Wednesday, November 5, 2014

The Republican Right's Electoral Takeover of Both Houses of Congress, the Feeble Political Response of the Democratic Party, and the Real Meaning And Consequences of the 2014 Midterm Elections Nationwide


What has happened tonight across the entire country in the many gubernatorial and senatorial races in the 2014 midterm election is nothing short of a major political CATASTROPHE by any objective standard and is a vicious electoral repudiation and open assault on not only President Obama but ALL people of color (and especially African Americans) as well as labor, women (especially women of color), the poor, the working class, most of the middle class, young people under 40, and any and everyone else who currently SINCERELY believes in and is able and willing to relentlessly FIGHT for freedom, justice, equality, and democracy in the United States/Hates.

In response to these stark and unavoidable social, cultural, political, ideological, and economic realities I offer below the first part of a much longer essay on how and why the Obama Presidency has in large part been essentially a major failure and how that general failure has been deeply aided and abetted by a very broad cross section of Americans who through a bewildering but nevertheless painfully clear combination of factors have been major contributors to this failure (as have the Obama administration and the larger Democratic Party itself). As a result, It’s well past time to face reality and stop indulging the self serving and delusional attitude that these frankly horrific turn of events are simply always caused by someone or something else. While that is an often strangely comforting and even smug attitude to have when things are going as badly as they are (and have been) it doesn’t help us to actually confront and seriously address our real problems and contradictions no matter how tenacious and fiercely reactionary and repressive our well organized and extremely well funded massive opposition and frankly mortal enemies are (and have always been). For the fundamental question remains for all of us as it always has been in the past, is currently true during the present, and most certainly looms in our future: WHAT ARE WE GOING TO DO ABOUT IT? No excuses, self pity, or sly defensive maneuvers will suffice in this always arduous and necessary STRUGGLE. Because if we don’t wake up and actually DO what is both POSSIBLE AND NECESSARY we will discover in the sobering words from the legendary 1981 poem “There It Is" by the late, great African American poet Jayne Cortez (1934-2012) the exact extent and cost of the consequences of this alienation and disillusionment:

SEE AND HEAR:  Jayne Cortez and the Firespitters - "There it is" (recording & video):
From: There It Is
by Jayne Cortez

...And if we don't fight
if we don't resist
if we don't organize and unify and
get the power to control our own lives
Then we will wear
the exaggerated look of captivity
the stylized look of submission
the bizarre look of suicide
the dehumanized look of fear
and the decomposed look of repression
forever and ever and ever
And there it is

The Real Reasons Why The Obama Presidency Has Essentially Been A Failure And Why American Citizens Generally Are As Responsible For This Failure As The President, the American Left, And the Republican, Tea, and Democratic Parties Are—(First of Three Parts)

by Kofi Natambu
The Panopticon Review
“Bobby Kennedy recently made me the soul stirring promise that one day—thirty years, if I’m lucky—I can be President too. It never entered this boy’s mind. I suppose—it has not entered the country’s mind yet—that perhaps I wouldn’t want to be. And in any case, what really exercises my mind is not this hypothetical day on which some other Negro “first” will become the first Negro President. What I am really curious about is just what kind of country he’ll be President of.”
—James Baldwin, 1961

"One cannot change in one’s head that which can only be changed in society.”
—C.L.R. James, 1960

“If President Obama’s agenda is ultimately defeated it will largely come down to a lethal combination of racism and hubris—‘their' racism and ‘his' hubris.”
—Kofi Natambu, 2009

“A genuine leader is not a seeker of consensus, but a molder of consensus.”
—Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., 1967

"If you have no critics you'll likely have no success”
                                                      --Malcolm X

