The challenge in Egypt is now to establish a democracy rather than slip back into another form of dictatorship. Since the Bush years, many Americans have feared that we are in danger of democracy slipping away here. Bob Herbert wrote about this challenge today:
In an Op-Ed article in The Times at the end of January, Senator John Kerry said that the Egyptian people “have made clear they will settle for nothing less than greater democracy and more economic opportunities.” Americans are being asked to swallow exactly the opposite. In the mad rush to privatization over the past few decades, democracy itself was put up for sale, and the rich were the only ones who could afford it.
The corporate and financial elites threw astounding sums of money into campaign contributions and high-priced lobbyists and think tanks and media buys and anything else they could think of. They wined and dined powerful leaders of both parties. They flew them on private jets and wooed them with golf outings and lavish vacations and gave them high-paying jobs as lobbyists the moment they left the government. All that money was well spent. The investments paid off big time.
As Jacob Hacker and Paul Pierson wrote in their book, “Winner-Take-All Politics”: “Step by step and debate by debate, America’s public officials have rewritten the rules of American politics and the American economy in ways that have benefited the few at the expense of the many.”
As if the corporate stranglehold on American democracy were not tight enough, the Supreme Court strengthened it immeasurably with its Citizens United decision, which greatly enhanced the already overwhelming power of corporate money in politics. Ordinary Americans have no real access to the corridors of power, but you can bet your last Lotto ticket that your elected officials are listening when the corporate money speaks.
When the game is rigged in your favor, you win. So despite the worst economic downturn since the Depression, the big corporations are sitting on mountains of cash, the stock markets are up and all is well among the plutocrats. The endlessly egregious Koch brothers, David and Charles, are worth an estimated $35 billion. Yet they seem to feel as though society has treated them unfairly.
As Jane Mayer pointed out in her celebrated New Yorker article, “The Kochs are longtime libertarians who believe in drastically lower personal and corporate taxes, minimal social services for the needy, and much less oversight of industry — especially environmental regulation.” (A good hard look at their air-pollution record would make you sick.)
It’s a perversion of democracy, indeed, when individuals like the Kochs have so much clout while the many millions of ordinary Americans have so little. What the Kochs want is coming to pass. Extend the tax cuts for the rich? No problem. Cut services to the poor, the sick, the young and the disabled? Check. Can we get you anything else, gentlemen?
The Koch brothers have been the target of many liberal bloggers lately. I agree with criticism of them for matters such as their pollution record, criticism of the increased concentration of wealth among the ultra-wealthy, and criticism of a system which allows small numbers of wealthy people to have so much power. I do not object to the fact that they are spending money to promote their views (if you can look beyond the other areas of criticism). Personally I wouldn’t mind if we had more wealthy individuals spending money promoting democracy and true freedom. What is really amazing is the number of libertarians who see the Kochs as promoting liberty as opposed to oligarchy.
This leads to one of the reasons our democracy is in trouble–many on the right confuse limitation of government with liberty. In an era where there are many powerful forces, a liberal government is often essential to preserving liberty for the individual. On the other hand, we must also be vigilant in preventing government from infringing upon our liberties. Here, far too many people on the right look the other way and advocate increased government action where it does not belong while complaining about legitimate actions of government.
In any discussion of the dangers to our democracy, we must include the importance of an informed electorate. The conservative dominance of the news media helps create the problem of people who see people like the Kochs as supporting rather than threatening freedom and democracy, along with the many falsehoods common on the right which I have discussed in multiple other posts. How can voters intelligently access health care reform when right wing media outlets are making false claims about death panels, job killing, and a government take-over of health care? How do voters evaluate proposals to deal with climate change when the right wing noise machine spreads the propaganda of the petroleum industry? How do individuals assess the candidates in a democracy when, hearing the false claims of the Swift Boat Liars and Birthers, along with distortions of the actual beliefs of liberal candidates?