On Thursday, the Supreme Court handed electoral politics over to corporations, who will undoubtedly spit in the court’s face and sue it for not giving them their right to blatently buy elections sooner. In a 5-4 decision handed down by Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. and backed by five Republican presidential appointees, the court ruled that corporations and unions can spend their own treasury funds on broadcast ads or billboards in favor of a particular political candidate or urging the defeat of another. Speaking for the court, Justice Anthony M. Kennedy invoked the idea of corporate personhood, stating “The First Amendment does not permit Congress to make these categorical distinctions based on the corporate identity of the speaker and the content of the political speech.”
Plenty of people have already (thankfully) raised their eyebrows and fists over this and hopefully, that hand wringing will translate into some sort of more meaningful change. However, for the time being, we’re sadly left with even less protections against corporate influence of politics. At present, corporate influence already runs rampant in every hall of government and in every seat of power. It’s almost hard to imagine a day where American politicians would be more beholden to corporate influence, but that day is here.
All of this is based on the idea that a corporation should have the same rights as a flesh and blood human. In 1886, the Supreme Court Case Santa Clara County v Southern Pacific Railroad featured a statement by Chief Justice Morrison R. Waite which said “The court does not wish to hear argument on the question whether the provision in the Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution, which forbids a State to deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws, applies to these corporations. We are all of the opinion that it does.” By that time, corporations already had the right to enter into legal contracts via Dartmouth College V. Woodward (1819). Essentially, this handed big business the right to challenge the will of the people.
This decision by the Supreme Court isn’t surprising, as the five justices who voted in favor of the ruling are all Republican presidential appointees, who are traditionally pro-corporate and pro-business. The ruling is beyond troubling, as plenty of corporations have used their status as a “legal person” to fight community initiatives that would be beneficial to the public, but put a dent in their profits. In addition, big business already spends untold fortunes lobbying lawmakers to erode rules and regulations to their conduct that would ultimately be beneficial to the public at large.
Basically, the Supreme Court handed American elections and therefore, the American political system, to corporate control. The loyalty of American political candidates has always been suspect, as the citizenry has long complained about the influence big business has on government. Now that big business can make and buy air time, which is where many campaign dollars go to, corporations are only limited by their bank accounts in influencing political campaigns.
Today’s SCOTUS ruling, coupled with the media hubub over the Scott Brown victory in Massechusetts earlier this week, highlight one of America’s biggest problems: we have little to no choice. Politicians and pundits have been pushing the country in a rightward, fascistic direction using a combination of astroturfed underdog propaganda and a weak Democratic party that’s too busy attempting to disavow itself from such “radically leftist” ideas like civil liberties and universal health care.
Here lies the problem in politics: both parties are corrupt beyond repair and we live in binary political system, where politicians spend more time trying to discredit their partisan opposites and maintain their power rather than working for helpful legislation for their constituents. Making the “choice” between a Republican and a Democrat is like saying there’s a huge difference between Coke and Pepsi. Sure, they may taste a bit different to some people, but they’re still the same swill.
Party politics – the idea that we must choose between one of two very shitty options, is what’s killing America. That’s evident from every astroturfed tea party protest to every broken promise from a Democrat all the way to the fact that both Bush and Obama have been waging the same illegal wars abroad while shredding civil liberties at home. We’ve been taught as Americans to fly a red flag or blue flag, then put all our fervor and support behind those banners. If we disagree or have doubts, we’re supposed to just silence ourselves because the “adults” are working on a complicated compromise that will benefit no one but themselves and their sponsors.
Should it be any wonder then, that a huge swath of the American public doesn’t vote? Should it come as a surprise that there’s real justifiable anger (albeit manipulated) behind the tea parties and Palin/Beck’s minions? What happens now that large corporations like XE (formerly Blackwater), get the chance to push harder for a private military held accountable by politicians they help elect?
Today’s ruling sets a frightening precedent, one that will be felt for years to come. We’ve already been sliding down the slippery slope towards fascism for years. The Supreme Court may have just added another nail in the American coffin.
Aaron Cynic is a zine writer, internet radio host, blogger, musician, and project organizer from Chicago. He mainly publishes a zine called Diatribe, but has published a few other one shot zines. Aaron has also contributed to numerous other websites and publications and currently writes for Chicagoist. When he’s not writing or watching bad sci-fi, he’s singing for the band Burning Luck. You can reach Aaron by emailing aaron @ diatribemedia dot com.