As the November elections approach, it is time to reflect on how George W. Bush became our President in 2000, with the aid of Florida governor -- and, coincidentally, his brother - Jeb Bush, who authorized a purge of voters from its rolls before that election, particularly Latinos, African Americans, Democrats, Independents and the elderly. At the same time in Ohio, robo-calls were directing voters to the wrong voting sites on the wrong day. Florida wound up delivering the win to W, by a paltry 537 votes. Of course, a recount should have been demanded, but wasn't by Al Gore. The Supreme Court's conservative majority awarded the Presidency to Bush, and America paid dearly for this bit of political malfeasance for the next 8 years.
How different would our lives and history be today if Al Gore had become President? Such "what if" questions will be debated by historians for decades to come, but there is little doubt that we would not have seen the gross mismanagement and regressive policies of Bush 43 and his rubber-stamp Republican Congress. We also likely would not have seen our country wade into multiple un-winnable wars abroad that cost us so much blood and treasure, nor the absurdly steep tax cuts for the rich, cuts with which we are still saddled 12 years later and which the GOP now seeks to make permanent. These twin policy disasters were significant factors in leading America into a deep recession that still impacts our very way of life.
Flash-forward to today, and Florida is at it again, under the direction of Governor Rick Scott. Over 2,600 voters have received letters informing them that they must prove citizenship and eligibility to vote in this coming election, with a projected 180,000 that are under threat of being purged from voter rolls. Add to that an astounding 5 million disenfranchised across the country because of state laws that prohibit people with felony convictions from voting. Among those squarely being targeted in the Scott purge are Latinos and African Americans, who make up an increasing voting bloc nationally and would likely overwhelmingly vote for Democrats.
Governor Scott is breaking a federal law stipulating that no one can be removed from the voting rolls in less than 90 days before a primary and general election, according to Joan McCarter of DailyKos in an e-mail she sent on May 31, 2012. That primary voting date in Florida this year is August 14th, so that door has been legally slammed shut. Scott has heard from Attorney General Eric Holder's Department of Justice and has been told in no uncertain terms to cease these acts. So far, the arrogant Governor has not responded. Strong measures are needed now by the Justice Department and the FEC to put a stop to these unconstitutional practices. Can and will they prosecute Rick Scott if he does not stop his illegal purge? It would be a welcomed and necessary warning to the rest of the right wing to stop traveling the low road and allow every eligible vote to be cast and counted (another prime example of this disgusting campaign is Republican Rep. Joe Walsh's attempt to amend the Help America Vote Act with his bill HR 5971, which would require voters show a federally issued ID to be allowed to vote). Expect further intimidation and purging of targeted voters, especially in battleground states across the country controlled by GOP governors. We must not allow a repeat of 2000 on a massive scale.
While the GOP is scheming to steal votes in Florida and across the country, at the same time the super PAC's are also busily raking in astounding amounts of money and unleashing lying, ugly attack ads on TV against legislators on the municipal, state and federal levels. Nationally, they are going after the likes of Senator Sherrod Brown, the progressive from Ohio, with malicious TV ads against him, which to date have cost $10 million alone, while he struggles to raise $500,000 from his supporters before the June 30th reporting date. These attacks are being orchestrated by none other than Karl Rove and, of all people, Pat Boone, of white buck shoes fame.
Another targeted progressive is Elizabeth Warren, who is currently running neck and neck with Scott Brown in Massachusetts. And they are not alone. As races across the country begin heating up, we are seeing meddling from GOP super PAC's at unprecedented levels. As the People's party, there is far less super PAC money flowing to the Dems than the Republicans. Indeed, even the president's super PAC has only pulled in a comparatively disappointing $20 million since its creation in February 2012. He very well could have raked in more by not traveling the super PAC road at all -- a wrong decision.
Of course, this is all nickels and dimes when compared to the $21 million that just one extremist Republican by the name of Sheldon Adelson threw down the toilet of the Gingrich campaign, and this was just a down payment on the $100 million Adelson was prepared to spend to elect "the Newt." Adelson's holdings include hotels, casinos and convention centers in Las Vegas and else where in our country, as well as in Macau. With a net worth of $21.5 billion, Adelson is the 8th richest man in America, according to Forbes, and he has said that he is willing to spend $100 million to defeat Barack Obama in 2012. His Las Vegas Sands Corporation pulls in $100 million in profits every 19 days, according to Public Citizen.
Meanwhile, the Obama For America Campaign takes in an average of $55 per donation -- hardly a level playing field. His large donor bundlers from 2008 have remained largely absent at this juncture in his campaign, with his largest individual donor, George Soros, M.I.A. since 2008. Without them, Obama has a daunting task trying to raise that $1 billion for his campaign that has been bandied about. Daily polling and fund raising are now his campaign's overriding preoccupations -- but where is the message?
