During Mitt Romney’s speech to Iowans in mid-August, an audience member called out “tax corporations.” The former Massachusetts governor sparked controversy with his response: “Corporations are people, my friend.”
Romney’s statement should have engendered outrage in America. It equated large financial investments and betting schemes worth millions to the income of the average American — who is probably struggling to find decent work. The statement was rendered controversial in the mass media, but it demands a larger critique and raises the question of why Americans aren’t marching together in protest.
Sadly, the fight against corporations is listless. The reality is, according to several legal and political loopholes, that U.S. corporations are in fact considered people. The Supreme Court case Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission overturned years of judicial precedence with its ruling that made corporations immune from limitations on campaign spending.
If we legally permit corporations to fund political campaigns, it isn’t really the people who elect leaders. And based on the realities of our political systems, it isn’t so outrageous for Romney to use the words “corporation” and “people” interchangeably.
The pervasive authority of corporate interest gives Americans a false sense of choice when politics collide with big business: You can either re-elect a president whose top donors include oil companies and Goldman Sachs, or select a Tea Party patriot whose primary donors are corporations with similar interests.
If we do not critique the similar ways in which private entities fund Democrats and Republicans, then we accept and normalize the extent to which the upper echelon of business and society dictate our country’s decisions.
By adhereing to “corporate rights,” socio-economic hierarchies continue to grow. According to CNN Money, nearly two-thirds of corporations pay no federal income taxes. And if the corporations’ free ride isn’t enough, the Congressional Budget Office found loss in revenue from tax cuts for the wealthy. Yet those with the most refuse to help those with the least.
To eradicate inequalities we have to recognize that systematic problems mask these unfair distributions of wealth and create political clout. Until we blend words like “democracy,” “equality” and “opportunity” into the mainstream lexicon, Americans will continue to wallow in economic and social misery.
Chris Zivalich is a senior journalism major. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.