To say that the expansion of surveillance powers comes with a high—and historically well-documented—risk of abuse is not to say that the NSA is interested in your cat photos. If you’ve never expressed an edgy political idea, you’re probably not at great personal risk. The people swept into the net at moments of expanded intelligence powers have almost always been outspoken political dissenters or critics of the intelligence establishment. The basic premise of the civil libertarian stance is that what happens to those people matters to all of us—not only because “we might be next” but because the free exchange of political ideas and criticism is the heart of American democracy.
IN JANUARY 1971, a new sitcom called All in the Family appeared on CBS television. Its central figure was Archie Bunker, a white, working-class, World War II veteran from the Astoria section of Queens. The show’s humor derived from Bunker’s poorly articulated bigotry and resentment against the social changes of the 1960s—feminism, the counterculture, youth and antiwar activism, legalized abortion, expanded roles for minorities, open homosexuality—and his confrontations with those new forces in his own family and neighborhood. The sitcom was one of the first to deal openly with such controversial topics, and it struck such a chord with American viewers that it was the number-one rated show for the first five of its eight years on the air.
Robert O. Self’s book doesn’t mention the sitcom but offers a detailed recounting of those same battles and transformations that provided fodder for the show. Self argues that the “explosive issues surrounding gender, sex, and family” were not peripheral “culture war” matters, but were central to the political struggles over power, equality, and economics during the past five decades. In his view, the politics of the period were, ultimately, all about the left-wing challenges to liberalism’s vision of the idealized nuclear family, followed by a conservative backlash against the supposed moral threat to “family values” posed by new conceptions of gender and sexual rights.
This is a bold claim, but Self makes a strong case that politicized arguments over family were at the heart of liberalism’s crackup and the rise of the right. He offers the useful term “breadwinner liberalism” to describe the Democratic effort, from the New Deal through the Great Society, to advance economic and social policies that would allow more families—headed by a patriotic, hardworking, and presumably white and straight male provider—to enter the middle class. But Self argues that the model of the family envisaged by breadwinner liberalism was “narrow, obsolete, and uncommon” even by the 1960s, with more women in the workforce, greater availability of sexual choices beyond early marriage, and growing numbers of “unconventional” families. Moreover, the traditional model took little account of the needs (or sometimes even the humanity) of women, blacks, and Hispanics, homosexuals, and dissenters and nonconformists of all stripes.
The irony in Fox News using a teaser like “BIAS ALERT: US Losing Faith in Mainstream Media?” is strong enough to damage even the best irony meter.
Pat Cadell, at one time the Carter administration’s pollster, has been looking for a conspiracy capable of destroying the US democracy since Carter’s July 15, 1979 “Malaise” speech which included the words “I want to talk to you right now about a fundamental threat to American democracy. “. Although the speech was not written by Carter or Cadell, Carter was influenced by Cadell’s call to arms against the American people’s crisis of confidence.
Professing to be a Democrat, and working for a number of left leaning politicians, including Biden, Cadell has championed a number of conservative causes. His leaning right has so dominated his actions he’s been labelled a Republican by many and even hired by Fox, as their “Fox News Democrat”.
His anti-Obama bias is most obvious in his involvement with the anti-Obama documentary “The Hope and the Change”.
He is now claiming that there is an MSM conspiracy to control the votes of the American people. During a speech given in front of the media watchdog “Accuracy in Media”, known for developing and promoting its own conspiracy theories, and while standing behind a Heritage Foundation podium, Cadell once again warns us of the imminent demise of the US democracy.
Ammunition has been given to Cadell by a recent Gallup poll showing that the Distrust in Media is high now than at any other time.
If you note the question you’ll see it intends to include all media. I’ll make a wide prediction here, right leaning viewers will assume the question is about what has come to be called the Main Stream Media (MSM) so will not include Fox News in their assessment. On the other hand those more in the center or left leaning will include Fox News. This should mean the highest distrust of the media will come from the right leaning viewers of Fox News.
