As soon as the Supreme Court ruled late last month in the soon-to-be landmark decision Citizens United v. FEC, the predictable responses flooded in from all over the political spectrum. The decision, which ruled broadly that corporations could not be curtailed from directly waging campaigns for or against candidates, was uniformly derided by the Left. Progressives saw the ruling as an assault on our democracy and the removal of the final roadblock against plutocracy.
The Right, on the other hand, praised the decision as a righteous triumph of constitutionalism. Free speech was alive and well — even for “embattled” corporate America.
Both reactions are troubling. There is nothing wrong with liberals and progressives being concerned with the further empowerment of corporations. But one gets the feeling that it wasn’t any damage that the Supreme Court was doing to the Constitution that bothered the Left, but that the court was giving corporations yet another weapon to “subvert democracy.”
With the Right, one feels that the vigor with which they celebrated this triumph of “free speech” was helped along by the fact that their brand of good guy had won. The captains of industry, the Randian supermen who keep our economy pumping, were victorious over those who constantly attempt to hinder the rights of the productive class. The liberals hated the decision, and the business world loved it.
What’s not to like?
To an independent-minded conservative or libertarian, a lot.
Sure, Republican politicians may want to embrace this decision. They think the ruling will help Republicans as corporations naturally gravitate toward the pro-business party.
But the truth is, corporations always had several routes to influence our politics — such as political action committees — and, in actuality, “pro-corporate” policies are no longer the exclusive domain of the Republican Party, anyway. Democrats can be corporate, too.
The grassroots of the Republican Party, along with the angry independents and libertarians of the tea party movement, should ignore knee-jerk reactions and speak out against this ruling. If these tea party patriots really want to embody the spirit of the framers, this is a chance to do it.
Where exactly in the Constitution does it say corporations have rights? Corporate personhood may be long-standing legal precedent, but that doesn’t make it constitutional or righteous. The court decision that is credited with establishing corporate personhood doesn’t even make the concept explicit.
It was actually a court reporter who, in an attempt to summarize the case Santa Clara County vs. Southern Pacific Railroad, coined the term. Author Thom Hartmann explains in Common Dreams: “In writing up the case’s headnote — a commentary that has no precedential status — the Court’s reporter, a former railroad president named J.C. Bancroft Davis, opened the headnote with the sentence: ‘The defendant corporations are persons within the intent of the clause in section 1 of the 14th Amendment to the Constitution of the United States, which forbids a state to deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.’ ”
Lawyers started using the headnote in their arguments, and subsequent courts cited the note in their opinions. Before that time, corporations were seen as artificial persons with privileges — but certainly not rights.
No one is saying corporations should have no expectations of legal protection, but to assert they deserve the rights of human beings is absurd.
A corporation cannot long for a woman or love his children. A corporation cannot feel pain or remorse and doesn’t have to die. Corporations clearly are not persons in any sense of the word. If we are all truly “endowed by our Creator” with certain rights, there can be no rights for corporations.
This tea party movement has been all about its independence recently. Members and leaders say they are not Republicans but patriots. They say they are not conservatives but independents and freedom fighters.
It’s time they prove it. Yes, big government can be a destructive force to the country, but it isn’t the only kind of “big” one should fear.
Corporations don’t seek to influence the government to promote a libertarian utopia. They get involved with government to gain a competitive edge, either through regulation or subsidy. All the corporate money in our politics does not go to secure a free market, despite what some on the anti-corporate left will tell you. The very last thing big corporations want is a fair or free market. Big Business plays politics to secure its position and keep the little guy out.
Visit Kleinheider at http://postpolitics.net