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06 June, 2012

Rich Citizens United (the Rest of US Excluded)

The American Dream used to involve the vast majority of people getting a piece of the pie. I know, women's servings were smaller, black people were supposed to be satisfied with leftovers, and Indians were told that their pie was waiting for them a little further west. Hard as it is to believe now, however, there was a time when an adequate livelihood could be had with a single wage earner, when the middle class was a robust group making a healthy percentage of the population. 

But the gluttons have long since shoved everyone else form the table. Wisconsin's Governor Walker is only one example, but a powerful one, as the punditry falls all over itself to interpret the greater meaning of his surviving a recall election yesterday. This special election came about because after handing out fortunes in welfare to already wealthy corporations, Walker insisted on 'fiscal responsibility' in the form of eliminating collective bargaining rights for middle class and poor workers. For a while, workers united, and despite the Democrats having a primary whose winner was not a foregone conclusion, many of them remained so. 

It would have been impossible for Walker to have stayed in power if the electorate had voted their true interests. Very few people benefit from loss of collective bargaining (the right to bargain is not the right to have excessive demands all met), or the redistribution of state wealth from a broad-based safety net to largess for a few corporations. But they voted for that, apparently. 

Why? Because money talks. Walker spent $10 for every $1 dollar spent by his hapless Democratic opponent. Lots of this was from outside Wisconsin, donated by wealthy individuals and entities who do not want to share any pie. Conservative commentators following this recall never tired of noting that unions sent in money, too, and that this money was somehow more corrosive to democracy. It's worth noting, though, that not only did labor and liberals come up with very few donations reaching the $10,000 limit, but for some bizarre reason, Wisconsin law allowed Walker to ignore that limit, and he took advantage. This does not even count the substantial spending on Walker's behalf, but not officially part of his campaign.

We have witnessed the power of money to sway public opinion and buy elections before, but with the Supreme Court's viciously cynical decision in Citizens United, it will get worse. The ugly truth is that if you can afford to saturate the media with your message, you can get enough people to ignore their own, and their class's, interests to vote a particular way. The lie told often enough becomes the truth, as Goebbels established, and Americo's wealthy have seen to it that this wisdom is operationalized optimally. The military industrial complex, aware that the Saudis control a lot of oil, convince us that the best response to terrorism is to go after imaginary weapons of mass destruction in a different country where a lot more money is to be made. The financial sector, having driven our economy into the ground and held up the government for trillions of dollars, manages to convince the populace that the truly culpable are those poor people who receive welfare, and that universal health care will lead to Stalinism. 

It's tempting to conclude that Americans have simply become too stupid to live, and there is something to that, but the real truth is that Americans are diverse in their interests and opinions, prone to debate and disagree on just about anything. Except that the 1% tends to be solidly united in the belief that their wealth is deserved, and if there is to be any redistribution, it will be through philanthropy, not taxation. These wealthy people now have more of our nation's wealth than ever, and spending some small percentage of it to overwhelm the electorate with propaganda is a small price to pay--an investment, to be truthful, since it will come back to them in multiples when their wishes become policy. 

Soon enough, we commoners will forget what pie even looked like.

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