First, let’s be clear. A colossal number of lies not to mention sheer willful ignorance and wildly uninformed nonsense have been and is being written and circulated about the Obama presidency, the President’s administration, and their major public policy decisions. As a result it is virtually impossible to properly assess just how truly damaging. pervasive, and corrosive the national impact of this general stupidity, bad faith, venal bigotry, and relentless mendacity has been—and continues to be—with regard to any intellectually honest analysis of what this President has and has not accomplished during the first six years of his eight year tenure in office. What can be safely said however is that the general doctrine and practice of white supremacy (the specific ideological identity of a virulent and particularly toxic form of what is generally called 'American racism’) has largely contributed to an already well established and festering social and political hostility within the American rightwing in general toward just about anything Obama has to say or do. The reasons for this dismal reality--which we should never forget were well in place and was already about to take a major toll on the immediate future of the President’s administration on the very first day of his presidency in January 2009—are of course deeply rooted in North America’s violently perverse 'racial history’ whose fundamental template remains that of chattel slavery (going back to over 150 years before this republic was even founded in 1776) and the notorious state sanctioned national apartheid system (popularly known as ‘Jim Crow’) that emerged after slavery’s “official” demise in 1863 which has clearly dominated American society for most of the past 150 years. Given these chilling and incontravertible historical facts it certainly doesn’t take a major scholar of American politics to understand why and how this notorious historical legacy continues to directly inform and shape our political, cultural, and economic institutions—and thus our general perceptions and understanding of what the meme ‘first black president’ actually means. Nor does it require a genius to grasp just how and why the fundamentally structural, institutional, and systemic manifestations of this rancid and lethally destructive history are seriously affecting and systematically undermining the attempts of this President to get anything accomplished in the realms of legislative and political reform.

Having said that however, and despite the obvious role that the heinous American right has played in supporting and maintaining this reality, it must be said emphatically that neither the President, nor his administration, nor his political party--or the U.S. left generally—is immune from very serious criticism as well. In fact it would be equally intellectually dishonest and deeply irresponsible to give the utterly false impression that all of the current limitations, problems, shortcomings, blindspots, and failures of the White House can or should be laid only at the foot of the Republican and Tea Party right. Rather one must honestly acknowledge and be fully prepared to detail exactly what these limitations and failures represent or signify within this wider societal context if one is to make any real sense at all of what has transpired in this society and culture since Obama was initially elected by a massive ten million vote margin in November, 2008 (despite receiving a mere 43% of the white vote nationally!). So let’s begin with an analytical survey of how these two major interacting factors of ’their racism’ and 'Obama’s hubris’ have contributed to the present political, economic, and ideological debacle in the United States.


There are many debilitating myths about American history in general and American politics in particular. In fact it could be said that the widespread intellectual and social reliance, even obsessive dependency, on this enormous cobweb of lies, distortions, half truths, misrepresentations, and dangerous fallacies have contributed to an atmosphere of social discourse that is often drowning in a cesspool of rhetorical evasions and blatantly false assertions. One of the most dangerous and paralyzing of these myths has to do with the alleged progressive attitudes and values of the national white American electorate—especially in the so-called modern era since the end of World War II. One of the persistent articles of faith of this mythology has it that since the popular notion of the ‘American Century’ (which we now often rather arrogantly refer to as the recent history of ‘Amercian exceptionalism’) emerged as a slogan following the collective defeat by the Allies of the United States, Europe, (and ironically by the then Soviet Union) of the global forces of fascism led of course by the German Nazi Party, there has been an endless propaganda campaign in the media, popular culture, and in academia of the idea that the United States is fundamentally a progressive, forward looking nation that deeply loves and supports democracy and is a firm believer in the systemic eradication of all forms and vestiges of such virulently anti-democratic, repressive, and reactionary ideas and practices as institutional and structural racism, sexism, class oppression and exploitation, homophobia, and imperial militarism. However even a cursory examination of the actual history of the U.S. since 1945 indicates that this reading of a substantial majority of the white American electorate is not merely inaccurate and off the mark but delusional.

For a stark and very significant example consider what the national voting record of white Americans in presidential elections has been since 1948. It was in that year that former Vice President Harry Truman first ran for the presidency as the Democratic Party candidate following the untimely death of his predecessor President Franklin Delano Roosevelt in April of 1945 (who in November 1944 had won the presidency for an unprecedented fourth term—a future possibility that was eliminated by the passage of the twenty second amendment to the constitution in 1947 which stated that no presidential incumbent could henceforth serve more than two terms). However despite this new ruling and the fact that both the most far left and far rightwing segments of the national Democratic Party bolted from Truman candidacy and ran their own independent campaigns (i.e. former Vice President in Roosevelt’s last administration in 1944 Henry Wallace of the Progressive Party and then Democratic Senator Strom Thurmond of the openly racist and segregationist “Dixiecrat” Party) Truman was still able to garner 53% of the white vote nationally, that along with the heavily truncated 71% of the black vote was barely enough to provide Truman with a surprising but very narrow victory over his Republican opponent New York Governor Thomas Dewey, whom the media and most political pundits had erroneously predicted would easily beat Truman.

