Oct 232010
Photo portrait of John F. Kennedy, President o...
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Article first published as Prostituted Government, America up for Sale on Technorati.

Baby Boomers are likely to remember the words spoken by John F. Kennedy during his inaugural address.

The youngest man ever elected president took office and wasted no time in reminding the American people of how different the world had become and of the responsibility placed upon our great nation. He pulled no punches in identifying the true enemies of humanity: “tyranny, poverty, disease and war itself.” And he concluded his speech with both a commitment to the task at hand and an admonishment for all Americans: “Ask not what your country can do for you — ask what you can do for your country.”

What would be the reaction today to a president asking for such patriotism? Yet in 1961, JFK’s call to unity and selflessness was arguably the hallmark of his address. His were words that could well have been spoken by Jefferson or Adams, even by Patrick Henry himself. How sad it is that things have changed so, in less than 50 years.

President Kennedy spoke out of love and respect for a nation built on high moral principles. He spoke of a nation that held the power to “abolish all forms of human poverty.” He called on all Americans to join him in the fight . . . and America responded with dedication and applause.

Today, the tables have turned. Americans don’t ask what they can do for their country; they don’t even see poverty as a mutual enemy. The new prescription for prosperity in America is not to fight tyranny and band together for the common good — it’s a call to social Darwinism, to every person for themselves. Fifty years ago the predominant mindset was one of abundance, where through unity we could achieve anything. Today, America is figuratively much smaller and weaker. The grand vision is all but lost. The belief is now in scarcity and a sense that only the few can truly prosper.

This change in paradigm has nothing to do with inevitability. It was and still is completely avoidable. The sad truth is that Americans have been sold a bad bill of goods wrapped in the trappings of good business. We sit now in the most dire economic straits in nearly a century, and instead of pulling together to fight our common foes, we’re allowing ourselves to be divided by those who benefit from our lack of unity.

Thomas Jefferson once said that, “Experience demands that man is the only animal which devours his own kind, for I can apply no milder term to the general prey of the rich on the poor.” This truth has been long understood and accepted, yet this is exactly what we, the American people, have allowed to happen in our country. The unity of the Kennedy era has been lost to the government-is-the-enemy doctrine espoused by Ronald Reagan and movement conservatism.

The 21st Century American political system thrives on a state of dynamic tension where the two sides debate the same issues ad nauseam. Never reaching resolution, this ebb and flow produces, at best, incremental change, and in the end is essentially a lesson in futility. The structure is based on a two-party, zero sum shouting match where the only people who win are those who benefit from maintaining the status quo.

What’s needed is an alternative to this Sisyphean drama. We need real progress. We need a return to morality in politics, where money is confined as the currency of our capitalism and not of our democracy. Sadly, what we have instead is a near complete departure from anything of the sort.

Not only does truth in politics seem to be at an all-time low, but with the Supreme Court’s ruling on “Citizens United,” where corporations were granted personhood, the stream of falsehood and mudslinging deceit is so constant as to be virtually inescapable. America is now the great political prostitute of the planet, with more money being spent to buy votes through misinformation than at any time in any place. Hurray for America!

Is this really the political process that the American people want?  Is there any way that this caricature of democracy can lead to a government “of the people, by the people and for the people?”

This new dynamic has no place in the American political system. The Founding Fathers perceived the evils of corporate greed and did everything they could to ensure that the democracy could withstand their siege. Thomas Jefferson warned us of their thirst for control, “I hope we shall crush in its birth the aristocracy of our monied corporations which dare already to challenge our government to a trial by strength, and bid defiance to the laws of our country.” But modern conservatism has ignored his warning.

The conservative court’s decision that corporations are people has created a situation where, not only are vast sums of money being spent by corporate interests to influence the 2010 election, but the American electorate isn’t even afforded the right to know who’s behind the spending.

Under their new found freedom to influence elections, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce is spending record amounts of money. Where their total for the 2008 elections was a mere $33.5 million, they promise to spend $75 million in 2010. And not only is the Chamber raising record amounts for its campaign spending from U.S. corporations, like Prudential Financial, Dow Chemical, A.I.G., Goldman Sachs and Chevron  Texaco, but they’re bringing in huge amounts from foreign companies who have a stake in American jobs, trade policies and tax regulations.

Of course, it’s easy to understand why the Republicans in the Senate fought to defeat the Disclose Act, which would have required disclosure of funding sources, since the vast majority of the corporate money is going to either support Republican candidates or defeat Democrats — a full 93% of the Chamber’s 70 ads, according to the New York Times. This statistic might help explain why only 10% of groups running ads in support of Republicans have revealed their funding sources, while 50% of Democratic supporters have.

Regardless of the outcome, it’s too late for the 2010 election. American politics has fallen into an abyss of moral decay. Monied interests are so firmly in control of the process and the tyranny of the elite is so prevalent that both Kennedy and Jefferson have to be turning in their graves. Tea Party patriots, as misguided as they may be, have the right idea — the American people need to take their country back. Hopefully, between now and the 2012 election, they’ll figure out that the government is not the enemy, and that it’s actually the instrument of their collective will.

One person, one vote — that was the intent. That is the only system that can work, and it can only be sustained through an informed, not misinformed electorate. Let us all hope that we might return to the high moral principles of our past, of our founding. Let us understand once again that we are One Nation, One People – E Pluribus Unum.

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