Saturday, June 25, 2022

Our Democracy Is Under Siege. What Can We Do?

In the aftermath of the Supreme Court overruling Roe vs. Wade, it is important for all of us to acknowledge our anger, frustration, and fear. But then we have to engage our brains and come up with a plan that gives meaning to all of the calls to "fight back." The first step is to accurately diagnose the problem, which Sherrilynn Ifill did so expertly on Twitter.

That's the big picture: the rules that govern each branch of government have been weaponized to herd us toward minority rule.  Zachary Roth made the same point in his book, "The Great Suppression."

Beginning in the 1970’s, Richard Nixon referred to the “silent majority.” Through the Reagan years we heard a lot about the “permanent Republican majority.” As Roth says, “Today’s conservatives have no such confidence that the people are on their side. In fact, they are beginning to perceive that they’re in the minority – perhaps more glaringly than ever before. And yet this realization has brought with it another more hopeful one: being outnumbered doesn’t have to mean losing.”

That's the tie that binds Republican efforts to suppress the vote, gerrymander congressional districts, require a supermajority to pass anything in the Senate, stack the courts, and engage in judicial activism. The goal is to ensure that they can hold onto power, even in the minority - which is antithetical to democracy. 

Rick Tetree made a similar point on Twitter.

So the task before us is daunting. It is to reset the rules of government so that they serve democracy. As Ifill points out, that begins with power. 

Gaining and wielding power is something liberals have typically had trouble talking about. That is because, in our culture, it is assumed that power is achieved via dominance. But as I've been talking about for years now, we need to recognize the power of partnership. 

Back in 2007 Marshall Ganz - who teaches community organizing at Harvard - wrote an article titled: Organizing for Democratic Renewal. He began with this quote from Sidney Verba.
Democracy is based on the promise that equality of voice can balance inequality of resources.
Ganz went on to review some of the observations of Alexis de Tocqueville about American democracy. He summarized those observations as follows:
In other words, he saw that we had learned that choices a few people make about how to use their money could be balanced by choices many people make about how to use their time.

But only by joining with others could we come to appreciate the extent to which our fates are linked, gain an understanding of our common interests, and make claims on the political power we needed to act on those interests.

In the 70's and 80's, the direct marketing techniques adopted by advocates and politicians led to citizens being viewed as “customers” and/or “clients.” According to Ganz, that stripped us of our power and turned us into objects that are acted upon rather than the drivers of action.

A mindset that views citizens as customers or clients of government is an invitation to tyranny and the antithesis of democracy. That is what John F. Kennedy meant when he uttered his most famous words: "Ask not what your country can do for you - ask what you can do for your country." 

Barack Obama devoted his speech at the 2012 Democratic Convention to the idea of citizenship - with words that become more prescient every day.

We honor the strivers, the dreamers, the risk- takers, the entrepreneurs who have always been the driving force behind our free enterprise system, the greatest engine of growth and prosperity that the world's ever known.

But we also believe in something called citizenship — citizenship, a word at the very heart of our founding, a word at the very essence of our democracy, the idea that this country only works when we accept certain obligations to one another and to future generations...

We, the people — recognize that we have responsibilities as well as rights; that our destinies are bound together; that a freedom which asks only, what's in it for me, a freedom without a commitment to others, a freedom without love or charity or duty or patriotism, is unworthy of our founding ideals, and those who died in their defense.

As citizens, we understand that America is not about what can be done for us. It's about what can be done by us, together through the hard and frustrating but necessary work of self-government. That's what we believe.

It is important to recognize that the "necessary work of self-government" is "hard and frustrating." When it comes to things like the Supreme Court's recent ruling, there is no quick fix in a democracy. So what can citizens do? Here's just a few ideas from Ifill. 

That last  one is critical. On that score, there is a lot we can learn from those who fought before us. 

Assuming that it is the job of someone else (ie, the president, congressional leaders, Supreme Court justices, etc.) to save our democracy is part of the problem - not the solution. The essence of democracy is captured in the words "we, the people."

Sunday, June 5, 2022

Republicans Know That Democrat Cheri Beasley Could Win the NC Senate Seat

Back in January, I wrote that Democrat Cheri Beasley could be the next senator from North Carolina. That race isn't getting the kind of attention we see going to other potentially "flippable" seats, but it does usually show up when pundits name the top ten senate races to watch. 

Last month, Natalie Allison wrote that the National Republican Senatorial Committee (the one chaired by Sen. Rick Scott), had reserved $53 million in ads in top battleground states. It's interesting to note where they took their opening shots - Arizona and North Carolina. We're now learning how they plan to attack Beasley. 

Television stations in North Carolina made the unusual decision on Friday to take down an attack ad against Cheri Beasley, a Democratic Senate candidate, after complaints that the ad falsely accused Ms. Beasley of freeing a man convicted on charges of possessing lewd images of children when she served as chief justice of the North Carolina Supreme Court.

The ad, made by the Republican Senate campaign arm, highlighted the case of “a child porn offender,” and it accused Ms. Beasley of having “voted to set him free.” A female narrator spoke ominously over images of a young girl and jail bars sliding open.

Here's the fact-check:

The case that led to removal of the North Carolina ad involved a man named James Howard Terrell Jr., who was convicted in 2016 of possessing lewd images of minors on a computer thumb drive.

An appeals court ruled that a detective had conducted an illegal search of the thumb drive, in violation of Mr. Terrell’s Fourth Amendment rights, and it sent the case back down to the trial court.

In 2019, the State Supreme Court, with Ms. Beasley in the majority, upheld that ruling. As of May 2020, Mr. Terrell was still in prison, according to court records.

