The gaffe-prone candidacies of Michele “Elvis” Bachmann and Rick “C’mon, Men, Let’s String Us Up Some Bernanke” Perry, and the slapstick non-candidacy of Sarah “Two If by Sea” Palin, are merely the cheap theater of an ill-defined Republican presidential race. The real drama of the 2012 race continues to come from the CEO party’s CEO candidate: Willard Mitt Romney.
It is Romney, the buttoned-down professional who was born to the corporate class and remains its truest exemplar in the current contest, who framed the 2012 debate as starkly it ever will be with his sincere declaration that “corporations are people.”
Romney gets it.
There’s a class war going on in America.
And the dark prince of oligarchy has taken a stand.
Provoked by a grassroots activist who refused to take spin for an answer, the GOP’s CEO candidate revealed why he is running.
Corporations need unapologetic and aggressive representation not just in the judicial branch but in the executive branch of our federal government.
After all, It’s not just conservatives on the US Supreme Court who think that corporations should enjoy the same protections and privileges as human beings.
Romney is standing up for the principle that conservatives who would be president must be just as bold when it comes to bending the intent and language of a Constitution that opens with the words “We the People” in order to make it a corporate charter.
If we needed any more confirmation of the necessity for a movement to renew the democratic promise of the American experiment, it came when Romney was confronted by members of Iowa Citizens for Community Involvement. When Romney appeared at the Iowa State Fair to pitch his candidacy for the nomination, the Iowa CCI activists demanded to know whether he was going to cut Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid.
Romney tried at first to stick to the spin he was supposed to be peddling to fair-goers who needed some pablum to go with their corn dogs and cotton candy. But the grass-roots activists of Iowa CCI— a multiracial, urban-and-rural group aligned with the National People’s Action movement—made a “where’s-the-beef” demand. And Romney delivered.
The activists wanted to know why CEO candidate—like so many other politicians of both major parties—would even consider undermining needed programs that care for the elderly, the disabled and the disadvantaged when billionaire CEOs and corporations pay little or nothing into the federal treasury.
When Romney began to ruminate on how he would not “raise taxes on people,” the Iowa activists shouted: “Corporations!”
As the crowd began to cheer on the idea of taxing corporations that enjoy the benefits of government bailouts and subsidies without—in all too many cases—giving anything back, Romney became incensed.
The former corporate CEO shouted: “Corporations are people, my friend.”
The crowd shouted: “No, they’re not!”
“Of course they are,” replied Romney, with a “there, I said it…” statement that he and his staff would later confirm as his true faith.
The Republican presidential contender’s bizarre certainty that faceless corporations, many of which enjoy the benefits and protections of the United States while shuttering factories and moving jobs overseas, are somehow human drew a stinging rebuke from National People’s Action director George Goehl, who declared: “The corporations Mr. Romney believes are filling people’s pockets are the ones who crashed our economy and hijacked our democracy.”
Of course, Romney won’t change. He’s a class warrior, and he knows which side he is on.
Nor, frankly, will any any change in position be forthcoming from a lot of the Democrats who have bought into the big-money politics that accepts the landscape outlined in the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision—which accords corporations the same political rights as citizens—as the new normal.
But there is nothing “normal” or “acceptable” about a circumstance—illustrated by the Wisconsin recent recall election fights, which saw an expected $40 million in campaign spending—that makes candidates and voters electoral bystanders in a process that is bought and paid for by corporations and unaccountable special-interest groups.
“The court’s ruling in Citizens United demands that, once again, we the people use the constitutional amendment process to defend our democracy. We must press for a 28th Amendment—a People’s Rights Amendment—to restore democracy to the people and to ensure that people, not corporations, govern in America,” says John Bonifaz, director of the Free Speech for People project. “We call on all 2012 presidential candidates to make clear that corporations are not people with constitutional rights and to support the People’s Rights Amendment.”
Bonifaz is right. Romney has with his “corporations are people” comment disqualified himself from serious consideration as a contender for any position of public trust.
But Romney and his kind will remain a threat to American democratic life for as long as activist judges read the Constitution as an invitation to corporate dominance of our politics.
Romney’s statement has clarified the urgent need for a constitutional amendment that renews the supremacy of “We the People.”
That’s going to be a central focus of the national Democracy Convention, which will be held August 24–28 in Madison, Wisconsin. A project of the Madison-based Liberty Tree Foundation (with which this writer has been associated over the years), the convention has drawn strong support from the Alliance for Democracy, the Move to Amend campaign, The Progressive magazine and labor, farm and community groups. As such, it will bring together activists from across the country who seek to “strengthen democracy where it matters most—in our communities, our schools, our workplaces and local economies, our military, our government, our media, our Constitution.”
The focus on multiple issues and challenges will make the convention an exciting and necessary gathering at a point when America is suffering from so many democracy deficits. But central to the convention will be an understanding that the crisis created by the Citizens United ruling and the abuses of power inflicted upon the republic and its citizens by unrestrained corporations must be addressed.
“As far as we know, Mitt is not coming to the 2011 Democracy Convention,” Democracy Convention Chair Ben Manski jokes. “But if he did, he’d learn a thing or two.”
What the Americans who happen to stand on the other side of the class divide can learn at the Democracy Convention is how to prove Romney wrong by ensuring that the fantasy of corporate personhood is not used by corrupt politicians and activist judges to prevent “We the People” from realizing the full promise of the American experiment.