I CERTAINLY FEEL UNITED

More than two years ago, this is what I had to say about Citizens United:

Now in the wake of Citizens United vs. FEC plenty has been said about the folly of corporate personhood and the opened floodgates courtesy of the patriotic, non-activist majority on the Supreme Court. There appears to be widespread consensus that this is a bad thing. This is all correct, of course, but here is the thing: you have no idea how fucking ridiculous this is going to get in 2012. We will look back on 2008 as a simpler time.

A decent guess is impossible to generate since we are in uncharted waters from this point forward. An obvious guess would be another 100% increase; I think that will be a baseline. The campaigns themselves will double the $1.5 billion spent by all contenders in 2008.
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How much will corporate groups – not to mention various other tax code loophole groups – toss on the fire? Another $3 billion seems like a reasonable guess, equal to the amount that the candidates spend on the books. I think that's an understatement. $10 billion? $20 billion? More? It's not out of the question. I could just be a pessimist, but I think we are in for something so grotesque and ridiculous that we'll scarcely be able to grasp it.

Given what just happened in Wisconsin, I think we're beginning to get a clearer picture of what elections will look like when conducted in the midst of a tsunami of unregulated corporate money. Did money make a difference in the outcome? That's hard to say definitively. But we certainly are entering uncharted waters and if we needed yet another way to make the electoral process seem rigged, inaccessible, and futile to the ordinary voter, rest assured that we have found it.

29 thoughts on “I CERTAINLY FEEL UNITED”

  • Not being a political scientist, I ask:

    Are we in another iteration of the Iron Law of Oligarchy?

  • In a couple of years, America will become a political media-driven economy. The only thing made in this country will be ads, most of them political.

    And campaigns will be permanent, ongoing.

  • I can't begin to express my outrage with the Wisconsin vote but I am not surprised. We buy things everyday that are overpriced and of inferior quality simply because of brand recognition. When the candidate who is clearly wrong for the average working person has 7X the amount of money that his competitor has to shine himself up and fill the airwaves with sound bites to an unengaged audience, what can we expect?

    Without a constitutional amendment to limit or, better yet, eliminate private donations to candidates, can see very little forward progress.

    Obama may just squeak by in this next election simply because the GOP enjoys cowardly sniping at him but without some heavily publicized rants about the absolute prison rape being perpetrated on all of us, I see no change in our future. Feudalism is going to consume 99% of us.

  • Like Ed I don't think it's the outcome that matters in the recall vote (only 3 other governors have even faced a recall, right? Something like that? Besides engineering specific widespread economic pain clearly attributable to the incumbent governor, not a whole of plays in that playbook.)

    But let's take a look at how this insanity affects the types of candidates who can run competitive elections. Candidates need to be able to at least court these independent groups, if not set them up themselves. And that requires knowledge of the political operatives who run them or the donors that fund them, and that means being part of the establishment. Oh I forgot the self-financed billionaire.

    No problem with Republicans, since their donors, political operatives, candidates and ideological base are all pod-people clones of each other. With Democrats, though. . . may God have mercy on our souls. You thought the DLC types were bad before. Imagine them now: on steroids in a pay-to-play flat global world 2.0

    Oh also as we've seen all races are now national races. And guess who has the resources to monitor and contribute to national races. And my buddy E.E. Schattschneider tells me that widening the scope of political fights is often a successful tactic in winning political fights, so the side that can use national-level issues and resources will probably win disproportionately if the other side doesn't fight at the same level.

    Sea steading is sounding more and more attractive . . .

  • c u n d gulag says:

    Let's try that again!
    So, the ratf*cking Governor, backed by ratf*cking billionaires and other top .01%er’s, from across the nation, and their ratf*cking Super PAC money, wins the recall election to ratf*ck the state AGAIN!

    I read that Walkers side outspent ours by 7 to 1 (according to CNN, among others).
    Needless to say, this does NOT bode well for democracy – or, representative democracy, to be more accurate.

    It’s also a message, during very tough economic times, that what the Conservatives wanted after the mass movements in support of fellow black citizens and women in the 60′s and early 70′s, and the one against the war in Vietnam, was to tear the middle class apart, so that people no longer had the financial security to look out for others, but instead, end up in dire enough states that they only worried about ‘themselves and theirs,’ has worked.

