Wednesday, October 14, 2015

The Candidate Buyers Club and the Anchor of America

By Bob Ferris
This country pushed our way out from under the thumbs of a ruling elite nearly two and half centuries ago and it looks like we may have to go through that exercise again. 
The New York Times recently published an eye-opening piece about how there were approximately 120 million families in the US and 158 of them had provided about 50% of the support poured into the coffers of presidential candidates.  Crunching these numbers a little bit we see that this is not the fabled 1% we hear so much about but rather the 0.0001 percent who now seem to own half interest in or are at least purchasing shares in a potential future president.  All of these donations appear legal and are mostly allowed because of the 5-year old Citizens United ruling which equated money to free speech and seemed to give corporations the same standing as those with a real heartbeat.
Split of Republicans versus Democrats in the super donor roles (from NYT)
Now we keep hearing from conservative apologists that there is a political balance in these large campaign investments with some beating the Soros drum as often as others ring the Koch bell, but as we see from the above graphic included in the New York Times article large donor families are nearly seven times more likely to support Republicans than Democrats.  This makes sense as one looks at the long-standing tastes-great versus less-filling debate of whether we are a republic ruled by a few deciding our fate versus a democracy where we all have at least some say (1,2).  It is an interesting debate, but we are kind of both.

When I think about this wonderful and delicate balance between republic and democracy I remember a night two decades ago when my brother-in-law and I were sailing in the Caribbean on a family vacation with my sister and their three children.  That evening we set two anchors when we moored in a beautiful albeit exposed cove.  He and I slept little that night because the flukes of the anchors felt like they were constantly slipping in the loose, gravelly seabed and with each roll of a swell we sensed that we were drifting more and more towards the shore and disaster.

In the above analogy democracy is the anchor that holds us relatively in place and the republican forces are the swells and currents that swing us back and forth as needed or wanted.  Our inability to sleep is also very much like the vigilance necessary to keep this great nation afloat and off the rocks or shore. In this analogy Citizens United is a tsunami that makes both the anchor and oceanic movements irrelevant.

Tsunamis are incredibly destructive forces (Japan 2011)
Citizens United is a virtual wrecking ball for a modified democracy such as ours slamming us clear past a republican construct directly into an oligarchy or plutocracy (1,2,3).  In a very real sense Citizens United rips our governmental fabric to shreds allowing in the three hobgoblins of tyranny—classism, corporate influence and religious abuse (1,2,3)—so effectively eschewed by our Founding Fathers nearly 240 years ago.  We may still have the vote—and I say this guardedly as I watch disenfranchisement flourish (1,2,3)—but what value is that vote if billionaires set the menu of candidates (1,2,3,4,5,6) and ultimately hold the leashes of their creations once elected?

As alluded to above Citizens United has essentially enabled a billionaire buyers club for candidates.  I am calling this the Candidate Buyers Club but could have just as easily called it WASH-MART or Politics R-US with an emphasis on the "R."  The point being that because of this cash tsunami we (the average voter) have lost any semblance of connection with or control of the system.  This is a degradation process that has been on-going but likely started in earnest during the Reagan Administration with the loss of the Fairness Doctrine and the immigration to our shores of a certain Australian media machine.

Tsunamis once created are unavoidable.  When these massive waves are promulgated all that is left to do is to head for high ground and come back later to pick up the pieces.  This is where Citizens United differs from a true tsunami in that we can stop Citizens United legislatively (1,2,3) or constitutionally (1,2,3).
"This was not just the work of the Freedom Caucus or Ted Cruz or one month’s activity. The Republican Party’s capacity for effective self-governance degraded slowly, over the course of a long chain of rhetorical excesses, mental corruptions and philosophical betrayals. Basically, the party abandoned traditional conservatism for right-wing radicalism. Republicans came to see themselves as insurgents and revolutionaries, and every revolution tends toward anarchy and ends up devouring its own." New York Times Conservative columnist David Brooks commenting on the current state of the Republicans in Congress October 13, 2015 (my parallel take in July)
In the childish government shutdown in 2013 (1,2,3), our current Congressional dysfunction (1,2,3,4), and the hot-potato, Speaker of the House situation (1,2,3) we see hints of the damage already injected by the bullying billionaires (1) and their ilk.  This should scare us sufficiently to act, but the going will be tough and we will need people of principle to perform extraordinary feats.  But that is how it has always been and is likely the hallmark of a successful democracy.

So before a candidate tells you how they are going to make America more financially secure or stamp-out ISIS single-handedly, ask them what legislative or constitutional fix they are going to pursue to bring balanced democracy back to America.  If they stutter, stall, or demure move on to the next townhall meeting, stage, or booth and ask the question again.  Keep asking until you get the right answer because that will be the person who has either slipped the traces of this tyranny or never was a thrall.  The cost of failure in this regard is too high to consider.


P.S. There are a great number of groups working for a Constitutional amendment to fix this situation. They include:

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