History is on our side: the 99% writes back

by Frances A. Chiu

Tag: Koch brothers

#Occupyhistory 1768: “Now is the time to exert yourselves!”

“When government is not established upon moral principles but managed by the arbitrary power or one, or a few, at the expence of the liberty of the rest of a community, their acknowledgement of that power is an obedience like that of the prophet’s ass.”

So what can be done about the exorbitant influence of overgrown dukes, knights–and super-PACs ? And what can be done to protect the welfare of the 99%? Although Murray did not propose a simple 4-step plan, he nonetheless offered a few, shrewd  ideas that are still useful to us in 2012.

First of all, quit kowtowing to Lord Bigwig or Mr. Fancypants. I’ve always marveled at the following passage with its defiant gutsiness, one so far removed from the customary 18th-century deference to the well-born and well-heeled. Go stuff it, he tells them.  Perhaps this is why Sermons to Asses thrilled so many of the 99% before Tom Paine came along:

When any duke or lord, knight or ‘squire come with their drunken rabble of attendants, to solicit your votes by treats and entertainments, put them in mind what they are about, and what they ought to be. Tell them that none who make attempts upon men’s virtue can be faithful to their liberties and interest.

Similarly, if someone plumes himself on being “qualified with so many hundreds of thousands of yearly income” and “approved of by so many of the principal freeholders in the country, or the members of a city,” don’t mince words;  “tell him you judge for themselves, and do not walk by the light of other men.”

Secondly, and perhaps more importantly,  research the candidate in question:  “consider what measures he fell in with; was he the dupe of the ministry or a tool of the court?”  Maybe we don’t expect either the Donald or the Koch brothers to come a’knocking on our doors to help support their candidates of choice, especially since the 1% are even less likely today to reside in the vicinity of the  99%, but it bears observing that we have even less of an excuse to be ill-informed in the age of the “internets.” Don’t read or watch just one news source. Check out the various candidates and their voting record. Find out if they were “dupes” or “tools” of any particular lobbyists, special interest groups, or other politicians from a range of sources.  Because if you reelect the same representative, senator, governor or president who voted against your interests in the past, you have only yourself to blame:

Instead of fruitless complaints against the government, when it is not in your power to help the evil, let it be your study Britons, now when it is in your power, to apply an effectual remedy. Choose none of those for your representatives at the general election who concurred in laying burdens upon you before. Suffer to them to stand as beacons, for posterity to take warning from. Shall the freeholders of Britain again choose such unworthy members of society to manage their public affairs, they may expect to have their burdens continued and fixed more firmly upon their shoulders.

That’s exactly what happened when vast swathes of the working classes–the so-called “angry white male” or “Reagan Democrat”–continued to vote predominantly for outsourcing-, free-trade-happy Republicans. (Certainly, 2010 was no exception when GOP senators broadly voted against a bill from the Democrats ending tax breaks for outsourcing companies and providing incentives for those restoring jobs back home. )  Instead,  these “Reagan Democrats” have generally preferred to blame the “greedy Chinese” or any other nation rather than the many fine, upstanding Republicans who gifted those “greedy Chinese” with their very own jobs (hmmm, wonder what those Chinese workers think of conditions at Foxconn?) . Only now are some beginning to wake up to the fact hat some of their worst enemies are right (pun intended) at home.  It is no less striking that the same voters have unquestioningly accepted the climate change denialists, lapping up the message disseminated by the likes of the Heartland and Cato Institutes (both, of course, generously funded by the Koch brothers) and failing to discern the relationship between warmer temperatures and storm severity. Too bad few of these denialists realize the consequences for those who do not have the fortune to live in large, well-built mansions with the best insurance and public amenities.

Moving on to point #3: continue to keep an eye on your candidate when s/he takes office:

One cause of our present complaints, both as to civil and religious oppression, is; that we look not to ourselves, but think as soon as we have elected civil or religious governors, we may fall asleep in pleasure, indolence, and inattention…when they do their duty, they are a public blessing: but when they degenerate into tyrants, there is as much of the blame lies upon them; for had those who employed them watched over them as they ought.

Again, there’s even less of an excuse not to be completely informed in this day and age.

Finally, and most importantly: speak up and protest. Murray reminds his readers that when a 4-shilling tax on cider was proposed in 1763, the southwestern, cider-producing region of England rioted. Not less worthy of emulation were the Americans, whose cause he warmly endorsed throughout his works: these great people, he explains, were able to repeal the Stamp Act by a “vigorous resistance of oppression.” So c’mon, “Have  the rest of Britain no burdens they want to have removed? Are there none of the necessaries of life taxed, which much affect the poor mechanic, and the mercantile part of the nation? Now is the time to exert yourselves.”

