America’s Obscenely Rich Know Full Well That They Are Destroying America

By Jim Sleeper, AlterNet, December 9, 2014

Excerpt

…more than a few of these writers resigned and these students marched because they’re indignant as citizens. The eerie dislocations of journalism and criminal justice are only the most recent developments since the passage of the USA Patriot Act, the perpetration of the Iraq War, the capitalist predation and regulatory defaults that have thrown millions of Americans out of their homes and jobs, the revelations about Orwellian state and corporate surveillance that have coalesced into a crisis of legitimacy for the American constitutional system and capitalist republic. Hannah Arendt described the importance of “speech acts” in politics, warning against letting words and deeds get so far apart that the words become empty and the deeds become brutal. Consider first today’s journalistic vortex of increasingly empty words…transformation of American news and opinion outlets into what his CEO Guy Vidra calls “vertically integrated digital media companies.” These ventures break down voices of the American republic into market-driven metrics and repurpose them …to maximize profit, not public deliberation…The answer isn’t that they misread what journalism, politics and capitalism in America are becoming. They read it only too well. The answer is that, like so many other young, market-molded Americans, they don’t understand how the perversion of public life by tsunamis of marketing, financing and technological innovation has decontextualized and overwhelmed thoughtful writing, reading and the habits of mind and heart that sustain republican deliberation and institutions. It is impossible to exaggerate the physical as well as moral danger we are in as a result. We’ve been sleepwalking or dancing up the garden path into it. The American republic – and therefore our expectation that we can express controversial political opinions without going to prison – depends on those habits.…their own lives are spun so finely around commodification that they’ve become its creatures. They may crave a token or two of civic credibility…they lack the civic grounding, the nerve ends, the viscera and the body scars that enable most people to distinguish surface gestures from substantive struggles, and bought speech from real political speech…Although we like to think of ourselves as free men and women, many people’s pressing needs and fears prompted a foot-shuffling deference to power…Leadership to interpret and address the crisis of legitimacy that’s upon us will have to come from people who’ve shared their neighbors’ experiences of expediency and dependency and have found the strength and talent to see past the usual snares and delusions. But in a republic, some citizens have to uphold codes of honor and civic loyalty that are strong enough to keep power responsive to social purposes that can’t be met by markets and can’t be bought off or finessed by them. If capitalism becomes predatory and insinuating, citizens’ codes and trust of one another become empty, the stuff of slick videos and click-bait that lead to slavery. And the predators lose their ability to tell the difference: “Few tricks of the unsophisticated intellect are more curious than the naïve psychology of the business man, who ascribes his achievements to his own unaided efforts, in bland unconsciousness of a social order without whose continuous support and vigilant protection he would be as a lamb bleating in the desert.” That was written by the British economic historian R.H. Tawney in May 1926, in the New Republic — whose present owner is bewildered and bleating. But journalism isn’t justice. It would take a lot more disciplined defiance to make prosecutors and police officers bleat, too. From Nathan Hale and Thomas Paine to Jonathan Schell and Edward Snowden, some Americans have always emerged to announce the need and others to lead in breaking ties that had to be broken and framing new understandings and courses of action that had to be tried.

Full text

The tech oligarchs like Chris Hughes understand the direction this country is going in.

Last Friday, as New Republic writers and contributing editors wrenched themselves out of the whirling, digital vortex into which their employer and Facebook fantasist Chris Hughes is plunging the magazine, I witnessed another wrenching departure, at one of the selective university campuses where most New Republic staffers begin their public lives.

Driving through the Yale campus, I got stuck in traffic as hundreds of law students, undergraduates and faculty, holding hands in a disciplined single file, wended their way from the Yale Law School’s imposing gothic towers to the imposing, marble U.S. Courthouse on the New Haven Green several blocks away.

Indignant at the complicity of prosecutors, grand juries and militarized police departments in shielding uniformed murderers of unarmed black men, the marchers were anything but the conformist “zombies,” preening careerists and “entitled little shits” who fill the pages of former New Republic contributing editor William Deresiewicz’s anti-Ivy jeremiad, “Excellent Sheep.” They were citizens, whose existence he’d ignored, as had the New Republic when it ran an excerpt of his book under the headline,“Don’t Send Your Kids to the Ivy League! The Nation’s Top Colleges Are Turning Our Kids Into Zombies.”

It’s not easy for magazine writers and editors to walk off their jobs these days. And it’s risky for law students, preoccupied with obtaining judicial clerkships and law firms’ signing bonuses that might erase their debts, to interrupt their classes and traffic to denounce prosecutors, grand juries and officers of the law.

Yet more than a few of these writers resigned and these students marched because they’re indignant as citizens. The eerie dislocations of journalism and criminal justice are only the most recent developments since the passage of the USA Patriot Act, the perpetration of the Iraq War, the capitalist predation and regulatory defaults that have thrown millions of Americans out of their homes and jobs, the revelations about Orwellian state and corporate surveillance that have coalesced into a crisis of legitimacy for the American constitutional system and capitalist republic.

Hannah Arendt described the importance of “speech acts” in politics, warning against letting words and deeds get so far apart that the words become empty and the deeds become brutal. Consider first today’s journalistic vortex of increasingly empty words.

Deresiewicz tried to sound an alarm in an essay on the corruption of elite liberal education that went viral and prompted him to write “Excellent Sheep.” But his warnings came on more like fireworks than depth charges because they, too, were part of the tsunami of casino-like financing and consumer-groping that drives the New Republic and his publishers at Free Press. The latter crafted the book and its roll-out ”for coronation by the gilded cage’s resident pundits and conscience keepers, who’ll use it to guide the kept through another empty ritual of self-flagellation on their way back to college this fall,” as I put it in a review for Bookforum.

Hughes’ New Republic then celebrated precisely the empty ritual I’d sketched by packaging Deresiewicz’s chapter under that headline, “Don’t Send Your Kids to the Ivy League!” “Excuse me,” I wrote here in response, “but aren’t most editors, staffers, and writers at that faux-contrarian magazine themselves Ivy Leaguers…? Have they all met and pledged their lives, fortunes, and sacred honor to dethrone their alma maters? … Or are they playing on the insecurities of 18-year-olds and their parents with yet another of the click-bait headlines and graphics they produce each day to redecorate the cage of their own house-broken hopes?”

Not that the pre-Hughes New Republic was much better. Its political incoherence has been characterized smartly by Corey Robin. Bracing though it could be in debunking politically correct indulgences (not least via my own critiques of black racial demagoguery at the time), its treatment of left-liberals was marinated in resentment, whether in Martin Peretz’s and Paul Berman’s attacks on critics of Israel, Michael Kelly’s loathing of Bill Clinton and the left-leaning “sandalistas” of Vermont, and Peter Beinart’s lambasting of opponents of the Iraq War with a fervor worthy of neoconservative field marshal Bill Kristol. (Beinart reversed course several years ago, after leaving the New Republic.)

And nothing compares with the preening, Cold War-ish orotundities of the magazine’s literary editor, Leon Wieseltier, a brilliant editor who should write only three times a year under his own name, and then with an editor at his elbow, because he’s a cankered horror show of unction and alliterative pomposity with the ethics of a faculty-lounge lizard who holds Washington journalists of upper-middling intelligence in his thrall. By comparison, his editorial counterpart at the magazine, Franklin Foer, author of “How Soccer Explains the World” and would-be scourge of Amazon, is at least anodyne.

The magazine has always struggled to be a voice, or at least a forum, for a “liberalism” that has mostly failed to balance its need for citizens to uphold public virtues and beliefs against its knee-jerk obeisance to every whim and riptide of a go-go capitalism that dissolves civic virtues and republican sovereignty itself. What the New Republic lacks is a civic republicanism rooted in something deeper than politics. Under Peretz, it tried Jewish nationalism. Under Hughes, it has nothing, and his writers, lost as they are, can’t help but feel it.

Other liberal magazines also face this problem as they try to present American life to the well-educated reader who seeks “the most comfortable and least compromising attitude he can assume toward capitalist society without being forced into actual conflict,” as the critic Robert Warshow once put it in an essay about the New Yorker.

Hughes’ new New Republic represents the even scarier transformation of American news and opinion outlets into what his CEO Guy Vidra calls “vertically integrated digital media companies.” These ventures break down voices of the American republic into market-driven metrics and repurpose them – as I suspect even Deresiewicz’s book publishers induced him to do somewhat in writing “Excellent Sheep” – to maximize profit, not public deliberation. (I experienced such pressure from Viking/Penguin Books when I was writing “Liberal Racism.” More blood! More angry words! I gave in only a little.)

It’s also worth noting that Hughes’ husband, Sean Eldridge, 28, tried to eviscerate electoral politics pretty much as Hughes was eviscerating the New Republic when the couple bought two estates in two New York congressional districts while Eldridge decided which one to run in. He then funded economic development initiatives in his chosen district, made slick videos proclaiming his love for the Hudson Valley, and launched politically correct but highly negative ads against the conservative but likable and homegrown Republican incumbent Chris Gibson, who won 65 to 35 percent. That public repudiation of Eldridge’s opportunism was as humiliating as the mass resignations at the New Republic have been for Hughes.

How could these guys and eBay founder Pierre Omidyar, creator of the vertically integrated, digital and disastrous First Look Media, have been so blind?

The answer isn’t that they misread what journalism, politics and capitalism in America are becoming. They read it only too well. The answer is that, like so many other young, market-molded Americans, they don’t understand how the perversion of public life by tsunamis of marketing, financing and technological innovation has decontextualized and overwhelmed thoughtful writing, reading and the habits of mind and heart that sustain republican deliberation and institutions.

It is impossible to exaggerate the physical as well as moral danger we are in as a result. We’ve been sleepwalking or dancing up the garden path into it. The American republic – and therefore our expectation that we can express controversial political opinions without going to prison – depends on those habits.

So let’s try to open these men’s eyes to the loss of opportunities and the sickening demoralization they can’t see because their own lives are spun so finely around commodification that they’ve become its creatures. They may crave a token or two of civic credibility — a title like “Publisher of the New Republic” or “Member of Congress.” But they lack the civic grounding, the nerve ends, the viscera and the body scars that enable most people to distinguish surface gestures from substantive struggles, and bought speech from real political speech.

These men’s consuming passions for veneers and the money to sustain them isolates and insulates them from Americans who — like the departed New Republic writers, the voters who rejected Eldridge, and many students and faculty at Yale – have bestirred themselves to challenge riptides that Hughes, Eldridge, Vidra and Omidyar are surfing and even accelerating. Chris Lehmann’s account of Omidyar in In These Times offers a delicious exposition of these surfers. They aren’t as overpowering and irresistible as they seem at first.

An Eldridge campaign video that shows him consulting with citizen-activists in the district he wanted to represent becomes more subtly annoying when one or two of these courted citizens offer testimonials to his hands-on engagement and reliability. Now that he’s unlikely ever again to run for office there, time will tell whether his professed love of the Hudson Valley keeps him funding and working on these economic and other development projects.

Rich misadventurers rush in to fill widening gaps between their wealth and others’ declining fortunes. I saw it in the 1970s while running a newspaper in a beleaguered Brooklyn congressional district represented by multimillionaire Fred Richmond, whose largess kept him in office until his crimes forced his departure.

Although we like to think of ourselves as free men and women, many people’s pressing needs and fears prompted a foot-shuffling deference to power in that district more abject than I’d ever expected.

Richmond, who’d made $40 million (a lot of money in the late 1970s) in the steel industry and then on Wall Street, was old-fashioned enough to crave the legitimacy that might come with prestigious public service. Glimpses I’ve had of Eldridge and Hughes suggest something similarly, almost endearingly old-fashioned in them.

But insinuating oneself into a proprietary posture toward others’ long-term efforts isn’t leadership. Nor is Vidra’s and Omidyar’s arrogance and impatience with underlings. It reminds me of the late Brazilian educator Paolo Freire’s observation, in “Pedagogy of the Oppressed,” that

“Any attempt to ‘soften’ the power of the oppressor always manifests itself in the form of false generosity. In order to express their ‘generosity,’ the oppressors must perpetuate injustice as well. That is why the dispensers of false generosity become desperate at the slightest threat to its source.”

