The Supreme Court and the “Broken Middle”

By striking down the Montana campaign finance law that dates back to 1912, the Supreme Court steams ahead on its long-term project of turning our political system over to giant corporations. (So much for “states’ rights,” or the role of states as “incubators” for best practices.)

A century ago, the same year Montana passed the law the Roberts Court just eviscerated, the United States held a presidential election where progressive voices dominated. The Socialist candidate, Eugene Victor Debs, won over 900,000 votes, and Theodore Roosevelt challenged his former protégé, Republican President William Howard Taft, by starting his own Progressive Party (“Bull Moose”).

The Democrat, Woodrow Wilson, (who also embraced progressive policies), skated to victory largely because TR had galvanized the left wing of the Republican Party (TR even won more votes than Taft). There was no catering to the “job creators” or private equity firms in the 1912 election. The electorate demanded their politicians bring down a hammer on the excesses of corporate power that characterized the preceding three decades.

We live in a similar period today: 30 years of metastasizing corporate power, historic gaps in income and wealth inequality, battered labor unions, environmental toxics contaminating the commons, etc. But today, with two centrist candidates each vying for the biggest pile of corporate cash, the election of 2012 will be nothing like 1912.

The Roberts Court appears to be hellbent on ensuring that a corporate oligarchy consolidates, once and for all, its control of our political system. And this comes after years of coddling corporations largely because of their corrupting influence on political campaigns. Over the past 30 years corporate taxes have been slashed and the tax burden shifted onto the backs of working people, while at the same time the High Court hands down ruling after ruling that serve to strengthen corporate power over our politics.

At the end of World War Two, for example, for every dollar Washington received from individual taxpayers, it got $1.50 from taxing corporate profits. Today, for every dollar people pay in income taxes to Washington the federal government only gets 25 cents from taxing corporations. If “corporations are people” they at least should pay the same level of taxes as real people do.

The Supreme Court knows exactly what it is doing. They’re smart lawyers who are aware of the widening chasm in wealth and income. They know the corporations use campaign donations to corrupt our nation’s politics. They know that about 100 million Americans are currently consigned to living under austerity, economically insecure, and with minimal access to health care and education.

That’s why the Court went out of its way to beat up labor unions, with its ruling in Knox v. Service Employees International Union to force working people to “opt-in” before independent expenditures of their union can be spent on political campaigns. This ruling further ties the hands of labor unions by forcing expensive and time-consuming notifications and elections before the leadership can spend political money. Next time you hear anybody put forth the worm-eaten argument of a false equivalency between corporations and labor unions in political spending, point to this anti-labor ruling.

So the Roberts Court, with Citizens United and its offspring, is making it easier for corporations to dominate our politics while it tears down labor’s ability to fight back against the onslaught. This is a conscious effort. The Republican Supreme Court is setting up an uneven playing field so that the Republicans can run the table of power in Washington. Checkmate!

Ninety-three percent of all private sector workers in this country have no union representation, no contract, no protections. The only reason why the public sector unions grew over the past 30 years is that states and municipalities could not pursue the aggressive union-busting tactics that have become the norm in the private sector since President Ronald Reagan crushed PATCO back in 1981.

But the “Great Recession” and the fiscal crises it has wrought changed all that. As Governor Scott Walker in Wisconsin and other Republican governors have shown, it’s now open season to impose the same kind of punitive anti-union tactics against public workers as is customary in the private sector.

Add to this assault against working people the fact that 40 percent of their wealth has been scooped out over the past 5 or 6 years as well as the loss of over 600,000 public sector jobs (the SEIU lost 100,000 members due to layoffs), and you get a clear picture of which side the Supreme Court is on.

We live in a period of permanent “crisis.” We remain frozen in suspended animation waiting for the moment when the Republican Right “goes too far” and sensible alternatives to the policies that have brought the country to this sorry state are tried. But the day of reckoning never comes to Washington when “over-reach” sparks a political backlash because of the lack of true fighting spirit among the “opposition” party. The duopoly limps forward with its truncated “debate” even when the times call for a bold new direction.

What we’ve experienced during Obama’s first term is a kind of “Broken Middle.” The literary critic Isobel Armstrong, in a different context, points to a “broken middle” that replaces the Hegelian “triumphalist dialectic of resolution” with “a logic of breakdown.” (The Radical Aesthetic, 2000) The failure of our current money-drenched politics with the millions of demoralized and battered working people left in its wake has given us a persistent state of disrepair.

