It wasn’t enough, though, and consequently democracy was whisked away from us last Thursday by five Republican appointees to the Supreme Court, who decreed that corporations could henceforth have more say-so over the governance of the United States than we the people do.
Reaffirming one of the basic principles of Magna Carta, namely, that money talks, Chief Justice John Roberts and his radical band of merry men blithely torpedoed a century’s worth of campaign finance reform, addressing some spurious notion that corporations and labor unions, obliged to route their massive campaign contributions through political action committees, were having their political speech censored.
Judging by the $5 billion or so spent to influence the political process during the last decade, per WallStreetWatch, I’d say these guys haven’t had much trouble making themselves heard. Justice John Paul Stevens, who authored the dissenting opinion, put it more eloquently: “While American democracy is imperfect, few outside the majority of this Court would have thought its flaws included a dearth of corporate money in politics.”
What a freshet of finance is heading our way, now that corporations are allowed to spend unlimited amounts of money buying ads on radio, TV, newspapers, the sides of barns and the breadth of the Internet. (Before somebody hollers about unions, let us cite Professor Anthony DiMaggio’s research, showing that in 2008, 71 percent of all campaign contributions were ponied up by business-related PACs and individuals, as opposed to 2.7 percent from the labor side of the ledger.)
The court decision should be good news for me. Part owner of a recording studio, I could benefit from a spate of new commercials needing to be recorded before November. That means plenty of inventory for our pals at the broadcast and cable outlets and, on the print side, more ad space for beleaguered periodicals. Mass communications should find the biggest Thank You card at the Hallmark store and mail it to the Roberts court.
On the other hand, cognizant of the power of advertising, I share the concern of Justice Stevens that “the Court’s ruling threatens to undermine the integrity of elected institutions across the Nation.” Once the decree filters down to the state level, for instance, who could get elected on a platform to clean up the air and the environment when the state’s biggest coal consumer, Alabama Power, could buy all the available ad space and time on behalf of his opponent? Make no mistake, the power of this kind of ad money will be used as often to coerce incumbents as to crush opposition.
The sheer volume of political ads corporations—domestic and foreign—can now buy will have the effect of stifling dissent against pro-business positions. With the power of their coffers, they will now be able to spend lies into facts, saturating media to permit scarce possibility of rejoinder.
True conservatives should be as alarmed by these prospects as progressives are, for it’s the result of the kind of judicial activism they used to rail against so-called liberal courts for practicing. In the future, which is to say now, corporations will be able to protect and enhance their profits by spending to elect congressmen and senators, governors and state legislators who will always vote to advance corporate agendas and never vote to restrict or reform business practices. We now confront the truth we’ve always suspected, which is that special interests are not all that special, but are merely dull and prosaic and dangerous.
So what recourse do we have, what refuge can we seek from news of this indelibly woeful variety? I suggest the blues.
The music that’s provided solace for generations of Southerners is being played supremely well at WorkPlay Friday night by a talented quartet from Argentina called, succinctly enough, Mo’Blues. It’s a cinch you will feel Mo’Better about the world in general after you hear these guys.
Mo’Blues has been visiting Birmingham once every year or so since 2000, thanks to the strong bond established between the band and the Magic City Blues Society. Susan Collier in particular has taken the challenge of exposing this ensemble to as much of the Northern Hemisphere as possible. “To hear them do ‘There’s a red house over yonder’—very familiar lyrics to anyone who loves the blues—in Spanish and to sit back in the crowd and watch; me personally, I see a crowd singing in English, I see a band singing in Spanish and all of a sudden I see the crowd going, ‘Casa rojo’”, she marveled. “I’ve never seen a blues act do what they are doing. That’s why I believe in them so much.”
The first South American band ever to compete in the annual International Blues Challenge, Mo’Blues returned to Memphis last week for a contest showcase at the Rum Boogie Café. Though they came in second there to an outfit from Knoxville (and really, how international is Knoxville?), the men from the pampas garnered the lion’s share of press attention and crowd adulation.
At a time when Americans are having trouble extolling American values, it’s remarkable to have these great musicians from half a world away show us what a force for good our culture can be. They found the truth in the blues and then they found Birmingham a vital place for telling that truth. As guitarist Federico Teiler told us during the band’s 2008 visit, “We are taking so seriously the thing to be here. We are thinking so strongly to be here more. Here we found a place that we can call home.” Mo’Blues will play Fri., Jan. 29, at WorkPlay, with Spoonful opening. The show will begin at 8 p.m. For more information, visit www.workplay.com. Courtney Haden is a Birmingham Weekly columnist. Write to email@example.com.