In each of the articles that I have written so far for ModState I have brought up America’s Founding Fathers. I’ve done so with fondness, sometimes agreeing with them. Sometimes noting that although their original principles are honorable, modernity has required adjustments. The hope is to keep their original intent in place while adjusting for changes that have occurred in the Country as she has grown. Understandably America is not the same Nation that she was when her Founding Fathers were alive. That original small number of colonies (States) has grown and flourished. In our infancy (1776) the nation had roughly 2.5 million citizens. In 2016 more than 324 million citizens were recorded. Understandably, the time that has passed has brought changes to our Country, both positive and negative. An example of a positive change is alterations promoting equality. The color of a person’s skin or their sex is no longer grounds for the same limitations existent in our Founding fathers’ day. Slavery and inequality has been changed and though the strive for equality still exists, it is a very different society than that of the Founding Fathers. Although important social changes have occurred, while America grew and changed she slowly became run in a manner that her creators never intended. America was dreamed up as a democracy and instituted as a republic, however, time and political changes have turned her into an aristocratic oligarchy.
When the Founding Fathers made that treasonous step and fought for our freedom from England, they did so to escape many things, one of which was aristocracy. The aristocracy of their time included dukes and duchesses and although that form of aristocracy is still in existence in the world, it isn’t the traditional form of Aristocracy that I am referring to. The type of Aristocracy I am talking about (or rather writing) is defined by Merriam Webster’s as, “a government in which power is vested in a minority consisting of those believed to be best qualified.” The founding fathers hated the idea of aristocracy, deeming it absolutely contemptible. When forming the new government, they were insistent that no neo aristocracy spring up in the new nation. An example of their feelings towards the aristocratic class is found in a letter to our second President John Adams, from our third President Thomas Jefferson where he wrote “At the first session of our legislature after the Declaration of Independence, we passed a law abolishing entails. And this was followed by one abolishing the privilege of Primogeniture, and dividing the lands of intestates equally among all their children, or other representatives. These laws, drawn by myself, laid the axe to the root of Pseudo aristocracy.” They insisted on the removal of old world hereditary blood bonds being able to dictate the path of free citizens. The intention was, as Thomas Jefferson wrote to John Adams, “to leave to the citizens the free election and separation of the aristoi from the pseudo-aristoi, of the wheat from the chaff. In general, they will elect the real, good and wise. In some instances, wealth may corrupt, and birth blind them; but not in sufficient degree to endanger the society.” Unfortunately, wealth has corrupted many in politics and an aristocratic class based in wealth has bloomed here in the United States. The modern form of Aristocracy has a form of fiscal sway in the government, essentially forming an oligarchy. An oligarchy is defined by Merriam Webster’s as: “the people that control a country, business, etc.” According to this definition America is indeed an oligarchy.
Although England, our Founding Fathers’ birthplace, does still have nobility over time their blue-blooded rule has been tempered. The monarch no longer has political control. They cannot dictate political matters or begin wars and is even responsible for paying taxes like any other English citizen. While England was limiting elite titled interference in matters, here in America a modern form of fiscal aristocratic control grew. Though small vestiges of the democracy originally striven for in the creation of the country still exist, town meetings in New England for example, America has become a bit hyper partisan. Entrenched in a fierce disagreement with political parties that aren’t their own. Our forefathers feared dissent such as that created and perpetuated by political parties. They feared ‘factions,” groups of citizens banding together with an overall idea that could be used to hurt America as a whole. In fact, our first President, General George Washington, spoke out against political party’s formation in his farewell speech and fought their institution up until he left office. He feared that their creation would markedly split the growing nation when the Country needed to remain united. Although political parties aren’t mentioned in the constitution, in modern times they are the way that many Americans decide who they will vote for. The creation of political parties has limited Americas pool of choices, splitting citizens into the Factions that our founding fathers feared. The limitation of the two party system, fiscal control in political finance and methods such as lobbying have created an oligarchy where modern aristocracy shapes the political landscape. I’ll offer a specific example of the limitations set in place by the two party system and political finance.
