The Real Message in the Massachusetts Special Election

January 20, 2010  |   Politics and Policy

The more I think about this Massachusetts election outcome, the more I am concerned… but not about the Democrats.  I worry for the Republic.

 I think both parties are in much deeper trouble than their leaders realize.  And that spells trouble for the Republic.


America has become ungovernable.  Every election is about “throwing the bums out,” no matter who’s in the majority.  Seems to me we have a major populist shift in attitude in the country, with no populist leadership coming from either party, because they’re both in thrall to their corporate masters.

Candidates talk a populist game in the heat of the campaign, but they don’t govern that way (Brown rode around Massachusetts in a pickup truck to polish his populist bonafieds).

The anger is growing, but is unfocused.  That anger is evidenced by the utter breakdown of civility either in the halls of Congress or in the political discourse taking place everywhere. It’s reflected in the xenophobic hatred of immigrants and an uptick in violence against racial and other minorities.  The teabaggers, birthers, and the Town Hall screamers are evidence of the growing rage, but there is also a growing rage among traditionally left-leaning voters, who have not yet realized it, but they have some common cause with these so-called nut-cases on the right.

Rules in the Senate, and the peculiar dynamics of how we apportion Senators and how they’re elected, in particular, make it impossible for either party to effectively address the populist demands of voters.  Leadership failure and a generation of brainwashing of the populace by corporate media and corporate marketers have produced an angry public, but one that can’t really grasp the complexities of the big  issues we must face…they just want to “throw the bums out who are in there now.”  As if a near carbon copy of those “bums” will somehow ride to the rescue “this time.”  But of course, it never happens. 

Even more intractable than Senate rules, we’ve got 200 years of legal opinion giving corporations “personhood,”  thanks to a very broad judicial interpretation of the 14th Amendment (which was intended to bring freed slaves into the mainstream of society).  Corporations are a LEGAL FICTION… an invention of (state) governments that permit their charter.  Corporations do not need safe food to eat, clean water to drink, or clean air to breath. They can split themselves into smaller parts or combine themselves into bigger entities. They can spawn “children” without the need for healthcare.  They can “move” to another state, or another country, overnight.  They cannot go to jail for crimes.  They are designed exclusively to protect PROPERTY and wealth.  Yet they have all the rights and protections of real, breathing human beings.  They can exercise “free speech” by spending for political campaigns (by direct contributions, or unlimited “issue advertising.”)  They can claim discrimination if any law is passed that does not also apply to real human beings.  Yet, in fact, they are “SUPER humans” that real human voters simply cannot compete with. 

It’s worth noting that over the course of US history, people have gained rights through grassroots action leading to Constitutional Amendments (rights to vote, due process, etc)… while corporations have gained their rights through the courts.  Corporate robber barons had the money to take their cases to the Supreme Court. Women, African-Americans, and others did not. 

 Party leaders on both sides think that if they just spin the facts this way or that, they can win the hearts of their core voters, either on the left or the right. 

This is NOT about left or right.  It’s more “up and down.”  That is, it’s about a population fed up that there are no real opportunities to get ahead anymore… where working hard won’t get you ahead.  It’s about a middle class under attack and a yawning gap between the richest and the poorest.  It’s about voting for change, and then our leaders cutting deals with big business as usual.. the financial sector, the insurance and pharmaceutical industries, the trial lawyers, and on and on. 

 Perhaps it is time for a real rules change.  Perhaps a Constitutional change.  Thomas Jefferson believed in a little bit of revolution now and then, but our system of government has survived for 230 years while the world and its problems have changed in ways the Founding Fathers could never have imagined. 

Foreigners still  want to be like Americans… but have you ever heard anyone say, “Gee, I wish we had your Senate!.”  Parliamentary systems seem better able to deal with big problems in the modern world.

 Of course, Constitutional change is highly unlikely unless a great leader emerges to focus the anger and bring the left and the right together in common cause.  And a Constitutional Convention would be a fiasco. 

So what is to be done? 

Muddling through is certainly not working.

Perhaps a change of attitude in the judicial community regarding the personhoodof corporations?  That’s not likely either, and wouldn’t work unless other countries also moved in tandem…. multinational corporations have colonized governments worldwide, not just in the US. 

I’m flummoxed as to how we fix this.  But really concerned.

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