The following is the conclusion to a larger article, written by Bill Moyers, on the struggle between plutocracy and democracy as we see it being played out in the United States today. This is something that has concerned me for a considerable time, particularly with the advent of Citizens United Supreme Court decision, but even before then, when it became obvious that money had a considerable impact on the law and both civil and criminal court decisions in favor of those who have the gelt vs those who don't.
Frankly, I make no bones about saying that I hope this piece makes you uncomfortable as hell.
The Unfinished Work of America
In one way or another, this is the oldest story in America: the struggle to determine whether “we, the people” is a moral compact embedded in a political contract or merely a charade masquerading as piety and manipulated by the powerful and privileged to sustain their own way of life at the expense of others.
I should make it clear that I don’t harbor any idealized notion of politics and democracy. Remember, I worked for Lyndon Johnson. Nor do I romanticize “the people.” You should read my mail and posts on right-wing websites. I understand the politician in Texas who said of the state legislature, “If you think these guys are bad, you should see their constituents.”
But there is nothing idealized or romantic about the difference between a society whose arrangements roughly serve all its citizens (something otherwise known as social justice) and one whose institutions have been converted into a stupendous fraud. That can be the difference between democracy and plutocracy.
Toward the end of Justice Brennan’s tenure on the Supreme Court, he made a speech that went to the heart of the matter. He said:
“We do not yet have justice, equal and practical, for the poor, for the members of minority groups, for the criminally accused, for the displaced persons of the technological revolution, for alienated youth, for the urban masses… Ugly inequities continue to mar the face of the nation. We are surely nearer the beginning than the end of the struggle.”
And so we are. One hundred and fifty years ago, Abraham Lincoln stood on the blood-soaked battlefield of Gettysburg and called Americans to “the great task remaining.” That “unfinished work,” as he named it, remained the same then as it was when America’s founding generation began it. And it remains the same today: to breathe new life into the promise of the Declaration of Independence and to assure that the Union so many have sacrificed to save is a union worth saving.
Most of America's founders, according to the words they spoke in the 1787 Convention, opposed democracy, so a struggle between plutocracy and democracy was never begun.
ELBRIDGE GERRY. The people are the dupes of pretended patriots, led daily into the most baneful opinions by false reports of designing men, which no one on the spot can refute. (May 31)
ROGER SHERMAN. The people should have as little to do as may be about the Government. They lack information and are constantly liable to be misled. (May 31)
ALEXANDER HAMILTON. The people are turbulent and changing; they seldom judge or determine right. Give therefore to the rich and well-born a distinct and permanent share in the government. They will check the unsteadiness of the mass of the people, and as they cannot receive any advantage by a change, they therefore will ever maintain good government. ... The people tire of an excess of democracy. (June 18)
JAMES MADISON. In framing a system we wish to last for ages, we should not lose sight of the changes the ages will bring. An increase of population will increase the proportion who labor under all the hardships of life and secretly sigh for a more equal distribution of its blessings. These may in time outnumber those who are placed above feelings of indigence. ... Landholders ought to have a share in the government, to support these invaluable interests and check the other. It ought to be formed as to protect the minority of the opulent against the majority. (June 26)
GOVERNEUR MORRIS. The second branch ought to be composed of men of great and established property--an aristocracy. (July 2)
Men don't unite for liberty or life; they unite to protect their property. (July 5)
A few of the founders were not plutocrats.
JOHN MERCER. It is a first principle in political science that where the rights of property are secured, aristocracy will grow. Elective governments also become aristocratic because the rulers will draw advantage for themselves from the many. (August 14)
EDMUND RANDOLPH. We have in some revolutions of this plan made a bold stroke for monarchy. We are now doing the same for an aristocracy. (September 5)
GEORGE MASON. This constitution will begin a moderate aristocracy. It will probably vibrate between a monarchy or a corrupt and oppressive aristocracy then end in one or the other. (September 15)
Moyers said he didn't want to romanticize "the people".
Doing that would be difficult; acts of Congress all begin with the enacting clause: The people of the United States in Congress assembled....
I learned politics while engaged in the 1970s portion of the Arizona water wars, and too-cynically concluded that those people in Congress were doing to us what none of us would do to ourselves.
The experience moved me to read, in Max Farrand's Records of the 1787 Federal Convention, James Madison's notes on what he and his fellow founders said.
It's all on the Internet; I will shortly provide the links.
A few years ago, Amazon had the three volumes in paperback for about forty dollars.
Loren, have you and I made readers uncomfortable? They aren't taking part in the discussion.
Your guess is as good as mine. It's not exactly a happy topic we're dealing with here, though.
...I hope this piece makes you uncomfortable as hell.
Loren, your words echo those of Lucy Stone, a mid-1800s abolitionist-turned-feminist who said she would make it the business of her life to make the women of her time uncomfortable and angry at their lot in life.
She was of course wanting them to feel powerful, and to do that she had to reverse the effect of religious teachings that had made them feel helpless and subservient.
Catholicism did that to me and religions are still doing it, so today's activists have the same chore that Stone had.
I've told a lot of people that I started paying attention to politics (circa 1972, thanks to the Sierra Club) only when I became aware that politicians were "standing on my feet" and I decided that I didn't want them standing there.
I gradually concluded that both major parties are, in the words we hear now, redistributing wealth, but they distribute it in different directions. I'm not one of the 1% and I don't want a political party bringing me religion, so I'm active with the Democratic Party. If the Greens were building their party in local contests, would be active with them.
Keep on trucking, Loren.
Depend on it, Tom. Bet the farm.
When will people realize their true political power!
Good question, one for which I don't have the slightest glimpse of an answer.