I spent last week at the Netroots Nation conference in Minneapolis, a gathering of activists who embrace the progressive label in one way or another.
The news media was there in force, churning out stories about how these progressives are dissatisfied with President Obama’s performance. That’s especially true in his handling of the economy, where unemployment is still too high, the foreclosure crisis is still rampant, the financial sector still hasn’t been adequately reformed after its excesses and Wall Street lobbyists have tangled up in knots even the meager attempts to regulate bankers.
One refrain summed up the frustration with the president’s performance on the economy: “No one has gone to jail.”
But beyond the venting that the media focused on was another, potentially bigger story that has the possibility of leapfrogging the divide between left and right.
That was the emerging demand for a mass movement to rid our politics of the corporate funding that has been as devastating as crack cocaine was in the streets.
Our politicians are hooked on corporate crack, and they will do anything and say anything to get it. They will break any promise, without caring how foolish and hypocritical they look.
This corporate money undermines both parties: Democrats promise to protect workers and consumers but end up promoting ineffective half-measures, while Republicans express support for the free market but actually support the unfettered power of a corporate oligarchy.
I had the opportunity to point out a recent example of how this corporate crack makes fools out of politicians and even the president of the United States during a Netroots session with Jeremy Bird, national strategy adviser to the Obama campaign.
I recounted how one day after reading about a secret meeting between Obama and his Wall Street donors at the White House, I received an email from Obama asking for five bucks, promising a different kind of fundraising campaign that didn’t rely on fat cats.
“Which is it?” I asked Bird. You can read Roll Call’s account here.
Bird responded that Obama’s “multi-faceted” fundraising wouldn’t take money from political campaign committees or lobbyists, but Wall Street contributions are welcome.
Does the president really see a distinction, or is he just hoping no one is paying attention?
If the politicians are counting on people feeling too cynical and helpless to take action, that may be changing, sparked by the U.S. Supreme Court ruling in Citizens’ United, which said that corporate campaign contributions are a form of free speech so they cannot be restricted.
During another session, John Nichols, the Nation’s crusading Washington correspondent issued a fiery call for a nationwide movement to promote a constitutional amendment to undo Citizens’ United.
He compared the potential impact of such a movement to the impact of the movement for a constitutional amendment to ban abortion. Though the “right to life” movement hasn’t achieved success. Nichols said, it has changed the nature of the debate.
Back on the subject of overturning Citizens’ United, Nichols said, “I can live without the actual constitutional amendment. But I can’t live without the movement.”
We need a movement that labels corporate crack exactly what it is. It’s not speech. It’s bribery.