American Culture

Take a tea partier to bed to save American democracy

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.

22 replies »

  1. The known teabaggers’ comments I’ve read have them loving this ruling. Don’t look for any getting into bed with that crowd (Thank God, we don’t need what comes with that). Independents, whatever, are a different story.

  2. Newt Gingrich was just interviewed on NPR saying that this move will HELP middle-class voters get their candidates elected because it will allow significant funding to back their interests against super-wealthy liberal candidates, and the liberal money machine. I’m guessing that some of the teabagger ranks buy this. It is beyond me how anyone, of any political stripe, could see this move as remotely populist. I feel like it’s 1984.

    • Sweet fancy shadow-dancing Jesus – I know that there’s an IQ level below which that lie sounds plausible, but the problem is that said IQ level is usually associated with photosynthesis.

      It’s the Rove method. Imagine what you wish were true (or what you think the audience wishes were true), then say it with a straight face if possible. Keep saying it. If you say it enough it becomes true.

  3. And that’s the last shoe. Welcome to the corporate, colonial neo-liberal dystopia. The initial teabagger reaction will be positive because most of the movement is corporate astroturfing. The blowback will come later, when the corporates find out that they’ve created a monster they can’t control. Since i’m in more of a punching mood at this point, i’ll stop typing.

  4. I want to say something pithy and insightful about this, but I’m so filled with inchoate rage that I can’t.


  5. If corporations are people with the rights of individual persons, does that mean they can run for political office? Can we arrest, convict, and send a corporation to jail? If I work for a corporation, which makes a profit off my labor, and uses that profit to pay for political agenda that I disagree with, then I am indirectly working against my own interests. Now when I interview for a job I feel I need to ask the interviewer what the political agenda of the company is, in which case I may put in an awkward position of refusing employment based on political morality.

  6. The teabaggers are saying it is a protection of the 1st amendment and freedom of speech. Nothing, absolutely nothing of any benefit beyond that has been cited, that I’ve read from them.


    “Because its balanced. Liberals should be happy because every incorporated pro-choice, GLBT and other liberal organizations can now donate unfettered. The media is reporting this as if its just big business that was given the green light. Hardly. Every social cause on either side of the aisle has now been given freedom to donate millions as well.”

    “F R E E S P E E C H !
    It’s not just for liberals.”

    “This is not a victory for “big corporations.” Big corporations put their money into lobbying and give equally to both parties. This is a blow in favor of those like-minded individuals who are not independently wealthy but want to pool their resources to have an equal voice with the Rupert Murdochs and George Soroses of the world.”

    My favorite:

    “copreations are merely groups of people who have resources pooled together. They group of people decided to pool their resources to make political speech. HOW DARE THEY!”

  7. Ol’ Ben Franklin predicted that all of this would come to pass after a number of years. Guess all that’s left to do is hope Obama legalizes weed in his second term so we can all smoke ourselves into oblivion as America, Inc. goes bankrupt and the White House is foreclosed on.

  8. It is beyond me how anyone, of any political stripe, could see this move as remotely populist.

    I’ve been thinking about this for a while, and I think that maybe, just maybe, we’ve got the wrong end of the horse as far as the relationship of real people to the idea of populism…

  9. The teabaggers love this because they are told it is good and they should love it. The have been co-opted and astroturfed by fronts for corporations. It’s not exactly that they are too stupid, but they have been skillfully manipulated. I’ve heard that some of the original libertarians that started the teabag parties are actually pretty pissed about this: . These are they guys we should try talking to. There are certain interesting overlaps between true progressives and libertarians.

  10. How about we draft them?? After all, they are the ones who’ve not yet had to sacrifice anything….. Unlike mothers fathers, sisters, brothers — the average citizens!!

  11. There are some interesting overlaps between true progressives and true libertarians. The problem is finding them (the people), gathering them together and then getting past the Left-Right construct.

    Unfortunately, the second item on my list is difficult until the third, and most difficult, item is addressed. The best way to approach it is for each side to take its ideas and examine them from the other; frame them from the other; and then present them that way. If this could be added to the areas of clear agreement, we might have a chance.

    Of course, it would have to proceed with decorum and civility. But the coalition could be a powerful force of loyal opposition…and wholly capture the middle of the country, i.e. “Independents”.

  12. There are indeed many overlaps between progressives and libertarians. In those overlaps you will find the basics of Liberty, the true beating heart of our beloved Republic. We may differ on our views of how best to address issues of social responsibility, but those differences are merely a paper cut compared to the sucking chest wounds that we as a nation are suffering due to this left/right, d/r dog and pony show.

    We true libertarians are anti-war, anti-corporatism, anti-police state, anti-too big to fail (we actually subscribe to too big to exist.).

    Lex, you are on to something. Hopefully others in all camps are becoming aware of the absolute necessity of what you propose.

    This left/right death march over the cliff must stop immediately.

    BTW, if you’re looking for the true libertarians, check with the Mises institute, and, they can show you where we’ve been hiding.

  13. Lex- It would be great if what you said actually came to fruition. If we could get a group to overcome political bickering and proceed with civility and decorum things could in fact change. Unfortunately I think Rep. Grayson has some real baggage in that regard with his previous inflammatory comments.

    His situation is a good example of what happens when you play to much to the base of a party. Although people who agree with his positions may feel his holocost and and whore remarks were good points taken out of context by the opposing party, the fact remains that he will have a hard time attracting any support now from anyone across the aisle.