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September 6, 2013


Mention Richard Nixon and your response is likely to be about his undermining of the Constitution via Watergate. There are several things you are not likely to hear about the now-discredited and deceased president. In many ways, for instance, he was far more “socialist” than even ultra-liberal Democrats. He favored a GAW (Guaranteed Annual Wage); he gave us the EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) by executive order! etc. Nonetheless, typically, the word Nixon generates talk of Watergate and his role in the conspiracy.

I have a different view of Watergate’s relative importance in the scheme of things. I do not believe Watergate was his chief mistake. I think the damage (real or prospective) done to American democracy by Watergate pales with his appointment of Lewis Franklin Powell, Jr. to the United States Supreme Court (something I didn’t know when Watergate was happening). Why? Powell even before he ascended the bench set the stage for Citizens United, a far greater danger to American democracy than Watergate, a danger whose pace is accelerating with each new finding of the current reactionary court with such absurdities as corporations are people and money is speech etc.

Powell, like Nixon, a former corporation lawyer, claimed to be a southern Democrat. He was on the boards of eleven major corporations (including Philip Morris), and was the point man for Big Tobacco. He practiced in Richmond, Virginia, and had been president of the American Bar Association before going on the Supreme Court bench. He had never been a judge before, but had all the credentials Nixon was looking for in Nixon’s “Southern Strategy” political plan.

When LBJ signed the Voting Rights Act of 1965, he knew and publicly stated that his signature on that legislation would deliver the “solid Democratic south” to the Republicans. He was right. It did. Nixon was looking for a pro-corporate anti-labor candidate from the South for the Supreme Court immediately following his (Nixon’s) 1968 election, a Democrat if possible (even if in name only), to consolidate the political opening LBJ’s signature afforded Republicans in consolidating their political gains in the South while serving their business constituents. Nixon’s first offer of the job to Powell was turned down; his second two years later was accepted. Powell’s Senate confirmation hearings only took five hours and virtually all of that time was spent in trying to figure out how to get rid of all his multi-million dollar stock holdings. He was confirmed in an 89-1 vote of the Senate.

He was not questioned on his capitalist manifesto distributed to corporate leadership all over America, a document which clearly demonstrates his prejudice in favor of big business and how they must spend and organize to influence elections etc. We now know that this document recommending political intervention in American elections by business (especially the Chamber of Commerce) was written and delivered by Powell TWO MONTHS BEFORE he assumed the bench. I cannot prove this, but I strongly suspect that he knew he was going to be assuming the bench shortly and wanted to get this in his out-box before he assumed the phony “neutrality” of the bench and mystic touch of the robe. I further doubt, based upon his subsequent record on the bench, that he ever lost his prejudice.

While Powell was not on the bench when the cancer of Citizens United descended upon us in 2010, I think he set the stage for the court’s final approval of election takeovers by money and corporate control as envisioned in Citizens United. Proof?  In 1978, in First National Bank of Boston v. Bellotti. Massachusetts attempted to limit corporate campaign contributions. The bank sued. The majority opinion was written by Justice Powell, and in a 5-4 decision, held that the old Buckley v. Valeo rule held  against state as well as federal laws, that money was speech, and repulsed attempts by the people of Massachusetts to make laws and rules for their own elections. Big business won; the people lost. Wall Street won; democracy lost, and Mr. Justice Powell wrote the majority decision.

The Boston v. Bellotti decision extended the money is speech protection to corporations and declared that campaign spending could not be limited “simply because its source is a corporation.” Who says? The Constitution? Show it to me. I don’t see any inherent right of a business organization to be treated as a flesh and blood voter whose money is speech. It is absurd on its face, and has the thinnest of logic to support it. Further, if we are going to give living human attributes of speech and political involvement to corporations, what about application of the Equal Protection of the Laws Amendment to partnerships, individual and joint-venture businesses et al. (perhaps including joint ventures with Chinese joint venturers)?  Don’t they have a right under Boston and Citizens United to buy their way without impediment into the American political process like the big corporate boys? Why should they be excluded merely because of the form of their business organization? They do business here and pay taxes, so why can’t they give as much money as they please to a candidate who will support their legislative objectives in the hope that they will make a profit. It’s free speech, you know; the Supreme Court said so. Why aren’t we “people” like the corporations are?

The court’s overriding 40-year record in finally coming to the decision that corporations are people and money is speech may have unintended consequences. Assume the world goes bust (a possibility with Wall Street on the loose) and that we return to a 1920s situation in postwar WW I in Germany, where their mark was worthless, and which spawned the saying at the time that “It took a wagon load of marks to get a wagon load of bread.” Should money have no value, in other words, how are corporations to be fairly represented in the political process under the aegis of Citizens United? Having no money, presumably they will have no speech. Speaking of money’s availability and as things now stand, of course, we have a court which requires unions to obtain permission from it members in order for the union to make political contributions but does not require corporations to obtain consent of their shareholders in order to make political contributions in yet another prejudicial show of favoritism.

I have alluded to Powell’s capitalist manifesto he put together and furtively disseminated to business interests shortly before he ascended the Supreme Court bench. I will write on that more extensively and will discuss consequences, both intended and unintended, as a result of this manifesto among the business community. This was not the first time some guru presented big business with plans to intervene in political matters (and, as we shall see, curricula in schools), but it is probably the first time anyone who had been president of the American Bar Association, Philip Morris board member, and soon-to-be sitting on the Supreme Court has presented them with such anti-democratic ideas and how to bring them about. If I were a big businessman with a sure vote coming up on the Supreme Court, I’d listen, too. Talk about a lock! Just tell me how. Nixon put the Marlboro Man (Philip Morris board member) on the Supreme Court who initiated corporate intervention into American electoral politics so destructive of democracy. Nixon also broke into Watergate. Which is worse, or even continuing? GERALD E


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