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Karl Rove addresses the Virginia Chamber of Commerce. (Steve Helber)
Karl Rove is offering America a super-sized serving of political cynicism.
Since the controversy over the targeting of grassroots tea party groups for extra scrutiny by the Internal Revenue Service arose, Rove has engaged in the sort of political sleight of hand that could only be practiced in a country where elite media have no skepticism—and no memory.
Just a few months ago, after the 2012 election, Rove was widely portrayed as having declared war on grassroots conservatives in general and the Tea Party movement in particular. The former White House political czar was frustrated: During the 2010 and 2012 election cycles, Republicans had been positioned to win control of the US Senate. Yet, in each cycle, they fell short after the party’s grassroots activists upended the candidacies of relatively more moderate candidates in Republican primaries. The Tea Party favorites frequently proved to be weaker contenders and—in the cases of candidates such as Delaware’s Christine O’Donnell in 2010 and Indiana’s Richard Mourdock in 2012—were seen as having snatched defeat from the jaws of certain victory.
Rove had enough of that. So in February of this year he declared his intent to use his gold-plated political operations to police the party. Specifically, the veteran operative who says his hero is “Gilded Age” political boss Mark Hanna, declared his intention to “avoid having stupid candidates who can’t win general elections. Who are undisciplined, can’t raise money, aren’t putting together the support necessary to win the general election campaign—because this money is too difficult to raise to be spending it on the behalf of candidates who have little chance winning in the general election.”
That stirred an outcry from Tea Party activists and their allies:
Fox News’ Sean Hannity described “a battle between conservatives and the GOP establishment.”
Conservative talk-radio host Mark Levin asked: “Who made Karl Rove queen for a day.”
Conservative commentator Erick Erickson said that Rove’s “American Crossroads is creating a new Super PAC to crush conservatives, destroy the tea party, and put a bunch of squishes in Republican leadership positions.”
Newt Gingrich wrote of Rove’s plan: “No one person is smart enough nor do they have the moral right to buy nominations across the country. That is the system of Tammany Hall and the Chicago machine. It should be repugnant to every conservative and every Republican.”
The Tea Party Patriots announced that “Karl Rove believes he can raise hundreds of millions of dollars, crush the Tea Party movement and protect the big-government status quo in Washington from millions of freedom loving Americans.”
What a difference three months makes.
Now Rove is racing from studio to studio to cry crocodile tears about the abuse of, well, the people he was determined to abuse. He decried “the IRS’s thuggish behavior” in a Wall Street Journal column. He told Fox’s Greta Van Susteren, “This smacks of a greater, you know, sort of effort inside the IRS to punish conservative groups.”
You would have thought Karl Rove was a Tea Party Patriot himself.
But, of course, he’s the guy the patriots said was “out to crush the Tea Party movement.”
So what gives?
Rove is playing a particularly cynical game. He recognizes that there is going to be a Tea Party movement—and that it may actually be stronger as a result of the current controversy. And he knows that the grassroots groups that are seeking tax-exempt status are unlikely to be able to counter the financial and strategic might of his American Crossroads combine.
So Rove is joining the outcry on behalf of the little folks, recognizing that he can only benefit by being seen as an ally of conservative activists who, before they were enraged with the IRS, were enraged with Karl Rove.
But there is more going on than mere “The Enemy of My Enemy is My Friend” positioning.
Rove understands something else. If the IRS is under attack for scrutinizing grassroots groups unfairly—and, make no mistake, it is unfair to target any group based on its ideology—that could create a climate of official caution where it becomes less likely that there will be scrutiny of what the Center for Responsible Politics describes as “the heavy hitters of the multicandidate outside spending groups”: Rove-tied groups such as Crossroads GPS, a 501(c)4 nonprofit “social welfare” corporation, and American Crossroads, a so-called “super PAC.”
This is where Rove’s shows his smarts.
He understands that the current wrangling over the IRS is going to result in changes, some of them structural, some of them relating to the focus and intensity of inquiries into alleged abuses by tax-exempt groups.
Everyone who has steered a 501(c)4 into the political fray— conservativesand liberals; Republicans like Rove and Democrats with close ties to President Obama—knows that the best possible circumstance for them is one where the rules governing political activity by supposedly “charitable” groups are weak and unclear. And it gets even better for Rove and his ilk if battered-and-bruised IRS agents are disinclined to challenge any individual or group that might accuse the agency of targeting them.
Rove recognizes that the real debate is not about whether discrimination based on political ideology will be aggressively addressed and appropriately constrained. That’s going to happen, as it should. The Congress and the White House will see to it; indeed, President Obama sounds every bit as ardent on the issue as Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio.
The question that remains is a bigger one.
Will Congress and the Federal Election Commission establish clear and unequivocal standards that IRS auditors can follow? Will we finally, in the aftermath of the Supreme Court’s Citizens United v. FEC decision, and a host of other rulings, have some definition of the new political playing field? That definition would, necessarily, be fair to conservatives and liberals, Democrats and Republicans. But it could still place limits on the ambitious activities of Mr. Rove and his compatriots on both sides of the political aisle.
Only the most naïve observer would imagine that Karl Rove is concerned with protecting the grassroots activists with whom he was so recently sparring. Every evidence suggests that it is Rove’s plan to thwart their activism in 2014 and beyond. What concerns Rove is taking advantage of a political moment. A master of gaming whatever opening occurs, Rove is busily attacking Democrats in the Senate and President Obama for having suggested that clear standards ought to be established.
“Hey, look, the president in some degree is responsible for some of these acts. Remember in September and October of 2010, he went out and denounced…conservative 501(c)(4) groups as enemies of democracy,” says Rove. “You can’t tell me some IRS bureaucrat in Cincinnati, Washington, California—all of which were conducting investigations of conservative groups—were not hardened by the president going out declaring the groups they were looking at quote, ‘enemies of democracy.’”
That’s not exactly an accurate characterization of what the president said. Obama’s remarks on money in politics, made in Philadelphia several months after the Supreme Court’s 2010 Citizens United v. FEC decision knocked down barriers to corporate campaign giving, made no mention of grassroots conservative groups. Rather, what Obama said was:
[Thanks] to a Supreme Court decision called Citizens United, they are being helped along this year by special interest groups that are spending unlimited amounts of money on attack ads… just attacking people without ever disclosing who’s behind all these attack ads. You don’t know. It could be the oil industry. It could be the insurance industry. It could even be foreign-owned corporations. You don’t know because they don’t have to disclose.
Now, that’s not just a threat to Democrats—that’s a threat to our democracy. Every American business and industry deserves a seat at the table, but they don’t get to a chance to buy every chair. We’ve seen what happens when they do. They put the entire economy at risk and every American might end up suffering.
