Friday, January 22, 2010
Democracy: Sold to the Highest Bidder!
Today's supreme court ruling, treating limits on corporate and special interest contributions to political campaigns as necessarily violations of the right to free speech, makes the incredibly naive assumption that corporations operate under the same expression of political engagement as do common citizens. No matter how wonderful any private individual's talent for information dissemination, there is no comparison. Corporations are masters of public deception, or rather, they have loads of money to spend on people who are masters of deception, aka those whose business is to deceive - or to "conceive"... however you want to polish it.
For example, say I am coal company X, and have a rather large amount of toxic sludge to get rid of. Do I tell everyone about it - specifically my plans to dump it in some nice vacant wetlands? No, I simply create an environmentally friendly "group", say, "Americans for Wonderful Wetlands", and then have them take out ads selling the public on the idea that coal companies in general are wonderful and that protecting wetlands is really where their heart lies.
The philosphy expressed in today's ruling is profoundly naive. What these objectivist free-marketeers don't seem to realize is that people will do evil things if we let them. Especially large, unregulated corporations whose reason d'etre is making profit for short-sided shareholders. They are either incredibly stupid, or intellectually dishonest. Because history is rife with examples of unchecked moneyed interests doing really bad things. The history of regulation has been an overwhelmingly positive thing for the Americans, who otherwise would have been at the mercy of malevolent interests far more powerful than they could hope to take on alone.
Ayn Rand was absolutely right that selfishness and greed are good things on their face. But she always left a small caveat that destroyed her entire thesis: it must be in the hands of men who act responsibly. This is why libertarianism is not reality based. It rests upon a utopian fantasy in which power never seems to corrupt, and the disadvantaged are magically able to retain freedom against an ever-concentrating elite.
This is why Republican claims to populist solidarity are cynical and morally bankrupt. Look at the typical Republican! He revels in inequality - he takes pride in it! He pretends that he is what he is due to his own hard work but knows deep down that he is a superior, the fittest to have survived. He should feel no shame. He is a champion. Sure, if one defines populism as "everyone should be like me", then he is a populist. But if one defines populism as "doing what is in the interest of the people", then he is far from it. Repealing estate taxes are not populist. Prayer in school is not populist. Limiting malpractice suits is not populist. Vouchers are not populist. The flat tax is not populist. Eliminating social programs is not populist. Fighting against the right for workers to organize is not populist. Prohibiting gays from marriage is not populist. Racial profiling is not populist. Take any issue where power in the hands of the unrepresentative, wealthy or traditionally powerful few is solidified, and Republicans are for it.
In the ruling today, no one is pretending that expression will be more fair. No, the powerful interests with the most money will have more power to dominate, not less. But it is the principle that there should be no check on power - they call it "speech", but what is it really other than the solidification of one speech's power over another, via the purchase of delivery. The real anathema to this philosophy is the populist idea that there may be a point at which one man's rights might grow so great that they begin to take away from another. The roots of this impulse are authoritarian in the oldest sense, wherein the monarchist claim of "might making right" - the very epitome of what would become known as Darwin's naturally selective forces - was embraced as socially appropriate.
Our founders struggled to throw those old chains to the dirt, emphasizing not the old, lazy orders of generations of entrenched power, but instead the idea that every man must be born free. And yet they keep circling back at us like vipers, disguised though they be in populist clothing, pretending to represent the interest of the common man while tightening the old grip of class privilege, ignorance and political disenfranchisement. This is a sad day for America. I fear it may have to get much worse before it gets better. What have her is a massive shift away from democracy and toward a government vastly more corrupted and less able to do what it was originally intended to do: to truly allow freedom for all.