We've all been asking one another how we feel about Tuesday's vote. Before Hurricane Sandy, it was just about all I could think about. Then someone called this line to my attention. From Mark Twain:
"Irreverence is the champion of liberty and its only sure defense."
I would dearly love to know what Twain would make of our current election landscape of super PACs, billionaire bullies, Etch-a-Sketch candidates and the most cynical, flagrantly dishonest ads imaginable. Thank God for the Twain-like piercing irreverence we get several nights a week courtesy of the essential Stephen Colbert and Jon Stewart.
Humor is a wonderful survival mechanism and teaching tool. But as much mockery as our politics deserves, we mustn't abandon ourselves and our citizenship completely. Past the laughter and the ridicule, we have to do something. There's just too much at stake.
More than 30 years ago, Barbara Jordan, Father Hesburgh, Andrew Heiskell and other religious, business and civic leaders -- along with thousands of individual Americans -- joined me to start People For the American Way precisely because we weren't ready to abandon our country to Jerry Falwell, Pat Robertson, Jimmy Swaggart and other televangelists. I had started watching them thinking I would skewer their pretentions the way Paddy Chayefsky had nailed corporate news in Network. But what made me set aside those plans was hearing one of the television preachers call for God to get rid of Supreme Court justices who weren't ruling the right way.
That was my wake-up call then.
Thirty years later, the Religious Right and its allies still have their eyes on the Supreme Court. Thanks to a series of right-wing nominees who joined the Court before the Obama administration, the right wing's decades-long desire to roll back the New Deal and just about every good thing that has happened since then has a friendly ear on the pro-corporate court.
What will get me to my polling place this year, more than anything else, is this: I believe Barack Obama will nominate Supreme Court Justices who will vote to overturn Citizens United, which wiped out reasonable limits on campaign funding. And Mitt Romney would appoint Supreme Court Justices who would uphold it.
That's enough for me. By now we've all seen the torrent of corporate money -- over 2 billion dollars, we read -- pouring into our elections, and the ocean of smears and unaccountable, dishonest attacks that's washing over our airwaves.
These aren't just an annoyance. And we make a mistake if we see them as just "politics as usual." This Supreme Court -- which is treating corporations as if they were actual citizens -- has dismantled laws designed to keep money from overwhelming the interests of real citizens. They are putting the interests of corporations above the rights and interests of actual human beings. And things will get worse as long as those with the most money are allowed to dominate our elections.
The choice of who runs our country won't be put up to a vote. It will increasingly be put up for auction. And individual Americans will see their interests sacrificed to the companies and billionaires who fill Karl Rove's coffers. That's not the kind of democracy I fought to defend in the second world war. In fact, it's not really democracy at all.
This election isn't just about two candidates. It's about two very different ways of looking at democracy. Governor Romney has named Robert Bork as Chairman of his Justice Advisory Committee, the same Robert Bork who opposed broad protectionism for free speech, questioned the constitutional right to privacy, opposed the integration of public accommodations by the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and whose own nomination to the Supreme Court was rejected in a bipartisan 58 to 42 vote.
The Governor has also said that if elected he will appoint Justices who think like Clarence Thomas and Antonin Scalia and Samuel Alito, all of whom supported Citizens United. President Obama, in contrast has shown us the kind of Justices he'd choose. He's picked two of them: Sonia Sotomayor (who joined Justice Steven's brilliant and inspiring Citizens United dissent) and Elena Kagan, who joined Sotomayor, Ginsburg, and Breyer this spring seeking to get the Court to re-examine Citizens United.
We never know just when a Justice will leave the Court, and can't know how many vacancies the next president will be asked to fill. But right now the radical corporate-court conservatives are already winning most of the close cases. Adding one or two or three additional far-right justices could cement a pro-corporate, anti-citizen majority for the decades.
We are talking LIFETIME appointments here.
The next appointees could be serving into 2052. All of us who care about the country we are leaving to our children and grandchildren need to keep that in mind.
Whether we call ourselves Republicans or Democrats, what do we think about our democracy?
If we want more corporations having unlimited power to pour more money into our elections, let's vote for Governor Romney. If we want to put some reasonable limits back in place, we should vote for President Obama. It's as simple as that.
On Tuesday, I'll be thinking about 2052. And you?
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