So you can’t let it happen. Don’t let them hijack your agenda. The American people deserve to know who’s trying to sway their elections. And you can’t stand by and let special interests drown out the voices of the American people.
Obama wasn’t telling the IRS to go after grassroots activists there. He was talking about the need for Congress to enact the mild reforms of the Disclose Act, which proposed to “amend the Federal Election Campaign Act of 1971 to prohibit foreign influence in Federal elections, to prohibit government contractors from making expenditures with respect to such elections, and to establish additional disclosure requirements with respect to spending in such elections, and for other purposes.”
Just days before Obama spoke, in October, 2010, an effort to advance the legislation had failed by one vote in the Senate.
It is hard to imagine a better circumstance for Karl Rove than one in which any effort to control the flow of corporate money into the political process, and to assure at least a measure of transparency, is decried as somehow inappropriate.
Then, Rove would be a man without limits.
He could use his vast resources to beat the candidates favored by grassroots conservatives in Republican primaries and to secure November victories for his favored contenders.
Then the threat to democracy that the president described would be complete—as sincere activists on the right and the left would be shunted to the sidelines of a new political landscape where corporate cash decides the day and the boss is not a CEO but a cynical political operative named Karl Rove.
John Nichols is the author (with Robert w. McChesney) of the upcoming book Dollarocracy: How the Money and Media Election Complex is Destroying America. Hailed by Publisher’s Weekly as “a fervent call to action for reformers,” it details how the collapse of journalism and the rise of big-money politics threatens to turn our democracy into a dollarocracy.
How long will Arizona deny driver’s licenses to immigrant youth? Read Aura Bogado’s take.
Justice Department employees at an event with Attorney General Eric Holder (left) and Michelle Obama. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)
“The burden is always on the government when they go after private information—especially information regarding the press or its confidential sources.”
—Senate Judiciary Committee chairman Patrick Leahy
When John Lindsay was elected to the US House of Representatives in 1958, the Republican lawyer from Manhattan arrived on Capitol Hill as a man on a mission. “Often alone on the House floor,” recalled Nat Hentoff, “Lindsay wielded the Bill of Rights against its enemies.”
Lindsay was absolutely determined to reinvigorate the bill of rights, especially the First Amendment. After a decade of “red scares” and McCarthyism, he spoke up for dissidents. He hailed the right to assemble and to petition for the redress of grievances. And he championed a free press as the essential underpinning of a free society.
Lindsay developed a reputation for disregarding party lines. He was a Republican, but if the Republican president was wrong, he would not allow party ties to temper his objections. And if the members of his caucus disregarded civil liberties, they were more likely to get an earful from Lindsay than from the Democrats.
Around the time that Lindsay was elected mayor of New York, California Democrat Don Edwards, a former FBI agent, arrived to take up the fight. For three decades, Edwards checked and balanced not just Republicans but Democrats who failed to recognize the rights of citizens and the essential role of a watchdog press. When his Democratic colleagues in the House of Representatives went after reporter Daniel Schorr for revealing details of an intelligence committee report, Edwards ripped his colleagues. “The freedom of the press is very much involved here,” the congressman declared. “By bringing it up this way and naming Mr. Schorr, there is a very chilling effect on a reporter’s right to receive classified information.”
We remember Lindsay and Edwards because of the standard they set. They understood that the defense of the Bill of Rights in general, and freedom of the press in particular, must never be compromised by partisanship.
That’s why it was so very important when, after it was revealed that the Department of Justice had obtained the phone records of Associated Press journalists, both Patrick Leahy and Bob Goodlatte spoke up.
Leahy, the Vermont Democrat who chairs the Senate Judiciary Committee, and Goodlatte, the Virginia Republican who chairs the House Judiciary Committee, come from different political parties, different ideological perspectives and different experiences.
Yet, they essentially agreed after learning that federal prosecutors stood accused of secretly obtaining two months’ worth of telephone records from the journalists—in what the news agency described Monday as “a serious interference with AP’s constitutional rights to gather and report the news.”
Both men are well aware that the Justice Department was pursuing alleged leaks by a government official, and that national-security issues had been raised. But they are also aware of the guidelines established in the Watergate era to balance national security and First Amendment concerns. And in the spirit of Lindsay—who said, “Those who suppress freedom always do so in the name of law and order”—Leahy and Goodlatte have both recognized an essential duty to defend press freedom.
The wrangling over government intrusion on what is supposed to be a free press is as old as the Republic. John Adams and Thomas Jefferson clashed over the issue before the Bill of Rights was ten years old, and no decade has passed since then without a dispute. As recently as 2008, the FBI apologized to The Washington Post and The New York Times when it was revealed that the agency had improperly obtained the phone records of reporters in Indonesia.
Even if the fight is an old one, however, it is essential that officials with oversight authority move immediately when it rises anew.
That’s why the rapid responses of Goodlatte and Leahy were as encouraging as they were necessary.
Both Leahy and Goodlatte raised real concerns and demanded real answers from Department of Justice officials who seem to have forgotten that a free press must be free from arbitrary and overreaching government surveillance.
“Any abridgement of the First Amendment right to the freedom of the press is very concerning,” said Goodlatte. “The House Judiciary Committee will thoroughly investigate this issue and will also ask Attorney General Eric Holder pointed questions about it at Wednesday’s oversight hearing.”
Goodlatte’s statement was valid—and important.
But it was even more important that Leahy voiced his parallel concern.
“The burden is always on the government when they go after private information—especially information regarding the press or its confidential sources,” said the Senate Judiciary Committee chairman. “I want to know more about this case, but on the face of it, I am concerned that the government may not have met that burden. I am very troubled by these allegations and want to hear the government’s explanation.”
Attorney General Holder’s testimony Wednesday before the House Judiciary Committee was hardly revealing, as Holder explained that he had recused himself from the matter.
But that can’t be the end of the inquiry—or the response to it.
Strikingly, Leahy was backed up in his call for answers and action by an angry Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nevada, who described the Justice Department’s seizure of the phone records as “inexcusable” and added, “There’s no way to justify this.” Reid went even further, saying Tuesday, “In my career, I’ve stood consistently for freedom of the press from encroachment by the national security community and will continue to do that. It’s an issue I feel very strongly about and will look further whether more legislative action is needed in this regard to secure freedom of the press.”
What might that mean? With encouragement from the White House, Senator Chuck Schumer, D-New York, is preparing to reintroduce the media shield law that in 2009 died in the Senate. Among other things, the proposed law gives journalists who have been served subpoenas the option of appealing to a federal judge when they don’t want to reveal their sources. It then falls to the jurist—as opposed to the Department of Justice—to determine whether the public interest in a story trumps the government’s demand that sources be revealed,
“This kind of law would balance national security needs against the public’s right to the free flow of information,” argues Schumer. “At minimum, our bill would have ensured a fairer, more deliberate process in this case.”