Former Senator and Governor of Louisiana, Buddy Roemer, attempted to get the 2012 Republican Party nomination for the President of the United States. His stance on campaign finance reform was consistent throughout his time in political offices. In fact, he refused to accept any donations of more than $100 per citizen. He also refused to accept political aide from any PAC’s or super PAC’s. Mr. Roemer was told that he was not invited to any of the debates because he did not meet the established criteria. Worse still, every time he did rise to the occasion and met the criteria, they changed the standards set. They said he had to be an official candidate, so he became one. They said that he had to have 1% in a national poll, so he got it. They then raised it to 2%, again he got it. Then they told the man that he needed to raise ½ million dollars within the last 90 days. The Presidential hopeful raised 256,000 dollars and he did so without accepting any aid from PAC’s and refusing any campaign aide over 100 dollars per contributor. Ultimately Buddy Roemer was refused admittance to speak at a political debate based upon the money he raised running for office. Personally, I find this ludicrous. This example offers proof that even if a candidate arises with a service record proving that they have the ability to perform the duties of a political office they can, and have, put up roadblocks to stop such a person from running for office. To be able to run for the Presidency, Buddy Roemer needed to be accepted by a political party and when he refused to, as Author Josh Sager put it, corporate “and court wealthy donors, they are not included in the political process and are unlikely to be able to compete on the federal stage.” The fact that a former member of Congress and Governor in these United States of America was refused admittance to a political party ticket and debates shows the inherent corruption preset in the current system in place. An utterly terrifying example of a clear connection between political corruption and money.
The prevalence of money guiding politics is in no way new. The increase in modernity has been contributed to costs. We no longer live in an age where a Presidential hopeful can buy a round of drinks for voters and just sit and talk. Modern political campaigns use of media costs substantially more and President Washington was able to pay for that round of drinks of his own pocket. Today’s Presidential hopefuls and Congressional members maintain that they do not have the capital to run for and retain their positions without a great deal of fiscal aide. Although, I feel compelled that Buddy Roemer intended to run his political campaign a different way showing us that a limitation can be realistically placed on political campaigns. The fiscal need maintained by politicians intending to run combined with no requirement to stay focused on what is best for their constituency has permitted our nation’s usurpation. Big money’s interests sway and control different vitally important aspects of politics, including who ends up in the position and office and what policies are passed. The politicians in top positions in our country including, though not limited to, the President and members of Congress are lobbied daily by those representing corporate interests that do not necessarily coincide with what is best for the Nation as a whole. When a company like GE can lobby Congress for the ability to continually not pay taxes for a decade while moving jobs out of America and into another Country, something is very wrong. In 2015 Texas Senator Ted Cruz said that “Lobbyists and career politicians today make up what I call the Washington Cartel. … [They] on a daily basis are conspiring against the American people. … Career politicians’ ears and wallets are open to the highest bidder.”
What is most desired by the citizens in the country has been replaced by what is most desired by those with the fiscal means to get a person into a powerful position and help them to remain there. William McKinley’s presidential campaign manager (1896) and later senator from Ohio (1895) Mark Hanna said it best when he wrote that “There are two things that are important in politics. The first is money and I can’t remember what the second one is.” The inherent problem in the current system where money is so prevalent is best described by Josh Sager in The History of Money in Federal Politics where he writes that “those with resources and power inevitably try to use their resources to influence politics.” We are a long time removed from our forefathers worrying about wealthy landowners becoming the basis for reforming aristocracy in the nation. It is now a situation in which money is utilized to push personal agendas often to the detriment of the American People. A condition that has been shaped by a consistent fight between attempts at reform and moneyed groups finding another path to push their agenda. It has been 133 years since the Pendleton Act, a law stating that Federal Government positions had to be awarded on merit and not political affiliation, was passed. In that 133 years’ people who have a vested moneyed interest in guiding policy have repeatedly found paths to circumvent each new roadblock put in their way. For example, the Pendleton Act was a good measure to ensure that the most qualified person receive a position but its creation prompted political officials to seek contributions from corporations. The act removed the pool of money available to political candidates when it no longer permitted the ability to award a position in exchange for services. Over and over again similar circumstances repeatedly occur.
Corruption is found and dealt with through the law. A way around the new law meant to stop or lessen the corruption is discovered and abused, then the weak links within the law are dealt with via reformation of some sort. The situation changing each time slightly while the corruption and monied interests behind it remains consistent. This marriage of political corruption and monied interest is consistent and has allowed top positions of government to be put in place by a small number of wealthy individuals. Thus allowing big money to rekindle a modern form of Aristocracy in the United States. Replacing the importance of the American voter, the citizens for whom this country is supposed to be run. More than a century after the Pendleton Act was passed, an American President was still able to appoint Michael Brown as the head of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). Although the man was wholly unqualified for the position, President George W. Bush was permitted to offer him the position offering a prime example of a spoils system that is still in place. A spoils system is defined by Merriam Webster as “a practice of regarding public offices and their emoluments as plunder for members of the victorious party.” The emoluments, or rewards, for services rendered in getting the political official into office in the first place.
