Bill Moyers says: The great American experience in creating a different future together — this “voluntary union for the common good” – has been flummoxed by a growing sense of political impotence — what the historian Lawrence Goodwyn has described as a mass resignation of people who believe “the dogma of democracy” on a superficial public level but who no longer believe it privately. There has been, he writes, a decline in what people think they have a political right to aspire to — a decline of individual self-respect on the part of millions of people.
You can understand why that is. We hold elections, knowing they are unlikely to produce the policies favored by a majority of Americans. We speak, we write, we advocate — and those in power, Democrats and Republicans, liberals and conservatives, turn deaf ears and blind eyes to our deepest aspirations. We petition, we plead, we even pray — yet the Earth that is our commons and should be passed on in good condition to coming generations, continues to be despoiled. We invoke the strain in our national DNA that attests to “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” as the produce of political equality — yet private wealth multiplies even as public goods are beggared.
And the property qualifications for federal office that the framers of the Constitution expressly feared as an unseemly “veneration for wealth” are now openly in force and the common denominator of public office, including for our judges, is a common deference to cash.
So if belief in the “the dogma of democracy” seems only skin deep, there are reasons for it.
During the great prairie revolt that swept the plains a century after the Constitution was ratified, the populist orator Mary Elizabeth Lease explained “Wall Street owns the country. Our laws are the output of a system which clothes rascals in robes and honesty in rags. The parties lie to us, and the political speakers mislead us,” because, she said, “money rules.”
That was 1890. And those agrarian populists were boiling over with anger that the corporations, banks and government were conniving to deprive everyday people of their livelihood. They should see us now.
John Boehner calls on the bankers, holds out his cup, and offers them total obeisance from the House majority if only they will fill it. That’s now the norm, and they get away with it.
Barack Obama criticizes bankers as fat cats, then invites them to dine at a pricy New York restaurant where the tasting menu runs to $195 a person. And that’s the norm. And they get away with it.
As we speak, the president has raised more money from banks, hedge funds, and private equity managers than any Republican candidate, including Mitt Romney. Let’s name it for what it is: democratic deviancy defined downward. Politics today — and there are honorable men and women in it — but politics today is little more than money laundering and the trafficking of power and policy, fewer than six degrees of separation from the spirit and tactics of Tony Soprano.
Why New York’s Zuccotti Park is occupied is no mystery — reporters keep scratching their heads and asking, “Why are you here?” But it’s as clear as the crash of 2008: they are occupying Wall Street because Wall Street has occupied America.