When the Department of Justice in a Democratic administration is accused of wrongdoing, it is vital that Democratic leaders in Congress step up to ask the tough questions—just as it is vital for Republican members of Congress to be out front to check and balance Republican administrations.
Congressional oversight often comes with a partisan edge, and that’s not entirely inappropriate. Partisanship animates and energizes oversight committees, ensures that inquiries are pursued and rejects bureaucratic responses.
Ultimately, however, congressional oversight is most effective when it comes from members of the party that controls the executive branch. The United States does not have a parliamentary system of government. Rather, our Constitution outlines a separation of powers between the branches of government. The separation was not designed to encourage partisan division but to assure that there would always be a checking and balancing of power—regardless of party affiliation or allegiance.
Intense partisanship often leads members of Congress to “go to their corners.” And rarely has the partisanship been more intense, more bitter, than now.
But Patrick Leahy has rejected the defensive position into which the weakest of partisans collapse. Instead, he has gone into the same checking-and-balancing stance that has been adopted by Bob Goodlatte. This is as it should be. When it comes to defending the freedom of the press, the chairs of the House and Senate Judiciary Committees should, regardless of party, regardless of ideology, be positioned firmly and unequivocally on the side of the First Amendment.
Political cartoonists are still powerful provocateurs of people in power. Victor Navasky explains why.
Voters stand in line in North Miami, October 30, 2012. (AP Photo/Alan Diaz)
Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia made a point of emphasizing during the Bush v. Gore arguments in December 2000 that there is no federal constitutional guarantee of a right to vote for president. Scalia was right. Indeed, as the reform group FairVote reminds us, “Because there is no right to vote in the U.S. Constitution, individual states set their own electoral policies and procedures. This leads to confusing and sometimes contradictory policies regarding ballot design, polling hours, voting equipment, voter registration requirements, and ex-felon voting rights. As a result, our electoral system is divided into 50 states, more than 3,000 counties and approximately 13,000 voting districts, all separate and unequal.”
Mark Pocan and Keith Ellison want to do something about that.
The two congressmen, both former state legislators with long histories of engagement with voting-rights issues, on Monday unveiled a proposal to explicitly guarantee the right to vote in the Constitution.
“The right to vote is too important to be left unprotected,” explained Pocan, who announced the initiative at the state capitol in Madison, Wisconsin, where the Republican state assembly speaker recently announced plans to enact restrictive “voter ID” legislation before the 2014 election. “At a time when there are far too many efforts to disenfranchise Americans, a voting rights amendment would positively affirm our founding principle that our country is at its strongest when everyone participates. As the world’s leading democracy, we must demand of ourselves what we demand of others—a guaranteed right to vote for all.”
Without that clear guarantee, argues Ellison, politicians continue to propose and enact legislation that impedes voting rights. Noting recent wrangling over voter identification laws, burdensome registration requirements and reduced early voting opportunities in various states, as well as a challenge to the Voting Rights Act that is now under consideration by the US Supreme Court, the Minnesota Democrat, who co-chairs the Congressional Progressive Caucus, says, “Even though the right to vote is the most-mentioned right in the Constitution, legislatures across the country have been trying to deny that right to millions of Americans, including in my home state of Minnesota. It’s time we made it clear once and for all: every citizen in the United States has a fundamental right to vote.”
If approved by the Congress and then ratified by three-fourths of the states, it would add to the founding document this declaration:
SECTION 1: Every citizen of the United States, who is of legal voting age, shall have the fundamental right to vote in any public election held in the jurisdiction in which the citizen resides.
SECTION 2: Congress shall have the power to enforce and implement this article by appropriate legislation.
There is nothing radical about that language. It outlines a basic premise of the American experiment, and a concept that the United States has proudly exported. Indeed, when the US has had a hand in shaping the destinies of other lands, as well as international agreements, the primacy of the right to vote has been well understood and explicitly stated.
The constitution of Iraq guarantees that “Iraqi citizens, men and women, shall have the right to participate in public affairs and to enjoy political rights including the right to vote, elect, and run for office.”
In Afghanistan, the constitution provides every citizen with “the right to elect and be elected.”
The German constitution crafted in the aftermath of World War II declared that every adult “shall be entitled to vote.”
In Japan, the constitution announced, “Universal adult suffrage is guaranteed.”
And, of course, when former first lady Eleanor Roosevelt chaired the commission that outlined a Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the document declared:
1. Everyone has the right to take part in the government of his country, directly or through freely chosen representatives.
2. Everyone has the right of equal access to public service in his country.
3. The will of the people shall be the basis of the authority of government; this will shall be expressed in periodic and genuine elections which shall be by universal and equal suffrage and shall be held by secret vote or by equivalent free voting procedures.
Americans have considered right-to-vote amendments in the past. But the frequency with which contentious debates are erupting nationwide—just this year, according to the Brennan Center for Justice, more than eighty bills to restrict voting have been introduced in more than thirty states—has already inspired significant activism on behalf of constitutional reform.
“The right to vote is the foundation of any democracy,” says FairVote executive director Rob Richie. “Adding an affirmative right to vote to the US Constitution is the best way to guarantee that the government, whether at the federal, state, or local level, cannot infringe upon our individual right to vote. Building support for this amendment offers an opportunity to inspire a twenty-first-century suffrage movement where Americans come together to protect voting rights, promote voter participation and debate suffrage expansion.”
John Nichols is the author (with Robert w. McChesney) of the upcoming book Dollarocracy: How the Money and Media Election Complex is Destroying America. Hailed by Publisher’s Weekly as “a fervent call to action for reformers,” it examines a host of voting rights and democracy issues—including the case for a right-to-vote amendment to the Constitution.
Ed Schultz at a motor home in Fargo, North Dakota. (AP Photo/Dave Samson)
Saturday morning’s editions of The New York Times report that “the nation’s unemployment rate would probably be nearly a point lower, roughly 6.5 percent, and economic growth almost two points higher this year if Washington had not cut spending and raised taxes as it has since 2011, according to private-sector and government economists.”
That’s headline news in the nation’s newspaper of record.
But Ed Schultz could have told you that a couple years ago.
That’s because Ed consults with the folks who really understand the economy: the working men and women who do their research on Main Street—as opposed to Wall Street.
I’ve known Ed since he was making his name as a populist radio host, broadcasting out of Fargo, North Dakota, on a handful of small stations. He is now consistently ranked by Talkers magazine as one of the ten most important talk radio hosts in America.
