Fear not, billionaire super PAC and 501(c)(4) funders. You may feel oppressed, you may fear the pitchforks and torches of the unwashed masses gathering at the gate of your manse, you may wake in the night in a cold sweat and bellow to your footman, “Dare I give Paul Ryan $10 million for his 2016 presidential race, lest some bearded plebian pen a vicious blog post aimed at my very heart?” If nothing else, Mitch McConnell has your back.
Today, McConnell takes to the pages of The Washington Post to defend the right of America’s millionaires and billionaires to pour their funds into campaigns while remaining anonymous. Those with long memories may recall that when the McCain-Feingold campaign finance law was being debated, McConnell and others said that the answer to the problem of money and politics was disclosure: Let the wealthy give as much as they want, but disclose contributions quickly, and with everything out in the open we could forestall the possibility of corruption. But with McCain-Feingold safely struck down and Citizens United inaugurating a new dawn of American liberty, disclosure is now McConnell’s enemy:
These tactics are straight out of the left-wing playbook: Expose your opponents to public view, release the liberal thugs and hope the public pressure or unwanted attention scares them from supporting causes you oppose. This is what the administration has done through federal agencies such as the FCC and the FEC, and it’s what proponents of the Disclose Act plan to do with donor and member lists.
The fearsome “liberal thugs” notwithstanding, this gets to the heart of democracy’s messiness. You can have a political system where everyone is unfailingly polite to each other, or you can have a system where people are free to express their views, but you can’t have both. By choosing to have a democracy, we make a series of bargains. We enshrine freedom of religion, even though we know that means people who believe in idiotic faiths (i.e. those different from our own) will be able to practice them, too. We create a system of due process, even though that means guilty people, even monstrous people, will be given fair trials with at least the possibility of getting off. And we defend freedom of speech, knowing that that means we’ll have to tolerate the voicing of abhorrent ideas, not to mention Two and a Half Men and the career of will.i.am.
And if our election rules will allow the Sheldon Adelsons of the world to put millions behind their favorite candidate—something which, by the way, residents of most of the world’s democracies find beyond absurd—it isn’t too much to ask that if you choose to use your enormous wealth to attempt to shift the outcome of elections, if nothing else the public should know who you are. That way we’ll know whom our elected officials are indebted to. And yes, there is a price to pay for that participation: people might say you’re wrong, or even call you a jerk. Money is speech, you say? Well freedom of speech means the right to say whatever you want, not the right to be immune from criticism. It’s amazing how often conservatives can’t see the difference.
By: Paul Waldman, Contributing Editor, The American Prospect, May 23, 2013
We know American politics are dysfunctional. But after a week of scandal obsession during which the nation’s capital and the media virtually ignored the problems most voters care about — jobs, incomes, growth, opportunity, education — it’s worth asking if there is something especially flawed about our democracy.
Our circumstances certainly have their own particular disabilities: a radicalization of conservative politics, over-the-top mistrust of President Obama on the right, high-tech gerrymandering in the House and a Senate snarled by non-constitutional super-majority requirements.
Still, while it may not be much of a comfort, the democratic distemper is not a peculiarly American phenomenon. Across most of the democratic world, there is an impatience bordering on exhaustion with electoral systems and political classes.
Citizen dissatisfaction is hardly surprising in the wake of a deeply damaging economic downturn. That doesn’t make the challenge any less daunting. We should consider whether democracy itself is in danger of being discredited. Politicians might usefully disentangle themselves from their day-to-day power struggles long enough to take seriously their responsibility to a noble idea and the systems that undergird it.
It’s not hard to discover that this conundrum is global and not just our own. “Has democracy had its day?” is the headline on Columbia University historian Mark Mazower’s cover story in the May issue of Prospect, a British magazine. The subhead: “Electoral politics has had a bad decade.”
Earlier this month, the Transatlantic Academy, a global partnership of think tanks led by the German Marshall Fund of the United States, issued “The Democratic Disconnect,” a sober report by a group of distinguished academics.
“Democracy is in trouble,” the report begins. “The collective engagement of a concerned citizenry for the public good — the bedrock of a healthy democracy — is eroding. Democratic governments often seem crippled in their capacity to deliver what their people want and need. They are neither as responsive nor as accountable as they need to be in an era of hard choices and rising nondemocratic powers. There is widespread concern about apparent declining rates of voter participation and about the alienation or disaffection of citizens from the political process.”
In Europe, the authors noted, “there is fear that the distance between ordinary citizens and the politicians and bureaucrats in Brussels compromises democratic legitimacy.” In the United States, “lamentations about gridlock and polarization are the order of the day.” Even our peaceable neighbor Canada is not immune. “Canadians,” they write, “worry about the tendency of their political system to place largely unaccountable power in the hands of the prime minister.”
