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The most under-covered political movement in the United States—and there are a lot of under-covered political movements in the United States—is the broad-based national campaign to enact a constitutional amendment to overturn the Supreme Court rulings that ushered in a new era of big-money politics.
On the eve of the nation’s Fourth of July celebrations, Oregon became the sixteenth state to formally call for an amendment. With bipartisan support, the state House and Senate requested that Congress take necessary steps to re-establish the basic American premise that “money is property and not speech, and [that] the Congress of the United States, state legislatures and local legislative bodies should have the authority to regulate political contributions and expenditures…”
Oregon is the fifth state to make the call for corporate accountability in three months, making 2013 a banner year for a movement that began with little attention and little in the way of institutional support after the US Supreme Court’s 2010 ruling, in the case of Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, that corporations could spend as freely as they like to buy favorable election results.
Support for an amendment now stretches from coast to coast, with backing (in the form of legislative resolutions or statewide referendum results) from California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Montana New Jersey, New Mexico, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont and West Virginia. The District of Columbia is also supportive of the move to amend, as are roughly 500 municipalities, from Liberty, Maine, to Los Angeles, California—where 77 percent of voters backed a May referendum instructing elected representatives to seek an amendment establishing that “there should be limits on political campaign spending and that corporations should not have the constitutional rights of human beings.”
“Why does it matter how many states call for an amendment? Ultimately, an amendment will have to be ratified by three-fourths of the states. That’s thirty-eight. Four more and we’re halfway there,” says Rob Weissman, the president of Public Citizen, which is working with a burgeoning Corporate Reform Coalition of more than seventy groups nationwide. “But before that, an amendment must be passed by a two-thirds vote in both chambers of the US Congress. And one of the most effective ways to show a state’s representatives and senators in Washington, DC, that there is popular demand for an amendment is to pass a resolution back home.”
The successful work by national groups such as Public Citizen, Common Cause, Free Speech for People and Move to Amend, in conjunction with grassroots coalitions that are now active from northern Alaska to the tip of the Florida Keys, is far more dramatic than most of the initiatives you’ll see from the Democratic or Republican parties—which don’t do much but fund-raise—and various and sundry groupings on the right and left. Yet, for the most part, news of reform victories are afforded scant attention even from supposedly sympathetic media.
As such, the fantasy that says reform is impossible persists.
Just imagine if the movement to amend big money out of politics got as much attention, say, as the wrangling over IRS “targeting”—a classic money-in-politics controversy.
Just imagine if all Americans knew that calls for an amendment are coming not just from traditional progressive reformers but from Republican legislators and honest conservatives at the state and national levels.
Free Speech for People highlights the dozens of Republican legislators who have backed calls for an amendment to overturn not just the Citizens United ruling but other barriers to the regulation of money in politics. With backing from third-party and independent legislators, as well, the passage of the state resolutions highlights what the group refers to as “a growing trans-partisan movement…calling for the US Supreme Court’s misguided decision in Citizens United v. FEC (2010) to be overturned, through one or more amendments to the US Constitution.”
North Carolina Congressman Walter Jones Jr., who maintains one of the most conservative voting records in the House has signed on as a co-sponsor of one of several proposed amendments. Why? “If we want to change Washington and return power to the citizens of this nation, we have to change the way campaigns are financed,” says the congressman. “The status quo is dominated by deep-pocketed special interests, and that’s simply unacceptable to the American people.”
Congressman Jones is noting something that too many DC insiders, be they members of Congress or pundits commenting on Congress, fail to recognize: millions of Americans are already engaged on this issue. They are organizing for, marching for, writing letters for, sending e-mails for, testifying for and voting for the fundamental reform that is an essential building block in any movement to restore faith in the political process and renew American democracy: a constitutional amendment declaring, as the Oregon legislature just did, that “based on the American value of fair play, leveling the playing field and ensuring that all citizens, regardless of wealth, have an opportunity to have their political views heard, there is a valid rationale for regulating political spending.”
John Nichols and Robert W. McChesney are the authors of Dollarocracy: How the Money and Media Election Complex is Destroying America (Nation Books). Author Thomas Frank says, “This is the black book of politics-as-industry, an encyclopedic account of money’s crimes against democracy. The billionaires have hijacked our government, and anyone feeling complacent after the 2012 election should take sober note of Nichols’s and McChesney’s astonishing finding: It’s only going to get worse. Dollarocracy is an impressive achievement.”
During the decades of his imprisonment by South Africa’s apartheid regime, Nelson Mandela read widely and deeply from the historical and philosophical texts of the ages.
Mandela sampled from the global canon. Yet he took a special interest in the record of American revolt against empire.
The events of July 4, 1776, have across the long arc of history captured the imaginations of men and women who would build nations far beyond the borders of the United States. And that was certainly the case with Mandela. When I covered him on his 1990 tour of the United States and during his 1994 campaign for the presidency of South Africa, it quickly became clear that Mandela had developed a rich understanding of the revolutionary history of the United States—and of the individuals and ideas that shaped it.
Mandela has always displayed a high regard for the histories and ideas of nations that dispatched colonial overlords. His speeches and essays on Mahatma Gandhi and Jawaharlal Nehru are remarkable documents, as are his reflections on leading figures from the anti-colonial struggles of central Africa and the Caribbean.
Mandela recognized that the United States has a distinct anti-colonial history. And he has often employed that recognition to remind Americans and others of ideals and values that are too frequently forgotten.
In his address to the US Congress twenty-three years ago, Mandela spoke of “the struggle for democracy and human rights, not only in our country, but throughout the world.”
“We could not have made an acquaintance through literature with human giants such as George Washington, Abraham Lincoln and Thomas Jefferson and not been moved to act, as they were moved to act. We could not have heard of and admired John Brown, Sojourner Truth, Frederick Douglass, W.E.B. Du Bois, Marcus Garvey, Martin Luther King Jr. and others,” declared Mandela. “We could not have heard of these and not be moved to act as they were moved to act. We could not have known of your Declaration of Independence and not elected to join in the struggle to guarantee the people’s life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”
Already engaged with the work of shaping the new South Africa, Mandela delivered this message to the US Congress: “The day may not be far when we will borrow the words of Thomas Jefferson and speak of the will of the South African nation in the exercise of that will by this united nation of black and white people—it must surely be that there will be born a country on the southern tip of Africa which you will be proud to call a friend and an ally because of its contribution to the universal striving toward liberty, human rights, prosperity and peace among the people.”
