Which way forward for the republic?
The Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission decision unleashed unparalleled amounts of ideologically driven cash focused on elections at the federal, state and local levels. It’s beside the point that the right wing is outspending the left 3-to-1 across the nation. What should concern the American public is not who wins an election, but whether their individual voices and their votes still matter.
Since 2010, we have seen the subversion of the political process by a minority of big, well-funded interests and wealthy individuals who dump millions of dollars into races to crush their candidate’s opponents. As a result, we as individual Americans have been lost in a torrent of skewed, negative political campaigns far removed from any discussion of the urgent issues of the day. This is a danger the Founding Fathers ultimately sought to prevent as part of our political process.
Our struggle ought to be about hearing all voices in our national political life. It’s essential we return to effective campaign-finance reform, not to limit free speech and participation in the process, but to clear the path to vigorous debate; to allow for the struggle of ideas; and ultimately to develop policies and programs that benefit everyone in this country.
This is not an altruistic dream, but one based on recent history. In two well-documented cases, bipartisanship worked. The late Sen. Ted Kennedy (D-Mass.) and Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), who were at opposite ends of the political spectrum, not only worked together on health issues, but spoke of each other quite often with respect despite their differences. Former Sen. Russ Feingold (D-Wis.) and Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), another political odd couple, hammered out the McCain-Feingold Act for campaign reform—legislation which the U.S. Supreme Court cavalierly dumped in Citizens United, clearing the way for unlimited, and, in many cases, undocumented campaign contributions.
This year’s election cycle marks a watershed of sorts. More money from fewer Americans will have been contributed in record amounts in the race for the White House, as well as for those affecting congressional districts and statehouses, by the time the results are in.
Reforms that will restore our democracy will take courage. Like the mutually assured destruction of the Cold War, however, it takes one side to make the first move to begin to undo scenarios where everyone loses. To do anything less risks the survival of our democracy.