Perspective’s hard to come by in the heat of the moment, but it’s already clear that this week’s election is profoundly important. The forces of small-”d” democracy are up against a cabal of ultra-powerful financiers who, in an unending quest for greater wealth and power, have drawn upon the ugliest impulses and most corrupt political forces in our society. This cabal and its allies make up a Coalition of the Billing, the Drilling, and of course the Killing – a nasty gang that’s determined to seize control of our government at any cost. And they can afford it.
When it’s finally viewed through the longer lens of history, this election may be remembered as a decisive battle – and we’re on the front lines.
Moneyed interests have always fought to undermine the democratic process, of course, and they’ve had more than their share of successes. But there may never have been a time in American history when the corporatist cabal has been so powerful, so cynical, and so closely allied with the Four Horsemen of political darkness: xenophobia, racism, misogyny, and fear. Isn’t that reason enough to vote – and to get as many other people to the polls as possible?
When it comes to the naked exercise of power, the robber barons of the 19th and early 20th Centuries were pikers next to today’s characters. After all, back then a young and unelected President named Teddy Roosevelt was able to rebuff J. Pierpont Morgan and survive. Imagine what would happen if a Teddy Roosevelt moved to break up the big financial trusts today. The media frenzy would be relentless, with Fox News (and most of the “mainstream” news outlets, too) screaming “Socialism!” throughout their 24-hour news cycle. And under a Congress like the one we may get, it would probably lead to impeachment, too.
There’s a school of thought which argues that the old-time robber barons – the guys who were usually drawn wearing a top hat and striped pants – provided social value by spurring the growth of industry and guiding the country toward a more efficient, organized economy. Whether or not you agree, no such defense can be plausibly made for today’s Wall Street crowd. The new robber barons have built no railroads, no factories, no new towns or buildings. All they’ve left in their wake is chaos and unemployment. They’ve drained the economy instead of helping it grow.
If this isn’t the time to get a little preachy or adamant with those around you, a time to raise the flag and sound the battle cry, then American history has never seen such a time. So at the risk of going all Winston Churchill on your friends and neighbors – “We will fight them on the airwaves! We will fight them in the polling places!” – why not rally them to get out and vote?
And for all of you who attended the Sanity Rally in Washington this week, please note that you can sound the battle cry serenely and sanely. Take me, for instance … well, okay, bad example. But I’m actually quite sympathetic to Tea Party fears and concerns – enough so to have been chastised a couple of times for it lately in radio interviews like this one. Still, sympathy for the frightened and helpless is no reason to avoid the plain truth: We’re in danger of seeing the electoral process hijacked by a massive coalition of the greedy, the cynical and the stupid – aided and abetted by the fearful, the angry, and the hate-filled.
Unless we stop it, this new Wall Street/Tea Party axis will seize enough power tomorrow to paralyze Washington. The resulting gridlock will cause our democratic and government institutions to atrophy and wither – which is the point, of course. A paralyzed government can’t restrict the predatory actions of bankers and other corporations, which is why job #1 for a cabal-controlled Congress would be to de-fund Elizabeth Warren’s Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.
My colleague Zach Carter has done excellent work detailing the Wall Street/Tea Party connection (see here and here , for example – and I particularly enjoyed reading about Tea Party leaders riding corporate jets to their “grassroots” rallies). It’s been remarkable and absurd to see Tea Partiers – people who are genuinely furious over government aid to wealthy bankers — wave signs for politicians whose servility to those bankers would embarrass any self-respecting valet. It’s like Spartacus speaking at a Roman Legion rally, or galley slaves demonstrating on behalf of oar manufacturers.
Corrupt? Sure they are. Merriam-Webster first definition of “corruption” is “an impairment of integrity, virtue, or moral principle.” Check. Another definition reads: “A departure from the original or what is pure and correct,” which pretty much suits today’s political process. As for the third definition – “inducement to wrong by improper or unlawful means (as bribery)” – there’s plenty of that going around, too.
Wall Street’s bought-and-paid-for minions are leading the right-wing charge on the political front, which is why conservative politicians decry bank bailouts even as they slavishly advance the banks’ agenda at every turn. (“I am Spartacus!” cried the Centurions.) Conservatives, bankers, and their media subordinates are the core cadres of the New American Falange, a politico/corporate syndicate dedicated to channeling public resources for private enrichment. Forget the talk about reducing government power. Their goal is to increase that power so they can put it to use in the service of corporations,clamping down on individual rights as they mouth the rhetoric of freedom.
