The following is an excellent excerpt from the book “DOLLAROCRACY: How the Money and Media Election Complex Is Destroying America” by John Nichols and Robert W. McChesney from the Forward on “page ix-xi and the Introduction on page 1 – 4 and I quote: “FOREWORD – United States Senator Bernie Sanders – More than a decade ago, in April, 2002, I opened a crowded meeting at the Unitarian Church on Main Street in Montpelier, Vermont, by announcing, “I want to welcome you to what I believe is the first congressional town meeting ever organized to address the issue of corporate control of the media.” For the next several hours, John Nichols, Bob McChesney, and I had the remarkable experience of talking with and listening to citizens who were ready to engage in a serious discourse about the role of a free press in sustaining democracy. The people got it, as they almost always do. Even then, they could see what we saw: a decline in the amount and quality of journalism and a parallel rise in the influence of Big Money in our politics.
The media reform movement that Nichols and McChesney have done so much to foster—as the authors of four books on media policy, as advocates for independent media, and as cofounders of the nation’s media reform network, Free Press—has always sought to address that concern. I’ve been proud to work with them on media issues and proud of the successes we have had in pushing back against consolidation of media ownership and in supporting public and community broadcasting and maintaining net neutrality.
But Nichols and McChesney have always argued that realizing the full promise of a free press in America and ideas that sustain democratic discourse and enable citizens to cast informed votes. And the past decade has, unfortunately, been rough on democratic discourse and on democracy itself. Local newspapers have closed or been downsized. Coverage of statehouses and even of Washington, DC, is declining. Although there is hope for online journalism, resources are few. For tens of millions of Americans, an information void has developed. And it is being filled by political advertising and public relations spin.
The simple truth is that we cannot govern our own affairs when our national, state, and local debates are bought and sold by billionaires, who use thirty-second commercials to shut down anyone who disagrees. Democracy demands a rich, robust discourse about ideas, not a spending spree that demeans those ideas, diminishes honest debate, and turns votes off to the political process. Yet this is the threat we now face. In this book, Nichols and McChesney, pioneers in explaining the relationship between media and democracy, step up to address the great challenge of our time: the replacement of democracy with what they describe as Dollarocracy.
This is not a casually chosen term. They suggest that with the decline of independent journalism as a primary source of information about elections and governing, and its replacement by now-omnipresent political advertising, especially since the Supreme Court’s Citizens United v. FEC ruling, we have seen the development of an electoral equivalent to a self-perpetuating military-industrial complex that Dwight Eisenhower warned us about. The money-and-media election complex, producing a slurry of negative ads, spin, and obstruction, is not what the cofunders intended.
That’s one reason that I was proud to introduce a Saving America Democracy amendment to the U.S. Constitution that says corporations are not persons with constitutional rights equal to real people, corporations are subject to regulation by the people, corporations may not make campaign contributions or any election expenditures, and Congress and the states have the power to regulate campaign finances. In this book, Nichols and McChesney make a powerful case for why it is necessary to amend the Constitution to tackle the Money Power that the Progressive reformers of a century ago warned would replace democracy with plutocracy.
But do not stop there. They recall the Progressive Era and argue that America is ripe for a new age of reform that focuses on renewing democracy and that takes as its foundational premise an understanding that the essential act of democracy, voting, must be protected and made meaningful by legislation, statures, and amendments. Nichols and McChesney are not doctrinaire; they recognize that many reforms can and should be entertained and that not every American will agree on every proposal. But, they argue, the energy that has been seen in popular protests on behalf of labor rights; in campaigns to defend public eduction and public services; in the movements to save Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid; in the Occupy movement’s challenge to income inequality; and in the town meetings of my home state of Vermont, which have called for amending the constitution to address corporate abuses of the political process constitutes evidence of a rising call for reforms that will allow American democracy to work for all Americans, not just a privileged and powerful few.
