But no matter the affiliation or partisan label, nearly everyone is worried about the state of American democracy.
We live in a nation where, if historical trends continue, nearly $4 billion will be spent during the 2014 campaign — the most expensive midterm election in our history.
All this money is being spent, yet there’s no real impact on voter’s knowledge of the issues.
Elaine Kamarck of the Brookings Institution wrote to me about a recent study Brookings conducted about the primary period of the 2014 election season:
“To my surprise and to the surprise of our research team, the primaries, especially the Democratic ones, were largely void of substance with the exception of the old Democratic standby of protecting Social Security and Medicare. There were more issues on the Republican side, but those were standardized across the board — repeal Obamacare, cut regulations, etc. All in all a pretty empty season, perhaps best characterized by Jill Lawrence and Walter Shapiro in the title of their article: ‘Phoning It in and Failing to Show: The Story of the 2014 House Primaries.’”
After the Watergate scandal, in which illicit campaign financing played a large role, stricter reform laws were passed. Limits were placed on what any one person could contribute. But since the Supreme Court’s decision in Citizens United, the same individuals who must list their names and donations publically when contributing to candidates can turn around and contribute “dark money” until there’s nothing but lint left in their pockets to anonymous “outside groups” called super PACs, which are not supposed to coordinate with campaigns.
Labor unions and corporations cannot contribute directly to candidates. Yet they can spend unlimited funds on candidates and ballot issues via these super PACs, and keep both donors and monies secret. The Brennan Center for Justice at the New York University School of Law released a study this week on the dark money pouring into elections by the billions. The Brennan report says that, of nine of the Senate races around the country identified as toss-ups, “Dark-money groups that hide some or all of their donors accounted for $88.6 million, or 56 percent, of non-party outside spending.”
Both the Brennan Center and The New York Times have found that 75 percent of political ads benefiting Republicans have flowed through groups not required to disclose their finances, while 25 percent of political ads benefiting Democrats have done the same.
Yet, this column isn’t about dark money alone. It’s about the voter’s right to vote. Inherent in that vote is a voter’s ability to inform herself or himself about who supports the candidates. If the voter is in the dark about who or what interests are providing millions for a candidate, how can they judge if the candidate is indebted by the gift?
Dark money leaves voters in the dark.
Let’s take two examples. In Kentucky, Sen. Mitch McConnell has raised $28.6 million and is second in the nation in benefiting from secret donors and money, with some $10.7 in dark money supporting his campaign to attack his opponent, Alison Lundergan Grimes. If Republicans should win the Senate, and McConnell keep his post, no one will know if dark money, coming from a so-called “social welfare group” named Kentuckians for Strong Leadership is guiding his public decisions.
The Senate Majority PAC, an outsider super PAC supporting Democrats, has outspent both major party committees around the country. This super PAC, according to the Brennan Center for Justice, has “virtually fully funded Put Alaska First, a super PAC supporting the re-election of Alaska Democrat Sen. Mark Begich.
“So what?” some would say. “Money is the mother’s milk of politics. What difference does it make if donors and amounts are public or secret?” The Brennan Center puts it clearly: “Outside money made possible by weak regulation and Supreme Court rulings like Citizens United is giving wealthy spenders more power than ever to buy influence over elections.” That’s not government of the people, but government of the few wealthy donors.
We all remember and love the movie “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington.” Jimmy Stewart plays an idealistic man appointed to a Senate seat by a corrupt governor. Stewart gets to Washington, and introduces a bill to build a boys’ camp. That bill runs into trouble when the land set aside for it is already going to use to enrich Smith’s colleague in the Senate from the same state.
In the era of secret donors, dark money and outside groups, it is becoming harder and harder for a Mr. or Ms. Smith to make it to Washington. It is up to the American people to demand their legislators pass laws to ensure the disclosure of donors and set limits on contributions. Our democratic system of governance is at risk if we remain silent.]]>
Neither are Americans panicked over Ebola (and they shouldn’t be). Polls show the majority (56 percent) of the public believes the United States is prepared to handle Ebola. A minority (42 percent) says we are not prepared.
The answer to preparedness comes down, my friends, to the local level. We have a federal system, which is to say that power is shared between the federal governments and the states.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention does not have authority over your state’s health system. It’s up to your governor, your mayor, and your state and local health officials to ensure that if Ebola comes to your town (highly unlikely), they are fully prepared.
