Bought and paid for:
The Left and the 2012 presidential election
By David P. Hamilton / The Rag Blog / May 17, 2012
"[No] serious candidate will rely on the public funding system during the primary phase of future presidential campaigns.” -- Politico, 2008.The Supreme Court’s “Citizens United” decision opened the floodgates for the capitalist ruling class to make the U.S. presidential election, in fact every federal election, more than ever, determined by finances.
“[A] sharp rise in the costs of elections... drove the political parties even deeper into the pockets of the corporate sector.” -- Noam Chomsky, Occupy speech, published 5/8/12.
This is a long proven winning strategy given that in over 90% of U.S. elections, the candidate with the most money wins. By making effective campaigning progressively more expensive, the capitalist class and their political minions strengthen the inherent disadvantages faced by their adversaries. They seek to further commodify political power and raise its price to the point that only they can afford it.
The more expensive the campaign, the more it is controlled by the capitalist class and the more democracy withers. In 2012 the democratic process in the U.S. is almost totally corrupted by corporate money. That is the most salient feature of the U.S. political landscape.
Total spending by presidential candidates:
1984 - $103.6 million.
1988 - 210.7 "
1992 - 192.2 "
1996 - 239.9 "
2000 - 343.1 "
2004 - 717.9 "
2008 - 2.4 billion
2012 - 5+ billion projected
(Sources: US News & World Report, 10/21/08, and Wikipedia)
The cost of elections in the U.S. is now accelerating geometrically. The Democratic Party will necessarily and increasingly become more dependent on the capitalist class for campaign financing in order to remain competitive. There will be less political space between the U.S. presidential candidates on those issues basic to the economic privileges of the capitalist class. The strategy of this less than 1 percent is to increase campaign spending to the point that both major party candidates become entirely dependent on their financing.
The principal result of this process is that the candidates for the two major parties become increasingly similar in their support of fundamental capitalist class interests. Compare, for example, the ideological space on the issue of government financing between two finalists in the French presidential election compared to the two major party presidential candidates in the U.S.
Roughly similar ideologically to a moderate U.S. Republican like Mitt Romney, Nicolas Sarkozy argued that government debt was the primary issue and advocated reducing it by cutting government employment and spending on social services, while reducing taxes and regulations on corporations.
His opponent, Francois Hollande of the Socialist Party, ran on increasing taxes on the rich capitalists including a 75% tax bracket on income above a million euros a year, raising the existing top income tax bracket rate from 41 to 45%, a financial transactions tax, ending tax havens, cutting 29 billion euros in tax breaks for the wealthy, taxing investment income at the same rate as salaries and wages, capping executive compensation and separating investment banking from retail banking.
Thus, the economic platforms of the two leading candidates in the French election were almost diametrically opposed on issues that are basic to capitalist class interests. Hollande also favors gay marriage and adoption nationally, immediate French withdrawal from Afghanistan, international recognition of the Palestinian state and drug law reform. Try to imagine Barack Obama embracing such a platform.
Yet, Hollande is typically referred to as a “moderate” and a pragmatist among French socialists.
The French system offers this far more distinct choice because corporate donations to political campaigns in France are completely forbidden, the state tightly regulates and partially funds political campaigns and campaign costs are a tiny fraction of what they are in the U.S. The U.S. has a population roughly five times larger than France, but the amount spent in the U.S. presidential election in 2012 will be at least 50 times, possibly 100 times greater than the amount spent in the 2012 French presidential election.
Symptomatic of this corporate corruption of the political process are incidents such as a Las Vegas gambling tycoon forking up $15 million to inflate the campaign (and ego) of Newt Gingrich, the billionaire Koch brothers buying $6 million in air time to run negative attack ads against Obama (only the beginning) and Obama’s goal of raising a billion dollars to fight back, principally from wealthy donors, like the $15 million he raised at “an exclusive backyard soiree at George Clooney’s house.”
Your choice is to be governed by oil company executives and their financiers or film moguls and their financiers, who happen to be the same people as the other financiers.
When the Supreme Court legalized unlimited corporate campaign contributions and spending in January 2010, the already astronomical price of the presidency began escalating radically, making political decisions increasingly the sole prerogative of the plutocrats. Only they can pay to play on the level of expense that has been achieved.
The more unlimited and privatized campaign funding, the more expensive elections become and the more the political process is corrupted by obvious political bribery in the guise of campaign contributions and PAC funding.
In this context, neither major U.S. political party can effectively advocate for interests that are contrary to those of the capitalist ruling class. Government actions anathema to the capitalist class include steeper progressive taxation, taxing capital at the same rate as wages, inheritance taxes, wealth taxes, eliminating the income cap on social security tax liability, financial transaction taxes, and greater banking regulation.
Likewise anathema is higher government spending on the health, education, and welfare of the general population that would require greater government revenue. For the capitalist class, the state must be confined to approved roles, principally the privatization of profits and the socialization of costs.
Regarding the maintenance of capitalist privileges and benefits there is great class consciousness and unity. The essential prize for the capitalist ruling class is its control of the federal government, its expenditures and its monopoly of legal coercion.
It is no accident that half the richest counties in the U.S. border on Washington D.C. It is no accident that the majority of the members of Congress arrive as millionaires and retire to earn many millions more lobbying for major corporations.
Much of what the federal government does functions economically as transfer payments to further enrich the capitalist class. The principal beneficiaries of the annual trillion in “defense” spending are the major stockholders of the corporations that have been blessed by their political functionaries with bounteous largesse at the federal government trough in the form of procurement contracts with generous guaranteed profit margins. These minions also instigate the requisite wars to require the enormous purchases of these otherwise useless products.
Average citizens pay the taxes to finance this exercise in the provision of investment opportunities while our rulers automatically garner enormous wealth on an unprecedented scale and the political power that comes in its wake.
Because of this corruption of the democratic process, the focus of the left during the 2012 federal elections ought not be on candidates. With few exceptions, they don’t merit our attention. There are a plethora of wonderful hypothetical socialist candidates -- Barbara Ehrenriech, Cornel West, Media Benjamin and many others. But on what basis would you want them competing in a rigged game?
The fix is in. Our responsibility is not to participate in a fraud perpetrated on the American people. It is instead to point out the dead body of democracy smelling up the room.
[David P. Hamilton, a graduate of the University of Texas at Austin in history and government was an activist in Sixties Austin and a contributor to the original Rag. David writes about France and politics (and French politics) for The Rag Blog. Read more articles by David P. Hamilton on The Rag Blog The Rag Blog