome. When the ruling came down, the entire country gasped in stunned disbelief at such an outlandish concept - that corporations have a measure of freedom of speech, and that can somehow be transmuted into enormous amounts of money being allowed to pour into an electoral system already choked to death with special-interest dollars. That's like giving a smoker with stage 4 lung cancer a carton of cigarettes and saying, "Enjoy them, there's lots more where they came from!"

Also aided by a ridiculous loophole in Wisconsin law which imposed a $10K upper limit on contributions to the Democratic challenger, Milwaukee mayor Tom Barrett, but not on incumbent Walker, Republican money poured in. The national Republican Reichstag regarded this as a test case, a prelude to the presidential election this fall, and pulled out all the stops to win. The following graphic tells you everything you need to know about the amount of money that poured into that state, and where it came from:

The Wisconsin media was flooded with nonstop advertising, and Republican Z-listers like Nikki Haley, some trollop governor from somewhere who is portrayed as a Tea Party "rising star" (read: amoral famewhore), was dragged in for campaign appearances. The Republican blitzkrieg worked, and Walker won the election 54% to 45%. And therein came the death of democracy.

It is an epically tragic commentary on the political system of this country that, in a very real sense, whoever has the most money wins. Money buys advertising, and with enough of it, opinions can be swayed. It's really sad that so many voters can be influenced by what they see on television or in print, and accept it without one iota of critical thought. Some people believe anything they see on television, and Citizens United just opened up the floodgates for a huge torrent of biased, blatantly prejudiced misinformation to rush in, and the financial backers of this tsunami of bullshit don't even have to tell you who they are.

The Wisconsin recall was only a little glimpse into hell, a tiny preview of the carnage that's going to happen in the upcoming November elections. As a direct result of Citizens United, it's been estimated that the Republican side will raise and spend a billion dollars trying to buy the White House and the Senate. And the gods help us all, they may very well do it.

For democracy to work, it's absolutely critical that those being governed are informed, engaged and fully participating in the process. That's the part that's missing. American voters are by far too lazy, ignorant and uneducated to learn enough about the issues facing them to make intelligent choices. Instead, they choose to let other people tell them what to think and do, and their vote will go for whoever created the slickest and most eye-catching political advertisement. For the vast majority of voters, that is far easier than actually "learning" about the problems they have and "making good choices". Let Rush Limbaugh and the Koch brothers tell you what to do. Just sit back, pop open another brewski, and pay no attention to the man behind the curtain. It will all be over before you know it.

Right after the Citizens United ruling was announced in 2010, I said that in future decades, people will look back at this time and say, "This is where it all started, this is the exact point in time where everything started to go to hell." I believed then and I more firmly believe now, that the Citizens United ruling will go down in history as one of the absolute worst, if not THE worst, Supreme Court ruling ever. The only ways to correct this spectacularly bad ruling is for the Supreme Court to reverse itself in a future case and admit they had made a truly awful, terrible ruling (very unlikely) or for Congress to willingly pass laws turning off the spigot to an unlimited supply of corporate money pouring into their campaigns. Yeah, THAT'LL happen. Citizens United is a stunningly, breathtakingly bad example of how horribly wrong things can go.

I believe the full effect of that ruling in the future will be far, far worse than anything we can imagine today. It will be seen as the day democracy died.

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