That much is pretty well known. But less attention’s been paid to the fact that Wall Street is now funding and promoting a shocking level of rhetorical brutality in support of its agenda. While bankers adopt a superficial air of civility, their money and influence is subsidizing an ugliness of discourse that’s unprecedented in recent political speech. They’re pushing a multimedia and multisensory hatefest, aided and abetted at every step by the leaders and shapers of professional “journalism.”
Case in point: Right-wing fraud Andrew Breitbart didn’t hesitate to promote a false “expose” of ACORN – an organization that enrolls minority voters – with a falsified video that included a white “reporter” dressed up as the stereotype of a black pimp. That’s a level of racism worthy of the bigoted and violent white Southerners who fought the civil rights movement of the 1960′s. Back in those days the news media rightfully condemned the bigots. But, oh, how times have changed. This year Breitbart will be providing election night commentary for ABC, a wholly owned subsidiary of The Walt Disney Company. Nobody with a proven record of deception and bigotry gets that level of access without the support and encouragement of some very wealthy and powerful people.
The Disney Company’s editorial decision isn’t the only Mickey Mouse move on behalf of hate we’ve seen this year. There’s also the racist Sharron Angle campaign ad that contrasts scary Hispanic gangsters with pure and innocent white children in much the same way that Bible Belt politicians used to speak of protecting the flower of young Southern womanhood from the “colored.” Tea Party signs that read “Obama’s Plan: White Slavery” are the direct descendants of the “Negro Rule” cartoon used to inflame race hatred during the 1898 race riots in Wilmington, North Carolina. The newspaper that published that cartoon eventually apologized for helping to provoke the white violence that claimed as many as 100 lives – but it took more than a century to get around to it.
Here’s hoping that more such apologies to the relatives of the deceased won’t be needed anytime soon.
And speaking of ugliness: Let’s not forget that “Citizens United,” the Supreme Court decision which gave corporations unlimited financial influence over our elections, is named after the four-letter word for a woman’s genitalia. Had you forgotten? The “c” and “u” were the first two letters of an acronym directed at Presidential candidate Hillary Clinton – “Citizens United Not Timid” – and corporatist judges used a lawsuit on its behalf to abolish limits on corporate campaign money. This foul alphabetical cesspool laid the cornerstone for the Darkness Coalition’s latest triumph.
The misogynists’ victory will be complete if the next Congress blocks any further attempts to restrict corporate influence over the electoral process. That’s undoubtedly high on the American Falangists’ “to-do” list. So is rolling back Social Security and the other social advances of the last 75 years.
Sure, we’re not always being given the alternatives we’d like. With corporatists riding high, it would be great to see more tough-talking, rough ridin’ Teddy Roosevelt types working to break up the trusts and restore the nation’s financial integrity. We’re not talking about extremists, either, any more than Roosevelt was an extremist. In fact, Roosevelt and Morgan were able to work together effective during the financial panic of 1907, long after their early run-in. But, as any good relationship counselor no doubt understands, sometimes a balanced partnership requires some healthy boundary-setting up front. A little trust-bustin’ would go good right about now.
Politicians, even the best of them, are usually people who’ll wait to see which way the wind is blowing. If it favors the corporatists this year, most of them will go along – even if their hearts aren’t in it. But if there’s enough voter resistance – even if it’s just a glimmer – some of them will fight the corporate interests. Lead with your votes and some politicians will follow.
That’s why we need to vote as if our lives, and the life of the Republic, depend on it. It’s why we need to encourage others to vote by doing a Winston Churchill number on ‘em. And for those of us who have a car – it doesn’t matter if it’s a VW or an Escalade, a Ford V-8 or a Rocket 88 – it’s why we should drive people to the polls in it. But whatever you do, vote. If you want to “restore sanity,” vote. Vote against the racism, the misogyny, and the xenophobia. Most of all, vote against the financial interests that are funding these hateful things. Stand up and show them the real Spartacus. Fight the cabal and its hatemongering associates, using the tool of suffrage that each and every one of us has been given.
Strike back against the haters and the greedheads who have formed an unholy alliance with the media mouthpieces and the political manservants. Don’t let them win. They’re powerful, but they’re not unbeatable. Confront them and they will cower. Fight them and they will retreat.
Steve Earle wrote on the back of one of his albums, “If you don’t vote, don’t bitch.” Personally, I choose to do both. Care to join me?
This post was produced as part of the Curbing Wall Street project.