It’s at this point that the more proximate enemy of the needy and those of us who care about the republic becomes not only a Hughes, an Eldridge or an Omidyar but the criminal-justice system and, with it, tragically, the white working-class men I wrote about here a couple of days ago and won’t address again now.

Leadership to interpret and address the crisis of legitimacy that’s upon us will have to come from people who’ve shared their neighbors’ experiences of expediency and dependency and have found the strength and talent to see past the usual snares and delusions.

Interlopers like Hughes and Omidyar, who try to buy leadership in such circumstances, find themselves nourishing only love-hate, passive-aggressive relationships. As a certain social critic once explained, “Money appears as a disruptive power for the individual and social bonds. It changes vice into virtue, stupidity into intelligence. He who can purchase others’ bravery is brave, though a coward … But if you are not able, by the manifestation of yourself as a loving person, to make yourself a beloved person, your love is impotent, and a misfortune.”

I’m far from claiming there’s no social benefit in the creation of Facebook, in which Hughes was involved, and of eBay, which Omidyar founded. Separating the creators’ massive accumulations from conventional social constraints is part of capitalism’s triumph, a source of its dynamism and innovation.

But in a republic, some citizens have to uphold codes of honor and civic loyalty that are strong enough to keep power responsive to social purposes that can’t be met by markets and can’t be bought off or finessed by them. If capitalism becomes predatory and insinuating, citizens’ codes and trust of one another become empty, the stuff of slick videos and click-bait that lead to slavery.

And the predators lose their ability to tell the difference: “Few tricks of the unsophisticated intellect are more curious than the naïve psychology of the business man, who ascribes his achievements to his own unaided efforts, in bland unconsciousness of a social order without whose continuous support and vigilant protection he would be as a lamb bleating in the desert.”

That was written by the British economic historian R.H. Tawney in May 1926, in the New Republic — whose present owner is bewildered and bleating. But journalism isn’t justice. It would take a lot more disciplined defiance to make prosecutors and police officers bleat, too. From Nathan Hale and Thomas Paine to Jonathan Schell and Edward Snowden, some Americans have always emerged to announce the need and others to lead in breaking ties that had to be broken and framing new understandings and courses of action that had to be tried.

Jim Sleeper is the author of Liberal Racism (1997) and The Closest of Strangers: Liberalism and the Politics of Race in New York (1990).

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These Americans Are Fighting for an Actual, Legitimate Democracy, By and For the People

By Kevin Zeese and Margaret FlowersAlterNet, April 18, 2014

Two weeks ago in reaction to the McCutcheon decision we touched on an issue that will become central to our movement [3]: Has the democratic legitimacy of the US government been lost?

We raised this issue by quoting a Supreme Court Justice, former US president and a sitting US Senator:

“The legitimacy of the US government is now in question. By illegitimate we mean it is ruled by the 1%, not a democracy ‘of, by and for the people.’ The US has become a carefully designed plutocracy that creates laws to favor the few. As Stephen Breyer wrote in his dissenting opinion [4], American law is now ‘incapable of dealing with the grave problems of democratic legitimacy.’ Or, as former president, Jimmy Carter said [5] on July 16, 2013 “America does not at the moment have a functioning democracy.”

“Even members of Congress admit there is a problem. Long before the McCutcheon decision Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL) described the impact of the big banks [6] on the government saying: ‘They own the place.’ We have moved into an era of a predatory form of capitalism rooted in big finance where profits are more important than people’s needs or protection of the planet.”

The legitimacy of the US government derives from rule by the people. If the US government has lost its democratic legitimacy, what does that mean? What is the impact? And, what is our responsibility in these circumstances?

We can go back to the founding document of this nation, the Declaration of Independence for guidance. This revolutionary document begins by noting all humans are born with “inalienable rights” and explains “That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted” and that government derives its “powers from the consent of the governed.”  Further, when the government “becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or abolish it, and to institute new government….”

After we wrote about the lost democratic legitimacy of the United States, this new academic study [7], which will be published in Perspectives on Politics, revealed that a review of a unique data set of 1,779 policy issues found:

“In the United States, our findings indicate, the majority does not rule — at least not in the causal sense of actually determining policy outcomes. When a majority of citizens disagrees with economic elites and/or with organized interests, they generally lose. Moreover, because of the strong status quo bias built into the U.S. political system, even when fairly large majorities of Americans favor policy change, they generally do not get it.”

And, this was not the only study to reach this conclusion this week. Another study [8] published in the Political Research Quarterly [9] found that only the rich get represented in the US senate. The researchers studied the voting records of senators in five Congresses and found the Senators were consistently aligned with their wealthiest constituents and lower-class constituents never appeared to influence the Senators’ voting behavior. This oligarchic tendency was even truer when the senate was controlled by Democrats.

Large Majorities of Americans Do Not Rule

Let the enormity of the finding sink in – “the majority does not rule” and “even when fairly large majorities of Americans favor policy change, they generally do not get it.”

Now, for many of us this is not news, but to have an academic study document it by looking at 1,779 policy issues and empirically proving the lack of democratic legitimacy, is a major step forward for people understanding what is really happening in the United States and what we must do.

Before the occupy movement began we published an article, We Stand With the Majority [10], that showed super majorities of the American people consistently support the following agenda:

-       Tax the rich and corporations

-       End the wars, bring the troops home, cut military spending

-       Protect the social safety net, strengthen Social Security and provide  improved Medicare to everyone in the United States

-       End corporate welfare for oil companies and other big business interests

-       Transition to a clean energy economy, reverse environmental degradation

-       Protect worker rights including collective bargaining, create jobs and raise wages

-       Get money out of politics

While there was over 60% support for each item on this agenda, the supposed ‘representatives’ of the people were taking the opposite approach on each issue.  On September 18, the day after OWS began we followed up with a second article dealing with additional issues that showed, the American people would rule better than the political and economic elites [11].

While many Americans think that the government representing wealthy interests is new, in fact it goes back to the founding of the country. Historian Charles Beard [12] wrote in the early 1900’s that the chief aim of the authors of the U.S. Constitution was to protect private property, favoring the economic interests of wealthy merchants and plantation owners rather than the interests of the majority of Americans who were small farmers, laborers, and craft workers.

The person who is credited with being the primary author of the Constitution, James Madison, believed [13] that the primary goal of government is “to protect the minority of the opulent against the majority.” He recognized that “if elections were open to all classes of people, the property of landed proprietors would be insecure.” As a result of these oligarchic views, only 6% of the US population was originally given the right to vote [14]. And, the first chief justice of the US Supreme Court, John Jay believed [15] that “those who own the country ought to govern it.”

This resulted in the wealth of the nation being concentrated among a small percentage of the population and their wealth being created by slaves and other low-paid workers who had no political participation in government. The many creating wealth for the few has continued throughout US history through sweat shops, child labor and now, poverty workers, like those at the nation’s largest employer, Walmart. By putting property ahead of human rights, the Constitution put in place a predatory economic system of wealth creation.

In fact, Sheldon Wolin describes [16] the Constitutional Convention as blocking the colonists desire for democracy, as economic elites “organize[d] a counter-revolution aimed at institutionalizing a counterforce to challenge the prevailing decentralized system of thirteen sovereign states in which some state legislatures were controlled by ‘popular’ forces.” The Constitution was written “to minimize the direct expression of a popular will” and block the “American demos.” For more see our article, Lifting the Veil of Mirage Democracy in the United States [17].

In many respects, since the founding, the people of the United States have been working to democratize the United States. Gradually, the right to vote expanded to include all adults [14], direct election of US Senators was added as a constitutional amendment but these changes do not mean we have a real democracy. The work is not done. The legitimacy of people ruling has not been achieved.

While we have the right to vote, our carefully managed elections consistently give Americans a choice of candidates approved by the wealthiest; and through campaign financing, media coverage, ballot access, managing who participates in debates and other means, the ruling elite ensure an outcome that will not challenge the power of the wealthiest Americans and the country’s biggest businesses.

This week, Nomi Prins, a former managing partner at Goldman Sachs wrote [18] about the long history of how the nation’s biggest bankers have controlled presidents throughout the last century. She writes: “With so much power in the hands of an elite few, America operates more as a plutocracy on behalf of the upper caste than a democracy or a republic. Voters are caught in the crossfire of two political parties vying to run Washington in a manner that benefits the banking caste, regardless of whether a Democrat or Republican is sitting in the Oval.”

In many respects, our task is to complete the American Revolution and create a real democracy where the people rule through fair elections of representatives and there is increased direct and participatory democracy.

The Impact: The Status Quo Reigns

The actions of the illegitimate, corrupt government adversely impact every aspect of our lives [19]. In order to protect the status quo the government takes extreme anti-democratic measures to keep the public uninformed about what they are doing so they can push the agenda of transnational corporations and the wealthiest.

A current example is the Trans Pacific Partnership [20], this trade agreement has been negotiated in secret for more than four years except for 600 corporate advisers who help write the agreement. The media and public have only seen leaked portions and Congress has to jump through hoops to see it and because the TPP is classified as a secret, they cannot discuss it with their staff or constituents. Now, Obama is pushing to fast track it through Congress with little congressional oversight and while stalled because of citizen pressure [21], both parties want to find a way to pass fast track [22]. Can anything be more anti-democratic than a secret negotiation, with virtually no congressional review on an agreement that will affect every aspect of our lives and change numerous domestic laws? European nations may not even be able to protect themselves from NSA [23] spying because of trade agreements.

On issue after issue, the American people want change but they get the status quo.  There are so many examples. The choreographed political battle over healthcare is one; the US did not end up with change [24], we ended up with a healthcare system dominated by the insurance industry [25] expanding the neoliberal model of healthcare designed for investors [26] not patients. Despite the industry being among the most hated by Americans, the Affordable Care Act further entrenched its domination of healthcare. Americans were even forced to buy this hated product.

On energy, polls have shown people want a clean energy economy [27], want subsidies to big oil and nuclear energy ended, but instead they get the opposite. When people protest against pipelines, fracking, coal, off-shore oil and nuclear energy what do they get? They get more pipelines, fracking, coal, off-shore oil and nuclear energy and they get infiltrated and arrested for trying to get the government to respond to their demands.

And, this extreme extraction is directly tied to climate change. The most recent IPCC report [28] shows that if we act now, we can minimize the impact [29] of climate and do so inexpensively – but will the status quo powers that profit from climate change-causing energy allow the government to do what is necessary?

On banking, when the people want bankers to be held accountable, oppose bailing out the big banks when their derivative gambles fail and want transparency in the private corporation known as the Federal Reserve, we get minimal regulation, no criminal prosecutions, expansion of the big banks and minimal audit of the Fed.

These are just a few examples of many. A lot could be written about college tuition [30], corporatization of education [31], housing [32] bubbles, lack of GMO [33] labeling and more.

And, the lack of legitimacy is also highlighted by the lawlessness of the government. The soon-to-be-released (at least in part) CIA torture report is already showing through leaks that, among other things [34], the CIA had black-site [35] torture centers around the world, lied to the Congress and American people [31] about what they were doing and continued torturing despite its failure to protect the country. Despite the seriousness of the crime of torture under both domestic and international law, the only person to go to jail for torture was John Kiriakou [36] who exposed it. Is this how a legitimate government behaves?

We also see the lawlessness approach to government in the dragnet surveillance program of the NSA. Does the Fourth Amendment mean nothing to the illegitimate government? Glenn Greenwald and Laura Poitras, after being threatened by politicians and pundits with arrest, refused to be cowered by threats and returned to the United States [37] this week and were not arrested. Instead, they came back to receive multiple awards [38], including the Pulitizer [39]. All of these journalism awards show how out of step the US security state is with the thinking of journalists and is a vindication for Edward Snowden [40].

But, journalism is threatened. As Chelsea Manning’s appellate lawyers pointed out [41] this week, the fact that Manning was convicted under the Espionage Act without being shown to have any intent to commit espionage puts all journalism at risk. The media better join in helping Manning challenge this issue on appeal or critical reporting will risk an espionage conviction.

Control of the government by big business and the wealthy means we get policies designed to enrich the already wealthy at the expense of the poor, working and middle classes. It means an expanding wealth divide and increasing poverty; a smaller share of profit going to workers while corporations make record profits; and destruction of the planet while a few profit from fracked gas, tar sands, nuclear energy and oil.