Ed built his national following on the strength of what he referred to as “straight talk from the heartland.” And he remains distinct from most other hosts in that he’s still rooted in the upper Midwest, not just as a proud Minnesotan but as a host who is genuinely interested in what the whole of America is talking about.
When Ed joined the MSNBC cable television network, he kept doing his radio show—an uncommon move in an industry that tends to focus on television gigs. Ed wanted to keep talking with people across the country, especially the listeners in what media insiders on the East and West coasts deride as the “flyover country” between New York and Los Angeles.
As he has moved through various time slots and hosting duties with the cable network, Schultz has had more demands on him. Yet he has always kept the radio show, doing three hours a day, when other cable hosts were, for the most part, focused solely on television. Ed never wanted to lose the connection to the working people who formed his base of listeners: the farmer in North Dakota, the factory worker in Illinois, the snowplow driver in Minnesota, the teacher in Wisconsin. As his prominence has grown, that base has expanded to include the baggage handler at LaGuardia, the taxi driver in Washington, the small business owner in Denver, the retiree in the Florida panhandle.
When I do Ed’s radio show, I am always struck by the calls—from all those listeners, in all those small towns and cities across the country. No matter what the issue of the moment might be, they tend to remain focused on fundamental economic concerns. Washington spin doesn’t sway them: They’ve got no taste for “grand bargains” that would cut Social Security cost-of-living increases with a chained CPI scheme. They know Paul Ryan’s austerity economics don’t add up.
The listeners care, a lot, about grassroots struggles for jobs and the rights of working people. And they’re enthusiastic about Ed’s talk of using his new weekend gig on MSNBC to tell more of their stories. But he’s not doing them a favor. He is adding an essential element to a national discourse that is being overwhelmed by the false prophets of austerity.
What Ed understands is this: “There’s a lot more economic common sense on Main Street than there is on Wall Street.”
The new weekend show debuts at 5 pm EST Saturday. And the plan is to do a lot more of what he did in 2011 and 2012, when he took his show on the road to Freeport, Illinois; Des Moines, Iowa; Toledo and Columbus, Ohio; and Madison, Wisconsin, to tell about the real-life struggles of working Americans.
The weeknight slot that Ed occupied until March is now filled by Chris Hayes, a friend and colleague of mine from The Nation. Over the past year, Chris has used a Saturday and Sunday morning program on MSNBC to break a lot of new ground. I’ve been a frequent guest with Chris and I’ve enjoyed the way he’s upended the conventional wisdom regarding political talk on cable—we recently had a smart, civil discussion featuring a progressive, a liberal, a moderate and a conservative on the necessity of renewing the Republican Party. Chris is continuing to push boundaries, and that’s exciting.
But, as someone who has long argued that major media neglect the stories of the great mass of working Americans, I’m particularly appreciative of Ed Schultz’s ideas for making his new weekend show a forum for discussing what’s really going on with the American economy. Ed’s talking about using his program to highlight stories from across the country—many of them from town hall gatherings, like the one he hosted May 2 at the Barrymore Theatre in Madison.
The event sold out. Teamsters and teachers, postal workers and firefighters came from as far away as Iowa and Illinois, many with hand-made signs highlighting labor struggles that rarely get the attention of national media. The crowd’s approval was thunderous when Ed declared, “I’ve got to tell these stories!”
Prime-time shows tend to follow a relatively well-defined format, with tight segments that focus on the latest twists and turns in Washington. But Ed’s great skill as a broadcaster has always been his ability to recognize and communicate the stories of working Americans. He will have a lot more freedom to do that on the weekend. And he’ll also be well positioned on his Sunday show to rip apart the spin that the DC insiders peddle on the Sunday morning talk shows.
Cable television is not an exact science. But one thing should be clear: There are enough hours in the day and week for many voices. The voice Ed Schultz has perfected on a populist radio program, and that he has brought to cable programs that have followed stories to locations far from New York and Washington, amplifies the stories that don’t otherwise get told: those of working families struggling to keep factories open, union members rallying for collective bargaining rights, urban Americans fighting “emergency manager” takeovers of local government, rural Americans fighting to keep post offices open.
Now Ed’s talking about using that voice to bring to television more of the conversations with working Americans, struggling Americans, active and engaged Americans. To the extent that Ed Schultz succeeds in challenging the manufactured assumptions of Wall Street and official Washington, he’ll contribute mightily not just to the evolving definition of cable TV but to a national discourse that desperately needs to hear more from America.
Why does the press still take the Heritage Foundation seriously? Read Eric Alterman and Reed Richardson's take.
Peter DeFazio (Flickr/Oregon DOT)
Congressman Peter DeFazio has always been a stalwart defender of the United States Postal Service. As a veteran lawmaker and one of its most determined advocates for public services in the House, he knows that the postal service is an essential asset. But he also knows that the USPS “is in a financial death spiral, caused largely by congressional and bureaucratic ineptitude and inaction.”
“Over 70 percent of USPS financial losses are due to a Congressional mandate to prefund retiree healthcare for future employees for the next 75 years. This requires the post office to prefund the healthcare of future employees that have not yet been born. This is stupid and unacceptable,” explains DeFazio .“Rather than avoiding this financial crisis they face, USPS bureaucrats have only offered short-sighted proposals that fail to address their long-term issues and would accelerate the demise of the Postal Service.”
The congressman has battled the bureaucrats with some success. Along with Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders and Wisconsin Congressman Mark Pocan, DeFazio was in the forefront of the successful fight to block the postmaster general’s wrongheaded proposal to end Saturday mail delivery. He even found some rural Republican allies for that skirmish.
But the Oregon Democrat knows it’s going to take more than defensive moves by Congress to save the USPS.
To that end, DeFazio has introduced the Postal Service Protection Act, a detailed proposal to “sustain the postal service, avoid unnecessary closures that hurt rural communities, and save American jobs.”
Now, he wants to up the ante by enlisting President Obama in the struggle—or, to be more precise, he’s come up with a strategy to get the president more engaged with saving the postal service.
Obama has sent some good signals; indeed, his budget borrows ideas advanced by Sanders and DeFazio for making the USPS more competitive.
But the congressman is right to want the president to play a more pivotal role in saving post offices and sorting centers, rural routes and urban facilities, from a death by slow cuts. The stronger and louder the support from Obama, the greater the likelihood that the Postal Service Protection Act—which has the potential to gain support from disengaged Democrats and reluctant Republicans—could be enacted.
So DeFazio has taken the rare step—as a congressman—of posting a petition on the Obama administration’s “We the People” website.
