The November Elections and the Democracy Crisis

October 23rd, 2014 - by admin

Tom Hayden / The Democracy Journal – 2014-10-23 17:54:21

(OCTOBER 22, 2014) — The November election will be a defensive battle to preserve democracy’s claims against a corporate state fueled by rising sums of secret corporate donations coupled with intense machinations at diminishing the popular electoral vote. The reason for Republican and corporate panic is the emergence of “the majority faction” which the Federalists feared — embodied in the Obama coalition of a multi-cultural, multi-racial majority.

The political culture of “off-year” elections is stacked against us. Since that’s not likely to change any time soon, the “off-year” battles are defensive in nature, preparing for the larger turnout ahead in 2016. Knowing that, the Republicans will exploit their 2010 and 2014 gains to keep the floodgates open to secret corporate money and making ballot boxes as closed as possible through 2016.

In the longer term, we are fighting an ideological war against the power of Magical Market Thinking, which still captivates most of American culture. Naomi Klein’s new book, This Changes Everything! is a vital corrective to the crushing effects of neo-liberal ideology, from the rise of the WTO to the dominance of corporate “solutions” in today’s climate debate.

In addition to ideological rethinking, it is vital that the public campaign against Citizens United become a cause as fervent as the legal and political challenges to the racial doctrines of separate-but-equal. Candidates and ballot initiatives against plutocratic politics will continue (see John Nichols’ and Robert Waterman McChesney’s fine tract Dollarocracy) until a future court rules that secret corporate spending violates the First and Fourteenth amendments.

We don’t have the half-century it took from Plessy v Ferguson (1896) until Brown v Board of Education. The public intensity will need to accelerate, especially in law schools where the future Thurgood Marshalls are trained.

Another parallel between segregation based on race, and segregation based on money, is the important consequences for America’s international reputation. The Eisenhower and Kennedy administrations were deeply concerned by America’s racist reputation during the Cold War political struggle with communism.

Segregation deeply discredited America’s argument for democracy in the ideological debates with the Soviet Union and communist parties during the Cold War. Desegregation was in the US strategic interest on the Cold War battleground, especially among non-aligned nations in the Third World.

In a somewhat similar way, the simultaneous rise of the “Surveillance State” and “Dark Money” undermines America’s democratic image at precisely the moment that the US is heavily involved in “democracy promotion” from Cuba to Venezuela, to Ukraine and China.

The combination of voter suppression and plutocratic spending provides huge ammunition to China, Russia, Iran and Saudi Arabia in their claims that the US is hypocritical in its human rights and democracy agendas.

The case of Edward Snowden, a widely respected American whistleblower given sanctuary in Moscow, is only the most powerful example of America’s shredded reputation. In summary then, in addition to the moral and constitutional arguments for democratic reform, there now is a strategic argument that greater democracy, starting with campaign finance and disclosure, is essential to America’s public diplomacy in the world.

The need for an historic court challenge is underlined by the shocking arguments being made by Justice Anthony Kennedy, who said during Citizens United debate that “independent expenditures, including those made by corporations, do not give rise to corruption or (even) the appearance of corruption.”

In defense of the One Percent, and in the tradition of the Federalists’ anxiety over the “majority faction”, Justice Kennedy went on to write that, “The government has muffled the voices that best represent the most significant segments of the economy.” In this view, too much democracy is the problem that needs “muffling.”

Meanwhile, during this election season progressive politics involves a sorry choice between lowering expectations in the face of a conservative-leaning turnout, or letting the right-wing make even greater gains with little pain.

In the case of California Governor Jerry Brown, perhaps America’s most experienced politician, the governor has campaigned far to the right of his own record on many issues. As a result, the Republican Party has abandoned any serious campaign against Brown’s fourth and final term.

The oil and gas lobby, however, is investing heavily in raising a crop of “business-friendly” Democrats in order to construct a legislative wall against progressive initiatives by labor, people of color and environmentalists in Brown’s second term.

One unfortunate consequence of Brown’s considerable political success is that he not been seeking a public mandate, or a legislative majority, for the urgent steps which are needed to build the clean energy economy and shield Californians from the worst effects of climate change. That burden will fall post-election on organized constituencies including students, environmental justice advocates, and labor.

In the case of Barack Obama, the president has suffered politically from his hard-won achievement of Obamacare; has been stunned by the resurgence of war in Iraq; and is campaigning to the right of his own personal agenda in states where Democratic control of the Senate might well be lost. The contradiction between his real base and that of the “battleground” states is most apparent in his immigration policy.

Over and over, the president has supported massive deportation if only as a gesture to the right, hoping he eventually might convert some Republicans to the “path to citizenship” model that Democrats prefer.

But Obama’s delays on immigration reform, are driving frustrated immigrant rights supporters towards not voting for Democrats at all, which are understandable in the context of the Senate wars, as there are few Latino or Asian voters in battleground states.

Republican strategists have played their hand on immigration much more intelligently, if immorally, than the Democrats. If the Senate goes Republican as a result, Obama will be obliged to go ahead with an executive order on immigration, reinforcing the claim that he is a “dictator”. Meanwhile the national Republicans will roll out an immigrant-friendly face as the 2016 elections approach.

That’s not all that will happen under a Republican-controlled Senate. According to a careful analysis in The New Republic (October 27), the Dodd-Frank law may be repealed, the Keystone Pipeline approved, the Surveillance State expanded, Obamacare threatened, and confirmations blocked.

Steps to normalize relations with Cuba may be frozen. Senator Patrick Leahy from Virginia, the Senate’s most powerful progressive advocate, will lose control of Judiciary Committee.

California Senator Barbara Boxer will turn over the environmental committee to a climate-denier. The NSA critic and New Mexico Senator Mark Udall may fall. Senate filibusters against Obama’s judicial nominees, already at record levels, will intensify. Beginning this November, the 2016 election will be an Armageddon.

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