The report does include some useful suggestions for reviving the democratic spirit and improving democratic practice. But it is not alarmist to be uneasy about democracy’s prospects. Ernst Hillebrand, the head of international policy analysis for the Friedrich Ebert Foundation, the German Social Democratic Party’s think tank, describes a chilling finding in a 2009 survey by the German polling firm Forsa: “that zero percent — yes, zero percent — of workers in Germany believe they can have a significant impact on how policy in Germany is shaped via the ballot box.”
And bear in mind that a poll released last week by the Pew Global Attitudes Project found that Germans are far more satisfied with their country’s situation than are their European neighbors.
In a conversation last week during a visit to Washington, Hillebrand pointed to two streams of discontent the world’s democracies face. One is material. The other might be called spiritual.
On the one side, large numbers of lower-middle-class and working-class voters have seen their economic standing deteriorate over two or three decades. There has been a substantial transfer of wealth and income from labor — which is how most people pay their way — to capital. Productivity gains no longer lead to wage gains. This builds justified frustration.
At the same time, he said, many citizens, especially the young, have enhanced expectations for “participation, self-realization and control over their lives.” They do not see current electoral arrangements in democracies giving them much chance to achieve any of these goals.
Since World War II, bouts of economic growth have allowed democracies to buy their way out of trouble. One can hope this will happen again — and soon. In the meantime, politicians might contemplate their obligations to stewardship of the democratic ideal. They could begin by pondering what an unemployed 28-year-old makes of a ruling elite that expends so much energy feuding over how bureaucrats rewrote a set of talking points.
By: E. J. Dionne, Jr., Opinion Writer, The Washington Post, May 19, 2013
If corporations are people, as the Supreme Court pretends, they certainly are loudmouths, constantly telling us how great they are and spreading their names everywhere.
Amazingly, though, these corporate creatures have suddenly turned demure, insisting that they don’t want to draw any attention to themselves. That’s because, in this case, corporations are not selling, they’re buying — specifically, trying to buy public office for their pet political candidates by funneling millions of corporate dollars through such front groups as the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. In turn, the fronts use the money to air nasty attack ads that smear the opponents of the pro-corporate candidates.
Why do corporations need a middleman? Because the ads are so partisan and vicious that they would appall and anger millions of customers, employees and shareholders of the corporation. So, rather than besmirch their own names, the corporate powers have meekly retreated behind the skirts of Republican political outfits like the Chamber.
But don’t front groups have to report (at least to election authorities) who’s really behind their ads, so voters can make informed decisions? No. Thanks to the Supreme Court’s infamous Citizen United edict in 2010, such groups can now pour unlimited sums of corporate cash into elections without ever disclosing the names of their funders. This “dark money” channel has essentially established secret political campaigning in America.
That’s why shareholders and other democracy advocates are asking the Securities and Exchange Commission to rule that the corporate giants it regulates must reveal to shareholders all political donations their executives make with corporate funds. After all, the millions of dollars the executives are using to play politics don’t belong to them — it is shareholder money. And by no means do shareholders march in lockstep on which political candidates to support or oppose.
Hide and seek can be a fun game for kids, but it’s infuriating when CEOs play it in our elections. Last year, corporate interests sought to elect their candidates by hiding much of their politicking not only from company owners but also from voters. In all, $352 million in “dark money” poured into our 2012 elections, the bulk of it from corporations that covertly pumped it into secretive trade associations and such scams as “social welfare charities,” run by the likes of Karl Rove and the Koch brothers.
Since underhanded, anonymous electioneering puts a fatal curse on democracy, the SEC should at least compel corporate managers to tell their owners — i.e., the shareholders — how and on whom their money is being gambled in political races. It’s a simple reform, but — oh, lordy — what a fury it has caused among the political players.
A rare joint letter from the U.S. Chamber, Business Roundtable and National Association of Manufacturers has been sent to the CEOs of the 200 largest corporations in our country, rallying them to the barricades in a frenetic lobbying effort to stop this outbreak of honest, democratic disclosure.
House Republicans are even going to the extreme of trying to make it illegal for the SEC to let shareholders (and the voting public) know which campaigns are being backed by cash from which corporations. Hyperventilating, these powerful scaredycats claim to be intimidated by the very suggestion that they tell the people what they’re doing in public elections.
Their panic over having a little sunlight shine into their deepest bunker reveals just how destructive they intend dark money to be for our democracy. Ironically, the Supreme Court’s chief assumption in allowing unlimited corporate cash into the democratic process was that shareholders would be informed and involved, and provide public accountability for their companies’ political spending.