The CDC has a good track record in preventing and controlling infectious diseases. It was, however, overconfident in its assessment of preparedness of the nation’s local hospitals. The Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital in Dallas gives evidence of human error in an otherwise fine institution.
In addition to Ebola patient Thomas Eric Duncan being sent home, though running an infectious fever, protocol was clearly breached in his treatment. Now, two nurses who cared for Duncan are quarantined with the illness, although with a much better chance at survival because it was caught early. The CDC cannot be everywhere at once, and local health officials must be vigilant in maintaining proper protocol.
The CDC does bear responsibility for allowing the second nurse, Amber Joy Venson, to fly. She properly called CDC and reported a low-grade fever. Now, Ebola is not considered infectious until one’s body temperature reaches 101.4 degrees. Her temperature was 99.5.
The person at CDC who gave the nurse permission to fly followed the guidelines in place. But those rules are not for a health worker who’s been exposed to an Ebola patient. “From this moment forward, we’ll be sure that no one who has been exposed will travel except under controlled movement,” CDC Director Thomas Frieden said.
President Obama has ordered that the CDC have “SWAT teams” of health care advisers in place that will be sent within hours to any localities with symptomatic Ebola patients. He stated that the CDC would be present “so that they are taking the local hospital step by step through exactly what needs to be done and making sure that all the protocols are properly observed; that the use of protective equipment is done effectively; that disposal of that protective equipment is done properly.” A CDC team is in Dallas to supervise and monitor Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital.
Some are arguing we should shut down all travel with West Africa to contain the spread of Ebola. That’s a simple and easy response, but it is misguided and not a solution. Not only are screenings being done at airports in West Africa to ensure no one who is sick or has a fever gets on a flight, but these screenings are happening here too.
The CDC, under direction from the White House, has initiated enhanced screening at five of the nation’s airports where 94 percent of travelers from West Africa (where the outbreak is localized) enter the United States. Those measures include “layered” checks, and the specific screening of travelers from Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone. Temperatures will be taken, detailed questions will be asked, and potential hospitalization will occur for any who show an elevated temperature. Remember, Ebola is not infectious until someone shows symptoms.
Additionally, shutting down travel with these nations would isolate them from medical aid and public health professionals, exactly the opposite of what we want to do when attacking a largely localized epidemic. World Health Organization spokesman Gregory Hartl explains: “If you try to shut down air travel and sea travel, you risk affecting to a huge extent the economy, people’s livelihoods and their ability to get around without stopping the virus from traveling. You can’t ship goods in. Sometimes these goods are basic staples people need to survive — food and fuel.”
With travel bans in place, the economies of affected West African nations would be crippled and governments would be at risk of failing. And other nations would be less forthcoming with reports about Ebola for fear of being isolated themselves, thus increasing the risk of the disease spreading.
The past is instructive. When Americans were worried that avian influenza (the so-called “bird flu”) would spread to the U.S., the Bush administration studied the idea of instituting travel bans. It found these bans would be ineffective and could interfere with the transport of health professionals and medical aid.
The good news is that the battle with Ebola is one we can win. Local authorities must follow protocol and the international community must attack Ebola at its source in West Africa. Nigeria has stopped Ebola cold and reduced the fatality rate by 50 percent.
Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen put it best, “A winnable battle should never be lost. Now is the time to respond to this crisis with the speed and resources needed.”]]>
Kentucky Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes is a great candidate for the U.S. Senate and is running a solid campaign. But she made a mistake when she refused to answer the question from the Louisville Courier-Journal about which presidential candidate she voted for in 2012.
Grimes should have said she voted for President Obama and then gone on to explain her policy differences with him. By ducking the question, all she did was make news out of her refusal to give a routine answer to a routine question. If Grimes doesn’t care for Obama or what he stands for or has accomplished, just say so.
Like most Democrats running this fall, Grimes cannot win the election without the support of the Democratic base, and the Democratic base expects her to vote for a Democratic president against his Republican opponent.
Having forthrightly identified herself as a Democrat, Grimes can go on to explain what kind of Democrat she is — a Clinton Democrat, a moderate Democrat, a Kentucky Democrat, a Blue Dog Democrat, or simply a woman who has shown voters that she is wise and if elected, will work hard to put their interest first — not simply try to score partisan points.
Grimes is more than a match for incumbent Sen. Mitch McConnell. She is every bit as tough as him, without his baggage of government shutdowns, his focus on making Obama a one-term president (and failing at it), and his love of extreme partisan politics.
