1. NOVEMBER 4 AND THE DEMOCRACY CRISIS
The November election will be a defensive battle to preserve democracy's claims against a corporate state fueled by rising sums of secret corporate donations coupled with intense machinations at diminishing the popular electoral vote. The reason for Republican and corporate panic is the emergence of "the majority faction" which the Federalists feared - embodied in the Obama coalition of a multi-cultural, multi-racial majority.
The political culture of "off-year" elections is stacked against us. Since that's not likely to change any time soon, the "off-year" battles are defensive in nature, preparing for the larger turnout ahead in 2016. Knowing that, the Republicans will exploit their 2010 and 2014 gains to keep the floodgates open to secret corporate money and making ballot boxes as closed as possible through 2016.
In the longer term, we are fighting an ideological war against the power of Magical Market Thinking, which still captivates most of American culture. Naomi Klein's new book, This Changes Everything! is a vital corrective to the crushing effects of neo-liberal ideology, from the rise of the WTO to the dominance of corporate "solutions" in today's climate debate.
In addition to ideological rethinking, it is vital that the public campaign against Citizens United become a cause as fervent as the legal and political challenges to the racial doctrines of separate-but-equal. Candidates and ballot initiatives against plutocratic politics will continue (see John Nichols' and Robert Waterman McChesney's fine tract Dollarocracy) until a future court rules that secret corporate spending violates the First and Fourteenth amendments. We don't have the half-century it took from Plessy v Ferguson (1896) until Brown v Board of Education. The public intensity will need to accelerate, especially in law schools where the future Thurgood Marshalls are trained.
Another parallel between segregation based on race, and segregation based on money, is the important consequences for America's international reputation. The Eisenhower and Kennedy administrations were deeply concerned by America's racist reputation during the Cold War political struggle with communism. Segregation deeply discredited America's argument for democracy in the ideological debates with the Soviet Union and communist parties during the Cold War. Desegregation was in the US strategic interest on the Cold War battleground, especially among non-aligned nations in the Third World. In a somewhat similar way, the simultaneous rise of the “Surveillance State” and “Dark Money” undermines America's democratic image at precisely the moment that the US is heavily involved in "democracy promotion" from Cuba to Venezuela, to Ukraine and China. The combination of voter suppression and plutocratic spending provides huge ammunition to China, Russia, Iran and Saudi Arabia in their claims that the US is hypocritical in its human rights and democracy agendas. The case of Edward Snowden, a widely respected American whistleblower given sanctuary in Moscow, is only the most powerful example of America's shredded reputation. In summary then, in addition to the moral and constitutional arguments for democratic reform, there now is a strategic argument that greater democracy, starting with campaign finance and disclosure, is essential to America's public diplomacy in the world.
The need for an historic court challenge is underlined by the shocking arguments being made by Justice Anthony Kennedy, who said during Citizens United debate that "independent expenditures, including those made by corporations, do not give rise to corruption or (even) the appearance of corruption." In defense of the One Percent, and in the tradition of the Federalists' anxiety over the "majority faction", Justice Kennedy went on to write that, "The government has muffled the voices that best represent the most significant segments of the economy." In this view, too much democracy is the problem that needs "muffling."
2. THE CRUCIAL BUT LIMITED CHOICES IN 2014
Meanwhile, during this election season progressive politics involves a sorry choice between lowering expectations in the face of a conservative-leaning turnout, or letting the right-wing make even greater gains with little pain.
JERRY BROWN SEEKS A CONSERVATIVE MANDATE
In the case of California Governor Jerry Brown, perhaps America's most experienced politician, the governor has campaigned far to the right of his own record on many issues. As a result, the Republican Party has abandoned any serious campaign against Brown's fourth and final term. The oil and gas lobby, however, is investing heavily in raising a crop of "business-friendly" Democrats in order to construct a legislative wall against progressive initiatives by labor, people of color and environmentalists in Brown's second term. One unfortunate consequence of Brown's considerable political success is that he not been seeking a public mandate, or a legislative majority, for the urgent steps which are needed to build the clean energy economy and shield Californians from the worst effects of climate change. That burden will fall post-election on organized constituencies including students, environmental justice advocates, and labor.
BARACK OBAMA'S LONELY POST
In the case of Barack Obama, the president has suffered politically from his hard-won achievement of Obamacare; has been stunned by the resurgence of war in Iraq; and is campaigning to the right of his own personal agenda in states where Democratic control of the Senate might well be lost. The contradiction between his real base and that of the "battleground" states is most apparent in his immigration policy. Over and over, the president has supported massive deportation if only as a gesture to the right, hoping he eventually might convert some Republicans to the "path to citizenship" model that Democrats prefer. But Obama's delays on immigration reform, are driving frustrated immigrant rights supporters towards not voting for Democrats at all, which are understandable in the context of the Senate wars, as there are few Latino or Asian voters in battleground states. Republican strategists have played their hand on immigration much more intelligently, if immorally, than the Democrats. If the Senate goes Republican as a result, Obama will be obliged to go ahead with an executive order on immigration, reinforcing the claim that he is a "dictator". Meanwhile the national Republicans will roll out an immigrant-friendly face as the 2016 elections approach.
