Ashby Foote | March 12, 2016
For political junkies campaign 2016 is as good as it gets. Mayhem, drama and surprise from all fronts. Throw out the good manners. Throw out the rulebook. Throw out the litmus tests. Throw out the dogmas – the consultants – the focus groups. Throw out the pundits – they know nothing! Throw them all out – the baby – the bathwater – even the sink.
What we are witnessing is the bursting of a bubble – call it the ‘political establishment bubble’. Remember the dot.com and housing bubbles? The common denominator was ‘too much money’ overwhelming not enough common sense. The same phenomenon is at work in politics today.
The ‘too much money’ in politics can be traced back to January 2010 when the Supreme Court decided the case: Citizens United versus the FEC (Federal Election Commission). The ruling prohibited the government from restricting independent political expenditures by non-profit or for profit corporations, labor unions and other associations. It was a tectonic shift that changed the economics of funding federal election campaigns.
Like Pavlovian dogs, politicians are trained to follow the money and Citizens United unleashed oceanic flows of money to PACs, SUPERPACs and 501C4s. With a candidate’s finite time for fund raising why spend it seeking contributions in $50, $100 or $1000 increments at neighborhood meet and greets when the new rules allow donations to PACs, SUPERPACs and 501C4s in $1,000,000 increments. In the arms race for campaign dollars this was nuclear weapons versus bows and arrows. It is no surprise that six years after ‘Citizens United’ large swaths of the main street electorate feel disenfranchised and alienated from America’s political elite.
Senator Jeff Sessions framed the current political landscape in clarion terms when he endorsed Donald Trump, “The events of history have aligned to give the people this fleeting chance to bust up the oligarchy – to take back control from the ‘Masters of the Universe’ return it to the good and decent and patriotic citizens of the United States.”
The Alabama senator’s term Oligarchy conjures up images of Russian power brokers from the pre or post USSR periods. But the term also applies in the U.S. where crony capitalists are close cousins to oligarchs. From Britannica – “Oligarchy: government by the few, especially despotic power exercised by a small and privileged group for corrupt or selfish purposes.” The natural protagonists to an oligarchy are peasants so an ‘oligarchs versus peasants’ paradigm is a good framework for understanding the unusual dynamics of campaign 2016.
In normal times one party would represent the peasants the other the oligarchs. Not so in 2016 when both parties have oligarch – peasant factions facing off to determine their party nominees. This was foretold in Ralph Nader’s 2014 book, “UNSTOPPABLE – The Emerging Left-Right Alliance To Dismantle The Corporate State”.
Oligarchs shun free markets and the market disciplines it entails. They prefer instead investments where they get the upside while the peasants are left to cover some or all of the downside. At the national level the best examples are the bailed out Wall Street banks and bankers and auto companies. But the oligarch list is long and storied from green energy firms like Solyndra to insurance companies that get protected when regulations they helped draft don’t pan out as planned. Heads the oligarchs win, tails the peasants lose.
The oligarchy doesn’t end in D.C. It stretches down to state and local levels as well. In Mississippi, the $7 billion Kemper Power Plant is the grandest and most scandalous boondoggle in state history and the worst example of the oligarchs running amok. It is a project that would have never left the drawing board if it had to compete in the marketplace. But the appetites and ambitions of the oligarchs remain undiminished.
They have now set their sights on the $17 million in annual revenue that the Jackson International Airport generates and the adjacent property that the current airport board oversees. Senate Bill 2162 seeks to create a new airport commission that would supersede the existing commission. The bill’s author claimed on the senate floor that the airport was a desert amongst all the development around it in Rankin County. Au contraire, such analysis is exactly backwards. The Jackson Airport is an oasis that has been a huge economic boon to Rankin County since it was built over half a century ago. Before the airport was built Lakeland Drive was a dirt road and there was no bridge over the Pearl River where Lakeland Drive crosses now.
To paraphrase Senator Sessions, the good and decent and patriotic citizens of Jackson paid for and built the Jackson Airport and the oligarchs need to keep their grubby hands off it.