Bos/My Turn: Fighting back
In my previous column (Aug. 12) I quoted Bill Moyers, who has written that “Democracy is not a lie. What’s right and good doesn’t come naturally. You have to stand up and fight for it — as if the cause depends on you, because it does.”
How can citizens compete with a small group of super-rich Americans and corporations unleashed by the Supreme Court’s “Citizens United” decision from any restraint on the amount of money they can spend on political campaigns? How can we ever hope to stand up and fight the entrenched interests that are killing our way of life, the American dream and, yes, the very democracy created by our nation’s founders?
The answer is to beat them at their own game.
There is precedent for this. Consider the last election. The ostensible owners of the Republican Party, the Koch brothers, spent more money trying to beat President Barack Obama in 2012 than John McCain raised in 2008. All told, the Kochs spent $400 million of their own money trying to unseat the president. Each Koch brother is estimated to make $1.8 million per hour. They are redoubling their financial efforts to overcome the humiliation of their 2012 influence debacle. We can’t expect to overcome those financial odds again.
If you really want to know the extent of the assault on the American dream, I urge you to check out two websites. The first is a “TED Talk” by legal scholar and activist Lawrence Lessig titled, “We the People, and the Republic we must reclaim,” which has been viewed more than 1.1 million-plus times so far.
“Before we can tackle climate change, financial reform, education reform or, well, anything, there is a single issue that we in the United States must confront,” Lessig says, “we must change a central corruption at the root of the American political system — that politicians must raise vast amounts of money in order to have a chance in the general election.”
The argument at the core of this blistering talk by Lessig is that there is a corruption at the heart of American politics, caused by the dependence of congressional candidates on funding from the tiniest percentage of citizens. With rapid-fire visuals, he shows how the funding process weakens the Republic in the most fundamental way and issues a rallying bipartisan cry that will resonate with many in the U.S. and beyond.
I urge you to Google www.ted.com/talks/ and type “lessig” into the top search line. You will access a half-dozen TED Talks by Lessig. Scroll down to the “We the People ...” and listen to what he has to say. We all know that “big money” is working against our democracy but Lessig nails it in a way you can’t ignore.
What do you do when your ship is sinking? You send a Mayday message. “Mayday” is an emergency procedure word used internationally as a distress signal in radio communications. The call is always given three times in a row (“Mayday, Mayday, Mayday”) to prevent mistaking it for some similar-sounding phrase under noisy conditions.
Noisy conditions describe political life in America these days. The raucous ranting of conservative talk radio, television and print media and the unprecedented histrionics from Congress and politicos nationwide (John Boehner wants to sue President Obama and Sarah Palin wants to impeach him) all but drown out the calls for help from the American ship of state.
“We have to fight fire with fire” says Lessig and turned to a Kickstarter crowd-funding campaign to which more that 55,000 people have so far donated almost $8 million. Ergo “MAYDAY.US” Lessig co-founded with Mark McKinnon, a former adviser to President George W. Bush and others.
“An unlikely alliance of liberal intellectuals, big donors and Republican strategists” reported the New York Times on July 28, “has hit on a solution to the influence of big money in politics: even more money ... the recently formed Mayday ‘super PAC,’ began a $12 million advertising campaign to help elect lawmakers of both parties who support proposals to diminish the influence of big donors. The PAC is the most ambitious effort yet to turn dismay over supersize contributions into a winning political issue.”
“Now comes the tough part,” Lessig writes on the Mayday website, “fighting to elect representatives who will fix the broken system of fundraising that is corrupting Congress.” Fixing the “broken system” means electing representatives committing to overturning the disastrous Citizens United Supreme Court ruling.
Mayday has chosen first to support Jim Rubens, a former Republican state senator, to defeat Massachusetts’ former U.S.` senator Scott Brown in New Hampshire. In Iowa, the “super PAC” is backing Staci Appel, a Democrat, who is campaigning against Republican David Young for an open congressional seat.
The ultimate goal of Mayday.US is to reverse a series of defeats that advocates of tighter restrictions on campaign money have suffered since the 2010 Citizens United decision by the Supreme Court.
You can join with other Americans who are determined to restore democratic elections by going to https://mayday.us/.
John Bos lives in Shelburne Falls and welcomes feedback at firstname.lastname@example.org.