    This election may have been less about Walker, and more about public sector union workers, and the jealousy about their (semi, now no longer so) secure jobs, salaries, and benefits.
    “How come they have that and I can’t?!?!”
    And, instead of trying to organized to get the same by organizing, they want to tear that away from those who have them – to take them down a few notches, down to where the rest of us, insecure in our jobs and daily lives, are.

    All I can say is, ‘Well, congratulations WI, you made your bed – now, be prepared to be suffocated in it.’

  • c u n d gulag says:

    Also too – If Mitt loses, Walker may very well be the frontrunner for the 2016 election.

    And if Mitt wins, look for Super PAC Scottie to be the favorite in 2020.

    After all, he was a victim of us nefarious, sinister, Liberals. AND HE STILL WON!!!

    Thus, are true Wingnut Legends born.

  • Hopefully the MT case will enable Kennedy to make amends for his last cock up now that he's had a chance to see what he'd helped unleash.

    Who's bright idea was it to let Barrett in the race? The adage about repeating the same action and hoping for a different result isn't insanity. It's stupidity.

    FU WI and all of your dog in the manger attitudes.

  • c u n d gulag says:

    Also three – By saying what I said above, I didn’t mean to put down the people who worked so hard to recall Walker over the past 16 months – and especially not those who were working hard on the phones and on the streets the past few weeks and months.

    Take pride in the fact that you did your best – and that’s ALL you CAN do.

    Thank you for all of your hard, hard, work!

  • Brought to you by Ayn Rand says:

    The comment thread on the post you linked to (http://www.ginandtacos.com/2010/02/22/you-are-not-ready/) veered around a lot, but was centrally focused on how one would fix this problem. One solution I didn't see (maybe missed it): Why not give campaigns an amount of money to spend on whatever they want (hookers and blow being an option), but they cannot accept any outside money at all. And no, this wouldn't be optional. During the 3 months preceding an election, all channels that have advertising space would have to grant 10% or so of it to campaigns, to any timeslot they choose; any channel describing itself as a news channel, perhaps 15%. They could charge whatever they wanted for the ads; however, it has to be the same to all campaigns on the same level, and they do have to sell it. So CNN could charge a buttload, but it couldn't charge all of a campaign's allowance because no campaign would go for it.

    I think a system like this (I'm not an expert on any of the above things, nor am I even an educated amateur, really) would force spending on campaigns to drop dramatically, and create a fairer, more issue-focused (and less time consuming) election season. There are several problems I see right off the bat; I have no idea how candidates should be considered for funding; my numbers are 100% BS'd; and none of this gobbleygook does anything for outside campaign spending, because I frankly have no idea where to start.

    Were these things (527s and so on) even regulated pre-Citizens United? How? Was that regulation even effective at all? Was there some key component missing that made them difficult to properly utilize or made them too hard to prosecute when they did break the rules?

    Ignore the rest of my post if you like, but I would like to see Ed's take on a history of laws designed to prevent rich people from buying votes, and perhaps a top 10 awesomest failures of such laws.

  • I think a big part of the problem is that people simply don't appreciate the benefits that they enjoy now, which they have because decades ago working people fought for and won them through unionization and collective bargaining. I see a lot of commentary (on letters to the editor, and people trolling liberal groups on Facebook and such) saying things to the effect that yeah, at one time unions were necessary and did good things but now they just exist for lazy people who want to get something for nothing. Because now we live in such an enlightened era and business owners have absolutely no incentive to cut their costs at the expense of their workers (Chiquita-formerly United Fruit-I'm looking at you). Maybe when these people find themselves working twelve and fourteen hour days six or seven days per week and losing eyes and fingers in on the job accidents with no worker's comp, they will be ready to support unionization. Of course by then it may be too late.

  • If political ads didn't work, they wouldn't spend money on them. I think it's likely that Obama will win the popular vote by millions of votes this November, and lose in the Electoral College because of well-funded ad campaigns in states like Wisconsin and North Carolina. The de facto oligarchy that runs this country is buying the government it wants, to further its short-term financial interests. The Supreme Court has now officially (via Citizens United) called this on-going process "free speech."