Sure enough, the lowest trust scores are correlated with the likelihood of watching the opinion shows of the Fox Network, all of which are heavily right leaning and frequently point out how left leaning the ‘other’ cable news networks are, when compared to Fox’s putative neutrality.
Although not ‘smoking gun’ evidence for Fox News’ impact in how the US population views media, it is a convincing indication that the anti-MSM propaganda put out by Fox has convinced many on the right there is a conspiracy.
Pat Cadell goes on Fox news to complain about an false MSM bias conspiracy Fox News created by being the most biased media outlet.
Citizens United Has Changed Our Democracy. Will It Lead to a Populist Awakening? or a Corporate Recapturing of U.S. Elections?
You may be one of those people who believe there is too much money in politics. (Polling suggests there are many such people—a vast majority of Americans, in fact.) You may believe that the larger the financial contribution, the greater the chance it will corrupt your representative in Congress, or even your president. You may believe that there are too many political advertisements on television, too many groups with blandly patriotic names trying to change your mind about energy or Medicare or national defense. You may even believe that the nation’s founders would be repelled by the idea of corporations and billionaires pouring millions of dollars into political campaigns. It is reasonable—it is quite respectable—to believe these things.
But if you are one of these people, what you believe is turning out not to matter very much.
What Jim Bopp Jr. believes is turning out to matter a whole lot more, and he believes the exact opposite. He believes in more money, bigger donations, more corporations and billionaires and outside groups making more noise, openly or anonymously. He believes, in fact, that there can be no such thing as an “outside” group in American democracy—he believes that’s the whole point of the republic.
It wasn’t so long ago that just about everyone who paid attention to how we pay for politics, whether liberal or conservative, thought Jim Bopp was nuts. They certainly thought so back when he first came storming out of the right-to-life movement in the 1980s, a no-name lawyer with a street-corner practice in Indiana swinging the First Amendment like a hatchet, striking at the Federal Election Commission, then at state government after state government—150 cases and counting—and taking his cause to the Supreme Court itself. Where others saw reasonable limits on politicking, he saw shocking suppression of freedom of speech, whether the stage was as big as a presidential campaign or as small as a student-council race at the University of California at Irvine. (He once won a case for a student candidate who’d exceeded the university’s spending limits by shelling out too much at Kinko’s.)
They’re Long and Exhausting but America’s Raucous Presidential Campaigns Are Also Testimony to the Success of Democracy
“The people have nominated you without any pledges or engagements of any sort … and they want you to do nothing at present but allow yourself to be elected,” the poet and newspaper editor William Cullen Bryant told Abraham Lincoln in 1860. “Make no speeches, write no letters as a candidate, enter into no pledges, make no promises.” As Americans grumble, in what has become a quadrennial ritual, that the presidential campaign is too long, too nasty, and too frivolous, they should consider whether they would really prefer a return to the 19th-century rules of the game that are so often held up as an alternative.
A look back at the evolution of the presidential campaign since the early days of the Republic highlights the remarkable democratic achievements of the last two centuries. America’s presidential campaign process works. It sifts through candidates, facilitates a continent-wide conversation, and, most important, bestows legitimacy on the winner. Presidential campaigns are intense, long, and costly because they are popular, consequential, and continental in scope. Most aspects of the campaigns that Americans hate reflect the democracy we love.
The evolution of the campaign has been a process of endlessly revisiting questions about the nature of American democracy that have been with us since the nation’s founding. Since George Washington coolly retreated to Mount Vernon to await his inevitable selection by a handful of elite presidential electors in 1789, America’s center of political gravity has shifted from the self-chosen few to the democratic masses. The elite maneuverings of the early Republic gave way beginning in the 1830s to nominating convention intrigues, which were replaced a half-century ago by today’s familiar primary-caucus hijinks. American politics evolved from elite based to boss based to people based, from nominating individuals who had mastered America’s politics of privilege to selecting those who could master party politics, to anointing today’s masters of media messaging.
