Last week's Supreme Court decision that enables corporations to become full-throated participants in our political process by protecting their right to free speech raises a vexing philosophical question: If corporations are to get the same rights as people, why can't they vote?
For that matter, why not just nominate corporations for political office? Some might say that Goldman Sachs already runs the Treasury Department, and our prior administration might have been characterized as government of Halliburton, by Halliburton, for Halliburton.
The Supreme Court, in its wisdom, has uncovered one of the great civil rights issues of our time. Our interpretation of the Constitution has been excessively people-ist, denying corporations their full rights as citizens. Far from an example of judicial activism, the court's ruling was the long-overdue righting of historical wrongs, undoing the long oppression of the downtrodden corporation.
Then again, perhaps it was just a recognition of current reality.
In any case, it seems clear that those who think that only people are granted civil rights are guilty of a profound misreading of the Constitution. In fact, one should read the words "people" or "persons" in the Constitution to mean "people and/or any legally constituted corporate entity."
As a result, since passage of the 14th Amendment, black-owned enterprises are no longer counted as three-fifths of a full corporation, and the 19th Amendment allows women-owned companies to vote.
As for the Sixth Amendment, the right to a speedy trial, we probably should look into that for people before worrying about applying it to companies.
With or without the Supreme Court's intervention, we live in a world in which corporations exercise an incredible level of influence on our daily life and our fate as a nation. No institution on the planet has as much power to do good or ill as the business community.
This is a problem, but it's also an opportunity, because the vast majority of people who run businesses are good folks (full disclosure: I am one). Like the rest of humanity, with rare exceptions, they mean well and aim to do the best they can for their customers, the community and the planet.
At the same time, because of their power, we often let businesses, especially big businesses, off the hook too easily. While doctors take a vow to do no harm and lawyers vow to serve the law, we require no similar larger pledge from corporations. Many corporations do great and good work. Still, public opinion is influenced by the few who don't.
Unless and until corporations are held responsible for more than simply making a profit, their role as citizens must be seen as risky at best. How many votes do they get? How do we determine their citizenship? Where do we stick the "I Voted" button?
Back to my proposal to let corporations run for office. In that spirit, it is my high honor to nominate one of our newly enfranchised corporate citizens. A citizen that has shown, in this hour of need, that it is able to create jobs. That understands how to invest and grow and meet a payroll. That has the character to stand up for freedom and justice at home, in China, and around the world. And that has pledged, above all, "don't be evil." It is with great pleasure that I nominate this fine citizen, Google, for the presidency of the United States.