Monday evening I went to a great Town Hall in Seattle with John Nichols and Robert McChesney. The topic was Dollarocracy: how money has corrupted politics.
Dollarocracy is their name for what’s become of America’s democracy. Instead of one person, one vote, we now have one dollar, one vote. Jimmy Carter was overheard saying that the US no longer has a functioning democracy. On an international rating of countries for the strength of their democracies, the US was rated at 8.1; anything below 8 is considered no longer to be democratic.
47% of Americans are now low-income or in poverty.
McChesney recalled the Powell Memorandum, written confidentially for the US Chamber of Commerce, that launched the plutocrats’ attack on the New Deal reforms. Lewis Powell was a tobacco industry lawyer and later a justice of the Supreme Court, appointed by Nixon. Powell should be considered the architect of dollarocracy. The plutocrats lamented that the US had too much democracy. McChesney said that Powell was obsessed with allowing corporate spending on elections. The Wikipedia article says:
This memo foreshadowed a number of Powell’s most notable[neutrality is disputed] court opinions, especially First National Bank of Boston v. Bellotti, which shifted the direction of First Amendment law by declaring that corporate financial influence of elections through independent expenditures should be protected with the same vigor as individual political speech. Much of the future Court opinion in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission relied on the same arguments raised in Bellotti.
In the 2012 election close to $11 billion was spent. A lot of it was “dark money” whose source is hidden. More money, better elections? Nah. Germany spends 1/34 the amount of money per capita as the US on campaigns.
McChesney said that $6 billion of the $11 billion was spent on (TV) ads. 90% of the ads were negative ads. Unfortunately, negative ads work. Those ads are illegal in most countries.
Media corporations benefit tremendously from spending on political ads. 15% – 45% of their revenue (profit?) comes from such spending.
While TV and radio stations receive a lot of money on campaign ads, they’ve cut back spending on journalism and analysis. There’s little objective campaign coverage. There’s been a “free fall collapse of real journalism.” Journalism has been replaced by propaganda. (McChesney paused and asked, “Are you depressed yet?”) Aside from that, the Republicans engage in vote suppression.
In the US voter turnout was 57.5 % during the 2012 presidential elections. In Germany it’s 72%. In Norway it’s 79%.
Still, McChesney said he’s the second most optimistic person in America. The most optimistic person he introduced: John Nichols.
Nichols gave the defeat of the GMO labeling initiative as an example of the workings of Dollarocracy. Democracy in the USA is in crisis. This country was founded with the original sin of slavery. Back then even most whites weren’t allowed to vote. Senators weren’t elected by the people. Nor were women allowed to vote. (Hard to imagine that women weren’t granted the right to vote until 1920.) Only the monied white guys could vote. Even Tom Paine got turned away from the vote.
We don’t want to be a monarchy. We wanted a democracy. Monarchies tend to be inbred. We don’t want to be ruled by the idiot son of an idiot. (laughter, cause guess who he was referring to?)
Nichols called on the audience to support the effort to amend the Constitution to declare that money is not speech and corporations are not people. Sixteen states have already formally called for such an amendment, and 500 communities. Even in Montana and Colorado 75% of voters voted for amendment.
The Constitution was not handed down from God to Michelle Bachmann. It was meant to be amended and we can do it again.
Nichols said he wants to hear no whining about the difficulty of doing this. As Leonard Cohen said, democracy is coming to the USA.
There was time for questions. I had wanted to ask, “Can the needed change come without bloodshed that accompanied the Civil Rights Movement and the Civil War?”
After recalling all the depressing ways our political system is corrupted by money, the speakers said that they are optimistic. John Nichols did a good imitation of Martin Luther King, peppering his speech with phrases like “Brothers and sisters.” Inspiring! At the end, Nichols got a standing ovation, during which he documented the event by taking photos with his smartphone.
Their talk is part of their speaking tour for the book Dollarocracy: How the Money and Media Election Complex is Destroying America. During the talk, while one of the authors was speaking to the audience, the other was checking his smartphone. At one point they mentioned that their book is #2 on the Amazon list of top-sellers in politics.