About 80% of USPS financial losses since 2007 are due to a Congressional mandate to prefund 75 years of future retiree health benefits over 10 years. In 2012 USPS lost a record $15.9 billion, but $11.1 billion of that loss went to prefund healthcare. This must change.
USPS shouldn’t move to 5-day delivery. This would only save 3%, risk further revenue losses, and slow mail delivery.
USPS needs to re-establish overnight delivery standards to ensure the timely delivery of mail and prevent the closure of mail plants.
USPS needs to generate more revenue by ending a 2006 ban prohibiting USPS from offering new products and services.
Does the Administration support HR 630 and S 316 to make these changes, save American jobs, and allow USPS to remain competitive?
To get a formal response from the White House, the petition must gather 100,000 signatures by May 23.
Almost 20,000 people have already signed. But now it’s crunch time.
“If you support the postal service and want Congress and the White House to consider legislation that would fix the serious financial challenges it faces,” says DeFazio, “please sign the petition and tell your friends to as well.”
President Obama faces plenty of pressures these days, but this is one intervention he can and should make on behalf of American workers and communities.
The USPS cannot take many more cuts. Nor can it shoulder the financial burden that’s been imposed on it. This is a time for urgency. And Peter DeFazio, with his White House petition, has figured out how to focus the energy that is needed to beat the proponents of privatization and to save an essential public service.
Lobbyists are snagging top jobs in Congress—a boon for their former employers. Read Lee Fang’s report.
Mark Sanford. (AP Photo/Mary Ann Chastain)
Mark Sanford’s comeback bid was never so audacious as America’s political gossip columnists would have us believe.
Yes, the conservative Republican once boomed as a presidential prospect, before drawing national headlines in 2009 when it turned out that he had not gone missing on the Appalachian Trail but had instead snuck off to visit a woman friend in Buenos Aires. Yes, revelations about the affair led to his resignation as chairman of the Republican Governors Association, to his being censured by the South Carolina General Assembly after a State Ethics Commission investigation into allegations that he had misused state travel funds and to his divorce from a popular South Carolina politico.
But Sanford had a prominent name, an easy-going style and a carefully crafted message about forgiveness and redemption. He was, as well, an on-message conservative. That got him through a competitive Republican primary and a not-so-tough Republican runoff for his old US House seat, which had come open when Congressman Tim Scott, R-South Carolina, was appointed to the US Senate.
Once he had the Republican nomination, the numbers were on his side.
Even though he stumbled several times in his special-election race against an able and well-financed Democrat, Elizabeth Colbert Busch, Sanford won Tuesday with a solid 54-45 majority. Colbert Busch was competitive. In a district that gave Republican presidential contender Mitt Romney an eighteen-point advantage over President Obama last fall, she came within nine points this spring.
That’s not bad for a Democrat running in a congressional district that, in various incarnations, has been sending Republicans to Washington since 1980.
But Sanford still enjoyed the advantage that most winners of congressional races in the United States have. He was nominee of the party that the district was drawn, with painstaking attention to collecting all the Republican and Republican leaning support that could be found on the South Carolina coast, to support.
Partisan redistricting—not just classic gerrymandering but a variety of structural factors—assures that the vast majority of congressional districts in the vast majority of states produce predictable results. Even if the candidate of the dominant party is flawed, even if a challenger has financial advantages, FairVote executive director Rob Richie reminds us that “partisanship is the dominant factor in determining election outcomes.”
Another reform group, Common Cause explains, “For decades partisan wrangling has led to gerrymandered redistricting maps, collusion among the major political parties to create safe Congressional and state legislative districts, and the packing and splitting of concentrations of voters to weaken or strengthen their influence to gain partisan advantage.”
Common Cause notes, correctly, that the circumstance is growing worse, explaining that “advances in information and mapping technology has enabled a level of precision in district drawing that in effect, enables legislators to choose the voters they wish to represent and makes it difficult for voters to hold their elected officials accountable.”
There’s always been gerrymandering, but we are not at a place where the general process of drawing and redrawing district lines has become definitional: If a district is drawn to elect Republicans, it almost always elects Republicans. If a district is drawn to elect Democrats, it almost always elects Democrats.
Money is influential, personality is a factor.
But nothing comes close to redistricting when it comes to defining the results of elections.
“In 2010, Democratic incumbents went 139 and 0 in the most Democratic districts but were swamped in Republican districts,” notes Richie. In 2012, “Democrats won 176 of the 177 most Democratic districts, but Republicans didn’t need to win a single Democratic-leaning seat to keep their majority.”
This is the structural reality that shapes our politics.
And it shapes the governing that extends from that politics. Almost everything about what’s happening now in Washington can be linked to the design of our congressional districts, and to the elections that shape the House of Representatives.
“On Nov. 6, Democrats won the most votes in contested House races,” explains Richie. “FairVote’s post-election analysis of partisan voting trends suggests an underlying national preference toward Democrats of 52 percent to 48 percent. (If there had been no incumbents and each party had run a candidate in every district, the Democrats would have won 52 percent of the votes.) With a comparable edge in 2010, Republicans gained sixty-four seats to take the House. But this year, winning a House majority would have required a much bigger swing toward Democrats, as much as 55 percent of the vote, a historical high.”
This brings us back to Tuesday’s special election in South Carolina’s 1st district. Colbert Busch’s capable campaigning—or, perhaps, Sanford’s imperfect campaigning—resulted in a significant swing by voters to the Democratic column. But the district was designed to withstand a significant swing.
In 2012, the Democratic nominee took just 29 percent of the vote. Colbert Busch took 46 percent. So, in what was probably a best-of-all-worlds scenario for the Democrats, their candidate raised the party’s percentage of the vote by almost sixteen points. But she needed a swing of more than twenty-one points.
What happened in South Carolina will keep happening there and in the vast majority of American congressional districts for so long as those districts are drawn to advantage one party or the others.
Groups such as Common Cause argue for a host of redistricting reforms that make sense in a democracy including the creation of independent commissions to conduct redistricting and the establishment of strict criteria for how districts must be drawn.
FairVote’s Richie argues for going even further.
“The best way to remove the structural unfairness inherent in the current House of Representatives is to get rid of winner-take-all elections,” Richie argues in a recent report (written with Devin McCarthy). “FairVote has a plan to do just that, grounded in our Constitution and American electoral traditions. The first requirement is an act of Congress. The more ambitious plan would be for Congress to prohibit winner-take-all elections in all states that elect more than one House Member. A more modest step would be to repeal the congressional mandate for states to use single-member districts that was established in a 1967 law.”
