When Smart People Are Really Stupid

At the New York Times, Nicholas Confessore writes about the continuing fallout from Citizens United.

… for a growing number of strategists and operatives in both parties, the very nature of what it means to work in politics has shifted. Once wedded to the careers and aims of individual candidates, they are now driven by the agendas of the big donors who finance outside spending. …

…In the insular but fast-growing world of super PACs and other independent outfits, there are no cranky candidates, no scheduling conflicts, no bitter strategy debates with rival advisers. There are only wealthy donors and the consultants vying to oblige them.

Political consultants are stampeding to the Super PACs for jobs, because the bankrollers pay better and there’s no campaign to run. So instead of working for candidates, parties, or even advocacy groups, they work for a small number of billionaires with agendas. Some of the Super PACs do accept small donations from many donors, but some of them are “boutique” PACs “set up on behalf of a few donors — sometimes only one.”

The Super PACs are undermining the authority of parties, because it’s so much easier for a wealthy individual or interest group to dump a lot of money into a PAC that can be directed as the benefactor(s) wish. “Because they can give unlimited amounts to outside groups, they can have substantial influence without the hard work of raising money for a candidate, $2,500 check by $2,500 check, from other donors.”

The old worry was that the Super PACs would secretly be in collusion with the campaigns. The new worry is that the campaigns, and the parties, are being frozen out.

Every time I read something about What CU Hath Wrought, I think of the five Supreme Court justices who made this mess possible. These were Kennedy (who wrote the majority opinion), Roberts, Scalia, Thomas, and Alito.

It’s not unreasonable to assume that these five thought they were helping the Republican Party. But let’s assume that on some level they actually believed what they wrote in their opinions. Justice Kennedy wrote in his opinion,

“The fact that speakers may have influence over or access to elected officials does not mean that these officials are corrupt. … The appearance of influence or access, furthermore, will not cause the electorate to lose faith in our democracy. By definition, an independent expenditure is political speech presented to the electorate that is not coordinated with a candidate. … The fact that a corporation, or any other speaker, is willing to spend money to try to persuade voters presupposes that the people have the ultimate influence over elected officials. This is inconsistent with any suggestion that the electorate will refuse “ ‘to take part in democratic governance’ ” because of additional political speech made by a corporation or any other speaker.”

All kinds of people knew this was hooey at the time of the decision. All kinds of people knew that this decision would have a deeply corrosive influence on campaigns and on American government itself. Is Justice Kennedy really so stupid that he believed what he wrote?

17 thoughts on “When Smart People Are Really Stupid

  1. I think it’s possible that some of the justices didn’t understand the impact their decision would have. I wonder if they do now, and if they are looking for a way to walk it back.

  2. maha,
    I beg to differ.
    I agree with Kennedy when he wrote:
    “The appearance of influence or access, furthermore, will not cause the electorate to lose faith in our democracy.”

    He’s right.
    But for the wrong reason.
    For those who hadn’t already lost all faith in our democracy because of the the odious and partisan Bush v. Gore decision, they certainly lost it after “Citizens” – thanks to 3 of the same 5 judges.

    Years ago, people used to joke, that we “Had the best government money can buy.”
    Well, maybe not THE best – but not bad.
    Nowhere near what’s coming down the pike now – “The WORST government, or lack thereof, that money can buy.”

    So, take a bow, SC CJ Roberts, and the rest of the (Not-at-all) Fab Five!
    Maybe, after having helped dismantle this representative democracy by deciding in favor of corporations, criminals, war criminals, nihilists, imbeciles, and religious morons, you can all retire.
    Take a well-deserved rest from your efforts!
    Sit on your laurels, and toast to freedom and liberty with one another.
    And leave the rest of us try to fix what’s left of this toxic political waste dump, once known as America.
    Over the last 30+ years, “The (Not-at-all) Fab Five,” with its interchangeable members, has done more damage to this nation than any “Fifth Column” ever could have.

  3. from Mr.Gulag,
    “Over the last 30+ years, “The (Not-at-all) Fab Five,” with its interchangeable members, has done more damage to this nation than any “Fifth Column” ever could have.”
    Sadly, yes. And we have allowed it to happen.

  4. Lynne,
    Well, not all of “us” – but enough of ‘us.’
    With help from 1960’s DFH backlash, and a a long run of “Fab Five” SC.’s
    Imagine how different this nation would be without the Bush v. Gore decision?
    And never mind the economy and the wars, but the Federal and Supreme Courts?
    No Alito.
    No Roberts.
    And, if not a Liberal or Progressive Chief Justice, at least one who’s not a craven cowardly conservative corporate whore – bought cheaply, with a lifetime post, and some nice benefits for him and his family.

  5. And while we’re on the subject of allegedly “smart” people acting stupid, I’d like to call the administration of Notre Dame to the witLESS stand!


    What’s next?
    No medical coverage for your child if he or she (statistically, more likely a he) is sexually molested by a priest, because it’s penalizing his (penis’s) freedom of religion?

    Oy – religion, in this country.
    You want to know why we can’t have nice things?
    That them there’d be a great place to start!

  6. I guess Kennedy has never heard of the old tit-for-tat principle, or, you-rub-my-back- and-I’ll-rub-your-back principle since he seems to have given no consideration to the obvious fact that anyone in an elected position will do the bidding of whoever’s money put him in that position. In other words, our representatives in the House and our Senators and our president will no longer be representing us.