How Do We End Plutocracy?

Now that we know we live in a plutocracy – a government ruled by the richest people – with only a false veneer of democracy, not a legitimate government where the people rule, what do we do about it?

The reality that the government has no democratic legitimacy is liberating. Our civil resistance, sit-ins, marches, protests and disobedience of their authority should escalate. At the same time, our efforts to build alternative democratic institutions where we can participate in decision making should also increase. From the community level up we now know we need to build institutions that are legitimate, i.e. that ensure our participation in deciding our future.

We essentially have to remake society, or as President Lincoln said in Gettysburg in 1863 we need “a new birth of freedom.” Lincoln thought we needed to ensure that a government “of the people, by the people, for the people” did “not perish from the earth.” In fact, our task is different – we need to create a government that is of, by and for the people; and we need to do so from the ground up, requiring transformation of the role of people in the economy and government.

Jerome Roos writes in ROAR Magazine [42] that finding the US is not a real democracy is not the real issue. The real issue is “an even thornier question: what if oligarchy, as opposed to democracy, is actually the natural political form in capitalist society? What if the capitalist state is by its very definition an oligarchic form of government? If that’s the case, the authors have merely proved the obvious: that the United States is a thoroughly capitalist society.”

This question is not just the opinion of a European radical, Thomas Edsall writing in The New York Times [43] in reviewing Thomas Piketty’s new book,Capital in the Twenty-First Century, points out that this powerful book makes the point that an expanding wealth divide is the inevitable result of capitalism, and that this creates a conflict with democracy. The book is being described as a watershed for economics, because it demonstrates how the profit of capital exceeds the rate of economic growth. This means a forever expanding wealth divide, unless we do something to change course.

What kind of economy would be consistent with a democracy where the people ruled? In our view, economic democracy where people have ownership of their workplaces,  participate in the management of land and resources, as well as share the wealth created more equitably, would be consistent with a government that is of, by and for the people. As we’ve reported [44] in previous articles we see signs of a new economy based on economic democracy growing in the nation. See our website, It’s Our Economy [45], for more on this issue.

In fact, the history of the United States shows that cooperatives and communal workplaces have been a consistent part of our economy [46] from before our founding. It has always been tied to other movements like the American Revolution, abolition of slavery, women’s rights, worker rights and civil rights [47] – even if the history books do not tell this narrative. You could say it is part of our genetic make-up. Now, we are seeing economic democratic [44] institutions being formed as people share knowledge [48] about how to create them.

Rootstrikers [49], puts forward a view held by many of us, “the corrupting influence of money in politics is the most fundamental threat to our civil rights this century.” Their view is that “people must recognize that corruption is not just one among many important problems. Corruption is the root problem that makes solving the others so difficult.” It is only the “people who can force lasting change on this broken system.”

And, what kinds of changes in government are needed to end the rule of the richest and empower the people? There are constitutional changes that are needed, whether this is done by amendments or by redrafting the constitution is too soon to say. An essential starting point is the agenda of Move To Amend [50]. They call for a constitutional amendment to establish that: (1) money is not speech and (2) human beings, not corporations, are persons entitled to constitutional rights. These changes would reverse a string of Supreme Court decisions ending with Citizens United and McCutcheon and allow the people to demand that Congress change the way elections are financed, limit or even ban electoral donations and keep corporations out of politics. After-all the Constitution says ‘we the people’ not ‘we the corporations.’

But, there are other shortcomings in the 227 year old US Constitution. For example there is no right to vote in the Constitution, there are no equal rights recognized for all people, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights is not recognized, nor are the rights of nature.

And, rights which are recognized are being weakened.  For example, our Freedom of Speech and Press, as well as Assembly have been weakened by court decisions minimizing them and police practices abusing them. They can be strengthened by recognizing our right to information and right to communicate with others. People need the right to express themselves publicly on a broad range of politically relevant subjects without fear of punishment. This will protect access to the Internet, or whatever communication tools are developed, as well as protect whistleblowers providing the information we need in order to participate in self-rule.

These changes can only be made by a mass movement that builds from the bottom up. It requires us to work in our own communities to put in place economic institutions that are democratic as well as political institutions like community assembles that are participatory in their exercise of democracy. It requires us to build an independent citizen’s media so people do not have to rely on concentrated corporate media’s propagandistic reporting. It requires us to say out loud that the US government has lost its democratic legitimacy.

This week, CBS News demonstrated once again that a top priority must be to build our own citizen media. CBS hired a former CIA director, Mike Morell as their senior security analyst [43], even though Morell has already made false, inaccurate and inflammatory statements on the air. Similarly, the new Washington Post owner garnered a contract with the CIA [31] larger than the amount he paid to buy the Post.

A lot of this is already happening but none of it has matured or reached the critical mass needed. As more people awaken to the reality of the depth of corruption in our government and economy, and the mirage of US democracy, the movement will grow and the demands will get stronger.

The Roman philosopher and statesman, Marcus Tullius Cicero said “Freedom is participation in power.”  It is time for the American awakening that ensures we achieve the participation in power that is consistent with our inalienable rights as human beings. That is the task we face. Building the movement to achieve it will be one of the great transformations in human history.

This article is produced by Popular Resistance  [51]in conjunction withAlterNet [52].  It is a weekly review of the activities of the resistance movement.Sign up for the daily news digest of Popular Resistance, here. [53]

 

See more stories tagged with:

democracy [54],

oligarchy [55],

plutocracy [56],

economy [57],

McCutcheon [58]


Source URL: http://www.alternet.org/activism/us-government-has-always-been-plutocracy

Links:
[1] http://alternet.org
[2] http://www.alternet.org/authors/kevin-zeese-and-margaret-flowers
[3] http://www.popularresistance.org/the-mccutcheon-decision-is-our-rallying-cry/
[4] http://www.supremecourt.gov/opinions/13pdf/12-536_e1pf.pdf
[5] http://www.salon.com/2013/07/18/jimmy_carter_us_has_no_functioning_democracy_partner/
[6] http://www.realclearpolitics.com/video/2009/04/29/sen_durbin_banks_own_the_place.html
[7] http://www.popularresistance.org/study-us-is-not-a-democracy/
[8] http://www.popularresistance.org/study-finds-only-the-wealthy-get-represented-in-the-senate/
[9] http://prq.sagepub.com/content/66/3/585.abstract
[10] http://www.popularresistance.org/we-stand-with-the-majority-of-americans-2/
[11] http://www.popularresistance.org/theamericanpeoplecouldrulebetterthanthepoliticalandeconomicelites/
[12] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Charles_A._Beard
[13] http://books.google.com/books?id=NrLv4surz7UC&pg=PA47&lpg=PA47&dq=Madison+%22protect+the+minority+of+the+opulent+from+the+majority%22&source=bl&ots=Ju0FLS7BiE&sig=gREjd_n02Z_AzN-Ml_Vz3PHS6Ng&hl=en&sa=X&ei=_CNQU8OjEpa1yATm0ILgCQ&ved=0CDwQ6AEwAg#v=onepage&q=Madison%20%22protect%20the%20minority%20of%20the%20opulent%20from%20the%20majority%22&f=false
[14] http://www.kqed.org/assets/pdf/education/digitalmedia/us-voting-rights-timeline.pdf
[15] http://books.google.com/books?id=S_c5AAAAcAAJ&pg=PA70#v=onepage&q=%22those%20who%20own%20the%20country%20ought%20to%20govern%20it%22&f=false
[16] http://press.princeton.edu/titles/9175.html
[17] http://truth-out.org/news/item/14489-lifting-the-veil-of-mirage-democracy-in-the-united-states
[18] http://www.popularresistance.org/how-bankers-have-controled-us-politics/
[19] http://www.popularresistance.org/the-bitter-truth-about-money-and-politics/
[20] http://www.popularresistance.org/tag/tpp/
[21] http://www.popularresistance.org/world-citizenry-takes-on-global-corporate-rule/
[22] http://www.popularresistance.org/senator-wyden-starts-round-ii-in-campaign-to-stop-the-tpp/
[23] http://www.popularresistance.org/us-eu-circumvention-of-nsa-spying-would-violate-trade-law/
[24] http://www.popularresistance.org/tell-obama-acas-a-scam-we-need-medicare-for-all/
[25] http://www.popularresistance.org/obamacare-the-biggest-insurance-scam-in-history/
[26] http://www.popularresistance.org/the-neoliberal-turn-in-american-health-care/
[27] http://www.popularresistance.org/global-climate-convergence-call-to-action/
[28] http://www.popularresistance.org/impacts-of-climate-change-part-2-of-the-new-ipcc-report/
[29] http://www.popularresistance.org/climate-report-if-we-act-now-averting-climate-disaster-inexpensive/
[30] http://www.popularresistance.org/the-great-cost-shift-on-higher-education/
[31] http://www.popularresistance.org/cia-torture-report-lies-lies-and-more-lies/
[32] http://www.popularresistance.org/tag/housing/
[33] http://www.popularresistance.org/tag/gmos/
[34] http://www.popularresistance.org/5-revelations-leaked-from-senate-report-exposing-cia-torture/
[35] http://www.popularresistance.org/leaks-of-cia-torture-report-reveal-black-prison-site/
[36] http://www.popularresistance.org/john-kiriakou-needs-you-to-stand-up-for-his-rights/
[37] http://www.popularresistance.org/greenwald-and-poitras-return-to-us-not-arrested-receive-journalism-award/
[38] http://www.popularresistance.org/izzy-award-if-stone-hall-of-fame-honor-scahill-greenwald-turse-carlos-frey/
[39] http://www.popularresistance.org/pulitzer-publishing-nsa-leaks-was-a-public-service/
[40] http://www.popularresistance.org/snowden-statement-on-pulitizer-a-vindication/
[41] http://www.popularresistance.org/chelsea-mannings-lawyers-will-challenge-frightening-espionage-act-on-appeal/
[42] http://www.popularresistance.org/simply-calling-the-us-an-oligarchy-is-not-enough/
[43] http://www.popularresistance.org/capitalism-vs-democracy/
[44] http://www.popularresistance.org/tag/economic-democracy/
[45] http://www.ItsOurEconomy.US
[46] http://truth-out.org/opinion/item/14076-cooperatives-and-community-work-are-part-of-american-dna
[47] http://www.popularresistance.org/cooperative-economics-and-civil-rights/
[48] http://www.popularresistance.org/how-to-start-a-workers-co-operative/
[49] http://www.rootstrikers.org/
[50] https://movetoamend.org/
[51] http://www.PopularResistance.org
[52] http://www.alternet.org
[53] http://www.popularresistance.org/daily-digest/
[54] http://www.alternet.org/tags/democracy
[55] http://www.alternet.org/tags/oligarchy
[56] http://www.alternet.org/tags/plutocracy
[57] http://www.alternet.org/tags/economy-0
[58] http://www.alternet.org/tags/mccutcheon
[59] http://www.alternet.org/%2Bnew_src%2B

 

US Is an Oligarchy Not a Democracy, says Scientific Study

by Eric ZuesseCommon Dreams, April 14, 2014

study, to appear in the Fall 2014 issue of the academic journal Perspectives on Politics, finds that the U.S. is no democracy, but instead an oligarchy, meaning profoundly corrupt, so that the answer to the study’s opening question, “Who governs? Who really rules?” in this country, is:

“Despite the seemingly strong empirical support in previous studies for theories of majoritarian democracy, our analyses suggest that majorities of the American public actually have little influence over the policies our government adopts. Americans do enjoy many features central to democratic governance, such as regular elections, freedom of speech and association, and a widespread (if still contested) franchise. But, …” and then they go on to say, it’s not true, and that, “America’s claims to being a democratic society are seriously threatened” by the findings in this, the first-ever comprehensive scientific study of the subject, which shows that there is instead “the nearly total failure of ‘median voter’ and other Majoritarian Electoral Democracy theories [of America]. When the preferences of economic elites and the stands of organized interest groups are controlled for, the preferences of the average American appear to have only a minuscule, near-zero, statistically non-significant impact upon public policy.”

To put it short: The United States is no democracy, but actually an oligarchy.