Like so many who have struggled for democracy over the past two centuries, Mandela has taken his cues not merely from presidents and the crafters of official documents. He has honored Tom Paine, the radical pamphleteer who wrote not just of the specifics of the American experiment but of the prospect that a nation and its people might inspire the world.
The speeches Mandela gave in the critical transition period from apartheid oppression to multiracial democracy were laced with homages to Paine—especially the pamphleteer’s Common Sense promise: “We have every opportunity and every encouragement before us, to form the noblest purest constitution on the face of the earth. We have it in our power to begin the world over again. A situation, similar to the present, hath not happened since the days of Noah until now. The birthday of a new world is at hand.”
When Mandela was inaugurated as his country’s president, he announced that South Africa was striving not merely for the birth of a new nation but “for the birth of a new world.”
Mandela served one term and then stepped down, refusing—as George Washington had in the early years of the American experiment—to cling to power that the people had willingly given him. Speaking on Sunday in South Africa, where vigils were being kept for an ailing Mandela, President Obama said the South African leader “showed us that one man’s courage can move the world.”
Inspiration is passed across borders and oceans, across generations and centuries. There is an arc of history. It was bent toward justice by Paine in the eighteenth century. It has been bent toward justice by Mandela in our time. And one of the gifts Mandela has given to America, one of the gifts he continues to give this country and the world, is a reminder of our revolutionary roots and our highest aspirations.
In arguing that Britain’s colonial subjects should engage in the bold and dangerous work of seeking independence, Paine wrote: “The cause of America is in a great measure the cause of all mankind. Many circumstances hath, and will arise, which are not local, but universal, and through which the principles of all lovers of mankind are affected, and in the event of which, their affections are interested. The laying a country desolate with fire and sword, declaring war against the natural rights of all mankind, and extirpating the defenders thereof from the face of the Earth, is the concern of every man to whom nature hath given the power of feeling; of which class, regardless of party censure, is the AUTHOR.”
It was Mandela who, two centuries later, became the face of a broad anti-apartheid movement that would speak the same language, and imagine the same role, for an African nation.
“We live with the hope that as she battles to remake herself, South Africa will be like a microcosm of the new world that is striving to be born,” Mandela declared in his Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speech. “This must be a world of democracy and respect for human rights, a world freed from the horrors of poverty, hunger, deprivation and ignorance, relieved of the threat and the scourge of civil wars and external aggression and unburdened of the great tragedy of millions forced to become refugees.”
Every nation is engaged in an endless process of defining itself. Great thinkers, great leaders ask their nations to go further. They believe—as Paine did—that a country might seek “to begin the world over again,” and they imagine—as Mandela has—that their nation might inspire and inform “the birth of a new world.”
John Nichols is the author, with Robert W. McChesney, of Dollarocracy: How the Money and Media Election Complex Is Destroying America (Nation Books). Thomas E. Patterson, the Bradlee Professor of Government and the Press at Harvard University, says: “As Nichols and McChesney’s new book shows, the robber barons of the late nineteenth century were pikers compared with today’s moneyed interests. They have hijacked our elections at all levels, and nothing short of the sweeping reforms called for in Dollarocracy can fix the problem. The book is a must read for anyone who cares about the integrity of our democratic system.”
Attendees line up for an interview with a prospective employer at a job fair in Washington, August 6, 2009. (REUTERS/Jason Reed)
There’s a great deal of talk these days about how the US economy is improving. And there is certainly a great deal of attention being paid to the reported preparation of the Federal Reserve Board to ease up on the “easy money” policies implemented after George Bush steered the economy into an economic meltdown. But Jared Bernstein, the former chief economist and economic adviser to Vice President Joe Biden who is now a senior fellow with the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, warns that “they’re doing so too soon.”
Bernstein titled a recent article on the economy “Don’t give up on the jobs crisis yet!”
The United States still has an official unemployment rate of 7.6 percent. But the real unemployment rate—if people who are underemployed and people who have given up on the search for work are included—is roughly double that. And for some groups of Americans, the numbers are dramatically higher: African Americans aged 16 to 24 experienced an unemployment rate of 28.2 percent in May. Latinos in that same age group had an unemployment rate of 16.6 percent. In general, young people are having a hard time finding jobs, and that is especially true in urban centers that have been hard hit by long-term deindustrialization that’s linked not just to an absent industrial policy but also to wrongheaded “free-trade” agreements such as NAFTA and the extension of permanent most-favored-nation trading status to China.
These are crisis numbers. The research that in the 1970s formed the basis for the Full Employment and Balanced Growth Act—the Humphrey-Hawkins Full Employment Act—argued that, to maintain a sound economy and society, unemployment rates should not go above 3 percent for persons aged 20 and over, or above 4 percent for persons aged 16 or over.
The United States is nowhere near that goal. And this means that the jobs crisis should be a front-and-center concern of official Washington.
There is no need to neglect vital debates about voting rights, marriage equality, immigration reform, Syria, Egypt and a host of other pressing concerns. But it is vital that members of Congress pay serious attention to the jobs crisis that is so real and so overwhelming for so many young Americans.
This is a point that the AFL-CIO makes: “Today’s young workers are part of the largest generation to enter the workforce since the baby boomers. People born between the late 1970s and 2000 also make up the most diverse and technologically savvy generation in America’s history. But they suffer the nation’s highest unemployment—about twice the national average—and the fewest job opportunities in today’s economy.”