FairVote’s proposes building a new model for electing members of Congress. They’d like to see American states follow the model of countries around the world and move to a system of proportional representation, in which “existing congressional districts would be combined into multi-seat ‘super districts’ of between three and five members, in which members would be elected using fair-voting systems—American forms of proportional representation based on voting for candidates.”
That’s a smart proposal that would result in a far-more representative Congress.
As such, it will be hard to enact—as, frustratingly, are even the most simple redistricting reforms.
But Americans who favor representative democracy don’t have a choice. Along with all the reforms that are needed—overturning Citizens United, eliminating the Electoral College, establishing a constitutionally defined right to vote—working to make congressional elections genuinely competitive is necessary to curing what ails the political process.
And it sure beats trying to come up with deep and meaningful explanations for why Mark Sanford is headed back to Congress. This one isn’t complicated. It’s structural.
John Nichols is the author (with Robert w. McChesney) of the upcoming book Dollarocracy: How the Money and Media Election Complex is Destroying America. Hailed by Publisher’s Weekly as “a fervent call to action for reformers,” it details how the collapse of journalism and the rise of big-money politics threatens to turn our democracy into a dollarocracy.
Representative George Miller. (Flickr/Nancy Pelosi)
It is rare that a member of Congress calls out a major industry, especially one with a powerful presence in his home state.
It is rarer still that a senior member of Congress, with a ranking position on a powerful committee, does so.
The California Democrat is speaking to the heart of the matter.
As the death toll at the Bangladesh garment factory that produced clothing for US stores passed 650, the powerful California Democrat who has for the better part of forty years made workplace safety his congressional brief did what few in Congress or the media have the guts to do.
He explained in blunt, unapologetic language, who was really responsible.
“The reason factory managers keep their workers in unsafe buildings on the verge of going up in flames or collapsing is fear,” declared Miller. “Fear that the Western brands and retailers will take their orders elsewhere because of a missed day of production, late delivery or a minuscule increase in production costs. The brands know this. That’s why I believe they bear the ultimate responsibility for these horrendously unsafe working conditions.”
The senior Democratic member of the House Committee on Education and the Workforce minced no words. And he made his statement in a forum where the fashion industry could not miss his message: a Monday morning column in Women’s Wear Daily, the industry “bible.”
To their credit, the editors of WWD placed Miller’s remarkable statement front and center, making it the top story on the publication’s website.
Though he comes from a state where many apparel firms are located, Miller offered a stark assessment not just of the horrors that have already been reported in a factory that served global brands but of the horrors to come if action is not taken.
“The death toll in Bangladesh’s garment industry is staggering, with 1,000 dead over the past several years. In the latest tragedy, an eight-story building that housed five garment factories collapsed, killing more than 500 so far, injuring more than 1,000 and leaving an unknown number of people trapped in the rubble of the Rana Plaza. And just five months earlier, a devastating fire at the Tazreen Fashions factory killed at least 112 garment workers,” wrote the congressman, whose influence with the Democratic leadership in Congress, with responsible Republicans and with the White House means that he is taken seriously by corporate executive who are all too adept at neglecting pressure to change their practices. “These two tragedies are not isolated. Since Tazreen, at least 40 incidents causing death and injuries as the result of fires and explosions at garment factories have occurred. Undoubtedly more will follow unless the major fashion brands change their business models.”
To change those business models, Miller is calling on the corporations that produce major brands and that sell them to sign on to an initiative backed by the Bangladesh Center for Worker Solidarity, the International Labor Rights Forum and other groups that have for years struggled to focus attention on conditions in the garment factories of southern Asia.
“American consumers and leaders in the fashion industry have a moral imperative to ensure that these tragedies do not happen again. The only way forward for the global brands to improve conditions and worker safety is an effective, enforceable and binding commitment. That is why I have asked a number of retailers and brands to join together and sign the Bangladesh Fire and Building Safety Agreement, developed by nongovernmental organizations to prevent these types of disasters from occurring,” says Miller.
The agreement is a vehicle for addressing “the most urgent elements necessary to tackle these dangers.” As such, it includes requirements for:
detailed public reporting of fire and building audits conducted by independent safety experts
timely repairs to unsafe workspaces and buildings
termination by brands of contracts with factories that defy obligations to keep workers safe
a right of workers to refuse unsafe work without retribution
union access to factories
The great debates about global trade, conditions for workers and a just economy rarely get the attention they deserve. And, too often, as Miller notes, corporations lay low hoping for the attention of governments and the media to turn to other issues.
But the congressman, by speaking directly to the fashion industry, and by making all the noise he can about the issue, is seeking to keep the economic, political and moral debate focused on concerns that are too fundamental to neglect any longer.
“The major global brands now face a choice: They can attempt to weather the storm, leaving workers in continued danger, or they can take a different road—one that includes healthy profits without the human death toll by signing onto an enforceable safety agreement,” writes Miller. “It is time that American consumers understand which brands will accept blood on their labels and which will not.”
When will free-traders-gone-wild own up to their complicity in global workplace disasters? Read William Greider’s take.
A job fair in Washington, DC. (Reuters/Jason Reed)
The US economy is suffering from a nasty case of austerity.
More than 11.7 million active job seekers cannot find work. And that figure does not include millions of Americans who have given up on looking for work, or who are severely under-employed. Add them in and the real unemployment’s at 13.9 percent.
Even the jobs that are being created tend to be in sectors of the economy where wages tend to low and benefits often nonexistent. For instance, the latest report notes growth in the “temporary services” sector. But there’s zero job growth in manufacturing.
“This is a classic ‘hold-steady’ report—enough job growth to keep the unemployment rate stable but not much more,” Heidi Shierholz, an economist with the Economic Policy Institute, says of the latest news from the US Department of Labor. “In good times, this would be fine, but at a time like this, it represents an ongoing disaster.”
Why are things so slow?
In a word: austerity.
“This month’s abysmal jobs number—165,000 new jobs in April, barely enough to cover new people coming into workforce—is a self-inflicted wound. Government austerity—[misguided tax policies] and spending cuts—is suffocating the economy, just when it needs air,” explains Robert Borosage, the co-director of the Campaign for America’s Future. “And the perversity will get worse. The sequester cuts are only now beginning to hit. Austerity is driving Europe deeper into recession. China is slowing. US exports will suffer. And Washington is about to descend into new self-manufactured crises around next year’s budget and the debt ceiling. The positive signs in housing, the extraordinary measures taken by the Federal Reserve, the soaring stock market are undermined by Washington’s failure.”
Congress cannot even agree on the problem. Despite the fact that their approach has been discredited—academically and practically—there are still members of the House and Senate who buy into the fantasy that what’s holding the economy back is government spending. Typical is Senator Ron Johnson, R-Wisconsin, who says, “To get the economy moving and generate real, self-sustaining job creation, we need to limit spending and reject more tax increases.”