The authors of this historically important study are Martin Gilens and Benjamin I. Page, and their article is titled “Testing Theories of American Politics.” The authors clarify that the data available are probably under-representing the actual extent of control of the U.S. by the super-rich:

Economic Elite Domination theories do rather well in our analysis, even though our findings probably understate the political influence of elites. Our measure of the preferences of wealthy or elite Americans – though useful, and the best we could generate for a large set of policy cases – is probably less consistent with the relevant preferences than are our measures of the views of ordinary citizens or the alignments of engaged interest groups. Yet we found substantial estimated effects even when using this imperfect measure. The real-world impact of elites upon public policy may be still greater.

Nonetheless, this is the first-ever scientific study of the question of whether the U.S. is a democracy. “Until recently it has not been possible to test these contrasting theoretical predictions [that U.S. policymaking operates as a democracy, versus as an oligarchy, versus as some mixture of the two] against each other within a single statistical model. This paper reports on an effort to do so, using a unique data set that includes measures of the key variables for 1,779 policy issues.” That’s an enormous number of policy-issues studied.

What the authors are able to find, despite the deficiencies of the data, is important: the first-ever scientific analysis of whether the U.S. is a democracy, or is instead an oligarchy, or some combination of the two. The clear finding is that the U.S. is an oligarchy, no democratic country, at all. American democracy is a sham, no matter how much it’s pumped by the oligarchs who run the country (and who control the nation’s “news” media). The U.S., in other words, is basically similar to Russia or most other dubious “electoral” “democratic” countries. We weren’t formerly, but we clearly are now. Today, after this exhaustive analysis of the data, “the preferences of the average American appear to have only a minuscule, near-zero, statistically non-significant impact upon public policy.” That’s it, in a nutshell.

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 License.

Investigative historian Eric Zuesse is the author, most recently, of They’re Not Even Close: The Democratic vs. Republican Economic Records, 1910-2010,and of CHRIST’S VENTRILOQUISTS: The Event that Created Christianity.

more Eric Zuesse


Article printed from www.CommonDreams.org

Source URL: http://www.commondreams.org/view/2014/04/14

Is American democracy headed to extinction?

By Stein Ringen, March 28, 2014 washingtonpost.com/opinions

Excerpt

Behind dysfunctional government, is democracy itself in decay?…In the United States and Britain, democracy is disintegrating when it should be nurtured by leadership…In Athens, democracy disintegrated when the rich grew super-rich, refused to play by the rules and undermined the established system of government. That is the point that the United States and Britain have reached….It is not inequality as such that destroys democracy but the more recent combination of inequality and transgression….…Economic inequality has followed through to political inequality, and democratic government is bereft of power and capacity…

Democracy is not the default. It is a form of government that must be created with determination and that will disintegrate unless nurtured. In the United States and Britain, democracy is disintegrating when it should be nurtured by leadership…Power has been sucked out of the constitutional system [citizens] and usurped by actors such as PACs, think tanks, media and lobbying organizations…Rich supporters get two swings at influencing politics, one as voters and one as donors. Others have only the vote, a power that diminishes as political inflation deflates its value…

Full text

Behind dysfunctional government, is democracy itself in decay?

It took only 250 years for democracy to disintegrate in ancient Athens. A wholly new form of government was invented there in which the people ruled themselves. That constitution proved marvelously effective. Athens grew in wealth and capacity, saw off the Persian challenge, established itself as the leading power in the known world and produced treasures of architecture, philosophy and art that bedazzle to this day. But when privilege, corruption and mismanagement took hold, the lights went out.

It would be 2,000 years before democracy was reinvented in the U.S. Constitution, now as representative democracy. Again, government by popular consent proved ingenious. The United States grew into the world’s leading power — economically, culturally and militarily. In Europe, democracies overtook authoritarian monarchies and fascist and communist dictatorships. In recent decades, democracy’s spread has made the remaining autocracies a minority.

The second democratic experiment is approaching 250 years. It has been as successful as the first. But the lesson from Athens is that success does not breed success. Democracy is not the default. It is a form of government that must be created with determination and that will disintegrate unless nurtured. In the United States and Britain, democracy is disintegrating when it should be nurtured by leadership. If the lights go out in the model democracies, they will not stay on elsewhere.

It’s not enough for governments to simply be democratic; they must deliver or decay. In Britain, government is increasingly ineffectual. The constitutional scholar Anthony King has described it as declining from “order” to “mess” in less than 30 years. During 10 years of New Labor rule, that proposition was tested and confirmed. In 1997 a new government was voted in with a mandate and determination to turn the tide on Thatcherite inequality. It was given all the parliamentary power a democratic government could dream of and benefited from 10 years of steady economic growth. But a strong government was defeated by a weak system of governance. It delivered nothing of what it intended and left Britain more unequal than where the previous regime had left off.

The next government, a center-right coalition, has proved itself equally unable. It was supposed to repair damage from the economic crisis but has responded with inaction on the causes of crisis, in a monopolistic financial-services sector, and with a brand of austerity that protects the privileged at the expense of the poor. Again, what has transpired is inability rather than ill will. Both these governments came up against concentrations of economic power that have become politically unmanageable.

Meanwhile, the health of the U.S. system is even worse than it looks. The three branches of government are designed to deliver through checks and balances. But balance has become gridlock, and the United States is not getting the governance it needs. Here, the link between inequality and inability is on sharp display. Power has been sucked out of the constitutional system and usurped by actors such as PACs, think tanks, media and lobbying organizations.

In the age of mega-expensive politics, candidates depend on sponsors to fund permanent campaigns. When money is allowed to transgress from markets, where it belongs, to politics, where it has no business, those who control it gain power to decide who the successful candidates will be — those they wish to fund — and what they can decide once they are in office. Rich supporters get two swings at influencing politics, one as voters and one as donors. Others have only the vote, a power that diminishes as political inflation deflates its value. It is a misunderstanding to think that candidates chase money. It is money that chases candidates.

In Athens, democracy disintegrated when the rich grew super-rich, refused to play by the rules and undermined the established system of government. That is the point that the United States and Britain have reached.

Nearly a century ago, when capitalist democracy was in a crisis not unlike the present one, Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis warned: “We may have democracy, or we may have wealth concentrated in the hands of a few, but we can’t have both.” Democracy weathered that storm for two reasons: It is not inequality as such that destroys democracy but the more recent combination of inequality and transgression. Furthermore, democracy was then able to learn from crisis. The New Deal tempered economic free-for-all, primarily through the 1933 Banking Act, and gave the smallfolk new social securities.

The lesson from Athens is that success breeds complacency. People, notably those in privilege, stopped caring and democracy was neglected. Six years after the global economic crisis, the signs from the model democracies are that those in privilege are unable to care and that our systems are unable to learn. The crisis started in out-of-control financial services industries in the United States and Britain, but control has not been reasserted. Economic inequality has followed through to political inequality, and democratic government is bereft of power and capacity. Brandeis was not wrong; he was ahead of his time.

Stein Ringen is an emeritus professor at Oxford University and the author of “Nation of Devils: Democratic Leadership and the Problem of Obedience.”

Bill Moyers: ‘We Are This Close to Losing Our Democracy to the Mercenary Class’

NOTE – here’s a short video – Bill Moyers: ‘We Are This Close to Losing Our Democracy to the Mercenary Class’ – video http://www.upworthy.com/if-more-people-knew-the-secrets-those-in-power-keep-from-us-all-we-would-toss-them-out-on-their-ear?c=ufb1

By Bill Moyers, TomDispatch, posted on Alternet,org,  December 12, 2013  

I met Supreme Court Justice William Brennan in 1987 when I was creating a series for public television called In Search of the Constitution, celebrating the bicentennial of our founding document.  By then, he had served on the court longer than any of his colleagues and had written close to 500 majority opinions, many of them addressing fundamental questions of equality, voting rights, school segregation, and — in New York Times v. Sullivan in particular — the defense of a free press.

Those decisions brought a storm of protest from across the country.  He claimed that he never took personally the resentment and anger directed at him.  He did, however, subsequently reveal that his own mother told him she had always liked his opinions when he was on the New Jersey court, but wondered now that he was on the Supreme Court, “Why can’t you do it the same way?” His answer: “We have to discharge our responsibility to enforce the rights in favor of minorities, whatever the majority reaction may be.”

Although a liberal, he worried about the looming size of government. When he mentioned that modern science might be creating “a Frankenstein,” I asked, “How so?”  He looked around his chambers and replied, “The very conversation we’re now having can be overheard. Science has done things that, as I understand it, makes it possible through these drapes and those windows to get something in here that takes down what we’re talking about.”

That was long before the era of cyberspace and the maximum surveillance state that grows topsy-turvy with every administration.  How I wish he were here now — and still on the Court!

My interview with him was one of 12 episodes in that series on the Constitution.  Another concerned a case he had heard back in 1967.  It involved a teacher named Harry Keyishian who had been fired because he would not sign a New York State loyalty oath.  Justice Brennan ruled that the loyalty oath and other anti-subversive state statutes of that era violated First Amendment protections of academic freedom.

I tracked Keyishian down and interviewed him.  Justice Brennan watched that program and was fascinated to see the actual person behind the name on his decision.  The journalist Nat Hentoff, who followed Brennan’s work closely, wrote, “He may have seen hardly any of the litigants before him, but he searched for a sense of them in the cases that reached him.”  Watching the interview with Keyishian, he said, “It was the first time I had seen him.  Until then, I had no idea that he and the other teachers would have lost everything if the case had gone the other way.”

Toward the end of his tenure, when he was writing an increasing number of dissents on the Rehnquist Court, Brennan was asked if he was getting discouraged. He smiled and said, “Look, pal, we’ve always known — the Framers knew — that liberty is a fragile thing.  You can’t give up.”  And he didn’t.

The Donor Class and Streams of Dark Money

The historian Plutarch warned us long ago of what happens when there is no brake on the power of great wealth to subvert the electorate.  “The abuse of buying and selling votes,” he wrote of Rome, “crept in and money began to play an important part in determining elections.  Later on, this process of corruption spread in the law courts and to the army, and finally, when even the sword became enslaved by the power of gold, the republic was subjected to the rule of emperors.”

We don’t have emperors yet, but we do have the Roberts Court that consistently privileges the donor class.

We don’t have emperors yet, but we do have a Senate in which, as a study by the political scientist Larry Bartels reveals, “Senators appear to be considerably more responsive to the opinions of affluent constituents than to the opinions of middle-class constituents, while the opinions of constituents in the bottom third of the income distribution have no apparent statistical effect on their senators’ roll call votes.”

We don’t have emperors yet, but we have a House of Representatives controlled by the far right that is now nourished by streams of “dark money” unleashed thanks to the gift bestowed on the rich by the Supreme Court in the Citizens United case.

We don’t have emperors yet, but one of our two major parties is now dominated by radicals engaged in a crusade of voter suppression aimed at the elderly, the young, minorities, and the poor; while the other party, once the champion of everyday working people, has been so enfeebled by its own collaboration with the donor class that it offers only token resistance to the forces that have demoralized everyday Americans.

Writing in the Guardian recently, the social critic George Monbiot commented,

“So I don’t blame people for giving up on politics… When a state-corporate nexus of power has bypassed democracy and made a mockery of the voting process, when an unreformed political system ensures that parties can be bought and sold, when politicians [of the main parties] stand and watch as public services are divvied up by a grubby cabal of privateers, what is left of this system that inspires us to participate?”

Why are record numbers of Americans on food stamps? Because record numbers of Americans are in poverty. Why are people falling through the cracks? Because there are cracks to fall through. It is simply astonishing that in this rich nation more than 21 million Americans are still in need of full-time work, many of them running out of jobless benefits, while our financial class pockets record profits, spends lavishly on campaigns to secure a political order that serves its own interests, and demands that our political class push for further austerity. Meanwhile, roughly 46 million Americans live at or below the poverty line and, with the exception of Romania, no developed country has a higher percent of kids in poverty than we do.  Yet a study by scholars at Northwestern University and Vanderbilt finds little support among the wealthiest Americans for policy reforms to reduce income inequality.

Class Prerogatives

Listen!  That sound you hear is the shredding of the social contract.

Ten years ago the Economist magazine — no friend of Marxism — warned: “The United States risks calcifying into a European-style class-based society.”  And as a recent headline in the Columbia Journalism Review put it: “The line between democracy and a darker social order is thinner than you think.”

