Fools, Their Money, and Citizens More and More United

Mr Isquith has surveyed the post-Citizens United world, and found it wanting:

Americans were already deeply cynical about their politics, before Citizens United. But while there was once a means, however faint, to argue that the system is not a dull gloss over what is in essence an elaborate sporting event with dueling oligarchs jockeying over what amounts to most of us as minutiae, the Super PAC order of today renders that optimism not naïve but simply delusional. In the same way people know professional wrestling is fake — even if the role of “winner” is traded back-and-forth between dueling sides — voters will soon believe, if they don’t already, that American democracy is a sham.

It may continue to provide good copy for Wilkinson, Weigel, and me, but the Citizens United decision nevertheless remains, on the whole, a disaster.

Is the CU decision the disaster, or is the disaster what, post-CU, we are seeing ever more clearly?  Put differently, is it in the final analysis possible to agree with Mr. Isquith without disagreeing with him?

Now, to suggest that citizens may have very good reasons to be united in their belief that American democracy is a sham is not to say that they do not or should not have other good reasons to believe other things about American democracy as well.  It could be, for instance, that the mass electoral arm of the American system has never functioned ideally, was never designed to function ideally, and cannot be made to function ideally or very much more nearly ideally without requiring the sacrifice of other ideals or values – in short that our approach to election campaigns is necessarily informed by the same Madisonian borderline attraction-repulsion complex that attaches to every other aspect of applied American political science, from the management and tabulation of actual voting, to the obligations and privileges of citizenship, to the relations between and true powers of the various branches and sub-branches, to the functioning of the judicial system from top to bottom.

Yet whatever the deeper truth about the American system such as it is, the post-CU world is a world in which the 0.0001% are financing a remarkably effective satire undermining themselves and their chosen spokespeople:  Diminishing returns as morality play.  Don’t we mostly believe that the main “beneficiaries” of SuperPAC spending have mostly suffered in public esteem over the course of an extremely disproportionately negative campaign?  Does anyone believe that the candidates, their party, or the interests that the candidates and party seek to represent are “doing better” right now than they were before the Republican campaign really got going?  Has any Occupy protest or even any interview with Donald Trump done more to expose the irrationality of an economic system that to some impressively large extent reserves its greatest rewards for people who do not deserve them?

Who needs Karl Marx when we have Sheldon Adelson and Foster Friess and the shrinking men they pay for on vividly multimediatized display?

It could be that by November the SuperPACS will have discovered something to say and a way to say it that somehow reverses the increasingly indelible impression that they’re making fools of themselves, but speech is not merely a commodity sold by the ton.  It has to have something to convey.  The main message of the SuperPAC-oids, repeated and received and repeated and received again, has so far been that people like them, all of the people that people like them like, and all of the other people like them at all, to whatever extent they like them or are like them, are dangerous and ridiculous.  On present evidence that will continue to be their only real message until and unless they themselves, embarrassed to be the last ones to get their own joke, finally discover less self-destructive ways to waste their money.

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Writing since ancient times, blogging, e-commercing, and site installing-designing-maintaining since 2001; WordPress theme and plugin configuring and developing since 2004 or so; a lifelong freelancer, not associated nor to be associated with any company, publication, party, university, church, or other institution. 

13 comments on “Fools, Their Money, and Citizens More and More United

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  1. breadth is deciding Brown v Board of Ed by saying that separate but equal can never be permitted rather than deciding the case narrowly by saying that the Board was not in this instance furnishing an equal education and that the Board must come up with a plan to remedy the inequality.

    the case is decided against the Topeka B of E either way, which is the decision, but…….there’s a slight difference in breadth

  2. don’t be so worried….. you get a great deal of lee-way with me, Colin………and if you get get out of line……..I’ll already be there most likely.

    there were a couple of different ways to go……and one of the grumpiest and brightest of the Muddville nine suggested one………

    • See, now that’s what I was looking for, an interesting and thoughtful distinction, but the articlegoes back to my oh so very very subtle point: What makes the decision the decision we so know and love is it’s breadth. It didn’t go all the way – “what the hey, let’s protect ALL speech, fire in a crowded building, obscenity, fraud, you name it” – but it wasn’t as modest as the author of that article seemed to have been expecting either.

  3. miggs, in case you missed it, the Court had a bit of trouble deciding where political speech and commercial speech separated.

    if someone shows a movie to paying audiences and it revolves around political figures, is that political or commercial or artistic?

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Noted & Quoted

TV pundits and op-ed writers of every major newspaper epitomize how the Democratic establishment has already reached a consensus: the 2020 nominee must be a centrist, a Joe Biden, Cory Booker or Kamala Harris–type, preferably. They say that Joe Biden should "run because [his] populist image fits the Democrats’ most successful political strategy of the past generation" (David Leonhardt, New York Times), and though Biden "would be far from an ideal president," he "looks most like the person who could beat Trump" (David Ignatius, Washington Post). Likewise, the same elite pundit class is working overtime to torpedo left-Democratic candidates like Sanders.

For someone who was not acquainted with Piketty's paper, the argument for a centrist Democrat might sound compelling. If the country has tilted to the right, should we elect a candidate closer to the middle than the fringe? If the electorate resembles a left-to-right line, and each voter has a bracketed range of acceptability in which they vote, this would make perfect sense. The only problem is that it doesn't work like that, as Piketty shows.

The reason is that nominating centrist Democrats who don't speak to class issues will result in a great swathe of voters simply not voting. Conversely, right-wing candidates who speak to class issues, but who do so by harnessing a false consciousness — i.e. blaming immigrants and minorities for capitalism's ills, rather than capitalists — will win those same voters who would have voted for a more class-conscious left candidate. Piketty calls this a "bifurcated" voting situation, meaning many voters will connect either with far-right xenophobic nationalists or left-egalitarian internationalists, but perhaps nothing in-between.

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Understanding Trump’s charisma offers important clues to understanding the problems that the Democrats need to address. Most important, the Democratic candidate must convey a sense that he or she will fulfil the promise of 2008: not piecemeal reform but a genuine, full-scale change in America’s way of thinking. It’s also crucial to recognise that, like Britain, America is at a turning point and must go in one direction or another. Finally, the candidate must speak to Americans’ sense of self-respect linked to social justice and inclusion. While Weber’s analysis of charisma arose from the German situation, it has special relevance to the United States of America, the first mass democracy, whose Constitution invented the institution of the presidency as a recognition of the indispensable role that unique individuals play in history.

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[E]ven Fox didn’t tout Bartiromo’s big scoops on Trump’s legislative agenda, because 10 months into the Trump presidency, nobody is so foolish as to believe that him saying, “We’re doing a big infrastructure bill,” means that the Trump administration is, in fact, doing a big infrastructure bill. The president just mouths off at turns ignorantly and dishonestly, and nobody pays much attention to it unless he says something unusually inflammatory.On some level, it’s a little bit funny. On another level, Puerto Rico is still languishing in the dark without power (and in many cases without safe drinking water) with no end in sight. Trump is less popular at this point in his administration than any previous president despite a generally benign economic climate, and shows no sign of changing course. Perhaps it will all work out for the best, and someday we’ll look back and chuckle about the time when we had a president who didn’t know anything about anything that was happening and could never be counted on to make coherent, factual statements on any subject. But traditionally, we haven’t elected presidents like that — for what have always seemed like pretty good reasons — and the risks of compounding disaster are still very much out there.

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