  • Middle Seaman says:

    Long stories above. Somehow we have to convince 50% of Americans not to vote against themselves, i.e. GOP. Obama didn't support the recall until two days before the vote was cast and Walker was elected in 2010 due to Obama's ineptness.

    We haven't been a democracy since 9/11 when W and Cheney hijacked the country. Obama did even try to free the hijacked democracy; he likes it the way it is.

    Vote, demonstrate and join a union. We can win this fight.

  • HoosierPoli says:

    Apparently if you have the same election twice you get the same result. Good to know, I suppose.

    This country is governed by vicious, vile imbeciles because it is populated chiefly by same. It has ever been so.

  • Who's[sic] bright idea was it to let Barrett in the race?

    Not mine, but there was a primary election that Barrett won. The candidate for whom I voted received a disappointing low-single-digit percentage of the vote.

  • This is the folly of the Wisconsin recall:

    A little over a year ago, tens of thousands of people took to the streets in Madison, energized by a brazen new attack on their collective bargaining rights. It was like a balm to those of us wondering why only the tri-corner had crowd was capable of hitting the streets in any significant number, and it felt like the start of something, something big, people were organizing, ready to fight back…

    Enter the Democratic Party. Since 1932, the Democrats have managed to make every populist progressive movement about their short term electoral advantage. So all this energy in WI morphed into a quest to recall one governor and replace him with a guy nobody wanted who wasn't even committed to undoing the terrible laws that brought people to the streets in the first place. Win or lose, the potential of the movement would be spent. No long term organizing, no attempt to change the debate, no attempt to expand union membership, to re-educate the working class… just a single recall election and then done.

    This is the purpose of the Democratic Party in American politics, and it's why the wealthy will continue to fund it and allow it to exist. They need it as a pressure valve so they can take all our hope and energy and channel it into electing the oligarch serving candidates of their choice.

  • But remember: "Money equals speech," said the Supreme Court from the Bubble World they live in….

  • I think NYD3030 hit the matter on the head. I would just qualify the end by noting that there's not really any conspiracy or intentionality at work here; the function at issue is just the outcome of a confluence of interests and something like the socio-political equivalent of evolution by natural selection.

    I suspect that another big reason that a certain segment of the upper class supports the Democratic Party is that deep down, it feels somewhat guilty about its privileged position in society, and it wants to comfort itself by being more "progressive" than its right-wing brethren; by (weakly and ineffectively) advocating and pursuing (ever so slightly) left of center policies, the Democratic Party allows it to feel better about itself while not actually threatening its position.

  • Right, I certainly didn't mean to suggest there's an organized conspiracy. People in the Democratic Party don't think of themselves this way, and their wealthy donors do not either. But their function is very much to apply the brakes any time the serfs get unruly.

    I live in Madison, and I can tell you my anecdotal take on the feelings here are precisely as I described — it's over. The energy is spent, the uprising done. I hope the unions get a clue and realize that their dwindling resources are better on the long game of re-energizing the working class than on begging for table scraps from the oligarchical feast the Democrats are eager to participate in.

  • Do you seriously think people are that easily brainwashed?

    Publicity does nothing to win elections (c.f. Lichtman).

  • @NYD: fairly good analysis.

    To see what you're describing easily is to look at the Australian Labor Party. Now that the children of the union movement who've gone to university and are now professional pollies. To watch them recoil from charges they're "too close to the unions" is jaw dropping. You'd think that the word "Labor" in the name would be the dead give away. Makes one wonder what is being taught in universities.

    @Tom: when the constituency is intellectually lazy and complacent and bombarded 24/7 by the MSM and infomercials, yes! Yes I do.

