I am a candidate for Congress from the 26th District of California. There is little more than a month between now and the June 3 primary.
Until this moment, my campaign which is animated by a love for the Constitution that I have been privileged to teach all of my adult life, is about to be written off as quixotic and almost certain to fail.
It is not that I have not connected the farm workers and their leadership that seeks to negotiate for them a modest family wage for their hours in tortured position picking produce for our table.
It is not that I have not connected with the fading, overburdened middle-class that year and year endures a tax system that by design ignores the extent to which their contribution to democracy is irreplaceable.
It is not that I have not honestly addressed the excesses of presidential power of both parties that has sacrificed our sons and daughters on fields of battle and looted our treasuries of funds better that would be far better spent on schools, hospitals and the encouragement of international trade that will rectify simultaneously the high, persistent level of unemployment; the motivations for irregular migration; and the profound injustice that transfers the world's resources away from the desperate poor, and in almost total disregard of the sustainability of the human environment.
It is not even that I represent experience that has been freely given to presidents of both parties as their chief legal counsel or as a chief of mission abroad in proximity to those dangerous and extraordinary places where patriotic Americans in and out of uniform have faithfully saluted and given their lives, like my ambassadorial colleague Christopher Stevens, for the prospect of sharing with others the blessings of liberty and democracy.
No, all these things and more have been faithfully reported by the local press, and perhaps more importantly, deeply felt and expressed to me as I walked the district from its northern most point on Main Street in Santa Paula to the county line that separates the open space of Ventura County from the packed densities of Los Angeles.
No, all this has been accomplished by me and the citizen volunteers who travel with me in the hope of reviving the optimism that has always kept this nation in the forefront of the world order.
But, you see, the price of my -- our -- temerity is about to be collected.
The price of thinking that the simple message of actor Jimmy Stewart in Mr. Smith Goes to Washington is still the spirit alive in the land. The price of thinking that a decent respect for our elders, such as John Paul Stevens, 94, the retired Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States, whom Gerry Ford held out as his greatest presidential achievement, would lead us to share and take seriously the conclusion in his new book, Six Amendments -- that our representative democracy has been placed for sale to the highest corporate bidder, and those in Congress in allowing themselves to be bought are each day by their shameful neglect of duty selling it off cheap.
Since the late 1970s, it has been the ill-considered view of the Supreme Court that the First Amendment more strongly protects the free-speech rights of the abstraction we know as the business corporation than it does the political rights of the men and women who labor in factories, on farms, and in offices around this beautiful land. The Supreme Court has compounded that error with the ridiculous view that money is speech. Since our tradition has always held that more speech is better than less, the slip in reasoning that equates speech with money invites vast fortunes that literally has half of this nation's wealth held by fewer people than can be assembled in the auditorium of my law school, to mock our experiment in the self-government of "we the people."
Whether the five conservative justices that have over time indulged the error that money cannot be the basis of reasonable regulation meant to do great harm to the lives of their fellow citizens, I sincerely and genuinely doubt. Yet, this great harm is upon us now. Unless we heed the wisdom of Justice Stevens and grasp that money is merely a mechanism, a means not unlike a megaphone or microphone used to amplify a voice in a park, we will sink deeper and deeper into the corruption that breeds cynicism -- a cynicism that already explains the decline in voting. It need not be so. No one thinks twice about the common decency of modulating amplified sound, and no one should think twice about the importance and wisdom of making it possible to run for Congress without being a millionaire or having access to the millions of others.
My campaign to date has been fairly covered by the nation's press. You see the spirit of liberty and the true meaning of our Constitution, as a national experience ever more inclusive, lives in the hearts of all men than women, and even someone with as little ability as myself who stands up for the nobility of that idea, is treated with affection and respect.
But the reality of the $17,000 plus or minus a few dollars tossed into the kitty by my students will soon dominate what plays out election after election. Disclosure rules intended to substitute for meaningful regulation becomes the unwitting device by which our genuine electoral sentiments are auctioned off. Money, not ideas, not passion for the rule of law and all it represents, becomes the sole measure of public interest. Somehow it is forgotten that the "war chests" of incumbents and the candidates of divisive partisanship is but the spare change of the super-rich arrogantly diverting us from our own well-being and that of our neighbors.
In short, if Mr. Smith does go to Washington, he will be little threat to the fortunes of the top one percent for he will be a tourist not a representative.
So in these last few hours before the epitaph of my campaign is written, let me say one last time: this prospective representative is "not for sale!"
