'We Can't Be Bought'

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OXFORD - Mama was right: Money can't buy everything.

A $222 million payroll, the fattest in Major League Baseball, couldn't buy the New York Yankees a perch in this year's World Series. They lost their league's championship series four to zip.

President Barack Obama won election last week despite an avalanche of money spent against him by wealthy corporate donors who remain anonymous thanks to the U.S. "Corporate" Supreme Court's 2010 Citizens United ruling. By mid-October, the so-called Super PACs created after Citizens United had raised an estimated $660 million. Such groups spent $65 million-plus on television ads in the presidential race, much of it negative and most of it against Obama, before October.

On paper, the president and Republican opponent Mitt Romney had comparable campaign chests--nearly $1 billion each; however, some 56 percent of Obama's individual donors contributed $200 or less. Only 23 percent of Romney's donors did. Romney billionaire supporters Sheldon and Miriam Adelson together gave $20 million to their candidate, nearly six times the size of Obama's largest individual contribution.

In the world of post-Citizens United politics, however, the cash story isn't on paper or in the files of the Federal Election Commission. It's back in the smoke-filled rooms where Antonin Scalia and his black-robed brethren believe it ought to be.

According to reporter Lee Fang in a recent edition of The Nation magazine, spending on federal elections by the pharmaceutical industry alone jumped from $200,000 in 2008 to nearly $10.4 million by the 2010 election cycle. Nearly every penny of it came from anonymous, unreported sources.

Big Money did get some results this past Election Day even though it failed to buy the White House or U.S. Senate seats sought by the likes of Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts or held by Jon Tester of Montana. In Mississippi, outside cash played a significant role in Josiah Coleman's victory over "Flip" Phillips in the state Supreme Court race in northern Mississippi. Only money and the negative ads it buys could explain why a political and judicial unknown like Coleman could beat a seasoned veteran and well-known attorney like Phillips.

What trumped money among the voters nationwide who cast their ballot for Obama was a sense that the president's mission indeed was unfinished and that he deserved another four years to complete it, that he inherited a mountainous mess from his Republican predecessor in 2008 and, over the next four years, faced a solid block of Republican obstructionists in Congress who believed Obama's defeat was more important than the welfare of the nation.

People across America got it that the chameleon-like Romney was the embodiment of what writer Gertrude Stein meant when she said, "There is no 'there' there." They got it that Obamacare is not the evil embodiment of Soviet-style health care that Republicans and their media water boys at Fox News and SuperTalk Mississippi Radio want us to believe.

Obamacare is needed, particularly in places like Mississippi and even if the white voters who carried the state for Romney refuse to accept that truth. Mississippi Republican Gov. Phil Bryant has said he opposes the expansion of Medicaid envisioned by Obamacare even though it would benefit more than 300,000 of the many needy in this poorest of all states and even add an estimated 9,000 new jobs.

Let's look at the South as well as Mississippi. Most of the states in the nation's poorest region--a region with a sordid history of voter suppression, racism and oligarchic rule--went solidly for Romney. It's one thing for bankers, oilmen and corporate magnates to vote for one of their ilk, but quite another to see the (overwhelmingly white) small-business people and blue-collar workers who did the same. Southerners are religious, and I suppose they buy what they hear from the pulpits and right-wing radio.

They need to remember what writer Thomas Frank once said: "Values may `matter most' to voters, but they always take a back seat to the needs of money once the elections are won."

Take Romney: He loved to talk about jobs and his business acumen during the campaign. But, the company he once led, Bain Capital, made a mint by buying and forcing other companies into bankruptcy in part so it could break prior promises of pension and benefits for workers. That's a fact, and that's why he preferred to allow General Motors to go into bankruptcy rather than endorse Obama's auto industry "bailout."

Immediately after last Tuesday's election, conservative pundits began chirping that the closeness of the vote means Obama has no mandate and that he will be forced to tilt rightward to convince Republicans finally to work with him. They talked as if they were still in their dream world and Republicans had actually won rather than received the repudiation they got.

What I saw were Americans standing up to Big Money and telling the world, "We can't be bought!" I only wish more white Mississippians and other southerners had said the same.

A veteran journalist who teaches at the University of Mississippi, Joe Atkins is author of "Covering for the Bosses: Labor and the Southern Press." His blog is laborsouth.blogspot.com. He can be reached at jbatkins@olemiss.edu.

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