As we rapidly approach the next round of midterm elections in Congress, the need for the public to be more engaged in our democratic process has become more urgent than ever. Primaries can offer real choices within the Democratic and Republican parties: true Progressives versus milquetoast "Blue Dogs" on the left, and traditional tax-and-services-cutting Conservatives versus a growing lunatic fringe of radical Tea Partiers on the right. Unfortunately, the primaries are usually a time when turnout is pathetically low, and in an off-presidential year like 2014, there is likely to be even less interest. We must change this pattern of apathy and indifference, if not for any other reason than to stop those extremists on the right who continue to work to deny us our very right to vote in the first place. In June, the Supreme Court made that horrible goal even easier to attain by gutting the Voting Rights Act with another ideologically driven decision. The GOP seems to want to take us back to the days when only white, landowning men could vote, but we have come too far as a nation to allow such regressive actions to infringe upon our rights again. Our vote is our voice, and we will not be silenced.
The Republicans are falling further and further out of relevance as they continue to attack all sectors of the larger American community: women, African Americans, Latinos, seniors, the LGBT community, labor and low-wage earning Americans, students, and pretty much everyone else in the 99 percent. They also continue to do their best to weaken Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid and Obamacare, while ignoring decades of stagnant wages, growing poverty and climate change, as well as the need for immigration reform, gun control and so much more. The Republican Party is being reduced to a fraction of its former self and is suffering from infighting among its own ranks, which threatens its very survival. Where is the GOP's agenda for positive change and more effective policies? Can it really continue to survive as the party of "no?" Thirty-one states -- 30 with Republican governors -- have now put in place turnout-suppressing voter ID laws, while 21 states have so-called "stand your ground laws" -- talk about armed and dangerous.
The Tea Party has radicalized the Republican Party and are firmly in control of the House. Their obsessive pursuit of dismantling our nation's government has so far been unopposed by the rest of the GOP, who are terrified to stand up to these extremists, lest they be taken out in a primary by another nutjob being financed by the Koch brothers and their ilk. Joining them are those tepid Republicrats, who go along to get along in the misguided pursuit of "bi-partisanship." One of those "D.I.N.O.'s" ("Democrats In Name Only") is Rep. Frank Pallone, who just lost to a true progressive in Newark Mayor Cory Booker in a primary to fill the seat of recently deceased New Jersey Democratic Senator Frank Lautenberg. Even the DSCC -- no friend to Progressive candidates in the past -- is now touting Mr. Booker. Let's hope they don't muck up his chances in the general election against his Tea Party opponent.
We also see that the DSCC is going full throttle to take down Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (a/k/a "Senator Gridlock") at what may be a $100 million dollar cost. He is now running neck-and-neck with his Democratic rival, Alison Lundergan Grimes, and he is feeling the heat of being threatened in an election for the first time in his lengthy career. There would not just be great political significance if he were ousted, it would also be a huge win for the Democratic Party. In years gone by, the Democratic establishment was content to merely protect incumbents and support so-called "moderate," self-financed candidates who they knew would not rock the Party boat. But now we see a new direction in the Democratic leadership, which is supporting more Progressive candidates and aggressively targeting members of Congress from the radical right wing.
Bold, clear messaging with substance will be necessary in this cycle if the Dems want to bring out the voters. The language must continue to be sharp-edged, highlighting the Republicans' grossly destructive agenda and offering specific counter-proposals on critical issues. A prime target of criticism should be the absurd amount of time and money wasted on the 40 separate votes the Republicans have brought up in the House to repeal Obamacare. Mitch McConnell has also been a prime architect of gridlock in the Senate, with 428 filibusters ensuring that only 15 bills have been signed into law during the 113th Congress. This level of un-productivity just about rivals the "do-nothing" Congresses of the 1940s, according to Robert Reich. Reich further points out that the states are now taking on issues that should really be governed by federal standards, and he notes the ease with which people that can afford to can move from one jurisdiction to another to find looser regulations on such issues as immigration, gay marriage, guns and abortion.
With this vacuum of leadership at the federal level, many states under Republican governors are taking direct action to limit the hard-earned rights of workers and further cripple unions, as well as to limit the ability for women to make decisions regarding their own health and reproductive rights. It is worth noting that the AFL/CIO will be targeting for defeat next year six conservative governors who were swept into office in 2010 by the Tea Party wave. With the House, Senate and majority of the states under the control of right-wing extremists, only the White House would remain for them to seize in 2016, and then we would have no place to hide. Democracy is an ever-evolving process that we must care for and nurture, or we will completely lose it. The voting booth is where we can make the difference, but we must become better informed about the issues and learn where our elected officials and candidates stand on each issue, as well as the impact those positions will have on us. We must also talk to our representatives and senators while they are home during this lengthy recess. Former Representative Dennis Kucinich was so right when he said at the 2008 DNC, "Wake up, America!"