She hit hard in the only debate of the race. “Sen. McConnell’s 30-year record—it’s gridlock, it’s obstruction, it’s extreme partisanship that’s cost this nation a 16-day government shutdown. We can’t afford to go in that direction. My record speaks for itself. I’m an independent thinker who does what’s right for the people of Kentucky, not partisan politics.”
The best McConnell seemed to be able to do was to mock her criticism of fabulous wealth: “Let me tell you: Her family has made more off the government in the last 10 years than I’ve been paid in a salary in all my time in the Senate,” he said. OK, they are both wealthy, but what about the voters in Kentucky. Who’s looking out for them?
McConnell, who is the self-acknowledged “Proud Guardian of Gridlock,” tried to make his gun-to-the-head negotiating (My way, or I shove the U.S. over the fiscal cliff) appear as compromising. It didn’t work, and that’s largely why he’s in trouble now. Voters truly want to believe that candidates will attempt to find common ground.
Grimes, by contrast, forthrightly supported Obamacare and Kentucky’s governor, calling him “heroic” for taking on McConnell so Kentuckians can have the financial security and health care they need.
If there is one rule for Democrats this year it is, “Don’t demoralize and demobilize the Democratic base.” She may, in fact, never tell anyone her ballot vote. But, Grimes does herself, and her party, no good by sidestepping her party’s leader.
By electing the libertarian Rand Paul to the U.S. Senate and a Democratic governor, Steve Beshear, who has implemented health care reform on the state level, Kentucky voters have proven that they are willing to elect politicians with a wide array of views.
Prior to the debate and Grimes’ refusal to answer the question about who she voted for in the last presidential election, the polls have seesawed between McConnell and Grimes, but McConnell never breaks 50%. For an incumbent to be stuck below 50% is a danger sign, and Mitch McConnell is the ultimate incumbent — a figure of Washington, D.C., not Kentucky.
If she is to survive the final weeks of campaigning, Grimes must pivot back to the issues and perhaps even make some real news by saying what she will do for six years if elected versus trying to compete with McConnell on what to do to stop President Obama from doing his job for two more years.
Grimes is 35 with a long career ahead of her. If she doesn’t win this time, does she want the Democratic base to boycott her for decades to come? Bill Clinton started in Arkansas as a supporter of George McGovern, proving that a progressive Democrat can win in a conservative border state.
She is a fiercely independent, tough candidate and is capable of providing a positive case for how she will lead. But it’s past time for Democrats running in these so-called red states to positively make a case for voters to elect them based on their agenda and priorities — and not get caught up in trying to play these distancing games that could alienate the base voters they need to turn out on Election Day.]]>
Don’t get me wrong. By deciding on Monday to turn down all pending same-sex marriage cases, the Supreme Court managed to bring marriage equality to at least five new states and many thousands of couples. In one sense, the Roberts court has done more good simply by doing nothing than they’ve been able to do in volumes and volumes of actual rulings.
But I can’t help but feel that the Supreme Court’s decision to turn down all those cases passed the buck on their core constitutional responsibility to do justice.
Over the past few years, we’ve learned that the Supreme Court doesn’t have a care in the world about taking up huge, hot button issues and issuing sweeping rulings that change the future of this country.
Citizens United. 5-4. Crippled our campaign finance system.
Voting Rights Act. 5-4. Gutted it.
Hobby Lobby. 5-4. Continued the war on women by putting their reproductive health decisions in the hands of corporations.
(I don’t know about you, but I hear a lot from my Republican friends about “judicial activism.” Those are the rulings that sound like judicial activism to me—striking down portions of critical laws that help make this a better, more equal country for all.)
When it came down to guaranteeing the right to marriage—a fundamental constitutional right—the court just passed the buck. The justices simply turned down the opportunity to do what’s right.
And, yes, the court’s decision to turn down those cases on Monday meant that some states won marriage equality by default. But what about everyone else?
What about a gay couple living in one of the states that is still being left behind, like my own home state of Louisiana? There are folks in these states who have been living together for decades, going to church, volunteering, or working for a better future.
If one of those folks gets in a car accident tomorrow, their partner, their spouse, has no legal right to survival benefits, to pensions, to being on the death certificate! And the Supreme Court wants to tell us that there’s no dispute here? No federal issue that merits their immediate attention? It’s absurd.
Campaign finance laws say a billionaire can’t give a candidate a million dollars? The Supreme Court’s on it like flies to honey.
