Oligarchy: a form of power structure in which power effectively rests with a small number of people. These people could be distinguished by royalty, wealth, family ties, education, corporate, or military control. Such states are often controlled by a few prominent families who typically pass their influence from one generation to the next, but inheritance is not a necessary condition for the application of this term.
Not that many years ago, if someone complained this country was moving towards an Oligarchy I would dismiss that person as being hyperbolic. However I see the trend over the past few years, while others report it’s been moving this way for 30 or more years. It’s getting harder to dismiss this as a simple talking point. We’ve always known that big money controlled politicians via donations. However it was always tempered with limits, disclosures and at one time the fairness doctrine. Though not completely thwarted, there were mechanisms in place that at least gave a semblance of a fair playing field in the world of local and national politics.
Our founders in their first amendment to the Constitution place in “Freedom of Speech” or more accurately reflected as freedom of thought, freedom of ideas. No one could be kept from expressing their views on politics, religion, economy, science, anything. As Americans we couldn’t be censored by the State and certainly not by individuals. Now over the years, limits were placed on first amendment rights. The most famous was not yelling fire in a crowded theatre. You couldn’t use freedom of speech to insight violent civil unrest.
Legally you can say anything you want about anybody else or anything. Very little can be done to you in a criminal sense unless it can be shown it was done to purposefully and maliciously defraud. No, libeling someone isn’t criminal, it’s civil. We have the right to get an attorney if we can afford one to go up against the person who slanders or libels us, assuming they can’t afford a better more expensive attorney (more about that later).
With limitations in place and a Court system that at the very top exclaims “Equal Justice Under Law” that in theory applied to all in both criminal and civil cases, we had a level and fair playing field. Speech was protected, but limited in extreme cases to avoid abuse and civil unrest. Hell, even the Nazis and Ku Klux Klan have a right to march in public, you have a right to call our President a “mongrel”, you have a right to even lie in political ads (more about that later), you just can’t threaten the lives of government officials, celebrities or ordinary people of any classification nor can you lie to defraud and deceive maliciously.
Going back to the fairness doctrine that has a bad reputation, there once was a time where if a broadcast made a political point using the public airwaves, that station was required to provide equal time to express a counter point if someone wanted to make it. It was a time when both sides of any political argument got equal time to be heard and the people could make up their own minds. It was a proactive way to avoid censorship of ideas. Democracy grows and matures with an open discussion of ideas with everyone keeping an open mind. However during the Reagan administration, the FCC eliminated the fairness doctrine on the public airways.
Later, as corporations who owned the stations were absolved from taking a financial loss from reporting real news, more stations began to edit the news not for accuracy, but to sell airtime to advertisers. Today Miley Cyrus straddling a wrecking ball gets as much if not more airtime than a fire killing hundreds, or a policy statement effecting millions of Americans. Celebrity garners more attention and airtime than actual news. What’s worse, if there is going to be a political theme to any news story, rest assure the station owners will decide how that is presented.
What finally nailed the coffin shut regarding a free and open discussion of ideas on a level playing field on the public airways was in the Clinton administration when he allowed the merger of radio, television and newspapers across the country. Now only a few corporations control all the news being heard in this nation whether it be in print, on the radio or public airways. Reagan started it, Clinton finished it. Plenty of blame to go around.
So because of what I just described, those who own the media corporations that educate the American public, more of their political views were being heard. Now when you are a multi millionaire or billionaire, you could be either Right leaning or Left leaning, but studies show that nearly 60% of the wealthiest people in this country lean Right. And just about all of them who control the news in this country lean Right. So for decades now, a conservative narrative has been fed to the American public and that public has responded by moving more to the Right.
Those once considered moderates are now considered liberals (as if that’s a bad word) due to the moving of public views. With this change, the party that is supposed to represent “Conservative Views”, the Republicans, began winning more local and national elections. These office holders then began appointing Judges to the various benches both locally and nationally who tended to be more conservative.
Now I use the word conservative because that what these people want to call themselves. However they’re not. The traditional values of conservatism dating back to the early days of the Republican Party are now considered by this current group of faux conservatives to be liberal (again not a bad word). What we have masquerading as a conservative group are people who think they are entitled to everything with no responsibilities. Something the GOP use to, and still do blame on the Democrats. They equate “conservatism” with just having money. If you are wealthy, if you are part of the class of people who either earned, inherited or stole millions of dollars you are entitled to everything government can provide you. You’re entitled to tax cuts, subsidies, protections from liabilities, tort protections, you get bailouts because you are too big to fail. You get everything while those who don’t have all that much have to sacrifice all the more.
