Where Is the Outrage over Money in Politics?
Continued from previous page
From the fighters of that era came a renewal of the social contract first set forth in the preamble of the Constitution — the moral and political notion of “We, the People.” Equitable access to public resources was its core, so that when the aristocrat De Tocqueville came here from France in the l830s he marveled at the egalitarian spirit he found in the new country. Public institutions, laws and regulation, as well as the ideas, norms, and beliefs embedded in the American mythos pointed to a future of prosperity open to all. That ideal survived the fires of the civil war and then the hard, cold cruelties of the industrial era and the First Gilded Age because people believed in and fought for it. They neither scorned nor worshipped wealth but were determined it would not rule.
It was on these foundations that the New Deal built the structure now under attack, with the support of a Depression-stricken nation which realized that we were all in it together — as we were in the war against fascism that followed.
But in the succeeding fat years the nation forgot something — the words of the great progressive senator Robert LaFollette from Wisconsin: “Democracy is a life and demands constant struggle.” Constant struggle. No victory can be taken for granted, no vigilance relaxed. Like the Bourbon kings of France, the lords of unrestrained, amoral capitalism never forgot anything. They learned from their defeat how to organize new strategies and messages, furnish the money to back them, and recapture control of the nation’s life. And in the absence of genuine, fight-to-the-finish resistance, they are winning big-time.
Think of where we are now. One party is scary and the other is scared. The Tea Party, the religious right, and a host of billionaires dominate the Republican Party. Secret money fills its coffers. And in the primaries this year almost every Republican inclined to compromise to make government work went down before radical and well-funded opponents with a fundamental “anti-government” mindset.
Yet even now President Obama says he is sure the Republicans will be willing to negotiate if he is re-elected. Sure, and the wolves will sit down with the lamb.
Nor is that all. In Wisconsin, salvo after salvo of campaign cash for union-busting Governor Scott Walker defeated the effort to recall him. In Pennsylvania a hardline judge has given his approval to a voter ID law specifically targeted to making it harder for low-income would-be voters to register. And such laws are proliferating like runaway cancer cells in state after state. The Tea Party and right-wing Christians furnish the shock troops of these assaults, but those who could be counted on for sturdy defense are not immune to the grinding pressures of nonstop fundraising. Democratic incumbents and challengers, in national and state canvasses likewise garner corporate contributions — including President Obama, whose fundraising advantage is about to be overtaken by Mitt Romney and the Deep Pockets to whom he is beholden. And at both conventions, the prime time show is merely window-dressing; the real action occurs at countless private invitation-only parties where CEOs, lobbyists, trade associations and donors literally cash in their chips. Writing in the New York Times, for example, Nicholas Confessore reports how The American Petroleum Institute will entertain with a concert and panels, all the while promoting an agenda that includes approval of the Keystone XL pipeline, opposition to new transparency rules for American energy companies operating abroad, and the expansion of oil production on those public lands Mitt Romney is preparing to turn over to them.