On earthquakes: Haiti was shaken; Massachusetts and the Supreme Court are shaking things up
Wednesday, January 27, 2010
By Dan Simpson, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Three events in recent days -- the Haiti earthquake, the Democrats' Little Big Horn in Massachusetts and the Supreme Court's trump of its 2000 Bush v. Gore decision for stupidity in overturning limits on campaign contributions -- almost sent me to abandoning my exercise program and recommencing eating whatever I want to.
The misery that descended on the Haitians with a major earthquake was horrible to contemplate. One could say it would not have been so devastating if they hadn't built their buildings on the cheap and had in place durable health-care and other infrastructure, but there is no way to get from what happened to the astonishingly stupid notion that God was paying them back for kicking out the French slavers in 1804, which was what Pat Robertson somehow arrived at. His comments would have served as grisly comic relief if so many people didn't take him seriously and send him money. It would be interesting to see how many buildings in American cities, towns and villages would survive a major shaking.
What was good to see was Americans acting generously, at their best, restoring order in the face of a debilitating tragedy, bringing relief. We have interests in doing so -- would anyone like to see boatloads of Haitians descending on South Florida? -- but the basic American reaction to the problem was to try to help (and not just to have the administration of President Barack Obama look better in the face of tragedy than President George W. Bush's did after Katrina).
Let's be pleased about what we are trying to do there.
The next painful event was Democrat Martha Coakley's defeat by Republican Scott Brown in the Massachusetts Senate race. I would have cared a lot more if the Democrats had been using their 60-40 majority in the Senate to some useful end, as opposed to seeing it as a comfort zone within which they could have roll fights with each other, entirely free of serious party leadership by Mr. Obama. Could one imagine John F. and Bobby Kennedy or Lyndon Johnson putting up with the nonsense that Mr. Obama endured from the likes of Sens. Joe Lieberman and Ben Nelson on his signature health-care legislation? The Kennedys would have told them play ball or we'll take your chairmanships away. Lyndon Johnson probably would have put a Texas rattlesnake in one of their desks.
The only bright spot I can see in the change of alignment in the Senate is that now, maybe, the Democrats will realize they must hang together or many of them will hang separately in November. And why are they so afraid of a Republican filibuster? It might be interesting for them to offer really good legislation and then let the Republicans stay up all night for days, looking breathtakingly stupid, to block it.
I continue to think that, in spite of the Massachusetts vote, Americans in general see the Democrats as acting more in their interests than the Republicans. I cite, for examples, ending the Iraq war, putting in place financial regulatory reform, trying to create more jobs and even health-care reform.
I still see good in health-care reform, although I am almost at the point where I would like to see the whole effort jettisoned in favor of a fresh start because so much of the good stuff has been sold off by the Democrats. What is critical is 1) reducing or bringing to zero, from 47 million, the number of Americans who have no health insurance, 2) getting rid of the "pre-existing condition" bar to insurance, and 3) reversing the catastrophic rise in the cost of health care to Americans, American companies and the American government.
The Supreme Court decision announced Thursday scrapping decades of efforts to keep American business, financial and labor interests from buying presidents, senators, congressmen, governors, mayors and other officials through campaign support was maybe the worst of all.
It will take a while for Haiti and the rest of us to recover from the earthquake. Mr. Brown's victory in Massachusetts will pass into the sunset shortly as the November campaigns begin. But the impact of the 5-to-4 Supreme Court decision in Citizens United v. Federal Elections Commission will be with us for a long time and will be hard to counteract.
There exist several ways to grapple with it. One is "sunshine." Every time a candidate appears in public, someone needs to ask whom he has taken money from, how much has been spent on his behalf and what the donors expect from him in return if he is elected?
Fortunately, there is data collected that makes it possible in many cases to know if a candidate has lied about this. It is more important, though, for candidates to know that the voters care about the subject and will remember and hold what he says about it in reserve for the future.
A second means of attacking the problem is from the point of view of shareholders or members of institutions. If a body that one owns a part of, or is a member of, intends to give money to a candidate, the essential questions are, which candidate, why and how much? It's not good enough to be told that "we have always done it that way," or "he's a Democrat" or "he's a Republican." It's your money. Don't ever imagine otherwise.
A third characteristic that every voter should learn now that financial support for campaigns is no longer limited is strong, healthy skepticism. Figure that if candidate "X" says "Y," it is likely that some lobbyist has paid him to do it. Ask yourself why and if what he is pushing is really in your best interests, as opposed to his donors' best interests.
We should have been doing that all along, but we really need to do it now that the big money is going to flow virtually without restraint from banks, unions and other organizations.