Jim Hightower, a former Agriculture Secretary in Texas and a known "Plutocrat Plucker" who publishes and writes the excellent Hightower Lowdown newsletter, describes in the June issue how the "Super Duper 7" donated to 5 GOP Super PAC's a total of $40 million of the $94 million collected to support the candidacy of the GOP presidential contenders. Hightower goes on to name the seven, with Adelson in the lead. All of this largesse comes thanks to the Supreme Court's Citizens United decision, which will allow the infamous Koch Brothers to spend $400 million in this campaign, according to Senator Bernie Sanders in a letter sent to supporters. Bernie is, of course, on the hit list as well. Imagine, three men willing to spend half a billion dollars to influence an election with the sole aim of securing more power and yet more money.
These are unprecedented times, indeed, as this is the first election where we have a real opportunity to see the destructive results of how a few men, aided by a few major corporations, can throw unlimited money from unlimited sources into buying elections and even purchasing the White House. We are witnessing the dismantling of our democracy, with consequences so dire and frightening that it can easily be argued that we are on the verge of entering Orwell's 1984. Is indentured servitude to an elite, monied class really going to be our future? Super PAC's that are functioning under the deception of being "social welfare" non-profit organizations -- and are therefore tax deductible -- must be investigated by the Justice Department and IRS to ensure they aren't engaging illegal activities. Super PAC's registered as 501(c) 4's must be shut down as soon as possible to stop this wholesale buyout of our government. The only "welfare" these groups appear to be seeking to protect is that of their big-money donors. At least an investigation would throw a wrench into their criminal activities and slow them down.
While all of this is playing out, Obama and Romney are traveling the country fundraising and making rather weak cases for why they should be President. Romney, to no one's surprise, would dismantle our safety nets of Social Security and Medicare. He would also "downsize" the government, gut regulations and deliver more tax cuts for him and his rich buddies on Wall Street. As for Obama, does he still not understand that he must deliver an overarching message to rival the rallying cries of "Hope" and "Change" from 2008 -- unless he is saving it for the convention? Sound bites and pandering "remedies" for each state are not enough; he needs a soaring vision of where we go as a nation from here. What is his New Deal, or his version of the Great Society? He must equal the vision of those great presidents and place his own stamp on our nation.
He must talk about rebuilding America on a grand scale, and bring back something akin to the WPA, CCC and the Public Works Administration. Bill Bradley, in his new book We Can All Do Better , writes about these great programs that could once again create millions of jobs while rebuilding our crumbling infrastructure, with an estimated investment of $1.2 trillion producing 5.52 million jobs in each of the five years of the program. This initiative is supported in the Bradley book by research of the New America Foundation. This is the same Bill Bradley who was an NBA star, a Rhodes Scholar, a U.S. Senator and presidential candidate. It would also be a good time to include in our president's vision of tomorrow an increase in the minimum wage from its $7.25 per hour to a more sensible $10 per hour. This was one of your first promises, Mr. President, in 2007. Even the suggested $8.50 is too low, and while $10 an hour would still leave a family struggling below the poverty line, it would be money that at least 30 million could spend pumping up the economy. And let's not forget those restaurant and fast food workers who are making only $2.25 per hour plus tips, earning an average of $5.25 per hour. Is this really America?
Amid all that is playing out politically this year, the work must continue to overturn that atrocity that has thrown a black shroud over our nation: Citizens United. The good news is that at least 250 municipalities and several states have passed resolutions to combat this menace. Work continues throughout the country by a 200-member coalition of organizations, in the trenches all under the Move To Amend organization, aided by the strong organizing skills of Public Citizen. Over 100 members of Congress are also on board in support of a constitutional amendment to strike down this ruling, as is Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi. Our president has also voiced his support, but this is the issue that should be at the heart of his campaigning and vision of a better tomorrow. He must expose the treachery of the right wing to do anything to take over our country for a select and privileged few and those "special" interests. This is a national issue that is bringing the People together to work and fight for a common cause. If we don't unite on this imperative, we are lost as a people and a nation and we will wind up, like so many others, on the ash heap of history. The Occupy movement must put this crusade at the top of their national agenda when they meet from June 30th through July 4th in Philadelphia.
Dennis Kucinich got it exactly right with his clarion call, "Wake up, America!" Will you pick up the gauntlet, Mr. President, and make the case for why we must pass an amendment to strike down Citizens United? It will give you a strong foundation for your strategy to win in November.
- with Jonathan Stone