Opinion: Voting for the vultures
Mitt Romney and the insidious influence of super PACs in American politics
Published: Thursday, February 2, 2012
Updated: Friday, February 3, 2012 02:02
In the minds of many, the nomination of Mitt Romney is a forgone conclusion. Unlike his rival Newt Gingrich, he is not a polarizing figure with a dirty past, and it will be comparatively difficult for Democrats to cast doubt on the former Governor's character, or paint him as a dangerous reactionary. Given an innocuous persona and an ostensibly unthreatening, "businessman's approach," it is easy for many Americans, disenchanted as they are with politics-as-usual, to decide that a Romney presidency wouldn't be all that risky. This is a very dangerous conclusion to reach.
Innocuous as Romney may appear, it is important to examine the circumstances of his election and what they say about how he will govern in the event that he defeats Barack Obama later this year. Romney hardly comes across as a transformative figure, but the circumstances of his election are indicative of a disturbing trend in U.S. politics. His candidacy foreshadows one possible political road for the U.S.; one in which government is dominated by Wall Street fat cats, oil companies and billionaires, all working through the plus-sized political action committees known "Super PACs."
Super PACs are organizations that are permitted to anonymously spend unlimited amounts of money to promote and/or attack candidates. They essentially bypass all meaningful campaign finance reform measures undertaken since the Progressive Era. Although nominally required to operate independently from the political campaigns of their preferred candidates, it should be clear to anyone paying attention that this is a clever method of sidestepping campaign finance laws that place limits on campaign contributions. Super PACs are the direct result of the Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission decision, a game-changing judicial debacle that sets a dangerous precedent.
The Supreme Court's ruling is based on the patently absurd premise that corporations are people. Therefore, setting a limit on the amount of money they can donate to political campaigns – previously accepted across party lines as necessary to protect democracy and prevent oligarchy – constitutes a violation of free speech (money, by their suspect reasoning, is a form of speech). These justices claim adherence to the original intent of the Founders, many of whom (especially Jefferson) in fact expressed concern that moneyed interests would come to dominate the political process.
But this is not only an issue of morals or principles. It is also one of self-interest. Part of what has made the U.S. so resilient as a nation has been its adaptability to change, the benefit of a government subject to the popular will. Like capitalism, the U.S. system of government provides a basic check on the tendency of states run by a few to a) make short-sighted, impulsive, enormously risky decisions (like Nazi Germany) and/or b) adhere blindly to a rigid economic model that cannot sustain itself over the long run (like the Soviet Union). Citizens United will restrict voters' choices to those deemed acceptable by the 1% and the party establishments.
In the simplest terms, this amounts to less voter choice, and more candidates like Mitt Romney: candidates that seem inevitable by virtue of their natural advantages in advertising, despite the quiet fact that nobody likes them.
The one arguably positive consequence of Citizens United is that they could backfire, turning voters against candidates who are bought and paid for by billionaire patrons and special interest groups. For those who think a Romney presidency wouldn't be all that bad, take a look at his base of support; it consists mostly of hedge funds, corporate lobbyists, oil companies – essentially representatives of the very special interests that first advocated war in Iraq and then proceeded to gamble away the U.S. economy.
When the radical right gets over its renewed love affair with the doomed candidacy of Newt Gingrich (who, incidentally, has managed to stay in the race this long thanks to the generous donations of multibillionaire casino magnate Sheldon Adelson to Newt's Super PAC), the nomination will likely end up in Romney's pocket. While the timing of his recent adoption of pro-life and anti-gay positions is suspect, it will nevertheless make him an infinitely more appealing choice for conservatives than the socialist-Muslim-Alinskyite Barack Obama.
History has shown that when push comes to shove, the various factions that make up the conservative movement are always able to put aside their differences and coalesce into a formidable electoral force. Mitt Romney may be a onetime Massachusetts moderate, but the powers that be in the Republican Party will force him to govern as a reactionary conservative.