One Percenters Buying Themselves an Aristocracy
By Leo Gerard
USW President, via Huffington Post
August 30, 2012 – The U.S. Constitution guarantees separation of church and state. What this nation needs now is separation of wealth and state.
Without such a protection, Americans stand to lose their democracy. They’ll be ruled instead by an aristocracy of 1 percenters.
That’s the 1 percenters’ plan. To them, it was no more than a perk when the U.S. Supreme Court enabled politicians to open their wallets for unlimited, anonymous campaign contributions. That’s because way before the 2010 Citizens United ruling, 1 percenters were working on a takeover. If the 99 percent don’t stop them soon, don’t establish some sort of separation of wealth and state, then the nation will lose its founding precepts — that all men are created equal and that governments derive their just powers from the consent of the governed. Aristocracies can ignore the governed.
Already the 1 percenters have been extraordinarily successful. The rich really do enjoy advantages. They’ve succeeded in stuffing Congress with their peers. In America, fewer than 1 percent of all people are millionaires. In Congress, 47 percent are. The median net worth of a U.S. senator in 2010 was $2.56 million.
Those guys haven’t experienced what it’s like to try to pay a mortgage, fix the car and keep food on the table for the average household with a median income of less than $52,000. They’re completely out of touch with the 50 million Americans who don’t have health insurance.
In addition, the 1 percenters implemented a system to influence even those lawmakers who are not millionaires. It’s called the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC). Corporations and the rich, like the billionaire Koch brothers, give ALEC money, which it uses to write "model" legislation, like voter suppression laws. ALEC’s lawmaker members, mostly conservative Republicans, pay dues of $50 a year. ALEC entices them to attend swanky conferences with freebies, like ALEC-paid hotel rooms, ALEC-paid plane rides and God knows what else ALEC-paid. Of course, those aren’t bribes. But the free vacations may incline lawmaker members to introduce ALEC-written legislation.
ALEC is sly. It doesn’t come right out and say its "model" voter identification laws are intended to suppress balloting by Democrats. ALEC contends they’re designed to prevent voter fraud. Within the past two years, 10 states passed these laws.
But in-person voter fraud, the kind these identification laws are supposedly intended to prevent, barely exists. In the dozen years since 2000, only 10 cases occurred in the entire United States, according to a study funded by the Carnegie and Knight foundations.
That’s one case for every 15 million eligible voters. By contrast, as many as 11 percent of eligible voters lack the government-issued identification these laws typically require. That’s millions of disenfranchised people in those 10 states.
And studies have found that those people tend to be young, women, minorities, the elderly, low income, the disabled and more likely to vote Democrat — if they could vote. In fact, a prominent Republican in Pennsylvania, the largest battleground state to have adopted a voter suppression law, admitted it. Pennsylvania House Majority Leader Mike Turzai said passing the state’s voter suppression law was an achievement for the GOP because it meant Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney would win the state. That’s a state where Democrats have a registration edge and Obama has a lead in polls.
That’s how it’s done. That’s how the 1 percent creates an aristocracy for themselves. They make the wealthy few more powerful by buying elimination of that nettlesome one-person-one-vote democracy problem. The rich count more when the riffraff don’t count at all.
A handful of one-tenth-of-one-percenters, including billionaires Sheldon Adelson, the Koch brothers, and hedge funders Kenneth Griffin, Cliff Asness and Paul Singer, will spend $500 million to install their chosen candidates in the White House. Adelson by himself is expected to give $100 million to elect Romney and Paul Ryan, one tenth of the billion the Republicans are expected to spend. That kind of money will buy Adelson a little more than a couple of overnights in the Lincoln Bedroom.
In addition to ALEC, these billionaires bought for themselves shadow parties, as writer Matt Bai described them in the New York Times. They fund groups like Club for Growth, which defeats Republican candidates they deem not conservative enough. They finance groups like Americans for Prosperity, which promotes ultra-conservative economic ideas.
They’re willing to buy influence, but not pay taxes to support their country. The Ryan Roadmap budget would reduce millionaire Romney’s tax rate from about 14 percent to less than 1 percent. And, for the 99 percent, Ryan would destroy Medicare as we know it.
In the early days of this republic, John Adams worried about the country creeping toward aristocracy. As he prepared to take the office of vice president, some leaders, including Benjamin Franklin and George Washington, argued that government officials should serve without pay. Here’s what biographer David McCullough wrote about the incident in his biography of Adams:
"Were a law to be made ‘that no man should hold an office who had not a private income sufficient for the subsistence and prospects of himself and family,’ Adams had written earlier while in London, then the consequence would be that ‘all offices would be monopolized by the rich; the poor and the middling ranks would be excluded and an aristocratic despotism would immediately follow.’"
Here’s the difference between George Washington and John Adams. The general was a wealthy Virginia planter whose riches were made in part on the backs of slaves. Adams was a middle-class Massachusetts farmer who opposed slavery and never owned a human being.
Congress agreed with Adams. Aristocracy was forestalled. Today’s middle-class farmers, mechanics and nurses now inherit that responsibility to separate wealth and state.
This post is part of the HuffPost Shadow Conventions 2012, a series spotlighting three issues that are not being discussed at the national GOP and Democratic conventions: The Drug War, Poverty in America, and Money in Politics.
HuffPost Live will be taking a comprehensive look at the corrupting influence of money on our politics August 29th and September 5th from 12-4 pm ET and 6-10 pm ET. Click here to check it out — and join the conversation.
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