Americans have learned the hard way that when rich organizations and wealthy individuals shower Washington with millions in campaign contributions, they get what they want.
Moyers gave the keynote speech at the 40th Anniversary celebration of Public Citizen, the legendary nonprofit consumer advocacy organization founded in 1971 to represent consumer interests in government. The entire speech is too long to repost as a blog entry, but in sum he argues that although most of us pay lip service to the traditional ideals of the American dream we have largely given up the notion that it’s possible for us. The oligarchs have won.
The great American experience in creating a different future together this voluntary union for the common good has been flummoxed by “a growing sense of political impotence, what the historian Lawrence Goodwyn has described as a mass resignation of people who believe “the dogma of democracy on a superficial public level but who no longer believe it privately. There has been, he says, a decline in what people think they have a political right to aspire to, a decline of individual self-respect on the part of millions off Americans.
You can understand why. We hold elections, knowing they are unlikely to produce the policies favored by the majority of Americans. We speak, we write, we advocate, and those in power turn deaf ears and blind eyes to our deepest aspirations. We petition, plead, and even pray, yet the earth that is our commons, which should be passed on in good condition to coming generations, continues to be despoiled. We invoke the strain in our national DNA that attests to “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” as the produce of political equality, yet private wealth multiplies as public goods are beggared. . . .
. . . And the property qualifications for federal office that the framers of the Constitution expressly feared as an unseemly “veneration for wealth” are now openly in force; the common denominator of public office, even for our judges, is a common deference to cash.
It is not hard, Moyers says, to understand what Occupy Wall Street is all about. It is about the sign he saw being carried by a woman at an OWS march: “I can’t afford to buy a politician so I bought this sign.”
Moyers goes on to quote from a surprising source:
We know what all this money buys. Americans have learned the hard way that when rich organizations and wealthy individuals shower Washington with millions in campaign contributions, they get what they want.
They know that if you don’t contribute to their campaigns or spend generously on lobbying, you pick up a disproportionate share of America’s tax bill. You pay higher prices for a broad range of products from peanuts to prescriptions. You pay taxes that others in a similar situation have been excused from paying. You’re compelled to abide by laws while others are granted immunity from them. You must pay debts that you incur while others do not. You’re barred from writing off on your tax returns some of the money spent on necessities while others deduct the cost of their entertainment. You must run your business by one set of rules, while the government creates another set for your competitors.
In contrast the fortunate few who contribute to the right politicians and hire the right lobbyists enjoy all the benefits of their special status. Make a bad business deal; the government bails them out. If they want to hire workers at below market wages, the government provides the means to do so. If they want more time to pay their debts, the government gives them an extension. If they want immunity from certain laws, the government gives it. If they want to ignore rules their competition must comply with, the government gives it approval. If they want to kill legislation that is intended for the public, it gets killed.
I didn’t crib that litany from Public Citizen’s muckraking investigations over the years, although I could have. Nor did I lift it from Das Kapital by Karl Marx or Mao Tse-tung’s Little Red Book. No, I was literally quoting Time Magazine, long a tribune of America’s establishment media. From the bosom of mainstream media comes the bald, spare, and damning conclusion: We now have: “a government for the few at the expense of the many.”
Moyers goes on to to say:
But let me call another witness from the pro-business and capitalist- friendly press. In the middle of the last decade, four years before the Great Collapse of 2008, the editors of The Economist warned:
A growing body of evidence suggests that the meritocratic ideal is in trouble in America. Income inequality is growing to levels not seen since the (first) Gilded Age. But social mobility is not increasing at anything like the same pace
Everywhere you look in modern America, in the Hollywood Hills or the canyons of Wall Street, in the Nashville recording studios or the clapboard houses of Cambridge, Massachusetts’ you see elites mastering the art of perpetuating themselves. America is increasingly looking like imperial Britain, with dynastic ties proliferating, social circles interlocking, mechanisms of social exclusion strengthening, and a gap widening between the people who make decisions and shape the culture and the vast majority of working stiffs.
Hear the editors of The Economist: “The United States is on its way to becoming a European-style class-based society.”
Read the full speech here.