I’m not as good a student of the American Revolution as I’d like to be, but what I do know about the founding of our nation — the Declaration of Independence, the Revolutionary War, the Federalist Papers, the Constitutional Convention of 1787 and, yes, the Boston Tea Party — makes it all the more infuriating when I hear the intellectually bankrupt, morally confused, and hopelessly misinformed, misguided, and myopic blather of today’s self-styled Tea Party activists.
Bankrolled by right wing think tanks aligned with corporate interests, former GOP House Majority Leader Dick Armey’s fabricated Tea Party pretends to be a grass roots movement – and the mainstream media (also controlled by multinational corporate masters) plays right along. Good-looking empty-headed figureheads like quit-term Governor Sarah Palin and GOP Congresswoman Michelle Bachmann help gin up anti-Washington fervor among an eclectic collection of the frustrated, frightened, and fanatical. (And more than a few racists who just don’t cotton to a black man in the White House.)
These new Tea Party “patriots” appropriate American Revolutionary iconography and add their own individual touches of Libertarian orthodoxy, anti-tax “drown government in the bathtub” zealotry, neo-Know Nothing nativism, New World Order conspiracy theory, and a gun-worshipping, survivalist militia mentality. It’s a toxic and combustible mix, stirred up by those who seek to divide the American body politic into opposing camps – and enlist struggling working people in a righteous war against their own best interests.
As we approach the critical mid-term elections of 2010, these are once again “times that try men’s souls”. Where is Thomas Paine when we need him?
“These are the times that try men’s souls. The summer soldier and the sunshine patriot will, in this crisis, shrink from the service of their country; but he that stands by it now, deserves the love and thanks of man and woman. Tyranny, like hell, is not easily conquered; yet we have this consolation with us, that the harder the conflict, the more glorious the triumph. What we obtain too cheap, we esteem too lightly: it is dearness only that gives every thing its value. Heaven knows how to put a proper price upon its goods; and it would be strange indeed if so celestial an article as FREEDOM should not be highly rated…” Thomas Paine
If Paine, the influential Revolutionary patriot and pamphleteer, were living today he would, no doubt, be a blogger. After all, there aren’t that many time slots available on MSNBC. (Though I’m sure Keith Olbermann and Rachel Maddow would have Tom on as a guest.) If he were alive in this moment of crisis, Paine would certainly be rallying his fellow citizens to battle against the real enemy they face: the steady, stealthy loss of their 234-year old democracy to the selfish, greedy, power-grabbing interests of multinational corporations.
Paine would tell these misguided Tea Party tools that their elected government isn’t their enemy. Our representative government is what stands between us and the rapacious depredations of a corporate oligarchy that’s been amassing money and power at a clip not seen since the Gilded Age of the Robber Barons. Our common fight isn’t against Big Government, which protects our water, food and air — and provides a host of other services and protections that individual Americans cannot provide on their own. Rather, we must be vigilant about the rise of corporate personhood and power. The man who wrote “Common Sense” would tell us to be wary of big money. It’s time for “Common Cents”.
In his classic 1776 pamphlet, “Common Sense”, Tom Paine made the patriot’s case against the authority of a royal monarchy. Today, an elite royal monarchy rules from the boardrooms of mega-corporations solely devoted to profit as they offshore American jobs, lend money to hard-pressed wage earners at usurious rates, gamble our pensions away on risky market speculation in the hope of a fat bonus, and continue to pollute our environment — unless they get caught by those pesky government people and their “anti-business” regulations. Educated and aroused by the plain, inspiring language of Thomas Paine, a new generation of American patriots might finally hear the alarm that should have been sounded from sea to shining sea on that fateful day, January 21, 2010, when the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in the Citizens United case.
In their landmark 5-4 decision in the case of Citizens United v The Federal Election Commission, the right-leaning Supreme Court led by Chief Justice and corporate shill, John Roberts, held that the First Amendment protects the right of corporations to plow unlimited funds into independent political broadcasts during candidate elections. Thus, the sluice gates were opened to a torrent of dirty money to flood the airwaves with attack ads, sponsored by big money interests.
Do you think your $5 and $10 contributions to your favorite Congressional candidate can compete with the millions that Target or BP can spend to slime your candidate if he opposes building a shopping mall on your local forest preserve — or if he’s fighting against Big Oil’s right to pollute your shoreline with minimal environmental protections?
In deciding that corporations have the same free speech rights as human individuals – that corporations are, in essence, persons with the same inalienable rights as you and me – the five “conservative” Justices conveniently overlooked the fact that corporations are granted their existence by We the People through licenses issued by our government. As Bill Cosby used to tell his kids on TV, “I brought you in – and I can take you out!” Corporations aren’t persons. We the People grant them license to do business – and we can limit what they’re allowed to do under that license. That’s what the 2002 McCain-Feingold Act attempted to codify in the area of corporate contributions to political campaigns. Alas, the Citizens United decision blew McCain-Feingold to smithereens.
Siding with the corporate elite against the interests of average American people, the Roberts Court has paved the way for Big Money to buy our elections. You’ll hear a lot of screaming on Faux News and in the Right Wing echo chamber about how the Supremes have also allowed those dreaded labor unions to buy elections. But seriously folks, who’s got more money to spend — Citibank, Wells Fargo and Goldman Sachs — or a labor union? It’s not even close…
And our faux populist friends in the GOP, Faux News and Right Wing Talk Radio – the same blowhards who pretend to support the interests of hard-working, pro-American Tea Party members – don’t even care if foreign companies can buy our elections. Explain to me, my “conservative” friends, why wax-figure Mitch McConnell and teary-eyed, tanning bed addict John Boehner are opposing legislation that would prevent foreign companies from pumping money into U.S. elections? And why would these same GOP leaders be against public disclosure of who is paying how much for all these campaign ads? Don’t We the People have an inalienable right to know who’s behind these million-dollar ad buys?
Tom Paine would have these companies’ names posted on the commons for all true patriots to see.
I’ll end with a final word on the pernicious doctrine of Corporate Personhood: this dubious notion that a corporation is a person entitled to basic human rights. The fact is – corporations are entities created by government (AKA We the People), and thus, can be limited by government (AKA We the People). So, given that the John Roberts-led Supreme Court is so confused (read “bought and paid for”), perhaps we must amend the U.S. Constitution to make it clear that only human beings (We the People) are “persons” with constitutional rights.
It’s We the People vs. Big Money. That’s the battle that is going on right now. And whether or not you’re disappointed that the Obama administration has been progressive enough, try to imagine if McConnell and Boehner crawl back into power. Try to imagine if Dick Armey’s absurd, unenlightened Tea Party is able to set the political agenda for the next six years. Are you ready for the ascendancy of Queen Sarah and her corporate overlords? (Okay, maybe I exaggerate. Maybe.)
Get out the vote this November.
And when your “conservative” friends say something snarky about President Obama or Senator Al Franken or our progressive agenda — smack them down with inarguable facts and the force of your well-reasoned opinion.
And call on the timeless words of Tom Paine…
The summer soldier and the sunshine patriot will, in this crisis, shrink from the service of their country; but he that stands by it now, deserves the love and thanks of man and woman…What we obtain too cheap, we esteem too lightly: it is dearness only that gives every thing its value. Heaven knows how to put a proper price upon its goods; and it would be strange indeed if so celestial an article as FREEDOM should not be highly rated…”