What’s also significant about the national presidential election of 1948 is that except for only ONE other occasion in the past 66 years(!) the Democratic candidate for President (whether he was an incumbent or not) has utterly failed to receive anywhere near a majority of the national white vote. Please allow me to repeat this harrowing statistic: In the last 16 presidential elections following Truman’s victory in 1948 and going back 62 years to the presidential election in 1952, a substantial majority of white American voters have voted for the Republican candidate--again whether he was the incumbent or not—an astonishing 15 times or 93% of the time overall. . The ONLY exception in the past six decades is 1964 when former Vice President Lyndon Johnson, who assumed the presidency following John F. Kennedy’s assassination in November of 1963, ran on his own for the office a year later vs. arch conservative and rightwing political reactionary Barry Goldwater. Clearly, in what was essentially a national sympathy vote for the successor of the slain President Kennedy, Johnson received a whopping 60% of the national white vote, a figure that hasn’t been reached by any presidential candidate in the Democratic Party in the fifty years since; one would have to go back 70 years to 1944 in Franklin’s Roosevelt’s last presidential victory to find any Democratic Party candidate who won as large of a percentage of the white vote. In fact in the last 16 elections combined Democratic Party candidates have won a absolutely pathetic cumulative average of just 38% of the national white vote.

So the obvious question looms: What do these dramatic statistics tell us about the modern white American electorate since 1945? Well for starters it clearly and rather loudly tells us that the average white voter in general since 1945 has not politically supported and does not currently support a progressive social and economic agenda by the government. Of course this may change at some point in the near future (maybe in a decade from now when the current generations born before 1945 begin to pass away) but I highly doubt it will change anytime soon in the foreseeable future (i.e. the next two national presidential election cycles leading up to and probably including 2020).

It also tells us that President Obama who won only 43% of the national white vote in 2008 and an even more dismal 39% against Mitt Romney in 2012 NEVER HAD THE POLITICAL SUPPORT IN WORD OR DEED OF THE GREAT MAJORITY OF WHITE AMERICAN CITIZENS. This bedrock and very important fact cannot be emphasized enough because a major part of the gigantic media haze and irrationally wishful thinking that has followed Obama around since 2007 when he initially began running for the Democratic Party nomination for President has been the willful fantasy and utterly absurd notion (unfortunately heavily encouraged and given far more credence than it deserved by Obama's campaign team and by Obama himself) that the United States was not as divided as it most clearly is on racial, class, and gender grounds as many people made it out to be and that he was not really handicapped as a candidate, and later President, by these persistently disturbing racial and ideological factors. In truth of course like every other Democratic Party president since 1952 Obama owes his two terms almost exclusively to the always heavily supportive black vote—and since 2008 to the Latino vote as well—despite the fact that the President hasn’t always been as politically and strategically appreciative of these facts as he could and most certainly should have been…(End of Part One)...

Voters’ Second Thoughts on Hope and Change
by Jonathan Martin

November 5, 2014
New York Times

A decade after President Obama made his national political debut with an appeal for Americans to put aside their divisions, the midterm elections on Tuesday delivered a resounding rejection of his call for consensus. Mr. Obama’s poor poll numbers dragged down candidates and hastened his party’s decline in the South and the West, as Democrats watched their hold on the Senate slip away.

More broadly, this year’s election illustrated the geographical limitations of a party the president powerfully remade with a young and diverse coalition. In his two convincing presidential victories, Mr. Obama showed a new way for Democrats to win by solidifying their hold on liberal-leaning states and making gains in places with fast-changing demographics. But he is almost certain to leave his party weaker in the states that are crucial to retaining a congressional majority.

“It’s something we’re going to have to solve,” said David Axelrod, Mr. Obama’s longtime political adviser, about the decline of Democrats’ power in conservative-leaning states.