Originally, most Americans agreed with Representative William Lowndes of South Carolina, who declared in 1822 that the presidency was not “an office to be either solicited or declined.” Candidates stood silently, relatively undemocratically, for election, largely avoiding contact with the people, like kings in waiting. A little more than a century later, one of Franklin D. Roosevelt’s strategists advised him to mount a markedly different kind of effort: “You are you,” he said, and “have the faculty of making friends on a campaign tour.” Forty years further on, the activist campaign threatened to become too insulated and choreographed. In 1972, journalist Theodore White said he could have covered Richard M. Nixon’s reelection effort by “staying home and watching television with the rest of the people—which was the way the president wanted it.” In becoming democratized, bringing the people in, the process also became dependent on the news media and political consultants, which inevitably meant to some degree keeping the people out.
Democracy requires that all citizens—rich and poor alike—have influence over the policies their government adopts. Of course, it would be unreasonable to expect everyone to have equal sway. Citizens differ not only in economic resources but also in time, knowledge, and interest in social and political affairs. Still, when influence becomes too skewed toward the affluent, when political power becomes too concentrated in the hands of a few, democracy itself is threatened.
If you accept those basic premises, then you have good reason to be worried about American democracy. That’s the conclusion I’ve come to after studying the relationship between public policy and public preferences as revealed in responses to thousands of questions from national surveys conducted between 1964 and 2006. If you judge how much say people have—their influence over policy—by the match between their policy preferences and subsequent policy outcomes, then American citizens are vastly unequal in their influence over policymaking, and that inequality is growing. In most circumstances, affluent Americans exert substantial influence over the policies adopted by the federal government, and less well off Americans exert virtually none. Even when Democrats control Congress and the White House, the less well off are no more influential.
The one bright spot in this unhappy tale of unequal influence is that political competition increases the responsiveness of policymakers to the views of the public and generates policies that more equally reflect the preferences of all Americans. When elections are near and when control of the government is divided or uncertain, parties broaden their appeal, and influence becomes more equal. So the core elements of democratic government—electoral competition and partisan rivalry—force policymakers to take public preferences more fully into account.
The Judeo-Christian Tradition: Our Religious Identity Is a Surprisingly New — and It Hasn’t Always Meant What It Does Now
With the Fourth of July approaching, people across the nation are preparing to celebrate what it means to be American. Even in times of unity, this means different things to different people. Add religion, and things get trickier still. These days, one of the most politically loaded ways to describe America’s national identity is as “Judeo-Christian.”
Today, the term tends to be used by Republicans as a way to rally their supporters around a presumed set of traditional values. During the GOP primaries, Rick Santorum invoked the term in an attack on Barack Obama’s health care plan (“a president who is systematically trying to crush the traditional Judeo-Christian values of America”); more benignly, Mitt Romney credited America’s world stature to “our Judeo-Christian tradition, with its vision of the goodness and possibilities of every life.”
Implicit in all these references is a deep sense of history, in particular a belief that the United States is, and has always been, a nation rooted in the faiths of the Old and New Testaments. Those who hold this view assume that the Founders grounded American democracy in Judeo-Christian values and ethics. Those who differ argue that the Founders took pains to separate church from state, and that the idea that the United States is historically Judeo-Christian is a conservative myth.
Yet both sides are mistaken. The Judeo-Christian “tradition” is not as old as people think. If it had a precise date of origin, we would likely be marking its 75th anniversary this year. And perhaps more surprisingly, considering how the term is used now, the notion of a “Judeo-Christian tradition” was born during the presidency of a liberal Democrat, Franklin D. Roosevelt.
IN THE FIRST PANEL of aPeanuts strip—the preceding ones had been about Lucy scolding her little brother, Linus, for not being a good brother—Lucy asks what Linus is offering her: “What’s this?” “A dish of ice cream.” Then Linus explains: “I brought it to you in order that your stay here on Earth might be more pleasant.” She smiles genially, and uncharacteristically: “Well, thank you … You’re a good brother.” In the final panel, Linus walks away smiling: “Happiness is a compliment from your sister!”
