Citizens United — Game Changer

Samuel AlitoLast January, during his State of the Union Address, when President Obama broached the topic of Citizens United saying it was going to unleash a torrent of corrupting corporate money into our political system, Associate Justice Samuel Alito mouthed the defiant words: “No, that’s simply not true.”

The 2010 midterm campaigns have shown us that Alito and his four fellow Justices were not only wrong about the potential effects of Citizens United they greased the wheels for a corporate takeover of the governing institutions of the country. We’re in unchartered territory now. The five Justices knew exactly what they were doing:

“This court now concludes that independent expenditures, including those made by corporations, do not give rise to corruption or the appearance of corruption. That speakers may have influence over or access to elected officials does not mean that those officials are corrupt. And the appearance of influence or access will not cause the electorate to lose faith in this democracy.”

There’s nothing “conservative” about unlimited (and anonymous) corporate campaign donations funneled into mammoth slush funds for media “buys” savaging Democratic candidates. Commentators like David Brooks and the rest of the Mayberry Intelligentsia, like the Supreme Court, choose to play dumb while they whistle past the graveyard of American democracy. In the long run they’ll look as foolish for backing this ruling as those who cheered on the Dred Scott and Plessy decisions back in the 19th Century.

Karl Rove, Ed Gillespie, Crossroads GPS, the Koch brothers, Bruce Rastetter and his American Future Fund, the Chamber of Commerce et cetera owe a debt of gratitude to Alito, Chief Justice John Roberts, Anthony Kennedy, Antonin Scalia, and Clarence Thomas for skewing the political calculus so far in their favor.

And what about the Tea Baggers? How insanely stupid is it when a group of anti-tax antiquarians liken themselves to those who threw the East India Company’s tea into Boston Harbor in 1773, and claim they want to protect the Constitution from the evil grip of liberals, yet are being backstopped by some of the most powerful corporate interests in the world? It makes sense then that the wife of one of the Justices who ruled in favor of Citizens United can be seen at Tea Bagger rallies calling Obama a traitor – no conflict of interest there.

No one can really predict what’s going to happen on November 2. All we know is that the historical trends are lining up for the Democrats to lose seats in both houses of Congress, and that Citizens United has definitively tipped the scales in favor of the oligarchy. In our peculiar duopoly the only means by which to cast a “punishment” vote to vent displeasure with the lack of progress on the Democratic agenda is to vote for a Republican (or stay home). No wonder Mitch McConnell showed up at the Supreme Court last January to witness the Citizens United ruling in person.

In November 1982, when President Ronald Reagan faced his first midterm election the unemployment rate was comparable to what it is today, hovering at about 10.2 percent, and his approval rating was lower than Obama’s is now. The Republicans lost twenty-six House seats erasing much of the gains from Reagan’s 1980 coattails. The recession belonged to Jimmy Carter just as the current one belongs to George W. Bush. But that didn’t help the party in power.

Yet the American people seldom return to power the party of a president who just two years earlier had collapsed the economy. In 1934, they didn’t pull the lever for the party of Herbert Hoover. And they should have the good sense not to do so in 2010. Then again, FDR fought unapologetically for progressive change. (You heard no complaints about “the professional Left” coming from his administration.)

It’s moot now, but sometimes losing a good fight can be as politically beneficial as winning. Had Obama stood firm for the public option instead of leaving us guessing what his policy choice was; had he rallied the troops for a showdown over the Employee Free Choice Act, or stood firm on climate change, or any number of other measures, even if he lost, enjoining these battles would have kept his supporters up in arms.

You can’t call upon people to be “fired up and ready to go” only to govern as if Olympia Snowe and Ben Nelson are the two most important people on Earth. Obama was always far more popular than the cadaverous Mr. Nelson. Most people don’t even know who he is. Instead of eliciting Republican ridicule for the “Cornhusker Kickback” Obama might have gone to the Midwest and rallied people.

All along, we urged Obama to “show less Hope and more Audacity.” We tried to warn him that the Rahm Emanuel strategy of never exposing the President to the possibility of losing a public battle was a mistake — especially for a candidate whose campaign slogan was “Yes We Can!”

The idea recently floated by David Axelrod that a national moratorium on home foreclosures would make it impossible to discern the “valid” foreclosures from the others is a Red Herring. The federal government could use existing institutions such as H.U.D., the Fair Housing Administration, and the Federal Deposits Insurance Corporation (as well as the IRS and the Treasury Department) to send out auditors to figure out who got preyed upon and who didn’t.

Now we see that the extent of the fraud was so deep that the banks themselves are instituting moratoria on foreclosures to try to sort it out. If the FBI was reporting pervasive mortgage fraud as far back as 2005 why hasn’t Attorney General Eric Holder been able to hold anyone accountable? Why haven’t we seen predatory lenders and crooked real estate brokers frog-marched to jail?

Neglected by the banks, the foreclosed homes have blighted neighborhoods across the country, pushing down the value of thousands of homes that belong to innocent people who didn’t take out bad loans and paid their bills on time. (Are you listening Rick Santelli?) The “lenders” who hold the notes (when we can figure out who they are) have not bothered to provide basic maintenance.

Joseph PalermoSquatters and crack-heads have found their way into many of them and evictions have become a nightmare for cash-strapped sheriffs and police departments as they try to clean up a mess that predatory banks passed on to the public. Entire communities across the country will continue to crumble for years amidst persistent unemployment. Some of these neighborhoods will never recover. That’s what the effects of class warfare look like in America these days. And Citizens United is only going to make matters much, much worse.

Fox News and right-wing radio masticated it into slurry.

Joseph Palermo

Crossposted with Joseph A Palermo

Published by the LA Progressive on October 15, 2010
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About Joseph Palermo

Joseph Palermo is Professor of History, California State University, Sacramento. Professor Palermo's most recent book is The Eighties (Pearson 2012). He has also written two other books: In His Own Right: The Political Odyssey of Senator Robert F. Kennedy (Columbia, 2001); and Robert F. Kennedy and the Death of American Idealism (Pearson, 2008). Before earning a Master's degree and Doctorate in History from Cornell University, Professor Palermo completed Bachelor's degrees in Sociology and Anthropology from the University of California, Santa Cruz, and a Master's degree in History from San Jose State University. His expertise includes the 1980s; political history; presidential politics and war powers; social movements of the 20th century; the 1960s; and the history of American foreign policy. Professor Palermo has also written articles for anthologies on the life of Father Daniel Berrigan, S.J. in The Human Tradition in America Since 1945 (Scholarly Resources Press, 2003); and on the Watergate scandal in Watergate and the Resignation of Richard Nixon (CQ Press, 2004).