WaPo and Jimmy Carter agree: The U.S. has become an Oligarchy

The reliably Republican editorial board of the Washington Post editorializes today, A wealthy oligarchy of donors is dominating the 2016 election:

oligarchy-300x300THE UNITED States may be turning a corner in presidential politics. Although the election itself is more than a year away, the latest reports to the Federal Election Commission show that a wealthy oligarchy of donors has come to dominate campaign finance, particularly in the crowded Republican contest. Fewer than 400 families are responsible for almost half the money raised in the campaign so far, according to an analysis by the New York Times. This class of wealthy patrons, some with new fortunes and others of long-standing, is throwing money into campaigns, not of all which will end happily. But the preeminence of this clan of tycoons so early in the season is not a good sign.

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[T]he super PACs dwarf the actual campaign organizations in fundraising. The total the super PACs have raised is nearly double the more than $130 million the presidential campaigns raised in the first six months of this year, the center reports. The super PACs are the tangible result of the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision that opened the floodgates to unlimited campaign giving. A second vehicle, groups that claim to be social welfare organizations, is also worrying because the donations do not have to be disclosed to the public.

The Times analysis of FEC and Internal Revenue Service records shows that candidates are becoming dependent on a small pool of wealthy Americans. The analysis found that about 130 families and their businesses provided more than half the money raised through June by the Republican candidates and their super PACs. The Democrats also have some big-money fat-cats, but they also have a wider base of smaller donors.

What’s wrong with this concentration of wealth and power? The nation has often been ruled by elites, and rued it. But the potential to warp the political system is ever-present when such large sums are poured into politics. A quick scan down the list of the biggest donors shows that many of them would be affected by government policy under a new president — tycoons who have made their fortunes in private equity, hydraulic fracturing and oil field services, technology and other businesses.

Now they want to add king-maker to their names.

Former president Jimmy Carter, a Democrat, came to the same conclusion in an interview on the Thom Hartmann Program (via The Intercept) last week:

[Jimmy] Carter was responding to a question from Hartmann about recent Supreme Court decisions on campaign financing like Citizens United.

Transcript:

HARTMANN: Our Supreme Court has now said, “unlimited money in politics.” It seems like a violation of principles of democracy. … Your thoughts on that?

CARTER: It violates the essence of what made America a great country in its political system. Now it’s just an oligarchy, with unlimited political bribery being the essence of getting the nominations for president or to elect the president. And the same thing applies to governors and U.S. senators and congress members. So now we’ve just seen a complete subversion of our political system as a payoff to major contributors, who want and expect and sometimes get favors for themselves after the election’s over. … The incumbents, Democrats and Republicans, look upon this unlimited money as a great benefit to themselves. Somebody’s who’s already in Congress has a lot more to sell to an avid contributor than somebody who’s just a challenger.

Eric Zuesse, an investigative historian writing at The Huffington Post says Jimmy Carter Is Correct That the U.S. Is No Longer a Democracy:

So, was this former president’s provocative allegation merely his opinion? Or was it actually lots more than that? It was lots more than that.

Only a single empirical study has actually been done in the social sciences regarding whether the historical record shows that the United States has been, during the survey’s period, which in that case was between 1981 and 2002, a democracy (a nation whose leaders represent the public-at-large), or instead an aristocracy (or ‘oligarchy’) — a nation in which only the desires of the richest citizens end up being reflected in governmental actions. This study was titled “Testing Theories of American Politics,” and it was published by Martin Gilens and Benjamin I. Page in the journal Perspectives on Politics, issued by the American Political Science Association in September 2014. I had summarized it earlier, on April 14, 2014, while the article was still awaiting its publication.

The headline of my summary-article was “U.S. Is an Oligarchy Not a Democracy Says Scientific Study.” I reported:

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).

I then quoted the authors’ own summary: “The preferences of the average American appear to have only a minuscule, near-zero, statistically non-significant impact upon public policy.”

The scientific study closed by saying: “In the United States, our findings indicate, the majority does not rule — at least not in the causal sense of actually determining policy outcomes.” A few other tolerably clear sentences managed to make their ways into this well-researched, but, sadly, atrociously written paper, such as: “The preferences of economic elites (as measured by our proxy, the preferences of ‘affluent’ citizens) have far more independent impact upon policy change than the preferences of average citizens do.” In other words, they found: The rich rule the U.S.

Their study investigated specifically “1,779 instances between 1981 and 2002 in which a national survey of the general public asked a favor/oppose question about a proposed policy change,” and then the policy-follow-ups, of whether or not the polled public preferences had been turned into polices, or, alternatively, whether the relevant corporate-lobbied positions had instead become public policy on the given matter, irrespective of what the public had wanted concerning it.