I refuse to sell out to those who would compensate the lobbyists and the CEOs at obscene levels in near total disregard of the needs of the working men and women of this country -- working men and women who have in fact been without meaningful work for far too long. Never before in our history has a Congress of the United States let the meager federal benefits available to the unemployed expire. Yet, thousands of unemployed in my congressional district and millions around the nation have gone without jobless benefits since before Christmas. What possibly can explain the utter disregard of these needs? Certainly a major contributor is our present system of campaign finance that allows public office to go to the highest bidder inevitably corrupting the very decency which prompts someone to offer their talents and time to public service; why the price of election is judicially declared without limit, the needs of all are subordinated to the desire to be reelected to a job that never gets done.
And so it is we fail to attend to the economic well-being that is the practical necessity supporting the aspirations of every parent to leave a better world for their children. Indeed, it is worse: it is the abject failure to admit in 2014 that the greatest increase in long-term unemployment is among those with college degrees; is among those who are youthful and in the prime of their working lives from 35 to 54; it is among those who previously had positions in management, finance, administrative support or education. And failing to supply the basic means to sustain families we each day witness the disintegration of that which really matters -- the desire to manifest personal excellence rather than the mere accumulation of goods.
Ronald Reagan, for whom I once worked as chief legal counsel assisting him with the constitutional issues of his day, was fond of quoting the sermon of John Winthrop that America was "the shining city on the hill." The president knew the full context of that quotation, but his optimism was such that he very seldom thought it necessary to explain. Yet, in this day, when the worsening mal-distribution of wealth overwhelms democratic participation and the recognition that we must form a community where as much as possible no one is left out, dims the light of our influence and inclines us instead to be the nation that Winthrop feared would result if we were not of faithful service to each other -- and that is, a nation that would be as eminently forgettable as any other that would tolerate the disregard of human right in preference for the privilege of the elites.
Barack Obama, for whom I once worked as chief of mission and U.S. Ambassador, rightly takes satisfaction in the numbers -- the 8,000,000+ -- to whom he has brought the prospect of greater medical assistance. Yet, this same president is forced to disregard the constitutional boundaries of his authority in order to advance even the most rudimentary administration of the laws. While there is ingenuity in working around a Congress that will not confirm his appointees to office, that will not address even the minimal unemployment benefits of the neglected middle class -- let alone address the needs engendered by a long-broken immigration system that leaves farm workers without a decent wage. The temporary expedients resorted to by President Obama are just that -- temporary and disregarding of the energy and dispatch our founders intended the presidential office to possess. What's more, an immigration system badly in need of overhaul subjects our country to unnecessary risk of harm. When there is no rational legal means to address the human hunger for a better life, we put ourselves at risk of forces that cannot be stopped by barbed wire along an Arizona border. So long as the major political parties dominate the Congress of the United States with an attitude of partisan payback and revenge that was much warned against by George Washington himself, there are ample coyotes available to feed on monies extorted from the innocent. Monies that once extorted end up filling the coffers of the purveyors of illegal drugs and leaves us more vulnerable than we should be to the importation of jihadist hatreds that without notice threaten our domestic tranquility, whether at the Boston finish line or in the melted towers of trade that once stood proudly in New York.
When it is reported in a few days that this independent voice is dead last in monies raised for his campaign, the general assumption will be that the concerns outlined above do not match the interests or the needs of the people of the 26th District of California. These reports will likely forget that the modest sum accumulated is by principled design. Oh to be sure, the reporters who have witnessed the light in the eyes of those who have encountered our message of returning to the politics of the common man and the common good may valiantly attempt to keep the spirit alive. But can that hopeful message survive the editorial realities of business as usual, or will monies raised become again the proxy for public interest?
The Reagan library and foundation sits with the characteristic self-confidence of the Gipper upon the gentle hills of Simi Valley. The legacy recorded there, which the Tea Party tries so hard and so desperately in too often shrill or only partially informed voice to emulate, ought not to be allowed to indulge the false premises of the Supreme Court. Those false premises wrongly invite corporate monies to have us neglect the words that Ronald Reagan held out to keep the lamps of hope burning brightly as we ascend that hill upon which the even larger hopes of the world remain transfixed. True, in his time, Reagan himself did not perceive the threat to democratic governance represented by corporate wealth, but the wisdom of Reagan himself, tempered as it was in the small rural towns of Illinois is what endures, and it remains for our guidance. The words?
Those words, and all they represent, are the essence of American democracy, and I am proud to say that like me, they remain "not for sale."
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