Playing by the rules

Is something good for our democracy if it mostly benefits one side or the other? This question has arisen with changes in voting habits and a controversial Supreme Court ruling.

With regards to voting habits, there is a national tide in this country in favor of economic justice. Americans voted in the last two elections to give everyone in the country the opportunity for affordable health insurance, support for minimum wage increases is high (with some states jumping ahead to raise it without a federal mandate), and most folks are weary of corporations using governmental subsidies and food stamps as band-aide attempts to keep the minimum wage low. In order for one party to keep such egalitarian or populist efforts at bay, they are resorting to voter suppression, calling to end “voter fraud” by requiring photo identification for casting a ballot.

The irony here is that between 2000 and 2010 there were 649 million votes cast in general elections and 13 cases of in-person voter impersonation, according to At the same time, states spent tens of millions of taxpayer dollars to enact voter identification laws. Republican lawmakers are on record proclaiming these efforts as ways to get poor, elderly, Latino, and black voters not to vote. In other words, to win by suppressing votes. I call this winning by playing dirty politics.

In 2010, the Supreme Court ruled that corporations are regarded as people with the same rights to contribute to political parties, candidates, and organizations. Called Citizens United, this ruling essentially opened the floodgates for corporations to buy elections, contributing millions of dollars to candidates sympathetic to their wishes. Soon-to-retire Rep.George Miller, D-Calif, describes the role of “dark money” in politics—“and it really is dark.” He says, “Unlimited, anonymous money is now regularly deployed from the right against any Republican with the nerve to sit down with Democrats. There are forces in the Republican Party that won’t let you walk into the room.” In other words, this gridlock within our government, this inability to compromise or even talk to the other side, is spearheaded by those such as tea party activists who are in office due in a great regard to dark money. They threaten Speaker John Boehner, the leader of his party, with his job if he does encourage compromise. This is not how our democracy is supposed to work.

If winning and getting your way is worth sacrificing democracy, well then, I guess these measures are acceptable. For some of us, nothing is worth that sacrifice. We will fight for democracy to flourish for all citizens, not just for those rich and powerful enough to buy elections or to crush an elected president’s mandate. Stopping voter suppression efforts and fighting to repeal Citizens United are crucial to keeping our democracy alive and well. After all, it’s not winning that counts, it’s how you play the game, ethically speaking.

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    Dan James

    Emily, I enjoyed your article. It makes you wounder about the role of money in politics. I seems to me money or dirty money controls most elections. The supreme court ruling concerning big money and corporations still goes over my head. There was an article in the Times-Daily that stated 46% of the worlds wealth was controlled by 85 people. This seems hard to believe. I guess corporations would be included as people. I’ve read over half of the politicians in Congress are millionaires. Money is just a tool, it can be used for good or evil. Hopefully politicians will read their Bibles and make the right chooses. See you later, Dan.

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