Sound familiar? They're telling the same lies about Beasley that they told about Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson during her confirmation hearings - with a touch of "Willie Horton" thrown in for good measure. Kudos to the television stations in North Carolina for refusing to air the lies. 

But it's also interesting to note that the NRSC is going after Beasley with this kind of attack right out of the gate. I doubt they'd be wasting their money if they didn't think she had a chance of flipping this seat. I previously noted that North Carolina is one of those southern states that is beginning to swing. 

In 2008, Barack Obama won North Carolina. He went on to lose to Mitt Romney by a narrow margin in 2012. Donald Trump won the state in both 2016 and 2020, just as the same voters chose a Democrat, Roy Cooper, to be their governor. Democrat Cal Cunningham lost the 2020 Senate election to Republican incumbent Thom Tillis by less than 2% after news broke that Cunningham had an extramarital affair.

According to the 2020 census, North Carolina is the fourth fastest growing state in the country, behind only Texas, Arizona, and Florida. While more than half of the state's (mostly rural) counties lost population, 78% of the growth occurred in the two largest metro areas (Raleigh and Wilmington). Virtually all of that growth was in the adult (voting age) population.

Pundits usually dismiss Beasley's chances by simply noting that North Carolina went for Trump in both 2016 and 2020. But take a look at the recent history of presidential races in the state:

2000 - Bush won by 12.8%

2004 - Bush won by 12.4%

2008 - Obama won by 0.3%

2012 - Romney won by 2.04%

2016 - Trump won by 3.7%

2020 - Trump won by 1.3%

By comparison, Trump won Ohio (where the senate race is between J.D. Vance and Tim Ryan) by about 8 points in both 2016 and 2020.

So a state where the Republican advantage was previously in double digits is now down to a 1-2 point margin. That makes the North Carolina senate race competitive, and Republicans know it - which is why they're wallowing in the gutter with their lies about Beasley.

Thursday, June 2, 2022

Barr Got Exactly What He Wanted From Durham

Back in February, I wrote that John Durham - who was appointed by William Barr to investigate the origins of the Trump-Russia probe - wasn't conducting a legal investigation, but had mounted a propaganda campaign. 

[Durham] is in the business of mounting a propaganda campaign in an attempt to not only discredit the Mueller investigation, but to shift the focus from Trump and Putin to a nefarious conspiracy theory about Hillary Clinton.

This week a jury acquitted the one person Durham has charged - Michael Sussmann - in a case that no legal experts thought should have been brought in the first place. If his goal was to uncover criminal activity, the three-year investigation has been a complete and abject failure. So perhaps it would be helpful to go back to the beginning when Barr issued the memo making Durham a special prosecutor. Here's how Charlie Savage summarized it:

Mr. Barr’s memo was broadly written and vague. It did not identify any suspected crime that could serve as a predicate for a continuing criminal investigation, or any particular person whom Mr. Durham was to focus on. Nor did it claim a foreign threat that would constitute any separate counterintelligence basis for an inquiry, as with the Trump-Russia investigation.

Mr. Barr also directed Mr. Durham to write a report detailing his findings that would be intended for public consumption...The special counsel regulations do not envision such a report.

Just before he resigned as attorney general, Barr indicated that the investigation he had tagged as "criminal," shouldn't be judged based on crimes that were uncovered. Here is how Kimberly Stassel summarized what he told her:

The attorney general also hopes people remember that orange jumpsuits aren’t the only measure of misconduct. It frustrates him that the political class these days frequently plays “the criminal card,” obsessively focused on “who is going to jail, who is getting indicted.”…One danger of the focus on criminal charges is that it ends up excusing a vast range of contemptible or abusive behavior that doesn’t reach the bar.

Now that Durham's case against Sussmann has been tossed out by a jury, Barr insists that he's proud of the work the special prosecutor is doing. 

Barr says that Durham accomplished something far more important than a conviction in that "he crystalized the central role played by the Hillary campaign in launching, as a dirty trick, the whole Russiagate collusion narrative." Just as he blatantly lied about the Mueller report, Barr is now lying about what Durham has actually uncovered. 

Similarly, the editorial board of the Wall Street Journal proclaimed in a headline that "Hillary Clinton Did It." The opening statement mirrors Barr's lie: "The Russia-Trump collusion narrative of 2016 and beyond was a dirty trick for the ages, and now we know it came from the top—candidate Hillary Rodham Clinton." At The Federalist, Margot Cleveland wrote that Durham has provided "proof that the Clinton campaign held near-total responsibility for launching the Russia-collusion hoax."

So Barr - and by extension, Donald Trump - have already gotten exactly what they were looking for from Durham. 

One thing I can say for Barr is that he definitely knows how to play the media. By lying about the Mueller report and Durham's investigation, he has convinced the MAGA crowd that the whole Trump-Russia investigation was a hoax perpetrated by the Clinton campaign. And now writers like Charlie Savage at the New York Times can "both sides" the whole story about how a presidential campaign colluded with Russia to influence the election and then obstructed justice when their activities were investigated..

Some liberal commentators once seemed to routinely suggest that developments in Mr. Mueller’s investigation meant the walls were closing in on Mr. Trump. But while Mr. Mueller’s March 2019 reportdetailed “numerous links between the Russian government and the Trump campaign,” he charged no Trump associate with conspiring with Russia.

Similarly, pro-Trump commentators have repeatedly stoked expectations that Mr. Durham would soon charge some of Mr. Trump’s perceived enemies with a conspiracy to do him wrong. But after more than three years, he has offered only insinuations.

In case you need a little grounding in the truth after all of that lying and prevaricating, I'll simply offer this: 

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