Archive for the ‘Democrats’ Category

Is the Health Care Reform Act a Civil Rights Act?

Written by Rebecca Zietlow on March 23rd, 2010

59971869Should we consider the health care reform act, which President Obama signed into law today to be a civil rights act? There is good reason to do so. Though the Act is far from perfect, it does represent a commitment by Congress to expand access to a fundamental human right. Article 25 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights states that “Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well being of himself and his family, including . . . medical care.” Martin Luther King called access to medical care a civil right. Though our Constitution does not include a right to health care (or any other substantive economic rights), it does give Congress the authority to create such rights. And, in a speech after the passage of the Act, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi invoked the Declaration of Independence’s statement that all people are guaranteed a right to “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” Before the vote, Pelosi and other congressional leaders marched through protesters hurling racial epithets, an act that self-consciously harkened back to civil rights demonstrations of the past. The Act falls within the tradition of Congress enforcing the rights of social citizenship – economic rights that are essential preconditions to one’s ability to exercise other civil and political rights.

Strangely, opponents of the Act also think the Health Care Reform Act is a civil rights act, and argue that this is a reason to oppose it. In February, Rush Limbaugh called the Act a “civil rights act,” a “reparations” bill which people should oppose. Last week, Newt Gingrich compared the Act to the 1964 Civil Rights Act, arguing that Obama’s support of the Health Care Reform Act would wreck the Demcratic party like Lyndon Johnson’s support of the 1964 Act did.

How ironic! I have always thought of the passage of the 1964 Civil Rights Act as one of the great moments in American history. I also thought that as a society we had achieved a consensus that civil rights were a good thing. What could Gingrich possibly mean by his critique? Johnson was re-elected by a landslide in the fall of 1964, and he relied on that mandate to push through the Medicare Act and the 1965 Voting Rights Act the next year. When Gingrich says the 1964 Act wrecked the Democratic party, could he be referring to the fact that after passage of the Civil Rights Act, many of the pro-segregationist southern Democrats became Republican, eventually turning the South from a solid Democratic block to the solid Republican block we have today?

If so, why would Gingrich want to remind us of the southern Republican party’s roots in segregationism and racism? It’s hard not to see a connection between Limbaugh and Gingrich’s remarks and the racial slurs hurled by protestors against the African American and Latino members of Congress on Sunday. Like Congress’ tradition of expanding human rights in acts like the 1964 Civil Rights Act, the Social Security Act and the Medicare Act, there is an equally strong tradition of using race baiting as a tactic in American politics. One of the vestiges of segregation in our society is the racial disparity that still exists in our health care system. If this act helps to remedy this disparity, then it truly is a civil rights act.

Obama and Paterson

Written by Henry L. Chambers, Jr. on September 23rd, 2009

This week, news circulated suggesting that President Barack Obama sent emissaries to attempt to convinced New York Governor David Paterson to exit the 2010 New York gubernatorial race.   I have heard some argue that the president’s attempt is anti-democratic and that the voters of New York should decide who their governor will be.  Of course, all would agree that New Yorkers should elect their governor.  However, given that the president is the de facto head of the Democratic Party, he has an obligation to do what he can to ensure that the person New Yorkers elect is a Democrat and that the person running at the top of the ticket is as strong as possible.  The stakes for the Democratic Party in the 2010 New York election are large.  A weak candidate may weaken turnout and affect down-ticket races.  Given that Sen. Gillibrand is crucial to count to 60 Democrats in the Senate, a strong gubernatorial candidate is important for reasons important to the national Democratic Party and its agenda.  As important is the redistricting that will occur in the wake of the 2010 Census.  The map that a Republican governor would endorse is likely to be far different than the one a Democratic governor would endorse.  Congressional seats may be in the balance.  If these are the concerns that drove Pres. Obama to encourage Paterson (and those who would have challenged Sen. Gillibrand) out of the New York primaries, his actions may be perfectly understandable and somewhat necessary as the head of the party.  Of course, the president may be wrong about the parade of horribles that could follow a Gov. Paterson primary run (and possible win) but that is a very different question than whether he should have gotten involved at all.

The Cause of His Life

Written by Rebecca Zietlow on August 27th, 2009

Ted Kennedy is gone.  Now is the time for Congress to enact meaningful health care reform, including a public option, as a tribute totmpphpN2Ylkc[1] the “Lion of the Senate.”  Last year, Senator Kennedy referred to health care reform as “the cause of my life.”  This was no exaggeration.  Kennedy ran on the issue of affordable health care in 1962, in his first run for the Senate.  Kennedy was instrumental in the passage of Medicare and Medicaid programs, both controversial programs that faced considerable Republican opposition at the time which have now become highly popular.  In 1980, in his famous “the dream will never die” speech at the Democratic National Convention, Kennedy announced that he would “continue to stand for national health insurance” because “the state of a family’s health should never depend on a family’s wealth.”  There would be no better tribute to a man who gave over 45 years of his life to championing the cause of the poor, the middle class and the disenfranchised, than for Congress to enact health care reform in Ted Kennedy’s name.

