The campaign platform adopted by the Republican party this week became instantly notorious for its plunge to the right, deleting all memory of moderation in previous years. The document might be even more remarkable, however, for its tone of utter defiance.
No one expected the party to soften its support for gun rights, even after the Aurora shooting. But despite the national horror at the deaths of 12 people and the injuries to 58 others, Republicans deliberately added a plank to this year’s platform intended to inflame the gun debate.
As the Associated Press reports, the platform contains this new line: “We oppose legislation that is intended to restrict our Second Amendment rights by limiting the capacity of clips or magazines.” High-capacity magazines, which allow attackers to shoot more people quickly, without reloading, were used in both in Aurora and in the Tucson shooting that injured the former congresswoman Gabby Giffords and killed six. There is no Second Amendment right to shoot without reloading, and even many supporters of the right to bear arms oppose the easy availability of big clips, which used to be illegal.
The platform also supports the “stand your ground” laws that played a role in the shooting of an unarmed black teenager in Florida earlier this year. Where the 2008 platform said that citizens have the right to a gun at home for self-defense, the new one adds a line supporting “the fundamental right to self-defense wherever a law-abiding citizen has a legal right to be.”
On another contentious issue, the platform reverses course on disclosure of political donors, sticking a thumb in the eye of previous generations of Republicans who believed that full disclosure was the antidote to unlimited contributions. As Paul Blumenthal of the Huffington Post reported today, earlier platforms going back to 1996 supported full disclosure, but the current version says exactly the opposite.
“We oppose any restrictions or conditions that would discourage Americans from exercising their constitutional right to enter the political fray or limit their commitment to their ideals,” the document says, explaining why it opposes passage of the Disclose Act, which would end the use of secret donations fueling so many of this year’s attack ads.
After the Citizens United decision, Republicans realized they would gain a huge financial advantage if corporations and executives were allowed to give unlimited sums without fear of public embarrassment. Led by Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, they constructed a First-Amendment theory to fit this benefit, saying that secrecy protects free speech (for corporations) without worry of harassment.
Now the party has enshrined that political greed and expediency in its fundamental declaration of principles. Although “principles” seems too high-minded a word for these statements of contempt for the mainstream.
By: David Firestone, The New York Times Opinion Pages, August 30, 2012
Yesterday, Senate Republicans voted, for a second time in two days, to continue their filibuster of the DISCLOSE Act, a bill that would simply require outside groups spending money on elections to tell the public where their money comes from. At the same time, not surprisingly, Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney is in hot water for failing to disclose more than the minimum of personal tax returns and lying about his history at the company that made his fortune — all while we know that a portion of his wealth was hidden in infamously secretive Swiss bank accounts.
Senate Republicans and Romney are spending a lot of time and energy this week to keep their financial histories secret. It’s only natural to ask: What do they have to hide?
You would think the DISCLOSE Act would be an easy bill to pass. In fact, many Republican Senators were “for it before they were against it“. What it does is simple: it requires any organization — corporation, union, super PAC or non-profit — that spends money influencing elections to report within a day any election-related expenditure of $10,000 or more. It also requires that these organizations make public the names of the individuals and corporations contributing $10,000 or more to fund this election spending. In short, all those front groups that have been pouring money into elections since Citizens United will have to disclose who their major donors are. Voters would know who was trying to tell them what.
This is not a partisan issue. Disclosure requirements, like those in the DISCLOSE Act, were endorsed as constitutional by the Supreme Court majority that handed down Citizens United. Even the conservative justices who saw no problem with more money in politics assumed that disclosure would be a check on the integrity of the election process.
But Republicans in Congress have been fighting tooth and nail to keep DISCLOSE from the books. Why? The fact that they might not want to publicize the motives of some of these super donors, and the fact that the new flood of outside political spending overwhelmingly favors conservatives, might have something to do with it.
Meanwhile, Mitt Romney is having disclosure problems of his own. It’s standard practice for presidential candidates to release their past tax returns — President Obama has made public his returns from the past dozen years. Even Romney called on his gubernatorial opponents in Massachusetts to release their returns. (In a classic Romney flip-flop, when he was later asked to hold himself to the same standard, he said his original demands had been wrong).
The only conclusion to draw from Romney’s tax-return reticence is that there’s something he doesn’t want us to see. The recent revelations that Romney has told conflicting stories about when he left his job at Bain Capital might give us a taste of what he’s kept hidden. And hiding part of his fortune in tax havens like the Cayman Islands and in Swiss bank accounts that have for centuries epitomized financial secrecy doesn’t help.
The issue of financial disclosure isn’t a sideshow to this election — it’s a big part of what this election is about. How can we trust senators who spend more time covering up the sources of election spending on their behalf than they do legislating? How can we trust a candidate who won’t be open and honest with voters about the source of his personal fortune and the taxes he has paid?
Full disclosure should be a no-brainer in honest politics. The public knows that. Even the Supreme Court knows that. The only people who seem to be missing the message are the politicians who are desperately trying to win elections without telling voters who might be buying them.
By: Michael B. Keegan, The Blog, The Huffington Post, July 18, 2012
Who’s buying our democracy? Wall Street financiers, the Koch brothers, and casino magnates Sheldon Adelson and Steve Wynn.
And they’re doing much of it in secret.
It’s a perfect storm:
The greatest concentration of wealth in more than a century — courtesy “trickle-down” economics, Reagan and Bush tax cuts, and the demise of organized labor.
Unlimited political contributions — courtesy of Republican-appointed Justices Roberts, Scalia, Alito, Thomas, and Kennedy, in one of the dumbest decisions in Supreme Court history, “Citizens United vs. Federal Election Commission,” along with lower-court rulings that have expanded it.
Complete secrecy about who’s contributing how much to whom — courtesy of a loophole in the tax laws that allows so-called non-profit “social welfare” organizations to accept the unlimited contributions for hard-hitting political ads.
Put them all together and our democracy is being sold down the drain.
With a more equitable and traditional distribution of wealth, far more Americans would have a fair chance of influencing politics. As the great jurist Louis Brandeis once said, “we can have a democracy or we can have great wealth in the hands of a comparative few, but we cannot have both.”
Alternatively, inequality wouldn’t be as much of a problem if we had strict laws limiting political spending or, at the very least, disclosing who was contributing what.
But we have an almost unprecedented concentration of wealth and unlimited political spending and secrecy.
I’m not letting Democrats off the hook. Democratic candidates are still too dependent on Wall Street casino moguls and real casino magnates (Steve Wynn has been a major contributor to Harry Reid, for example). George Soros and a few others have poured big bucks into Democratic coffers. So have a handful of trade unions.
But make no mistake. Compared to what the GOP is doing this year, Democrats are conducting a high-school bake sale. The mega-selling of American democracy is a Republican invention, and Romney and the GOP are its major beneficiaries.
And the losers aren’t just Democrats. They’re the American people.
You need to make a ruckus. Don’t fall into the seductive trap of cynicism. That’s what the sellers of American democracy are counting on. If you give up on our system of government, they win everything.
This coming Monday, for example, the Senate has scheduled a cloture vote on the DISCLOSE ACT, which would at least require that outfits like the Chamber of Commerce and Karl Rove’s “Crossroads GPS” disclose who’s contributing what. Contact your senators, and have your friends and relatives in other states — especially those with Republican senators (who have been united in their opposition to disclosure) — contact theirs. If the DISCLOSE ACT is voted down, hold accountable those senators (and, when and if it gets to the House, those House members) who are selling out our democracy for the sake of their own personal ambitions.
By: Robert Reich, The Robert Reich Blog, July 13, 2012
A newspaper will make you sign your name to a letter-to-the-editor so that you take ownership of the content and consequences of your 250-word rant against the injustices of the age. But when billionaire oil and gas tycoons sign their names to $250 million campaign donations, you and I have no right to know what favors their favoritism might have bought, or even who they are.
Or so says Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell. In a recent Washington Post op-ed warning of “the dangers disclosure can pose to free speech,” McConnell turns democracy on its head when he writes of the “alarming harassment and intimidation” being waged by the Obama administration in its attempt “to single out its critics” by using the FCC, IRS, SEC and even the Department of Health and Human Services as partisan enforcers to “silence” those who support causes and positions different from its own.
Gracious. You’d think from the frenzied tone of McConnell’s urgent admonition that Democrats had proposed using the NSA to spy on Republicans without FISA Court warrants, or to rendition them off to some secret prison where Moveon.org operatives would water-board Republicans in violation of the Geneva Convention into telling all they knew about Karl Rove’s evil designs over at Crossroads GPS. You’d never suspect from what McConnell has to say that what Democratic proponents of a federal Disclose Act really have in mind is the seditious idea that million-dollar campaign donors should be publicly accountable just like everyone else.
It’s true, concedes McConnell, just as Post columnist Ruth Marcus says, that he introduced a constitutional amendment in 1987 to put spending limits on self-funded millionaires. But that was then and this is now and, besides, everyone is entitled to make a mistake.
The punitive boycotts of their businesses that reactionary billionaires might face if the public caught wind they were bankrolling unpopular politicians or causes is no different, argues McConnell (ludicrously) from the chilling effect on political activity that groups like the NAACP endured during the Jim Crow 1950s, when the State of Alabama demanded the civil rights group make public its membership list, presumably so that local Ku Klux Klansmen could more easily target NAACP members for nailing to some tree.
McConnell’s backward ideas about free speech are no less radical than the peculiar ideas he has about governing, learned no doubt as a young lad sitting at the knees of those white-suited Kentucky Colonels while they sipped their bourbons and mint juleps and sneered at the unwashed masses as they rocked on their plantation’s front porches.
For we already know that McConnell’s response to the Republican Party’s loss of the White House and its shrinkage in the US Senate to just 40 members was to use the GOP’s dwindling minority to vacate the verdict of two national elections by doing everything in their power to prevent the Democrat’s duly-elected national majority from governing.
As the New York Times reported in 2010, even before President Obama took office, McConnell had a strategy for his party: “Use his extensive knowledge of Senate procedure to slow things down, take advantage of the difficulties Democrats would have in governing and deny Democrats any Republican support on big legislation.”
On nearly every major issue, McConnell used the Senate filibuster to essentially institutionalize minority rule by holding Republican defections “to somewhere between minimal and nonexistent,” says the Times. This allowed McConnell “to slow the Democratic agenda if not defeat aspects of it.”
When Democrats refused to capitulate to Republican obstructionism, McConnell accused them of “being inflexible,” says the Times. And when Democrats cleverly found ways around McConnell’s procedural obstacles he accused them of “arrogantly circumventing the American people.”
That is what McConnell did when President Obama broke a GOP blockade and appointed a director of the Consumer Financial Protection Board Republicans were determined to keep vacant after being unable to (democratically) prevent the agency from being created in the first place.
According to McConnell’s imperious presumptions, the Republican minority has the right to unilaterally overrule the decision of the duly-elected President of the United States and both houses of Congress by preventing a consumer protection bureau created to protect the American people against Wall Street abuses from doing its work. Therefore, according to McConnell, when the President staffs the agency so it can do the job Congress has authorized it to do, it’s somehow the President who has “arrogantly circumvented” the Constitution and the American people.
“Seriously?” asks an incredulous James Fallows of the Atlantic Monthly. “This kind of thing needs to be called out for what it is: nonsense.”
We can’t yet know the full consequence of McConnell’s obstructionism. But one result we do know is that Republicans may lose a once safe seat in the Senate after Maine Senator Olympia Snowe shook the political establishment last February by announcing she would be retiring after this term. The cover story was that Snowe was fed up with “partisanship” in general. But Snowe isn’t quitting because “partisanship” in Congress had become too much for her. She’s quitting because the Republican Party has.
As her cousin, Georgia Chomas, said: social conservatives and Tea Party activists had been hounding Snowe at her home in Maine while party leaders in Washington had been ignoring the issues she cared most about. “There was a constant, constant struggle to accommodate everyone, and a lot of pressure on her from the extreme right,” said Chomas, “And she just can’t go there.”
What we have with McConnell’s obscene definition of “free speech” is not a mechanism by which a free people governs itself but rather an imagined privilege for right wing billionaires to manipulate the political process behind the scenes, in secret, and outside the bounds of customary disclosure and accountability. It is another example of reactionary elements using the rights guaranteed to them by our liberal democracy to undermine the liberal democratic regime itself.
A better understanding of free speech and why it is valued “as a method of attaining moral and political truth” is provided by Walter Lippmann. In his Essays in the Public Philosophy, Lippmann lists free speech among those “traditions of civility” which support self-government itself. But it is not just any speech that Lippmann defends, or which the Founding Fathers enshrined in our First Amendment, but speech “conceived as the means to a confrontation of opinion.”
The classic defense of freedom of speech comes from John Milton who, in 1644′s Areopagitica, asks; “Who ever knew Truth put to the worse in a free and open encounter?”
But it is a free and open encounter, says Lippmann in his typically high-minded way, that must never be treated “as a trial of strength” but rather as “a means of elucidation.”
In his wonderful new book, Our Divided Political Heart, E.J. Dionne, Jr., devotes an entire chapter to the idea that America is “One Nation, Conceived in Argument.”
But for speech to be truly “free” it must also be open to rebuttal and refutation, says Lippmann, for when genuine debate is lacking freedom of speech does not work since “unrestricted utterance leads to the degradation of opinion.”
It is sophistry, says Lippmann, “to pretend that in a free country a man has some sort of inalienable or constitutional right to deceive his fellow men. There is no more right to deceive than there is a right to swindle, to cheat, or to pick pockets.”
But that is exactly what many conservatives do claim today when they insist on the repeal of the Fairness Doctrine, which is why its elimination has been so destructive of the kind of debate Lippmann says is central to the proper working of democracies.
The discarding of the long-standing requirement that access to the public’s airwaves meant giving equal time to opposing points of view, gives to demagogues like Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity and (fill in the name of your favorite “leftist” broadcaster here) three or four hours of uninterrupted air time each day to inject their unchallenged poison directly into our politics, where as Lippmann says the “chaff of silliness, baseness and deception” can become so “voluminous” that it “submerges the kernels of truth” and produces such “frivolity” and “mischief” that free speech can no longer be preserved against those who “demand for a restoration of order or of decency.”
If there is a dividing line between liberty and license, says Lippmann, “it is where freedom of speech is no longer respected as a procedure of the truth and becomes the unrestricted right to exploit the ignorance and incite the passions of the people. Then freedom is such a hullabaloo of sophistry, propaganda, special pleading, lobbying and salesmanship that it is difficult to remember why freedom of speech is worth the pain and trouble of defending it.”
Fabrications and falsehoods are not expressions of freedom but applications of brute force. And where truth is unable to confront error in a live debate – as it cannot do on conservative talk radio unlimited by the Fairness Doctrine or in the negative advertising purchased by the billionaires McConnell means to keep nameless and faceless — then “some regulation is necessary” in order to reestablish that element of “confrontation” upon which the “right” to free speech is predicated, says Lippmann.
Conservatives once swore by the magical properties of “competition.” Yet, how characteristic of Mitch McConnell that his distorted view of political speech is so perfectly aligned with the diseased view he has of the American Republic he hopes to create, one in which a cabal of wealthy oligarchs are given a blank check in the name of “freedom” to deploy their over-sized financial resources in order to suffocate whatever democratic impulses still beat in America today.
By: Ted Frier, Open Salon Blog, July 11, 2012