The 2012 election campaign season has started with Mitt Romney (at the time of writing the probable Republican presidential candidate) attacking Obama for undermining “the soul of the country.” This vague expression, evoking a mythical past of individual prosperity, is intended to tap into voters’ anxieties about their future and channel their fear against immigrants, the poor, and Obama’s administration.
It would be a mistake to underestimate the irrationality of Republican voters, but E.J. Dionne pretty much summed it up: “what’s most astounding is that a Republican contest characterized all year by melodrama and comedy now seems headed toward the most conventional and predictable conclusion possible.”
The heavily-publicized debates in the caucuses are sideshows designed to gain the support of a very small segment of the voting population by leveraging social issues. The problem for the Republicans is that they have to convince Americans to vote against their interests for policies which allow the super-rich to continue to accumulate wealth without contributing a cent to the overall needs of society. They do this by conflating the hope of returning to middle-class prosperity with increasing the huge fortunes of billionaires.
It’s this ideological mendacity, created and sustained by think tanks funded by the super-rich, that underlies Paul Krugman’s lament that while “nations with stable, responsible governments — that is, governments that are willing to impose modestly higher taxes when the situation warrants it — have historically been able to live with much higher levels of debt than today’s conventional wisdom would lead you to believe … America, with its rabidly antitax conservative movement, may not have a government that is responsible in this sense.”
Republican rule in practice is showcased in Wisconsin, where a Koch Brothers-funded Tea Party electoral campaign resulted in a corrupted state government carrying out a legislative assault on unions, social welfare, and education funding.
Naked Capitalism posts a convenient list outlining the benefits the brothers obtained from their political spending:
- “From the time they founded the Tea Party in 2009 to today, their wealth shot up from 28 billion to 44 billion, nearly 60 percent;
- They led the campaign against health care;
- The Kochs spend more fighting climate change than anyone or any company in the world;
- The Kochs bankrolled Scott Walker;
- The Kochs wrote Bush’s environmental policies;
- Cato [Koch brothers funded think tank] wrote the Republican Congress’s 1995 legislative agenda, acting as the think-tank for Tom DeLay and Dick Armey.
- The Kochs control up to 35,000 miles of pipelines in the US and Canada, enough to circle the globe 1-1/2 times.”
As well as the legislative branch, the Wisconsin judicial system was corrupted by the intervention of right-wing groups who funded the devastatingly negative election campaign of Supreme Court Justice Michael Gableman. “Gableman’s 2008 campaign consisted of blatantly untruthful ads, painting his opponent, Justice Louis Butler, as someone who found loopholes to get a criminal released when Butler had done nothing of the sort. But when he was brought before the court on accusations that he violated judicial ethics by running those ads, Michael Best & Friedrich attorney Eric McLeod succeeded in getting a 3-3 deadlock on the court, effectively letting Gableman off the hook. Little did anyone know at the time that the law firm wasn’t charging for Gableman’s defense… Gableman went on to decide major cases in which Michael Best was involved, including the incredibly important case on whether Gov. Scott Walker’s bill to destroy public union collective bargaining was passed legally. Gableman provided the decisive vote in the 4-3 decision, taking Walker’s side.”
Another example of this fiscal-political corruption on a national scale is banking regulation, where the agencies charged with ensuring a sound banking system are controlled by the banksters themselves. Analyst Adam Levitin writes: “The [Office of the Comptroller of the Currency] has repeatedly shown itself to be a failed regulator. It regulates for the industry, rather than regulating the industry … The root of the capture problem here is that the OCC’s budget is paid by the banks. I don’t know about you, but when I pay for a hotel, I expect service. So do the banks. And service they get. The OCC waged an all-out war against state attempts to reign in predatory lending practices in financial services, it coddled the credit card industry for years, it permitted its banks’ subsidiaries to engage in abusive mortgage lending and securitization, and it continues to turn a blind eye to payday-type lending by major banks. … When the banks call the shots on enforcement, no amount of Dodd-Franking can provide protection against future crises.”
Although Obama’s re-election campaign has recently coopted the language of the 99 percent against the banks, nobody is under any illusion that his political stance is anything but an attempt to appropriate the change in public opinion brought about by the Occupy movement. His administration has not prosecuted a single banker for clear violations of banking law. It’s possible, however, that despite Obama’s intentions, his rhetoric may legitimize resistance to bank practices at a time when homeowners face a record number of evictions.
The nervousness of the authorities is shown clearly by police aggressiveness against Occupy Wall Street when they re-entered Zuccotti Park at year’s end. When protestors carried in a small child’s tent, police and security guards closed the park until it had been removed. As midnight approached, “a group of protesters grabbed some of the metal barricades that surround the park and began piling them inside. As they gripped the barricades, police officers took hold as well, and a shoving match began, the silver bars trapped in between. At least one police officer fired an arch of pepper spray into the crowd behind those barricades. Moments later, at least a dozen police officers charged into the park, plowing directly into a crowd of people, some of whom were trying to flee, pushing and shoving. One man was thrown down and pinned to the ground by several officers.”
“They (police) got very aggressive and started pushing people and pepper-spraying people,” protester Jason Amadi told USA Today. … “People were collecting all the barricades and making kind of a big heap of them in the middle of the park,” said Melanie Butler, of Brooklyn. “And we were standing on it with our Occupy Wall Street banner.” After the arrests, the crowd began to thin out. A smaller group of about 100 people marched in a circle near the park and then most of them left, Amadi said. “Many of us there felt that it was a symbol of the new year, of what was to come,” he said. “People protesting peacefully, but without fear.”