“These are the times that try men's souls.” These are words written by Thomas Payne in a classic work called “The American Crisis.” Payne is best known for his work “Common Sense” written in 1776, which was a strong defense of American independence from England. Payne traveled with the Continental army from 1776 to 1783 and wrote to inspire the troops. He was not a particularly good soldier, but he was an inspirational writer.
These words written almost 240 years ago sound like an echo today as we are again in the midst of an American crisis even though it appears the crisis is temporarily on hold. We need the inspiration of the words of a great writer to get us through this time as we march into a war, but unfortunately now we have no common enemy. It is as Pogo said in the comic strip which bears his name: “we have met the enemy and he is us.”
It is we who have allowed this crisis to develop. Forces of darkness have caused us to lose our way, but we bear responsibility. I am the first to blame politicians, investment bankers, pharmaceutical companies, insurance companies, defense contractors, and other large corporate interests for the mess we are in. Yet, I recognize that we have relinquished our power to control our destiny by electing the people who have in turn relinquished their power to the special interests. Our elected officials in Washington, D.C., and Jefferson City seek money to get re-elected like a drug addict seeks drugs. Politicians will tell you that they have to spend a lot of time getting re-elected and it is easier to seek money from people who have a lot of money and so the special interests are eager to provide the money.
The most blatant example of big money affecting legislation occurred recently in Jefferson City when the Doe Run Company, the largest lead mining company in the western hemisphere, made a $10,000 contribution to the House Republicans after the legislators enacted a law shielding the company from large liability judgments in some lawsuits. This contribution came weeks after the Republican-led House voted to override Governor Nixon's veto of a bill limiting punitive damage awards against Doe Run.
Doe Run had given $10,000 to the Missouri Senate Campaign Committee in late July and hired several lobbyists to ensure the legislation passed. Who is control of our legislators? Not us.
At one time, we had some control. Until 2010, corporations, labor unions and associations were prohibited by federal law from making independent expenditures on federal elections. But in 2010, the United States Supreme Court decided for the first time that corporations and other non-breathers had First Amendment rights and their rights could not be restricted by such limits on independent expenditures.
That opened the floodgates for political expenditures and while obscene amounts of money were spent on elections prior to the Citizens United case, obscenity has now reached a new level. But it could get worse.
Last month, a case was argued before the Supreme Court, McCutcheon v. Federal Election Commission, which challenges the aggregate limits an individual can contribute to candidates, political parties and political action committees in a two-year period. Without these limits, a donor could give millions of dollars overall in direct contributions to multiple candidates and committees. An indication of how important this is to Washington politicians, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell was given permission to present arguments to the Supreme Court. Senator McConnell is in favor of overturning all campaign contribution limits. Is anyone surprised? I am frankly a little surprised that the Supreme Court is allowing a politician who is not a party to the lawsuit to argue the case, but with this Supreme Court, nothing should surprise us.
It's all in the name of the First Amendment. If we are going to extend those rights to creations other than persons, maybe we could extend it to my little dog. Sage only barks at squirrels, cats and other dogs, but at least she is consistent in her beliefs about other critters, which is more than I can say for any politician in Washington or Jefferson City.
Yet it comes back to us. We have allowed it and we continue to allow it. In the modern time of Twitter, Facebook and other social media, we have the power to make meaningful change. Social media toppled governments in the Middle East, so it is possible. The problem is that there is now so much division in this country that there is no real power in the people. The mass media have done such a good job of polarizing our nation that there is no way that the people can unite to effect real change. It was a clever strategy that the forces of darkness devised.
I have heard many people say that we ought to throw every last one of the politicians out of office. A recent poll found that 60 percent of us agree with that concept. 60 percent of us also want a third party to be formed. I have been advocating a third party for us moderates for years.
That all sounds good, but if the flow of money is allowed to continue unrestricted, the money addicts in office now will be replaced by another group just like them and we have gained nothing. We have the power of the ballot box, but unfortunately money talks louder and our voices are drowned by the gibberish bought and paid for by people with a lot of money.
I don't see how anyone can say that we are not in the midst of an American crisis. Thomas Payne spent seven years with American Patriots trying to inspire them to fight fiercely to preserve a fragile nation. Yet, we must first recognize that these are the times that try our souls, and seize the moment. Will we?
Bob Buckley is an attorney in Independence. Email him at email@example.com