Never thought I’d invite a member of the Tea Party to join political forces with me. But it’s going to take an odd and broad coalition of folks who comprise “We the People” to fight back against today’s U.S. Supreme Court action granting stunning new power to corporate America to buy our government. The Court, in a 5-4 decision, rolled back all limits on the rights of organizations to spend money to influence the outcome of federal elections.
Overturning key provisions of McCain-Feingold campaign finance law and flouting a century of precedent, the decision opens the floodgates to a torrent of spending by banks, insurance companies, energy companies, automakers, pharmaceutical manufacturers, chemical producers, agribusiness giants and media oligopolies — both domestic and foreign – to sway races by buying candidates. And to trash American democracy in the process.
“Because speech is an essential mechanism of democracy — it is the means to hold officials accountable to the people — political speech must prevail against laws that would suppress it by design or inadvertence,” wrote Justice Anthony Kennedy for the majority. The irony in Kennedy’s logic is profound, as the Court has in essence granted the status of personhood — of individual citizenship — to corporations, who are the least likely entities on earth to hold officials accountable to anyone but their own interests.
When Goldman Sachs, for instance, finds itself with a $16 billion (that’s with a “b”) bonus pool for top executives, what is the likelihood they are going to make campaign contributions to any political candidate who supports a tax on such bonuses, despite the government’s bailout for Wall Street?
Rep. Alan Grayson (D-Fla.), who was in the room for the Court’s announcement, condemned it as “the worst Supreme Court decision since the Dred Scott case. It leads us all down the road to serfdom.”
Yet it may be that prospect that offers the only remaining hope to unite a nation so fractured by partisanship and anger. In the face of this ruling, average Americans will become disenfranchised laborers, with no access to any ability to affect the political system in their favor. The grassroots donations of $10 here and $25 there that Barack Obama credited with momentum for his victory will be so much chump change in the face of these new playing rules. While labor unions and other groups will also be exempt from previous spending limits, it is the staggering power of corporations to shout down ordinary citizens through an exponential ability to outspend them that poses the gravest threat to our common welfare.
The real divide in this country is not so much left vs. right as haves vs. have-nots. Most Americans want health care reform. We just disagree on the best route to get it. Most Americans are disgusted at Wall Street’s escape from the economic hardship average people face every day, losing their jobs and homes and worrying about feeding their kids. Some think Democrats should be punished for the banks’ bailout; others insist it’s a Republican legacy for which the right must bear blame. Today’s decision, however, cements the already-entrenched power of the ‘haves’ to control public discourse and thereby the political agenda toward their own ends. But if anything can galvanize the populist base of this country – and that is our true, uniting base – it must be today’s catastrophic court decision, which threatens to undermine our jobs, our health, our safety, our environment, the air we breathe and the water we drink, our access to information, virtually every element of the quality of life and freedoms we jointly value as Americans.
In the wake of this decision, progressives have more in common with tea partiers than either of us ever dreamed possible. We’ll need a lot more strange bedfellows to come together to save our democracy, fractious and scarred as it is. Congressman Grayson has introduced a set of bills to bite back – learn more here.