This is one of the oldest battles in our Republic. And you ain’t seen nothing yet.
The U.S. Supreme Court’s Hobby Lobby decision ignites a battle over women’s health care, which will command center stage. But it’s really just part of the long-running battle over the proper relationship between corporations and the government/the people. (See Mitt Romney: “Corporations are people, my friend.”)
Corporations as we think of them today didn’t exist when the Constitution was written. They appeared In the early 19th Century, according to one history, as “bridge companies, water companies, transportation companies, banks, and insurance companies…essentially public service corporations or public franchises.”
After the Civil War came the first trusts: oil, steel, finance, cigarettes and the like. They dominated politics and government through the Gilded Age and into the 20th Century. Then came Trust Buster Teddy Roosevelt, who characteristically had a pretty clear view on the subject:
“We must have complete and effective publicity of corporate affairs, so that people may know beyond peradventure whether the corporations obey the law and whether their management entitles them to the confidence of the public. It is necessary that laws should be passed to prohibit the use of corporate funds directly or indirectly for political purposes; it is still more necessary that such laws should be thoroughly enforced. Corporate expenditures for political purposes, and especially such expenditures by public-service corporations, have supplied one of the principal sources of corruption in our political affairs”.
The anti-corporate wave ebbed in the Roaring Twenties, then came roaring back in the New Deal and Square Deal. From the 1950s on, corporations and big business worked their way back into the driver’s seat.
Now, the Supreme Court has held that corporations, like citizens, have the right to spend unlimited funds to influence elections and the right to religious views that overrule the law of the land.
So here’s a safe prediction: The wheel will turn, as it always does in the cycles of history. There will be a turn against corporate power, especially given the growing economic gap between the top (CEOs, owners, mega-billionaires) and the rest of us.
Politics is like physics. For every action, there is (or will be) an equal and opposite reaction. It may start in the Democratic presidential contest next year. (Hillary Clinton, are you listening?) And it may dominate politics for decades to come.
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