In fact, the government should be targeting investments to spur job growth. As Dean Baker, the co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research, says, “Unless the government takes steps to boost growth, we will be seeing millions of people needlessly denied employment for over a decade. That should be the central focus of everyone in Washington.”
The immediate threat is posed by sequester cuts—following a classic austerity model. As they are implemented, the Congressional Budget Office projects, growth will be reduced by 0.5 percent, costing as many as 700,000 jobs. Congressman Mark Pocan, a Wisconsin Democrat who has emerged as a key player in the Congressional Progressive Caucus, says the House and Senate need to “pass a budget that ends the job-killing sequester cuts for everyone—not just the well-connected—and makes investments in job-creating programs such as infrastructure, education, and research and development.”
Pocan’s got the right answers. Unfortunately, there are too many politicians in Washington who have yet to start asking the right questions about how austerity is strangling economic recovery.
The entire austerity enterprise is based on faulty math. Listen to John Nichols's take.
An activist in New York City. (Reuters/Lucas Jackson)
When the Maine State House voted 111-33 this week to call for a constitutional amendment to overturn the US Supreme Court’s ruling in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, the support for this bold gesture was notably bipartisan. Twenty-five Republicans joined four independents and all eighty-two Democrats to back the call.
Similarly, when the Maine State Senate voted 25-9 for the resolution, five Republicans joined with nineteen Democrats and independent Senator Richard Woodbury to “call upon each Member of the Maine Congressional Delegation to actively support and promote in Congress an amendment to the United States Constitution on campaign finance.”
What happened in Maine this week was a big deal for several reasons:
1. Maine became the thirteenth state to urge Congress to develop an amendment to address the money-in-politics crisis that is unfolding as a result of Supreme Court rulings that that have effectively struck down campaign-finance regulations and ushered in a new era of unlimited spending by wealthy individuals and corporate interests. Maine joins West Virginia, Colorado, Montana, New Jersey, Connecticut, Massachusetts, California, Rhode Island, Maryland, Vermont, New Mexico and Hawaii in calling for an amendment. Washington, DC, has also backed the drive.
2. The swift action by both houses of the Maine legislature, coming less than a month after West Virginia urged Congress to act, confirms the momentum that is building for the movement, which has been backed by almost 500 communities nationwide. Though media coverage has been scant, it is rare in recent history for a grassroots movement to amend the constitution to have attracted so much official support at the municipal, county and state levels nationwide.
3. As in a number of other states, the significant level of bipartisan support in Maine provides a reminder that this movement is attracting support from across the partisan and ideological spectrum.
That final point merits particular attention.
Because of the often narrow and simplistic way in which political debates are covered in the United States—if they are covered at all—there is a tendency to think that all Democrats are reformers, while all Republicans are backers of big money in politics. That’s not the case. Polling has consistently shown that Republicans support for restrictions on corporate spending in elections very nearly parallels that of Democrats. And, while there are too many national Democrats who buy into big-money equations, there are Republicans who have begun to raise the right objections—and point to the right answers. Notably, Congressman Walter Jones Jr., a very conservative Republican congressman from North Carolina, is a cosponsor—along with Kentucky Democrat John Yarmuth—of a constitutional amendment proposal that would overturn key provisions of the Citizens United decision and establish that campaign contributions can be regulated by Congress and state legislatures.
Bipartisan support for reform is more evident in the states. State legislators are active at the grassroots, knocking on doors and meeting constituents face to face. They recognize the deep frustration with a political process that seems to have spun out of control, and they reject the premise that corporations and wealthy individuals have a constitutional right to buy elections.
“There has to be a way to secure First Amendment rights to speech and still control the amount of dollars spent on campaigns,” says Maine state Senator Edward Youngblood, a Republican who went so far as to appear at rallies calling for a constitutional amendment. “It should be plain to everyone after the election we’ve just had, which broke records for spending, that the system isn’t getting better.”
Youngblood is right, and the group that organized support for reform in his state, Maine Citizens for Clean Elections, wisely reached out to Democrats, Republicans, independents and third-party backers in pursuit of a “multi-partisan” coalition.
The approach has excited national groups such as Public Citizen’s Democracy Is for People Campaign, Move to Amend and Free Speech for People. Indeed, Free Speech for People’s Peter Schurman declared, “This terrific bi-partisan vote is a huge win, not only for Maine, but for all Americans. Republicans, independents, and Democrats alike are clamoring for a constitutional amendment to reverse Citizens United and bring back real democracy. We’re thrilled that Maine is now helping lead the way forward.”
He’s right, especially when it comes to the emphasis on drawing support from all parties for a reform that seeks to restore genuine competition based on ideas—as opposed to a shouting match between billionaires.
How did Wall Street knock the wind out of Dodd-Frank? Read Gary Rivlin’s analysis.
Early voting in Ohio, November 5, 2012. (AP Photo/Mark Duncan)
As the 2012 election approached, Republican governors and legislators in battleground states across the country rushed to enact restrictive Voter ID laws, to eliminate election-day registration and to limit early voting. Those were just some of the initiatives that the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People identified as “an onslaught of restrictive measures across the country designed to stem electoral strength among communities of color.”
Why did so much energy go into the effort?
John Payton, the president and director-counsel of the NAACP’s Legal Defense Fund, explained, “These block the vote efforts are a carefully targeted response to the remarkable growth of the minority electorate, and threaten to disproportionally diminish the voting strength of African-Americans and Latinos.”
Civil rights groups pushed back, working with the League of Women Voters, Common Cause and other organizations to mount legal and legislative challenges. But the most dramatic pushback may well have been the determined voter registration and mobilization drives organized on the ground in Florida, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and other battleground states.
A key supporter of the Ohio voter registration and turnout drive, State Senator Nina Turner says, “Republicans thought that they could suppress the vote, but these efforts actually motivated people to get registered and cast a ballot. It’s no surprise that the communities targeted by these policies came out to the polls in a big way—they saw this not just as an affront to their rights, but as a call to action.”
Turner’s point turns out to be highly significant.
According to a new study produced by Brookings Institution demographer William Frey for the Associated Press, 2012 turnout was down overall from 2004 and 2008. But African-American turnout does not appear to have declined at the same rate as white turnout.
Headlines suggested that African-American turnout levels may actually have exceeded white turnout levels, which would be a historic first. Frey tells MSNBC that he'll need to analyze more census data -- some of which is not yet available -- to confirm whether this was the case.
But the data that is available points to the critical conclusion: While overall turnout dropped from 2008 to 2012, African-American turnout remained steady at 13 percent.
