Wednesday, 2 April 2014

The Oligarchic States of America

It is ironic that at a time when Russia and its oligarchic politics is more at the forefront of American political consciousness than at any time previously, the U.S. is sliding, slowly but surely, into a place where its democracy is up for sale.

Bill Moyers warned about it in a prescient article last week, in the shadow of Republican 2016 hopefuls such as Chris Christie scraping and fawning in front of gambling billionaire Sheldon Adelson in Las Vegas.

The Koch Brothers and the Danger of American Plutocracy | Blog, Money & Politics |

 It is a theme that today has been taken up by Senator Bernie Sanders, social democrat Senator from Vermont. today, in a widely anticipated decision, following on from the truly awful Citizens United decision, the Supreme Court removed the aggregate donation cap in McCutcheon v FCC.

It is a sad indictment of American democracy when one of its two major parties, after having lost 5 out of 6 presidential elections on the trot, has decided that its strategy for winning is through restricting opportunities to vote and unlimited spending by plutocrats and billionaires.

The Washington Post has included some great infographics on what this all means in money terms (click through graphic for full story).

Dahlia Lithwick has a great take on things on Slate, in which she analyses Chief Justice John Roberts' majority opinion (plurality, technically, Clarence Thomas wants to get rid of all donation limits completely, in comparison to Stephen Breyers who wrote the dissent.

Lithwick writes:

And why does this collective speech matter? Why are we talking about corruption?  Because, writes Breyer: “Where enough money calls the tune, the general public will not be heard. Insofar as corruption cuts the link between political thought and political action, a free marketplace of political ideas loses its point.” And yes, there is a silent “duh” in there.

She gets to the punch, however, in her analysis of where the real long term impact of this awful decision lies,  which is to make Breyers' highly cynical view of money and corruption in politics a reality.  The dangers of this are real, particularly in circumstances where across the developed world voting and political participation rates have declined as political ideologies have converged on a centre ground and voters' sense of impotence increases:

In which case McCutcheon is a self-fulfilling prophecy in exactly the way Breyer predicts: Money doesn’t just talk. It also eventually forces the public to understand that we don’t much matter. It silences. It already has. 
What a chilling prospect.

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