    The Supreme Court’s ruling on Citizen’s United must be its version of a representative form of government – representing a few rather than representing the many.

  7. I never bought the whole idea that money is speech anyway. To the extent that spending money has anything to do with self-expression, it’s really just a way to turn up the volume on your bullhorn. The First Amendment gives you the right to express yourself, not the right to drown out everyone else’s voice.

  8. he seems to have given no consideration to the obvious fact that anyone in an elected position will do the bidding of whoever’s money put him in that position.

    Felicity…Sorta like Maha’s hillbilly expression..”.You dance with the one who brung ya”

  9. The question is whether rich people are better than everybody else. (period)
    or whether rich people are just better than everybody else at making money.

    My observations suggest the second option is true, but the USSC seems to have decided that the first option will become the standard of law. Of course, if Obama is reelected and any of the fab five gets run over by a bus….. things could change fast.

  10. Shorter right-wing of the Supreme Court:
    We wanted to rig the system for OUR guys, not these other guys.

    They are corrupt scum, not deserving of respect.

  11. From Wikipedia:
    Plutocracy (from Ancient Greek ploutos, meaning “wealth”, and kratos, meaning “power, rule”) is rule by the wealthy, or power provided by wealth.

    Oligarchy (from Greek ὀλιγαρχία (oligarkhía); from ὀλίγος (olígos), meaning “a few”, and ἄρχω (archo), meaning “to rule or to command”) is a form of power structure in which power effectively rests with a small number of people.

    The Wiki for “Fascism” is too long, so here’s the link:
    Though I know the regular readers here at maha’s site know the definitions very well – they’re nicely summarized here:

    Pick your poison.
    With all of this talk about “American Exceptionalism,” and “Real Americans,” and the old, “America, Love It Or Leave It!,” I lean towards Fascism.
    Our Conservatives make the first, sound like “The Thousand Year Reich,” the second, “Volks” and “The Master Race,” and the third, is without a doubt, ‘Nationalist.”

    Our Conservatives have blended things from the things they liked – Fascism, with things that they feared from the old Soviet Union (now, Russia, an Oligarchy), and The People’s Republic of China (now, morphed into a Plutocracy – with a cheap, compliant, labor force).

    We’re not in a good place, folks (not Volks).
    And make no mistake, this is not accidental.
    The Conservative mind fears what it loves, and loves what it fears. And absorbs those things into their philosophy. And projects it’s self-hatred onto opponents.

    I remember remarking to my late father, back in the early 70’s, when I was a young teenager, that America was starting to look more and more like the Soviet Union. Eventually, Nixon resigned in disgrace, giving young and naive me some hope. But his followers have taken over the modern Republican Party, which then, under Reagan, welcomed Dominionist Christian zealots.

    And so, here we are, in a very dark place.
    We are on the verge of becoming “The United Domionist Christian Corporate (read – Fascist, Oligarchic, Plutocratic) States of America.”

    And this years elections will have a lot to do with where we are 5-10+ years from now. But don’t disregard the 14th, and final, defining characteristic of Fascism: “Fraudulent Elections.” And, it’s not like we haven’t seen that here in America before. The years 2000 and 2004 spring to mind.

    So, if you’re of a mind to sit this election out, or know people who do, please let them know that we will all pay for the consequences of that inaction. And pay, and pay, and pay…

  12. I know people who are going to sit out this election but they our christian fundamentalists
    I thanked them profusely and begged them to stay away from the polls forever because they were the ones who fucked this country over in the first place

    it used to be whats the matter with Kansas but the trend has spread it’s now what’s the matter with the whole damn country

    spot on gulag about that dark place may your name not be prescient could there be gulags in our future does gitmo count are the gulags already here yes a dark place indeed

  13. I never bought the whole idea that money is speech anyway. To the extent that spending money has anything to do with self-expression, it’s really just a way to turn up the volume on your bullhorn.

    It’s not that money *is* speech – it’s that getting heard requires money, and if you remove the ability to spend (or collect) money, you’ve de facto limited speech.

    I don’t like that conclusion, but I can’t deny that’s reasonable. I’ve heard of some ideas about passing a constitutional amendment that would basically state that Congress can limit federal election spending. I’m not sure anything less would pass muster.

  14. Kennedy’s comments are the difference between reality and theory. In theory his idea that an independent groups spending on elections do so because they have something to say is nice, but in reality people throw money into politics because they want to get their way and bullying politicians, with negative ads is an easy way to do this.

    I’m assuming you have to smart to get onto the SC, for the most part, therefore this is nothing more than an attempt to tilt the playing field in America, so Republicans can achieve the permanent majority they dreamed about 10 years ago.

    The Roberts Court realized their political buddies can’t do this based on their ability to govern, so they rigged the system.

    Also, what role does the Federalist Society play in indoctrinating Republicans in the judiciary? I think a boat load of Republican judges are part of this Republican organization, which has clear political aims, but no one brings this up as an inappropriate cross-section of politics into the judiciary.

    Short version: Impartial Judges my ass, just a bunch of partisan hacks in black robes.

  15. Although his Wall Street money came before Citizens United, I consider the whole Cory Booker affair an excellent illustration of the kind of intellectual corruption we can expect across the political spectrum in the years to come. As for Justice Kennedy, I think he is neither stupid nor cynical, but pathetically naive. Roberts, Scalia and Alito are the Court’s triumvirate of cynicism.

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