This is a point that the National Council of La Raza has made as it has advocated for immigration reform while at the same time campaigning against sequestration cuts that have been especially hard on job-training and job-placement programs in high-unemployment neighborhoods. “Reducing the deficit should not increase the ranks of the unemployed. The automatic cuts that started in March are projected to reduce job creation by 750,000 this year according to the Congressional Budget Office,” explains the council. “This is bad news for Latinos, who still face a 9.6% unemployment rate in 2013. The deficit will decline naturally as the economy improves and more people get jobs, resume paying taxes, and reduce their need for safety-net programs. If further deficit reduction is needed, this should occur when unemployment is low, not beforehand.”
This is a point that US Senator Bernie Sanders made after corporations started cutting deals with regard to visa and travel programs that were advantageous to them, as part of the wrangling over the immigration reform legislation.
Sanders, a steady supporter of immigrant rights, wanted to assure that attention was also paid to the needs of unemployed youth in the United States. He did so by getting Senate leaders to agree to add a provision to the immigration reform legislation that would provide $1.5 billion over two years for states and local communities to help find jobs for more than 400,000 jobs for 16- to 24-year-old.
“At a time when real unemployment is close to 14 percent and even higher among young people and minorities, it is absolutely imperative that we create millions of decent-paying jobs in our country,” says Sanders. “The establishment of a youth employment program for 400,000 young people is a good step forward but in the months to come we must do even more.”
It is possible to do more.
Congress has to deal with a wide range of issues. It should never be an either/or circumstance. The calculus when it comes to job creation should be and/and. The federal government has tremendous resources and tremendous capacity to stimulate job growth. And it ought to focus especially on the communities and regions where deindustrialization and the Bush-Cheney financial meltdown have created unemployment levels that are too high—especially for young Americans.
John Nichols and Robert W. McChesney are the authors of Dollarocracy: How the Money and Media Election Complex is Destroying America (Nation Books). Center for Media and Democracy executive director Lisa Graves says: “The billionaires are buying our media and our elections. They’re spinning our democracy into a dollarocracy. John Nichols and Bob McChesney expose the culprits who steered America into the quagmire of big money and provide us with the tools to free ourselves and our republic from the corporate kleptocrats.”
While many Americans are struggling to find work, those with jobs are struggling for better wages and working conditions—yesterday, BART workers in San Francisco went on strike after contract negotiations stalled.
Senator Wendy Davis speaks as she begins a filibuster in an effort to kill an abortion bill, Tuesday, June 25, 2013, in Austin, Texas. (AP Photo/Eric Gay)
Texas State Senator Wendy Davis, who electrified her state and the nation with last week’s thirteen-hour filibuster to block a sweeping assault on reproductive rights, and who promises to keep up the fight this week as the legislature is called into special session, is suddenly the most interesting prospective gubernatorial candidate in the nation.
When she appeared last week on the MSNBC show All In with Chris Hayes, the Democratic legislator was asked if she might run in 2014 against Republican Governor Rick Perry. Her reply? “You know, I would be lying if I told you that I hadn’t had aspirations to run for a statewide office.”
A close political ally went even further, acknowledging that the veteran local official and legislator is “looking very closely” at the 2014 race. “Certainly, the events over the last week or so show a groundswell in Texas,” says Davis associate Matt Angle, who directs the Democratic political firm Lone Star Project. “We have to see if it all adds up to a statewide campaign.”
As a matter of fact, it does add up.
The woman who so shook Perry that he started taking personal shots at her has the necessary name recognition, thousands of enthusiastic supporters and the potential to raise significant campaign cash from small donors across Texas and nationwide.
Davis has also got a brash, no-apologies-for-being-right approach that has historically played well in the Lone Star State. Long before she was filibustering for reproductive rights, Davis was filibustering for education funding. And her heavy lifting as a progressive legislator has won her a slew of awards like the one from the Texas Office of Public Citizen, which named her the state’s “Outstanding Public Servant.”
Davis is fighting Perry again this week, celebrating the determination of Texas pro-choice activists and declaring to a huge crowd in front of state Capitol Monday that their courage and commitment had made her "believe in Texas more than ever!"
Decrying not just assaults on the rights of women but on public education and public services, Davis pulled the threads of resistance together into a broad call for a fairer and more just Texas, telling the crowd: "That's what we're fighting for."
Indeed, she declared, if Perry wants a special session, then she and "responsible" legislators will use it to promote pay equity for women.
"Let's remind Governor Perry that fairness is and always will be a fundamental Texas value," announced the Democratic senator to a crowd that chanted "Wendy! Wendy! Wendy!"
Davis shouted above the cheers: "Texans deserve someone who will stand up for them and their values."
But, on Monday in Austin, there was a good deal of talk about how Davis might be the right woman at the right time.
If Davis decides to run, she will not be the first brave, bold woman to seek the governorship of Texas.
Texas Governor Ann Richards, the last Democrat to win the state’s top job, was the star of the 1988 Democratic National Convention—where she famously made a case for equal rights that included the line: “After all, Ginger Rogers did everything that Fred Astaire did. She just did it backwards and in high heels.”
Before Richards, there was the remarkable Frances “Sissy” Farenthold, who was the only woman in the Texas House of Representatives at the same time that Barbara Jordan was the only women in the Texas Senate. Farenthold made a pair of remarkable bids for the Democratic nomination for governor in the early 1970s. She was such an inspiring figure that her surprise nomination for vice president at the 1972 Democratic National Convention drew more than 400 votes.
And, of course, Miriam Amanda Wallace “Ma” Ferguson was elected to one term as governor of Texas in the 1920s, and to another in the 1930s.
Texas actually has a better track record of seriously considering and frequently electing women governors, senators and statewide office holders than many American states.
Yet the Texas Democratic Party has not always shined in its selection of contenders for the gubernatorial post it last won in 1990. Placing Davis at the top of its 2014 ticket could well reap benefits for the party. That’s not to say that Davis would have an easy time of it. Mounting a challenge to Perry, the failed 2012 Republican presidential candidate who makes no secret of his interest in the 2016 race, would be an uphill run in a state that gave Republican Mitt Romney 57 percent of the vote in 2012.