This is an exciting prospect and one with deep roots in American history. The wisest of the founders recognized that America would evolve and change with time, and they rested great power in the people to assure that the evolution might serve the common good. With this book, John Nichols and Bob McChesney invite Americans to examine in new ways the challenges facing America and to fully recognize the threat that the combination of Big Money and big media poses to the promise of self-government. They paint a daunting picture, rich in detail based on intense reporting and groundbreaking research. But they do not offer us a pessimistic take. Rather, they call us, as Tom Paine did more than two centuries ago, to turn knowledge into power. And they tell us that we can and must respond to our contemporary challenges as a nation by rejecting Dollarocracy and renewing our commitment to democracy. – BURLINGTON, VERMONT, FEBRUARY 2013.”
Quoting from page 1: “INTRODUCTION – Privilege Resurgent –
“At many stages in the advance of humanity, this conflict between the
men who possess more than they have earned and the men who have
earned more than they possess is the central condition of progress.
In our day it appears as the struggle of freemen to gain and hold the
right of self-government as against the special interests, who twist
the methods of free government into machinery for defeating the pop-
ular will. At every stage, and under all circumstances, the essence of
the struggle is to equalize opportunity, destroy privilege, and give to
the life and citizenship of every individual the highest possible value
both to himself and to the commonwealth. That is nothing new.
–THEODORE ROOSEVELT, 1910”
It is, of course, nothing new.
America has from its founding struggled along a narrow arc of history toward an end never quite reached: that of sincere and meaningful democracy. We have made massive progress, evolving from a nation of privileged elites that espoused lofty ideals about all men being created equal and then enslaved men, women, and children into a nation where the descendants of those slaves have taken their places as governors, senators, and Supreme Court justices. Yet as the great champion of American advancement, the Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr., reminded us in a time of historic change, “Human progress is neither automatic nor inevitable.”
What was gained in the Progressive Era when Teddy Roosevelt championed radical reform and across the years of unsteady but genuine democratic progress that followed was written into the Constitution and the statues of the land. Witness amendments eliminating poll taxes and extending the franchise to women and eighteen- to twenty-year-olds, the Civil Rights and Voting Rights acts, and, finally, the National Voter Registration Act of 1993.
But this progress never quite assured that the great mass of people would gain and hold the right of self-government as against the special interests. The U.S. Constitution contains no guarantee of a right to vote, and this lack of definition is constantly exploited by political hucksters who would make America a democracy for the few, and a plutocracy in essence. The malefactors of great wealth continue to twist the methods of free government into the machinery for defeating the popular will. And scarcely one hundred years after Roosevelt identified his central condition of progress, they have reversed it, with court rulings and practices that are contributing to the destruction of the American electoral system as a tool for realizing the democratic dreams that have animated American progress across two centuries. U.S. Elections have never been perfect—far from it—but the United States is now rapidly approaching a point where the electoral process itself ceases to function as a means for citizens to effectively control leaders and guide government policies. It pains us, as political writers and citizens who have spent a combined eighty years working on and/or covering electoral campaigns, to write these words. But there can no longer be any question that free and fair elections—what we were raised to believe was an American democratic birthright—are effectively being taken away from the people.
In this book we examine the forces—billionaires, corporations, the politicians who do their bidding, and the media conglomerates that facilitate the abuse—that have sapped elections of their meaning and of their democratic potential. “The Money Power,” as Roosevelt and his contemporaries termed the collaboration that imposed the will of wealth on our politics, achieves its ends by flooding the electoral system with an unprecedented tidal wave of unaccountable money. The money makes a mockery of political equality in the voting booth, and the determination of media companies to cash in on that mockery—when they should instead be exposing and opposing it—completes a vicious circle.
This is not an entirely new phenomenon, as we note in the historical chapters of this book. But it is an accelerating phenomenon. The U.S. Supreme Court’s 2010 Citizens United decision allowing unlimited corporate campaign spending confirmed the court-ordered diminution of democratic processes that over four decades has renewed the political privileges of the elites. “The day before Citizens United was decided,” Lawrence Lessig wrote, “our democracy was already broken. Citizens United may have shot the body, but the body was already cold.”