There is precedent for enacting major human rights legislation to honor a fallen senatorial comrade.  In 1875, Kennedy’s Bay State predecessor, the great anti-slavery advocate Senator Charles Sumner, lay on his death bed as he pleaded with his Senate colleagues to “enact my civil rights bill.”  Sumner’s colleagues in Congress responded by enacting the 1875 Civil Rights Act as a tribute to his lifelong battle against slavery and on behalf of civil rights.  The 1875 Act prohibited race discrimination in privately owned places of public accommodation.  (Historical note: The Supreme Court struck the 1875 Act down, necessitating the 1964 Civil Rights Act (which also passed with Ted Kennedy’s support)).

Like Sumner, Ted Kennedy worried about his life’s cause while on his death bed. From home, he continued to advocate for health care reform with his staff and colleagues. The week before he died, Kennedy repeated his request to the Massachusetts legislature to authorize the governor to appoint his successor instead of waiting until a special election filled his spot. Ted Kennedy knew that every vote would count in the Senate battle for health care reform.

So, members of Congress, it is up to you to realize Senator Ted Kennedy’s lifelong dream.  He deserves it, and so do we.

The Death of Deliberative Democracy

Written by Robert Justin Lipkin on August 6th, 2009

Bullies galore! The recent attacks on speakers in Democratic town hall meetings who are guilty of nothing more than trying to explain the various health care proposals to the American people is nothing less than a frontal attack on deliberative democracy, the tmpphps4Kik5[1]life-blood of the American republic.  Everyone should have a chance to speak at these events, even those who choose to speak vigorously and with passion, but not all at once, and not with the purpose of cancelling out debate if that’s what their purpose is. Yet, teams of bullies have descended on these meetings in various parts of the nation apparently orchestrated by Republican deep-pockets to shut down debate. The only ones who benefit from these disruptions are the insurance companies and their corporate backers. But the cost of transmogrifying democratic discourse into targets for attack dogs cannot be underestimated regarding the stability of deliberative democracy. It’s not just defeating health care that’s the problem, although that’s certainly a significant problem; more important, is the harm such intimidation does to public discourse. Democrats must learn how to respond–through advertisements among other appropriate ways–so that the anti-democratic dimension of this warfare is revealed.  In America, to reverse Von Clausewitz’s sentiment that war is politics by other means, in contemporary America, politics seems to be warfare by other means.  This trend needs to be reversed; public discourse must be a no bully zone.

Can the Democrats be Liberated “from the cult of neoliberalism”?

Written by Robert Justin Lipkin on August 4th, 2009

Check out Michael Lind’s piece in Salon.com. If I understand him correctly, this is what he means by neoliberalism, a political perspective opposed to progressivism: “New Dealers and Keynesians are wrong to think that industrial capitalism is permanently and inherently prone to self-destruction, if left to itself. Except in hundred year disasters, the market economy is basically a sound and self-correcting. Government can, however, help the market indirectly, by providing these three public goods [environment, healthcare, and education], which, thanks to ‘market failures, the private sector will not provide.” Cick here to read the full piece.

The Hyde Amendment: No Need for Equal Protection of Law for Republican Causes

Written by Robert Justin Lipkin on July 14th, 2009

Last night on the Chris Mathews’ Hardball  a discussion arose with Senator Orrin hatch about the possibility that President Obama’s health care program will reject tfinal-3.jpghe Hyde Amendment which prohibits spending federal funds on abortions. It’s okay to spend federal funds on childbirth, but not abortion.  Where’s the equal protection here? Two pregnant woman exercise their reproductive rights, one by choosing to terminate the pregnancy, the other by not. How can any reasonably conception of equality sanction such treatment? Lindsay Graham chimed in during the hearing by bristling at the notion that his tax dollars should be used to fund abortion.  But why should my tax dollars be used to fund childbirth? Perhaps I’m worried about overpopulation or simply have libertarian tendencies against governmental support for such private conduct?  In general the government can favor one policy over the other, but does equality sanction permitting such partiality when reproductive rights are concerned?  The Court has said yes.  But this is not a question of case law.  Rather, it’s a question of Republican consistency. Can two pregnant women in relevantly similar circumstances be treated in such a dissimilar manner? How the Republicans’ conception of equal protection can sanction such distinction? Or better yet how can the rule of law permit such a political choice?