Between now and Election Day on November 6, 2014, there is much we can do to help Democrats retake control of the House and solidify their control of the Senate. Get involved in raising voters' awareness of the important issues and support campaigns of candidates that will work for all of us, then go vote out the dead wood and right-wing radicals and vote in more Progressives who support populist issues that concern you and your community. It is hard to deny, though, that such action may be difficult in more and more states where barriers are being put in place to curtail and deny voting rights, such as those photo ID requirements and limits on early voting times. If the right-wingers can't beat candidates honestly, then they are not above stealing votes to win -- does anyone remember Florida 2000?
The recent Supreme Court decision on the Voting Rights Act gave Republican governors new powers to rig election rules and disenfranchise voters, particularly Democratic-voting minorities. This terrible decision must be reversed, and if one of these governors who has infringed on your rights is up for re-election, don't give them your precious vote. In Virginia, one of the worst of the worst Tea Partiers is running for governor. His name is Ken Cuccinelli, and he automatically checks his support of every radical item on the Tea Party agenda. He even filed a suit to overturn Obamacare just 34 minutes after it was signed into law. If he wins, he would be one of the most conservative governors in the country, and his running mate, E.W. Jackson, is even worse, having compared Planned Parenthood to the Ku Klux Klan and calling gay people "perverted" and "very sick." As shown in the 2008 and 2012 elections, Virginia is now a swing state, so its importance cannot be understated. The Democratic Governors Association will be very active in this race, and the Democratic party seems to be unified in its strategy of aggressively going after these and other right wing radicals, but they will still need our considerable help and support.
The future of our country is really up to each and every one of us. We must share in the responsibility of determining the kind of nation in which we want to live and raise our families. The first big step toward taking that responsibility back would be to remove the corrupt money from our politics by passing an amendment to overturn the Supreme Court's other ideologically radical decision on Citizens United. A movement calling for such an amendment continues to grow, with currently 117 members of Congress and over 500 towns and municipalities supporting resolutions to amend. Joining them is a coalition of over 150 organizations. Public Citizen and Move To Amend have shown extraordinary leadership in building this successful movement.
Clearly the people are way ahead of our elected officials on many of the important issues of the day, and we must have a greater voice in the functioning and decision-making of our government. That would include letting our president know when he is off base on key issues, such as his advocacy for the Keystone Tar Sands XL pipeline, cyber privacy intrusions by the NSA, The Bureau of Land Management considering leasing 600 million acres of our national public lands to corporate mining interests to decimate with fracking, or proposing Larry Summers as the next chairman of the Federal Reserve. President Obama should get no free passes. Certainly, one must also question the decision of this administration to not bail out Detroit when it bailed out the automotive industry in that same city? Such a call signaled only that this administration was willing to say "yes" for the city's corporations, but "no" to its struggling residents.
The GOP knows full well that a united, well-organized populist movement would topple them from power. In response, they continue to generate fear and confusion, while relying on millions upon millions of dollars in support from a small group of the extremely rich to continue pounding away at their agenda of slicing and dicing the achievements of the New Deal and The Great Society that has distinguished us from other nations for decades. Just last week, in an email from Robert Weissman, President of Public Citizen, came word that the Business Roundtable, a trade association made up of the CEO's of major corporations, had sent a letter to Congress urging them to increase the age of eligibility for Medicare, make it dependent on income, and to "modernize" (a/k/a "privatize") it. Such moves would all but destroy that safety net that has provided healthcare to millions, while also helping to keep them out of poverty.
The radical right wing and corporatist mantra continues to be "Gridlock, Privatize, Repeal and De-fund." They have been extremely successful at seizing top-level political positions in state and federal government in order to produce extremist laws that support this agenda. We may not have their money, but our numbers are greater and can change the course of history, as it did just 50 years ago with the Civil Rights movement. This Saturday, thousands will once again descend on Washington D.C. to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington that was led by Dr. Martin Luther King. A rally will start at the Lincoln Memorial and then move on to the MLK Memorial. The president is expected to speak on August 28th to commemorate this anniversary, addressing at long last the inequality that continues to plague our nation. Fifty years later, that issue is more prominent than ever, affecting a great swath of the country.
Will Mr. Obama, too, give a speech for the ages? We may be dreaming that another great civic action like the Civil Rights movement is in the offing, but we can still believe that every one of us has tremendous power for change and accomplishment within ourselves. We must all participate and take back our democracy before it is to late. Perhaps this weekend will produce the rallying cry and call to action we need. Hope springs eternal.
- with Jonathan Stone