A little old lady’s partner of 40 years dies, but her state says they were never married in the eyes of the law? “Eh,” the Supreme Court says, “we’ll get to it later.”
It’s just wrong. People are suffering, the nation’s marriage laws are in chaos — so what on Earth is the point of delay? To me, the only reason seems to be politics. I worry that most of those justices didn’t want to get their hands dirty by dealing with this deeply emotional and human issue.
But folks, that’s just not how this social contract is supposed to work. If you’re a Supreme Court justice, the American people have elevated you to one of the highest offices in the land out of the goodness of their heart and out of deference to your legal wisdom. You get a lifetime appointment, limitless prestige, a great office, and what I have to assume is a very comfortable chair.
And as Americans, all we ask in return of our justices is that they do what’s right.
The justices failed in that duty this week, and I hope they get a chance to remedy that decision sooner rather than later. After all, when deep, fundamental constitutional rights are at stake, we know from history that we cannot tolerate two nations divided against one another. We need one nation, with liberty and justice for all. I hope we get one soon.]]>
I guess that’s why elections are held so close to the day we confront our ghosts and ghouls.
One thing we’re supposed to learn as we become adults, though, is the difference between things we should fear and the apparitions of hype.
Moving out of politics to public health for a moment, let’s ask, should we panic about Ebola? What is the source of our fears? Is our fear based on severity and rate of infection? According to the World Health Organization, Ebola’s rate of infection is, on average, 2 (one person infects two). Not an effective transmitter, but deadly once there’s an infection. The rates of infection for mumps and measles are 10 and 18, respectively.
So you should be more concerned about getting your children vaccinated for mumps and measles — you can directly control that. And, of course, we should educate ourselves about how Ebola is transmitted, what our public health organizations are doing (with far too few resources — thanks, Congress) to combat it, and what precautions we should take.
But panic? Drunk drivers, those who text and drive, and guns in schools should cause more alarm.
So why is the media hitting the scream machine button? Because the media, like the monster in a sci-fi horror flick, feed off our fear and panic. It’s the ratings, stupid! How tragic.
Of course the world is a dangerous place. Dangers near and far are real. But it’s the faraway dangers that dominate the headlines and keep us in a state of heightened fright. After all, it seems like the threats of terrorism, war and epidemics are everywhere. Clearly, the White House should dismantle a few federal agencies and set up a crisis management operation to deal with the daily dosage of “alarms.” This is serious stuff, folks.
But it’s been that way since the dawn of civilization. People in ancient Mesopotamia dealt with the same sorts of challenges that people in today’s Middle East deal with — and they did so with far fewer technological, medical and scientific resources.
What they didn’t have to deal with was a 24-hour news cycle that sucked their energy and attention and hyped the fear and phobia. They had kings and satraps directing what they did, not conglomerates and corporatists controlling what they thought.
There were cuneiform tablets, but as far as we know, no cuneiform tabloids. And there was certainly no cable news or Internet to put the problems of all the other ancient civilizations in their kitchens.
Ironically, one of the reasons we’ve survived the litany of terror, war and disease since ancient times is because of the technology — the same technology that’s given us the communications infrastructure that allows the fear-mongers and mad scientists of the media to hype, panic, scare and confuse.
Technology — from the wheel to fire to the combustible engine to computers and beyond — is a tool. Tools can be used for good or evil, to cure diseases or pollute the air and water, to build bridges or to isolate communities.
So when our news media resemble a Wes Craven movie, we have to ask, “Why? Who benefits?”
Fear is profitable. Look how much the horror and low-budget slasher movies make. Look at Dean Koontz’s book sales.
But the media know that stories of hope and change, stories of compassion and our shared humanity also sell as much as, if not more than, the doom-and-gloom, be-afraid cliches.
So if the media prefer hype and fear beyond ratings or profits, then why? Who benefits? Those who themselves fear hope and change and progress. But who would fear hope and change and progress? Those who might lose power or influence and those who would have to step up and lead versus whining and overhyping for short-term partisan gain.
Yes, I’m talking about politicians, and their wealthy, well-connected donors. You know them. They are the privileged who want to hoard privilege, deplete resources and exploit people. I’m talking about those whose motto when it comes to Obama administration policies or Democrats who could improve the lives of children, students, the poor or even the working class, is: “Whatever it is, I’m against it.”
Like the politicians who condemned President Obama for appointing policy czars and now demand one for Ebola response. (Hint: Don’t slash the budget for public health and approve the nominated surgeon general.). Like those who praised former Gov. Mitt Romney in 2012 for saying he’d get unemployment below 6 percent by 2016, and condemn Obama for getting it to 5.9 percent by 2014. Like House Speaker John Boehner’s admission that the GOP has no jobs plan. Like those who won’t raise corporate taxes, but shriek in horror at raising the minimum wage.
Let’s face it — it’s shameless. All of it. Too mad we cannot all collectively shout back “Boo!” Let’s leave the fake fears and virtual frights to a master like Stephen King.
Let’s remain hopeful, not mean or fearful, and believe that we can handle all these crises. And yes, while we are at it, let’s remember that we are resilient.
Halloween will soon be here and gone. Let’s enjoy “trick or treat” the way it was meant to be.]]>
It’s shameful — a victory for the underhanded tactics Republicans are using to keep Democrats away from the polls.
I’ve been frustrated before, but not like this — so here’s what we’re going to do about it: With your help, we’re going to fully fund our voter protection and expansion programs to respond to these recent court actions and make sure that every vote counts in this election.
Voting is the most fundamental right in our democracy, so you might wonder why an entire political party would be hell-bent on making it harder to exercise that right.
Donna, I’ll tell you why: When more people vote, Democrats win — and the Republican Party will use any trick, run any scheme, and pervert any part of our electoral process to make sure that doesn’t happen. But we are NOT going to let them get away with it — and that starts right now.
Your contribution will go a long way toward cutting through the confusion and making sure that every eligible voter who wants to cast their ballot — no matter who they’re voting for — has their vote counted:
I need you to fight for this with me. Thanks for your help.
Thanks to the Affordable Care Act, the uninsured rate in the United States has been cut by 26 percent. And as those states where Republican governors who initially rejected federal funding start instead to embrace expanded Medicaid, the number of uninsured will plunge even further.
When the last century drew to a close, uninsured patients placed a significant strain on the U.S. economy. Absorbing treatments for uninsured patients is a huge stumbling block to our economic growth and our attempts to balance the budget. Before this year, we had the most expensive health care of all: the emergency room, where legally mandated costs of treating the uninsured were passed along with higher medical costs.
However, since Obamacare kicked in, emergency room admissions of non-payees are on the decline. During 2014, hospitals saw fewer uninsured patients, saving our health care system, thus far, an estimated $5.7 billion in uncompensated care, according to a Department of Health and Human Services report published late last month.
Approximately $4.7 billion of the $5.7 billion in savings comes from the 27 states that implemented the entirety of the Affordable Care Act, which includes an expansion of Medicaid. These savings will increase if the 23 states where Republican governors rejected increasing coverage for the working poor opt to join in.
Implementing ACA and expanding Medicaid does not have to be a partisan battle, as some Republican governors have made it. In Kentucky — a red state in national politics and the home of Republican Sens. Mitch McConnell and Rand Paul — Democratic Gov. Steve Beshear is making a concentrated effort to cover the 640,000 uninsured people in his state. He has covered nearly 65 percent of that number already in large part because Kentucky’s health exchange website, Kynect, is among the most successful in the country.
Arizona, Ohio, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania, where Republican governors hold office today, reviewed the matter and decided to join in expanding their medical coverage in 2014. As other Republican governors themselves awake to the advantages falling to those states who embraced Medicaid and health exchanges — and decide to reverse their opposition — it’s only a matter of time until the rest of the Republican governors join them.
The Affordable Care Act also sought to limit the huge costs of American health care that make our system the most expensive in the developed world. Just one year into Obamacare, the costs of medical care in the U.S. are increasing at historically low rates.
Obamacare, in its first year, tied the lowest rate ever for increased health costs. That was in 1999, the first year Kaiser conducted its Employer Health Benefits Survey.
There’s more. Before 2014, an accident or extended illness often resulted in bankruptcy for tens of millions of uninsured and/or underinsured Americans. Ninety-four percent of workers in 2014 have health plans that limit their out-of-pocket costs because of Obamacare provisions.
Saving on health costs starts with preventive care. Just a year after the exchanges opened, we are experiencing even more cost savings than the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office (CBO) originally projected. And, here’s another huge news item: The Affordable Care Act is projected to reduce the federal deficit. The CBO has actually revised its initial May 2010 finding of $124 billion savings to $150 billion in June of this year.
Voters will decide at the polls if they want more of this. Republicans in the House of Representatives, through the legislative process, tried over 50 times to “undo, revamp or tweak” Obamacare, according to The Washington Post. They failed each time, and we now have in place an affordable health care system that allows millions the access they need to preventive care — without the costs falling on the consumer.
Except for some isolated attempts to revisit the HealthCare.gov website’s shaky rollout, opponents have barely mentioned the ACA this election. It’s because it really works. There’s a difference between a website and a program. It’s a sign of how feeble election stump arguments are when they must dwell on website mistakes that were corrected.
It would be folly to continue attempting to scrap an insurance program and an improved medical system that are working well together to meet our critical health needs.
On the fourth anniversary of the passage of the Affordable Care Act, President Obama shared a letter a Colorado woman sent him following her first doctor’s visit as a newly insured enrollee:
“After using my new insurance for the first time, you probably heard my sigh of relief from the White House,” she wrote. “I felt like a human being again. I felt that I had value.”
The Affordable Care Act’s greatest impact is on individual lives. We can’t forget that.]]>
These two reasons are why I’m outraged by what’s going on in Ohio.
This week, the Supreme Court, on the eve of early voting, ruled that efforts by Ohio Republicans to restrict early voting days were acceptable. This gets rid of what’s called the Golden Week in Ohio — the period when voters can register and cast their ballot at the same time.
It ended convenient voting hours, when Ohioans could vote after a long day at work — as late as 9 p.m. It also ended voting on one of the two Sundays before Election Day when many folks head to their polling place after church. These have been hallmarks of the Ohio voting system, but the Supreme Court and Republicans have yet again changed the rules in the middle of the game — all to create barriers between people and the ballot box.
And unfortunately it’s not just Ohio where Republicans have doggedly tried to restrict or cut early voting days or hours. In Wisconsin, Gov. Scott Walker and the GOP have reduced and limited the early voting period, including weekend voting. In North Carolina, the Republican governor and legislature took away a week of early voting. And in Georgia, a GOP legislator lamented a county’s move to expand early voting, saying he would “prefer more educated voters” over black early voters.
Think this doesn’t have any real impact? Think again. In 2012, a third of voters cast a ballot before Election Day, in person or by mail — more than double the rate during the 2000 election. All told, more than 18 million voters cast an early in-person ballot when President Obama was re-elected.
Voting shouldn’t be a challenge. It should be as easy and accessible as possible. We shouldn’t require forms of ID that folks don’t have, we shouldn’t restrict days or hours that allow working people a chance to both do their job and exercise their democratic right, and we damn well shouldn’t be throwing up new obstacles midstream.
When obstacles are thrown up, we should have protections for voters. That’s why I was so frustrated when the Supreme Court last summer gutted the Voting Rights Act in Shelby v. Holder.
The Supreme Court ruled that there’s no need for national oversight when localities and states with a history of racially discriminatory voting laws make voting rule changes. I’m not alone with my frustration. A recent poll from Lake Research and the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights found that nationally, 69% of the American public favors restoring the VRA, with only 10% opposing.
Voters of both parties, all races, and every region across the country favor a congressional proposal to restore the Voting Rights Act. I’m hopeful that Republicans and Democrats will, in the lame duck session after the 2014 elections or in the beginning of the next session of Congress, hammer out legislation that restores oversight and protects voters.
As Democrats, we believe in giving every eligible citizen the opportunity to vote — whether it’s early because they can’t take off work on Election Day or absentee because they might have plans to be out of town. And we believe this for two reasons. First, when more people vote, Democrats win. That’s because more Americans agree with us on the big issues and the big questions — like who’s got my back? But second, it’s because our democracy is better when more people have skin in the game. Our democracy relies on participation and we’ve never done better by excluding folks.
If there’s one thing we can count on, it’s that the GOP is going to continue to come up with last minute schemes to make it more complicated, more confusing, or just plain more difficult for honest, hardworking citizens to vote on Election Day or before. It’s up to us to stop them.]]>
When it comes to political cameos on TV shows, Donna Brazile and I — spoiler alert! — disagree. Below is a letter by Ms. Brazile, a national Democratic political strategist and a recurring character on “The Good Wife”:
In a recent piece, Mike Hale, a Times television critic, had an issue with real political figures playing cameo roles on TV shows, specifically on the CBS show “The Good Wife,” starring Juliana Margulies, Christine Baranski and — every once in a while — me, in a cameo role.
I’ve appeared three times on “The Good Wife.” I’m proud of being associated with the show. Time magazine called it “the best thing on TV outside cable.” Did I mention that I also appear on cable?
