Our politics took a nightmarish turn this week. Senate Republicans twice blocked a vote to require corporations, unions and obscure organizations hovering in the shadows to tell us who's putting up the millions and millions of dollars for all the propaganda assaulting the public during this political year.
The bill the Republicans killed was already a weak parody of its original intent. It wouldn't even go into effect until after the November auction when the buying and selling of the White House, Congress, state legislatures and courts will have been completed, and the dark money will have done its dirty work. By then a vast pall of secrecy will cover the tracks of the secret donors. The knife plunged into the heart of democracy will have been wiped clean of the fingerprints of those who wielded it. The public will not even know who owns title to our government.
Both our political parties are up to their necks in this corruption; it was Barack Obama, you'll recall, who tossed public funding under the bus four years ago, then hauled in huge sums of money from Wall Street fat cats he later promised to protect from public wrath over their ill-gotten gains. And when there was just a brief chance to reform carried interest, the trickery that enables the Mitt Romneys of the world to pay a tax rate far below working people, Wall Street Democrats like Chuck Schumer helped to snuff it out in the cradle.
But the Republicans, once the party of Lincoln -- "government of, by, and for the people," remember? -- have thrown their soul into the bargain.
Once upon a time they said, "Let there be light."
Here's Ronald Reagan in l988: "We need full disclosure of all campaign contributions...."
Here's the first George Bush in l989: "Disclosure -- full disclosure -- that's the answer."
Senator John McCain in 2004: "What reform does is create transparency, equality, and participation..."
Senator Scott Brown in 2012: "Attack ads, from unaccountable, outside groups that spend millions of dollars from anonymous donors portraying their opposition unfairly and misleading voters are wrong."
Once upon a time even Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell was for transparency. Even Mitch McConnell sang, "Let the sunshine in." In l997 he said disclosing campaign donors and spending "should be expedited so voters can judge for themselves what is appropriate." Three years later he called for "real disclosure" and asked, "Why would a little disclosure be better than a lot of disclosure?"
That was then. Now Mitch McConnell has become a walking alibi for corruption. He lines up every Republican in the Senate -- every one of them -- to protect their secret donors. And he does so twice in one week.
Why? Because they have made it their mission to prevent majority rule. And because they are no longer a conservative party. The noted political scientist Sheldon Wolin, in his book Democracy Inc., writes that the Republican Party is now radically oligarchical -- programmed to advance corporate economic and political interests and to protect and promote inequalities of opportunity and wealth. There's the nightmarish future: a government run of, by, and for the rich, while everyday Americans are left to lives of lowered earnings, chronic insecurity in the workplace, and a vulnerable old age.
This is why secrecy is a must. Because that vision -- of a nation no longer fair, no longer just -- cannot possibly win free and open elections conducted as honest competition. The majority of Americans -- citizens of a country born in what one historian calls "the age of democratic revolutions" -- would never choose to be governed by the few at the expense of the many. Politicians required to play by the rules, to openly confess that their loyalty has been purchased and forced to identify the highest bidders, could not possibly survive the scrutiny. So they must bend the rules to conceal their transactions. In doing in democracy, their safety is in secrecy, and we must be kept in the dark.