A couple of my favorite moments in last night's media injection: Howard Fineman telling Keith Olbermann he was under-reacting; Olbermann rightly pointing out that sci-fi (and cyberpunk) dystopias depend on this move, the open and legal subjection of the political system to corporations.
If corporations are persons, can they get the death penalty?
Particularly galling in the majority's construction of corporate interests as the same as identity interests (so regulating corporate 'speech' is the same as regulating a person's speech on the basic of an identity category) is its nearly seamless absorption of the worst tendencies of neoliberalism. I don't mean only the twisting of arguments, language, and history, their fragmentation and recombination into an ideological mash-up, but the too easy (and terribly dangerous) elision of capitalism and democracy. A few months ago I heard an abominable paper where the author collapsed Hannah Arendt's distinctions between public and private via the claim that creating a corporation could be an 'act' in her sense. This only makes sense if one extracts it from the entirety of the argument in The Human Condition, neglecting its fundamental point regarding the rise of the social and the loss of the political.
The conundrum Citizens United v. Federal Elections Commission raises for me is that I already thought that corporations ruled the world, not in the sense that they were unified or didn't disagree but in the sense that laws in the US are interpreted in their interest and to their benefit more often than not. Even more fundamentally, my sense has been that our system of government is rooted in protecting and extending capitalism.
But maybe I didn't really think this. Maybe I still took some heart from the progressive tradition, the civil rights movements. So maybe underneath my cynical view was something more like a view of the state as not only an tool of the ruling class but also a terrain of class struggle, a terrain where sometimes the bad guys didn't win, sometimes corporate capital interests were not extended or elevated.
And here's the thing: it appears that this second view is the capitalist one. Capitalists think they need to control the state. Corporations think they need to extend their range and power. They want to use the state to secure their interests. We could even say that the majority on the Roberts Court believes in democracy more strongly than any Democrat or progressive: they believe it is so powerful that they need to kill it, control it, corrupt it, own it. Republicans are the ones concerned with the power of the people--hence they are the ones who don't lament its loss but want to eliminate its presence.
Some highlights from Stevens' dissent (opinion is here):
(on the relevant Constitutional history)
The Framers thus took it as a given that corporations could be comprehensively regulated in the service of the public welfare. Unlike our colleagues, they had little trouble distinguishing corporations from human beings, and when they constitutionalized the right to free speech in the First Amendment, it was the free speech of individual Americans that they had in mind. While individuals might join together to exercise their speech rights, business corporations, at least, were plainly not seen as facilitating such associational or expressive ends.
(on the impact of corporate money on the electoral process)
When citizens turn on their televisions and radios before an election and hear only corporate electioneering, they may lose faith in their capacity, as citizens, to influence public policy. A Government captured by corporate interests, they may come to believe, will be neither responsive to their needs nor willing to give their views a fair hearing. The predictable result is cynicism and disenchantment: an increased perception that large spenders “‘call the tune’” and a reduced “‘willingness of voters to take part in democratic governance.’”
(on the radicality of the majority opinion)
At bottom, the Court’s opinion is thus a rejection of the common sense of the American people, who have recognized a need to prevent corporations from undermining self government since the founding, and who have foughtagainst the distinctive corrupting potential of corporate electioneering since the days of Theodore Roosevelt. It is a strange time to repudiate that common sense. While American democracy is imperfect, few outside the majorityof this Court would have thought its flaws included a dearth of corporate money in politics.