Are too many Democratic voters sleepwalking away from our democracy this election cycle, not nearly outraged enough about Big Money’s undue influence and Republican state legislatures changing the voting rules?
It seems so.
A Gallup poll released this week found that: “Democrats are significantly less likely now (39 percent) than they were in the summers of 2004 and 2008 to say they are ‘more enthusiastic about voting than usual’ in the coming presidential election.” Republicans are more enthusiastic than they were before the last election.
Some of that may be the effect of having a Democratic president in office; it’s sometimes easier to marshal anger against an incumbent than excitement for him. Whatever the reason, this lack of enthusiasm at this critical juncture in the election is disturbing for Democrats.
First, there’s the specter of the oligarchy lingering over this election, which disproportionately benefits Republicans. According to a report by Senator Bernard Sanders of Vermont, “So far this year, 26 billionaires have donated more than $61 million to super PACs, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. And that’s only what has been publicly disclosed.” That didn’t include “about $100 million that Sheldon Adelson has said that he is willing to spend to defeat President Obama; or the $400 million that the Koch brothers have pledged to spend during the 2012 election season.”
During a Senate Judiciary subcommittee hearing on Tuesday, Sanders put it this way: “What the Supreme Court did in Citizens United is to say to these same billionaires and the corporations they control: ‘You own and control the economy; you own Wall Street; you own the coal companies; you own the oil companies. Now, for a very small percentage of your wealth, we’re going to give you the opportunity to own the United States government.’ ”
Then, of course, there’s the widespread voter suppression mostly enacted by Republican-led legislatures.
According to the Brennan Center for Justice at the New York University School of Law, at least 180 restrictive voting bills were introduced since the beginning of 2011 in 41 states, and “16 states have passed restrictive voting laws that have the potential to impact the 2012 election” because they “account for 214 electoral votes, or nearly 79 percent of the total needed to win the presidency.”
A provision most likely to disenfranchise voters is a requirement that people show photo identification to vote. Millions of Americans don’t have these forms of ID, and many can’t easily obtain them, even when states say they’ll offer them free, because getting the documentation to obtain the “free” ID takes time and money.
This is a solution in search of a problem. The in-person voter ID requirements only prevent someone from impersonating another voter at the polls, an occurrence that the Brennan Center points out is “more rare than being struck by lightning.”
The voting rights advocates I’ve talked to don’t resist all ID requirements (though they don’t say they are all necessary, either). They simply say that multiple forms of identification like student ID and Social Security cards should also be accepted, and that alternate ways for people without IDs to vote should be included. Many of these laws don’t allow for such flexibility.
Make no mistake about it, these requirements are not about the integrity of the vote but rather the disenfranchisement of voters. This is about tilting the table so that more of the marbles roll to the Republican corner.
Look at it this way: We have been moving toward wider voter participation for a century. States began to issue driver’s licenses more than a century ago and began to include photos on those licenses decades ago. Yet, as the Brennan Center points out, “prior to the 2006 election, no state required its voters to show government-issued photo ID at the polls (or elsewhere) in order to vote.”
Furthermore, most voter laws have emerged in the last two years. What is the difference between previous decades and today? The election of Barack Obama. It is no coincidence that some of the people least likely to have proper IDs to vote are the ones that generally vote Democratic and were strong supporters of Obama last election: young people, the poor and minorities.
Republicans are leveraging the deep pockets of anti-Obama billionaires and sinister voter suppression tactics that harken back to Jim Crow to wrest power from the hands of docile Democrats.
There is little likely to be done about the Big Money before the election, and, although some of the voter suppression laws are being challenged in court, the outcome of those cases is uncertain.
These elements are not within voters’ control, but two things are: energy and alertness.
If Democrats don’t wake up soon, this election might not just be won or lost, it could be bought or stolen.
By: Charles M. Blow, )p-Ed Columnist, The New York Times, July 27, 2012
The US Supreme Court may still retain some familiarity with the Constitution when it comes to deciding the nuances of cases involving immigration policy and lifetime incarceration. But when it comes to handing off control of American democracy to corporations, the Court continues to reject the intents of the founders and more than a century of case law to assure that CEOs are in charge.
Make no mistake, this is not a “free speech” or “freedom of association” stance by the Court’s Republican majority. That majority is narrowing the range of debate. It is picking winners. To turn a phrase from the old union song, this Court majority has decided which side it is on.
The same Court that in January 2010 ruled with the Citizens United decision that corporations can spend freely in federal elections—enjoying the same avenues of expression as human beings—on Monday ruled that states no longer have the ability to guard against what historically has been seen as political corruption and the buying of elections.
The court’s 5–4 decision in the Montana case of American Tradition Partnership v. Bullock significantly expands the scope and reach of the Citizens United ruling by striking down state limits on corporate spending in state and local elections. “The question presented in this case is whether the holding of Citizens United applies to the Montana state law,” the majority wrote. “There can be no serious doubt that it does.”
Translation: if Exxon Mobil wants to spend $10 million to support a favored candidate in a state legislative or city council race that might decide whether the corporation is regulated, or whether it gets new drilling rights, it can. But why stop at $10 million? If it costs $100 million to shout down the opposition, the Court says that is fine. If if costs $1 billion, that’s fine, too.
And what of the opposition. Can groups that represent the public interest push back? Can labor unions take a stand in favor of taxing corporations like Exxon Mobil?
Not with the same freedom or flexibility that they had from the 1930s until this year. Last Thursday, the Court erected elaborate new barriers to participation in elections by public-sector unions—requiring that they get affirmative approval from members before making special dues assessments to fund campaigns countering corporations.
