The media’s telescopic gaze following the death of Supreme Court Justice Scalia last week was, true to form, pointing in exactly the wrong direction. Scalia’s death prompted a breathless flood of pundit analysis focused on whether the Republican Party is violating Senate protocol or the Constitution itself by refusing to vote on the nomination of a new Supreme Court Justice in President Obama’s final year in office. Much chatter was devoted to rehashing the deliberate obstruction this president has had to cope with. While undoubtedly true, this misses the forest for the trees. It doesn’t matter so much what Republicans’ “excuse” is—or even whether it violates the clear intent of the Constitution—it does.
What really matters is why they’re doing it, and who it serves. The answer to that question leads straight to their donor base. Although it scarcely bears repeating, the Republican Senate and (to an even greater extent) the Republican House of Representatives now exists to serve the economic interests of a tiny group of very, very wealthy people, people who now stand to either gain or lose hundreds of millions, even billions of dollars spent complying with environmental, finance and labor laws and regulations, depending on who replaces Scalia. That is what this fight is all about. For the GOP and the billionaires who pull their strings, much ballyhooed rhetoric about abortion, affirmative action, union rights and voting rights are all subsidiary to this main event.
The two most prominent members of this tiny group of people are Charles and David Koch:
“In this election cycle… the Kochs have publicly stated that they and their compatriots will spend $889 million, more than either the Republican or Democratic parties spent last time around. According to a recent analysis in Politico, their privatized political network is backed by a group of several hundred extremely rich fellow donors who often meet at off-the-record conclaves organized by the Kochs at desert resorts. It has at least 1,200 full-time staffers in 107 offices nationwide, or three and a half times as many as the Republican National Committee. They may be the most important unelected political figures in American history.”
The future of American democracy depends on our response to the legacy of Martin Luther King, Jr. And that legacy is not just about defending civil rights; it’s also about fighting to fix our rigged economy, which yields grotesque wealth inequality; our narcissistic culture, which unleashes obscene greed; our market-driven media, which thrives on xenophobic entertainment; and our militaristic prowess, which promotes hawkish policies around the world. The fundamental aim of black voters—and any voters with a deep moral concern for our public interest and common good—should be to put a smile on Martin’s face from the grave.
The conventional wisdom holds that, in the Democratic primary, Hillary Clinton is the candidate who will win over African-American voters—that her rival, Bernie Sanders, performed well in Iowa and won New Hampshire on account of those states’ disproportionate whiteness, and that Clinton’s odds are better in the upcoming contests in South Carolina and Nevada, two highly diverse states.
But in fact, when it comes to advancing Dr. King’s legacy, a vote for Clinton not only falls far short of the mark; it prevents us from giving new life to King’s legacy. Instead, it is Sanders who has championed that legacy in word and in deed for 50 years. This election is not a mere campaign; it is a crusade to resurrect democracy—King-style—in our time. In 2016, Sanders is the one leading that crusade.
Clinton has touted the fact that, in 1962, she met King after seeing him speak, an experience she says allowed her to appreciate King’s “moral clarity.” Yet two years later, as a high schooler, Clinton campaigned vigorously for Barry Goldwater—a figure King called “morally indefensible” owing to his staunch opposition to the Civil Rights Act of 1964. And she attended the Republican convention in 1968! Meanwhile, at this same moment in history, Sanders was getting arrested for protesting segregation in Chicago and marching in Washington with none other than King itself. That’s real moral clarity.
Tea Party rebels are exposing the deep rifts between country-club elites and social-issue hard-liners.
By William Greider
Fresh chatter among Washington insiders is not about whether the Republican Party will win in 2016 but whether it will survive. Donald Trump—the fear that he might actually become the GOP nominee—is the ultimate nightmare. Some gleeful Democrats are rooting (sotto voce) for the Donald, though many expect he will self-destruct.
Nevertheless, Republicans face a larger problem. The GOP finds itself trapped in a marriage that has not only gone bad but is coming apart in full public view. After five decades of shrewd strategy, the Republican coalition Richard Nixon put together in 1968—welcoming the segregationist white South into the Party of Lincoln—is now devouring itself in ugly, spiteful recriminations.
The abrupt resignation of House Speaker John Boehner was his capitulation to this new reality. His downfall was loudly cheered by many of his own troops—the angry right-wingers in the House who have turned upon the party establishment. Chaos followed. The discontented accuse party leaders of weakness and betraying their promises to the loyal rank and file.
At the heart of this intramural conflict is the fact that society has changed dramatically in recent decades, but the GOP has refused to change with it. Americans are rapidly shifting toward more tolerant understandings of personal behavior and social values, but the Republican Party sticks with retrograde social taboos and hard-edged prejudices about race, gender, sexual freedom, immigration, and religion. Plus, it wants to do away with big government (or so it claims).
The party establishment, including business and financial leaders, seems to realize that Republicans need to moderate their outdated posture on social issues. But they can’t persuade their own base—especially Republicans in the white South—to change. The longer the GOP holds out, the more likely it is to be damaged by the nation’s changing demographics—the swelling impact of Latinos and foreign-born citizens, and the flowering influence of millennials, the 18-to-30-year-olds who are more liberal and tolerant than their elders.
MASON CITY, Iowa—They say this Democratic candidate for president—the one running against Hillary Clinton—can’t possibly win a national election. But Susan Sarandon, the Oscar-winning liberal actress, was here to remind the people of this small Iowa town that they’d heard that line before.
“Last time, the people of Iowa didn’t listen to the machine,” Sarandon said, russet-colored hair framing her famous face as she looked out on the Music Man Square, an indoor fake streetscape commemorating the birthplace of the famous musical’s author. “They said he was unelectable—a black man with a funny last name. Well, here we are again, facing the machine.”
In Sarandon’s telling, the unkempt socialist senator from Vermont is the Barack Obama of 2016. To many Sanders supporters, Obama’s successes—from the Iowa caucuses to tough [sic] two national elections—render moot the argument Clinton is once again making that she’s the only one who can win.
“I think he’s more radical than the other people we’ve had, and I like that about him,” Taylor Raska, a 28-year-old bartender with a nose ring, mismatched earrings, and lines of cursive writing tattooed on her arms, told me. An ardent environmentalist who’s tired of politicians, Raska believes the old system must be smashed for a new order to take its place. “Everything’s going to change!” she said, savoring the beautiful thought. “We are in this amazing period—it’s awesome to be a part of. Everything is changing!”
People who feel like they’re struggling against long odds are fed up with the solutions that have been tried. There was a plant in Mason City that made filters, but it went to Mexico some years ago, a 62-year-old named Sue McKee told me. She teaches the GED class that the laid-off men in their 40s, 50s, and 60s come to, desperate to work again and needing a high-school diploma for the first time in their lives. “We shouldn’t make it so hard for people,” she said. On Monday, she planned to register with the Democratic Party and caucus for the first time in her life.
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