The study period, 1981-2002, covered the wake of the landmark 1976 U.S. Supreme Court decision, Buckley v. Valeo, which had started the aristocratic assault on American democracy, and which seminal (and bipartisan) pro-aristocratic court decision is described as follows by wikipedia:

[It] struck down on First Amendment grounds several provisions in the 1974 Amendments to the Federal Election Campaign Act. The most prominent portions of the case struck down limits on spending in campaigns, but upheld the provision limiting the size of individual contributions to campaigns. The Court also narrowed, and then upheld, the Act’s disclosure provisions, and struck down (on separation of powers grounds) the make-up of the Federal Election Commission, which as written allowed Congress to directly appoint members of the Commission, an executive agency.

Basically, the Buckley decision, and subsequent (increasingly partisan Republican) Supreme Court decisions, have allowed aristocrats to buy and control politicians.

Already, the major ‘news’ media were owned and controlled by the aristocracy, and ‘freedom of the press’ was really just freedom of aristocrats to control the ‘news’ — to frame public issues in the ways the owners want. The media managers who are appointed by those owners select, in turn, the editors who, in their turn, hire only reporters who produce the propaganda that’s within the acceptable range for the owners, to be ‘the news’ as the public comes to know it.

But, now, in the post-Buckley v.Valeo world, from Reagan on (and the resulting study-period of 1981-2002), aristocrats became almost totally free to buy also the political candidates they wanted. The ‘right’ candidates, plus the ‘right’ ‘news’-reporting about them, has thus bought the ‘right’ people to ‘represent’ the public, in the new American ‘democracy,’ which Jimmy Carter now aptly calls “subversion of our political system as a payoff to major contributors.”

Carter — who had entered office in 1977, at the very start of that entire era of transition into an aristocratically controlled United States (and he left office in 1981, just as the study-period was starting) — expressed his opinion that, in the wake now of the two most extreme pro-aristocratic U.S. Supreme Court decisions ever (which are Citizens United in 2010, and McCutcheon in 2014), American democracy is really only past tense, not present tense at all — no longer a reality.

He is saying, in effect, that, no matter how much the U.S. was a dictatorship by the rich during 1981-2002 (the Gilens-Page study era), it’s far worse now.

Apparently, Carter is correct: The New York Times front page on Sunday 2 August 2015 bannered, “Small Pool of Rich Donors Dominates Election Giving,” and reported that:

A New York Times analysis of Federal Election Commission reports and Internal Revenue Service records shows that the fund-raising arms race has made most of the presidential hopefuls deeply dependent on a small pool of the richest Americans. The concentration of donors is greatest on the Republican side, according to the Times analysis, where consultants and lawyers have pushed more aggressively to exploit the looser fund-raising rules that have fueled the rise of super PACs. Just 130 or so families and their businesses provided more than half the money raised through June by Republican candidates and their super PACs.

The Times study shows that the Republican Party is overwhelmingly advantaged by the recent unleashing of big-corporate money power. All of the evidence suggests that though different aristocrats compete against each other for the biggest chunks of whatever the given nation has to offer, they all compete on the same side against the public, in order to lower the wages of their workers, and to lower the standards for consumers’ safety and welfare so as to increase their own profits (transfer their costs and investment-losses onto others); and, so, now, the U.S. is soaring again toward Gilded Age economic inequality, perhaps to surpass the earlier era of unrestrained robber barons. And, the Times study shows: even in the Democratic Party, the mega-donations are going to only the most conservative (pro-corporate, anti-public) Democrats. Grass-roots politics could be vestigial, or even dead, in the new America.

The question has become whether the unrestrained power of the aristocracy is locked in this time even more permanently than it was in that earlier era. Or will there be yet another FDR (Franklin Delano Roosevelt) to restore a democracy that once was? Or is a president like that any longer even possible in America?

Not in the present political climate in the U.S. Americans are too easily distracted by the bread and circuses of modern media. Roman poet Juvenal used this phrase to decry the selfishness of common people and their neglect of wider concerns. This is how Rome lost its democracy and wound up with an emperor.

One response to “WaPo and Jimmy Carter agree: The U.S. has become an Oligarchy

  1. American Vendetta

    Well said. This has been a concern of mine for a long time now. The most disturbing thing about this is the length my conservative associates will go to defend this type of “democracy”. It is as if they do not care about “We the People” and only believe in what they are being fed.