                                                  A REAL Tea Party

Yes, your parents, priests, ministers, teachers, and all other authority figures were all likely to have preached the virtues of obedience. But sometimes obedience is simply neither wise nor virtuous.  In fact, “When mankind are once instructed in their natural rights and privileges, they will not only complain, but struggle to get clear of oppression” because “Wise men know what it is to obey just laws, but will never tamely submit to slavery and bondage.” Submitting to “arbitrary government, without resistance” not only betrays “the want of sense of the rights of human nature,” but also subverts God’s will for complacent “slavery” is nothing less than “finding fault with the conduct of the Almighty to give up his prerogative to his creatures.”

It’s not hard to imagine what Murray would tell us, his “American brethren,” in 2012. Stand up for yourself. Research the facts. And quit tolerating ANY representative who panders to the 1% at the expense of the 99%. Because if you do, you are an ass indeed: “When government is not established upon moral principles but managed by the arbitrary power or one, or a few, at the expence of the liberty of the rest of a community, their acknowledgement of that power is an obedience like that of the prophet’s ass.”

Amen, Reverend Murray–no truer words were ever written.

Copyright ©  2012 HISTORY IS ON OUR SIDE (Frances A. Chiu)

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Just a few remarks here: I distinctly recall pissing off the guy sitting next to me in the Bodleian when I laughed out loud at some of the comments prepared by Murray for an 1780 (or so) edition of Asses–like: “why is it that banks, brothels, and bawdy-houses are never taxed?” One of my regrets at graduating was assuming that I would rarely ever get to revisit old Murray again. Well, thankfully, the good people of Google have digitized some of his works and the rest of you can enjoy him too: http://books.google.com/books/about/Sermons_to_asses_to_doctors_in_divinity.html?id=XWAUAAAAYAAJ

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#Occupy History 1768: Of Overgrown Dukes, Knights, and Super-PACs

“The power of choosing a man to represent a town or country in parliament is lodged in the hands of a few monopolizers of privileges, who, by the weight of their purses, and the power of their interest, can turn the rest as they have a mind.”

If James Murray was concerned with the burdens shouldered by the 99% of his day, he was no less so by the electioneering process—particularly since it was heavily rigged by the 1%. Back in the eighteenth century, the local presiding aristo would make his rounds during election season, urging eligible voters in his county to support his candidate. Indeed, it was standard practice for him and his candidate of choice to go the whole hog, figuratively and literally, throwing great feasts with plenty of booze. If the attendee was lucky, he might put on his wig–before discovering that it had been  “truly oiled with the juice of the grape, and bedaubed with the surcharge of some overloaded appetite.”  And if not, he might suffer a few broken bones or worse. In fact, these affairs could rival any modern day frat house hazing for it was hardly unusual for the local militia to be called in: which is partly why the reformist call for annual elections simply never took off. Take a look at this rendering of an “Election Entertainment” (1755)  from Hogarth:

(original site: http://www.giantratofsumatra.com/2011/04/)

Although Murray was by no means the first to criticize this phenomenon, he was probably the first to address it before a sizeable audience. Civil disorder was only part of a larger problem: namely, the disproportionate influence enjoyed by monied bigwigs, whether they be “dull dukes” or “heavy-headed knights.” It should be plain to see that  “When a man, to whom Providence hath given a liberal share of worldly possessions, and who is able, by the weight of his interest, to weigh down the fourth part of a country, employs that interest contrary to the principles of honesty and virtue,” he is nothing less than “a curse to the nation.” (These are Murray’s italics.)

Now granted, the electorate back then comprised a meager 3-5% of the nation (e.g., those with at least 40 shillings worth of land residing in a town that actually sent MP’s to Parliament), but what good is an election when voters face potential repercussions from their local aristo during a period when ballots were still openly cast? (Hence, the call for secret ballots in the 19th century.) As Murray argues, the entire purpose of an election is defeated when dependents feel “overawed in their voting” by their social superiors, self-important men accustomed to “treat[ing] their dependents like asses, and threaten[ing] them out of their liberty and virtue at once, by the weight of their interest.” It is a sheer travesty when “there is no man free….but men of large and extensive fortunes” and “the power of choosing a man to represent a town or country in parliament is lodged in the hands of a few monopolizers of privileges, who, by the weight of their purses, and the power of their interest, can turn the rest as they have a mind.”

