September 17, 2012

September 17th is Constitution Day and the anniversary of the Occupy Wall Street Movement. Constitutionalism, the idea that a written set of laws and procedures establishes a supreme power and limits that same power for the collective benefit of society, is a wonderful human invention. Our own country has been on a 225-year journey of constitutionalism, wherein we have decided to extend the franchise to women, directly elect our senators, and amend our Constitution in other ways when necessary to appropriately adapt to changing circumstances. In our country the people have popular sovereignty, which means that the people are self-governing through the election of representatives. Throughout our history, concentrated wealth, both private and corporate, has exercised various degrees of disproportionate influence over government (the people and the people’s representatives), exercising a lesser degree of still disproportionate influence during times of popular “unrest,” periods when the people have organized on a mass scale to “take back” the government, which is essentially a reassertion of their right to govern themselves, to have their vision for society actually determine how society is organized and maintained.

Today, two political movements are trying to “take back” the government: the Tea Partiers and the Occupiers. In my opinion, the libertarians in the Tea Party movement have legitimate concerns about Big Government, but what they fail to see is that corporations and wealthy individuals who largely control the government (the people and the people’s representatives), pose a much bigger threat to individual liberties and American values than Big Government. The Occupy movement more appropriately focuses on the corporate corruption of democracy. I believe that some libertarians could find common cause with the Occupy movement, but the Christian nationalists within the Tea Party movement want to “take back” something else entirely; not the government as it ever actually existed, but as they imagine it to have been: some sort of “Christian,” and therefore homogeneous society, that was also “democratic.” The truth is that our country has never been a homogeneous society and that democracy has always been what the people make of it. Popular sovereignty is not a machine that runs on its own, but something that must be actively constituted and maintained by the people themselves. The Tea Party talks a lot about the U.S. Constitution and our nation’s founding, but the Tea Party itself, as well as the Republican Party that has been remade in the Tea Party’s image, embodies some severely anti-democratic tendencies that threaten our country’s tradition of popular sovereignty.

Here is what I see going on with the Republican Party: They (the representatives) appear to govern as “delegates,” as people carrying out the will of their local constituency, with the result that their policy positions supposedly reflect public opinion. In actuality, they (the representatives) govern as “elites” maintaining a necessary amount of material comfort for the middle and lower classes in order to preserve the existing social and economic inequality that benefits the elite class. How does this happen? How do the Republicans promote an elite agenda by claiming to do what their middle and lower class constituency wants them to do? The elite class delivers their version of society and morality, a story that says if you’re rich you deserve to be and that the world’s natural resources exist to be exploited by man, through various media outlets. The representatives then determine the parameters of discussion on specific policy issues through the same media outlets and present the people with choices from which to choose. The people express a collective position on a specific policy and the representative carries out “the will of the people.”

Sounds like a conspiracy theory, right? Let’s use health care reform as an example. All of the corporate-funded news organizations refuse to discuss single-payer, universal health care (Medicare for All). It simply is not included in the choices that people are given through the major media outlets. The representatives never include this option in their speeches or town hall meetings because they receive campaign contributions from the health insurance industry, which is opposed to any health care reform that would decrease their profits. How do insurance companies make money? By denying people health care at all or by forcing them to pay for as much of the treatment themselves as possible. Fortunately, the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act passed by the Democrats addresses the pre-existing condition issue, but the Republicans vow to repeal the law if they can. The Republicans lie to the people and feed them disinformation, and then promote a corporate agenda disguised as “the will of the people.”

The evidence to support the claim that the Republicans are attempting to gradually use the idea of popular sovereignty to implement a corporate agenda at odds with the common good, the general welfare, and individual liberties is the overwhelming support from Republicans of Citizens United and corporate personhood. They do not see a problem with unlimited corporate or private money influencing the political process or the idea that money is speech because the corporations are the people they are truly representing.Citizens United undermines the idea of public funding for political campaigns and thereby limits who runs for office and what their legislative priorities will be. Citizens Unitedundermines the notion that the people are sovereign, that each individual has one vote, by legitimating and encouraging the disproportionate influence of wealthy individuals or corporations over our representatives. Further evidence that the Republican Party is actively undermining popular sovereignty is the attempt in many states to restrict access to the polls, to disenfranchise groups of people who generally do not vote in favor of corporate interests. Lastly, the refusal of the Tea Party caucus in the House of Representatives to govern and instead embrace obstructionism indicates that they are not concerned with the common good or general welfare. The Tea Party places ideological purity above pragmatism, which is anti-democratic and threatens the fabric of constitutionalism itself. The fact that they do so in the interests of wealthy individuals and corporations at the expense of middle and lower class citizens is especially dishonorable. The rhetoric used by the Tea Party and the Republican Party to manufacture support for their corporate agenda is increasingly fascist.

James Madison, the “Father of the Constitution” and our nation’s fourth president, insisted that popular sovereignty and constitutionalism rested on two assumptions: 1) That given enough time and information, the people will choose what is in their long-term, collective interests, 2) That the people possess the republican virtue to pursue the common good. Our Declaration of Independence was based on the idea that government should be abolished and replaced when it fails to perform the role it was created to fulfill. Gradually, our government has been hijacked by private and corporate interests who now use the government (the people and the people’s representatives) to pursue their own private gain. The general welfare of the people has been compromised to such an extent that the people may no longer be truly sovereign. The corporate agenda being promoted by the Republican Party and the Tea Party would erode the foundation of civil society and recreate the “state of nature” that government was created to improve upon. The corporate agenda supported by Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan would create a morally bankrupt “survival-of-the-fittest” society with no regard for the common good or common purpose.

The Democrats, in order to compete with the Republicans, have become just as beholden to private and corporate wealth for campaign contributions and their legislative priorities have adapted accordingly. Liberalism has been slowly dying, along with the welfare state, public institutions, and the environment. One year ago, Occupy Wall Street started a movement on Constitution Day. The Occupy Movement sees through all of the deceptive rhetoric being fed to us by the corporate media and the corporate-funded representatives who discuss corporate-friendly legislation as if it were the only possible choice. The Occupy Movement wants to conserve the planet and create a better society. The Occupy Movement wants to create a world in which to live, breathe, work, create, love, worship, and play. The alternative is to keep on living as if everything is okay and hope that tomorrow will magically be better than today. The alternative leads to an apocalyptic ending we ourselves allowed to take place. The Occupy Movement stands in opposition to the love of money that continues to corrupt our politics and destroy our planet.

 


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