But smart politics is not merely about crunching numbers from past contests. Smart politics takes into account personal and situational intangibles, with an eye toward mounting a campaign that takes the great leap forward.
The intangible for Wendy Davis is that she has already proven herself to a substantial number of Texas voters, especially but certainly not exclusively women.
Davis has never lost an election, winning three terms on the Fort Worth City Council before she beat a Republican incumbent to win a state Senate seat in 2008 and retained that seat in 2012. Davis is not a milquetoast mandarin. She’s a quick-witted political natural who clearly knows the issues and who is ready to wage fights—including filibusters—on behalf of a socially and economically progressive agenda.
It is not unreasonable to suggest that Davis could build a statewide movement that would include women, African-Americans, Asians and Latinos—as well as trade unionists—in a coalition that could speed up the process of transformation that most political analysts say will change Texas voting patterns sometime in the reasonably near future.
Demographics are destiny in American politics. And the demographics of the Lone Star state are trending toward the Democrats. But there’s always been a question about whether 2014, 2016, 2018—or some more distant year—will see Texas reach the tipping point.
Political strategists in both parties know that one of the best ways to speed up the process is with a dynamic candidate who has the potential to raise enough campaign cash to give Rick Perry—a particularly prodigious fund-raiser—a run for his money.
When the Democratic Party picks safe and predictable candidates in red states like Texas, it gets a safe and predictable result: defeat.
Wendy Davis is not safe and predictable. She’s energetic and engaged, Harvard-Law-School smart and broadly experienced at the local and state levels of government.
Rick Perry knows that adds up to a serious challenge. That’s why he is on the attack. That’s also why Davis could well turn out to be the most viable Texas Democratic gubernatorial prospect since Ann Richards won the job back in 1990.
John Nichols is the co-author of Dollarocracy: How the Money and Media Election Complex is Destroying America (Nation Books), which examines the new state-based politics that links protests and electoral bids. Jim Hightower says: “Nichols and McChesney strike again! And, as usual, these two experienced and effective fighters for common sense and the common good are right on target with Dollarocracy. The truth might not ‘make you free,’ but it can make you move into action to free our great nation from the political stranglehold of big money. So read… and let’s get moving!”
Was Wendy Davis’s filibuster heroic? Katha Pollitt argues that the state senator is not merely a hero but a superhero.
A Syrian soldier, who has defected to join the Free Syrian Army, holds up his rifle and waves a Syrian independence flag in the Damascus suburb of Saqba, January 27, 2012. (REUTERS/Ahmed Jadallah)
Congressman Peter Welch does not want the United States to “Americanize” the civil war in Syria.
To that end, Welch says, Congress must renew its commitment to the Constitution, which gives the legislative branch of the federal government not just the power to declare war but the authority to check and balance military interventions and alliances that might lead to war.
“Congress must accept its responsibility, not abdicate it,” says the Vermont Democrat, who is a key player on the House Oversight and Government Reform Subcommittee on National Security and Foreign Affairs.
To that end, Welch has this week taken a leadership role—along with New York Republican Chris Murphy—in a bipartisan push for Congress to restrict direct military aid to Syrian rebels.
Welch is not naïve, nor is he neglectful of realities on the ground in the Middle East. He traveled to the region last month as part of a congressional oversight mission, visiting an enormous refugee camp along the long the Turkish-Syrian border where he says he witnessed “enormous heartache and suffering in a humanitarian disaster on a vast scale.”
Yet, while the Democrat is quick to condemn the brutality of the Syrian government and its military, he notes that divisions between the various opposition factions means “there is no good choice when it comes to US interventions in the region.” And that includes the Obama administration’s decision to provide military aid to rebel forces.
“There’s an enormous risk that we ‘Americanize’ what is a civil war,” the congressman has argued. “So anyone, politicians foremost among them, who likes to suggest as an armchair general that there’s easy and definitive way to provide a military solution to this festering civil war I think is mistaken.”
On Thursday, Welch and Gibson, with the support of a bipartisan coalition of their colleagues, announced plans to introduce a House version of a Senate measure—sponsored by Democrats Tom Udall of New Mexico and Chris Murphy of Connecticut, as well as Republicans Rand Paul of Kentucky and Mike Lee of Utah—that would block any military aid to Syrian rebel groups and US support of military operations in Syria until authorized by a joint resolution of Congress. While the bill does allow for non-lethal humanitarian assistance for the Syrian people, it would require the administration to report to Congress every ninety days detailing precisely what assistance is being provided to specific groups, organizations, movements and individuals in Syria.
“It’s vitally important that we recognize the lessons learned from Iraq and Afghanistan. Syria is in a brutal and tragic civil war,” says Welch. “To the extent we can help, we should help. But sending direct military assistance to Syrian rebels—some of whom we support, others we don’t—raises the real risk of Americanizing a Sunni-Shia civil war. If America is to walk down this path, Congress should be involved in the decision to do so. This bill ensures that Congress will be a part of the decision making process.”
For too long, Congress has been a bystander as successive administrations have involved the United States in conflicts that should be carefully considered. Welch, who came to Congress as an outspoken critic of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, has for a number of years argued that “it is time for the United States to return to a responsible foreign policy.”
The use of the term “return” is important.
As Welch notes, the Syrian conflict is heartbreaking and compelling. It demands diplomatic and humanitarian interventions.
But direct military aid is something else altogether.
The distinction is one that was well understood at the founding of the republic, and over the ensuing years when the United States established itself on the international stage. One-hundred-and-ninety-two years ago next week, on July 4, 1821, then–Secretary of State John Quincy Adams outlined the foreign policy of the still young nation by telling Congress, “Wherever the standard of freedom and Independence has been or shall be unfurled, there will [America’s] heart, her benedictions and her prayers be. But she goes not abroad, in search of monsters to destroy.”