The Republicans on the Senate Judiciary Committee are trumpeting the rule of law, equal protection under the law, and treating litigants in a similar manner. Yet, regarding the grotesque Hyde Amendment suddenly disparate treatment is permissible. The Republicans need to explain why the causes they favor need not be subject to the rule of law, but Democratic causes, well that’s another matter.

Hopefully, the Republicans member of the Senate Judiciary Committee will think twice before inconsistently throwing around “equal protection” and “rule of law” when these terms apply to Judge Sonia Sotomayor’s judicial decisions.

Specter’s Defection & the Separation of Powers

Written by Robert Justin Lipkin on May 1st, 2009

There’s a conventional understanding of why Arlen Specter defected. Basically, he defected because the Republican Party is on the cusp of imploding. There different versions of this story, one in which Specter is a cowardly villain the other which blames the contraction of the Republican Party.  But suppose there’s another reason.  Suppose Specter believed some of the damage the former administration did to American constitutionalism needs to be reversed, and only a President with the constitutional acumen and moral sensibilities of Obama would conceivably be sympathetic to this rectification. Here’s the tease line:

In the seven and a half years since September 11, the United States has witnessed one of the greatest expansions of executive authority in its history, at the expense of the constitutionally mandated separation of powers. President Obama, as only the third sitting senator to be elected president in American history, and the first since John F. Kennedy, may be more likely to respect the separation of powers than President Bush was. But rather than put my faith in any president to restrain the executive branch, I intend to take several concrete steps, which I hope the new president will support.

What follows is a description of some of the more blatant assaults by the previous administration of the constitutional principle of “checks and balances.” (Though Specter’s fulsome emphasis on how important his own role in these matters was raises legitimate skepticism about his motives.) Here’s specter’s plan for the future.

These experiences have crystallized for me the need for Congress and the courts to reassert themselves in our system of checks and balances. The bills I have outlined are important steps in that process. Equally important is vigorous congressional oversight of the executive branch. This oversight must extend well beyond the problems of national security, especially as we cede more and more authority over our economy to government officials.

As for curbing executive branch excesses from within, I hope President Obama lives up to his campaign promise of change. His recent signing statements have not been encouraging. Adding to the feeling of déjà vu is TheWashington Post ‘s report that the new administration has reasserted the “state secrets” privilege to block lawsuits challenging controversial policies like warrantless wiretapping: “Obama has not only maintained the Bush administration approach, but [in one such case] the dispute has intensified.” Government lawyers are now asserting that the US Circuit Court in San Francisco, which is hearing the case, lacks authority to compel disclosure of secret documents, and are “warning” that the government might “spirit away” the material before the court can release it to the litigants. I doubt that the Democratic majority, which was so eager to decry expansions of executive authority under President Bush, will still be as interested in the problem with a Democratic president in office. I will continue the fight whatever happens.

I think (I hope) that Specter’s last remark misses the mark. Few Democrats, indeed, few Republicans, are as politically psychopathic as Bush-Cheney. They were egregiously insensitive about essential constitutional values and had no appreciation for the fundamental values rendering America, in aspiration if not always in practice, a progressive beacon for the twenty-first century.

The real action lies with how the Republican Party, without Specter, will reconstruct itself, as it surely will, to meet the challenges they face with the death of traditional and woefully ineffective laissez-faire economics along with their commitment to tyrannical social policies.

For a mournful account of the Republican Party’s turn to the exclusive ultra Right click here.

It’s not entirely clear why President Obama so gleefully welcomed Senator Specter to the Democratic Party. Wouldn’t it have been preferable for the Democrats to nominate an outstanding, young Democratic man or woman who could beat Specter, but more importantly, someone who could beat Toomey because Toomey surely would have beaten Specter? How does Specter’s defection to the Democratic Party benefit Democrats?

Arlen Specter and a Postpartisan Landscape

Written by Henry L. Chambers, Jr. on April 29th, 2009

The Democrats have gone from minority status to almost filibuster-proof majority status in the Senate with blazing speed, at least in political years.  The essential switch in party affiliation by Sen. Arlen Specterspecter.jpg coupled with the anticipated eventual victory of Al Franken in Minnesota has nearly made the transformation complete.  The irony is in how many Republicans have changed their tune with respect to the power that should be accorded a majority.  Many Republicans seemed to argue that 51 Republican votes in the Senate should lead to the exercise of 100% of power.  When Democrats gained 51 votes in the Senate, the Republican mantra became shared power.  The claim was that power should be shared because America was essentially equally divided.  Indeed, even when Democrats reached the high-50s in number of Senators, the Republican position appeared to be that using the filibuster to enforce shared power was perfectly acceptable.  Using the filibuster until Democrats shared power or put some Republican ideas into specific pieces of legislation was deemed perfectly appropriate.  The question now becomes: What power should the Republicans be able to exercise in a Senate in which Democrats have a filibuster-proof majority?

