by Rodrigue Tremblay / January 22nd, 2010
The price of apathy towards public affairs is to be ruled by evil men.
– Plato, ancient Greek philosopher
…The 20th century has been characterized by three
developments of great political importance: The growth of democracy,
the growth of corporate power, and the growth of corporate propaganda
as a means of protecting corporate power against democracy.
– Alex Carey, Australian social scientist
The most effective way to restrict democracy is to
transfer decision-making from the public arena to unaccountable
institutions: kings and princes, priestly castes, military juntas,
party dictatorships, or modern corporations.
– Noam Chomsky, M.I.T. emeritus Professor of Linguistics
On Tuesday, January 19 (2010), the Obama administration got a kick
in the pants from the Massachusetts voters when they filled former
Senator Ted Kennedy’s seat by electing a conservative Republican
candidate. The essence of their message was: stop dithering and start
governing; stop trying to satisfy the bankers and please the editors of
Rupert Murdoch’s Wall Street Journal, and start caring for the ordinary people.
Two days later, President Barack Obama seemed to have understood the
people’s message when he announced a “Volcker rule” that will forbid
large banks from owning hedge funds that make money by placing large
bets against their own clients, using information that these same
clients gave them. It was about time. Such a policy should have been
announced months ago, if not years ago.
On the same day, however, a nonelected body, the U.S. Supreme Court,
threw a different challenge to the Obama administration. Indeed, on
Thursday January 21 (2010), a Republican-appointed majority on the U.S.
Supreme Court took it upon itself to profoundly change
the U.S. Constitution and American democracy. Indeed, in what can be
labeled a most reactionary decision, the Roberts U.S. Supreme Court, ruled
that legal entities, such as corporations and labor unions, have the
same purely personal rights to free speech as living individuals.
Indeed, the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution says “Congress shall make no law … abridging the freedom of speech.
The only problem with such a wide interpretation of the U.S. Bills
of Rights (N.B.: The first ten amendments to the United States
Constitution are known as the Bill of Rights) is that this runs
contrary its letter and its spirit, since it clearly states later on
that “the enumeration in the Constitution, of certain rights, shall not
be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people, and
reserves all powers not granted to the federal government to the
citizenry or States.” The words “people” and “citizenry” clearly refer
here to living human beings, not to legal or artificial entities such
as business corporations, labor unions, financial organizations or
Such entities, for example, cannot vote in an election. Indeed, laws
governing voting rights in the United States clearly establish that
only “Adult citizens of the United States who are residents of one of
the 50 states have the right to participate fully in the political
system of the United States”. No mention is made of corporations or
other legal entities.
However, with its January 19 (2010) decision, the majority on the
Roberts U.S. Supreme Court is saying in effect that even if artificial
entities cannot vote in an election, they can spend as much money as
they like to influence the outcome of an election. Money is speech for
them, and the more a legal entity has of it, the more it has a right to
become powerful politically and control the political agenda.
In fact, what Chief Justice Roberts and his conservative Supreme
Court majority have done is to overcome a century-old democratic
tradition in the United States in granting a constitutional right to
business corporations and to banks, (because they are really the ones
with a lot of money), to use their enormous resources to not only
participate in debates about public issues, but also, and above all, to
de facto dictate the election of candidates of their choice to public
That’s plutocracy, not democracy!
Plutocracy is defined as a political system characterized by “the
rule by the wealthy, or power provided by wealth.” Democracy, on the
other hand, is defined as a political system where political power
belongs to the people. This means “a political government either
carried out directly by the people (direct democracy) or by means of
elected representatives of the people (representative democracy). The
terms “the power to the people” are derived from the words “people” and
“power” in Greek.
This fundamental idea of democracy was well summarized by President
Abraham Lincoln, in his 1863 Gettysburg Address, when he said that it
is “a government of the people, by the people and for the people.” This
is a definition that is based on the basic democratic principle of
equality among human beings.
But now, the Roberts Court’s decision must have made President
Lincoln turn in his grave, because that decision, in effect, transfers
political power from the living “people” to artificial corporate
entities, with tons of money to spend. If Congress does not act quickly
to reverse this decision, legal entities will be able to spend freely
in the media to support or oppose political candidates for president
and Congress, and this, as far as the last moment of a political
campaign. This is quite something!
By a stroke of the pen, the Roberts Court has thus abolished the
laws governing American electoral financing and removed limits to how
much special money interests can spend to have the elected officials
they want. The government they want will largely be “a government of
the corporations, by the corporations, for the corporations.” Truly
To reflect the new political philosophy of the five-member majority of the Roberts Court, the Preamble
of the U.S. Constitution that says “We the People of the United States,
in order to form a more perfect Union…” should, maybe, more
appropriately be changed for “We, the business corporations of America…”
It is that much more ironic that the word “corporation” appears
nowhere in the U.S. Constitution or in the Bill of Rights. It is
scarcely conceivable that the drafters of the Constitution had anything
resembling corporate entities in mind when they drafted the Bill of
Rights. But the Roberts Court majority does not seem to agree with
Washington, Jefferson, Franklin, Madison, Mason…etc. Because of their
decision, the five conservative members of the U. S. Supreme Court of
today have become the new Fathers of the U. S. Constitution.
For nearly a century, it has been assumed that the U.S. Bill of
Rights protected persons, not corporations. Even if sometimes the
courts have extended the rights of the14th Amendment banning the
deprivation of property without due process or equal protection of the
law to the property of corporations, it was never thought that the
purely personal rights of the first Amendment of the Bill of Rights
applied to corporate entities as well as to human beings. This is
understandable. Business corporations are created through legislation
that gives them potentially perpetual life and limited liability to
enhance their efficiency as economic entities. While such
characteristics can be beneficial in the economic sphere, they
represent special dangers in the political sphere. That is the
rationale for not extending constitutional rights to purely legal
But now, the five-member majority of the Roberts Court have said
that such legalized artificial entities have the same constitutionally
protected rights to engage in political activities as living
This is clearly revolutionary or, more precisely, counter-revolutionary.