But even as Murray excoriates these elites, he doesn’t let ordinary Britons off the hook. Too many of them are easily enticed by prospects of free food,  announcing  unwittingly to the world that they “are asses, ready and willing to take on any burden.”  Indeed, It is easy capitulation that allows the rich and powerful to manipulate them further, for

what opinion must these gentlemen have of such drunken societies who will do so much for a few days of riot and gluttony, as to sell their liberties, but that they are asses that want to be watered? Can that nation be accounted free, that can be so easily enslaved by drunkenness and bribery? Liberty is but a name, when it can be so easily subdued by such mean gratifications. When men are slaves to their lusts, they will never be free. Men that do so easily sell their souls will not value their country.

At the same time, if some are suckered in by free refreshments,  others are far too prone to obey their social betters  in the misguided belief that, well, they must know better:

The meanness of the greatest number of freeholders in Britain is conspicuous in their stooping down to take on every burden that any overgrown duke or knight pleases to impose upon them. When once it is known what side of the question “his Grace” is on, the inferior freeholders ask no more, but generally say, Amen. They do not consider the qualifications and merit of the candidate, whether he is a wise man or fool, or a tool of the state: if he is such a great man’s friend, that is sufficient.

In the end, of course, this servility could only backfire on poor, unthinking John Bull, dazzled by the jewels and fancy gold-laced duds donned by Lord So-and-so. Little does John guess that “A gentleman may safely sink his estate by procuring an election” enroute to buying “another ten times better than that which he had before.” Such candidates resemble those “other traders, who, when they fail, very often make a profitable composition at other people’s expense, and grow richer than ever they were before.” They are men “who have laid out so much money upon an election, will endeavour to make you pay for it, by joining with some venal ministry in taxing you, for the benefit of a rich preferment.” Yes, that’s correct: you’ve screwed yourself by voting for a man—like so many others before him–who will again vote against your best interests in Parliament when he sides with his rich patrons and buddies.  As Tom Paine would observe a few decades later, the landed elites in the legislature were pretty sly at shifting the burden of taxes to commoners–and even onto the poor.

It’s hard not to smile condescendingly today as if anyone would be blind enough not to see through Lord 1%’s ploy. We pride ourselves on living in a real, honest-to-goodness democracy where each citizen has one vote. Not to mention that our 21st Jill and Joe Blows are smarter and much better informed in the age of the internet….right?

Hmmmm.  The fact is, little has changed since then. For the better part of our own history, the rich have long enjoyed disproportionate influence by making large contributions to their candidates of choice, under certain limits, of course. But with the 2010 rulings on Citizens United v. FEC and SpeechNow.org v. FEC , these limits have been eradicated, allowing the wealthy to exercise even more influence by means of the super-PAC, a supersized pac, if you will; as Rick Hasen notes in his blog (Jan 18, 2012), what was once of illegality or dubious legality in regard to independent contributions is now “of fully blessed legality.”  This brings us back to 18th century Britain, where there were no limits either.

So who are some of our “overgrown dukes and knights?” On one hand, we have the bewigged (or betoupe-d?) “You’re-fired” Donald openly endorsing Mitt “I-like-being-able-to-fire-people Romney. But there are some slightly less visible, hovering dimly in the background. Of course, by now, we’ve heard of the Koch brothers:  founders of the Cato Institute and Heritage Foundation, organizers of the various Tea Party outfits (Americans for Prosperity, Citizens for a Sound Economy, etc.), and supporters of union-bashing Scott Walker.  We may also have heard of Foster Friess, backer of Santorum (i.e., “Red, White, and Blue” super-PAC);  union-busting Sheldon Adelson, backer of Gingrich (“Winning our Future”). Then there’s the super-PAC, “Restore our Future,” organized by a few of Romney’s aides,  whose donors include former Bain colleagues and John Paulson, the hedge-funder who famously earned billions betting against the housing market. Even Obama, who criticized the Supreme Court for their decision in 2010, is now (reluctantly?) relying on Priorities USA Action super-PAC. (See also http://www.opensecrets.org/pacs/superpacs.php?ql3)

Of particular danger to our 99% are the wealthy donors behind the GOP leaning super-PACs. As Blaire Bowie and Adam Lioz have recently observed, they  hold significantly different ideas on the economy. More are concerned about the deficit than unemployment. What is striking, however, is the divergence between their own social ideas and that of their conservative base.  David Koch, for instance, supports gay rights, stem-cell research, and along with his brother, the ACLU.  It is worth pointing out that Friess had no qualms about supporting Alfonse D’Amato even though the latter had only rejected the GOP position on gays.  As such, what squarely unites many if not the vast majority of wealthy donors behind the Republican agenda is opposition to reforms on Wall Street and unions–which in turn helps explain why they also contribute to a hostile media that panders to the views of the Tea Party and their ilk even if they don’t necessarily share their social prejudices.

What were Murray’s solutions to these “monopolizers of privilege” and what key do they hold for us?  Stay tuned.