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Working In These Times

Wednesday, Oct 6, 2010, 9:59 am

America’s ‘Plutonomy’ Drives Warped Electoral Season

BY Roger Bybee

The stakes of the November 2 mid-term elections are coming more sharply into focus.

The plutocrats have unlimited money, they have a media machine devoted to their viewpoints, and they have a grassroots movement to camouflage their ultimate agenda of domination of the economy.
Stopping a Republican takeover of either or both houses is crucial to lifting our economy out of recession and preventing the further distortion of our economy through the expansion of the parasitic financial sector.  

It's a surreal and disturbing tableau: While Tea Party activists wave banners about "smaller government," America's CEOs have not lost interest in the privileges and profits that can be extracted from the Big Government that they supposedly hate so much.

'BIG GOVERNMENT': A SOURCE OF PLUNDER

Major corporations recognize that the federal government remains an indispensable source of both critical legal protections and vast treasure chests of plunder.

For Corporate Amercia, "Big Government" means huge federal contracts (no-bid in the case of favored outfits like Halliburton and Blackwater), massive subsidies, tax breaks, investment guarantees, low-cost oil and mineral leases, and of course, the "too big to fail" doctrine which will remain in place despite reforms of Wall Street practices.

The virtually unconditional bailout of Wall Street is perhaps the most clear-cut example. The banks got bailed out, yet have shown their gratitude to the public by awarding themselves huge bonuses, while withholding loans from small businesses and families, and conducting foreclosures at such a rapid pace (10 times the daily volume during the Great Depression) that several major banks have failed to follow all procedures required before kicking a family out of their home. 

Citibank, in a confidential document, describes the U.S. economic system as nothing less than "a plutonomy" where the super-rich thrive regardless of the fate of the bottom 90%. The richest 1% now take home 23.5% of all US income, more than the bottom half.

DROWNING DEMOCRACY

Meanwhile, corporations, already sitting on roughly $1.6 trillion in profits, are prolonging the recession by squeezing more from their current workers rather than adding to their workforces. At the same time, they--unlike small businesses--are finding it easy to borrow money, as the New York Times asks: "When will they start spending that money — in particular, by hiring? ... When will corporate America start to feel confident enough to put its cash to work, building factories and putting some of the nation’s 14.9 million unemployed to work?"

All of this wealth concentrated in the hands of a relatively tiny handful of corporations and indviduals gives them the resources to thoroughly attempt to drown our democracy in a flood of cash. The menace to authentic democracy comes in three mutually-reinforcing elements:

1. Money: There is a highly profitable outlet for all that spare corporate cash: investing in politicians willing to do their bidding.

Thanks to the Citizens United decision by the US Supreme Court which affirmed the preposterous concept of corporate, the notion that corporations are thereby entitled to donate as much as they like directly to candidates.

This decision overturns a century of legislation designed to maintain at least a façade of democracy and has opened the floodgates to a torrent of money coming from billionaires. The American Crossroads organization founded by GOP strategist Karl Rove collected $17.6 million by mid-August, with more than 97% coming from four billionaires, according to Kevin Zeese.
While the Republican Party has had trouble raising money because its program is so uninspiring to the general public, groups like American Crossroads have stepped in and are providing a massive advantage to Republican candidates in the area of 7-1 or 9-1, according to Howard Fineman on MSNBC, drawing money almost exclusively from the pockets of billionaires.

2) Media Machine:  As America's media outlets have come under the control of a continually shrinking circle of owners, the corporate Right has been able to buy up a huge chunk of the major TV stations, radio networks, and newspapers. FOX News is virtually inseperaable from the Republican Party, and gave gigantic promotional coverage to Tea Party events.

The support for the GOP is shameless, with "every major contender for the 2012 Republican presidential nomination who isn’t currently holding office and isn’t named Mitt Romney" now a paid Fox contributor, as Paul Krugman recently wrote.

Meanwhile, the right-wing media operation--from Rupert Murdoch's newspapers and his FOX News--including the Wall Street Journal to bloggers like Matt Drudge and rapersonalitiees like Glenn Beck and Rush Limbaugh—feel free to manufacture baselse lies awhich are theen repeated by other rightist outlets as news (after all, somebody reported it) and the fears of white America are continually stoked up.

So we are treated to an endless stream of unfounded revelations--about ACORN's involvement in election fraud and other illegal activity, "death panels" in the healthcare bill, Obama's birth in Kenya rather than Hawaii,  the president's secret identity as a Muslim, and on and on. 

3) Mock Movement The Tea Party's seemingly amateurish style--with its ragged rhetoric, crudely intimidating tactics, and hallucinatory conspiracy theories--has given it the patina of a real people's movement, a populist insurgency against "big government" intrusions into Americans' lives.

But the Tea Party remains a fig leaf which serves to hide a nakedly pro-coporate program which will provide nothing to most Tea Partiers.

The Tea Party's crusade for lower taxes and less government is aligned perferfectly with Republican themes—and the goals of the GOP's big donors. However, when polling shows Tea Party members overwhelmingly oppose such key elements of the GOP ad corporate agenda as "free trade" and the off-shoring" of US jobs is drowned out by the Tea Party's top leaders and simply gets dismissed.

A FEW BIG DONORS

While the Tea Party's rank and file members have legitimate anxieties caused by the current economic crisis, the party itself is funded and subtly steered by the goals of its donors. While much of the party's financial sources are still being uncovered, as Frank Rich notes,

t’s clear that some Tea Party groups and candidates like Sharron Angle, Paul and O’Donnell are being financed directly or indirectly not just by the Kochs ... but by a remarkable coterie of fellow billionaires, led by oil barons like Robert Rowling (Forbes No. 69) and Trevor Rees-Jones (No. 110). Even their largess may be dwarfed by Rupert Murdoch (No. 38) and his News Corporation…

RIGHT PICKS OUT ELECTION-SEASON ISSUES

Essentially, we are seeing a variation of the Right's strategy so memorably described in Thomas Frank's What’s the Matter With Kansas? In the 1990s, the Right used "election-season" issues--in the 1990's, social issues like guns, gays, and God to solicit votes that were translated into a mandate for expanded corporate power.

Currently, the pitch is more economic than moral: "smaller government" and "lower taxes" promote a concealed agenda of not shrinking government, but instead full exploiting it to enrich corporations and the top 1%.

This strategy remains effective because the leading Democrats won't tackle the fundamental problem of corporate power, which raises the moral and emotional dimensions necessary to ignite a real progressive movement.

In the coming weeks, it is vital that labor progressives decode and expose the Tea Party/Republican message as a call for selfishly plundering government resources, not shrinking government.

But after November 2, labor and progressives—otherwise known as what Robert Gibbs labeled "the profesional Left" and Rahm Emanuel  called "f--- retards"—must begin to stop acting like passive victims of abuse.

The Democrats' reticence about challenging corporate power has meant neglecting the urgent needs of its long-suffering base, and we can no longer play along.

Roger Bybee is a Milwaukee-based freelance writer and University of Illinois visiting professor in Labor Education. Roger's work has appeared in numerous national publications, including Z magazine, Dollars & Sense, The Progressive, Progressive Populist, Huffington Post, The American Prospect, Yes! and Foreign Policy in Focus. More of his work can be found at zcommunications.org/zspace/rogerdbybee.

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