On the eve of the Democratic National Convention, Barack Obama was asked how he thought that Americans who care about the future of the republic should respond to Supreme Court decisions that have removed barriers to the buying of elections by corporations and CEOs.
“Money has always been a factor in politics, but we are seeing something new in the no-holds-barred flow of seven- and eight-figure checks, most undisclosed, into super PACs; they fundamentally threaten to overwhelm the political process over the long run and drown out the voices of ordinary citizens,” wrote Obama.
“Over the longer term, I think we need to seriously consider mobilizing a constitutional amendment process to overturn Citizens United (assuming the Supreme Court doesn’t revisit it).”
At the convention in Charlotte, delegates amplified Obama’s reference to mobilizing to overturn Citizens United, which former U.S. Sen. Russ Feingold says created a “constitutional crisis.” Now Obama seeks re-election on a platform that proposes a constitutional remedy.
“Our political system is under assault by those who believe that special interests should be able to buy whatever they want in our society, including our government. Our opponents have applauded the Supreme Court’s decision in Citizens United and welcomed the new flow of special-interest money with open arms. In stark contrast, we believe we must take immediate action to curb the influence of lobbyists and special interests on our political institutions,” the platform explains, before declaring: “We support campaign finance reform, by constitutional amendment if necessary.”
It will be necessary.
And there is no issue that distinguishes President Obama and his “Etch A Sketch” challenger, Republican Mitt Romney, more than this one.
Romney is a candidate without conscience who has been on most sides of most issues.
But he is absolutely consistent in his faith that corporations have a “right” to buy elections. Why? Because, Romney says, “Corporations are people, my friend.” A son of privilege who made his fortune practicing the dark economic arts that even his fellow Republicans describe as “vulture capitalism,” Romney champions a campaign finance system that Feingold recognizes as nothing more than “legalized bribery.”
Romney is a multinational investor and he has a multinational sensibility. It is comic to suggest that he would ever embrace the economic patriotism of great presidents of both parties. This Republican presidential nominee would barter America off to the highest bidder. Indeed. With his profiteering from outsourcing, he already has.
By any measure, Obama is preferable to Romney. That does not, however, mean that he is perfect.
Many Wisconsinites who were enthusiastic about electing Obama in 2008 have been disappointed with his presidency. A candidate elected to end wars and defend civil liberties has surged troops into Afghanistan and maintained too many of George W. Bush’s constitutional abuses. Obama was tepid in his initial response to an unemployment crisis and his health care reform plan was way too friendly to the for-profit insurance industry. We wish that he was as sound on these issues as the commendable candidate of the Green Party, Dr. Jill Stein. We wish Stein, and Libertarian Gary Johnson, had been included in this year’s presidential debates. But we do not subscribe to the suggestion that the choice between Obama and Romney is a close one.
Obama had the vision to defend the domestic auto industry. Romney would have let it “go bankrupt.”
Obama supported a stimulus plan that, though too small, began a process of economic renewal that has produced more than 30 consecutive months of job growth. Romney and his running mate, Paul Ryan, condemn the stimulus — despite evidence that it was necessary and productive.
Obama seeks re-election now as a champion of infrastructure investment and aid to struggling cities and states. Romney and Ryan would impose a “Roadmap to America’s Future” austerity agenda all but guaranteed to sink the country back into recession.
We worry about Obama’s penchant for compromise, especially when it comes to defending Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid. Yet the president is undoubtedly a sounder choice for supporters of those programs than Romney.
Obama is also a dramatically better choice when it comes to vital social issues. Obama is the first president to support marriage equality, he is a steadfast defender of the right to choose, and he supports the Dream Act and other humane and necessary immigration reforms. Obama is the first president to appoint two women to the U.S. Supreme Court and the prospect that he could appoint more justices should, in and of itself, convince wavering voters to re-elect him.
Ultimately, however, the corruption of our elections, and of our governance, touches all issues.
It remains every bit as central today as it was a century ago, when Robert M. La Follette announced: “The supreme issue, involving all the others, is the encroachment of the few upon the rights of the many.”
The Supreme Court has codified that encroachment. In so doing, it has created a fundamental threat to democracy. Romney would extend that threat, making it a permanent and debilitating reality. Obama proposes to address the threat.
He would act aggressively, even amend the constitution, in order to defend democracy. That is the right stance today, as it was in La Follette’s day, because it remains true: “Mere passive citizenship is not enough. Men (and women) must be aggressive for what is right if government is to be saved from men (and women) who are aggressive for what is wrong.”
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