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The War on Democracy: SCOTUS Weighs In

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Americans are worried about the economy and economic inequality.  Most of us feel the government should do something to reduce inequality.  Now the Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) has weighed in with its April 2 nd decision in McCutcheon v. FEC  making it more difficult for the 99 percent to influence government to remedy inequality.

The most recent Gallup Poll found that economic concerns continue to dominate American consciousness.  A key element is economic inequality, now at its highest point since 1928. 

In a January Pew Research Poll two-thirds of respondents agreed, "In past 10 years, the gap between the rich and everyone else has increased."  However, whether government should do something about this inequality remained a highly partisan issue.  90 percent of Democrats thought that government should do "a lot" to reduce the gap, but only 45 percent of Republicans agreed. 

Because a strong majority of potential voters are now either Democrat or Independent, one would think the 99 percent should be able to get their government to take action to reduce inequality.  After all, Republicans are experiencing a historic low in party identification; the latest Gallup Poll showed that only 25 percent of respondents declared as Republican. 

Nonetheless, Republicans are poised to take full control of Congress after the November midterm election.  Writing in Mother Jones Magazine, Andy Kroll noted that Republicans are benefitting from a number of factors.  Most observers give Democrats little hope of taking back the House of Representatives; they lack 17 seats and, because of GOP-influenced gerrymandering of congressional districts, most Republican House members are in safe seats.  (In the 2012 election, House Democrats nationally had 500 thousand more votes than House Republicans, but Dems lost because of gerrymandered districts.)

The GOP appears to have the upper hand in the 2014 Senate races, where there are 36 seats in play (21 Democratic and 15 Republican). Unfortunately, President Obama isn't much help to incumbent Democrats, as his job approval numbers hover around 44 percent.

There's an "enthusiasm gap" separating the two parties.  A recent AP poll found that among those "strongly interested" in politics, 51 percent want a Republican-controlled Congress.  The problem is that 81 percent of Republicans said they would "definitely" vote in November versus only 68 percent of Democrats.  (A recent study found that these Republican voters are not interested in remedying inequality.)

So the minority US political Party, whose policies are rejected by most Americans, is poised to take control of Congress. Blame big money and the Supreme Court.

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The Republican Party has become the favored party of America's plutocratic 1 percent.  The GOP billionaires' strategy has four aspects.  The first is a propaganda machine.  The second is tactics that arouse the Republican base.  The third is disenfranchisement of potential Democratic voters.  And the fourth is broadening the power of big money in elections.

The Republican propaganda machine reached its current volume when Fox News went live in 1996.   Now the Republican faithful live in an information silo where daily they are fed lies or distortions.  On October 18, 2013, Republican Senator Rand Paul admitted, "I would sometimes spread misinformation.  This is a great tactic."  For example, in the past twelve months Republican propagandists have harped on Benghazi and the supposed failings of Obamacare.

50 percent of Republican voters are white fundamentalist Christians.   Accordingly, the GOP leadership has adopted tactics to appease this base with an emphasis on pro-life policies.

Republicans understand the tide of demographics is running against them, as their base is old, rural, and white.  Since 2010, Republicans have launched a vicious campaign of voter suppression targeting the young, urban, and non-white.  They've shortened voting periods, required new forms of voter id, and in general made it more difficult for Democratic voters.  In June, the Republican majority on the Supreme Court ruled against section 4 of the voting rights act.  This unleashed a new wave of voter suppression.

But the Republican Plutocratic agenda couldn't work without millions of dollars in unrestricted political funds.  Thanks to the Republican majority in the Supreme Court, all the barriers against big money and guarantees of political fairness are being dismantled.  First came the 2010 Citizens United vs. FEC  decision that permitted corporations to spend unlimited funds in political contests and opened the doors for plutocrats to deploy millions of dollars of "independent expenditure" ads.  Then this month McCutcheon vs. FEC wiped out overall campaign contribution limits, which will permit Republican plutocrats to spend even more money influencing our elections.  

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While the five Republican Supreme Court justices defended their decision as an extension of "free speech," Justice Breyer dissented: "The First Amendment advances not only the individual's right to engage in political speech, but also the public's interest in preserving a democratic order in which collective speech matters."

What's at stake is "preserving a democratic order in which collective speech matters."  Will Democrats and Independents recognize this and vote in November?


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Bob Burnett is a Berkeley writer. In a previous life he was one of the executive founders of Cisco Systems.

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