Days of Infamy, Days of Hope: Part III

In addition to the tenth anniversary of George W. Bush’s unarmed robbery of John Kerry, today is the fourth anniversary of another American tragedy: the hijacking of the House of Representatives and numerous governorships and state legislatures by the radical right.

It was a hijacking foreordained by the Supreme Court’s January 21, 2010 Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, which allowed right-wing extremists access to the financial weapons they needed to launch a coup. Then-MSNBC commentator Keith Olbermann saw what was coming the night of the ruling:

Today, the Supreme Court, of Chief Justice John Roberts, in a decision that might actually have more dire implications than Dred Scott v. Sandford, declared that because of the alchemy of its 19th Century predecessors in deciding that corporations had all the rights of people, any restrictions on how these corporate-beings spend their money on political advertising, are unconstitutional.

In short, the first amendment — free speech for persons — which went into affect in 1791, applies to corporations, which were not recognized as the equivalents of persons until 1886. In short, there are now no checks on the ability of corporations or unions or other giant aggregations of power to decide our elections…

And if senators and congressmen and governors and mayors and councilmen and everyone in between are entirely beholden to the corporations for election and re-election to office soon they will erase whatever checks there might still exist to just slow down the ability of corporations to decide the laws.

Well, one corporation in particular–namely, Koch Industries, the craven corporation with an agenda to destroy the Obama administration and the Democratic Party, as Jane Mayer and Lee Fang courageously revealed that fall. By November, most of Charles and David Koch’s dark dreams had been fulfilled: Climate denier John Boehner replaced climate hawk Nancy Pelosi as Speaker of the House, and anti-science zealots took control of the executive and legislative branches of such states as Wisconsin and Michigan, with catastrophic consequences for the most vulnerable residents of those states.

Of course, even the most powerful of wingnuts can have setbacks; in California, as it turned out, all the Kochs’ money and all the Kochs’ men couldn’t allow pollution to flow freely again.

The same night Koch-backed candidates took over the House and state houses across the country, the brothers came up short in the Golden State–in part, thanks to the courage of California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger.

In a fiery speech on September 27, 2010 at the Commonwealth Club of California, Schwarzenegger called out the demagogues of denial who were behind Proposition 23, an effort to kill California’s 2006 Global Warming Solutions Act:

I want to talk about…oil interests that have descended upon California to overturn a Californian environmental law. And then assume that they‘ve done the dirty work, thanks to millions of dollars of scare tactic advertising, they intend, in the words of their own spokesperson, to fold up their tents and go home.

Ladies and gentlemen, there‘s a great drama. There is a great struggle playing out here in California right now that the rest of the world doesn‘t pay much attention to and knows very little about. And that‘s why I‘m here today to put the spotlight on this very important issue.

And let me just say that the entire oil industry is not involved in this deception that I will explain here today. No, there‘s some oil companies trying to do the right thing. But others are not. Oil companies like Valero and Tesoro and Frontier and Koch Industries are blatantly trying to manipulate the will of the people and the public good…

Schwarzenegger continued:

Two-thirds of Californians approve our state law to reduce carbon dioxide emissions. Do you know who the two most prominent opponents are? Valero and Tesoro, also two of the state‘s top polluters. They‘re behind an initiative on the November ballot called Proposition 23, which would suspend our law to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

But, in reality, because of the fine print when it comes to unemployment, they really don‘t want to just suspend it; they want to kill this initiative. They want to kill our laws.

And while they‘re not creating a shell company, they are creating a shell argument that this is about saving jobs. Does anyone really believe that these companies, out of the goodness of their black oil hearts, are spending millions and millions of dollars to protect jobs? This is like Eva Braun writing a Kosher cookbook!

It‘s not about jobs at all, ladies and gentlemen. It‘s about their ability to pollute and thus protect their profits…

Thanks to Schwarzenegger, another fellow you might have heard of by the name of Tom Steyer, and thousands of committed climate activists, Proposition 23 was resoundingly defeated. It was a sign that with enough effort and determination, political and financial Goliaths can be knocked to the ground.

The 2010 victory in California—in the midst of another dark night for democracy— stands as a powerful lesson for progressives generally and climate hawks specifically. The people, when united and motivated, are unstoppable. Still.

D.R. Tucker

D. R. Tucker is a Massachusetts-based journalist who has served as the weekend contributor for the Washington Monthly since May 2014. He has also written for the Huffington Post, the Washington Spectator, the Metrowest Daily News, investigative journalist Brad Friedman's Brad Blog and environmental journalist Peter Sinclair's Climate Crocks.