Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Our Dollars are Better Than Your Dollars

    Perhaps James Taranto ("First We Occupy the Town, Then We Paint It Red ") just could not bring himself to take seriously this Washington Post op-ed by Katrina vanden Heuvel, the editor and publisher of The Nation magazine.  But with the beginning of spring training just weeks away, I could not resist taking a few swings at the softballs she lobbed.  Her premise is how people power can overcome the invidious, corrupting influence of money from corporations in politics:
There are few issues on the national landscape that concern me more than the impact of corporate money on our politics — its power to corrupt and distort, its power to change the outcomes of elections and legislation. We have seen much of that in the ongoing Republican primaries, just as we’ve seen it these past years in Washington and in every state. The truth is, there aren’t many things in our political system that are more powerful than corporate money.
But there are some. 
There are ideas — big, bold, meaningful ideas — and the movements that drive them. Ideas like ending income inequality, fought for by a 99 percent movement that has remade the national conversation. We’ve seen the power of bold ideas in Ohio, where citizens mobilized against a vicious proposal to gut union rights, overcoming at the ballot box the millions of corporate dollars spent to support it.
What Ms. vanden Heuvel chooses to overlook, however, is that something else besides "big, bold, meaningful ideas — and the movements that drive them" is "more powerful than corporate money."
And that is union money!  And more corporate money!  I have listed four of the examples vanden Heuvel uses with relevant, lightly-edited excerpts from linked new stories to illustrate my point:

  • Ohio labor union law referendum - "Campaign finance reports filed Friday with the state show that union-backed We Are Ohio raised almost $30 million and spent roughly $29 million in its successful effort to defeat the law..."
  • Recall elections in Wisconsin - "A review of total spending by the outside groups, candidates, state parties, recall committees and two legislative leadership committees found Democrats outspent Republicans $23.4 million to $20.5 million.  Outside special interest groups doled out a record $34.5 million in the races, mostly to buy negative broadcast advertising and mailings to trash the candidates. Groups backing Democrats spent an estimated $18.6 million and groups backing Republicans spent $15.9 million."
  • Walker recall election - "Lynn Freeman, communications director of the recall activist group United Wisconsin: “The speculation I’m hearing is two or three times what was spent last year.”   In other words, around $100 million, or possibly even more."
  • SOPA - "Media companies like Comcast, Viacom, News Corp., and Time Warner led the support of the bills, each spending millions of dollars on the issue.  Media lobbyists, including the motion picture, recording industry, cable, and broadcaster associations, also added millions of dollars to the fight, as did credit card firms Visa, MasterCard and American Express.  Loads of cash were spent by the opposition as well, but most of that came from Google. After the search giant's millions, there was a steep drop off in lobbying dollars, with Yahoo, eBay, Amazon and Microsoft lobbying in the hundreds of thousands of dollars each."

Ms. vanden Heuvel also referred to Occupy Wall Street (" 99 percent movement that has remade the national conversation",) but that movement is dying and only became part of the national conversation due to the cheerleading from the media.  Also, it is unclear to me that the "organized effort to reject an unjust mortgage settlement and investigate financial crimes" is really going to accomplish anything other than waste taxpayer money on a task force who may come up with recommendations that will prove as useless as do most governmental ad hoc committees' recommendation (e.g. Simpson-Bowles and the more recent Super Committee.)
    But the final fight that the people won according to vanden Heuvel was the Keystone XL pipeline: That was a "fight where the people stood up to the big oil companies and their money — and won." But irony of ironies, unions supported the pipeline! So while corporate money "lost", so did union money and everyone else, except the environmentalists. That's something of a pyrrhic victory for "the people."
    I am not naive enough to think that money cannot corrupt the political system, nor cynical enough to believe that "the people" cannot make a difference.  After all, "We the People" are the ones who established this country and its political system.  And we must guard against the corrupting influence of money while at the same time guard against the influence of those who are less concerned with money's corrupting effects and more concerned about which side of the political divide is spending it.

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