Citizen Consumers

The Citizens United Supreme Court Decision profoundly changed the political world. It stripped vital transparency from Corporate influence in politics. It squirted an already corrupt system full of venom, making it an Uber-Corrupt; a kind of monolith to political malfeasance.  

This allowance of virtually unlimited Corporate money to political causes and campaigns is a frightening prospect. Anonymous PAC donations are legal, and allow a PAC to funnel money to airtime and advertising without public or legal accountability as to the source of the money. It is a curious legality cloaked in a dodgy contextual distinction of money as free speech. It is as nasty a political procedure as anything in recent memory, right alongside redistricting corruption.

The current Corporate reach in politics is unhealthy for Democracy because it acts as a noise buffer between the needs of everyday people, people who cannot pay for airtime, and their so-called representatives. I believe that the damage done here is not irreversible. The role of Corporate money in Politics may shift, but the role of Corporate tools - meaning, not money, but discipline, procedure, and structure - will always have a place in Government. That place is growing more and more prominent.

It is this symbiosis between the Corporate model and the Government model that shows no signs of ever going away. This relationship - between executives who become political leaders, political leaders who become executives or board members, lobbyists who becomes Congressional aides and vice versa - is much, much harder to legislate out of existence. In fact, aside from a few laws outlawing insider trading and lobby influence, there is very little on the books to fill the porousness of the membrane between the Corporate and Political worlds. We need only look to the way Corporations influence our daily lives now, as consumers, to see the model for the future of our role as citizens. In reality, the line between citizen and consumer has grown perilously thin. We are Citizen Consumers now, whether we like it or not, subject to a myriad of influences all around us, all the time.

Those influences include product advertising, public relations management, disaster recovery, product placement and advertising savvy. A successful Corporation employs all of these elements. A successful political Party employs them all, too. Let's take it a step further: which political party has mastered the art of dogged Corporate product promotion? Political and social agendas are now bought and sold with an advertising budget that would make Madison Avenue blush. 

Where do entrepreneurs and business leaders flock? Are some political parties more predisposed to successfully controlling a corporate - or political - message? Do some politicians or political groups have a better grasp of product placement and advertising? Regardless of which party you blame, or if you blame all political parties, it is no longer all the rage to operate within Government like a ragtag 'Citizens Union' without dire consequences to your image and your brand. The most successful parties - the ones who stay on message, even if the message is unpalatable - are run like Corporations, and in the end, they are the ones who subsist, because a social or political message unleashed on the public with the same uncompromising hostility of an advertising blitz has a way of worming itself into even the most hardened soul.

You may be able to legislate corporate money out of politics, but you simply cannot legislate Corporate skill out of politics. Corporate skill comes from those who are skilled at making money in service of a profit motive. That Corporate skill is remarkably effective in its transition to a political environment. If you've spent a career selling product, finding ways to make unappealing things appealing, finding ways to cast yourself against rival corporations with similar products, and succeeding, chance are that the same tool set will be remarkably effective at selling a plan to the populace, or an ideology. 

We are not just consumers to the Corporate interests that sell us product. We are subject to a Government that runs itself more and more like a Corporate, a Government that is poised to pass legislation that converts many heretofore social programs into a kind of Corporate hegemony. Many - not all - of the citizens of the United States consider themselves active participants in a representative Democracy. In truth, we are more than just Citizens. We are Citizen Consumers. We are sold products, even those we do not want, that, with each passing year, increasingly resemble pure Corporate product. Many Representatives come to Congress (and to other branches of Government) deftly employing the same skill set that made them successful in business. There isn't much transition from a life of Corporate servitude to a life of ostensible 'public service.'  

Government as corporate, and citizens as consumers? Is this new? No, it is not new. It is as old as the Corporation itself. But it's getting worse. The distinction between Corporate practice and Government practice is getting blurrier by the year. Not only is Corporate money finding its way in, but the ardent, structured, slick savvy of Business Leadership is becoming more and common as a method of governance, to the detriment of us all.


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