The appointment of Michael Brown as the leader of FEMA when he was not qualified to fulfill the duties of such a position was a part of what led to the lack of necessary aid for victims of hurricane Katrina. Michael Brown’s efforts to aid victims were completely ineffectual given the crisis. FEMA took days to establish operations in New Orleans, and when they finally did so they had no real plan of action ready. When the Congressional House Committee took a look at Michael Brown’s emails, they found that just four days after Katrina hit he wrote to a friend stating that he was, “trapped [as FEMA head]” and asking them to “… please rescue me.” Additional emails including one where he complains of his FEMA attire were frequent while an email that offered lifesaving medical equipment remained unanswered for four days. According to an article published by TIME magazine Michael Brown’s padded resume reveals he shouldn’t have been in the position as the leader of an organization responsible for such emergencies. The article titled How Reliable is Brown’s Resume by Daren Fonda and Rita Healy wrote that ” The White House Press release from 2001 stated that Brown worked for the city of Edmond, Okla., from 1975 to 1978 “overseeing the emergency services division.” In fact, according to Claudia Deakins, head of public relations for the city of Edmond, Brown was an “assistant to the city manager” from 1977 to 1980, not a manager himself, and had no authority over other employees. “The assistant is more like an intern,”
This man’s appointment is a prime example of how political patronage does direct damage to citizens in the United States. He was unqualified and clearly out of his depth. Allowing him in a position with so much power and leadership when he is unable to handle the responsibilities was directly detrimental to US citizens. I also cannot help but notice that while former Senator and Governor of Louisiana Buddy Roemer’s record shows that he is a capable leader, Michael Brown’s does not. The only prevalent difference in their ability to gain a higher position in government was a willingness to cooperate with those in the status quo. Political Scientists Martin Gilens and Benjamin Page wrote that although, “Americans do enjoy many features central to democratic governance, such as regular elections, freedom of speech and association, and a widespread (if still contested) franchise. But we believe that if policymaking is dominated by powerful business organizations and a small number of affluent Americans, then America’s claims to being a democratic society are seriously threatened.” A multitude of politicians who have held positions in office have also spoken and written about the current method in which monied interests have a hold on politicians and policies. One example is Michele Bachmann, four-term Republican congresswoman from Minnesota and founder of the House Tea Party Caucus who said that “whereby votes continually are bought rather than representatives voting the will of their constituents. … That’s the voice that’s been missing at the table in Washington, D.C. — the people’s voice has been missing.” Al Gore, former Vice President agreed and wrote that “American democracy has been hacked. … The United States Congress … is now incapable of passing laws without permission from the corporate lobbies and other special interests that control their campaign finances.”
The final example that I will offer in this article comes from Chris Dodd’s Senatorial farewell speech given in 2010. He shared his perception quite eloquently when he said that, our electoral system is a mess. Powerful financial interests, free to throw money about with little transparency, have corrupted the basic principles underlying our representative democracy.” It is quite clear that experts in the field of politics and in the Political Science field agree, corruption with monied influence has removing the power of the people of the United States. A modern Aristocracy has clearly risen in the country. Their use of finance in political circles has put the power to shape our nation and her policies into the hands of a small number of people. Although they haven’t any titles like the traditional blue blooded nobility that our founding fathers escaped, the detriment they feared has occurred just the same. It has allowed a small number of individuals a controlling interest in the direction that the United States government goes. If our leader’s decisions are being swayed by higher fiscal forces as indeed it seems they are, then there is no other conclusion to come to. America has indeed become an oligarchy with a modern form of monied aristocracy at her helm. The will of the people has been lost. Drown out in an ocean of unanswered promises, corruption and an influx of money by a few elites. A modern aristocracy utilizing their fiscal power to corrupt and sway political positions and policy. A small portion of the population is running our beautiful country and they were not meant to nor do they have a right to. This country was fought for and designed for her people. This is our country. Not a political parties’ country, not a lobbyists country, not any corporations’ country and certainly not the country of contemporary aristocrats.