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Where Is the Outrage over Money in Politics?

As the Republican National Convention roars on, the real outrage is happening behind closed doors--and no one is talking about it.

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As ProPublica  recently reported: “Someone who gives up to $2,500 to the campaign of President Barack Obama or challenger Mitt Romney will have his or her name, address and profession listed on the FEC website for all to see. But that same person can give $1 million or more to a social welfare group that buys ads supporting or attacking those same candidates and stay anonymous.” But when is the last time you heard one of the millionaire anchors of the Sunday talk shows aggressively pursue a beltway poobah demanding to learn about the perfidious sources of the secret money that is poisoning our politics?

At our combined ages we’ve seen it all; hope no longer springs eternal. We know the odds against reversing the hardening grip of the monied interests are disheartening. Those interests are playing to win the ferocious class war they launched 40 years ago with a strategy devised by the corporate lawyer Lewis Powell (later a Supreme Court justice) and a call to arms from the Wall Street wheeler-dealer William Simon, who had been Richard Nixon’s treasury secretary. Simon argued that “funds generated by business” would have to “rush by multimillions” into conservative causes in order to uproot the institutions and the “heretical” morality of the New Deal. He called for an “alliance” between right-wing ideologues and “men of action in the capitalist world” to mount a “veritable crusade” against everything brought forth by the long struggle for a progressive America.  Business Week noted at the time “that some people will obviously have to do with less… It will be a bitter pill for many Americans to swallow the idea of doing with less so that big business can have more.”

This was not meant to be. America was not intended to be a  winner-take-all country. Our system of checks and balances — read  The Federalist Papers — was to keep an equilibrium in how power works and for whom. Because of the vast sums of money buying up our politics, those checks and balances are fast disappearing and time is against us.

We are losing ground, but that’s the time when, more than ever, we need to glance back at the progressive crusades of a century ago to take note of what has been forgotten, or rather what braying blowhards like Rush Limbaugh and Glenn Beck have been distorting or attempting to flush down the memory hole. Robbing a nation of its historical memory is the most devastating of all larcenies because it opens the door to far worse crimes.

We have been here before. The two of us have collaborated in studying the example of the populists and progressives who over a century ago took on the financial and political corruptors. They faced heavy odds, too — a Supreme Court that exalted wealth as practically a sacred right, the distortion by intellectual and religious leaders of the theory of evolution to “prove” that the richest were the fittest to rule, the  crony capitalism of businessmen and politicians.

With government in the grip of such exploiters, child labor was a fact of life, men and women were paid pittances for long hours of work and left unprotected from industrial diseases and accidents, and workers too old to be useful to employers any longer were abandoned to starvation or the poorhouse. No model laws existed to protect them.

But these pioneers of progressivism were tough citizens, their political courage fueled by moral conviction. They sensed, as the Kansas editor William Allen White wrote, that their country had fallen into the hands of self-seekers, their civilization needed recasting, and a new relationship must be forged between haves and have-nots. When the two major parties failed them they gave full throat to their discontent by fighting from outside, and when Theodore Roosevelt’s breakaway Progressive Party held its organizing convention in l912 — exactly one hundred years ago — they shook the rafters with “The Battle Hymn of the Republic.” Oh, for such defiance today!

 
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