  • mel in oregon says:

    the far right has always been around. we've had the robber barrons, mccarthism, the john birch society, goldwater, nixon & ayn rand. but the turning point for today's ills was reagan. there was still a lot of anger among the wealthy & comfortable upper middle class people against the civil rights & anti-war protesters. but they could never have gotten reagan elected without the simple minded poor & lower middle class voters many of whom were union members. now is this to say all poor, lower middle class or union members are dumb? hell no, just a majority! but that majority is very very stupid. the majority of these people always vote against their own self interest, being easily distracted with religious issues, worries about their 30-06 or 30-30 rifle being taken away (how can anyone be that stupid?), or worries that obama was born in kenya or is a socialist. so that's why we got simple old ronnie, the very evil & corrupt gw bush, the con man clinton, the blundering jimmy carter & now the pompous, incompetent obama. next we will get the man who believes in nothing except mormonism & the power of money. he'll be the worst of the lot & that's really saying something. money talks, organization & protesting mean nothing. wish it weren't so, but reality intervenes.

  • Obama will probably still win Wisconsin regardless of all of this.

    The idea of paid overtime seems like some relic from the Land Before Time. I really don't think most people in their twenties like me realize how good workers had it in the "Old Days" Retirement!! Social Security! Paid Overtime! Health Insurance! They will seem like ancient cave paintings of extinct animals in the near future.

  • As someone who works in the political/campaign finance arena, I can say that you don't need to ask whether money affected the outcome. It almost always does. There are probably three ways an extraordinary monetary advantage will not affect outcome:

    1. The independent spending enabled by Citizens United works at cross purposes to the candidate's spending. This rarely happens anymore, in spite of the fact that independent groups aren't coordinating with the candidates (wink wink nudge nudge cough cough).

    2. The candidate with all the money is a supremely terrible candidate (see Meg Whitman, California Governor's race).

    3. So much money is spent that the returns begin to diminish (i.e. the airwaves are blanketed with ads to the extent that one more campaign commercial will convince no one either way). I don't think this really happens. There are always more voters to reach, more narratives to push, more GOTV/voter reg. to do.

    The Dems may have Hollywood and the Unions, but in the future they will routinely be outspent by the Republicans. This may not make much of a difference in Presidential races, but we've already seen over the past few years how one rich white guy can swoop into a local race (state house, governor, city council, school board), dump a shit-ton of money in the race and completely change the outcome. Worst of all, there is no fix for Citizens United, really, short of a constitutional amendment (not going to happen) or a reversal by the Supremes (extremely unlikely). Ideas like requiring shareholder votes on corporate spending and requiring more disclosure of donors are just tinkering at the margins and don't really change anything substantially. In short, American democracy is thoroughly fucked and, whereas it's now kind of a quasi-plutocracy, should be a complete plutocracy within the next 5 years or sooner.

  • I live in Milwaukee, WI. I hate the effect that Scott Walker has on my personal life (I have already lost one job because of the to-hell-with-poor-black-people cutbacks he has made). That said, I did not even vote.

    The very definition (imo) of depression/anger is caring too much about that which you cannot control.

    First off, my vote literally does not matter (and neither does the 4-5 people I might be able to convince to vote with months of condemning Facebook posts and bar-stool arguments) because the margin of error in such an election is far, FAR greater than the value of a single vote (or a thousand votes, for that matter).

    And then there's the money. Most readers here realize that votes can be bought–not explicitly, but through advertising and campaigning.

    I am always pretty public about my anti-voting mentality, and I consistently run up against (intelligent) people who will say something along the lines of "the public consensus must be heard, and in order for that to happen, we need everyone to vote their opinion."

    This would work IF people had a clear understanding of how a given individual will specifically affect their personal lives, and could not be influenced by misleading ads, campaign speeches or charming smiles.

    But the reality is that even the most self-aware of us are influenced by really stupid things (try NOT buying a six-pack of the new micro-brew after a beautiful 20-something has spent the last five minutes giving you samples and flirting with you).

    So, in the end, democracy does not truly exist in a capitalist system. Money controls outcomes, and the bulk of the money is under the control of a select few.

    So, you know…why worry?

    I was not bothered in the least by Walker's re-election, because I long ago accepted that such things are out of my control. I am poor and will continue to be poor for the foreseeable future. I will control what I can (what music I listen to, how I interact with others, which blogs I read, etc.) and that which I cannot control (such as election results)…the hell with it.

    The depression problem in the United States is not due to a lack of personal control. It is due to the constant illusion that we can control that which we cannot. When I see people get excited to vote and "let their voice be heard" I straight up pity them.

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