We are this close – this close! – to losing our democracy to the mercenary class. So close it’s as if we’re leaning way over the rim of the Grand Canyon waiting for a swift kick in the pants.

When Justice Brennan and I talked privately in his chambers before that interview almost 20 years ago, I asked him how he had come to his liberal sentiments.  “It was my neighborhood,” he said.  Born to Irish immigrants in 1906, as the harsh indignities of the Gilded Age brought hardship and deprivation to his kinfolk and neighbors, he saw “all kinds of suffering — people had to struggle.”  He never forgot those people or their struggles, and he believed it to be our collective responsibility to create a country where they would have a fair chance to a decent life.  “If you doubt it,” he said, “read the Preamble [to the Constitution].”

He then asked me how I had come to my philosophy about government (knowing that I had been in both the Kennedy and Johnson administrations).  I don’t remember my exact words, but I reminded him that I had been born in the midst of the Great Depression to parents, one of whom had to drop out of school in the fourth grade, the other in the eighth, because they were needed in the fields to pick cotton to help support their families.

Franklin Roosevelt, I recalled, had been president during the first 11 years of my life.  My father had listened to his radio “fireside chats” as if they were gospel; my brother went to college on the G.I. Bill; and I had been the beneficiary of public schools, public libraries, public parks, public roads, and two public universities.  How could I not think that what had been so good for me would be good for others, too?

That was the essence of what I told Justice Brennan.  Now, I wish that I could talk to him again, because I failed to mention perhaps the most important lesson about democracy I ever learned.

On my 16th birthday in 1950, I went to work for the daily newspaper in the small East Texas town where I grew up.  It was a racially divided town — about 20,000 people, half of them white, half of them black — a place where you could grow up well-loved, well-taught, and well-churched, and still be unaware of the lives of others merely blocks away.  It was nonetheless a good place to be a cub reporter: small enough to navigate but big enough to keep me busy and learning something new every day.  I soon had a stroke of luck.  Some of the old-timers in the newsroom were on vacation or out sick, and I got assigned to report on what came to be known as the “Housewives’ Rebellion.”  Fifteen women in town (all white) decided not to pay the Social Security withholding tax for their domestic workers (all black).

They argued that Social Security was unconstitutional, that imposing it was taxation without representation, and that — here’s my favorite part — “requiring us to collect [the tax] is no different from requiring us to collect the garbage.”  They hired themselves a lawyer — none other than Martin Dies, Jr., the former congressman best known, or worst known, for his work as head of the House Committee on Un-American Activities in the witch-hunting days of the 1930s and 1940s.  They went to court — and lost.  Social Security was constitutional, after all.  They held their noses and paid the tax.

The stories I helped report were picked up by the Associated Press and circulated nationwide.  One day, the managing editor, Spencer Jones, called me over and pointed to the AP ticker beside his desk.  Moving across the wire was a notice citing the reporters on our paper for the reporting we had done on the “rebellion.”  I spotted my name and was hooked.  In one way or another, after a detour through seminary and then into politics and government, I’ve been covering the class war ever since.

Those women in Marshall, Texas, were among its advance guard.  Not bad people, they were regulars at church, their children were my classmates, many of them were active in community affairs, and their husbands were pillars of the business and professional class in town.  They were respectable and upstanding citizens all, so it took me a while to figure out what had brought on that spasm of reactionary defiance.  It came to me one day, much later: they simply couldn’t see beyond their own prerogatives.

Fiercely loyal to their families, to their clubs, charities, and congregations — fiercely loyal, in other words, to their own kind — they narrowly defined membership in democracy to include only people like themselves.  The black women who washed and ironed their laundry, cooked their families’ meals,  cleaned their bathrooms, wiped their children’s bottoms, and made their husbands’ beds, these women, too, would grow old and frail, sick and decrepit, lose their husbands and face the ravages of time alone, with nothing to show for their years of labor but the creases on their brows and the knots on their knuckles.  There would be nothing for them to live on but the modest return on their toil secured by the collaborative guarantee of a safety net.

The Unfinished Work of America

In one way or another, this is the oldest story in America: the struggle to determine whether “we, the people” is a moral compact embedded in a political contract or merely a charade masquerading as piety and manipulated by the powerful and privileged to sustain their own way of life at the expense of others.

I should make it clear that I don’t harbor any idealized notion of politics and democracy.  Remember, I worked for Lyndon Johnson.  Nor do I romanticize “the people.” You should read my mail and posts on right-wing websites.  I understand the politician in Texas who said of the state legislature, “If you think these guys are bad, you should see their constituents.”

But there is nothing idealized or romantic about the difference between a society whose arrangements roughly serve all its citizens (something otherwise known as social justice) and one whose institutions have been converted into a stupendous fraud.  That can be the difference between democracy and plutocracy.

Toward the end of Justice Brennan’s tenure on the Supreme Court, he made a speech that went to the heart of the matter.  He said:

“We do not yet have justice, equal and practical, for the poor, for the members of minority groups, for the criminally accused, for the displaced persons of the technological revolution, for alienated youth, for the urban masses… Ugly inequities continue to mar the face of the nation. We are surely nearer the beginning than the end of the struggle.”

And so we are. One hundred and fifty years ago, Abraham Lincoln stood on the blood-soaked battlefield of Gettysburg and called Americans to “the great task remaining.”  That “unfinished work,” as he named it, remained the same then as it was when America’s founding generation began it. And it remains the same today: to breathe new life into the promise of the Declaration of Independence and to assure that the Union so many have sacrificed to save is a union worth saving.

 

See more stories tagged with:

bill moyers [4],

Justice William Brennan [5],

class warfare [6],

roberts court [7],

plutocracy [8],

dark money [9]


Source URL: http://www.alternet.org/news-amp-politics/bill-moyers-we-are-close-losing-our-democracy-mercenary-class

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[1] http://www.tomdispatch.com/
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[4] http://www.alternet.org/tags/bill-moyers
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[6] http://www.alternet.org/tags/class-warfare-0
[7] http://www.alternet.org/tags/roberts-court
[8] http://www.alternet.org/tags/plutocracy
[9] http://www.alternet.org/tags/dark-money
[10] http://www.alternet.org/%2Bnew_src%2B

Anger Can Be Power

By THOMAS B. EDSALL, New York TImes, October 8, 2013

Excerpt

These are extraordinary times. The depth and strength of voters’ conviction that their opponents are determined to destroy their way of life has rarely been matched, perhaps only by the mood of the South in the years leading up to the Civil War…They lack the power to control their own government. But they still have just enough to shut it down. Animosity toward the federal government has been intensifying at a stunning rate. In a survey released on Sept. 23, Gallup found that the percentage of Republicans saying the federal government has too much power — 81 percent — had reached a record-setting level. The movement to the right on the part of the Republican electorate can be seen in Gallup surveys calculating that the percentage of Republicans who identify themselves as conservative grew between 2002 and 2010 by 10 percentage points, from 62 to 72 percent. During the same period, the percentage of Republicans who identify themselves as moderates fell from 31 to 23 percent. These trends date back to the 1970s….pollster Stan…Greenberg’s premise is that “you cannot understand the government shutdown unless you understand the G.O.P. from the inside.” Greenberg puts Republicans into three categories: evangelical and religiously observant voters (47 percent); libertarian-leaning Tea Party supporters (22 percent); and moderates (25 percent)….One of the key factors pushing Republicans to extremes, according to Greenberg’s report, is the intensity of animosity toward Obama…the base supporters are very conscious of being white in a country with growing minorities. Their party is losing to a Democratic Party of big government whose goal is to expand programs that mainly benefit minorities. Race remains very much alive in the politics of the Republican Party. Voters like this, according to the report, are convinced that they have lost the larger battle:… Republicans see a president who has fooled and manipulated the public, lied, and gotten his secret socialist-Marxist agenda done. Republicans and their kind of Americans are losing… They believe this is an electoral strategy — not just a political ideology or economic philosophy. “These voters think they are losing the country,…The evangelical and Tea Party wings of the Republican Party combine into a clear majority of Republican voters...Big government, Obama, the loss of liberty, and decline of responsibility are central to the Tea Party worldview….A determined minority can do a lot in our system. It has already won the battle for the hearts and minds of the Republican House caucus. That is not a modest victory.

Full text

These are extraordinary times. The depth and strength of voters’ conviction that their opponents are determined to destroy their way of life has rarely been matched, perhaps only by the mood of the South in the years leading up to the Civil War.

In a recent column for Bloomberg View, my friend Frank Wilkinson put together a concise explanation:

A lot of Americans were not ready for a mixed-race president. They weren’t ready for gay marriage. They weren’t ready for the wave of legal and illegal immigration that redefined American demographics over the past two or three decades, bringing in lots of nonwhites. They weren’t ready — who was? — for the brutal effects of globalization on working- and middle-class Americans or the devastating fallout from the financial crisis.

Their representatives didn’t stop Obamacare. And their side didn’t “take back America” in 2012 as Fox News and conservative radio personalities led them to believe they would. They feel the culture is running away from them (and they’re mostly right). They lack the power to control their own government. But they still have just enough to shut it down.

Animosity toward the federal government has been intensifying at a stunning rate. In a survey released on Sept. 23, Gallup found that the percentage of Republicans saying the federal government has too much power — 81 percent — had reached a record-setting level.

The movement to the right on the part of the Republican electorate can be seen in Gallup surveys calculating that the percentage of Republicans who identify themselves as conservative grew between 2002 and 2010 by 10 percentage points, from 62 to 72 percent. During the same period, the percentage of Republicans who identify themselves as moderates fell from 31 to 23 percent.

These trends date back to the 1970s. Surveys conducted by American National Election Studies found that the percentage of self-described conservative Republicans rose from 42 in 1972 to 65 percent in 2008, while the percentage of moderate Republicans fell from 26 to 16 percent. Liberal Republicans — remember them? — fell from 10 to 4 percent.

Take the findings of a Pew Research Center survey released four weeks ago. They show that discontent with Republican House and Senate leaders runs deep among Republican primary voters: two-thirds of them disapprove of their party’s Congressional leadership — John Boehner, the speaker of the House, and Mitch McConnell, the Senate minority leader.

Sometimes you have to turn to the know-your-enemy people to understand what’s going on. The Democratic pollster Stan Greenberg of Greenberg Quinlan Rosner is one of the keenest observers of the contemporary Republican electorate. He is conducting an ongoing study called the “The Republican Party Project” for the liberal nonprofit organization Democracy Corps. Greenberg’s premise is that “you cannot understand the government shutdown unless you understand the G.O.P. from the inside.”

Greenberg puts Republicans into three categories (Figure 1): evangelical and religiously observant voters (47 percent); libertarian-leaning Tea Party supporters (22 percent); and moderates (25 percent).

Last week Greenberg released the results of six focus groups conducted with evangelical and other religiously observant Republicans (in Roanoke, Va., and Colorado Springs, Colo.), Tea Party supporters who are not evangelicals (Raleigh, N.C., and Roanoke), and moderate Republicans (Raleigh and Colorado Springs).

One of the key factors pushing Republicans to extremes, according to Greenberg’s report, is the intensity of animosity toward Obama. This animosity among participants in all six focus groups is reflected in Figure 2, which represents a “word cloud” of focus group references to the president, with the size of each word in the cloud proportional to the frequency with which it was used.

In the six focus groups of Republican voters, according to Greenberg’s report, “few explicitly talk about Obama in racial terms,” but the base supporters are very conscious of being white in a country with growing minorities. Their party is losing to a Democratic Party of big government whose goal is to expand programs that mainly benefit minorities. Race remains very much alive in the politics of the Republican Party.

Voters like this, according to the report, are convinced that they have lost the larger battle:

While many voters, including plenty of Democrats, question whether Obama is succeeding and getting his agenda done, Republicans think he has won. The country as a whole may think gridlock has triumphed, particularly in the midst of a Republican-led government shutdown, but Republicans see a president who has fooled and manipulated the public, lied, and gotten his secret socialist-Marxist agenda done. Republicans and their kind of Americans are losing.

