The top issues discussed would not be what to do about the nation’s high unemployment or how to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear capability. They would not include how to combat climate change, or how to ease out Syria’s murderous dictator. Rather, we would be discussing these other nutty issues.
And who is responsible for this turn of affairs? We could blame the super-millionaires and billionaires themselves – but then again, addled millionaires and billionaires have long been a staple of America and our politics. But what has brought these men’s near lunatic theories to the fore this year was Supreme Court's two year old “Citizens United” decision, which allows such the ultra-rich– along with corporations and unions - to pour unlimited funds into supporting their favored candidate(s).
Thus, a candidate hoping to profit from their millions in contributions can not afford to turn away whatever their latest theory is. If you doubt this, exhibit A is Presidential challenger Mitt Romney. While alleging that he does not believe the “birther” theories, Romney recently campaigned in Las Vegas alongside the Donald, turning away neither Trump’s money nor support – a stark contrast with John McCain’s posture towards birther nuttiness four years ago, pre-Citizens United.
Yes, Romney might develop some backbone, although this would go against his ethic of going with the prevailing winds on the issue of the moment. (Does anyone really know where Romney stands on any issue other than his desire to make ever greater profits for his investors?) Still, the more important question is whether the new Supreme Court rules are tilting the tables in favor of these addled ultra-rich, and whether such discourse will not hijack the American conversation at a critical historical juncture.
Citizens United was not the Supreme Court’s first venture into politics. The most infamous instance may have happened with its Bush v. Gore decision, cutting off a recount of the Florida vote and anointing George W. Bush as President in 2,000. For this voter, it was the first time I saw the Supreme Court not as an arbiter of the common good, but as a stark political player, whose nine judges could venture into any matter and overturn laws they did not like or create diktats – excuse me, judicial opinions - they did like. They are like Roman emperors, accountable to no one, whose thumbs up or down decisions become, with few exceptions, the new law of the land.
This is not the picture of America I grew up with. But it is increasingly becoming the America of today, with unpredictable results. (As I write this, it is uncertain whether the Supreme Court’s latest target will be our national health care plan, passed by Congress and signed into law by our President – which our self-proclaimed emperors may - or may not - like).
All this is coupled with Republican efforts to decertify, under the guise of fighting “voter fraud,” millions of Americans in crucial swing states, such as Florida, lessening the number of people eligible to vote. So we are left with a diminished electorate debating made up issues: exactly what America needs this year.
It is great to cheer this country – and I am one of the first to do so, feeling chills whenever I hear the Star Spangled Banner. As an immigrant driven from my birth country – Iraq – by religious prejudice, I cherish the freedom and order that are America. I got both my B.A. and my M.A. in American history, and have voted in every election for which I was eligible. That’s how much I love this country.
But that love is not about geography, nor is it mindless patriotism. Rather, that love is to an idea of representative government which, as was laid out by America’s founders, was “by the people, for the people.”
No; our government was not perfect. It initially countenanced slavery and counted even a free black man as worth 3/5 of a white man. It disenfranchised women, required that each eligible voter hold a certain amount of property, directed that Senators elected not directly by the people but rather by state legislatures, and so forth. We were far from perfect.
But the basic idea on which we would build our country and its democratic government was boldly laid out, and over time, we evolved into an ever more perfect union, and the strongest, most economically vibrant, most freedom-loving country in the world, bar none. Recognizing all this is not a false patriotism a la Sarah Palin. It is recognizing who we truly are, who we have become.
Still, much of this American legacy is in danger of being overturned by nine justices in black robes, whose power – and often, whose arrogance – is similar to that of Iran’s Grand Ayatollah. Indeed, if we superimpose the photo of Iran’s Supreme Leader over that of Justice Scalia, we would not be far off. And the effect of this judicial folly – here as in Iran – will play out in this year’s elections.
The plus side is that hundreds of millions of dollars of spending by these billionaires will help boost our economy – the same economy that Republicans insist on squeezing in the name of deficit reduction. The negative side is that these Supreme Court-enabled zealots are, through their unlimited spending, hijacking a discussion we should be having, diminishing us all. And that, over and above any policy differences between the political parties, is a matter of national concern.By Joe Hanania, Aslan Media Columnist