That 13 percent figure is a big deal, as African Americans make up only 12 percent of eligible voters. In other words -- according to numbers reviewed by Brookings, the Pew Research Center and others -- the actual African-American vote in 2012 “outperformed” the group's percentage of the potential electorate.
Turnout among non-Hispanic white voters has traditionally outperformed that group's percentage of eligible voters. This was still the case in 2012. But, according to AP, the margin was down, and overall the white turnout nationwide was off by millions of votes.
The turnout patterns appear to have aided President Obama’s reelection run. Polling data tells us that the president always retained a good measure of popularity in the African-American community, as he did among young people. There was plenty of talk before the 2012 election, however, about an “enthusiasm gap” that would undermine turnout among voters who were most likely to be supportive of the president.
But the Reverend Al Sharpton, the president of the National Action Network and the host of MSNBC’s Politics Nation, says anger over voter suppression did much to alter the dynamic.
“From the tours we did in 22 states, it became clear to us that many blacks that were apathetic and indifferent became outraged and energized when they realized that [Republicans] were changing the rules in the middle of the game, in terms of voter ID laws, ending ‘souls to the polls,’” Sharpton told theGrio.” So what was just another election, even though it dealt with the re-election of the first black president, took on a new dimension when they realized that they were implementing the disenfranchisement of black voters.”
This was a big deal for Obama and the Democrats.
Indeed, the emerging research on voter turnout suggests, it might well have been definitional.
Romney would have erased Obama’s nearly 5 million-vote victory margin and narrowly won the popular vote if voters had turned out as they did in 2004, according to Frey’s analysis. Then, white turnout was slightly higher and black voting lower.
More significantly, the battleground states of Ohio, Pennsylvania, Virginia, Florida and Colorado would have tipped in favor of Romney, handing him the presidency if the outcome of other states remained the same.
If the African-American voting patterns seen in 2012 continue—in combination with rising Latino and Asian turnout and support for Democratic candidates—Frey says, “By 2024, the [minority] vote will be essential to victory. Democrats will be looking at a landslide going into 2028 if the new Hispanic voters continue to favor Democrats.”
But that’s a prediction that does not take into account the prospect that political parties can and do change.
By and large, the recent focus with regard to the future of the Republican Party has been on speculation about how the Republicans might change their fortunes by nominating a candidate with broader appeal: Florida Senator Marco Rubio or, perhaps, New Mexico Governor Susana Martinez.
But the significance of rising African-American turnout—in combination with other turnout and voting patterns—suggests that the extent to which the Republican Party changes its approach on voting issues could matter as much or more than the ethnicity of candidates.
The Republican National Committee’s remarkable “autopsy report” on the GOP’s 2012 election debacle concluded that “many minorities wrongly think that Republicans do not like them or want them in the country.”
“The pervasive mentality of writing off blocks of states or demographic votes for the Republican Party must be completely forgotten,” wrote the authors of the report. “The Republican Party must compete on every playing field.”
The Republicans who penned that statement provided indications of their sincerity. The autopsy report was strong in its general recognition of the challenges the GOP faces in attracting African-American, Asian-American and Latino voters, as well as women and young people. But it was soft with regard to the voting-rights debate.
But it is hard to imagine that Republicans can make the inroads they seek with minority voters if the party is identified with what civil rights, voting rights and good-government groups identify as voter suppression.
If that identification remains, the party’s candidate recruitment and messaging strategies are unlikely to be sufficient to renew its fortunes.
If the GOP becomes more clearly and seriously supportive of voting rights, on the other hand, the party’s options expand.
This is something Republicans—and, frankly, Democrats who imagine a simple strategy of benefitting from Republican missteps—ought to recognize: There should not be a partisan divide when it comes to voting rights.
The message for Republicans is clear enough: The backlash against what were broadly perceived as assaults on voting rights appears to have been a significant factor in the 2012 election results.
If Republicans are serious about reaching out to African-American voters, and to voters in other minority groups, they have to address voting-rights concerns.
Republicans have a tremendous story to tell. Theirs is not just the “Party of Lincoln,” it is the party of former Congressman William Moore McCulloch, the Ohioan who served as the ranking Republican member of the House Judiciary Committee in the critical days when the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965 were being forged.
No one who knows the history of that time doubts the vital role that McCulloch, a very conservative Republican who was a steady critic of federal spending, played in securing essential support for measures that outlawed segregation and racial discrimination. Lyndon Johnson would hail the Ohio Congressman as “the most important and powerful political force” in advancing civil rights legislation in the period.
McCulloch did so because, he said, “To do less would be to shirk our responsibility as national legislators, and as human beings who honor the principles of liberty and justice.”
The contemporary Republican Party has lost four of the last six presidential elections. It has won a plurality of the popular vote just once since 1988. A recognition of the challenges the party faces has led to a measure of soul searching, and that in turn has inspired public and private wrangling over electoral strategies. It may be the case that some Republicans still want to play the voter-suppression card, but they do their party no favors.
The smarter strategy is to recognize that voters are wary of those who seek to restrict voting. In Maine, in 2011, a referendum vote overturned an attempt by the Republican governor and legislator to eliminate election-day registration. In Minnesota, in 2012, voters rejected a Republican-backed constitutional amendment to impose a strict Voter ID law.
Republicans need to engage in a rethink when it comes to voting issues.
It is often said that the emerging demographics of the United States are not on the side of the GOP. However, demographics are not necessarily the stuff of electoral fate.
The new studies of voter turnout offer sobering indicators for party strategists. But they also suggests a way forward.
If Republicans desire to stop “writing off blocks of states or demographic votes,” the party must send affirmative signals about its commitment to voting rights. Republicans can and should do so in the spirit of William Moore McCulloch, and the many Republicans—some of them quite conservative—who recognized that his party should be in the forefront of supporting voting rights.
But it’s not just Republicans who need to get more serious, and more focused, on taking practical steps to advance voting rights. Both parties need to work dramatically harder to establish a uniform commitment to defend the right to vote and to assure that every vote is counted. In short order, Congressmen Keith Ellison, D-Minnesota, and Mark Pocan, D-Wisconsin, will introduce legislation calling for a “Right-to-Vote” amendment to the US Constitution. It’s being proposed with an eye toward ending the lingering uncertainty about voting rights in the United States. Ellison and Pocan are interested in appealing to Republicans as potential co-sponsors. They should make this a high priority, not merely for the practical reason that broad support is needed for their initiative but because the American commitment to expand and sustain voting rights can and should be embraced by all parties.
Immigrant rights activists, unions and others are gearing up for May Day—under the FBI’s watch. Read Allison Kilkenny’s analysis.