Democracy: From Disenfranchisement to 'Citizens United'

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The War on Democracy: From Disenfranchisement to 'Citizens United'
by Jack Random l Jazzman Chronicles
An ideal democracy would practice majority rule, a universal franchise, proportionate representation, an open and equitable electoral process and a verifiable voting system. This is the standard by which all representative democracies should be judged. 
 
Unfortunately, the United States of America, the world’s first and foremost democratic nation, falls short on all accounts. What is more disturbing is that after two hundred years of advancement toward a more ideal democratic republic, we are now moving decisively backward.  

What is unforgivable about this regression is that is the result not only of neglect and inaction but also by a deliberate, strategic assault on the core principles of democracy.  

A democracy cannot function effectively when its constituent members believe laws are being bought and sold.”  

- Justice John Paul Stevens, Dissenting Opinion
Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission
 
 
Those of us who have observed American politics in the third millennium must never forget that the 2000 election for the presidency of the United States was most certainly stolen by a combination of massive minority disenfranchisement and the most partisan political decision in the history of the Supreme Court (Bush v. Gore).  

Our subsequent failure to take corrective and preventative measures (repeal of the Electoral College, prosecution of deliberate disenfranchisement under the Voting Rights Act, and the establishment of verifiable electronic voting) resulted in another highly questionable election in 2004.  That election was rendered tolerable by the premature concession of the loser and the fact that unlike 2000 at least the winner won the popular vote.  

As a result of our failure to uphold the principles of democracy, the nation and the world were forced to endure eight long years of the most incompetent presidency in modern history:  two catastrophic wars, a rollback of civil liberties and the near total collapse of the global economy.  

Despite these failures and disastrous consequences, the war on democracy continued unabated with the nation’s corporate party taking the lead and the alternative semi-corporate party (also dependent on corporate funding) too often falling silent in opposition.  

The war on the franchise, deciding who will vote and who will not, is just revving up with legislatures and initiatives in multiple states moving to require photo identification as a condition of voting.  Advocates claim the measures are needed to combat voter fraud, while generally admitting that the alleged problem is so miniscule it requires a subatomic microscope to detect.  

We are asked to believe that it is only coincidental that these laws will disproportionately disqualify the young, the elderly and minority voters, all of whom tend to vote for Democratic candidates.  

At long last the Justice Department under a president who has shown great reluctance to enforce civil rights in general and voting rights in particular, is fighting back against discriminatory practices.  It is long overdue.  

The latest showdown came in North Carolina where the Justice Department blocked the state’s photo identification law as discriminatory.  The state countered with a Department of Motor Vehicles charge that 953 dead voters had cast ballots since 2005.  The state Election Commission subsequently reviewed 207 of the alleged incidents from the 2010 general election and while there was insufficient evidence to resolve ten cases, they failed to confirm a single incident of voter fraud.  

An investigation is still underway but it is safe to conclude that the infamous South Carolina zombie voter charge was at the least grossly overstated.  Generously speaking, photo identification is a solution in search of a problem.  More accurately, it is a cynical attempt to stack the electoral deck by disenfranchising legitimate voters.  

The Machiavellian tactics of the Rove machine, disqualifying tens of thousands of minority voters on the grounds that their names and addresses resembled ex-felons, has yet to be challenged effectively.  Rove and his minions in Florida and Ohio should be rotting in jail for their betrayals of democracy.  Anyone who defrauds the electoral process through electronic vote flipping, disinformation, disenfranchisement or by any other means, should be bankrupted and imprisoned for life but that is not the modern American way.  Instead, they are chastened for their shenanigans and admired for their political moxy.  

But all these tactics in the war on democracy pale in comparison to the betrayal sanctioned by the Supreme Court in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission (2010):  Money is speech and corporations are persons, entitled to all the rights of citizenship.  

Never in the history of the American republic has a lie been so audacious or so destructive to the democratic process.  

To the American Civil Liberties Union and former Governor Elliot Spitzer, both of whom support Citizens United on the argument that money is in fact speech and therefore unlimited corporate contributions to political campaigns are protected under the first amendment, I offer this rebuttal:  

Yes, anyone has a right to speak freely, to express any opinion however unpopular, but society has a right to limit the size and volume of their amplifiers.  

Money is not speech; it is the amplifier and no one has a right to pump up their message so loud it drowns out all others.  No one has a right to blast a suburban neighborhood with a wall of sound at 120 decibels and no one has the right to blow the institutions of democratic government into the stone ages.  

To embrace such an argument is beneath the dignity of reasoned discourse.  We understand why the Supreme Court decided as they did.  The Roberts court has shown no greater bias than upholding corporate interests in all possible findings.  But we cannot condone such faulty reasoning by individuals and institutions that wish to represent a higher ideal.  

The first returns of Citizens United are on full display in the Republican primaries.  The only candidates that are viable are those sponsored by billionaires or billionaires themselves.  The Democrats will have no choice but to yield to the same corrupt funding methods just to stay in the same arena.  

Is this what we want?  Is it democracy or is it a new form of corporate aristocracy?  Will our politicians begin to resemble NASCAR racers or professional golfers with sponsor advertisements on their lapels, their backdrops and their podiums?  

Do we really believe that hundreds of millions, even billions of dollars buys no influence in congress or in the White House?  

Until this decision is undone, little else matters.  Our democracy cannot survive unlimited and anonymous corporate contributions.  Unfortunately, the only way to reverse a Supreme Court decision is either to have the court reverse itself (unlikely in the near future) or to amend the constitution.  

The process of amending the constitution is daunting.  It requires a two-thirds vote in both houses of congress and ratification by three quarters of the states.  

There are a number of amendments being proposed, including the proposals of Representative Ted Deutch and Senator Tom Udall.  Any such proposal needs to make clear (a) that corporations are not persons and do not possess the rights of citizens and (b) state and federal governments have a right to limit contributions to political campaigns.  

The longer we delay, the more difficult the task will become.  Those entering office in the age of Citizens United will have a vested interest in maintaining the status quo.  To be clear, they will owe too much to their corporate sponsors.  

In the war on democracy, Citizens United was a nuclear bomb.  In time, we can hope to replace enough members of the Roberts court to ensure that such attacks are not launched from the bench again.  

In the meantime, we must fight or we will lose what remains of the democratic ideal.  

Jazz.  

 
JACK RANDOM IS THE AUTHOR OF THE JAZZMAN CHRONICLES (CROW DOG PRESS) AND GHOST DANCE INSURRECTION (DRY BONES PRESS).  THE CHRONICLES HAVE BEEN POSTED ON NUMEROUS CITES OF THE WORLDWIDE WEB, INCLUDING THE ALBION MONITOR, BELLACIAO, BUZZLE, COUNTERPUNCH, DISSIDENT VOICE, THE NATIONAL FREE PRESS, GLOBAL FREE PRESS AND PACIFIC FREE PRESS.  SEE WWW.JAZZMANCHRONICLES.BLOGSPOT.COM.    
 

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