Republicans, as a political group, should not be able to exercise much pure power vis-a-vis the Democrats.  Of course, individual senators and certain groups of senators with ideologically similar positions on specific issues should be able to exercise influence on particular matters.  As a consequence of the numerical paucity of Republicans, Democrats arguably should stop listening to Republicans as Republicans and should start listening to individual Republican senators or mixed groups of Democratic and Republican senators as members of the club who might have good ideas.  Ironically, if Democrats take the ideas of these groups seriously, Sen. Specter’s switch in party affiliation may be the first step to a postpartisan Senate.

Bobby Jindal’s Fallacy/The Republican Party’s Perennial Deception

Written by Robert Justin Lipkin on February 25th, 2009

How many times have we heard that Democrats are for government, while Republicans are for ordinary citizens? What a choice! Between the two who could argue that government is a more comforting, a more deserving institution?  But that’s not the real Republican choice. Republicans are thoroughly disingenuous when they present the choice as between government and citizens. What they want is the choice between governmentmpphpmh2mlg.jpgt and corporate culture presiding over both government and ordinary people. So you must ask yourself: if you must be represented by someone whom would you choose? Government? Or corporations? That’s the real choice Republicans offer us despite how deeply they try to hide it.  Consider Governor Bobby Jindal’s response to President Obama’s congressional address embodies this subterfuge. Jindal says “Democratic leaders in Washington — they place their hope in the federal government. We place our hope in you, the American people. In the end, it comes down to an honest and fundamental disagreement about the proper role of government. We oppose the National Democratic view that says the way to strengthen our country is to increase dependence on government. We believe the way to strengthen our country is to restrain spending in Washington, to empower individuals and small businesses to grow our economy and to create jobs.” No Jindal and his Republican cohorts want to strengthen corporations at the expense of the people and the government representing the people. This has been the very best kept political secret in decade. Americans keep faith with this secret at their own peril.

The Ghost of FDR

Written by Rebecca Zietlow on February 19th, 2009

This week, President Obama signed a stimulus bill that is designed to end our country’s downward economic slide.  Given the dire circumstances we are in, you might expect that the Repub905b3673-b527-f2b2-d2c261171c4d48c01.jpglicans in Congress would be open to the plan suggested by a new president whose victory last fall was based in large part on his economic vision.  Yet the Republicans remain steadfastly opposed to the plan.  To hear the congressional Republicans talk, you’d think the election was still going on.  This is especially true of the Republican standard bearer, John McCain, who continues to advocate the same free market tax cutting policies of the former Republican president, despite the fact that the American people overwhelmingly rejected those ideas last November.  Moreover, current polls show that the American people favor the stimulus bill, and congressional Republicans lag far behind the Democrats in their approval ratings.  Why are the Republicans being so obstructionist? Rush Limbaugh over-simplified the reason when he said he hopes that Obama will fail (even though if Obama fails, thousands more Americans will suffer).  The real reason is that the Republicans really hope that Obama will fail, because they are haunted by the ghost of Franklin Delano Roosevelt.

Congressional Republicans know enough about history to understand what happened the last time a charismatic, articulate president, who was able to instill hope and confidence in the people, took over from a Republican president whose free market ideology had contributed to economic devastation in our country.  Roosevelt’s New Deal policies rejected that free market ideology, expanded the government safety net, and contributed to the country’s economic recovery.  More importantly, the American people gave FDR credit for saving the country from the Depression.  They re-elected him by a landslide in 1936, and re-elected him again two more times.  The success of FDR and the perceived success of his New Deal led millions of Americans to become lifelong Democrats, and contributed to the Democratic dominance of Congress for over 40 years.  Given President Obama’s charisma, political savvy and popularity with people below the age of 30, if he is perceived to succeed in reviving our economy, we could be facing another generation of Democratic rule.

In the past thirty years, the Republicans have sought to dismantle the successes of the New Deal, and the Democrimages24.jpgats have mostly gone along with them.  Unfortunately, they were largely successful at cutting back on government regulation of the financial industry and effectively ending welfare (with the help of President Bill Clinton).  Fortunately, President George W. Bush did not succeed at gutting our social security system, the steadfast iconic New Deal success.  However, the Democrats’ cooperation with the de-regulation of big business, the restrictions on organized labor and welfare “reform” made it possible for Bush to argue in 2004 that the Democratic Party was no longer the party of Roosevelt.

I am hopeful that the Democrats are returning to their legacy as the party of FDR under the leadership of President Obama.  Above all, that legacy was based on the idea that government can work, and that ir can help working people.  The Republicans are haunted by the ghost of FDR.  Let’s hope that the Democrats are, too.