The economic instability during the Bush administration facilitated a Democratic sweep that began in 2006 and culminated in 2008. Democrats swept into power on a mandate of “hope” and “change.” However, before President Obama even took the presidential oath, Democrats abandoned their campaign-trail principles and donned the regalia of big business stalwarts. President Obama surrounded himself with Clinton-era aides and officials—the Wall Street chic. The public, disillusioned by the continuation of the same policies that created the economic crisis in the first place, rejected the Democratic leadership and voted Republicans into power in overwhelming numbers during the 2010 elections on the explicit directive to “take our country back.” Yet just like their Democratic counterparts, once in office, the GOP quickly ditched their campaign promises of creating jobs and fixing the economy. Instead, they moved to systematically dismantle labor, cut entitlement programs and trigger another culture war that overtly targets women and minorities. This development left the majority of Americans confused.
Regardless of their political affiliation, constituents know why they voted these officials into office. These politicians received our votes with the understanding that they were expected to return America’s wealth back to its rightful owners: the first-time homeowners who got suckered into subprime mortgages, the senior citizens who were scammed out of their hard-earned savings, the factory workers whose jobs were shipped to Calcutta and Beijing, and the children whose futures were left behind on the curbside of history. Despite this objective truth, both Democrats and Republicans doubled down on their bipartisan economic policy, which has not benefitted the unemployed, the working poor or the middle class in any way. The wealthy received help from these so-called leaders in the form of bailouts and tax cuts while the rest of us were ordered to make sacrifices. These officials continue their Left-Right march to tyranny while the rest of us remain dumbfounded, asking, as Matt Taibbi recently did, “why isn’t Wall Street in jail?”
The answer to that question is glaringly obvious: both national parties have been bought and paid for by Wall Street. The executive branch will not prosecute these crooks for two reasons. First, the president depends on these individuals for campaign funds. Second, these people hold the executive branch hostage because they have the ability to manipulate the economy—for better or for worse—and voters, as past elections show, always place the blame for the state of the economy squarely on the shoulders of the president. Thus, paradoxically, the president bends to the will of these power brokers whose goals conflict with the economic prosperity of the nation. Nevertheless, even if the executive branch decided to prosecute these jackboot thugs,, the judicial branch will not convict them for the simple reason that they too are in bed with the bankers. The questionable political ties of Supreme Court Justices Scalia and Thomas to individuals and institutions which directly benefitted from the ruling on Citizens United v. FEC demonstrates this problem. Finally, it is important to note that we cannot count on the legislative branch to regulate these racketeers, because after all, congressional candidates depend on the same pool of concentrated wealth to fund their political campaigns as the president.
It is clear now that the federal system of checks and balances is no longer sufficient to guard against despotism and it cannot be relied upon to dispense justice impartially. The extreme concentration of wealth in the United States enables a privileged few to use our government institutions as tools of oppression, and this culture of corruption is spreading to lower levels. State and local politicians are now conspiring to strip their constituents of wealth by passing the burden of deficit reduction off to the lower classes while sparing big business.
This scheme deprives state and local communities of their revenue, and limits the ability of these governments to serve their constituents. In other words, it undermines the sovereignty of local and state governments by usurping their tax base. These communities then remain dependent upon federal assistance for funds, and this creates a centralized system wherein a detached bureaucrat is charged with weighing the needs of the citizens against the wants of the financial bosses who own his or her superiors. What is the point of federalism if it exists in name only? The average citizen is being pushed out of politics because of moneyed interests. This attack was planned by the power brokers, but it is being carried out by the institutions that are supposed to protect us—the president, the legislature, the courts. We are now subject to legalized extortion, and our so-called leaders fail to acknowledge it.
If our leaders continue to fail us, what can be done? We need to move away from top-down governance by embracing independent, grassroots mobilization. Social media instruments like Facebook and Twitter can be used by grassroots organizations to coordinate low-cost local and regional campaigns to combat the reckless Left-Right assault on democracy. These efforts will have to enlist as many people as possible in a community-level, door-to-door campaign. We need to coordinate a national movement that replaces empty suits and slogans with homegrown candidates committed to serving the interests of their culturally diverse districts. Sound too idealistic? Wrong. Mass movements have happened in this country before, and they didn’t have the tools we have now. The time to act is now. If we wait for a more convenient time, then we may not have another opportunity to “change” and “take our country back.”