Adams who would four years later assume the role of commander-in-chief, as the nation’s sixth president, said of his country:
She is the well-wisher to the freedom and independence of all. She is the champion and vindicator only of her own. She will commend the general cause by the countenance of her voice, and the benignant sympathy of her example. She well knows that by once enlisting under other banners than her own, were they even the banners of foreign independence, she would involve herself beyond the power of extrication, in all the wars of interest and intrigue, of individual avarice, envy, and ambition, which assume the colors and usurp the standard of freedom. The fundamental maxims of her policy would insensibly change from liberty to force… She might become the dictatress of the world. She would be no longer the ruler of her own spirit.
Those were wise words in 1821 and, as Peter Welch notes, they are, as well, wise words for 2013.
The new book by John Nichols and Robert W. McChesney, Dollarocracy: How the Money and Media Election Complex is Destroying America (The Nation), exposes how super-charged lobbying is breaking down government oversight and the system of checks and balances on vital domestic and international-policy issues.
While Congress has not yet acted on its right to check and balance military interventions, the CIA has already begun shipping weapons into Syria.
Ed Markey speaks during a joint hearing of the Subcommittee on Energy and Power and the Subcommittee on Environment and the Economy on Capitol Hill, Wednesday, March 16, 2011, in Washington. (AP Photo)
Democrats often have a hard time winning special elections for US Senate seats in Massachusetts.
But not Tuesday. Democrat Ed Markey won big.
Though it is by standard measures a Democratic state, Massachusetts special elections have produced more than their share of Republican senators. Indeed, from the 1940s forward, Edward Kennedy was the only Democrat to win a special election for a Massachusetts Senate seat—the 1962 race to finish the term his older brother gave up to assume the presidency.
The only Democrat, that is, until now.
When Massachusetts voters went to the polls Tuesday to elect a senator to finish the term of Secretary of State John Kerry, everyone was watching the state that shocked the nation in 2010 by electing Republican Scott Brown to finish Kennedy’s last term. But there was no surprise this time. Congressman Ed Markey, the Democratic nominee, beat Republican Gabriel Gomez by an overwhelming 55-45 margin.
Markey had run a relatively old-school Democratic race, and most polls conducted as the race was finishing gave him the lead. But Gomez, a wealthy private equity investor who self-financed his way into the Republican nomination, mounted an aggressive challenge as “a new generation of Republican leader with a great American story.”
Gomez got significant financial support from outside the state, including a boost from Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Kentucky, who desperately wanted a Massachusetts win to promote the notion that Republicans are on their way to a Senate takeover in 2014.
Additionally, this contest played out during a period when Washington Democrats, including President Obama, were being battered by negative headlines and persistent congressional inquiries. That was tough for Markey, a House veteran who has served thirty-six years in Washington and, thus, was positioned as the “experienced” candidate at a time when that commodity is not always valued.
So it was a real race.
That’s what makes Markey’s win an important one.
Markey and Gomez campaigned as very different individuals with very different positions on the issues. Some effort was made to pitch Gomez as a moderate who could work with President Obama, in the spirit of Brown at his most mainstream. But Markey and Gomez found little in the way of shared ground—they clashed on everything from whether Edward Snowden should be labeled a “traitor” to the threat posed by big-money influence on politics.
The most fundamental difference, however, was on the question of austerity.
Gomez ran as a classic proponent of austerity. He proposed to balance budgets on the backs of working families and retirees. The Republican nominee supported raising the retirement age for Social Security benefits for future retirees and he wanted to alter the formula for cost-of-living adjustments for seniors. Gomez was an ardent supporter of the “chained CPI” (chained consumer price index) scheme, which is generally seen as a strategy for cutting costs at the expense of the elderly.
Though President Obama has entertained the “chained CPI” shift, Markey—like many of his fellow members of the Congressional Progressive Caucus—was explicit in his opposition to the change. Indeed, with backing from unions and groups such as the Progressive Change Campaign Committee and Progressive Democrats of America, he made that opposition central to his campaign message in the special-election race.
While McConnell and Gomez tried to pitch the Republican candidate’s support for the “chained CPI” switch as evidence of his “bipartisan” commitment—an ironic message coming from the fiercely partisan minority leader—Markey was steadfast in rejecting the arguments of politicians of both parties who would undermine Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid.
Decrying chained CPI as “cutting people’s income,” the congressman said of the adjusted figures under the plan, “That new number won’t keep up with inflation on things like food and health care, the basics we need to live on, and that is just plain wrong.”
“My opponent Gabriel Gomez, he supports chained CPI and cuts to Social Security benefits,” Markey said at a pre-election event at the Hebrew Senior Life center in Brookline, Massachusetts. “Current and future seniors and veterans would lose $146 billion in benefits over the next 10 years.”
The congressman said pretty much the same thing in intense televised debates with Gomez, who adopted the standard DC-insider line of suggesting that he wanted to “tell you the truth” about so-called “entitlement” programs, debts and deficits.
The truth, of course, is that there are many ways to balance budgets.
Wealthy campaign donors who would prefer not to surrender their advantaged positions when it comes to tax policies, and corporations that do not want to face reasonable regulations or basic accountability, would prefer to shift the burden toward working Americans and the elderly. That was the austerity peddled by Gomez.
Working Americans prefer investments in infrastructure and job creation, fairer taxes and guarantees that earned benefits will not be threatened. That’s the growth agenda that’s at odds with austerity, and Markey embraced its core themes.
It was this debate over basic economics that defined the Massachusetts race.
The choice that voters rendered Tuesday had less to do with the candidates than with sentiments regarding an approach to balancing budgets that errs on the side of fairness or on the side of ever-expanding income inequality. Ultimately, that is what the austerity debate comes down to, and the austerity debate is what the Markey-Gomez race was all about.
John Nichols is the author, with Robert W. McChesney, of the new book Dollarocracy: How the Money and Media Election Complex is Destroying America (Nation Books), which detauls the rise of big-money, small vision politics in America. Naomi Klein says, “John Nichols and Bob McChesney make a compelling, and terrifying, case that American democracy is becoming American dollarocracy. Even more compelling, and hopeful, is their case for a radical reform agenda to take power back from the corporations and give it to the people.”