That's not all that will happen under a Republican-controlled Senate. According to a careful analysis in The New Republic (October 27), the Dodd-Frank law may be repealed, the Keystone Pipeline approved, the Surveillance State expanded, Obamacare threatened, and confirmations blocked. Steps to normalize relations with Cuba may be frozen. Senator Patrick Leahy from Virginia, the Senate's most powerful progressive advocate, will lose control of Judiciary Committee. California Senator Barbara Boxer will turn over the environmental committee to a climate-denier. The NSA critic and New Mexico Senator Mark Udall may fall. Senate filibusters against Obama's judicial nominees, already at record levels, will intensify. Beginning this November, the 2016 election will be an Armageddon.
3. MEANWHILE…THERE ARE ELECTIONS:
California Congressional District 26: Ventura County, Democrats are fighting to gain or hold seats one of the most contested battlefields in the country. Please support: Julia Brownley for Congress, Jacqui Irwin for Assembly. Otherwise the Republican Party will regain a foothold for its cancers to spread.
California Congressional District 33: Ted Lieu v. Elan Carr: I voted for Ted Lieu, who has been one the best and effective progressive votes in Sacramento. Termed out, he is running for Congress. The seat is quite pivotal in terms of environmental, economic and social justice issues, having been held by Henry Waxman for decades. Lieu comes from Torrance, outside the traditional "center" of this Westside district but has widespread Democratic support. Anti-war activists during the Waxman years never had a champion in Congress like Barbara Lee or Jim McGovern to fight on their peace issues, and Lieu could be more open to critics of militarism. One can hope.
Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors Race: Sheila Kuehl and Bobby Shriver are competing for the third seat on a five-member board of supervisors. Both are Democrats, both are friends. I have endorsed Sheila because of her pioneering record on marriage equality, which shows a proven capacity to fight the power within the system. She's a solid critic of austerity policies too. Bobby has worked in the private sector and Santa Monica city politics with mixed results. He could shake things up at the stagnant supervisors, but is unpredictable. This competition shouldn't have happened.
LA County Sheriff, Jim McDonnell is the responsible choice. Paul Tanaka comes from the culture of institutional violence when deputies like him wore their own gang-style tattoos.
California State Senate District 26: Ben Allen v. Sandra Fluke. Both are good candidates and far more progressive than most of the Legislature. This is a pivotal progressive seat in Sacramento. I voted for Ben because of his past experience in fighting UC tuition increases and his steady service on the Santa Monica school board. While being consistently progressive, Ben also has demonstrated the skills needed to tirelessly battle within our corroding political system. Sandra is an important figure on the national scene for her showdown against Rush Limbaugh. As a public symbol, she would draw significant public interest to her agenda. Having interviewed both of them, I am not sure how enthusiastic Sandra would be after a couple of years of endless suffocating hearings and insider political maneuvering. The voters will win either way, although a good candidate will lose in a close race.
California Assembly District 64 Prophet Walker is an inspiring young, and prophetic, leader whom I think all progressives should pay attention to. Just in his late twenties, Prophet came up in the Watts ghetto, did time for juvenile crime, and emerged as an effective leader of the gang peace process which attempts to move youngsters into more positive pathways to rehabilitation, jobs and political reform. On the all-important issue of jobs, Prophet is well-positioned to be a key intermediary between the community where he resides and outside developers who might bring significant investment. Sacramento and Watts would be enriched by having even a single role model like this Prophet. For more information go to www.prophetforassembly2014.com.
CALIFORNIA BALLOT INITIATIVES:
Prop 1: The Water Bond: I voted yes, although this is a complicated special-interest mix. Watch for the governor's huge double-tunnels plan for a water grab from northern California to Big Growers and developers in the South. Support Sen. Fran Pavley's efforts at passage of the first water-management plan in California history (it took the drought for it to happen).
Prop 45: Insurance Rate Regulation. I voted yes because this clarifies that the democratically elected insurance commissioner, currently Dave Jones, has the power to stop excessive rate increases. The insurance lobby is fighting to keep these issues smothered within the interest-group culture.
Prop 46: Health Care Lawsuits. You are on your own. Another complicated clash between trial lawyers and doctors. Even the local PDA chapter couldn't decide. Ralph Nader supports the trial lawyers' side, which should be a significant factor for our readers.
Prop 47: Three Strikes Reform. This is the most important measure on the ballot in the long struggle for police and prison reform. It is a revision of "three strikes" felonies to misdemeanors for such crimes as drug possession and shoplifting. Inmates would apply to have their felony sentences reduced, ultimately leading to thousands of inmates being released gradually and reducing prison over-crowding. The measure will be difficult for many voters to swallow - it is framed badly - but it's the only opportunity to get beyond the costly era of mass incarceration. The governor, legislature and courts have failed to reverse policies of unaffordable overkill against the underclass, which leaves this say to the voters.
Los Angeles County Prop P: County Parks Expansion Through Tax Increase: This was a last-minute deal with little public process, but it still protects important gains for parks and recreation. The measure highlights the urgent need for reform at the County level.
Statewide Offices: Jerry Brown for Governor, Gavin Newsom for Lieutenant Governor, Kamala Harris for Attorney General, John Chiang for State Treasurer, Alex Padilla for Secretary of State, and Betty Yee for State Controller (Yee is opposed by Republican hopeful, Ashley Swearingen, arguably from California's most corrupt and polluted city, Fresno.)