Thursday, June 14, 2012

The day American democracy died?

Here's a news snippet, as excerpted in Mike Allen's Playbook, that perhaps lays bare the arc of U.S. history since 1980. And it doesn't bend toward justice:
NINE-FIGURE DONATION TO ROMNEY? "Adelson's Pro-Romney Donations Will Be 'Limitless,' Could Top $100M," by Forbes' Steven Bertoni : "Sheldon Adelson, along with his wife Miriam, ... donated $10 million to the leading Super PAC supporting ... Mitt Romney-and that's just the tip of the iceberg. A well-placed source in the Adelson camp with direct knowledge of the casino billionaire's thinking says that further donations will be 'limitless.' Adelson, who has built Las Vegas Sands into an global casino empire, will do 'whatever it takes' to defeat Obama, this source says. And given that Adelson is worth $24.9 billion-and told Forbes in a recent rare interview about his political giving that he had been willing to donate as much as $100 million to his initial presidential preference, Newt Gingrich-that 'limitless' description telegraphs potential nine-digit support of Romney."
The "arc" has been sculpted by Republican-appointed Supreme Court justices who, beholden to an ideology that admits no distinction between money and speech, have literally sold American democracy down the river to the GOP's corporate and megarich individual backers.

If you're looking for a decline narrative for the United States, this is it.  Whom the gods would destroy, they first make mad.  Over time, an increasingly extremist GOP has managed to induce a critical mass of voters to green-light its embodiment in law of two ideological tenets that are simple naked rationalizations of the narrowest interests of what we now call the 1%:  1) that tax increases always inhibit productive economic activity, and 2) that "free speech" entails prohibiting any restrictions on vested interests' access to the airwaves for any purpose whatever. The second is enabling inculcation of the first by ideological manipulation that puts the old Soviets to shame.

The Supreme Court has been perhaps the ultimately decisive instrument of this defenestration of democracy. Its shamefully illogical decision in Bush v. Gore ensconced a president who put Roberts and Alito on the court and thus gave us Citizens United (and SpeechNow v. FEC, the lower court ruling determined by Citizens United that enabled the Super Pacs) by putting Anthony Kennedy in the swing vote position formerly held by Sandra Day O'Connor.  It's Kennedy, as Jeffrey Toobin points out, who has articulated a concept of free speech that effectively renders the "freedom" proportionate to the money at the speaker's disposal:
Kennedy often saw First Amendment issues in terms of abstractions. Citizens United, at its core, concerned a law that set aside a brief period of time (shortly before elections) when corporations could not fund political commercials. To Kennedy, this was nothing more than censorship: “By taking the right to speak from some and giving it to others, the Government deprives the disadvantaged person or class of the right to use speech to strive to establish worth, standing, and respect for the speaker’s voice. The Government may not by these means deprive the public of the right and privilege to determine for itself what speech and speakers are worthy of consideration. The First Amendment protects speech and speaker, and the ideas that flow from each.”

Moreover, Kennedy wrote, “The Court has recognized that First Amendment protection extends to corporations.” This had been true since 1886, and speech, especially political speech, could never be impeded. “The censorship we now confront is vast in its reach,” Kennedy wrote. “The Government has muffled the voices that best represent the most significant segments of the economy. And the electorate has been deprived of information, knowledge and opinion vital to its function. By suppressing the speech of manifold corporations, both for-profit and nonprofit, the Government prevents their voices and viewpoints from reaching the public and advising voters on which persons or entities are hostile to their interests.

“If the First Amendment has any force,” Kennedy concluded, “it prohibits Congress from fining or jailing citizens, or associations of citizens, for simply engaging in political speech.”
That is an argument as nakedly servile to moneyed interests as Grover Norquist's view of taxes, which is effectively the GOP's. And perhaps, soon, the nation's.

Update: Sullivan made my point more pithily.

Update II: let me add a timely caveat from an unexpected source: 
Sometimes you need the Egyptian Supreme Court to give you a little perspective. The Roberts Court isn't that bad.

1 comment:

  1. "The Supreme Court has been perhaps the ultimately decisive instrument of this defenestration of democracy. Its shamefully illogical decision in Bush v. Gore ensconced a president who put Roberts and Alito on the court..."

    Shamefully illogical may be true but I don't think Bush v. Gore ensconced Bush. As I understand it, had the limited recount requested by the Gore campaign been allowed to proceed Bush would still have won in Florida.