The Dictatorship of Capital. It sounds strange to our ears in this land of liberty, but it shouldn’t. We have a long history of censorship in this country going back to the very earliest days of the Republic. During the administration of our second president, John Adams, the congress passed the Alien and Sedition acts which, among other things, made it illegal to speak badly of the president or the government. During the civil war a United States Congressman, Clement Vallandingham of Ohio if memory serves, was seized and transported into confederate territory for his opposition to the war. The Palmer Raids in the wake of World War I and the McCarthy era at the beginning of the Cold War, in which such performers as the “Weavers” were banned from Television and actors like Lloyd Bridges were blackballed. Then came Vietnam which saw the cancellation of the “Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour” because of their pointed political commentaries in opposition to the war. When performers and, at times, regular citizens have spoken truth to power the consequences have all too often been unpleasant.
It comes as little surprise, then, to see the strongest voice of progressive criticism on the airways silenced. While his audience was growing, and he paved the way for others—Rachel Maddow, Ed Schultz, Lawrence O’Donnell to follow, Keith Olbermann was fast becoming a bur under the saddle to Corporate interests. Lets be clear about this, here was not a demonstrated case of government but corporate censorship. As with the cases of Bridges, the Smothers Brothers, Ed Asner and others, this was not the first such action by Corporate America to reign in free speech; nor will it be the last.
I have not been understood: It is not government dictatorship that we need fear. It is corporate dictatorship. Lest it appear that this be a bit of hyperbole, a bit over the top, let’s review a few facts.
First we spend more money in this country on private security than on the public police. This has been true for some time now. I’ve run across the truth of this statement not only by reading the works of Robert Reich but also having worked in the security industry where they speak with pride about society placing greater value upon the Pinkerton’s than the police. The Pinkerton’s, incidentally, don’t have to read you your rights upon arrest, nor give you access to an attorney.
Secondly, the intrusiveness of corporate America monitoring your every financial transaction, your every physical move is astounding. Imagine the demonstrations in the streets if the government were to so monitor you. Yes the government does more monitoring of its citizens than it has any right or need, but it pales in comparison to the “big brother” that is Corporate America. As a case in point: I once new a person who sat on a jury in an arson trial. The defendant was confronted with all kinds of financial records. Was he late on some utility bills? Of course. Was he late on some credit card payments. Of Course. You draw the verdict. If confronted with a phalanx of corporate attorney’s you can depend on the records of whatever you do—and records are kept on everything—being dragged out to demonstrate this or that motive. Further, Corporate America has installed video cameras in every parking lot, every apartment complex, every hallway, every sidewalk, every supermarket and department store. Capital monitors your every move. In the wake of the citizens united case Capital now buys your every election. As noted above Capital censors what you see and hear.
Thirdly, with the exception of a few rare appearances by labor leaders and environmentalists on the old MSNBC—that is on Maddow and Schultz during the Olbermann era—when was the last time they appeared on national television or radio? In my youth when Lawrence Spivak hosted NB C’s “Meet the Press” one would see labor leaders like Walter Reuther and George Meany, at least once a month. So it was on all the other network interview programs. One also saw environmentalists, peace activists, civil rights leaders. In short, under the “fairness doctrine” voice was given to alternate points of view. A reflection of the “counterveiling power” to use professor Galbraith’s terminology that existed to balance the power of Corporate America. Beginning with the Reagan years, Corporate America began to confuse itself with the genuine article to the point now where it dominates—indeed nearly monopolizes—everything. One’s own personal space: look at that logo you have emblazoned on your shirt. Look at all that advertising that comes into your home. The workplace: where are your unions? Who protects you now from capricious and arbitrary behavior? The public forums: When was the last time you saw the President of the AFL-CIO on the air. Do you even know who he is much less what he represents?
Olbermann, although strident, was hardly a radical. Here was no socialist. Here was no firebrand. He functioned primarily as a voice of reason and sanity calling out the idiot wrong for all its misrepresentations and outright lies. News, on “Countdown” was covered by way of picking up on how the Wrong-Wing was covering it—Limbaugh, Hannity, Beck, and famously O”Reilly, and setting the record straight. It was universally seen as an exhausting work for there are over 450 such howlers out there and it takes herculean effort to shovel so much shit. But for all the nonsense that has been said about the so-called “Liberal” press since the Nixon era, wherein lies truth to the charge? Has there been a call to reinstate progressive taxation? Has there been a call to reinstate the tax code of Jerry Ford much less Dwight Eisenhower? Has there been a call to vigorously enforce anti-trust law? No. Corporate America would never tolerate it. It could not tolerate even Olbermann who proposed no such thing. Olbermann’s crime was to simply demand some honesty in the debate, but Corporate America would have none of it. The media now, such as it is, is fast becoming a house of mirrors fashioned by capital to worship its own reflection.
With the shouting down of political discourse at “town hall meetings” by the brown-shirt tactics of corporate shills representing themselves as modern minutemen, with corporate America increasingly assuming the police powers of the state, with the print and electronic media in the hands of a very few corporate giants we are left to ponder “who speaks for us now”. Increasingly, we stand alone now before our corporate paymasters, just like on the shop floor. Separate but equal? It’s beginning to look a lot like Jim Crow to me, with no one left to call them out.