Past Coups, and future ones

I have a theory about the 1994-2000 period which I think is worth describing as a way of clarifying what it seems is happening today.

The impetus for my retrospect is the astoundingly bad decision made by the Supreme Court today to allow corporations to spend as much as they want to buy seats in the Congress. In the marketplace this is called "campaign finance."

This is a bad idea for so many reasons it is hard to know where to begin. But let's just consider for a second how this is going to run up the cost of buying votes and politicians! This simple decision is going to create a bubble economy in core Washington corruption....

I am a believer in first amendment rights of free expression of course, but I am not in the least convinced that when corporate entities spend money that it is political speech. If there is any role at all for the federal government besides the post office and keeping Smithsonian Folkways alive, surely it is to restrain the greedy and evil corporations that we collectively know as "American business interests."

Obama said it pretty clearly "a major victory for big oil, Wall Street banks, health insurance companies and the other powerful interests that marshal their power every day in Washington to drown out the voices of everyday Americans."

Here is but one small example to think about: the Diebold corporation can spend as much as it wants on the campaigns of the people who get elected to regulate its corrupted voting machines.

But there really is something more baldfaced at work. This is a clear Supreme Court insertion into national politics at precisely the moment that it seems possible to reverse the seeming realignment of 2008. All it will take is gobs and gobs of money--cue the Court!

The Roberts court is among the most activist in American history, as the call for re-arguing this case so the precedent could be demolished demonstrated. The court's goal is to further the Republican reconstruction of the political system, and their exercise and abuse of power is astounding to behold and made more so by decades of conservative complaint about activist judges legislating from the bench. This criticism apparently only applies when the laws protect privacy, civil rights, or the environment.

Back to 1994 for a moment. That was, of course, the year Clinton failed to get a health care bill and the Republicans took over Congress. Much of the reason they won was because of widespread unhappiness over Democratic incompetence and corruption (like Rostenkowski's malefeasance), so that was a legitimate victory and realignment. And the Republicans were and are politically ruthless. The relevant thing after 1994 is that the Republicans were as convinced as only Republicans can be of their own right to take power in 1996. They believed it was owed to them, and then were quite literally unable to accept the outcome of that election.

From 1996-2000, there was a movement to nullify the 1996 results in any way possible. This should be viewed as a quasi-legalistic coup attempt. This included the persecution of Bill Clinton for his stupid but personal mistakes, and the completely insane impeachment attempt on the basis of nothing but humiliation for Clinton connected to a perjury trap usually used for two-bit hoods. The fact that this was carried out by a bunch of philandering liars themselves was, of course, not even a little bit surprising and pedestrian in its irony.

Complicit in all of this was the Supreme Court, which decided that Clinton's time in office would not be interrupted if he was forced to testify in the sexual harassment suit financed by Richard Scaife, billionaire.

I am compressing the narrative here, but this is a blog post, after all.

The clear sign that the Republicans were going to stop at absolutely nothing to reverse 1996 was the way the 2000 election unfolded. There, in front of the entire world, the Supreme Court simply reached in and handed it illegally to Bush. To say that the fix was in is to put it mildly. What was incredible was how badly the Florida vote was handled and how blatantly the Court acted. There was no pretence, even by the Court, which announced that this decision was not to be seen as a precedent!

If you think I am exaggerating even a little bit about the illegitmacy of Bush v. Gore, please read Jack M. Balkin and Sanford Levinson, "Understanding the Constitutional Revolution" Virginia Law Review 87:6 (October, 2001), available here. The article argues, in ringing words:

"Five members of the United States Supreme Court, confident of their power, and brazen in their authority, engaged in flagrant judicial misconduct that
undermined the foundations of constitutional government. That is worth
pointing out even if, empirically, they appear to have gotten away with it
and most opinion elites are more worried about the value of their stock
portfolios than about the consequences of the 2000 election for a country
that is dedicated to “government of the people, by the people, and for the
people.”16 The election is like the stinking carcass of a pig dumped
unceremoniously into a parlor. The smell of rot is everywhere. How can
you avoid talking about it? A colossal act of illegality that subverts
constitutional structures deserves at least some comment in a law
review. So it was with Watergate in 1974 (although there the Court was
the remedy for the illegality and not its cause). So it is today.
Simply put, a constitutional coup occurred last year" (P. 1049)

I see the coup as extending back to impeachment, but no matter how you periodize it the fact of the matter is that this was an illegimate power grab done illegally but through the form of the legal system.

I am not going to get into possible election questions about 2004, but the simpel fact that no reforms were made to the election system manipulated earlier but more machines "incapable" of putting out receipts were brought into use says enough.

The same thing is happening now. The Democrats won hugely in 2008. There was no way to steal that election because the energy and attention was simply too strong, and the Democrats had a fighting instinct and a lot of money. The Republicans, after years of failure, two failed wars, and historic amounts of corruption at all ranks, knew they needed to lose.

But there is a rump (in both senses of the word) of the party which believes it is owed power and will take it by any means. The Birthers are merely the lunatic fringe of this movement, attempting to literally strip Obama of any legitimacy even as a citizen. Armed people marching around in front of Obama speeches, unthinkable in any era let alone during this 'war on terrorism,'is also an alarming example of the lengths people are willing to push the opposition. Imagine an armed left-wing kook marching around outside of a Bush speech, would they have been allowed to stay as the anti-Obama crowd was? The disruptive town halls and the nihilism of the unified Republican opposition to all Democratic initiatives of any sort are more examples that the movement is not simply political opposition but a self-righteous sense that all that matters is regaining power. Power for power's sake is the antithesis of democracy.

Brown won fair and square in Massachusetts, and the public mood is angry. All it needs to boil over is for the floodgates of money to be unleashed. Justice Roberts, groomed for this moment when he was nominated and claimed he respected precedent, made it happen.


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