While voters in Massachusetts were deciding between Markey and Gomez yesterday, the Supreme Court had a vote of its own: to strike down a key section of the Voting Rights Act.
The US Supreme Court building. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)
What the US Supreme Court has done, with its decision to strike down essential elements of the Voting Rights Act, is wrong.
But the Court has not gone so rogue as might immediately seem to be the case in a nation that our civics teachers tell us is committed to democratic values.
Rather, the Court’s conservative majority has taken advantage of a gap in the Constitution that must be addressed.
The Court’s 5-4 ruling invalidated the formula used to determine which states come under the requirement that changes to voting laws, procedures and polling place locations in all or part of fifteen targeted states be approved in advance by the Justice Department or a panel of federal judges. The ruling says that Congress went too far in seeking to prevent racial discrimination in voting when it reauthorized the historic act in 2006, with votes of 98-0 in the Senate and 390-33 in the House.
It fell to Congressman John Lewis, the Georgia Democrat who came to national prominence as a civil right movement campaigner for voting rights to say it: "Today, the Supreme Court stuck a dagger into the heart of the Voting Rights Act of 1965."
Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg shares that viiew. The justice, in a scathing dissent, wrote, “After exhaustive evidence-gathering and deliberative process, Congress reauthorized the VRA, including the coverage provision, with overwhelming bipartisan support. In my judgment, the Court errs egregiously by overriding Congress’s decision.”
Lewis and Ginsburg are right. As Brennan Center for Justice president Michael Waldman argues: “The Supreme Court’s decision is at odds with recent history. The Voting Rights Act was vital in 2012, not just 1965. For nearly five decades, it has been the nation’s most effective tool to eradicate racial discrimination in voting. And it is still critical today."
Congress can and should come back at the issue, following the counsel of groups such as the Brennan Center, which argues that, because the court rejected the part of the law (Section 4) that determines which jurisdictions are covered by the most vital component of the law for addressing the threat of discrimination (Section 5), "Section 5 stands. Congress now has the duty to upgrade this key protection and ensure our elections remain free, fair, and accessible for all Americans.”
But getting a Congress that can't even pass a Farm Bill won’t be easy at a time when voting issues have been politicized, and when the Voting Rights Act earned the scorn of Republicans who object to its use in legal efforts to strike down restrictive “Voter ID” laws.
There is more that citizens, state legislators and responsible members of the House and Senate can do to ramp up pressure on Congress and the courts.
The Court’s ruling emphasizes a little-noted reality: that the United States does not, in the most fundamental sense, protect the right to vote.
Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia has been making this point for years. He emphasized 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, in May 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 legislators were rushing 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 the challenge to the Voting Rights Act that the Supreme Court embraced, 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 United States 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.
There is no question that it will be challenging to enact a right-to-vote amendment. But it is necessary. And the movement to amend the Constitution, if it is broad and vigorous, will create space for more immediate action at the congressional and state levels to address the Supreme Court’s decision.
“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 new 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.
Representative Ed Markey speaks during a joint hearing of the Subcommittee on Energy and Power and the Subcommittee on Environment and the Economy on Capitol Hill, Wednesday, March 16, 2011, in Washington. (AP Photo)
Massachusetts is, by standard measures, a Democratic state. But special elections in the Bay State have produced their share of Republican senators. Indeed, since the 1940s, Edward Kennedy is the only Democrat to have won a special election for a Senate seat—the 1962 race to finish the term his older brother gave up to assume the presidency.
So when Massachusetts voters go to the polls Tuesday to elect a senator to finish the term of Secretary of State John Kerry, the results will be watched closely for signals from the state that shocked the nation in 2010 by electing Republican Scott Brown to finish Kennedy’s last term.
The Democratic nominee in this year’s special election, Congressman Ed Markey, has run a relatively old-school Democratic race, and most polls give him the lead. But Republican Gabriel Gomez, a wealthy private equity investor who self-financed his way into the Republican nomination, has mounted an aggressive challenge as “a new generation of Republican leader with a great American story.” He’s gotten significant financial support from outside the state, including a boost from Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Kentucky, who desperately wants a Massachusetts win to promote the notion that Republicans are on their way to a Senate takeover in 2014.
Additionally, this contest has played out during a period when Washington Democrats, including President Obama, have been battered by negative headlines and persistent congressional inquiries. That’s tough for Markey, a House veteran who has served thirty-six years in Washington and, thus, is positioned as the “experienced” candidate at a time when that commodity is not always valued.
So this is a real race.
And the message from its finish will be an important one.
Markey and Gomez are very different individuals with very different positions on the issues. Some effort has been made to pitch Gomez as a moderate who could work with President Obama, in the spirit of Brown at his most mainstream. But Markey and Gomez have little shared ground—they’ve clashed on everything from whether Edward Snowden should be labeled a “traitor” to the threat posed by big-money influence on politics.
The most fundamental difference, however, is on the question of austerity.
And that’s where this race will turn in one direction or the other.
Gomez is a classic proponent of austerity. He seeks to balance budgets on the backs of working families and retirees. The Republican nominee supports raising the retirement age for Social Security benefits for future retirees and he wants to alter the formula for cost-of-living adjustments for seniors. Gomez is an ardent supporter of the “chained CPI” scheme, or chained consumer price index scheme, which is generally seen as a strategy for cutting costs at the expense of the elderly.
Though President Obama has entertained the “chained CPI” shift, Markey—like many of his fellow members of the Congressional Progressive Caucus—is explicit in his opposition to the change. Indeed, with backing from unions and groups such as the Progressive Change Campaign Committee and Progressive Democrats of America, he has made that opposition central to his campaign message in the special-election race.
While McConnell and Gomez have tried to pitch the Republican candidate’s support for the “chained CPI” switch as evidence of his “bipartisan” commitment—an ironic message coming from the fiercely partisan minority leader—Markey has been steadfast in rejecting the arguments of politicians of both parties who would undermine Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid.
Decrying chained CPI as “cutting people’s income,” the congressman says of adjusted figures under the plan: “That new number won’t keep up with inflation on things like food and health care, the basics we need to live on, and that is just plain wrong.”