I thought I was adding something to the show, but according to Mr. Hale, “the political functionaries can’t act — they’re a distraction, and they flatten every scene they’re in.” Come on, Mike! If you let a couple of lines from me ruin a great show for you, you’re just being grumpy. Heck, I enjoyed “The Wedding Crashers,” and nobody is going to mistake John McCain’s cameo performance in that movie with Ian McKellen.
Mr. Hale also said that the cameos “probably succeed as fan service for a liberal audience of a certain age.” Ouch! Great, I thought I was adding a touch of realism to the show, but I was just being used to appeal to the all-important “blue state over 56” demographic.
I’ve also appeared on “House of Cards.” “House of Cards” is on Netflix, so you have to pay to get access to it — kind of like with a real Congressman. (Incidentally, my favorite show is “Scandal,” but I’ve never been asked to be on it. Watching “Scandal” is a fun and exciting guilty pleasure, which is how I imagine most real scandals start out.)
On every show that I have been on, I have played myself. How badly could I botch that? I can understand people complaining if I was playing Rand Paul or something. But when I play myself, all I have to do is be myself — and resist the temptation to tell the director “That’s not what I would say.” If a critic doesn’t think I can act, it’s because I’m not acting. That’s me — and that’s the way I act.
I think people involved in politics make good actors. Acting and politics both involve fooling people. People like being fooled by actors. When you get right down to it, they probably like being fooled by politicians even more. A skillful actor will make you think, but a skillful politician will make you never have to think.
Of course, there are differences. When an actor says something real, it’s called “breaking the fourth wall.” When a politician says something real, it’s called a “gaffe.”
I may not be a trained actor, but I’ve paid my dues. And I mean that literally. I am a fully dues-paid member of SAG/AFTRA. As a political figure, I’ve been called a “card carrying” member of numerous groups that I’m not a member of — and now I’m being called a non-actor when I am literally a card-carrying member of the union for actors. O.K., I don’t usually carry the card, except during awards season to get into screeners.
I know Mr. Hale doesn’t like seeing politicians on these shows. But if we don’t allow politicians to be actors, then we would have to prevent actors from becoming politicians, and there go most of the Republican governors of California.
In conclusion, I just want to tell Mike Hale that he is free to have his opinions about politicians playing TV roles, but please keep a lid on it — I don’t want you to blow my shot at being on “Scandal.”]]>
It was just a couple of weeks ago that first lady Michelle Obama seemed to weigh in on how President Barack Obama’s legacy was shaping up thus far.
“When folks ask me whether I still believe everything we said about change and hope back in 2008, I tell them that I believe it more strongly now than ever before because—look—I’ve seen it with my own eyes,” Michelle Obama told an audience of female leaders in Washington.
She went on to describe how the president had made good on many of the promises he put forth during his campaign. Things like bringing down the unemployment rate, changing the political discussion around same-sex marriage and changing people’s perceptions about the heights that black men can climb. The president has 27 more months in office, and that’s more than enough time for him to keep pushing forward with that checklist of “to do’s” he scribbled down back in ’08.
That said, “What Obama needs to do is … ” is perhaps the most uttered phrase of political observers and barbershop analysts over the past six years. So The Root asked five experts—a civil rights activist, a Democratic strategist, a politician, a psychologist and a historian—with five very different points of entry into this presidency about what they’d like to see him zero in on during his final stretch. Here are their edited responses:
The Rev. Al Sharpton: Civil Rights Leader, MSNBC Host
The Root: What does President Obama need to do to maximize his civil rights impact with respect to African Americans?
Al Sharpton: From a civil rights point of view, he ought to maximize his impact by:
1. Empowering and supporting—in a very aggressive way—the Justice Department’s dealing with the question of police misconduct. Obama can tell local police departments that are found to be biased in their patterns and practices that he will block federal funds if they don’t change. Obama should also push for legislation that works against the militarization of the police force.
2. President Obama should continue to deal with the disparities in sentencing—this is something that both Obama and Attorney General Eric Holder have started, but they need to be much more aggressive. A part of Obama’s My Brother’s Keeper initiative—which is centered on mentoring—should also address sentencing and the disparity in how blacks—especially men—are arrested and imprisoned.
3. The president should deal with the preservation of voting rights. The Supreme Court took out a lot of the teeth of the Voters Right Act by neutralizing Section 5, so now they must aggressively go into those states—as they did in Texas and South Carolina—to uproot discriminatory new election laws that have negatively and severely impacted the black vote.
