The Supreme Court’s decision in Citizens United seems to represent a giant leap backwards for our democracy, after decades of gathering corporate influence in Washington. It is difficult to find the words to keep pace. Didn’t corporate elites already own our politicians? Weren’t left and right already rebelling against the tyrannical center hewed out by mushy, big money interests? Wasn’t our rhetoric already a bit overblown?
The New York Times managed to kick it up a notch in its editorial this morning, opening with this line: “With a single, disastrous 5-to-4 ruling, the Supreme Court has thrust politics back to the robber-baron era of the 19th century.”
While a number of policy solutions are being bandied about in Washington, I am not optimistic that they will gain any traction. This decision was preceded by an inexorable, decades-long slide toward full-blown corporatism. Members of Congress are already badly beholden to corporate donors, and spend much of their time currying favor with these patrons; the idea that they would cross them, in concert, seems far-fetched. Indeed, one legislative fight that looks wholly unwinnable in the wake of this decision is a fight that takes on corporate interests directly. And no other issue so cleanly divides the corporate class from the rest of us people-folk.
Beyond that, this is a major boon to the entire political class in Washington — not just electeds, but lobbyists, consultants, public relations specialists (all of the people we profile on LittleSis). If recent history is any guide, the Washington elite will welcome this wave of corporate cash and continue on with their own desperate and cynical pursuits of power.
Recent history is also a guide to what we should expect to come out of this decision.
The healthcare reform fight is likely a template for legislative battles ahead: extended corporate food fights where monied interests compete for the biggest piece of the pie. Members of Washington’s political elite will extract even greater profits from volatility and tensions within corporate America. Fights that actually concern relatively trivial differences in how much the government can do to help which sets of corporations will be dressed up as if they were epic battles over what’s in the public interest.
In other words, more of the same.
Since most of the country was sickened by the healthcare reform battle, it’s hard to believe that this sort of system is sustainable. How long will we continue to stomach this charade, especially given the country’s economic plight? Still, there seems to be no end in sight.
In the meantime, all eyes on the robber barons! As long as our democracy is for sale, we might as well re-double our efforts to find out who owns it. LittleSis is an excellent place to start.