“My opponent Gabriel Gomez, he supports chained CPI and cuts to Social Security benefits,” Markey said at a recent event at the Hebrew Senior Life center in Brookline, Massachusetts. “Current and future seniors and veterans would lose $146 billion in benefits over the next 10 years.”
The congressman has said pretty much the same thing in intense televised debates with Gomez, who adopts the standard DC-insider line of suggesting that he wants to “tell you the truth” about so-called “entitlement” programs, debts and deficits.
The truth, of course, is that there are many ways to balance budgets.
Wealthy campaign donors who would prefer not to surrender their advantaged positions when it comes to tax policies, and corporations that do not want to face reasonable regulations or basic accountability, would prefer to shift the burden toward working Americans and the elderly. That’s the austerity line that Gomez promotes.
Working Americans prefer investments in infrastructure and job creation, fairer taxes and guarantees that earned benefits will not be threatened. That’s the growth agenda that is at odds with austerity, and Markey has embraced its core themes.
It is this debate over basic economics that has defined the Massachusetts race.
The choice that voters render Tuesday will have less to do with the candidates than with sentiments regarding an approach to balancing budgets that errs on the side of fairness or on the side of ever-expanding income inequality. Ultimately, that is what the austerity debate comes down to, and the austerity debate is what the Markey-Gomez race is all about.
John Nichols and Robert W. McChesney are the authors of the new book, Dollarocracy: How the Money and Media Election Complex is Destroying America (Nation Books). Naomi Klein says: “John Nichols and Bob McChesney make a compelling, and terrifying, case that American democracy is becoming American dollarocracy. Even more compelling, and hopeful, is their case for a radical reform agenda to take power back from the corporations and give it to the people.”
Mitch McConnell has a new answer for the question of what causes distrust of government: unions.
Imagine if the Sunday morning talk shows had existed in 1776.
Surely, they would have welcomed the most widely read and provocative journalist of that historic year.
Perhaps the hosts would have asked Tom Paine if he felt that by penning articles calling out the hypocrisy of colonial officials—and incendiary pamphlets such as Common Sense—he was “aiding and abetting” the revolutionaries that King George III imagined to be “traitors.”
An intimidating question, to be sure.
Too intimidating, determined the founders of the American experiment.
After Paine’s compatriots prevailed in their revolutionary endeavor, they wrote into the Bill of Rights a protection of the ability of a free press to speak truth to power, to call out and challenge the machinations of those in government.
Unfortunately, this history is sometimes lost on contemporary Washington.
So it was that when Glenn Greenwald appeared Sunday on NBC’s Meet the Press to discuss his reporting on leaks detailing National Security Agency programs that monitor phone calls and digital communications, he was asked whether he was the bad guy.
NBC’s David Gregory initially asked Greenwald to discuss the whereabouts of Edward Snowden, a source of the leaks. Greenwald recounted the reported details of Snowden’s transit from Hong Kong and spoke at length about his own reporting on the NSA and violations of the Fourth Amendment to the Constitution. He returned, repeatedly, to the fundamental issues that are at stake, arguing that Snowden “learned of wrongdoing and exposed it so we could have a democratic debate about the spying system, do we really want to put people like that in prison for life when all they’re doing is telling us as citizens what our political officials are doing in the dark?”
Then Gregory asked: “To the extent that you have aided and abetted Snowden, even in his current movements, why shouldn’t you, Mr. Greenwald, be charged with a crime?”
Greenwald countered with a suggestion that Gregory had embraced a theory—advanced by the Department of Justice in its investigation of Fox correspondent James Rosen—that journalists who report on leaks might be considered co-conspirators with those who reveal classified information.
“I think it’s pretty extraordinary that anybody who would call themselves a journalist would publicly muse about whether or not other journalists should be charged with felonies. The assumption in your question, David, is completely without evidence, the idea that I’ve aided and abetted him in anyway,” argued Greenwald, who worked as a constitutional lawyer before he began writing about threats to essential liberties. “The scandal that arose in Washington before our stories began was about the fact that the Obama administration is trying to criminalize investigative journalism by going through the e-mails and phone records of AP reporters, accusing a Fox News journalist of the theory that you just embraced, being a co-conspirator with felony—in felonies for working with sources. If you want to embrace that theory, it means that every investigative journalist in the United States who works with their sources, who receives classified information is a criminal, and it’s precisely those theories and precisely that climate that has become so menacing in the United States. That’s why The New Yorker’s Jane Mayer said investigative reporting has come to a standstill, her word, as a result of the theories that you just referenced”
Gregory backed off, saying, “That question has been raised by lawmakers as well. I’m not embracing anything, but, obviously, I take your point.”
At the same time, however, Gregory suggested that “the question of who is a journalist may be up to a debate with regard to what you are doing.”
By any reasonable measure, Greenwald is a journalist. While most of his work in the United States has been online, he is associated with Britain’s venerable Guardian newspaper. Yet, even if he had no such association, even if he was a freelance blogger who had not published widely hailed books on civil liberties, Greenwald would qualify for the protections afforded by the First Amendment. He is, after all, an American writer following stories about what the US government does in our name but without our informed consent. That’s a classic journalistic endeavor, as is protecting a source.
Gregory is also a journalist. He can and should ask probing questions. He should stir things up, even if that upsets or provokes guests—including Greenwald. What was problematic was the approach, which seemed to go at the task backwards. Instead of providing context—by noting that lawmakers had been griping about Greenwald, or even by referencing the Department of Justice inquiry that targeted Rosen—Gregory simply popped the “aiding and abetting” question.
Only when Greenwald challenged him did the host respond with context.
That’s troubling, because we are at a stage where contemporary and historical context are desperately needed. There is too little understanding today that the freedom of the press protection outlined in the First Amendment is not a privilege provided to reporters—it is a tool established by the founders so that citizens would have access to the information they need to be their own governors.