In his report for the Democracy Corps, Greenberg describes the Republican base electorate as fearful of being strategically outmaneuvered:

They think they face a victorious Democratic Party that is intent on expanding government to increase dependency and therefore electoral support. It starts with food stamps and unemployment benefits; expands further if you legalize the illegals; but insuring the uninsured dramatically grows those dependent on government. They believe this is an electoral strategy — not just a political ideology or economic philosophy. If Obamacare happens, the Republican Party may be lost, in their view.

Conservative troops blame moderate Republican for what they see as Democratic victories. The Republican base thinks they are losing politically and losing control of the country – and their starting reaction is “worried,” “discouraged,” “scared,” and “concerned” about the direction of the country – and a little powerless to change course. They think Obama has imposed his agenda, while Republicans in D.C. let him get away with it.

Figure 3 represents a second word cloud generated by Greenberg’s data showing which words came up most often in all six focus groups:

Greenberg’s study found that in the view of many, if not most, Republicans the Democratic Party exists to create programs and dependency – the food stamp hammock, entitlements, the 47 percent. And on the horizon — comprehensive immigration reform and Obamacare. Citizenship for 12 million illegals and tens of million getting free health care is the end of the road.

“These voters think they are losing the country,” Greenberg said during an Oct. 3 conference call with reporters.

Among Greenberg’s other findings from his focus groups:

  • The participants “are very conscious of being white in a country that is increasingly minority.”
  • Republican voters are threatened by Obama and the Democratic Party, but they are angry at their own party leaders. “The problem in D.C. is not gridlock; Obama has won; the problem is Republicans failing to stop him.”
  • Together, evangelicals and Tea Party supporters comprise more than half the party. Moderates, about a quarter of Republicans, “are very conscious of being illegitimate within their own party.”

The evangelical and Tea Party wings of the Republican Party combine into a clear majority of Republican voters, and according to Greenberg, they have a mutually reinforcing relationship:

Social issues are central for Evangelicals and they feel a deep sense of cultural and political loss. They believe their towns, communities, and schools are suffering from a deep “culture rot” that has invaded from the outside. The central focus here is homosexuality, but also the decline of homogenous small towns. They like the Tea Party because they stand up to the Democrats.

Tea Party supporters, according to Greenberg’s research, have a more libertarian edge, but their worldview is compatible with the evangelical agenda:

Big government, Obama, the loss of liberty, and decline of responsibility are central to the Tea Party worldview. Obama’s America is an unmitigated evil based on big government, regulations, and dependency. They are not focused on social issues at all. They like the Tea Party because it is getting “back to basics” and believe it has the potential to reshape the G.O.P.

John Boehner is just the kind of Republican leader the hard right dislikes – a deal maker, a compromiser. The Republican primary electorate, with its hold on a solid block of Republican representatives and its ability to recruit and promote challengers, now has Boehner trapped. Personally inclined to find his way out of the face-to-face confrontation – he is, after all, a career politician loath to shut down the government — Boehner has been forced into a confrontation, with less and less room for negotiation with his own party’s warring flanks and with Democrats.

Two days after Obama’s re-election, when Republicans lost eight seats but retained their House majority (232 to 200, with three vacancies), Boehner was asked by Diane Sawyer on ABC, “You have said next year that you would repeal the health care vote. That’s still your mission?” Boehner replied: “Well, I think the election changes that. It’s pretty clear that the president was re-elected, Obamacare is the law of the land.”

That same day, Michael O’Brien of NBC News suggested that

The speaker’s pronouncement, if nothing else, signifies a pivot away from Republicans’ efforts to showcase for conservatives their doggedness in looking to repeal Obamacare.

Nearly a year later, on Oct. 6, Boehner admitted that he had been forced to capitulate by constituent pressures on Republican members of the House. Appearing again on ABC, this time with George Stephanopoulos, Boehner said, “I and my members decided the threat of Obamacare and what was happening was so important that it was time for us to take a stand.”

Stephanopoulos asked, “Did you decide it or was it decided for you?” Boehner’s answer: I, working with my members, decided to do this in a unified way. George, I have 233 Republicans in the House. And you’ve never seen a more dedicated group of people who are thoroughly concerned about the future of our country. They believe that Obamacare, all these regulations coming out of the administration, are threatening the future for our kids and our grandkids. It is time for us to stand and fight.

A determined minority can do a lot in our system. It has already won the battle for the hearts and minds of the Republican House caucus. That is not a modest victory.

http://opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/2013/10/08/anger-can-be-power/?nl=opinion&emc=edit_ty_20131009

Ignore the Spin: This Debt Ceiling Crisis is Not Politics as Usual

by John Light, BillMoyers.com, October 9, 2013

Never before has a minority party linked controversial legislative demands with a threat to shut down the government or imperil the global economy. But House Republicans would have you believe otherwise.

In an op-ed in The Wall Street Journal this morning, Rep. Paul Ryan writes that president Obama “says he ‘will not negotiate’ on the debt ceiling. He claims that such negotiations would be unprecedented. But many presidents have negotiated on the debt ceiling—including him. ”

Ryan was referring to a speech given in September before the Business Roundtable — an association of CEOs of large US companies — in which the president said, “You have never seen in the history of the United States the debt ceiling or the threat of not raising the debt ceiling being used to extort a president or a governing party, and trying to force issues that have nothing to do with the budget and have nothing to do with the debt.”

Ryan continued: “He’s refusing to talk, even though the federal government is about to hit the debt ceiling. That’s a shame — because this doesn’t have to be another crisis. It could be a breakthrough.”

But that’s spin: Negotiating would set a dangerous precedent, because Obama’s right that this time really is different. Here are three reasons why.

1. Republicans are testing a new strategy of refusing to negotiate until crisis point

Republican lawmakers such as Ryan push the narrative that Democrats and the president won’t negotiate — but in fact, as Alex Seitz-Wald writes for the National Journal, Democrats requested a conference on the budget with Republicans 19 times between April and October. Republicans blocked all 19 requests. Now that the government is in crisis, Republicans say they want to negotiate, hoping that Democrats feel backed into a corner. But Democrats know that if they accept that paradigm, they’ll be right back in that corner in a few month’s time.

2. The debt ceiling is becoming a more common, and more dangerous, negotiating tool

John Boehner recently claimed that linking the budget to the debt ceiling (and thereby risking default if budget negotiations get ugly) is routine. This, in fact, is not true, writes Richard Kogan, a former Senior Adviser at the Office of Management and Budget. Boehner cited seven debt ceiling increases from Reagan through Clinton tied to budget measures — but, in fact, since Reagan was inaugurated, Congress has rasied the debt ceiling 45 times.

Ryan and others also claim that holding the debt ceiling hostage is something both parties do. Slate’s Dave Weigel runs through why the handful of times Democrats did not quickly give the president a debt limit increase have few parallels to today — in every case, a clean debt ceiling increase got through before the country got close to the impasse we’re at now. Weigel writes:

Raising the debt limit has always been unpopular, and tough to explain to voters. A few times, Democrats balked at raising it for a few days to make a point, then caved in. Many more times, they’ve just voted for the damn thing. John Boehner’s Republicans have only ever agreed to raise the debt limit if they won major policy concessions from the president. Both parties don’t do it. One party does it.

3. Some are actually willing to default

Lastly, this time is different because, for the first time in history, a large contingent of the minority party, The New York Times reports today, “isn’t buying the apocalyptic warnings that a default on United States government debt would lead to a global economic cataclysm.”

“I think we need to have that moment where we realize [we’re] going broke,” Ted Yoho (R-FL) told The Washington Post, arguing for default. “I think, personally, it would bring stability to the world markets.”

The Post’s Ezra Klein called this kind of thinking “terrifying,” writing:

Analogies between the finances of families and government are typically pretty flawed. But there’s one worth drawing here: That moment when a family realizes it’s broke and stops paying their mortgage, credit card bill, etc? It’s not a good moment for them. It’s a moment that wrecks their credit score and makes it harder for them to be “not-broke” ever again. To try and improve the U.S.’s finances by sharply and permanently increasing its borrowing costs is like trying to prove to your sister that her house is a firetrap by actually setting it on fire. But Yoho and friends are getting plaudits from the cramped, closed information loop they favor.

Yoho and like-minded colleagues brought America to one brink — government shutdown — looked over the edge, and then dove right in. The fact that they are willing to approach another with the intention to leap into it is, truly, unprecedented.

John Light writes blog posts and works on multimedia projects for BillMoyers.com. Before joining the Moyers team, he worked as a public radio producer. A New Jersey native, John studied history and film at Oberlin College and holds a master’s degree in journalism from Columbia University.

http://billmoyers.com/2013/10/09/why-this-debt-ceiling-crisis-really-is-different/

On the Sabotage of Democracy by Bill Moyers

October 4, 2013

BILL MOYERS: And now to the people who refuse to let democracy work. The people who hate government so much they’ve shut it down. Unable to abide by the results of democracy when they don’t win, they turned on it.

Republicans have now lost three successive elections to control the Senate and they’ve lost the last two presidential elections. Nonetheless, they fought tooth and nail to kill President Obama’s health care initiative. They lost that fight, but with the corporate wing of Democrats, they managed to bend it toward private interests.

So we should be clear on this, Obamacare, as it’s known, is deeply flawed. Big subsidies to the health insurance industry. A bonanza for lobbyists. No public option. And as The New York Times reported this week, “Millions of Poor Are Left Uncovered by Health Law.” Largely because states controlled by Republicans refuse to expand Medicaid.

As far as our bought and paid for legislative process goes, Obama’s initiative made it through the sausage factory. Yet even after both the House and Senate approved it, the president signed it, and the Supreme Court upheld it, the Republicans keep insisting on calling the law a “bill,” thumbing their noses and refusing to accept that it is enacted legislation.

Now they’re fighting to prevent it from being implemented. Here was their order of the day on Thursday from the popular right wing blog RedState.com:

“Congressmen, this is about shutting down Obamacare. Democrats keep talking about our refusal to compromise. They don’t realize our compromise is defunding Obamacare. We actually want to repeal it. This is it. Our endgame is to leave the whole thing shut down until the President defunds Obamacare. And if he does not defund Obamacare, we leave the whole thing shut down.”

Once upon a time when I was a young man working on Capitol Hill, it was commonplace that when a bill became law, everybody was unhappy with it. But you didn’t bring down the government just because it wasn’t perfect. You argue and fight and vote and then, due process having been at least raggedly served, on to the next fight.

That was a long time ago. Long before the Tea Party minority, armed with huge sums of secret money from rich donors, sucked the last bit of soul from the Grand Old Party of Abraham Lincoln. They became delusional. Then rabid. Like this:

SENATOR STEVE KING: If Obamacare is ever implemented and enforced, we will never recover from it. It is an unconstitutional takings of God-given American liberty.

BILL MOYERS: That’s false, of course. Just like those right-wing talking points that keep grinding through the propaganda mills of Fox News:

AINSLEY EARHARDT on Fox and Friends: Thanks to Obamacare, doctors will be forced to ask patients about their sex life, even if it has nothing to do with the medical treatment that they are seeking at the time.

BILL MOYERS: Not true.

MICHELLE MALKIN on Fox and Friends: That healthcare plan puts a discount on the lives of elderly people and would result in the redistribution of health away from the elderly and the infirm to other special favored interests and patients.

BILL MOYERS: Again, not true. Nor is this, from the multi-millionaire fabulist Rush Limbaugh:

RUSH LIMBAUGH from the Rush Limbaugh Show: What we now have is the biggest tax increase in the history of the world. Obamacare is just a massive tax increase, that all it is.

BILL MOYERS: That’s just a tiny sample of the lies and misinformation perpetrated by the right with the song and dance compliance of its richly paid mouthpieces. Sarah Palin set the bar for truth at about ankle height with those fictitious “death panels” that she still insists will decide our rendezvous with the Grim Reaper.

SARAH PALIN on Cashin’ In: Of course there are death panels in there, but the important thing to remember is that’s just one aspect of this atrocious, unaffordable, cumbersome, burdensome, evil policy of Obama’s and that is Obamacare.

BILL MOYERS: Despite what they say, Obamacare is only one of their targets. Before they will allow the government to reopen, they demand employers be enabled to deny birth control coverage to female employees. They demand Obama cave on the Keystone pipeline. They demand the watchdogs over corporate pollution be muzzled, and the big, bad regulators of Wall Street sent home. Their ransom list goes on and on. The debt ceiling is next. They would have the government default on its obligations and responsibilities.

