Back during the first term of the Reagan Administration, I remember a conversation I had with a physicist who recently had immigrated from Communist Poland. He was enjoying a much higher standard of living over here, and was very happy to be living in the United States. "Back in Poland," he observed, "the government owns all the big businesses."
"Here," I replied, "the big businesses own the government."
It was still an overstatement back then. The Reagan Revolution was in its infancy, and although Reaganauts were happily slashing government's regulatory powers (anybody remember the savings and loan crisis?) and school lunches*, it would be another 25 years before the revolution was complete. (Yes, this includes participation by the Clinton Administration.)
Today, we are told, voters are clamoring for change. More than anything, they want government that is more responsive to their wants and needs. Let's have a look at one example.
According to a CBS News poll conducted in September, a majority of Americans support a single-payer system of national health insurance. Nevertheless, no viable Democratic candidate (sorry, Dennis) has proposed single-payer as a solution to our health care problems. And why not? Isn't this a democracy?
Nope. Sorry, but it isn't.
If you'd had a few competent teachers, you would know that the USofA is a republic. From time to time in our history, it is a democratic republic, in that those who govern are genuinely representative of the people. At other times, it is a plutocratic republic: those who govern represent monied interests. The plutocrats ruled during the Gilded Age, when Mark Twain remarked that we had "the best Congress money can buy." They rule again today.
The blatant abuse of power by Bush/Cheney is just the icing on the cake. The Reagan Revolution, which delivered this country into the hands of the plutocrats, was complete before George W. Bush was sworn in. What we experienced over the past seven years was just the first unabashed use of that power, with emphasis on the transfer of more and more wealth to the super-rich.
As ordinary Americans, our biggest problem is that some people just have too much goddamned money. They use it to buy political power, and they use that power to accumulate even more money -- at the expense of ordinary Americans.
The only hope for those of us in the "lower classes" is the fact that the plutocrats are not a unified block. Now that the poor have been drained dry and the middle classes are buried in debt, they are beginning to turn on each other.
John Edwards has positioned himself as a doughty David fighting the Goliath of corporate power. This makes sense, because Edwards and his most generous contributors are tort lawyers, who earned their own fortunes by suing corporations. As corporate interests become more and more powerful, they pay for legislation ("tort reform") that makes it harder for tort lawyers to sue, and much harder for them to win large settlements.
Understandably, the Edwards campaign has not received much play in the corporate media, and his chances of winning the presidential nomination are slight (although still far better than those of Dennis Kucinich, the real populist and people's representative to whom I apologized above.) Personally, I don't care what motivates the Edwards campaign -- I still see him as the best chance to undo some of the damage done over the past few decades.
Both Clinton and Obama are running to the alleged "center," and both their campaign staffs are full of neo-liberals from the Bill Clinton White House. Frankly, I don't see much difference between them. Right now, I suppose I'm hoping for a minor miracle -- but I'm not holding my breath.
If you'd like to explore who's paying for whom, try WhiteHouseForSale.org.