Today the phrase, ‘the American dream,’ still means getting a house in the suburbs, holding down a well-paid job we like doing, and having enough money to buy whatever we want. Of course, ‘the American dream’ defined this way is looking more dead every day. Too many Americans are still unemployed or cannot get new jobs at the same pay they used to receive. And because the Supreme Court’s recent “Citizens United” decision allows corporations to fund campaigns directly, this situation could get much worse in November, 2010. Candidates committed to forcing our country back to the pre-FDR 1930’s are already starting to get the lion’s share of corporate campaign funding. That could mean no more economic stimulus, no more help for the unemployed, plus an absolute end to all attempts to protect the public from corporate crime and raids on taxpayer money. It also means big media buys with lots of slick, deceptive framing.
How can we best fight that kind of framing? One way is to invoke the other American dream, the dream of America, the one bubbling back up to the surface via widespread public discontent. That dream is about a government by the people, for the people, and of the people–our political representatives standing for us, not for those who seek to control and exploit us.(1) It’s about taking our government back from the corporations–the banks, the oil companies, big pharma, big health, and Wall Street.
Some of the pieces of that kind of “Dream of America” framing have already been made concrete in new legislative proposals. Taken together, these bills suggest some themes for a larger framing campaign that might look more attractive than a simple Tea Party anti-government message. First, there’s the recently introduced DISCLOSE Act, which would require corporate sponsors to put their cards on the table and disclose who they are in the ads they fund—follow the money and what it buys! (2)
Then we have The 2010 Fair Elections Now Act (S.752 and H.R.1826), introduced by Senator Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) and Representatives John Larson (D-Conn.) and Walter Jones Jr.(R-N.C.). (3) This bill would allow Congressional candidates to run for office with public financing, freeing them from the influence of large donors, big-money bundlers, or contributions from lobbyists. Candidates could focus on what people in their own communities really want, instead of what corporate chieftains want. State level bills of this type have already been passed, in Maine and Arizona, with heartening results.(4) An attempt to scuttle Arizona’s bill was also just defeated in federal appeals court. (5)
True, relying on public financing could seem like a gamble on the part of candidates who choose that route. But made a big part of a candidate’s campaign message, it could produce landslide victories at a time when the first American political dream, real representative government, is alive and stirring in the land again. Clean, fair campaigns and government are what we Americans deserve—it’s our birthright. It’s the Dream of America. (6)
- I’m aware that among the first colonial dreams were establishing a religious utopia and making money, but the first American political dream was true representative government.
- See The Washington Post oped by Katrina vanden Heuval, “How to Turn Congress Inc. Back to Just Congress“
- “Arizona law ruling affects state Prop 15,” San Francisco Chronicle, 5.22.10)
- For information on a step three in this process, see the following websites devoted to getting a constitutional amendment to reverse the Citizens United decision: