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“Tea Party vs Establishment”: Who Won The GOP Beauty Pageant In Georgia?

You’ve probably heard that the GOP establishment won big in Tuesday’s Republican primaries, with Tea Party favorites losing out to candidates backed by business groups. Take Georgia, for example, where an 11-term congressman and a businessman worth at least $12 million will now embark on a nine-week runoff, while the two nuttiest candidates were easily weeded out, having secured less than 10 percent of the vote apiece.

What the establishment “won” in Georgia is a future nominee that will be easier to sell to voters in the general race against Michelle Nunn, the Democratic pick. The GOP’s first place finisher, David Perdue, is a telegenic management consultant and a former executive at Dollar General Reebok. He rose to the top of the heap via a campaign ad that depicted his opponents as crying babies. “Help me change the childish behavior up there,” Perdue said, while onscreen squalling infants crawled across on the grass in front of the Capitol. His opponent in the runoff will be Jack Kingston, a political veteran with support from the Chamber of Commerce and conservative figureheads like Sean Hannity.

What happened last night in Georgia was a beauty pageant, not a contest of meaningful political distinctions. Degrees of polish aside, there were few substantive differences between the establishment and the Tea Party candidates. Perdue sold himself as “the outsider” and a “hard-core conservative.” He doubts climate science, opposes gay marriage, wants to get rid of Obamacare, and has called raising the minimum wage “backward thinking.” He’s promised to oppose Mitch McConnell as Majority Leader. Herman Cain, the Tea Party choice in the 2012 presidential primary, said on his radio show that Perdue “looks like a mirror image of Herman Cain.”

Though his deep ties to Washington are fodder for attacks, Kingston is no moderate. He suggested that children should sweep floors in exchange for school lunch meals. He ran an ad—set it in some alternate America plastered in Help Wanted signs—bashing welfare recipients for “choosing a handout rather than a hand up.” He talked up his support for the Fair Tax, a regressive national sales tax scheme. He pledged never to stop fighting Obamacare. He’d like to repeal Dodd-Frank. He has a staunch conservative record in the House, voting for things like a “fetal pain” bill to ban abortion after 20 weeks.

One thing that did distinguish Kingston and Perdue from their competitors was the amount of money behind them. Perdue used more than $2 million of his own money ahead of the primary, and has said he doesn’t know if there’s a limit to how deep he’ll reach into his own funds. Kingston attracted the most outside funding, with the Chamber of Commerce spending some $1 million in ads to support him.

So who lost in Georgia? It wasn’t the Tea Party, which succeeded in turning the contest in Georgia—and many others across the country—into a race to the right. If the terms Tea Party and establishment mean anything now as features of a candidate, they are distinctions in marketability, financing, and rhetoric, not of ideology. As Matt Kibbe, president of the Tea Party group FreedomWorks, told The Washington Post, “Everybody is running against Obamacare and against overspending in Washington. It wasn’t always like that with the Republican establishment. I don’t even recognize [Kentucky Senator Mitch] McConnell from where he was a few years ago.” The establishment candidates beat the wingnuts by showing up at the same party, but in better suits.

In Georgia, it was the voters who lost. Turnout was anemic, down by tens of thousands from 2010 even among Republicans. The choices before them were narrow, the airwaves full of attack ads. Most of the money spent by outside groups—upwards of $4.6 million—went to advertising, dwarfing direct campaign contributions by a nearly four to one ratio. Now Georgians will get another nine-week dose of the same, as Kingston and Perdue duke it out.

 

By: Zoe Carpenter, The Nation, May 21, 2014

May 21, 2014 Posted by | GOP, Tea Party | , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“Fighting Back With Common Sense”: No More Liberal Apologies As Elizabeth Warren Takes The offensive

Elizabeth Warren is cast as many things: a populist, a left-winger, the paladin against the bankers and the rich, the Democrats’ alternative to Hillary Clinton, the policy wonk with a heart.

The senior senator from Massachusetts is certainly a populist and her heart is with those foreclosed upon and exploited by shady financial practices. But she is not nearly as left-wing as many say — she can offer a strong defense of capitalism that’s usually overlooked. And here’s betting that she won’t run against Clinton.

What all the descriptions miss is Warren’s most important contribution to the progressive cause. She is, above all, a lawyer who knows how to make arguments. From the time she first came to public attention, Warren has been challenging conservative presumptions embedded so deeply in our discourse that we barely notice them. Where others equivocate, she fights back with common sense.

Since the Reagan era, Democrats have been so determined to show how pro-market and pro-business they are that they’ve shied away from pointing out that markets could not exist without government, that the well-off depend on the state to keep their wealth secure and that participants in the economy rely on government to keep the marketplace on the level and to temper the business cycle’s gyrations.

Warren doesn’t back away from any of these facts. In her new book, “A Fighting Chance,” she recalls the answer she gave to a voter during a living-room gathering in Andover, Mass., that quickly went viral. She was in the early days of her Senate campaign, in the fall of 2011, and had been asked about the deficit. Characteristically, she pushed the boundaries beyond a narrow fiscal discussion to explain how government helped create wealth.

“There is nobody in this country who got rich on his own,” she said. “Nobody. You built a factory out there? Good for you. But I want to be clear: You moved your goods to market on the roads the rest of us paid for. You hired workers the rest of us paid to educate. You were safe in your factory because of police forces and fire forces that the rest of us paid for.” It was all part of “the underlying social contract,” she said, a phrase politicians don’t typically use.

Warren’s book tells her personal story in a folksy way and documents her major public battles, including her successful effort to establish a Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. But the book is most striking for the way in which her confident tone parallels Ronald Reagan’s upbeat proclamations on behalf of his own creed. Conservatives loved the Gipper for using straightforward and understandable arguments to make the case for less government. Warren turns the master’s method against the ideology he rhapsodized. Even former treasury secretary Timothy Geithner, who tangled with Warren, acknowledges in his new book “Stress Test” that she has “a gift for explanation.”

Warren tells of meeting with Rep. Michael Grimm (R-N.Y.), a former FBI agent, to talk about the consumer agency. “After a bit,” she reports, “he cut me off so he could make one thing clear: He didn’t believe in government.”

That seemed strange coming from the graduate of a public university and a veteran of both the military and a government agency, though Warren didn’t press him then. “But someday I hoped to get a chance to ask him: Would you rather fly an airplane without the Federal Aviation Administration checking air traffic control? Would you rather swallow a pill without the Food and Drug Administration testing drug safety? Would you rather defend our nation without a military and fight our fires without our firefighters?”

How often are our anti-government warriors asked such basic questions?

But doesn’t being pro-government mean you’re anti-business? Well, no, Warren says, quite the opposite. “There’s nothing pro-business about crumbling roads and bridges or a power grid that can’t keep up,” she writes. “There’s nothing pro-business about cutting back on scientific research at a time when our businesses need innovation more than ever. There’s nothing pro-business about chopping education opportunities when workers need better training.”

Oh yes, and it really bugs her when people assert that “corporate” and “labor” are “somehow two sides of the same coin.” She asks: “Does anyone think that for every billionaire executive who can afford to write a check for $10 million to get his candidate elected to office, there is a union guy who can do the same? Give me a break.”

At the end of a long liberal era, Reagan electrified conservatives by telling them they didn’t have to apologize anymore for what they believed. Now, Warren insists, it’s the era of liberal apologies that’s over.

 

By: E. J. Dionne, Jr., Opinion Writer, The Washington Post, May 18, 2014

May 21, 2014 Posted by | Elizabeth Warren | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Unaccountable Power”: Thanks To The Roberts Court, Corporations Have More Constitutional Rights Than Actual People

The big media talk a lot about stalemate in Congress, but they are missing the real story. While representative democracy is dysfunctional, the Supreme Court has taken over with its own reactionary power grab. In case after case, the court’s right-wing majority is making its own law—expanding the power of corporations and the very wealthy, while making it harder for ordinary citizens to fight back.

Worst of all, the Roberts Court is trying to permanently inhibit the federal government’s ability to help people cope with the country’s vast social and economic disorders.

This is not a theoretical complaint. Led by Chief Justice John Roberts, the conservative Republican Court is building a barbed wire fence around the federal government—creating constitutional obstacles to progressive legislation in ways that resemble the Supreme Court’s notorious Lochner decision of 1905. That case held that property rights prevail over people and the common good.

For more than thirty years, the conservative Justices used that twisted precedent to invalidate more than 200 state and federal laws on major social and economic concerns like child labor, the minimum wage, bank regulation and union organizing. New Deal reformers were stymied by Lochner at first, and they only managed to overturn it in 1937 and only then when FDR mobilized a take-no-prisoners campaign to reform the Supreme Court by weakening its unaccountable power.

The Roberts Court has so far produced a slew of precedent-smashing decisions designed to hobble left-liberal reform movements before they can gain political traction. Citizens United opened the floodgates for corporate money; McCutcheon scrapped the dollar limits on fat-cat donors. Roberts gutted the Voting Rights Act of 1965, implicitly endorsing the GOP’s crude campaign to block racial minorities from voting. The US Chamber of Commerce and Business Roundtable have won numerous victories, large and small, expanding the rights of their corporate sponsors.

“We are in an era of very aggressive corporate litigation to expand the constitutional prerogatives of business,” Kent Greenfield, Boston College law professor, explained. “We are on the verge of going back to the Lochner era where every new regulation will be subject to numerous constitutional attacks—any regulation of content in commercial speech attacked on First Amendment grounds, anti-discrimination law or healthcare legislation attacked on religious grounds. You’ll see financial legislation challenged on due-process grounds.”

