At the beginning of 2012, Citizen’s United, a Supreme Court ruling with an Orwellian name, was thought to be one of the most destructive forces at work in the political world as the nation headed towards the presidential election. Many thought Super PACs would run amok and the candidates would be answering to their donors, not to the peopl. Comedians Bill Maher and Stephen Colbert both made a show of mocking Super PACs and using them for their own benefit. Cable new stations asked what effect Super PACs would end up having on the election. Hell, FOX News even had “analysts” who ran their own Super PACs.
And then the election came and went. The effect of the Super PACs ended up being less than many, myself included, thought it would be. Why? Did we get it all wrong? Is Citizen’s United not that bad of a ruling after all (hint: no, it’s really bad)?
The Super PACs allowed Corporate America to operate in the light of day, sure, but the scheming and controlling back room corporate figures were around long before the cynical Citizen’s United ruling. Unfortunately for these back room dealers, the Super PACs may have ended up being just a step too far as, shockingly, the American public did not buy into their bullshit now that they can spread it so loudly and freely. The Super PACs threw money into television advertisements only to learn that the negative ads didn’t work as well as they thought they would. Part of it may be because the people behind the Super PACs, like Karl Rove, are simply out of touch. Rove knew how to win an election in 2000 and 2004 but the landscape has drastically changed and the negative, often racially tinged, advertisements didn’t fly this year and certainly annoyed minority voters. Winning over middle class white people is no longer the only task for a campaign. The corporate donors who benefitted from the Citizens United ruling ended up with egg on their face because the tactics they used failed. They wasted their money and, holy shit, they wasted A LOT of it. Karl Rove alone wasted over $300 billion worth of it. Imagine if that money went to the employees instead of into the Super PACs. Ah, what a pipe dream.
The overall problem for the Super PACs and corporate donors, outside of hiring people whose tactics were out of date, is that they bit off considerably more than they could chew. They operated behind the scenes for years and were therefore able to escape public notice. Once they were able to throw their weight around in the public eye they simply couldn’t help themselves and went hog wild. This led to two catastrophes for them:
1.) People don’t like these corporate donors. The Koch Brothers, a truly vile group of people, are almost incapable of gaining positive press. They have no idea how to appeal to the large demographics of America because they live in a bubble. The more people saw of folks like them, the less they liked them. Republican Bobby Jindal admitted that the GOP is seen as a party for rich businessmen. That’s a big problem when these businessmen are acting like assholes and making public demands of politicians. Just ask Grover Norquist how his antics are working out for him this year.
2.) Because of the passing of Citizens United, a slow but steady feeling grew among the Republican heirarchy that they had this election in the bank. With so many yes men and powerful backers, Mitt Romney was positive, on the morning of Election Day, that he was going to win despite the fact that none of the polls showed that he had much of a shot. But he had the money and the big backers! Citizens United had freed the dogs! How could he not win?! This attitude created a bubble around the Romney campaign, and most GOP campaigns, causing it to be blind as to what was really going on: they were losing because less and less people were buying into the arguments that the rich businessmen must be helped before everyone else (y’know, the takers!).
Citizen’s United has not been the boon that the GOP and Corporate America was hoping for. When America saw the face of corporations, and what their interests were, they voted against them; instead they voted for the guy who said he’d raise taxes on these wealthy corporations. It was a middle finger to the corporations that thought they could initiate a complete takeover of the political system. So, are we seeing the decline of corporate interest in American politics? Is it time for progressives to celebrate? Maybe to the first question and yes to the second.
Progressives won, and they won huge, this election season. They deserve to celebrate because this is likely the most progressive election in decades. However, it’s far too soon to say that just because Corporate America lost this time that they are somehow down for the count. They’ve had their tendrils in American politics for over a century and one loss, albeit a major loss, is not going to change that. Yes, the American people made it clear that they’re not buying those “job creator” lines and that they don’t believe what is good for Corporate America is somehow good for everyone.
But the American public is fickle. Sure, they saw Corporate America and disliked its look, but there’s no saying that Corporate America won’t be back in a flash with a whole new face and a whole lot of influential money thanks to Citizen’s United. Citizen’s United didn’t work this time. That’s not to say in the long term it won’t end up benefitting Corporate America and the politicians it backs. There’ll be a new Karl Rove and there’ll be a new Grover Norquist and these new ones will know how to play the current political map. We need to make sure that they don’t have the political influence that the old squad did.
America is not going to be conquered by another country anytime soon. There’s no enemy at the gates. Putin isn’t rearing his head over Alaska, North Korea isn’t planning a Red Dawn invasion, and China isn’t planning on calling in all of America’s debt. The biggest threat to America is a cancer from the inside and that cancer is Corporate America. Corporate America cares about money, not people. Citizen’s United opened a door so that cancer could spread but the voters didn’t allow it and corporations showed just how out of touch they are. The next time Corporate America edges forward it’s more than possible that they could succeed. We need to make sure that people remember the ugly face of Corporate America and not buy in to whatever lies they throw up next.
Donald McCarthy is a freelance writer, fiction writer, and SAT instructor. He lives outside New York City. He’s not fond of the beach.