Republicans captured Senate seats in Montana, South Dakota, West Virginia and Arkansas — rural states with rich Democratic traditions that have moved sharply to the right in the Obama years. The results are not only a reinforcement of the red-blue divide Mr. Obama lamented in his 2004 speech at the Democratic National Convention in Boston but demonstrated that the same political gulf has become as much the dominant force shaping congressional races as presidential ones.

Tuesday’s results will further purify the two parties. Moderate Democrats in Congress have been replaced by conservative Republicans, continuing a trend that began before Mr. Obama but that has accelerated during his tenure — in no small part because of anger among conservatives. Strategists in both parties agree that voters, especially in parts of the South and West, were handing Republicans a durable advantage in the House and ensuring a closely divided Senate by increasingly backing the same party for Congress that they do for president.

“It is so difficult now to escape the president’s pull for good or for ill depending on which party you’re in,” said Representative Tom Cole, Republican of Oklahoma, a longtime political strategist. “That’s taking away the middle ground in American politics, whether it’s the loss of Northeastern Republicans or Southern Democrats.”

But as jubilant as Republicans were about capturing the Senate for the first time in eight years, the party’s own leaders warned that they should not misread the results.

“The American people voted to rein in President Obama, but they also sent a message that they want to get things done,” said Karl Rove, the Republican strategist. “They really do want us to work together.”

Such sentiments reflect the realization that, while Republicans flexed their muscles in conservative states and demonstrated that they can at least compete in some swing states, the results Tuesday hardly swept away the considerable challenges they must address before they can take back the White House or hope to tighten their grip on the Senate. Republicans now face a challenge that is the mirror opposite of their counterparts’: how to avoid merely being a powerful congressional party and be competitive again in presidential campaigns, in which Democrats have won the popular vote in five of the last six elections.

Although the Republican hold on the House may be impregnable until after district lines are redrawn again in the next decade — largely because of the party’s enlarged majority and gerrymandered seats — the same demographic problems that have hampered Republicans in Mr. Obama’s two wins appear evident again in 2016. Voter turnout will spike for the presidential race, and the Senate battle will be fought in more liberal-leaning states. Only 10 Democratic-held Senate seats are at stake in two years, and Republicans must defend incumbents in Illinois, New Hampshire, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin.

For Republicans, there remains the serious question of how they compete with the constituencies that increasingly decide the presidency. There were few states in this year’s election where Hispanic or Asian voters played a crucial role. So far the Republican route to victory has been chiefly through criticizing an unpopular president and his policies — something that will hardly suffice in 2016, when Republicans face an electorate that will be even less white than it was in Mr. Obama’s two elections.

“This could just be an epic Pyrrhic victory because Republicans continue to alienate the groups they need to win in the future,” said Neera Tanden, head of the Center for American Progress, a liberal research group.

The Obama years have in effect represented a political trade-off: Democrats largely abandoned the more centrist, line-blurring approach of Bill Clinton to motivate an ascendant bloc of liberal voters. That strategy twice secured the presidency, but in the two midterm races it meant sacrificing the culturally conservative districts and states that had ensured Democratic congressional majorities.

For 2016, one part of the Democrats’ wager is that their next standard-bearer, likely to be Hillary Rodham Clinton, can perform as well with the groups that lifted Mr. Obama and improve their prospects with voters who opposed him, namely working-class whites.

But Democrats are also invested in demography, believing that they will overcome the deficiencies on vivid display Tuesday by securing those  Republican or swing states with increasingly young and nonwhite populations.

“We’re on a demographic march that is going to put more states in play,” said David Plouffe, Mr. Obama’s former campaign manager, citing Arizona, Georgia and Texas. Such raw political projections are, of course, far removed from the hopeful rhetoric that vaulted Mr. Obama to stardom 10 years ago.