We already got the “Thesis”: Reaganomics; tax cuts for the rich and corporations; deregulation; “free trade”; expansive military spending; slashing health and human services; unlimited money in politics; a lack of anti-trust enforcement; a wholesale assault on labor unions.

But we never got anything near the required articulation of the “Anti-Thesis” to these policies: Truly progressive taxation; regulations to protect workers, consumers, and the environment; trade pacts that stop outsourcing; reductions in military spending; a single-payer national health care system; child care funding and pay equity for women; limitations on campaign spending; enforcement of anti-trust laws; the Employee Free Choice Act, and raising the minimum wage.

In 2008, candidate Obama talked about forcefully countering Reaganomics but once in power his repeated capitulations to the Republicans failed to put forth the substantive rollback that was necessary. Since we never got the “Anti-Thesis” to the Republican free market ideology because the Democratic Party that should have been its vehicle failed to deliver we were denied any kind of “Synthesis” that might have produced a new set of reforms, ideas, and institutions that could guide us into the 21st Century.

We’re left instead with a “Broken Middle” that normalizes Reaganomics with both major parties beholden to the same corporate interests defending the status quo despite its catastrophic failures.

Those 636,000 public sector jobs that have been destroyed in recent years will affect American society in negative and unpredictable ways for decades to come unless there is unleashed a progressive third party force capable of driving fundamental change. Today we see as “normal” proposals coming from the Simpson-Bowels Commission or the Peterson Institute or the Paul Ryan budget that will annihilate what’s left of the federal social safety net in this country at a time when it is needed most.

The Supreme Court has become a lynchpin for the Republican Right in cementing this dreary future. By striking down the Montana campaign finance law and undermining labor unions’ ability to spend political money, the Right’s “activist” court is setting up a situation where progressives are forced to fight with both hands tied behind their backs.

Joe PalermoWe have an anemic Democratic Party duplicitous in the 1 percent’s assault on working people. The economic crisis has been successfully deployed to beat down public workers and their unions (the Democratic base). The close of each new Supreme Court session brings added horrors.

We could learn a lot from the election of 1912 where a third and fourth party shook up the foundations of corporate control. It’s a disgrace that 100 years ago the United States could run an election with far greater choices than it is capable of running today. Until some catalyst for real change emerges that can punch a hole in this drab edifice we’ll continue to be relegated to life in the nether reaches of the “Broken Middle.”

Joseph Palermo
Joseph Palermo’s Blog

Posted: Tuesday, 26 June 2012

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Comments

  1. ronwf says

    “At the end of World War Two, for example, for every dollar Washington
    received from individual taxpayers, it got $1.50 from taxing corporate
    profits.”

    At the end of WW II the U.S. was about the only industrialized nation that had an intact industrial base.  Everyone else’s was bombed flat.  We had little competition and we manufactured and exported all over the world.  Now times have changed.  American corporations now face competition from companies in countries that have far more efficient production and far cheaper labor costs.  It can no longer afford to pay all those taxes to stay competitive.  Comparing the conditions of 60+ years ago with those of now without acknowledging the differences is either naive, ignorant or deliberately deceptive.

    “Those 636,000 public sector jobs that have been destroyed in recent years”

    If those jobs need to be done then (absent public safety exceptions like police and fire departments) private workers can be hired to do them.  If they don’t need to be done then we shouldn’t be wasting tax money on them.  The fact that government needs to ensure that certain tasks are performed doesn’t mean that government has to directly hire the people doing them.

    “So the Roberts Court, with Citizens United and its offspring,
    is making it easier for corporations to dominate our politics while it
    tears down labor’s ability to fight back against the onslaught.”

    Please support your thesis with figures showing how much money is donated by corporations vs. how much by individuals.  Be sure to include and distinguish spending by unions, which are also corporations affected by Citizens United.

    “The only reason why the public sector unions grew over the past 30 years
    is that states and municipalities could not pursue the aggressive
    union-busting tactics that have become the norm in the private sector ”

    Public sector unions grow because unlike private sector unions their management have no risk and much benefit in how much money they give them in wages and benefits.  If a private sector unions gets increased wages and benefits from the corporate management then the corporate management has to figure out where to get the money from, and all options – giving up their own wages, raising prices or cutting costs – have negative effects.  But in a public sector union management risks none of these – the politicians can raise taxes and their own compensation doesn’t go down.  Now you may say “But they risk losing re-election.”  True.  Except that unlike in a private scenario the public union can help keep the politicians in power by giving them campaign money (taken from the union members often against their will) and through endorsements and supplying campaign workers – or by giving such to their opponents.  It’s a feedback loop that does not exist in a private corporation/union scenario.  Which is why public sector unions should be illegal.

