November 4 has caught me by surprise.
I was going to try to qualify that, hedge my unpreparedness, but the truth is, I haven’t done a good job of vetting the candidates nor the amendments and questions on the ballet.
We don’t have too many responsibilities as citizens here in the USA. Mostly we just reap the benefits of those who have gone before, complain about the politicians and the government, and then pretty much forget about it. Unless something going on in government at some point pinches on us personally.
And a midterm election, well, pretty much fugetaboutit.
The Pew Research Center numbers show that during presidential elections turnout is in the mid-50% of eligible voters; midterm it drops to mid-30%.
That does not speak to well of us.
As I’ve written this blog about any number of issues dealing with government and politicians, it has generated some good discussion. And I know this is a very small forum, but it does show that some folks are interested in the debate.
Win, lose or draw, even our contentious almost democracy needs as many voices to be heard as possible. So if you have an informed opinion, vote.
If you haven’t taken the time to study the issues and the candidates, take a pass.
I write that in the most generous spirit as possible. With all the noise out there in media land, it’s really difficult to ferret out the truth about the issues, difficult to sort out fact from fiction in candidate’s positions on those issues. Half-truth and innuendo is the order of the day on any side.
Finding out who is backing what, where the money is coming from, who will benefit from what legislation and what will it do to us and generations to come is more important than most of us give thought to.
One example, addressed on the Florida ballot as a Straw Ballot Question (meaning it is not binding, but gives a sense of public sentiment) is “Only Human Beings Have Constitutionally Protected Rights.”
That question arose as a result of the Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission case from 2010, where “Justice Kennedy's majority opinion found that the BCRA §203 prohibition of all independent expenditures by corporations and unions violated the First Amendment's protection of free speech.” (Wikipedia)
This seems pretty dry stuff to most of us. But according to the book ‘Unequal Protection’ by Thom Hartmann, corporations and their lawyers have long been desirous of that hallowed position almost since the founding of our country, and have been slowly breaking down the constitutional prohibitions against that encroachment.
“The Supreme Court has recognized that corporations, as associations of people, may exercise many of the rights of natural persons at least since Dartmouth College v. Woodward in 1819, and has recognized that corporations are protected under the equal protection clause of the 14th Amendment since Santa Clara County v. Southern Pacific Railway was decided in 1886.” (Wikipedia)
In Hartman’s book he “describes the history of the Fourteenth Amendment--created at the end of the Civil War to grant basic rights to freed slaves--and how it has been used by lawyers representing corporate interests to extend additional rights to businesses far more frequently than to freed slaves. Prior to 1886, corporations were referred to in U.S. law as "artificial persons." But in 1886, after a series of cases brought by lawyers representing the expanding railroad interests, the Supreme Court ruled that corporations were "persons" and entitled to the same rights granted to people under the Bill of Rights. Since this ruling, America has lost the legal structures that allowed for people to control corporate behavior.”
In Citizens United, Justice John Paul Stevens, joined by Justice Ginsburg, Justice Breyer, and Justice Sotomayor dissented from the majority opinion.
“To emphasize his unhappiness with the majority, Stevens read part of his 90 page dissent from the bench. Stevens concurred in the Court's decision to sustain BCRA's disclosure provisions, but dissented from the principal holding of the Court. The dissent argued that the Court's ruling "threatens to undermine the integrity of elected institutions across the Nation. The path it has taken to reach its outcome will, I fear, do damage to this institution." He wrote: "A democracy cannot function effectively when its constituent members believe laws are being bought and sold.”
“Stevens argued that the unique qualities of corporations and other artificial legal entities made them dangerous to democratic elections. These legal entities, he argued, have perpetual life, the ability to amass large sums of money, limited liability, no ability to vote, no morality, no purpose outside of profit making, and no loyalty. Therefore, he argued, the courts should permit legislatures to regulate corporate participation in the political process.” (from Wikipedia)
Stevens concluded his dissent:
“At bottom, the Court's opinion is thus a rejection of the common sense of the American people, who have recognized a need to prevent corporations from undermining self government since the founding, and who have fought against the distinctive corrupting potential of corporate electioneering since the days of Theodore Roosevelt. It is a strange time to repudiate that common sense. While American democracy is imperfect, few outside the majority of this Court would have thought its flaws included a dearth of corporate money in politics.”
Not always easy to sort out how we should vote. It’s easy to see my own bias here, as I agree that corporations should not be viewed as people. But there is a lot of legal opinion that leans the other way. Following the trail of money though, most of that research is funded by none other than business interests.
It does take some work to participate in a democracy.
I do think the benefits are worth it, and the only way we will actually be able to maintain the gift we have been given.