How might it work? If Walmart wanted to support candidates who promised to eliminate all taxes for Walmart, the corporation could spend unlimited amounts of money. It would not need to gain stockholder approval. It can just go for it.
But if AFSCME wants to counter Walmart argument, saying that eliminating taxes on out-of-state retailers will save consumers very little but will ultimate undermine funding for schools and public services, the union will have to go through the laborious process of gaining permission from tens of thousands, perhaps hundreds of thousands of members. And even then, it will face additional reporting and structural barriers imposed by the Court.
Campaign finance reformers had held out some hope that states might be able to apply some restrictions on corporate spending, as Montana did with its 100-year-old law barring direct corporate contributions to political parties and candidates. That law, developed to control against the outright buying of elections by “copper kings” and “robber barons,” was repeatedly upheld. Until now.
Now, says Marc Elias, one of the nation’s top experts in election law, “To the extent that there was any doubt from the original Citizens United decision [that it] broadly applies to state and local laws, that doubt is now gone.… To whatever extent that door was open a crack, that door is now closed.”
There may still be a few legislative avenues left for countering the “money power” of the new “copper kings” and “robber barons.” But they are rapidly being closed off by a partisan high court majority.
That’s why US Senator Bernie Sanders, the Vermont independent who has emerged as a leading proponent of moves to amend the US Constitution to restore the rule of law in elections, says: “The U.S. Supreme Court’s absurd 5-4 ruling two years ago in Citizens United was a major blow to American democratic traditions. Sadly, despite all of the evidence that Americans see every day, the court continues to believe that its decision makes sense.”
When billionaires can “spend hundreds of millions of dollars to buy this election for candidates who support the super-wealthy,” argues Sanders, “this is not democracy. This is plutocracy. And that is why we must overturn Citizens United if we are serious about maintaining the foundations of American democracy.”
Sanders says he will step up his efforts to enact a constitutional amendment to overturn not just the Citizens United ruling but the democratically disastrous rulings that extend from it.
“In his famous speech at Gettysburg during the Civil War, Abraham Lincoln talked about America as a country ‘of the people, by the people and for the people.’ Today, as a result of the Supreme Court’s refusal to reconsider its decision in Citizens United, we are rapidly moving toward a nation of the super-rich, by the super-rich and for the super-rich,” explains Sanders. “That is not what America is supposed to be about. This Supreme Court decision must be overturned.”
By: John Nichols, The Nation, June 25, 2012
“Path To Salvation Doesn’t Pass Through Barbarity”: Bernie Sanders Brings The Anti-Austerity Fight to America
Bernie Sanders is as focused as any member of Congress could be on the struggles of the state he represents, and more generally on the challenges facing working people across the United States.
But that does not mean that the independent senator from Vermont fails to recognize when things are kicking up around the world—especially when those developments have meaning for the fights he is waging in Washington.
So it should come as little surprise that the news from Europe—of a democratic rejection of failed austerity policies—has caught his imagination.
Sanders knows that austerity is not just a European crisis. It threatens America as well. And he is highlighting what his Senate website recognizes as: “An Austerity Backlash.”
The senator is right to be excited that citizens are pushing back.
Sanders says Europe’s voters are sending a message that America’s voters can and should echo: the time has come to reject austerity measures that have unfairly burdened working families, while redistributing ever more wealth upward to millionaires and billionaires.
France on Sunday elected a new president, Socialist François Hollande, who campaigned on a promise to tax the very wealthy in order to free up funds for investment in job creation, education and social services.
Hollande rejects the attacks on unions and cuts to education and public services that have stalled European economies, promising that he will not casually continue the job-killing austerity policies foisted on Europe by bureaucrats and bankers.
There is, Hollande says, “hope that at last austerity is no longer inevitable.”
In Greece, the leader of the Syriza, the radical coalition that as a result of Sunday’s election results has leapt from the sidelines of politics to status as the nation’s second-largest party, is even more blunt in his rejection of austerity.
“We believe the path of salvation doesn’t pass through barbarity of austerity measures,” argues Syriza’s Alexis Tsipras.
Hollande and Tsipras are different players, with different styles and different policies.
Yet, their dramatic shows of strength in Sunday’s voting, along with similarly strong results for critics of austerity running in German state elections and Italian local elections, suggests that voters are fed up with the austerity fantasy that says the best response to tough times is a combination of tax cuts for the rich and pay and benefits for the workers.
What should Americans make of the results?
Sanders knows. The independent senator from Vermont, who has led the fight to preserve education, healthcare and social services funding in the face of proposals by House Budget Committee Chair Paul Ryan and his fellow proponents of an American austerity agenda, says the message sent by European voters can and should be echoed by American voters.
Yes, of course, the accent will be different, as will specific concerns and proposals. America is different from Germany, Greece and France.
But the threat posed by failed and dysfunctional policies is the same.
“In the United States and around the world, the middle class is in steep decline while the wealthy and large corporations are doing phenomenally well,” says Sanders. “The message sent by voters in France and other European countries, which I believe will be echoed here in the United States, is that the wealthy and large corporations are going to have to experience some austerity also and that that burden cannot solely fall on working families.”
Sanders is making the connections, recognizing the importance of a democratic push-back against policies that are as cruel as they are economically unsound.
“In the United States, where corporate profits are soaring and the gap between the rich and everybody else is growing wider, we must end corporate tax loopholes and start making the wealthy pay their fair share of taxes,” the senator explains. “At the same time, we must protect Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid. Austerity, yes, but for millionaires and billionaires, not the working families of this country.”
Sander is, of course, correct.
Let’s just hope that his message is echoed by other leaders in the United States.
Just as austerity is wrong for Europe, it’s wrong for the United States.
By: John Nichols, The Nation, May 7, 2012