|December 14, 2012||A Fiscal Cliff and Treble Clefs: Surviving the Stalemates in Washington||3 comments|
|November 07, 2012||The Day After for a Republican||7 comments|
|November 05, 2012||Sophisticated Voters Measure the Contents of Campaigns||11 comments|
|October 29, 2012||Romney on the Rise in Florida: The Land O’ Lakes Rally||5 comments|
|October 22, 2012||The Problem with Greece and the Debt Crisis||3 comments|
|September 27, 2012||The Forty Six Percent Barrack Obama Discarded||11 comments|
|September 18, 2012||Burning American Flags: Obama’s Foreign Policy Repudiated||14 comments|
|August 27, 2012||Youth Vote: Unemployment Does Not Rock||4 comments|
|August 14, 2012||The Campaign: The Hollywood PAC Ad Against Citizens United||6 comments|
|August 03, 2012||Facebook and Politics: The Loss of Manners in a New Age||3 comments|
More than a month after the election, I am not feeling any better about the state of affairs in my country. The public debate about the “fiscal cliff” has been myopic, focused solely on the matter of raising tax rates on a small group of people, which is an action that does little to solve any long-term fiscal problems.
While the two sides do not see eye-to-eye on the best ways to raise revenues, even the British publication the Economist notes, “any fiscal deal must reform Social Security (pensions), Medicare (for the old) and Medicaid (for the poor). Mr. Obama… needs to increase [entitlement cuts] to entice the Republicans into a deal and because it is the right thing to do.”
This seems overtly obvious to me, but I am just a simple woman. I do not understand the political opera President Obama is orchestrating. His proposals spend as stimulus most of the new revenues he wishes to commandeer from America’s top wage earners when ending the Bush tax cuts, and Democrats like Nancy Pelosi have thrown down a gauntlet on making changes to entitlements.
Conversely, even as a Republican, I understand government revenues must be increased as part of any fiscal compromise, but I cannot fathom how Congressman Boehner will be able to sell tax hikes to other representatives in his party who are very much accountable to their own conservative constituents unless the House Speaker gains something substantial to address debt.
We will just have to wait and see if the United States will have a Thelma and Louise moment of jumping off the cliff, or if good sense will point our politicians to jerk the wheel in another direction.
Until then, for my own peace of mind, I am embarking on a journey that distracts me from those things I cannot control. I am seeking more activities that have the power to unite me with my fellow citizens—whatever their politics—rather than twisting my stomach into knots when debating the nightly news.
Happily, this commitment has already led me to see more live music around Atlanta. Surely we can all agree that music soothes the savage beast, and local musicians in Georgia rock, right?
One place that we’ve discovered to take in some tunes isn’t in the city but in the suburbs. Ragamuffin Music Hall on Roswell’s historic square is a venue that hosts a variety of local talent, and we were recently drawn there by a husband and wife folk-duo who are based in Marietta and who command quite a following from others living in and around Cobb.
Tortoise & Hair regularly perform live across the Southeast, and their third album, The Sunny Side, was recently launched at Steve’s Live Music in Sandy Springs on September 1. We were happy to have the opportunity to hear them again so close to home.
Once inside Ragamuffin Music Hall—sheltered from all the cacophonous noise of the outside world—we found an intimate setting in which to hear the concert. Oriental rugs are strewn across the stage. Twinkling stars hang with a crystal chandelier from the black ceiling, and records, banjos and guitars decorate the walls. A cello and baby grand wait to be played. All feels cozy and warm.
Of course, this should be expected as Ragamuffin has always been owned and operated by musicians. Ashley Harris, an accomplished singer with music that has climbed to the top of the World Indie Record Report, took over from Jackie Whittaker in May 2011. Having recorded her last album with Fine Line Records in Nashville, one feels a country influence in Ms. Harris’ own work, but she continues to have a big interest in connecting others to as much of the vibrant music scene in the Atlanta metropolitan area as possible.
After the opening act finished in Ragamuffin, Tortoise & Hair began to play and only added to my own feeling of internal Zen. Adrienne Cottrell, the “Hair” of the group with long tresses flowing down her back, filled the room with her hauntingly angelic voice as she sang her “Traveling Song,” which was a finalist entry in the 2010 Indie Girl song writing competition and has drawn international attention with its strong Celtic vibe.
After adding a drummer to the group for the next number, Dustin Cottrell in his tortoise shell glasses joked good-naturedly about the couple’s “multi-aluminum” hit “Faultline 09,” which has had plenty of radio playtime and offers a harder, driving beat that skirts closer to Southern rock than much of the T & H repertoire rooted more in folk.
By the time the perfectly in-sync couple got to “Watching the World Fall Apart,” which the Tortoise explained was about the financial meltdown of 2008 from their second album Front Row Seat, I had managed to forget all about President Obama and House Speaker John Boehner.
In fact, looking around the room at all the people enjoying their bowls of ice cream from the Ragamuffin ice cream parlor, sipping their cups of coffee, and tapping their feet, it struck me that I had no idea if any of them—or Tortoise & Hair, for that matter—thought much about the political discord that’s been clogging up my emotional airwaves lately. Nor did I want to know.
There is going to be a day on which American voters of all political stripes will have to face the music. It was nice for an evening to just sit back, relax, and listen to it.
It’s been a long election season. It’s been a longer four years. And for Republicans, there’s little reason to celebrate a “move forward” into what feels at the moment like the promise of an interminably long tomorrow.
But this is where we find ourselves, and we have to decide how we are going to react to losing an election.
You see, we are grown ups. We are not children. And this was not a football game that we can simply stomp away from or forget.
As adults we are required to put aside resentment, anger, regret at the end of what has been a passionate and sometimes bitter debate. It doesn’t matter how we feel or why we feel it. We must step forward and shake hands and get on with it.
We know this. We live in a republic. We made our case, and we lost our argument.
In his concession speech, Mitt Romney graciously said, “The nation, as you know, is at a critical point. At a time like this, we can’t risk partisan bickering and political posturing. Our leaders have to reach across the aisle to do the people’s work, and we citizens also have to rise to the occasion.”
He was absolutely right.
Barack Obama has been re-elected. He is the President of the United States. Whatever he has done in the past, we must fervently hope he leads a divided people to a new place of consensus. We must, if we can, help him do this.
As he said in his acceptance speech, this will not be easy. “Each of us has deeply held beliefs. And when we go through tough times, when we make big decisions as a country, it necessarily stirs passions, stirs up controversy. That won’t change after tonight….”
This is spot-on for his part.
Republicans will not magically begin to agree with Democrats.
Democrats will not magically begin to agree with Republicans.
Both sides will still represent constituents who care deeply about the issues that drove them to the polls to vote in the first place, and members of Congress will continue to answer only to those people within their myriad states and districts…those millions of people across our great land who have different priorities and who do not seem lately to agree on much of anything.
“But despite all our differences, most of us share certain hopes for America’s future…. [and] that common bond is where we must begin.”
With these words, President Obama seems to be pledging he will not in this very divided nation try to stand in just blue states this term. Rather, amongst disparate groups, he will try to build bridges.
For our part, we must allow those bridges to be built! We must look at his good faith efforts to respect what we think, and then we must demand those other leaders who answer most closely to us to craft real compromise in Washington.
On this both sides have little choice. Our nation cries for solutions. Our problems can no longer be ignored, and we can no longer care about just your or my special interests. We cannot leave this to the next generation.
President Obama said, “I believe we can seize this future together because we are not as divided as our politics suggests. We’re not as cynical as the pundits believe. We are greater than the sum of our individual ambitions, and we remain more than a collection of red states and blue states. We are and forever will be the United States of America.”
In good faith, let’s try our best to make that right.
I would never want to be an American politician. The most innocuous of statements are taken out of context, transformed into “coded” language, or otherwise exploited on Twitter.
Campaigns regularly engage in more cutthroat tactics than the infamous Standard Oil ever considered using to crush competition before being broken up for unfair practices in business.
Character assassination has become a sad matter of course for even journalists who knowingly distort real issues for partisan purposes or to sell papers.
It’s simply a fact in our consummate consumer culture that politicians are packaged like any other product, carefully positioned, and sold to voters like so many tubes of toothpaste.
This is worrisome.
Citizens—no matter which side of the political aisle is their natural home--must not continue to be complicit in a system that only presents glossy brochures, MTV interviews, and air brushed images during election cycles. They must strive to engage in more sophisticated analyses in the marketplace of ideas.
If this happened en masse—if there was less focus on the superficial and more focus on the substance—more people would want to serve in public office. More people would get elected on merit over image.
So how might we fix the system?
To start, instead of simply going down a checklist of the most facile planks of a general party platform to make a decision for the next leader of the free world, voters can open the ‘candidate boxes’ right now and delve inside the entire contents apart from the packaging.
After all, we should be able to agree that both 2012 candidates are more complex than a single talking point. In a two party system, national candidates must appeal to disparate groups to get enough votes to win. As a result, no candidate is ever going to be a perfect fit for any one special interest constituency.
In this context, Mitt Romney’s candidacy is worth studying.
Rather than being a monolithic group with just one outlook, many Romney voters are sophisticated thinkers who don’t rely on one-word labels to inform their decisions. They feel on measure Romney would make a better president than Obama. This is true even when many of these voters know they would have honest, vigorous debates with other voters in the Romney coalition.
For example, Libertarians who scorn government interference in their private lives are often not in agreement with Evangelicals on social issues. However, after careful analysis, they see a statist approach to governance as more of a threat to an individual’s right to self-determination than any Sunday school sermon.
Therefore, many sophisticated Libertarians have walked straight into the Republican tent. They do this because they feel less federal spending will have more of an impact on everyone’s individual rights than the Republican Party’s current position on gay marriage. (Even hardcore conservative Dick Cheney doesn’t agree with his party on this one. In fact, he supported gay marriage while President Obama was “evolving.”)
Conversely, as fervently as they advocate for their understanding of Christian tenants in politics, many Evangelicals find common ground with liberty loving Mormons who believe faith is a personal matter of conscience.
Instead of worrying about the semantics of a candidate’s theology, sophisticated Evangelicals want a president to more closely adhere to first principles when it comes to religion. While they will discuss points of contention, they have grown weary of hearing that everyone’s beliefs have merit except their own.
Women can also disagree about abortion. However, smart women need not be manipulated by a false narrative on restricted reproductive rights, which has been designed solely to distract from their financial health and the implications of unemployment on a million choices that have nothing to do with babies.
As Condoleezza Rice, former Secretary of State, has said, “I am not always in agreement with everything that is written in the Republican platform about social issues, but I know that Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan are going to respect the views of those who may disagree….”
Sophisticated women like Rice may care deeply about choice, but they are not so narrow as to make a decision this election based solely on an issue that isn’t even in the purview of the executive branch. They—like their pro-life peers—also know Mitt Romney has never once proposed banning birth control.
Then there are Democrats who will vote for Romney. They may disagree with many Republican positions, but they are sophisticated voters. National security is a president’s most sacred duty, and they concede it is only intellectually honest to feel the current administration’s response to Libya has been—at best—disingenuous if not downright egregious.
Ultimately, I would not want to be an American politician, but I believe we all have a duty to become sophisticated voters right now. Political packaging doesn’t matter. Rather the full contents of the candidate are what should count.
Jim Harrold is a Gulf War veteran and a public high school teacher who lives in Florida. On Saturday night, he attended a political rally in Land O’ Lakes near Tampa with his girlfriend Brenda.
After parking the car, they had to walk more than two miles to get to the high school football stadium where 15,000 other voters were gathering to hear Mitt Romney speak. But Jim and Brenda thought the effort was worth making.
After all, they had good company on their stroll. They spoke with a girl who had just turned eighteen, a woman in her sixties walking with a cane.
No matter what anyone’s age, all around them seemed excited to be out sharing a special evening.
Once inside the venue, Jim and Brenda stood on the football field, which was packed with a friendly crowd. Jim found the number of young adults heartening, but he focused the most on the many families that had gathered, the young children laughing with their parents.
At one point, a video played on a big screen and underscored how important family has always been to Mitt Romney. Jim thought Romney’s love for his wife seemed very genuine. Romney often told Ann that what she was doing with their kids was far more important than anything that Romney was doing with his work.
While he wouldn’t say President Obama feels any differently about the importance of his wife and girls, Jim found himself thinking Romney’s values would be good values to take into the White House.
When the GOP’s candidate for president finally took center stage, the crowd “ignited with enthusiasm.” In contrast to the wooden man the media has often tried to create, the real Romney was “very charismatic and funny.”
Expressing what many at the rally thought, Romney proclaimed, “Obama didn’t inherit a bad economy. He inherited the greatest nation in the world.”
From where he was standing on the field, Jim “felt a feeling of hope that [he] had not felt in a while.” Jim thought it was especially impressive how Romney talked about reaching across party lines, which is something Jim doesn’t think President Obama has ever done very well.
Furthermore, after what has felt like an interminable period of malaise for many Republicans, Romney had no problem tapping into a desire for actual change. He said, “Obama says, ‘four more years,’ and we answer ‘ten more days.’”
The crowd gleefully chanted back, “Ten more days! Ten more days!”
After a moment of listening to this, a smiling Romney lightly joked, “You know, we will have to change that tomorrow.”
It is true that polls show a tight race remains in Florida, a serious battleground for voters. As in other years, no one will be able to call the Sunshine State until the votes are actually counted.
However, as the Land O’ Lakes rally illustrates, there’s plenty of red in Florida, and Romney has been steadily gaining ground. Outside the media’s punditry, miles away from Washington, Romney’s supporters are enthusiastic and energized. They recognize this is not 2008. This time, the passion is all on their side.
For his part, after the Land O’ Lakes rally, Jim said, “If I had any doubts, they disappeared last night.”
If Mitt Romney keeps this up—if he continues to secure votes from people like Jim and Brenda in these final days, real representatives of what is middle class America—he’ll handily win this election.
The United States has been limping along for multiple years with a struggling economy, which currently projects nothing but anemic growth rates. A major disruption in European import/export markets would be calamitous.
So what’s the problem in Greece?
This is a complicated question, and politics play a part in convoluting the answer. To try and make some sense of the matter, I attended two excellent lectures that were open to the public at Georgia State University to try and gain some insight. A German gave one speech. A Greek gave the other.
First, a member of the Bundestag, which is a political body similar to our Congress, Harald Leibrecht spoke on October 3. The main thrust of his speech was that global markets are tightly tied. The US and Germany have long shared values and interests that make us natural allies and trading partners, but transatlantic relations should never be put on “autopilot.” Rather, communication and cooperation is constant between valued friends.
Leibrecht then touched upon the financial crises in Greece and other EU countries. He said Germany is dedicated to tackling European debt with fiscal discipline; however, there are political limits to financial bailouts that come from Berlin, as German taxpayers are not prepared to absorb all the debts of other peoples.
Furthermore, while the European Central Bank sets monetary policy for seventeen eurozone countries, the ECB is much weaker than the Federal Bank in the United States. Twenty-seven different fiscal policies of EU member states complicate matters.
“Unfortunately,” he lamented with a charming smile, “no one has yet written a book called Solving Debt Crisis Made Simple.”
The second speaker I heard, Vassilios Galoussis from the Greek Consul, would agree that the financial situation in Europe is very complicated. On October 11, he offered some Greek perspectives on his nation’s precarious position.
Echoing Leibrecht on some points, Galoussis said one problem that must be understood when studying the debt crisis in Europe is that those who participate in the eurozone have a common currency but no institution like the Federal Bank, no lender of last resort. Therefore, “bailouts” in times of crisis come not from the European Union itself but from other sovereign nations within the eurozone.
To understand the implications of this reality, imagine California having to borrow money bi-laterally from Georgia. This would cause massive resentment between states as well as practical problems for state politicians.
Furthermore, with a common currency but no federal system to guarantee deposits, bank runs have become a perennial problem for Greece.
Think again about California and Georgia.
If you deposited money in a bank in California, the FDIC would guarantee this money. Therefore, if you lived in California in a time of financial crisis, there would be no reason to run to the bank and move your funds to another state with a more stable outlook like Georgia.
Not so in the European Union.
Bank runs have occurred often due to panic in the streets, and much needed capital has been moved outside of Greece to other eurozone countries, which further paralyzes the Greek economy.
Additionally, while austerity measures are seen as a necessary part of any long-term solution—and Greece has cut its debt an amazing 8-9% in just two years—austerity (especially when coupled with fiscal policy that incorporates tax hikes) can slow a country’s economic growth, which can then dig a deeper fiscal pit. Therefore, the problems in Greece are not as easy to fix as simply slashing budgets.
Ultimately, both Leibrecht and Galoussis seemed to concur that every country has specific economic and political needs that must be taken into consideration. Therefore, visionary leadership is required for the European Union to move forward, which brings me back to the United States.
While we are not in the eurozone, we have our own fiscal cliff looming on this side of the ocean. American debt issues are unique and should not be compared to those in Greece. However, our highly polarized Congress seems frozen in a period of inaction.
For the United States to move forward, we, too, will require visionary leadership that seeks more compromise between parties. So far, there hasn’t been much evidence of this existing on our side of the pond.
On September 11, Embassy walls were stormed in Egypt, and the black flag of militant Islam was hoisted over what is sovereign American soil in Cairo. An American ambassador and three of his staffers were murdered in Benghazi in what US Ambassador Susan Rice has called a “spontaneous” protest over the release of a minor movie. (Conversely, Libyan President Mohamed Magariaf has said this was a planned “criminal act” by militants.)
Since then, American flags have burned across the Middle East in countries like Pakistan where hundreds were subdued with tear gas while marching to the American Consulate in Karachi. Protesters in Morocco, a moderate Muslim country, chanted “Death to Obama.” In Kabul, crowds yelled, “Death to America.”
Rocks and bottle rockets have been hurled outside the US Embassy in Jakarta where the AP recorded a protester yelling, “We will destroy America like this flag!” In Sudan riot police have had to protect the American, British and German Embassies.
Still, Obama Press Secretary Jay Carney insists, “This is not a case of protests directed at the United States at large or at US policy, but it is in response to [a] video that is offensive to Muslims…”
In regards to that perspective, one should note ABC News and other outlets have reported that the producer of Innocence of Muslims used an alias while promoting his film. While he claimed to be a Jewish real estate agent, he is actually an Egyptian who raised the money for his movie in Egypt. The American government did not fund or condone the creation of this movie mocking Islam, and the producer wasn’t even an American. Thereby it seems the movie’s only real relationship to the United States—apart from the location where it was filmed--is the cherished American value that purports even offensive speech is free.
This creates a problem for the Obama presidency.
The Obama doctrine as demonstrated by multiple speeches and foreign policy initiatives is one that rests on the assumption that the animosity that has long radiated towards the United States was in large part a reaction to a lack of American humility, military posturing and interference in the affairs of other cultures.
Yet after four years of a recalibrated relationship with the Middle East, a video has caused radical Islamists to yell such niceties as “Obama, we love Osama” and “Our dead are in paradise; your dead are in hell.”
Were such things said in a remote outpost of the Hindu Kush where radicalized sheepherders with Internet access are unable to differentiate You Tube videos from American endorsed positions?
Actually, the “Obama, we love Osama” folks were gathered in Sydney, Australia. The Sydney Morning Herald, the Herald Sun, and ABC News Australia reported police used batons and dog squads to repel the five-hour long protest conducted by violent radicals wearing Arabic scripted headbands that read, “We are your soldiers, Mohammed.”
In fact, while still in the “peaceful” stages of assembly, children were photographed holding signs that said, “Behead all those who insult the prophet.”
This gives pause for reflection.
Let’s assume that all of these protests really are the result of a movie.
Does Western culture condone the beheading of producers? Obviously not, so what can the United States do to appease Islamic fascists? Disavow such films? Stop them from being made?
To think about what this really means in the context of our own values, put aside for the moment a silly film produced by a fringe Egyptian for nefarious purposes.
If an author like Salman Rushdie is ever murdered and wider protests erupt around the globe because of his writing, should the United States respond by tweeting that Americans repudiate Rushdie’s highly acclaimed work?
If not, one has to consider the broader implications of how the Obama administration has handled the violent—and not isolated—reactions to a remote film.
Is it okay to continue to propagate the idea that insanely intolerant people have a reason to be mad? How do Americans live peacefully with extremists who are alive, well, and so easily agitated despite President Obama’s “lead from behind” foreign policies? (This was the description an Obama adviser gave to The New Yorker of the president’s approach to the Arab Spring.)
It would be refreshing if someone seemed even remotely interested in analyzing what this crisis actually says about American security around the globe.
After all, the Commander-in-Chief’s primary duty is not to protect the feelings of fanatics. It’s to engage in policies that protect the people of the United States.
In fact, in 2008 President Obama convinced 66 percent of 18-29 year olds who actually voted to pull the lever for him. The “Hope and Change” campaign was sleek and connected. That ultra cool cat candidate had a cool name, cool poster, cool vision. It seemed on university campuses, everyone liked Barrack. A lot of professors still do. President Obama does, after all, have a lot in common with them.
But now I wonder about those students.
On August 21, the Bureau of Labor and Statistics released a summary of employment trends among American youth. This demographic is defined as men and women between 16 and 24 years of age. The percentage of unemployed is calculated upon the number of these who are seeking a job and can’t find one. Many of these young adults were eligible to vote in 2008, and now the wave of hope they rode then has crashed real change over a lot of their lives with not nice consequences.
Consider, in July 2012, the average youth unemployment rate was 17.1 percent.
To break those numbers down further, a higher percentage of young men today are unemployed than a percentage of young women. White youth registered a 14.9 percent unemployment rate; Asians were at 14.4 percent, and Hispanics reached 18.5 percent. Black youth suffer the most under a 28.6 percent unemployment rate, which is by any definition crushing. Remember, the highest average unemployment figure during the Great Depression was 24.9 percent in 1933.
So it is no wonder NPR recently reported the youth vote feels less energized in 2012. Who feels energized when living in their parents’ basement?
As we kick around debates about how to preserve retirement entitlements, it’s also useful to remember a 2010 CNN poll found seventy percent of people under the age of fifty do not even believe Social Security will be around by the time they retire, so it’s not a youth issue.
Medicare is also not a sure thing, and while Obamacare has allowed kids to stay dependent on their parents longer, it looks to them as a “healthy group” to pay more premiums rather than capitalize upon their youth and save money.
I haven’t even mentioned the burden of that monster called the national debt. (Since our current youth can’t find jobs, maybe their children will pay it?)
So President Obama has talked a lot lately about lowering tuition costs, forgiving student loans, and adding Pell Grants. But these are great examples of pandering to the college set he thinks might actually get registered and show up to vote for him in November. They don’t address the real problem of today’s youth, which is unemployment.
After all, I remember when I was a young undergraduate. I wasn’t eligible for a Pell Grant, but I consistently worked two jobs to pay for my BA, as my middle class parents simply couldn’t afford to help a lot with school.
If I was an undergraduate in the same circumstance today, I would still not be eligible for a Pell Grant. Would I be able to find even one of those two jobs I depended upon to pay my tuition? And if I could get a lot of President Obama’s student loans instead, how would I pay those loans back after graduation with no job market?
The truth of the matter is that President Obama’s economy has been a disaster for young men and women.
Keep in mind, with a kid of my own in college, and as a graduate student still paying ever-increasing tuition costs, I do understand why President Obama’s efforts to stop short-term hikes in student loans and to tout student loan forgiveness programs, gets the youth vote’s attention. I also understand that young voters tend to trend more to the left on social issues than their stodgy, old parents.
But this time around, young men and women must consider more than just the poster-sized picture of politics that might fit into a dorm room.
In 2012, whose policies will get companies hiring again? How will a president kick-start the financial engine that will get unemployed youth out of their parents’ basement and into careers that promise independence? Whose vision is best suited to tackle current problems of finance?
If we’re going by records—and the real unemployment numbers he has not fixed—I think President Obama has already had—and missed—his chance to make a difference.
I mean, at this point, wouldn’t getting a job be the coolest change?
I love to laugh. I love politics. I have loved several Will Ferrell movies. So going to see The Candidate on a Friday night with my family was a no-brainer.
I am happy to report—while the film is crass—my ninety-minute investment—as well as my butter-laden popcorn—proved quite palatable. What person with a sense of humor doesn’t laugh at the idea of a politician punching a baby?
However, one should know The Campaign also has a fairly transparent agenda in this very real political season, so let me give you the quick low down on this Hollywood hoe down.
Basically you’ve got two politicians running for Congress in North Carolina. The slick Democrat who gets embroiled in a sex scandal reminds one of men like John Edwards. The bumbling Republican has an “accident” while hunting that is reminiscent of Dick Cheney.
During these scenes, I greatly appreciated the movie’s non-partisan portrayal of the hypocritical nature of politicians, the many absurdities of modern day campaigning, and the fickleness of an easily swayed electorate. In fact, the parody was so often on the level of South Park, that I kept waiting for someone to kill Kenny.
If someone ever did do such a thing, it was clear from the start that he would surely have been one of the evil Koch brothers… I mean, Motch brothers.
However, the ultimate message of the movie is that the Supreme Court ruling on Citizens United—which is called out by name—was a bad decision because it has injected too much money from the business world into politics.
This is a fair position to take, I suppose, but I left the theatre with the exact opposite view. Hollywood, which injects its money into the political realm all the time without any conflict of conscience proves to me that the Supreme Court got it right.
To review, the Citizens United ruling has become a rallying cry for many on the Left who feel the Court is too ideologically driven, but what did the ruling actually say?
To figure this out I did what everyone should do, dear reader, when the aim is to weigh the validity of ideas expressed in any Supreme Court decision. I went straight to the source and read all 183 pages of Citizens United v. the Federal Election Commission, including concurrences and dissents.
The experience was educating.
Truly, it is impossible in a short column to expound on all the intricacies of opinions that the Court took 183 pages to describe, but there are some basic points that the majority used to justify its facial ruling.
First one must remember that this whole broo-ha-ha began because Citizens United created a “documentary” about Hillary Clinton that they wanted to make accessible to viewers who requested to see it via video-on-demand within thirty days of a primary election.
Just like many a Michael Moore “documentary” has tried to make citizens believe that the Bush family regularly eats babies covered in oil for breakfast, the Citizens United film had the clear intent of discouraging voters from supporting Senator Clinton. Since Citizens United received some money from corporations—and the 1990 Austin v. Michigan Chamber of Commerce ruling made banning speech based on the speaker’s corporate identity possible—Citizens United might have been violating the law if the movie was released.
Now, don’t get confused.
The right of a corporation to spend money for the purpose of expressing a political viewpoint is very different from the right of a corporation to make a direct contribution to a candidate. The Tillman Act in 1907—as pointed out in the dissent—made these sorts of contributions illegal so as to cut down on the appearance of impropriety—quid pro quo relationships—in the American political system.
The question that the Court tackled in the Citizens United case is whether or not it is Constitutional to deny an entity with specific political interests the right to express those interests based solely on that entity’s form. As the majority opinion states, Citizens United’s problems with the distribution of their film highlighted the fact that “the FEC [had] created a regime that [allowed] it to select what political speech is safe for public consumption by applying ambiguous tests.” The ultimate ruling determined this was not a fair application of the First Amendment.
So I keep hearing some scream that “corporations aren’t people,” but, as the Citizens United ruling points out, media corporations have always enjoyed special exemptions from the law that allow them to engage in whatever political speech they want without censorship.
Of course media corporations are necessary to disseminate information in a democracy, but they can be as involved in the business of making money as any other corporation. They have the same pitfalls of stockholders with diverse opinions that they may not represent in full, and they are often not “fair and balanced” in how they present information.
After all, any Occupy Wall Streeter will tell you, Fox News programs can have an agenda. Fox News is part of News Corporation. So by saying media corporations are exempted from the restrictions imposed on other corporations during an election season, the law is in effect privileging the Fox News agenda.
If News Corporation is “not a person” anymore than a Fortune 100 company is a person, then why should News Corporation enjoy Constitutional rights to free speech that a Fortune 100 company does not?
In addition, for those interested in “fairness,” can you tell me why a corporation that has a media arm, as some do, should be able to use that media arm to influence voters in the run up to an election while another, similar corporation without a media arm should say nothing in the crucial time period when electioneering really matters? Does the media arm somehow make the corporation’s viewpoints neutral?
Citizens United basically levels the playing field and allows all corporations to engage in political speech however they see fit as long as they disclose that they are the source of that political speech.
Of course I must note that part of the Citizens United dissent asserts the ruling will chill democracy, as voters like me will feel as if individual votes are inconsequential next to the mighty influence of that corporate dollar.
But whether or not a corporation can engage in express advocacy 30 days before an election, I know Sarah Jessica Parker can host dinner parties that require guests to pay $40,000 a plate and can guarantee access to a sitting president. While no one is going to argue about Ms. Parker’s “personhood,” it’s clear her money buys her political influence I will never be able to afford. Yet I do not lose faith in the system in her case. Why is the corporate dollar any different?
Which brings me back to The Campaign and its political messaging.
While not expressly supporting a candidate—while only pushing an opinion about a Supreme Court ruling—it occurs to me that the big difference between Hollywood and your run-of-the-mill corporation is that Hollywood makes a profit on the political ads it produces by packaging them as entertainment.
There’s a great deal of irony in knowing that according to a July 17 article in the New York Times, “Of the $96 million or more raised by … super PACs [funded after Citizens United], only about 13 percent came from privately held corporations, and less than 1 percent came from publicly traded corporations.” However, The Campaign with its clear political agenda made $27.4 million in its opening weekend.
Those aren’t bad corporate profits to earn when selling a political viewpoint, eh?
Regardless, it seems clear to me that actors like Will Ferrell who make Moveon.org PSAs, billionaires like the Koch brothers or George Soros, millionaires like Sarah Jessica Parker, Fox News, CNN, Michael Moore, Citizens United, Simon and Schuster, and—yes—other corporations with vested political interests should be able to make their case to the American people for whatever political positions serve them most.
This does not mean money can “buy” elections. Hilariously, money doesn’t even end up buying the election in The Campaign.
However, “we the people” have a clear duty to carefully assess all the information put in front of us—which includes evaluating sources—when participating in our democracy. If we do this, the Citizens United ruling does little more than even the playing field for all who wish to engage in their rights to free speech.
However Hollywood spins it, that’s not a bad thing.