Criminalizing investigative reporting may undermine and intimidate journalism, but it is even more devastating to democracy. Thomas Jefferson got it right when told John Jay, “Our liberty cannot be guarded but by the freedom of the press, nor that be limited without danger of losing it.”
Jefferson’s friend and comrade, Tom Paine argued similarly that citizens must be informed in order to be free. Paine saw the free flow of information and ideas—especially controversial information and ideas—as the essential tool for shifting power from the elites to the people. “A nation under a well regulated government, should permit none to remain uninstructed,” he observed in The Rights of Man. “It is monarchical and aristocratical government only that requires ignorance for its support.”
Jefferson, Paine and their contemporaries often griped about the newspapers of their day. But they recognized, correctly, that the chains of ignorance had to be broken. They supported a free and freewheeling press as an underpinning of democracy in their day. As we should in ours.
John Nichols is the author, with Robert W. McChesney, of Dollarocracy: How the Money and Media Election Complex Is Destroying America (Nation Books). Michael X. Delli Carpini, dean of the Annenberg School for Communication at the University of Pennsylvania, says: “US representative democracy is built on four pillars: independent journalists, informed and engaged citizens, fair and free elections, and responsive and responsible government. These pillars have been eroded by what Nichols and McChesney label ‘the money-and-media election complex,’ an incestuous and self-interested marriage of big media and big money. The result is a ‘dollarocracy’ resting on four new pillars: media corporations, disenchanted and manipulated citizens, elections that go to the highest bidder, and government that is only responsive to and responsible for the needs of the privileged class. Read this book, then go to your window and shout ‘I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take this anymore!’ ”
McClatchy uncovered more revelations about Obama’s “insider theat program”—but unlike The Guardian’s investigations, this news is going almost entirely unreported.
Mitch McConnell. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)
After spending the better part of a decade obstructing majority rule in the US Senate, and preventing the Congress from acting on fundamental issues that are of concern to the great mass of Americans, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell has figured out who is to blame for mistrust of government: public employees and their unions.
Declaring that he wants to open up a “serious national debate” about public-sector unions, the Kentucky Republican came out swinging at a Friday event with the American Enterprise Institute. “They are the reason so many state and local municipalities are flat broke,” he said of unions that represent public employees at the local, state and federal levels of government. “They’re behind the unsustainable expansion of public pensions. They’re a major problem.”
McConnell even went so far as to suggest that unions are to blame for inappropriate targeting for extra scrutiny of requests for charity exemptions from groups with Tea Party ties.
Referring to the National Treasury Employees Union, which represents Internal Revenue Service workers, the senator asked: “Why would we even expect a public employee—whose union more or less exists to grow the government—to treat someone who opposes that goal to a fair hearing?”
The senator has also suggested that President Obama’s criticisms of conservative groups influenced choices made by IRS employees.
But when he is pressed on the issue, McConnell backs off—trying to have it both ways with a line about how: “The president and his political allies encouraged this kind of bureaucratic overreach by their public comments. But that’s quite different from saying they ordered it. I think with regard to who’s actually responsible for it we need to find out, and that investigation will go on for quite some time.”
So why is McConnell bashing the NTEU?
As NTEU President Colleen Kelley told The Hill, the senator “has long…opposed the existence of public sector unions.” NTEU is not the only target of McConnell’s wrath. He’s generally upset with public-sector unions: the American Federation of Government Employees; the National Weather Service Employees Organization; the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees; the International Association of Fire Fighters… you name it.
On this point, McConnell is blunt, declaring that “public sector unions are a fifty-year mistake.”
Charging that elected officials who accept the endorsements of public-sector unions—including, presumably, a number of his Republican colleagues—are responsible for “the fleecing” of taxpayers through a vast expansion of government, the Senate minority leader said: “That’s what happens when politicians start competing for the support of public-sector unions: they stop serving the interests of the people who elected them and start serving the interests of a government they’re supposed to be keeping in check.”
McConnell says that public-sector unions, such as the NTEU, don’t care about “how well government works, or how well it’s serving the public.”
In fact, the NTEU recently led the fight on a host of high-profile customs and border security issues, seeking to maintain operations at US airports, seaports and land border crossings in this period of sequestration. The union has fought to maintain the federal Food and Drug Administration’s “vital, complex public health responsibilities, that include safe food, medicine and medical devices, cannot be accomplished with this level of funding.” It has campaigned for cost savings by seeking approval of a plan to “reduce substantially the amount taxpayers have to pay in salary reimbursements for government contractors.” And it’s been in the forefront of efforts to protect whistleblowers and to promote transparency.
It is true that NTEU and other federal, state and local public-sector unions defend the interests of their members. That’s what labor organizations do. But when McConnell and his minions imagine that federal unions have no concern for the public interest, they miss the reality that these unions are often the loudest and most determined defenders of programs that most Americans consider to be vital.
When they imagine that public-sector unions are the source of general frustration with dysfunctional government, politicians like McConnell neglect the polling that shows approval of Congress has fallen to historic lows. According to the Real Clear Politics summary of recent polls, only 14 percent of Americans approve of how Congress is doing its job. The disapproval rate is 78 percent. Noitably, when voters in states across the country were polled regarding their congressional representatives, the senator with the lowest net job approval rating was… Mitch McConnell.
John Nichols and Robert W. McChesney are the authors of the new book, Dollarocracy: How the Money and Media Election Complex is Destroying America (Nation Books), about which Senator Bernie Sanders says: “With this book, John Nichols and Bob McChesney invite Americans to examine the challenges facing America in new ways, and to fully recognize the threat that the combination of big money and big media poses to the promise of self-government. They paint a daunting picture, rich in detail based on intense reporting and groundbreaking research. But they do not offer us a pessimistic take. Rather, they call us, as Tom Paine did more than two centuries ago, to turn knowledge into power. And they tell us that we can and must respond to our contemporary challenges as a nation by rejecting the Dollarocracy and renewing our commitment to democracy.”
Giant corporations are in agreement with Mitch McConnell when it comes to unions—Walmart just fired eleven striking workers who were organizing with OUR Walmart.