When the president refused to buckle to their extortion, they threw their tantrum. Like the die-hards of the racist South a century and a half ago, who would destroy the Union before giving up their slaves, so would these people burn the place down, sink the ship of state, and sow economic chaos to get their way. This says it all, they even shuttered the Statue of Liberty.

Watching all this from London, the noted commentator Martin Wolf, of the capitalist friendly Financial Times, says “America flirts with self-destruction.”

This man is the biggest flirt of all, Newt Gingrich. It was Newt Gingrich who twenty years ago spearheaded the right-wing’s virulent crusade against the norms of democratic government. As Speaker of the House he twice brought about shutdowns of the federal government once, believe it or not, because he felt snubbed after riding on Air Force One with President Clinton and had to leave by the backdoor.

It was also Newt Gingrich, speaker Gingrich, who was caught lying to congressional investigators looking into charges of his ethical wrongdoing. His colleagues voted overwhelmingly, 395 to 28, to reprimand him. Pressure from his own party then prompted him to resign.

Yet even after his flame out, even after his recent bizarre race for the presidency bankrolled with money from admiring oligarchs, even after new allegations about his secret fundraising for right-wing candidates, Gingrich remains the darling of a fawning amnesic media.

NEWT GINGRICH on Crossfire: I’m Newt Gingrich on the right.

BILL MOYERS: On CNN.com the other day he issued a call to arms to his fellow bomb-throwers, “…don’t cave on shutdown.”

At least let’s name this for what it is, sabotage of the democratic process. Secession by another means. And let’s be clear about where such reckless ambition leads. As surely as night must follow day, the alternative to democracy is worse.

© 2013 Public Affairs Television, Inc. All rights reserved.
http://billmoyers.com/segment/bill-moyers-essay-shutdown-showdown/

Our Democracy Is at Stake

By THOMAS L. FRIEDMAN, New York Times, October 1, 2013

Excerpt

This time is different. What is at stake in this government shutdown forced by a radical Tea Party minority is nothing less than the principle upon which our democracy is based: majority rule. President Obama must not give in to this hostage taking — not just because Obamacare is at stake, but because the future of how we govern ourselves is at stake.structural changes in money, media and redistricting…are superempowering small political movements to act in extreme ways without consequences and thereby stymie majority rule. If democracy means anything, it means that, if you are outvoted, you accept the results and prepare for the next election. Republicans are refusing to do that. It shows contempt for the democratic process. President Obama is not defending health care. He’s defending the health of our democracy. Every American who cherishes that should stand with him.

Full text

This time is different. What is at stake in this government shutdown forced by a radical Tea Party minority is nothing less than the principle upon which our democracy is based: majority rule. President Obama must not give in to this hostage taking — not just because Obamacare is at stake, but because the future of how we govern ourselves is at stake.

What we’re seeing here is how three structural changes that have been building in American politics have now, together, reached a tipping point — creating a world in which a small minority in Congress can not only hold up their own party but the whole government. And this is the really scary part: The lawmakers doing this can do so with high confidence that they personally will not be politically punished, and may, in fact, be rewarded. When extremists feel that insulated from playing by the traditional rules of our system, if we do not defend those rules — namely majority rule and the fact that if you don’t like a policy passed by Congress, signed by the president and affirmed by the Supreme Court then you have to go out and win an election to overturn it; you can’t just put a fiscal gun to the country’s head — then our democracy is imperiled.

This danger was neatly captured by Washington Post columnist Dana Milbank, when he wrote on Tuesday about the 11th-hour debate in Congress to avert the shutdown. Noting a shameful statement by Speaker John Boehner, Milbank wrote: “Democrats howled about ‘extortion’ and ‘hostage taking,’ which Boehner seemed to confirm when he came to the floor and offered: ‘All the Senate has to do is say ‘yes,’ and the government is funded tomorrow.’ It was the legislative equivalent of saying, ‘Give me the money and nobody gets hurt.’ ”

Give me the money and nobody gets hurt.” How did we get here? First, by taking gerrymandering to a new level. The political analyst Charlie Cook, writing in The National Journal on March 16, noted that the 2010 election gave Republican state legislatures around the country unprecedented power to redraw political boundaries, which they used to create even more “safe, lily-white” Republican strongholds that are, in effect, an “alternative universe” to the country’s diverse reality.

“Between 2000 and 2010, the non-Hispanic white share of the population fell from 69 percent to 64 percent,” wrote Cook. “But after the post-census redistricting and the 2012 elections, the non-Hispanic white share of the average Republican House district jumped from 73 percent to 75 percent, and the average Democratic House district declined from 52 percent white to 51 percent white. In other words, while the country continues to grow more racially diverse, the average Republican district continues to get even whiter.”

According to Cook, the number of strongly Democratic districts decreased from 144 before redistricting to 136 afterward. The number of strongly Republican districts increased from 175 to 183. “When one party starts out with 47 more very strong districts than the other,” said Cook, “the numbers suggest that the fix is in for any election featuring a fairly neutral environment. Republicans would need to mess up pretty badly to lose their House majority in the near future.” In other words, there is little risk of political punishment for the Tea Party members now holding the country hostage.

Meanwhile, the Supreme Court’s inane Citizens United decision allowed a single donor, Sheldon Adelson, to create his own alternative universe. He was able to contribute so much money to support Newt Gingrich’s candidacy that Gingrich was able to stay in the Republican presidential primary race longer than he would have under sane campaign finance rules. As a result, Gingrich was able to pull the G.O.P.’s leading candidate, Mitt Romney, farther to the right longer, making it harder for him to garner centrist votes. Last month, for the first time ever in Colorado, two state senators who voted for universal background checks on gun purchases lost their seats in a recall election engineered by gun extremists and reportedly financed with some $400,000 from the National Rifle Association. You’re elected, you vote your conscience on a narrow issue, but now determined opponents don’t have to wait for the next election. With enough money, they can get rid of you in weeks.

Finally, the rise of a separate G.O.P. (and a liberal) media universe — from talk-radio hosts, to Web sites to Fox News — has created another gravity-free zone, where there is no punishment for extreme behavior, but there’s 1,000 lashes on Twitter if you deviate from the hard-line and great coverage to those who are most extreme. When politicians only operate inside these bubbles, they lose the habit of persuasion and opt only for coercion. After all, they must be right. Rush Limbaugh told them so.

These “legal” structural changes in money, media and redistricting are not going away. They are superempowering small political movements to act in extreme ways without consequences and thereby stymie majority rule. If democracy means anything, it means that, if you are outvoted, you accept the results and prepare for the next election. Republicans are refusing to do that. It shows contempt for the democratic process.

President Obama is not defending health care. He’s defending the health of our democracy. Every American who cherishes that should stand with him.

http://www.nytimes.com/2013/10/02/opinion/friedman-our-democracy-is-at-stake.html?hp&_r=1&

How Inbred Elites Are Tearing America Apart

Salon [1] / By David Daley [2] June 26, 2013

Excerpt

Chris Hayes’ “Twilight of the Elites” … is a story about inequality and myths: the myth of the meritocracy and the reality of the very uneven society that allows those…As Hayes writes: “Along with all the other rising inequalities we’ve become so familiar with — in income, in wealth, in access to politicians — we confront now a fundamental inequality of accountability… we cannot have a just society that applies the principle of accountability to the powerless and the principle of forgiveness to the powerful. This is the America in which we currently reside.”...we can no longer assume basic competence from those who at least appear to have risen on the merits of intelligence…That kind of institutional rot seems to me one of the most important stories of the day – the problems facing us are so serious and so large, and yet we seem completely unequipped to deal with them forthrightly and seriously – whether in Congress, in the media, in academia…

Full text

Twenty years ago, William Greider’s “Who Will Tell the People?” documented the betrayal of American democracy by the elites — by both political parties, by the press, by corporations and labor unions, and by a Washington regulatory complex so perfectly corrupt that it exists to serve only the monied interests.

Chris Hayes’ “Twilight of the Elites” [3] (just published in paperback) might be the clearest story of America’s collapse since Greider’s essential telling. The story, of course, has only gotten worse. In Greider’s book, the elites were complicit in profiteering and rigging the system to their own advantage. But in Hayes’ story, the elites misled us into war, bungled the occupation, let an American city drown, and tanked the economy. Other elites in academia, athletics and religion didn’t have such a great decade, either.

“Twilight of the Elites” is a story about inequality and myths: the myth of the meritocracy and the reality of the very uneven society that allows those, in the words of Ann Richards, who were born on third base to end up thinking they hit a triple — and then find themselves protected when they screw up.

As Hayes writes:

“Along with all the other rising inequalities we’ve become so familiar with — in income, in wealth, in access to politicianswe confront now a fundamental inequality of accountability. We can have a just society whose guiding ethos is accountability and punishment, where both black kids dealing weed in Harlem and investment bankers peddling fraudulent securities on Wall Street are forced to pay for their crimes, or we can have a just society whose guiding ethos is forgiveness and second chances, one in which both Wall Street banks and foreclosed households are bailed out, in which both insider traders and street felons are allowed to rejoin polite society with the full privileges of citizenship intact. But we cannot have a just society that applies the principle of accountability to the powerless and the principle of forgiveness to the powerful. This is the America in which we currently reside.”

The anchor of MSNBC’s “All In” every weeknight at 8 p.m. Eastern, Hayes has quickly become one of the country’s most essential public intellectuals. We met in his Rockefeller Center office last week before moving across the street for lunch. This is a lightly edited and condensed version of our conversation.

Is there a reason why elites have performed so particularly poorly in the last decade — whether we’re talking about the Iraq War and its aftermath; Katrina; the many failures on Wall Street and in the banking world that caused the Great Recession; right now, a security state that grants access to secrets to Edward Snowden, then appears to lose track of him. So why so much failure now? Are elites getting dumber?

Right. So why now, I think, two answers. One is that I don’t think I’m making the argument that current elite failure is the worst in American history. Clearly the antebellum slave power was –

But that’s going back 150 years.

I think around the Gilded Age, also the crash of 1896. But why now: I would just say it’s social distance and inequality. Basically, excessive social distance between elites and citizens produces excessive power for elites, and this is the result of a 30-year process in which that distance has been expanding and expanding and has introduced a governing financial class, particularly, that is incapable of not effing things up.

And yet it seems like a fairly new problem that we can no longer assume basic competence –

Yes.

– from those who at least appear to have risen on the merits of intelligence.

Yes. Because we a) have a myth we tell ourselves about how right they are for their jobs, and so we feel a greater sense of betrayal, because we’ve all constructed a national myth that’s like – of course these are the people who should be running things. And second of all, democracy, when it’s functioning, and democratic institutions, when they’re functioning, have beneficial cognitive effects, which is that they’re ways of aggregating information. And when you get very removed from that, and things become very inside baseball, inside games, people are going to make bad decisions.

So that’s a big part of it. People are embedded in these institutions, they are blinkered in these ways that means they’re making decisions outside the bounds of democratic accountability. Which can lead to corruption – like, moral transgression – but also, at the least, incompetence, because they’re literally not seeing the whole problem.

That’s the theme of a show like “The Wire,” which is essentially entirely about how all institutions rot from the inside — whether it’s egoism, whether it’s careerism, whether it’s just complete rank incompetence. That kind of institutional rot seems to me one of the most important stories of the day – the problems facing us are so serious and so large, and yet we seem completely unequipped to deal with them forthrightly and seriously – whether in Congress, in the media, in academia.

I think it’s hard to make these objective comparisons of different periods of institutional dysfunction, but the one thing you can do is at least look at polling data from the 1970s that gives you a subjective sense. The polling reflects an American populace that is more distrustful of their institutions than they have been since the polling began — and the polling began in the wake of Watergate! At a total nadir of public trust. So I think there is a level at which it is quite novel, at least in recent memory. I think, if you read the social criticism of the 1930s, there was something similar that happened there. The Great Crash did produce a kind of pervasive sense of betrayal and disillusionment society-wide in the ’30s, and that’s something that the writing today picks up on. It’s hard to make apples-to-apples comparisons, but I think in recent memory, I think the answer is a pretty resounding no.

So if these institutions are run by the smartest people, who rose through a meritocracy because they are so bright, how do they hollow out into such rank incompetence?

