The idea of a citizens united lies at the very heart of the American self-image. It’s not that a consensus exists, or ever should, among such a various people—entitlement to dissent remains an inalienable right. Yet power, be it exercised by an insouciant majority or a well-endowed few, is commonly considered a thing to be held in check, so that an ostensible democracy won’t slide into a tyranny of the majority, or a plutocracy. A crucial, if not always prevailing, spirit of national unity abets the ability of citizens of multifarious persuasions to more than occasionally rise above factionalism and self-interest, especially where a situation threatens the overall prosperity of the population. Indeed, deep-set in the American identity, the promise of a prosperous future for all—the self-evident pursuit of happiness—is understood to be under assault in everyone’s case, whenever it’s under assault in anyone’s case. So decency emerges, if sometimes slowly. Nazis are brought to justice, civil rights movements triumph, poverty is warred upon, etc. In these cases, citizens unite to bring about change—and for its collective effort the country grows stronger, as does its sense of itself as a force for good and equality.
Today, Citizens United means something else. It refers to a case decided by the US Supreme Court two years ago, in which SCOTUS obliterated limits on campaign contributions—er, free speech—giving corporations the same speech rights as individual citizens. This paved the way for the ludicrously regulated Super PACS that are currently rewiring the Wild West environment of a campaign system already devastated by outlaws. A single married couple recently gave Newt Gingrich’s campaign $10 million. Well, they gave it to his Super PAC, which Newt has nothing to do with, according to the law. The $10 million will be used primarily to buy advertisements in Florida (site of the next primary) accusing Gingrich’s chief opponent, Mitt Romney, of being rich.
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