19 September 2011

In this age, an old decision haunts the U.S.

When Thomas Paine wrote, "These are the times that try men's souls," he wasn't working to protect the vested interests of the powerful. Certainly, you could argue that the American Revolution was a bourgeois revolution and the government that we arrived at was a democracy that still kept the real levers of power at the last turn safely in the hands of a relatively small elite, and maybe that's why Paine went on to the more violently revolutionary fields of France, but it still was a revolution that benefited the common people more than it hurt them.

What we have today is an erstwhile revolution that is all about solidifying the powerful's position over the powerless. Adopting the rhetoric of political freedom to the business arena, the Republicans act as though American democracy is founded upon the notion that corporations -- entities wholly unaccountable to the people -- should be free from oversight by the people through the mechanism of government regulation. Republicans, who have no qualms about regulating the individual body (especially if female), think it a great sin to regulate the corporate body, which is considered a body only, as Twain would say, through "a fiction of law and custom."

Honestly, must we be bound by one of the poorest interpretations of a Supreme Court decision?

The 1886 decision on Santa Clara County v. Southern Pacific Railroad, as has been widely noted (even on Wikipedia!), didn't actually rule on the issue of applying the 14th Amendment to corporations, yet it has been widely cited as precedent for ensuing cases. This miscarriage, which following the Citizens United ruling, has effectively decimated the role of actual people in promoting candidates and put our elections (which everyone knows cost plenty of money to run) in the hands of corporations and the most wealthy of our citizens.

Tom Paine would not approve, which helps highlight all the more the differences between those who really defend individual rights and those who, in the name of individual rights, defend only corporate bullying. Mitch McConnell, whose hypocrisy is only heightened by his deadpan delivery, somehow manages to get elected time and again by citizens whose interests he very actively legislates against. He's a senator from Kentucky, for Christ's sake, and outside the blue bloods of Lexington and Louisville, the state is full of nothing but ordinary people whose health and welfare have been either ignored or undercut by the Honorable Mitch McConnell.

However, one can't get elected if one's so obtuse as to state the truth. So despite his constant legislating for the rights of corporations to shutter factories, avoid paying taxes, and shield themselves from damage to the environment, McConnell must still pretend he is "defending freedom" or arguing for "liberty," both cornerstones of the American mythology. Understanding that postmodern war is a war of language and information (a la Lyotard) -- and politics has for most if not all of its history been postmodern in that sense -- McConnell and his predecessors have argued insistently for the freedom of corporations to monopolize our airwaves and print outlets among other things. A grand perpetrator of class warfare, McConnell pretends it only exists when someone sticks up for the little guy.

He is at root the playground apologist for the bully who claims that the bullied have victimized the bully by getting their blood on his hands.

And the Court's reliance on a court reporter's cynical insertion into an 1886 decision only makes it more certain that McConnell's brand of class warfare will carry the day.

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