If Obama deals with these things—policing, the criminal-justice system and the Voting Rights Act—in the next two years, it will make him the best civil rights president we’ve seen in the last decade. And let me say this—which most people have not dealt with—Obama’s reaction to voting rights, Trayvon Martin and Michael Brown are reactions we did not see from Presidents Reagan, Bush, Bush Sr. or Bill Clinton. You have to remember, Amadou Diallo and Abner Louima happened under Clinton, and Clinton didn’t say a word. So Obama has already said more.
Donna Brazile: Democratic Strategist, ABC News and CNN Contributor
The Root: What does President Obama need to do to make sure Democrats are well-positioned at the end of his term?
Donna Brazile: In his final two years in office, President Obama needs to implement his climate action plan to help control greenhouse gas emissions and prevent the metastasizing dangers of climate change.
Fortunately, the president has also stated that he will address our broken immigration system and implement executive orders—within the framework of the law—to address millions of immigrants who live in the shadows of American society. He needs to be bold and use his pen and phone to address priorities that congressional Republicans do not share, including 1) raising the minimum wage, 2) preventing gun violence, 3) making education affordable and 4) strengthening voting rights for all Americans.
Lastly, the president should ensure that the current economic recovery lifts more Americans out of poverty and back on the path of stronger job growth and opportunities for all Americans.
Peniel E. Joseph, Ph.D.: Tufts University Historian, Author of Stokely: A Life
The Root: Will President Obama be remembered as a successful president 50 years from now?
Peniel E. Joseph: In order to be remembered, for his remaining two-plus years in office Obama needs to concentrate on jobs and racial justice:
1. In addition to the Justice Department’s investigation of Michael Brown’s death, the president can curtail the government’s militarization of local police departments, which we saw on full display in Ferguson. Obama could also push for federal funds to transform the relationship between local black communities and law enforcement, including requiring police to film any stop they make.
2. Obama can make use of creative presidential executive action by crafting a narrative that acknowledges the desperate need for urban renewal and a new “war on poverty” in the 21st century. Immigration reform and environmental reform can be achieved through robust executive orders as well. The president must also ensure that Obamacare is as secure as possible.
3. In terms of foreign policy, resisting the urge to enter a costly and endless ground war in the Middle East is priority one. Then, stabilizing the Iraq-Syria border and increasing humanitarian aid to refugees under extraordinary pressure from the region’s rogue actors. Obama should form an international coalition to aid conflicts in the Middle East, Ukraine and other global hot spots—that will also be key.
Rep. Gregory Meeks (D-N.Y.): Ranking Member of the House Subcommittee on Financial Institutions and Consumer Credit
The Root: Is there a way for the president to secure cooperation from Republicans?
Gregory Meeks: As President Obama enters the final two years of his presidency, he must continue to focus on reducing the income gap and creating opportunities for entrepreneurs, especially for women and minority businesses owners. He’ll be able to cut through the rhetorical distractions and partner with members of both parties who are willing to put America’s interests first in order to meet the very complex and undoubtedly difficult challenges that our nation and the world faces.
Kristin J. Carothers, Ph.D.: Instructor in Clinical Psychology at Columbia University Medical Center
The Root: What can the president do to encourage a healthier mindset in America with regard to bipartisanship, togetherness and, perhaps, racial unity?
Kristin J. Carothers: If the president would like to improve the morale of people of color in light of the string of wrongful death incidents the nation has witnessed, he should begin a national conversation on the impact that racial biases have on our daily lives.
It might be helpful to implement a truth-and-reconciliation commission—similar to the one South Africa used after apartheid—to address the disparities in how law-enforcement officials treat blacks and Latinos versus whites, and, subsequently, why blacks and Latinos are overrepresented in the criminal-justice system. The commission can also address the socioeconomic disparities that affect poor people, regardless of their race or ethnicity.
The truth-and-reconciliation process is one way to heal the long-standing psychological damage that our society has endured as a result of slavery. It would also be important to acknowledge how this country was founded at the bloody expense of its founding groups, the Native Americans. Now, I know that digging this deep back into our past will not be a popular idea, since people typically don’t want to deal with their psychological trauma. Nevertheless, I believe having an honest conversation may encourage people who felt previously disenfranchised to become a part of the political process.
I think the fact that President Obama was re-elected shows that we are able to overcome some aspects of our collective psychological trauma, and that our culture is slowly changing.]]>