HAVANA TIMES, Jan. 25 — “This ruling opens the floodgates for an unlimited amount of special interest money into our democracy. It gives the special interest lobbyists new leverage to spend millions on advertising to persuade elected officials to vote their way – or to punish those who don’t. That means that any public servant who has the courage to stand up to the special interests and stand up for the American people can find himself or herself under assault come election time. Even foreign corporations may now get into the act.”
This pronouncement was not from the socialist voices of Noam Chomsky or Howard Zinn, nor from those like Johns Rawls or Richard Rorty of the liberal stripe. It was US President Barack Obama who made this dramatic asseveration last week concerning the Supreme Court’s 5-4 ruling that removes legal barriers to the corporate financing of political campaigns.
This stance reminds one of the perennial threats that face the people of the United States, such as that revealed by Eisenhower in his farewell address when he warned of the hidden and growing power of the “military industrial complex,” or by the Lincoln and Kennedy assassinations.
Year after year, election after election, we see the growing power of money in influencing American politics. In the 2008 electoral campaigns —most notably in the presidential race— close to $6 billion was spent, of which more than $1 billion came from special interest groups and private organizations.
This adds to the landscape of surreptitious contributions, to the vitality of the revolving door system (which allows the continuous shuttling of executives between the business and the political worlds), and to the infamous inducements of the oil, arms, medical and tobacco lobbyists. All of this resonates in reactionary roadblocks to immigration and health care reform, through the egotistic (and ignorant) support of the vast media industry.
Everything transpires in the intricate topography of US society and culture – with its conservative political system, lack of a political left, an archaic electoral system and its messianic and racist ideology.
The nation is flanked by a dynamic civil society nurtured by community activism and the wide exercise of civic rights. It is also accompanied by a press as entrapped by big business as the representatives of dissident voices, as well as teams of lobbyists that defend the outrages of corporations while law firms advise civic movements and causes.
I always emphasize Alexis of Tocqueville’s observations on the vitality and prominence of “associationism” in America, a practice enriched in a country where the absence of a monarchic régime or aristocratic society allowed for the germination of a republican political culture.
Also fitting is the recollection of the critiques by Mark Twain, Jose Marti and John Dos Passos about the corruptive spirit of capital, determined to muzzle the protesting voice of the public.
The symbolic and electoral defeats of the neo-conservative agenda —attempted during the terms of Bush Jr.— appear beginning to be experienced in the current setbacks of the democratic administration. Like in ancient Rome, the boundaries of a state that combines a domestic republic and a world empire are unstable and can become blurred.
Something is in evidence: the militarist and plutocratic Empire lies in wait for a republic of citizens who have never been able to deploy —consciously— their potential for virtue.