That about sums it up. Pleasure is to be achieved by things like dishes of ice cream. Psychologists have shown rigorously that people are most pleasured exactly as you might have thought if you are a human being: when eating, say, a heaped pastrami on rye at Manny’s Deli off Roosevelt Road in what was once the garment district of Chicago. Happiness, by contrast, is more complicated, though it can also be pursued at Manny’s. It is the pleasure of kosher comfort food, down to the diminishing marginal utility of that last bite—but it is also expressing one’s urban identity and Chicago-ism, even at the costs of the considerable inconvenience in getting to Manny’s and braving the insults of the countermen. It is introducing your friend, a naïve gentile, to the Jewish side of the City of the Big Shoulders, affirming thereby your philo-Semitism. It is participating in the American democracy of a 1950s cafeteria. It is facing, too, the cost of a little addition to the love handles. And it is a compliment from your sister. Pleasure is a brain wave right now. Happiness is a good story of your life. The Greek word for happiness is “eudaimonia,” which means literally “having a good guiding angel,” like Clarence the angel in It’s a Wonderful Life. The schoolbook summary of the Greek idea in Aristotle says that such happiness is “the exercise of vital powers along lines of excellence in a life affording them scope.”
The tragic aspect of Barack Obama’s first term in the White House is that a president who was elected on the promise of changing how politics works, and whose main political passion was the crafting of consensus, was instead ground down, defeated, and made ordinary by the democratic process. As Noam Scheiber’s recent book, The Escape Artists, suggests, Obama would have been better off, given the magnitude and urgency of the economic crisis in 2009, had he simply forgotten about hope, change and finding consensus, and instead fought his way cynically through the political process as it is.
But it would be a mistake to think of process-reform as a luxury. The political dysfunction in Washington is now its own crisis—one to be addressed on its own terms. If the economy recovery remains on solid ground—a big if, of course—Obama should reclaim, both on the campaign trail and upon re-election, his original mission and passion: Reform of the political process. Pollster Stanley Greenberg concluded in July 2011 that voters are more open than ever before to thinking about economic inequality and stress as connected to political inequality and a sense that the “the game is rigged” and people “do not think their voices matter.”
Not only did Obama fail to address the political process, it is surely in worse shape now—that is, less democratic, less able to get things done—than when he took office. It’s not just that the process tripped up Obama’s efforts on health care, climate change, and economic recovery—Congressional obstruction has now crossed the line into what James Fallows of The Atlantic calls “nullification,” including blocking the implementation of existing laws. All the barriers of law and custom that had put a modest check on the influence of money on elections and legislation have fallen—most of them not directly because of the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision but more because of a cultural sense that anything goes, combined with lack of enforcement. Rather than moving to open the electoral process, eleven states have enacted or tightened voter I.D. requirements since Obama took office.
Obama’s greatest government-reform accomplishments to date have only addressed this massive problem on its outermost margins. He has enacted a ban on lobbyists serving in the executive branch (which has arguably done more harm than good, by disqualifying capable public-interest advocates), significantly opening up some government information, such as the database of projects supported by the economic stimulus, and backed a soon-to-be-passed ban on insider-trading by members of Congress, a problem most of us didn’t know existed (and which probably doesn’t).
Pursuing more far-reaching reform won’t be easy, of course, in part because there’s no longer a neutral ground. Every future procedural reform will be cast in terms of partisan advantage or disadvantage. John McCain doesn’t even pretend to favor reform any longer. But the president would have an opportunity in a second term—four years without the pressure of reelection—to lead a long-term educational campaign about what American democracy could look like. With a Democratic Congress, reform of the role of money in politics is not as inconceivable as it might seem—a majority of the Democratic majority supported the Fair Elections Act in 2010, which establishes a cutting-edge public-financing system, and new members of Congress will likely enter from Arizona, Maine, and Connecticut who were elected to state legislatures under similar systems and can be evangelists for their merits—which include reducing the amount of time members have to spend raising money.