Fasten your seat belt. The Supreme Court's horrendous decision lifting restrictions on corporate campaign spending sets the stage for an escalation of rough and tumble politics the likes of which we haven't seen since the 19th century.
Whatever chance President Barack Obama had of reining in the influence of lobbyists and influence peddlers has vanished. The big money will rush into the electoral cycle like a hurricane, adding to the storm force political winds already unleashed by the vociferous right-wing populists known the tea party movement and increasingly restive liberals disappointed by Obama's failure to deliver on his promises.
How this mess will play out is anybody's guess—but it won't be good. The court's ruling is yet another reminder of the enduring power of the rightward shift that began in reaction to the civil rights movement, gained momentum under Ronald Reagan and carried through all the way to Republican Scott Brown's shocking capture of the Massachusetts Senate seat that Ted Kennedy held for 46 years.
The five radical jurists who delivered this week's calamitous ruling are usually called conservatives, but their decisions make a mockery of the word. They are willing—and, in the apparent case of Chief Justice John Roberts, eager-to overturn long-established campaign finance law through a legal sleight of hand that equates the free speech rights of individual citizens with those of corporations. Even more astonishing, the majority held that if corporations dump millions and millions of dollars into a campaign it will "not give rise to corruption or the appearance of corruption." Who's kidding who?
Once this savage genie is out of the bottle, it will be almost impossible to put back in. Even if Congress beefs up the public campaign system and adds enough sweeteners to entice candidates to accept its rules and restrictions, corporate fat cats will still be free to mount massive independent advertising offensives in any race they choose to intervene in, right up until Election Day. One way of restraining such attempts to buy elections might be requiring corporate managers to get an OK from their shareholders before they are allowed to spend company funds on politics. Good luck with that.
There really is only one solution to this problem: to get this utterly wrong-headed and dangerous decision overturned and to break the power of the five-member bloc that birthed it. That means keeping Obama, or someone who agrees with his views on this issue, in power long enough to appoint justices to the high court who see this issue clearly and correctly—which could take a long time because these backward-looking enemies of true democracy are relatively young. And that, in turn, means reviving and maintaining a disciplined progressive mass movement whose goal is not only to win elections, but also to hold politicians accountable after they are elected. If that doesn't happen, the term "corporate America" will take on a new and ominous meaning: They'll own the place.
Jack White is a regular contributor to The Root.
is a former columnist for TIME magazine and a regular contributor to The Root.