Despite his genteel manner, Justice Roberts is a “smart strategist” who plants provocative phrases in his decisions that he can cite later as false precedents, according to Law Professor Gregory Magarian of Washington University in St. Louis. “Roberts tells a story that sounds like they are not making radical change,” Magarain said. “But they are still making things up, still making up social policy. And the judgments are still pointed toward the past.”

Anxious Democrats applauded Roberts when he upheld the constitutionality of Obamacare, but many realized after-the-fact that Roberts rejected the Commerce Clause of the Constitution as the standard basis for justifying federal interventions on social and economic problems. This means the Supreme Court now has a five-vote majority in favor of shrinking federal authority. In effect, the Roberts Court was mimicking the narrow logic of the Lochner court 100 year before. The words and reasoning are there, just waiting for the right case to apply them.

Magarian sees a reactionary perspective motivating Roberts and his brethren. The Justices are trying to thwart a future of renewed activism and social rebellion, Magarian suspects, because they were rattled by political unrest they saw in their youth.

“The Court believes that corporate power is virtuous,” Magarian explained. “They are empowering corporations to help maintain a kind of political stability. The First Amendment in the view of the Roberts Court is not about people at the political margins. I think the Roberts Court wants to empower large, stable, wealthy and powerful institutions like the corporation so as to help maintain political and social order. These guys don’t want any social upheaval. They are like interesting echoes of the sixties.”

In the absence of aggressive political resistance, there is nothing to prevent this right-wing power grab from succeeding. But corporations are vulnerable in numerous ways that timid Democrats have not exploited. To stop the Roberts Court, the other side must get serious and begin to attack corporate power and air grievances that the public fully shares.

The corporation, after all, is not a “person” who possesses “inalienable rights.” The corporation is a legal artifice created by the government and given special protections and privileges. When the Supreme Court treats corporations as though they are living, breathing creatures who have constitutional rights just like human beings, they are embracing the fundamental contradiction in the nature of the corporation. Sometimes, they want to be people. Other times, they want to be treated better than people—that is, legally shielded from the consequences of their actions.

Companies and their owners want to have it both ways. The Roberts Court is helping them do so. The Hobby Lobby case now before the Supreme Court illustrates this contradiction. On one hand, the company’s conservative owners claim their religious rights under the First Amendment are violated when the federal government insists they include birth control coverage in their healthcare plans. If Roberts buys that argument, any employer can dream up religious values that exempt it for almost any regulatory law they choose.

On the other hand, the Hobby Lobby owners are not about to surrender their own “limited liability” protection from lawsuits against the company or criminal liability for the company’s violations of law or its failure to pay its debts. You can’t sue the shareholders for wrongful actions by their company. That is a cornerstone of American capitalism. It is also a principal source of corporate irresponsibility.

What we need now is a ferocious counterattack against these corporate owners—a campaign that demands they surrender these special privileges the government has given them. Why protect shareholders from blame when they claim the same constitutional rights—free speech, freedom of religion—that people possess? Human beings are held responsible for their debts, they go to prison for their crimes. Perhaps the owners of corporations should be made to take responsibility for theirs.

A similar contradiction is embedded in the Roberts Court decisions that have effectively destroyed the laws on campaign finance. The billionaires and their mammoth companies, banks and investment houses have been granted unlimited power to influence elections or, as we might say, buy the candidates. The Supreme Court has unilaterally unhinged the standard meaning of elections. Elections are no longer collective decisions among citizens choosing their governors. They have become bidding wars among fat cats and powerful economic interests, choosing representatives for the rest of us and thereby choosing our laws.

“We don’t let people stand up and shout in town meetings and drown out everyone else,” Greenfield observed. “When we come to elections where we make collective decisions, an equality norm comes into play, especially when the money comes from corporations. Corporations are creatures of the state; their purpose is not to affect the state and change. A reasonable thing to say to corporations is we are not going to let you skew the political process that created you.”

Magarian expands the point. “The limited liability corporation,” he observed, “owes its form and existence to a particular act of government, then the corporation turns around and says, ‘We are going to use our advantages and leverage them to influence the political process.’ Given the advantages corporations gain from government largesse and protections, the society should not have to suffer the loss of its influence. We want to sever their corporate influence from the decisions we the people make about economic questions.”

“In the long view,” Greenfield said, “we are in this bind because of the nature of corporations, not the nature of constitutional law. Over the last generation, the rise of shareholder primacy has meant that managers manage the company to maximize the share price. Willing to serve Wall Street, the corporation has really become the tool for the 1 percent. We need to rethink the nature of corporations. Rather than be a servant of a tiny sliver of the American people, the corporation should have a much more robust public obligation and should be managed in a more pluralistic way.”

Meanwhile, angry citizens do not need to wait on reform. They should get out their pitchforks and spread the message to those corporate lawyers who are corrupting democracy and to those cloistered right-wing justices who have such great solicitude for the privileged minority.

 

By: William Greider, The Nation, May 20, 2014

 

May 21, 2014 Posted by | Constitution, Corporations, Democracy, John Roberts | , , , , , | Leave a comment

   

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