  2. ronwf says

    “That’s why the Court went out of its way to beat up labor unions, with its ruling in Knox v. Service Employees International Union to
    force working people to “opt-in” before independent expenditures of
    their union can be spent on political campaigns. This ruling further
    ties the hands of labor unions by forcing expensive and time-consuming
    notifications and elections before the leadership can spend political
    money.”

    Corporations cannot force their employees to give them money to spend on political campaigns.  I know, because my company sometimes sends me letters soliticting contributions to it’s PAC and it cannot deduct them from my paycheck.  So why should unions be able to do that?  Why should they be able to take money from their members on an involuntary basis to support positions that said employees may not support when corporations cannot do the same (and should not, of course)?

  3. ronwf says

    “the Supreme Court steams ahead on its long-term project of turning our political system over to giant corporations.”

    So, then – during this most recent primary season, when the Citizens United decision has been in effect, how much of the money raised has come from giant corporations – which I’ll quantify for convenience as the Fortune 500?

    1%.

    The rest has come from individuals and unions.  Sure, some of the individuals are extremely wealthy.  But their contributions to SuperPACs were permitted by existing law well before the Citizens United decision.  The Citizens United decision had no effect at all on that – unless it was to make unions more readily able to contribute to campaigns, which hardly hurts the Democrats.

    BTW, this was easily predictable by looking at the campaign data from the States, most of whose laws already permitted large corporations to donate money to campaigns.  How much money do corporations donate to campaigns?  Very little.  For the common sense reason that they don’t care to alienate 40% or 50% of their potential customers.

    Wealthy people may influence campaigns to a certain extent (although not as much as before, since blogs and other creations on the Internet makes it a lot cheaper to get the word out about a candidate).  But corporations have and will continue to have very little influence.

  4. Jay Levenberg, Esq. says

    The problem is simple. Presidents have to stop appointing people to the court that let their ideology control their decisions. First, it would be better to appoint real judges to the court. For example, Sotomayer was a much better choice than Kagen as Kagen had no judicial experience nor much private legal experience (for that matter). Secondly, these appointments must be people that are clearly very judicious in their thinking and by that I mean that they can analyze a problem and come to a conclusion rather than come to a conclusion and then analyze how to get there. My favorite Justice was Felix Frankfurter. He was appointed by Roosevelt and he was a true believer in the New Deal. However, his judicial decisions often disagreed with his political views. He viewed the law as more important than the result reached. We need more of such people on the court.

    • ronwf says

      “However, his judicial decisions often disagreed with his political
      views. He viewed the law as more important than the result reached. We
      need more of such people on the court.”

      Quite right.  If we had more of such people we probably wouldn’t have seen the decision today that we did.

  5. Hwood007 says

    I suggest that if I were to opine an article with a
    characterization such as you used for a supreme court justice for our current
    President, you may take issue with it.  I
    also doubt  you are a “state
    rights” person.  I doubt you see any
    state rights in AZ.  You write as a
    “group rights” person and not even as an individual rights
    person.  You seem to want your group to
    be protected over other groups.  Our
    Constitution requires our government to take care of only one group, the
    citizens and to fund only one group, our military, which protects all of us.

     

    Funding the military should come before all other groups as
    it is they who protect all other groups. 
    Our military can not form a union and then select which places it will
    serve or under what conditions it will serve. 
    It can not protest at the local corner for higher pay and benefits as
    can an employee of a state employees union. 
    The military can not strike for better conditions.  If fact the most progressive POTUS told us
    not to have public sector unions with strike capabilities, they should only be
    allowed to ask but not insist on pay and benefits.

     

    I would ask you to declare a form of government you would favor
    over our current form.

    • ronwf says

      “Our Constitution requires our government to take care of only one group, the
      citizens”

      While I suspect that our political philosophies basically agree, I must argue with this.  The Constitution does not require our government to take care of it’s citizens.  The Constitution requires our government to defend our rights so that we can take care of ourselves and our families.  We are citizens, not chattel or subjects.

      • Hwood007 says

        My purpose was to say it should not protect one group of citizens over another group, we all should be protected the same..

  6. -Nate says

    Thank you Joseph ;

    The scary thing is : the worker bees who are most hurt by the gop’s assault on America , are lining up in lock step with them soly to get ” that uppity biscuit lipped ni66er ” out of the White House .

    Yes , people who know I’m in a mixed race relationship and have bi racial children , say this to my face and are not ashamed to do so.

    For an Elder like me who’s close to retiring , these are scary times indeed .

    -Nate

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