An oligarchy, Webster’s dictionary tells us, is “a form of government in which the ruling power belongs to a few persons.” It’s a shame that the Republican majority on the Supreme Court doesn’t know the difference between an oligarchy and a democratic republic.That is the beginning of Dionne's pointed and powerful Washington Post column this morning, titled Supreme Oligarchy.
Yes, I said “the Republican majority,” violating a nicety based on the pretense that when people reach the high court, they forget their party allegiance. We need to stop peddling this fiction.
Dionne riightly points out the impact of the combination of decisions, Citizens United several years ago, and now McCutcheon. He says that five Republican appointees to SCOTUS - the Chief Justice and Justices Scalia, Kennedy, Thomas and Alito -
always side with the wealthy, the powerful and the forces that would advance the political party that put them on the court. The ideological overreach that is wrecking our politics is now also wrecking our jurisprudence.Except the wrecking process goes back well before the current makeup of the Court, at least as far back as when the majority of the Court titled cnservative with the addition of Clarence Thomas to the bench under the first President Bush. Of course, by today's standard, Sandra Day O'Connor might well be considered a centrist!
Please keep reading.
This is powerful and pointed writing about what is happening to our political process.
I am very much going to push fair use to make how clearly Dionne takes this on:
If Congress tries to contain the power of the rich, the Roberts Court will slap it in the face. And if Congress tries to guarantee the voting rights of minorities, the Roberts Court will slap it in the face again.It is worth noting that what the Court is doing is also happening in conjunction with other actions, actions I see clearly in the arena of public education.
Notice how these actions work in tandem to make the wealthy more powerful and those who have suffered oppression and discrimination less powerful. You don’t need much imagination to see who benefits from what the court is doing.
We see privatization of public assets - prisons, water systems, toll roads, schools - and/or the use of public funds in ways that make accountability to the public whose taxes pay for them non-existent.
For example, Charter Schools exist with public funds but they have successfully asserted before Courts that they are not public institutions and thus not subject to laws about disclosure and accountability and work rules and rights of employees by which public schools must abide.
They are even in New York being exempted by the state legislature at the behest of the supposedly Democratic Governor Andrew Cuomo from having to pay for the use of public school buildings, thereby rejecting the will of the voters of New York City who chose Bill de Blasio as mayor at least in part to get control over the charter school operators like Bloomberg buddy Eva Moscowitz.
We have advocates for charters arguing forthrightly against the notion of local school boards and democracy - for this see the likes of Netflix founder Reed Hastings among others.
Let's be serious - our Founders were very aware of and opposed to the notion of unchecked hereditary wealth. That was one problem, for which the controls have been gutted over successive national adminstrations. Otherwise, would the brothers Koch have started with so much already?
I do not think they ever anticipated the explosion of wealth in one generation on the scale we have seen it in the past several decades, where a Bill Gates or Mark Zuckerberg or others of that ilk could accumulate so much proportional to the rest of us that they could basically buy and sell entire state legislatures and administrations. Oh yes, there were the railroads owning state legislatures and thus controlling the US Senate, but the American people rose up and imposed the 17th Amendment with direct election of US Senators.
We are changing rules to benefit a very narrow slice of America. The removal of the caps on total contributions affects out of a population of 317 million a tiny slice according to the Center for Responsive Politics, whose data Dionne uses to write
1,715 donors gave the maximum amount to party committees in 2012, and 591 gave the maximum amount to federal candidates.Dionne rightly connects the campaign finance decisions with the gutting of the protections of the Voting Rights Act.
It is part and parcel of a plan to demolish effective democracy while keeping the semblance, so that government power can be used to shift even more economic power and wealth to the few who already have far too much of both.
Dionne puts it very well in his two short concluding paragraphs:
Thus has this court conferred on wealthy people the right to give vast sums of money to politicians while undercutting the rights of millions of citizens to cast a ballot.Indeed.
Send in the oligarchs.