The Senate is now infused with Tea Party loyalists (eager to conspire with their House counterparts) to shutdown rational government. The Koch brothers have pledged nearly a billion dollars to buy more Senate seats in future. This raises a disturbing question for Alabama's junior Senator: Will Jeff Sessions retain his title as the "most extreme" U.S. Senator?
My quixotic attempt to challenge the re-election of "unopposed" Jeff Sessions in 2014 failed. I was not even allowed on the Alabama ballot. But now Sessions has some real competition -- from the Senate's far right caucus.
Once-Moderate Jeff Sessions' Many Hard-Right Turns.
I once knew Jeff Sessions to be a relative moderate. In the1990s, when Sessions was U.S. Attorney, I clerked for a federal judge in the Mobile/Selma jurisdiction. Sessions appeared fair in court and hired top-notch federal prosecutors. One of his most talented Assistant U.S. Attorneys -- Callie Granade -- is now as a well-known federal judge in the same courthouse.
Jeff Sessions took many hard-right turns in order to gain and keep Alabama elective office. With shocking anti-immigrant rhetoric, Jefferson Beauregard Sessions, III, is now a national Tea Party favorite.
Learning in May 2014 that Sen. Sessions was to be unopposed in both the primary and general elections, I timely filed an Alabama ballot-access petition to challenge him in November. Self-identified as an outside agitator, I used free media, social media, and low-cost digital ads to make the too-easy case that Sessions had become too extreme.
The Constitution Takes a 'Bama Beat-Down.
After many weeks' delay, the GOP Secretary of State denied my ballot-access petition as not meeting Alabama's constitutionally-suspect (50k) signature requirement. When I filed a federal lawsuit to force ballot access and void Alabama's invidious Voter I.D. statute, the GOP Attorney General strategically slow-walked the litigation into the fall.
In mid-October 2014 (after military ballots were printed), I conceded the non-election, dropped the lawsuit, and discouraged supporters from any "write-in" effort (for fear that local GOP officials would spoil such ballots).
Sen. Sessions thus "won" a fourth term with 100 percent of the vote. In truth, Sessions had already been "appointed" by Alabama Republican party bosses who gifted him the GOP nomination.
Alabama effectively voided the Seventeenth Amendment requirement for direct election of U.S. Senators.
Musical Senate Chairs: Jeff "Anti-Immigrant" Sessions Unleashed.
Sessions celebrated his six-year Senate appointment by ramping up his reactionary, anti-immigrant rhetoric. When the 114th Senate convened in January, Sessions' rhetoric had become so disturbing that Mitch McConnell and other GOP Senate leaders denied Sessions his due Senate Budget Committee Chair.
Sessions responded by claiming the Chair of the Judiciary's Subcommittee on Immigration, Refugees and Border Security. He immediately renamed the subcommittee ("Immigration and the National Interest") and redoubled attacks on immigrants, immigration reform, and the Obama Administration.
Coming Soon on C-SPAN2: "The Biggest Faux-Demagogue."
But now Jeff Sessions has strong competition for the title of "most-extreme" Senator. Ted Cruz and Rand Paul are laying alternative -- but equally extreme -- foundations for their 2016 GOP presidential runs. Freshman Tea Party Senators, such as Joni Ernst, are quick to use sharp elbows to find the media spotlight.
In his 2009 book DEMAGOGUE, author Michael Signer analyzes the problem of the demagogue in a democracy by distilling the thought of Aristotle, de Tocqueville, James Fennimore Cooper and Hannah Arendt. The Signer work is a CSPAN2 viewer's guide to the 114th Senate. Signer quotes Fennimore Cooper for the four warning signs of a demagogue:
(1) They fashion themselves as a man or woman of the common people, as opposed to the elites; (2) their politics depends on a powerful, visceral connection with the people that dramatically transcends ordinary political popularity; (3) they manipulate this connection, and the raging popularity it affords, for their own benefit and ambition; and (4) they threaten or outright break established rules of conduct, institutions, and even the law.
Not to overstate: Joni Ernst, Ted Cruz, Rand Paul, Jeff Sessions and others of their ilk are at worst faux-demagogues. Such is a consequence of limited abilities, not chosen moderation. Signer's suggested response of direct civic engagement, however, is equally relevant for dealing with faux-demagogues:
It's especially essential to understand demagogues because they expose the most central danger to democracy: How much ownership are ordinary people willing to take of their countries, and what happens when they fail? Are they willing to deny the demagogue the power he [or she] seeks?
Thus my final 2014 campaign take-away: All elections matter -- even when state party bosses only allow one candidate on the ballot. November 8, 2016 is less than nineteen months away. What will you do?
Victor Williams is an attorney in Washington D.C. and clinical assistant professor at Catholic University of America, Columbus School of Law. Victor Williams founded the American Institute for Disruptive Innovation in Law and Politics -- DisruptiveJustice.org.