STEVENS POINT — Just about everything that could be said about this year’s election has been said, but Bill Lueders of the Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism gave us the bigger picture recently. Lueders documented the huge sums of money poured into these elections, using the Wisconsin governor’s race as an example. There are plenty of others around the country.
We live in a time when elections and governing are increasingly being decided by those who have the dough. This was cemented by the Supreme Court’s Citizens United ruling of 2010 and corporate personhood rulings that solidify power in the hands of a few.
But these rulings probably shouldn’t be a surprise. Many Americans tout the U.S. Constitution as some sort of de facto Bible, especially when it favors their causes, but the fact is it was written by wealthy male patricians, many who bought and sold other human beings as mere capital, and who limited the voices of others.
We live in a country that pretends people are free and equal. Tell that to the 8-year-old kid living in poverty. The old pull-yourself-up-by-your-bootstraps line is a crock. A few do, and they deserve credit for beating the odds. But the majority fall victim to generational poverty and remain conveniently invisible unless they commit a crime, which many do.
The wedding of First Amendment rights of free speech to money gives the wealthiest Americans and powerful corporations the upper hand in running the affairs of a nation. Those poor kids aren’t high on the agenda. The consolidation of power will continue.
Retiring state Sen. Dale Schultz, a maverick Republican, has compared our current system to an oligarchy. That’s defined as a small group of people having control of a country, organization or institution. Can anyone deny this is the case in Wisconsin today? One sickening example is a mining company being allowed to rewrite Wisconsin’s environmental standards in exchange for a $700,000 campaign donation. Government regulatory agencies are far from perfect, but it has been pointed out that the worst thing about them is that they’re needed.
Meanwhile, it went almost unnoticed when it was announced earlier this year that for the first time in history, more than half the members of Congress are millionaires, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.
Of the 534 current members of the House and Senate, 268 had an average net worth of $1 million or more in 2012 — up from 257 members in 2011. The median net worth for members of the House and Senate was $1,008,767.
In contrast, income inequality in the U.S. has reached levels not seen since 1928.
What are we, the unwashed masses, to do? Shut up, keep our heads down and do our jobs, no matter what the pay? Nah, that’s the coward’s way. A dozen Wisconsin communities were to vote this week on whether to amend the U.S. Constitution to overturn Citizens United, end corporate personhood, and get big money out of politics. A national group, Move to Amend, is active in Wisconsin and across the country. There’s a long way to go, but this is not impossible, and a majority of Americans favor it.
Meanwhile, we have this sage advice from early 20th century writer and humorist Finley Peter Dunne: “Comfort the afflicted, and afflict the comfortable.”
Bill Berry of Stevens Point writes a semimonthly column for The Capital Times. firstname.lastname@example.org