It's our government. Let's take it back!
Andrew Jackson was a man of his times. He was a slave owner. He was a ferocious Indian fighter and, as President, presided over the removal of Indian nations from their lands on the Eastern seaboard to the interior of the country. He fought numerous celebrated duels. He almost certainly married his wife, Rachel, before her divorce from her first husband was final.
He was also the driving force behind what many consider to be the real American Revolution.
Our War of Independence was an audacious undertaking and a glorious victory. A rabble composed of volunteer soldiers from thirteen colonies so disparate they were almost separate nations took on the armed forces of the British Empire, the greatest power on Earth, and won. Yet, when we emerged victorious from the conflict, much remained unchanged.
The British were gone, but the same moneyed class of large landowners and merchants that had dominated the political life of the colonies now controlled the state and federal governments. African-Americans and women could not vote, but, due to property and tax requirements, neither could 85% of all white men. Government was for the rich, landholding classes.
All of that changed with Jackson. Born on the Carolina frontier and reared in poverty, Jackson came to the White House as the leader of the newly formed Democratic Party. Boldly proclaiming himself the champion of the common man, Jackson and the Democrats expressly defined theirs as the party of ordinary farmers and workers and the opponent of Eastern elites. By the early 1820s, as the Jacksonian Democrats gained in strength across the country, universal suffrage for white males became the norm in America.
Jackson was not a subtle man. Faced with a mutiny during a campaign against the Creek Indians in 1813, he trained a battery of artillery on his own men and threatened to open fire if they refused orders. He crushed a British army in the field at the battle of New Orleans. His own soldiers christened him "Old Hickory" in reference to his unbending will. When in 1832, South Carolina first threatened to secede from the Union, Jackson responded, "If a single drop of blood shall be shed there in opposition to the laws of the United States, I will hang the first man I can lay my hand on engaged in such treasonable conduct, upon the first tree I can reach." South Carolina backed down.
He brought the same uncompromising style to his role as President. He defined his Presidency as a struggle against what he viewed as the insidious and corrupting influence of money and influence on the nation. His farewell address to the country at the end of his second term is perhaps the clearest example of this philosophy. Counseling his fellow citizens that "eternal vigilance by the people is the price of liberty," Jackson noted that average Americans were "in constant danger of losing their fair influence in the Government, and with difficulty maintain their just rights against the incessant efforts daily made to encroach upon them." He blamed this state of affairs on the power of the "moneyed interest" and, speaking directly to the American people, noted, "Unless you become more watchful in your States and check this spirit of monopoly and thirst for exclusive privileges you will in the end find that the most important powers of Government have been given or bartered away, and the control over your dearest interests has passed into the hands of these corporations."
It has been 176 years. We have not heeded Jackson's warnings. We have allowed our government to slide out of our control and into the hands of corporations, special interests, and others prepared to buy their way to influence and control.
En route to Washington as President-elect in January of 2009, Barack Obama said, "We have heard your stories on the campaign trail. We've been touched by your dreams. And we will fight for you every single day that we're in Washington, because Joe and I are both committed to leading a government that is accountable--not just to the wealthy or the well-connected, but to you. To the conductors who make our trains run, and to the workers who lay down the rails. To the parents who worry about how they're going to pay next month's bills on the commute to work, and to the children who hear the whistle of the train and dream of a better life. That's who we're fighting for. That's who needs change. And those are the stories that we will carry with us to Washington."
Grand oratory by a man portraying himself as following in the tradition of Democratic Presidents before him, standing up for the little guy, fighting the good fight, bringing truth, justice, and fairness to Washington, DC.
Except, of course, that none of that is true at all.
Barack Obama is not the champion of the weak and vulnerable any more than Mitt Romney or Newt Gingrich are. He's a professional politician, beholden not to you and me, but to the huge moneyed interests and conglomerates that increasingly control all of the centers of power in this great nation. Among the top twenty contributors to Obama's 2008 campaign were Goldman Sachs, JP Morgan, Citigroup, General Electric, Microsoft, Google, UBS AG, IBM, and Morgan Stanley.
As of this writing, Barack Obama has raised a little over $125,000,000 for his reelection campaign. His campaign expects to raise and spend in excess of $1 billion to ensure he remains in office. On average, the President is hosting one fundraiser every five to six days. The going rate for smaller such affairs in which attendees actually have an opportunity to speak with the President is $38,500 a head. On one recent evening in New York, where the President made an appearance at three separate events, he pocketed $2.4 million in contributions.
I think it's fair to assume that there were no railroad conductors or men who made their living laying rails in any of those dinners.
Mitt Romney, the presumed Republican nominee for President, is equally as bad. Mitt Romney has raised a little over $56,000,000 but he is still engaged in a primary battle for the nomination. When he obtains the nomination it is expected that fundraising will pick up significantly and that he will be able to at least match the President in expenditures.
Add in the money being contributed by the so-called Super PACs, the nominally independent political organizations that dovetail their efforts with those of their favorite candidates, and the situation is even worse. The President has already been the beneficiary of over two million dollars in PAC money. Romney has enjoyed the benefits of over four million dollars in such funds. None of the candidates, however, can hold a candle to Newt Gingrich, who has made his living for sometime selling influence in Washington. To date, PACs have dedicated roughly $10 million to helping Newt get into the White House.
In 2000, a total of $3 billion was spent on the Presidential election. In 2008 that figure was $5 billion. This time around, speculation is that spending may top $7 billion.
We continue to maintain the fiction that we are in control of our government, that $50 checks mailed to the candidate of our choice matter and that bumper stickers and yard signs are viable methods of attracting attention to a cause. We refuse to accept that increasingly we are simply props in a game played and controlled by massive corporate interests and soaked in almost unimaginable quantities of cash. Elections are no longer fought out between groups of voters with opposing political viewpoints. They are bought by whoever has the most cash and the willingness to spend it.
Perhaps nothing emphasizes the extent to which this is true more than the unwillingness of the so-called major candidates to address it. Review their platforms and position papers. You will search in vain for any indication of a willingness to stand up to the power of institutional money and mandate reform. Even the President, who has worked so hard to cast himself in the mode of the defender of the "little man," has now blessed the activities of the Priorities USA Action Super PAC and indicated that he and other senior government officials will appear at its events.
In fact, of all the serious, qualified candidates for the Presidency, the only one who apparently has the guts to tackle the issue of money in politics is Buddy Roemer, former Governor of Louisiana and four-term Congressman. Roemer, despite his strong governmental credentials and his background as an experienced and successful banker, has been rewarded for his courage and candor by being barred from every Republican Party debate to date. The "moneyed interest" of which Jackson warned us has clearly decided that Roemer is far too dangerous to allow to be heard.
We are in grave danger of losing the republic. The notion of "one man--one vote," willed into reality by Jackson and improved upon by each succeeding generation, is being subordinated to the power of cash. It is time to decide. Will we stand by and watch while offices are raffled off to the highest bidder or will we stand up and take back control of our government?
What would Jackson do?