Citizens United vs. FEC is destined for the same kind of historical infamy as the Dred Scott decision back in 1857. The Sunday papers are already reassuring us that most corporations aren’t interested in alienating potential customers by getting into political controversies. I find this implausible. Corporations have already shaped the public mind and psyche six ways from Sunday by skilful use of advertising. They are already well aware that most people don’t like advertising—so much for not alienating potential customers. And they are also well aware that most people’s thinking can be shaped as easily as not even by ads they don’t like. Maybe even more so, since those are the ones that stick in the memory.
But I suspect that corporate advertising and media slanting are likely to be used in much more subtle ways than merely “don’t vote for the Democrat.” For the most salient example, check out what they have to say about green leafy vegetables. A tomato sauce that shall remain nameless claims to contain an entire serving of vegetables, but sshhhhh! don’t tell the kids or they won’t eat it. A line of salad dressings fantasizes about vegetable-eating contests at carnivals, spurred on by dousing the veggies in their dressings (otherwise, of course, no one would touch them.) There are two or three other ad campaigns pushing this same anti-veggie line. None of them ever come out and say “stay away from unprocessed fresh veggies which we can’t make any money on, and eat our highly processed and profitable line of goodies instead.” They don’t have to. Now imagine a line of ads that, in the guise of selling soap, or cars, or pink toilet paper, makes the viewer accept, without even noticing, the world-view that politics is boring and dumb and full of awful people, and voting is too much trouble to bother with. If you can turn people off to fresh fruits and veggies, you can certainly turn them off to politics, which don’t even help you lose weight. And then you don’t even have to spend lots of money turning them on to your pet candidates. The voting audience you’re trying to reach could be small enough to post your ads in phone booths, if there were still any phone booths.
Yet another easy and cheap approach for the corpocracy is to keep senior citizens away from the polls, or make us vote the right way. We older folks vote in numbers far disproportionate to our numbers. Many political operatives court us, giving us rides to the polls, helping us out with our medicare problems, shoveling snow in front of our buildings, and helping us across the streets. Which is okay as long as they can lull us out of paying attention to the real issues. Medicare is always a great distraction. Anything that seems to threaten to make it less helpful can be made to nudge our votes into the proper column. And there’s always “values voting.” Linking the Wrong Party with social and sexual practices our grandparents didn’t admit to engaging in is good for a lot of senior votes. This strategy will, of course, have to be fine-tuned when the “children of the ‘60s” get into their medicare years. But that’s duck soup for an ad industry that can make “It’s morning in America” sound like a good thing. (All “morning in America” ever did for me was make me feel sleep-deprived.)
The Citizens United case has made it possible for corporations to spend unlimited amounts of money to capture our polity. It has not made it necessary. And these guys have had a bad year just like the rest of us. So be on the lookout for government takeover on the cheap. In short, Citizens United may not be as cosmic as it looks.
But at the moment I’m reading a book called 1858, which talks about the confluence of events in and around that year that pulled the United States into civil war. One of those events was the Dred Scott decision, holding that a Black man has no rights a White man is legally bound to respect. Ultimately, this drove the Abolitionists and their sympathizers to a course of action that made the war inevitable. Is the Citizens United holding (that individual Americans have no rights that a corporation is bound to respect) likely to have the same effect on some band of hotheads who have not even found their way into public notice yet? Watch this space.