Even Justice Antonin Scalia, long a cheerleader for corporate politicking, is no fan of hiding it from the electorate: “Requiring people to stand up in public for their political acts fosters civic courage,” he has written, adding that a campaign “hidden from public scrutiny” is anathema to self-governance. He also deems it cowardly: “This does not resemble the Home of the Brave,” he pointedly noted.
By: Jim Hightower, The National Memo, May 8, 2013
“None Dare Call It Treason”: Combining Extremist Language About Opponents With Violent Language About Political Options
As Brother Benen notes this morning, the National Rifle Association’s new president, James Porter of Birmingham, Alabama, likes to talk about the importance of the Second Amendment as a way to ensure the American people will be able to “resist tyranny”–i.e., shoot and kill law enforcement officers, members of the U.S. armed services, and presumably anyone else (you know, like their neighbors) who might disagree with their definition of their essential “liberties”–at some undefined point in the future. And while I’ve not yet seen evidence of him calling Barack Obama a “tyrant” (though he has called him a “fake president”) I’d be shocked if it doesn’t exist.
So let’s put it this way: Porter seems to be highly representative of the amazingly common type of contemporary “conservatives” who combine extremist language about their political opponents with violent language about their political options–who in effect point their guns at “liberals” while making it known they and they alone will decide what “liberties” to surrender, democracy or laws be damned.
It makes it worse that Porter is one of the old boys who thinks it ha-larious to refer to the American Civil War as the “war of northern aggression” (as “we” put it “down south,” he said to a New York crowd recently). Since that war, whatever else it represented, was without question an armed revolution against the government of the United States, you have to wonder if the Confederacy–or as it was commonly referred to in the north for many decades, “the Rebellion”–is Porter’s model for defense of oneself against “tyranny” (you may recall that John Wilkes Booth shouted “Sic semper tyrannus“–”thus always to tyrants”) after shooting Lincoln.
Am I perhaps being unfair to these people in suggesting that they are behaving like America-haters and are flirting with treason? I don’t think so. Porter and those like him could dispel this sort of suspicion instantly, any time they wanted, by just saying: “Let’s be clear: the kind of ‘tyranny’ we are arming ourselves to forestall is something entirely different from anything Americans have experienced since we won our independence–a regime engaged in the active suppression of any sort of dissent, and the closure of any peaceful means for the redress of grievances. We’re not talking about the current administration, or either major political party, as presently representing a threat of tyranny.”
I’m not holding my breath for any statements like that to emerge from the NRA, or indeed, from the contemporary conservative movement. It’s ironic that people who almost certainly think of themselves as patriots–perhaps as super-patriots–are deliberately courting the impression that loyalty to their country is strictly contingent on the maintenance of laws and policies they favor, to be achieved if not by ballots then by bullets. Republican politicians should be repudiating such people instead of celebrating them, accepting their money and support, and even adopting their seditious rhetoric.
By: Ed Kilgore, Contributing Writer, Washington Monthly Political Animal, May 6, 2013
Vice President Joe Biden is right: There should be two senators from the District of Columbia, not to mention at least one voting member of the U.S. House. Americans living in the U.S. capital, in other words, should have the basic rights of citizenship that they are currently denied.
The fact that more than 630,000 U.S. citizens living in the United States of America are not represented in Congress is an outrage and an insult to the most fundamental right due to all American citizens: representation in government. Remember the American Revolution (and the original tea party)? They were complaining about taxation without representation. More than two centuries later those residing in what should be the living symbol of democratic ideals of representative government are experiencing taxation without representation.
As a point of comparison, imagine the outrage if Boston (with an estimated 2011 population of more than 625,000) was removed from the congressional map; or Seattle (more than 620,000 as of 2011); or Milwaukee (597,000 in 2011); Las Vegas (589,000 in 2011); or Atlanta (432,000 in 2011).
This is a mostly but not entirely partisan issue, though it is often seen through that rather puerile lens. It’s gotten support from prominent conservatives like Ken Starr and Viet Dinh. And at least partial restoration of these basic American rights nearly occurred four years ago before it was derailed by – wait for it – a squabble over gun rights.
Parting thought: For the first 10 years of the District of Columbia’s existence, before it became the seat of the federal government in 1800, D.C. citizens had congressional representation. When Maryland and Virginia ceded the land to the government for the creation of the District, those living there were still allowed to vote in their old states’ congressional and legislative races. Once the federal government moved to D.C., those basic rights were revoked. That revocation is a festering wound on the country’s democratic spirit.
Congress gaveth and then tooketh away … it’s time it giveth back.
By: Robert Schlesinger, U. S. News and World Report, May 3, 2013