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Taking on amendment critics, part VI: George Will

by on May 9, 2012

The following was written by Sam Fedele, coordinator of the Rochester, NY affiliate of Move to Amend. Sam is responding to a column in WaPo by George Will entitled “Taking a scythe to the Bill of Rights.”

Fedele speaking at the Occupy the Courts event

At some level, most Americans have the uneasy sense that our republic is no longer “of, by, and for the people.” Billionaires, industry groups, and their paid agents, riding on a series of Supreme Court decisions, have methodically insinuated themselves into government as organically and quietly as the roots of a thirsty willow into moist soil.  We the People have been reduced to workers and consumers without much of a say.

In 1961, Eisenhower signaled an early warning of a “newly vast and powerful defense industry” rooting deeply into a complicit Congress. Ike correctly saw the serious implications of this uncomfortably cozy relationship between the military, the defense industry, and the Congress, and courageously dedicated the entirety of his farewell address to warn the nation. But Ike’s call for a “vigilant and knowledgeable citizenry” did not materialize.  We were distracted by the new prosperity, caught up in moving up.

Since Eisenhower’s time this dependency relationship between Congress and the corporate world has become stronger, broader, and inextricably entrenched. Incrementally, and under the radar of most good Americans trying to make a living and raise their families, corporations have invaded and successfully occupied the Capitol, their presence now firmly and famously established on K Street. Enabled by a series of Court decisions, corporations have been at once fueling and riding the wave of escalating campaign costs into firm control of the People’s representatives dependent upon corporate money to stay in office.  This dependence on big money is among the few truly bipartisan realities in DC.

The Supreme Court, not the People’s elected representatives, delivered this silent corporate coup by establishing two judicial doctrines: that spending money on elections is constitutionally protected free speech, and that corporations are “people” and therefore entitled to the inalienable constitutional protections meant for natural persons.  These doctrines were most recently summoned in the 2010 decision in Citizens United v. the Federal Election Commission, which infamously permits corporations and unions to spend linitless amounts of money to ensure favorable legislation, unwarranted subsidies, no-bid, cost-plus contracts, and a labyrinth of tax loopholes.

But finally people are saying enough, and have begun working to amend the US Constitution to remove these problematic doctrines from the framework of government.  Ballot initiatives aimed at abolition are regularly passing 3 to 1; towns, cities, and state legislatures across the nation are issuing resolutions petitioning the Congress to act.  And a dozen amendment proposals are currently circulating in the halls of Congress.  The notion has wide support among the People across the political spectrum and is gaining traction with legislators.

This, of course, is not good news for the moneyed elites currently in control.  So they have summoned their henchmen to run interference, using tactics that have worked for hundreds of years: fear and division.  George Will’s recent syndicated piece is a perfect example.  He picks on the amendment proposal sponsored by Representative Jim McGovern of Massachusetts.  Will has deep experience in the influence trade and makes this choice with intent to evoke our ingrained association between “Massachusetts” and “liberal” since his divide and conquer strategy is to falsely paint the amendment movement as “liberal” (while in reality, support is very strong among the People independent of political affiliation).  He further incites conservatives when he disingenuously pronounces that McGovern’s “purpose is to vastly expand government’s power”, exactly the opposite of McGovern’s real intent, which is to return control of government to ordinary citizens.

George Will

Will deftly follows his divide and conquer move with an appeal to his old standby, fear.   With a straight face he claims that McGovern’s amendment “is explicitly designed to deny constitutional rights to natural persons who, exercising their First Amendment right to freedom of association, come together in corporate entities to speak in concert.”  But eliminating constitutional protections for corporate entities would have no impact on the rights of individuals, whether corporate employees, board members, or shareholders.

Will concludes his fear blitz with a rabid riff of falling-sky scenarios: newspapers censored, book publishers squelched, religions regulated, and corporate assets seized.  But these Chicken Little apprehensions are unsupported by history.  Corporations operated for centuries before the US Constitution was written and did just fine.  The framers were wary of corporate power and made no mention of corporations in the Constitution.  Corporations are legal creations of the state and are free to operate within the statutory boundaries of their charters.  And while they often posses expertise valuable to the legislative decision process, they are in no way empowered by their charters to use their vast wealth to blackmail the decision makers.

Amending the Constitution, as it should be, is a very heavy lift. Success is contingent on massive awareness and unprecedented cooperation across the political spectrum. We will need to overcome the divisive tenor of political discourse set by talk radio and TV talking heads. Conservatives, liberals, and most of us in between must come to re-appreciate each another as fellow citizens and begin to realize that we have much, much more in common than we do with billion-dollar-a-year hedge fund managers.  Sure, some people like Fords, some like Chevys, some are Yankee fans, some like the Red Sox, some think individuals should be responsible for their own health care, some think we should pool resources. That’s fine and healthy. But if what you think about a critical issue doesn’t matter to your representative in Washington (or Albany) because he or she must worry about what the funders think first, then we share the same problem as the early revolutionaries – we have no true representation in government. It doesn’t matter where you stand on issues like the economy, war, the environment, or social security if your voice is superseded by the court-enforced rule of big money.

To revive true representative democracy in America we’ll need all hands on deck working together, right, left, and the disengaged masses in between. So please consider making a personal commitment to fully comprehend and spread this message until it becomes part of the fabric of popular political thought. The corruption of our electoral process by economic interests is the root cause of our cross partisan dissatisfaction with Washington. Without a plainly-worded Constitutional amendment, our nation will continue its progression towards plutocracy; Wall Street will tighten control of our legislative bodies, our policies, laws, and regulations.

So please, refuse the bait set out by agents of the moneyed elite.  Investigate, think critically, and get personally involved.  It’s time for all Americans to come together with a solidarity unseen for decades to demand that our elected officials restore sanity to our electoral process and integrity to our legislative bodies.  Divided by fear we will surely fall.

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One Comment
  1. John Jongen permalink

    Sam, great and articulate rebuttal to a ‘dyed in the wool’ neocon lifer, George Will. Fortunately he is an outlyer with the likes of Rush Limbaugh. Obama has already stated his displeasure with the ‘supremes’ over this 2010 decision. I believe that he will shut off the super-pac juggernaut it unleashed after the current election season.

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