The Supreme Court, not for the first time in its history, reminded us yesterday that in the end, it is Supreme. In Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, 08-205, they ruled that business corporations can spend unlimited money influencing political elections, even though Congress said they couldn't. At times like these American citizens seem to live in an oligarchy, not in a democracy, or even in a republic. [See also America: Republic or Democracy]
Recap: in 1772 the high court in Great Britain ruled, in the Somerset case, that a slave became free simply by stepping on British soil. The slavers of Virginia and their lawyers decided that they really did not want to be part of the British aristocracy in that case. So they united with New England merchants who were unhappy for other reasons, and launched the American Revolution.
During and after the revolution, the thirteen allied states operated under a document called the Articles of Confederation. Under that constitution, the federal aspect of government was weak. This created danger for wealthy Americans, who wanted a federal army available to crush any group of poorer citizens who might get dangerous ideas. Like that every adult male should have the right to vote, as in Pennsylvania. Or that taxes should not ruin a farmer, as in Massachusetts. So they (the infamous they) held a meeting and wrote a new Constitution for the thirteen states. Most people did not like this new Constitution, but mainly by force and fraud it was put into place. (See the Anti-Federalist Papers for the arguments against the Constitution. See any honest and detailed history book about the period for how this document was imposed.) The people who opposed the Constitution at least managed to get it amended with the Bill of Rights. But the new federal government, led by George Washington, showed it could do its duty by crushing the Whiskey Rebellion.
Most people thought the Congress would become the supreme branch of government under the Constitution. Some feared the Presidency would eventually become supreme. They were all wrong. In 1803, in Marbury v. Madison, the Supreme Court declared that it was supreme. The ruling class took a good look at that idea and liked what it saw. Supreme Court judges are not elected, and they serve into extreme old age.
For instance, the Supreme Court declared (in Dred Scott, 1857) that slaves did not become free when they stepped onto the soil of a free state. In fact, there was no such thing as a free state. The United States were one big slave plantation, according to the Supremes.
Which shows an important point: you can trump the Supremes, but it isn't easy. To get rid of slavery it took more than just an amendment to the Constitution; it took a civil war, then some Amendments that were passed while the slavers lost the right to vote for a while.
In fact, with the Supremes in charge, even amending the Constitution may not get you what you want. Take the Fourteenth Amendment. It was meant to make human citizens equal, regardless of race. But the Supreme Court decided it did not protect black citizens (culminating in Plessy). Even though the word corporation is not in the Amendment, the Supreme Court declared, in Santa Clara in 1886, that business corporations are covered by the Amendment. [See Santa Clara Blues: Corporate Personhood versus Democracy]
So here we are. Business corporations can spend unlimited money on "free speech." They already buy and sell most American politicians, and both the Democratic and Republican Party, but this gives them even more leverage.
But did not candidate Barack Obama offer us hope? It was a five-to-four decision, so maybe one of the majority will die. Then Barack can put in a Supreme who is not owned by the ruling class. Ha, but Barack himself is owned by the ruling class. As he showed by continuing the war in Afghanistan, which only benefits merchants of death.