In the camps and the marches of the Occupy movement they chant “Show me what democracy looks like… This is what democracy looks like!” Its stirring, it’s empowering, and it is purely rhetorical without actual participation in the election process.
In the Senate race between Elizabeth Warren and Scott Brown the needs, desires and futures of the 99% go toe to toe with Wall Street’s chosen son. The results will matter and they will reflect the fiber and conviction of the electorate for good or ill. This is what democracy looks like.
Current Senator Scott Brown took office in the election that determined who would occupy the seat left vacant by the tragic death of Ted Kennedy. Brown rode into office on a wave of prop driven (lookit my pickup!) misdirection that was almost flawlessly in sync with the faux populism crafted by the billionaire Koch brothers and lifelong beltway gollum Dick Armey. He oozed Tea Party vogue and appealed to the then peaking energies of a movement whose rank and file believed it was re-empowering the electorate not selling it down the river.
You’ve heard the phrase ‘follow the money’. In his bid for re-election one need only examine the telltale narrative that is campaign finance. Four of Brown’s top five donors come from the loftiest heights of the financial sector and the insurance industry. To fund his campaign Liberty Mutual Insurance has kicked in $46,000. Massachusetts Mutual Life has come through with $51,000. Those champions of the people at Goldman Sachs and their related PACS have ponied up $60,500, and the top bidder in the purchase of the young Senator has been FMR Corp. the parent company of Fidelity Investments who clearly believe via their $97,000 contribution that money is speech.
Contrast this backdrop with his opponent. The consumer advocate and law professor Warren’s campaign has no specific policy regarding PAC money and at the time of my research had received roughly $33,000 from such organizations. That sum represents approximately 1% of her fund raising haul and is composed largely of donations from within her own potential caucus (the PACs of Senators Kay Hagan of North Carolina, Debbie Stabenow of Michigan, Tom Harkin of Iowa, and Kirsten Gillibrand of New York) and groups such as the children’s issue driven KidsPAC and the United Steel Workers Political Action Fund.
The second tier of Scott Brown’s special interest cash (PAC money comprising 13% of his take thus far) consists of corporate titans General Electric and Ford, as well as financial industry heavyweights J.P. Morgan Chase, John Hancock Financial Services, and the international consulting firm Price Waterhouse Coopers. To Senator Brown this is what democracy looks like.
In truth the division between the two goes well beyond the money trail. Warren is credited with providing much of the intellectual foundation for the 99% movement and the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. She has positioned herself as a door to door, living room politician whose speech championing the honoring of a basic social contract between the super wealthy and the shoulders upon which their empires were built has become legendary.
Brown conversely has opposed a proposed multi-billion dollar tax on banks to recoup bailout money and prescribing of bank executive compensation. On December 12, 2010, the Boston Globe reported that “campaign contributions to [Brown] from the financial industry spiked sharply during a critical three-week period last summer as the fate of the Wall Street regulatory overhaul hung in the balance and Brown used the leverage of his swing vote to win key concessions sought by firms.” Just this month he voted against cloture and an end to the filibuster that would allow the vote on the Middle Class Tax Cut Act of 2011, which would extend the tax cut for 113 million workers or families and fund the plan by a 3.25 percent surtax on incomes over one million dollars. These decisions make clear what a politician owned and operated by the financial elite actually looks like.
The application of populist outrage is a real thing. An opportunity to bring its power and influence to bear exists today in Massachusetts where the difference between plutocracy and democracy has been drawn clearly in the New England sand.