The founders warned of too much money being in the hands of the few. This is where we are moving to. Income disparity is at its highest rate since just before the Great Depression. The middle-class is shrinking, the poor are getting poorer, yet those in the 1%, even during the recession have gotten richer. Money meant for those in need ended up going to those who didn’t need it.
What would the wealthiest people in this country do regarding politics? They want their candidates making the laws, enforced by their chief executives and sanctified by their judges and justices. Well two things sealed that deal for the “Oligarchs.”
First was Citizen’s United. In the Roberts’ Court’s 5-4 decision, over a hundred years of Supreme Court decisions stating that Corporations weren’t people and money wasn’t speech were overturned. When you consider that George W Bush’s two appointments to the Supreme Court were both Corporate “conservative” attorneys who both swore at their confirmation hearings they would uphold “stare decisis” honoring the previous rulings of the Court, you knew the Oligarch’s wishes were coming true.
Sure enough, in an Ayn Rand wet dream, Corporations were now people and money was now speech. Corporations could now give unlimited campaign donations to candidates of their choosing to air ads (many of which are misleading or outright lies) on stations owned by like minded Oligarchs to sway public opinion and voting their way. Equal Justice Under Law was changed to “Some People are More Equal Than Others”. By using their money and influence to flood the airways, candidates they don’t want get effectively censored. They lose their freedom of speech because money isn’t just speech, money IS speech. If your thoughts, ideas, ideology don’t have money from billionaires backing it up, you will be censored. I doubt any of the founders had this in mind when they enacted the Bill of Rights.
Legal Scholars, Constitutional Law experts from across the country by huge margins disputed the findings of the 5-4 Citizens United ruling as wrong, as not in keeping with the intent and history of the Constitution. However, like with Climate Change and Economics, it doesn’t matter what 90% of the experts say, it’s what the “conservatives” paid experts that matters because they get well paid for pushing the Oligarch’s party line.
Now we have another 5-4 Supreme Court decision regarding McCutcheon. This removed the limit of anyone giving too much money to too many candidates to influence an election. It’s been disclosed that in a country of 315 million Americans, only 646
ever came even close to meeting or exceeding that contribution caps that were thrown out. What’s more, it was only a few Billionaires who pushed this case. Keep in mind, 4.4 million individuals donors gave to President Obama.
People like Charles and David Koch, Sheldon Adelson, Shaun McCutcheon, Art Pope, Rupert Murdoch can just about give all they want to as many as they want to throw an election their way. Individual recipients of campaign cash are still limited to what they can receive from one donor unless that donor uses the loophole built into the decision bigger than a wide load limousine. The Oligarchs won.
Too much has been spoken regarding Liberal versus Conservative. That is in my humble opinion a false argument. I say that because as I pointed out above, today’s conservatives don’t share any of the ideas of previous conservatives. They align themselves with cash and power and whatever it takes to maintain and grow it. Those people are opposed to those who openly fight it. It’s not Conservative versus Liberal, its Oligarchy versus Democracy. The Oligarchs are winning because they have key people in place changing the laws and Court ruling in their favor and they aren’t done yet.
Can ordinary people use the Courts to fight back? Not really. The Roberts’ Court has changed the rules regarding class action lawsuits where the many could get together to share resources to go after corporations and their high price attorneys. Good legal help cost money and they will go where the money is. Oligarchs control the court system.
Can we stop the campaign ads on the airwaves that out and out lie about the candidate or position they’re taking? No we can’t. There is no “truth in advertising” law regarding political campaign ads. All you can do is put up your own ad to fight it, assuming you have the money to do it. Oligarchs control the messaging
We are moving back to the age of the Robber Barons. What turned things around back then was a populace resurgence that came about because of the suffering created by the Great Depression. Progressives voted in FDR and a progressive Congress. Can this be done again? Yes, but it will be much harder because too much power and too much of the media is in the hands of the Oligarchs who hold the strings of those in our government. They control the House, they control the Supreme Court and are set to take the Senate in 2014 and hope to take the executive Branch in 2016.
The only thing that can slow down and reverse the Oligarchic reign of the Koch Brother, the Walton’s, Art Pope, Rupert Murdoch, and Sheldon Adelson and his own fucking primary of GOP hopefuls is social media and those of us who see what is happening making sure their candidates don’t win. We need to really fight using what little free speech we have to educate and motivate the voters to what’s in their interests, not the Oligarchs. Then and only then will this trend end. Otherwise we will be Serfdom USA
These are the Oligarchs; don’t vote for anyone or any position supported by them.
Charles and David Koch
Sheldon “Scooter” Adelson
They got the money, they got the power. All we have are the votes. Don’t you think maybe we should use them effectively for a change?