The question about the upcoming presidential primaries for the 2016 nominees has arisen on both end of the spectrums, from one of the kids as well as from my mother, who popped it during a lunch the other day. So, who do you like?
While it would be a beautiful thing to be able to spit out a response in favor of a singular candidate – because it’s just time for a woman president, that’s why – I find that it’s difficult. The reality is that the issue overshadowing all else is the control that the uber-wealthy and corporations now have over the legislative and electoral process. And by uber-wealthy, I mean those who have .01% of the nation’s wealth…welcome back to the age of the Robber Barons.
So the question arose again the other night where two of the three kids were gathered with us awaiting Middle’s event. Both my wife and I looked at one another and the statements were identical and concise: It doesn’t matter. Taxes will go up regardless of who’s in office and Sanders is the only one with the guts to acknowledge that that’s going to happen. But if Trump makes his way into office, don’t be surprised if they increase there either since it’s a mathematical certainty that the revenue will only flow if the taxes go up…because God knows we can’t control our spending. We both elaborated further, knowing that the problems are wholly systemic and metastasized throughout the governmental body. If you want to know the truth, the ideal candidate is already resigned to the notion that it will be a single term presidency and he/she will lose, if even willing to run for a second term. Because the system will have to be shaken to the core and if successful, that President will be hated and derided and probably for a generation. To call it a sobering commentary would be an understatement.
Here’s the thing behind the commentary. Twain wrote that while history doesn’t repeat itself, it does rhyme and we’re now in a literal nursery rhyme with Andrew Jackson’s clash with Nicholas Biddle’s Second Bank of the United States. In that instance, Biddle put the screws to the country by betraying its role as the ostensible central bank and withholding funds from smaller banks in order to pressure the Congress to renew their original charter. This resulted in multiple small bank runs with the resultant ruin of thousands of depositors who lost all of their savings; but it also dramatized the threat that one or a few exceptionally wealthy and powerful individuals could pose to the body politic. In that instance, Jackson’s response – combative and populist – was to withdraw the government’s deposits from Biddle’s bank, which served as the capital base for all that that bank was supposed to do. In essence, Jackson allowed the financial system to collapse in order to save the promise of the still very young Constitution. To do otherwise would have been to allow a single individual to use the power of the pre-eminent financial institution to gain control over the mechanism of government. If Jackson folded and Biddle won, what else would have happened – or not happened – if it displeased the banker.
And with the Supreme Court’s 2010 Citizens United decision that effectively quashed any campaign finance reform, please feel free to explain to me how this is any different from 180 years ago?
Some years ago, I used to spend considerable time on a wonderful financial/economics site and in the course of an evening’s ongoing commentary with other members of that community, I commented this: My hope is that when all of this is said and done, we come through everything with some semblance of an intact Constitution. It sounds melodramatic, which I hate, but it’s not at all far-fetched. The levers of power have been grabbed by the very wealthiest few and the corporations and they are actively solidifying their hold on said levers. President Obama’s response in his first term should have been Jacksonian, moving to reform and re-institute meaningful regulation of the financial sector and he failed to do this. That an Assistant Attorney General was canned and his then-Attorney General later acknowledged that the fear of financial damage to the economy affects decisions on prosecutions indicates the level of power of that sector and the fear that it engenders. And now that the heads of JPM Chase and Goldman Sachs have both become certifiable billionaires under this arrangement, the financial sector is wholly part and parcel of the cabal.
The threat to the country is no longer economic but now, for all intents and purposes, both Constitutional and existential. My thinking had been that the key factor to my choice of candidate would be what kind of person they’d likely nominate to the Supreme Court and how that individual would vote on such a decision as Citizens United. That decision was reached by the narrowest margin of 5 – 4 and the dissenting opinion by Justice Stevens – eminently worthy of the read here – is a good distillation of the ultimate controversy: with whom does the power reside? I have become convinced that the trade and monetary policies of the past three decades have been purposefully passed with the understanding that they will ultimately benefit only a relative very few and that, at the cost of the great majority of Americans. The hemorrhaging of the median family income isn’t a sudden event, but instead only the damage arising from the effects of three decades of cumulative muggings upon the American Middle Class. Such is the effect of power moving to the control of a very self-interested few.
My thinking about the candidate that I’d support went to the type of individual that would be nominated to the Supreme Court. What would be the political persuasion and most importantly, their attitudes about the Constitution? Strict constructionist? Liberal? It does matter because as much as I can appreciate the constructionist viewpoint, the reality is that we have issues today that would make our Founding Fathers’ eyes bleed. Some things are the same, yet some are simply not.
At the end of the evening, we found out that Justice Antonin Scalia had passed away earlier that day and the narrow majority that ruled in favor of the Citizens United decision was now moot. I was unaware of Scalia’s age and believed that the decision to nominate a new Supreme Court Justice would wait until the next president but that assumption is now moot. It is the purview of any sitting President to nominate a person for the Supreme Court and for either side to cry for a delay is politics at its most venal. But make no mistake, with the average age of the Supreme Court north of 70 years of age, it’s likely that the next President will also have the privilege of nominating a candidate. If President Obama does nominate someone who would shift that 5 – 4 margin in the direction favorable to overturning the Citizens United decision, it would still be only a razor thin majority. So that’s what I’m considering as both sides of the political spectrum continue to throw the middle finger at the political class. Do I have a list of candidates for the Court should Trump, Sanders, Hillary or anybody else take office? No. But I’m not stupid either, and what they say – and how much money that they take – is a solid indication of where they’ll go. And that’s likely to be where I’ll head, too.