Well, there’s two answers. One is that the selection method – it’s not the case, that they’re the smartest people. The selection method says that it’s doing that, but the hydraulics of privilege mean that actually we’re creating an enclosed world of inbred elites, despite all our claims about the equality of opportunity and people of all races, creeds, backgrounds

You’re suggesting the American dream and the American democracy is a big lie we’re being fed!

Yes, exactly! (laughs) So there’s that. But there’s also – I talk about the cult of smartness in the book, but intelligence is a really slippery concept, and it’s a lot harder to pin down than it first looks. The cult of smartness is this very seductive but very misleading sense that smartness is an ordinal quality, like height, that could be perceived immediately and you can definitively rank people, that it’s a clear perception that can be made when it’s just not.

I have a tremendous amount of respect for intelligence, and it’s something that’s important to me, and it’s necessary, but far from sufficient. Intelligence in elites that is detached from lived experience, empathy, wisdom, judgment, compassion, self-skepticism, humility – detached from all those qualities, it can be a massively destructive trait. And I cite in the book [Dick Cheney aide] David Addington, who is the chief architect for much of what we have come to recognize as the most horrific aspects of particularly the torture regime, who is universally understood to be extremely bright. To me, he’s a kind of perfect example of what I call in the book “destructive intelligence.” People can be very bright and very destructive across the aisle. There’s Democrats, Republicans – a lot of people who are kind of “best and brightest” types. When somebody is really smart, in a palpable way, particularly when they’re competitive, or show off in a dominating way at meetings, they are cut a very wide berth.

Someone like Larry Summers, who is an intimidating guy.

Notoriously intimidating.  And that factors into who gets listened to, who gets ignored.

Your argument is post-ideological – and you’re right, there are plenty of left-leaning institutions that suffer from corruption and rot. But the major failings of this last decade — Iraq, Katrina, the housing bubble, malfeasance on Wall Street — essentially come to an end at the closing of the Bush era. Since then, we’ve been completely hamstrung during the Obama era in our ability to deal with these problems honestly. A lot of that is Congress. Some of it is because the institutional failures also breed a collapse in trust, which limits Obama’s ability to convince people that government can be an answer or a force for positive change.

But isn’t the second part of this that after showing off their own incompetence for a decade, this mistrust has been designed as a distraction for political purposes? That politics is being played with misdirected anger, fomented and ginned up and Astroturfed by the Koch brothers? How is it possible to rebuild the kind of faith we need in institutions and legitimate authority, in order to grapple with problems seriously, when so much of the debate itself is phony?

A few things. Society has to be re-democratized. I think we have an increasingly attenuated democracy. What you’re seeing with the street uprisings in Turkey and Brazil when the normal mechanisms of democratic government break down, but you have to reassert democratic accountability through these other, nonviolent means. I do think that institutional performance matters a huge amount. Obamacare is a good case study. It passed, sort of remarkably and impossibly, against tremendous mistrust and opposition. Still not popular, still seen as something kind of vaguely menacing, or confusing – but then the ultimate verdict will be if it works or not. I am a realist in that respect. I do think that institutional performance matters. If they do it right, and the institution performs, that will produce, I think, trust. Now, that can’t happen alone. I think the Obama theory of how to conquer this problem is precisely that: Pass the legislation, see if it works. Make government work for people. That’ll repair it. And that’s part of it, but the mistrust goes so much deeper than that. And then the third aspect of reasserting trust is accountability. People need to see corrupt institutions and corrupt and bankrupt police held accountable.

Which hasn’t happened.

At all.

Not Wall Street. Not the New York Times for Judy Miller.

I mean, one person pays one price. Basically, John McCain didn’t get to be president. A bunch of Republicans in the House lost their jobs over Iraq, as they should have. But that’s about it.

The system is not set up for accountability. There’s so much money and so little genuine choice that it’s almost impossible to lose your job in these districts. The only accountability comes if you lose your base and face a primary challenge. You have to really screw up.

Yeah, the accountability mechanisms – I mean the filibuster does a horrible, horrible thing. There’s a Keynes quote I love. I think it goes something like, “Nothing corrupts society more than the disconnect effort of war.” He’s writing it, I think, about the Bolsheviks at the time, but nothing corrupts a democracy more – disconnects inputs and outputs, mass opinion – and the filibuster is something that does that. It interrupts the conveyer belt. Like, right now, massive public opposition to arming the Syrian rebels.

Most of the same people, of both parties, who got us into Iraq. Speaking of no accountability.

Yeah. Just because a mass of people believe something doesn’t mean it’s right or the best policy, but the further and further away you get from that kind of basic alignment –

You write about Obama running as an insurrectionist, but governing as an institutionalist. Was that a misreading of the opportunities for genuine change? They talked about taking advantage of a crisis. Did they take advantage of a crisis, or did they miss the opportunity? He could have gone the insurrectionist route or he could attempt to build faith back in institutions, and he chose the latter. Wrong choice?

Well, I don’t know … I think he chose that because that’s who he is, in his heart of hearts. And so that was probably the right choice, because he shouldn’t have done the thing that wasn’t what he actually believed. And there was again – Obamacare is a good example. If that works, that’s a big deal, a huge deal! But I do think the biggest opportunity lost was this kind of accountability moment. No one was ever really held to account. No one was held to account for torture, or the financial crisis. That is a real kind of toxic presence in our national consciousness. That’s really problematic.

Are there reforms in the political system that would help, or is this train too far gone?

The standard lefty answer is public financing. Which I believe. It’s really an unsolved problem, though. Public financing would help, but the biggest problem is just the level of inequality. It’s just too big. In some ways, the problem is relatively simple. In a society with inequality like this, we’re just going to be in for a lot of problems.

And you have two sides that appear to be further apart, in some ways, than they ever have been. Not speaking to each other, not working off the same set of facts, even.

No, and there’s some interesting comparative political data that suggests a correlation between inequality and partisan polarization. The people who are most polarized are actually elites, particularly non-super-rich wealthy, like red state, blue state, that’s where the biggest – and they also have a disproportionate influence on politics.

And yet what’s also remarkable right now is that polarization includes folks who don’t believe in science, who would rather talk about masturbating fetuses ….

Yes.

So if one side of the debate mistrusts science, government, bureaucrats –

It’s Alex Jones … totally.

We are all truthers now. There were James Gandolfini truthers this morning.

There were Michael Hastings truthers emailing me.

There is a connection. So there are pathologies that afflict the American right that have to do with a whole bunch of things that a lot of people have written very smartly about. Race, ethnicity, demographic change, is one set of those issues. The increasingly secular/religious divide in America is another. The fact that the party is increasingly a Southern party and the South has always been different. In the history of the U.S. experiment, there’s like another country called the South. There’s a million maps you could construe on a bunch of different dimensions that show that; the South has always been a different place for a bunch of different reasons.

So the way that the current conservative moment, the American right and the Republican Party, manifest themselves, the way they express themselves and the way they behave, are kind of overdetermined by a set of different factors, but the two ways that overlap, I think, in the book is the role that inequality plays in it. There’s a sort of plutocratic set – this vector of the party that is essentially just kind of procuring the heart for the 1 percent. Not to minimize the 1 percent’s influence on the Democratic Party, but Larry Bartels and Martin Gillens’ data on this shows the correlation between the Republican Party and wealthy voters is much higher than Democrats. But the other thing is the point you’re making, the place where there’s this overlap, and that has to do with the base idea, which is this kind of nihilistic distrust of the experts in any field — when Jack Welch wonders about the Labor Department’s jobs report. You would have this shocking moment where it’s like, “You’re Jack Welch. You had to manage this multibillion-dollar enterprise and now you’re in Alex Jones land …”

It’s hard to pull people out of that quicksand, I think. I’m not sure what the answer is for that. But there’s a market for it – there’s a strong market for that. Glenn Beck has never made more money.

It creates a real problem, especially as you talk in this book about an Occupy/ Tea Party coalition, and also about a radicalized upper middle class. If the divisions are being manufactured along these kinds of partisan lines, it gets harder and harder to bring people together along some kind of economic or class lines.

Yeah, that’s always true. It’s generally hard to build political coalitions; we have the ones we have for all sorts of reasons that actually make a fair amount of sense. But it also means that there’s, like, this fundamental disconnect in how that manifests itself in producing this kind of elite accountability writ large that you’d want to have.

How do we create this radicalized upper middle class? It makes perfect sense that all of those people who have lost jobs or seen pension plans go away  or seen careers melt due to the collapse of entire fields would somehow become more angry. Yet it’s still almost impossible to imagine a Turkish-style protest here. The idea of people not showing up for work and protesting – we’re as difficult a country to imagine that happening in as any.

I think right now a lot depends on the precariousness of the recovery and how that kind of manifests itself. One thing I will say is that it’s difficult to predict these outbursts. The Brazilian thing is fascinating because I don’t think anyone would have thought – and that’s kind of like Turkey. Sometimes discontent catalyzes in a way that’s unexpected.

What do you think the role of the news media is in all of this division and failure? The best and brightest led us into Vietnam during the years of the phony elite Walter Cronkite/James Reston consensus, so this isn’t necessarily new. But is it any coincidence that this decade of failure coincides with the explosion of cable news on one side, of partisan cable news, and also this institutional hollowing out of the media – both the daily press corps and the alternative press world?

Well, here’s what I would say. A more centralized media with larger levels of trust in it has some costs and benefits. The costs are that the more centralized media was stultifying, monopolistic, kept outside voices out – it had all sorts of problems with it. There’s all sorts of reasons I like our current media environment more than that. But it had a benefit. It was an equal player. It was this kind of bulwark. When media was less fragmented, more concentrated, and more trusting, it had this kind of confidence about itself that meant that it could act as a real check. It could be an Archimedian point for public opinion, and I think that’s been lost a little bit. It’s very difficult to produce social consensus under the fragmentation we have now. If the New York Times – the mainstream media says, yes, climate change is real, that doesn’t have the weight that it once would have, and that is problematic. That I really worry about.

But at the same time, there are tradeoffs, and I’m quite aware of that. There was a lot of bad things about the old model.

In this model you get a show at 8 p.m. every night. Are you enjoying it as much as the weekend show?

Yes. It’s extremely challenging.

How is it different?

In every way. It’s a totally different game. The biggest difference is the competition for those eyeballs is just intense. I think about, there’s someone out there who’s worked all day, helped their kid with their homework, grabbed a beer, sat down at the TV, and now they’re going to watch me. And they could watch “The Voice,” and I would not begrudge them wanting to do that! I would completely understand. So you have to be thinking in terms of what emotional effect are you producing in the viewer. What’s that thing you’re giving them that’s going to make that choice? In Saturday, Sunday morning, there wasn’t that same choice. There’s not a lot of other stuff on, people are in a different mind-set, it’s early in the morning and it’s kind of uncluttered. It’s more laid-back. You put the show on and you make coffee and you walk around the house and you – 8 p.m. is a whole other set of constraints.

You have to think about ratings more? MSNBC has had its challenges there lately.

Yeah, ratings are the measurement of what you have to think about, which is producing entertaining television. The ratings – I try not to think about the numbers, because that data can be very overwhelming or misleading. The thing I do think about is “are we producing a good show?” And the word “show” is key. You have to be a showman. It is a show. You need to put on a show every night. Which means, like, step right up, ladies and gentlemen, let me entertain you. And I think the thing that I found rewarding, that I first found really difficult, is learning how to do that better, learning how to embody that naturally. Learning how to be myself fundamentally and authentically while still entertaining. And that’s a really hard challenge. We did food stamps last night. It’s like, “How do you make food stamps entertaining?” and no one’s figured this out better than Rachel Maddow. She is just a savant in this respect, but I have to find my own route to that place, that is true to what I do best.

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Links:
[1] http://www.salon.com
[2] http://www.alternet.org/authors/david-daley
[3] http://www.amazon.com/dp/0307720462/?tag=saloncom08-20
[4] http://www.alternet.org/tags/msnbc
[5] http://www.alternet.org/tags/chris-hayes-0
[6] http://www.alternet.org/tags/rachel-maddow
[7] http://www.alternet.org/tags/larry-summers-0
[8] http://www.alternet.org/tags/turkey-0
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[10] http://www.alternet.org/%2Bnew_src%2B