Economic elites are now exercising those privileges with an abandon not seen since the era of the robber barons that Roosevelt decried. To enhance the influence of their money, billionaires, corporations, and their political pawns began in the run-up to the 2012 election to aggressively advance policies designed to limit the voting rights of those Americans who are most disinclined to sanction these elites’ continued dominance of the political process. They are grasping for total power, and if they did not succeed in chocking off the avenues of dissent in 2012, they will surely return—with increased determination and more insidious tactics—in 2014 and 2016 and beyond. “There’s been almost a shameless quality to it,” says former U.S. Senator Russ Feingold of the prssure on politicians to raise and spend exponentially more money since the Citizens United decision. “It has grossly altered our system of government. We don’t have the kind of elections that most of us grew up seeing.”
The moneyed interests are confident, even in the face of temporary setbacks, that they will be able to continue their initiative because they are well served by the rapid decline of the news media as a checking and balancing force on our politics. Our dominant media institutions do an absolutely dreadful job of drawing citizens into public life, especially elections. The owners of media corporations have made their pact with the new order. For the most part, they do not challenge it, as the crusading editors and publishers of another age did. Rather, advertising departments position media outlets to reap windfall profits through the broadcasting of invariably inane and crudely negative political campaign advertising, which is the lingua franca of American electioneering in the twenty-first century. The corporate media are the immediate financial beneficiaries of our increasingly absurd election system—and the primary barriers to its reform. To talk about the crisis of money in politics without addressing the mess that the media have made of things is the equivalent of talking about the deliberate fire without discussing the arsonist.
We term the combine that has emerged the “money-and-media election complex.” It has become so vast and so powerful that it can best be understood as an entity unto itself. This complex is built on a set of commercial and institutional relationships involving wealthy donors, giant corporations, lobbyists, consultants, politicians, spinmeisters, corporate media, coin-operated “think tanks,” inside-the -beltway pundits, and now super-PACs. These relationships are eviscerating democratic elections and benefit by that evisceration. The complex has tremendous gravitational power, which increases the degree of difficulty for those wishing to participate in elections outside its paradigm. The complex embraces and encourages a politics defined by wealthy funders, corporate media, and the preservation of a new status quo; it is the modern-day reflection of the arrangements that served the robber barons of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.”
(THIS FORWARD TO JOHN NICHOLS AND ROBERT MCCHESNEY BY SENATOR BERNIE SANDERS HITS THE ROLE OF THE MEDIA AGAINST ALEC, BIG CORPORATIONS, SUCH AS INVESTMENT BANKERS, AS WELL AS BIG COMPANIES, LIKE GENERAL ELECTRIC AND INDIVIDUAL BILLIONAIRES, WHO ALL GATHER TOGETHER IN WASHINGTON TO GET WHAT THEY WANT TO MAKE IT TO THE TOP. THANKS TO JOHN NICHOLS AND HIS BLOG SITE, “THE NATION BUILDERS,” HE HAS GIVEN ME THE OPPORTUNITY TO WRITE OVER 200 ARTICLES ON MY BLOG SITE, CONCERNING JUST EXACTLY WHY THIS NATION IS GOING BANKRUPT. I FIGURE IN THE END WE WILL WIN, BECAUSE, LIKE PRESIDENT OBAMA SAID, “OUR ECONOMY WORKS FROM THE BOTTOM ON UP.” AND THIS IS WHAT ANY GROWING, HEALTHY NATION NEEDS, IS AN ORGANIZED GROUP OF UNION WORKERS, WITH A PRESIDENT WORKING FOR THEIR BENEFIT, BARGAINING IN GOOD FAITH FOR THE GOOD OF PEOPLE IN ALL COUNTRIES. THIS IS DONE SO THE NATIONS OF THE WORLD DON’T HAVE CLASS WARS BY A GROUP OF PEOPLE CONSISTING OF ALL OF THEM WORKING TOGETHER WITH AN HONESTLY-RUN MEDIA.
LaVern Isely, Overtaxed Independent Middle Class Taxpayer & Public Citizen & AARP Members