But the president seems to have little regret about his choice of words. “Yes, he said he was going to bring the country together,” Mr. Axelrod said, “but he also said he was going to take on some tough problems.”
"The most deadly, dangerous, and powerful enemy of African Americans, Latino Americans, and Asian Americans in general, Women in general, the poor in general, the working class in general, children in general, Freedom in general and Democracy in general in American society today is the truly heinous Republican Party and their endless number of severely bigoted and demagogic minions, mentors, sponsors, and supporters. Anyone who doesn't know or believes this blatantly obvious fact is not only a hopeless FOOL but ultimately deserves their "fate." As so many have said so accurately so many times in our collective history "truth crushed to earth shall rise again"..."
--Kofi Natambu, July 15, 2009

Special Edition: Washington Wakes to a Republican Reality
By Carl Hulse
New York Times

Good Wednesday morning after an Election Day in which Republicans won the Senate, padded their majority in the House and added to their numbers among the nation’s governors. Some sure-thing Democrats were defeated, others were claiming victory in races yet to be officially decided. Here’s what you need to know as a new political day dawns.

G.O.P. Rout in the Senate Was Only the Start

Republicans have picked up at least seven seats in the Senate, one more than they needed to snatch control from the Democrats. They clinched it with the surprising outcome in North Carolina, where Senator Kay Hagan conceded to Thom Tillis, the State House speaker. Republicans also took Democratic seats in Arkansas, Colorado, Iowa, Montana, South Dakota and West Virginia. Votes are still being counted in Alaska, where Senator Mark Begich was slightly behind. The Louisiana race is headed for a runoff that will have no impact on Senate control but is not expected to favor Senator Mary L. Landrieu, the Democratic incumbent.

Bottom line: Republicans, 52; Democrats, 44; independents, 2; Louisiana and Alaska to be decided.

House Republicans Win Their Biggest Majority Since 1940s

Voters gave the House speaker, John A. Boehner, a bigger majority in a year that started out with the Democrats hoping that they could make up some of the political territory they lost in 2010. Votes are still being counted in a handful of districts this morning, but it appears that Republicans will win more than 10 additional seats — and their largest majority since the 1940s. The election’s victims included Representative Nick J. Rahall II, West Virginia’s last House Democrat, and Representative John Barrow of Georgia, the last white Democrat from the Deep South. Republicans also added two seats in New York State.

Bottom line: Republicans, 241; Democrats, 174; to be determined, 20.

At Least Four More States Join Ranks of the Republican-Governed

Democrats were shellacked up and down the ballot. Republicans won governors’ races in Arkansas, Illinois, Maryland and Massachusetts – all states now governed by Democrats – and held on to statehouses in Florida, Kansas, Maine, Michigan and Wisconsin. In Connecticut, the Democratic incumbent, Gov. Dannel P. Malloy, claimed victory, but his opponent had not conceded by Wednesday morning. The Democrats did manage to pick up Pennsylvania with Tom Wolf’s win over Gov. Tom Corbett. Votes were still being counted in Colorado (with a Democratic incumbent) and Alaska (a Republican), and because it appears the Democratic incumbent in Vermont didn’t win a majority, that race is likely to be decided in the Democratic-controlled State Legislature.

Bottom line: Republicans, 31; Democrats, 15; to be determined, 4.

Voting by Numbers

OCTOBER 27, 2014

Credit Illustration by Tom Bachtell

October is to political prognosticators what February is to florists and April is to accountants; namely, the time when a profession that’s peripheral to our daily concerns momentarily becomes the center of our attention. This season’s forecasting for the midterm elections is largely occupied with the partisan balance of the Senate. (The Times’ Upshot column has it seventy-one per cent likely that the Republicans will gain control. FiveThirtyEight puts the G.O.P.’s odds at sixty-one per cent.) The uncertainty hinges on about ten races that are too close to call, despite the finely calibrated statistical divination of experts. There is, however, one outcome that requires no sophisticated simulations to predict: the Senate will not look like the country. There are currently eighty male senators. Women, who make up fifty-one per cent of the population, hold just twenty per cent of Senate seats. The Senate, notoriously, is not proportional in its representation, but the highest number of seats that women can hope to hold next year will still be fewer than thirty. Currently, three states have two female senators, but thirty-three states are represented by two men.

This kind of imbalance is not limited to the upper chamber of the legislative branch. According to “Who Leads Us,” a report issued earlier this month by the Reflective Democracy Campaign, an offshoot of the Women Donors Network, which works to increase the number of female and minority elected officials, the makeup of American politics is still overwhelmingly dissimilar to the demographics of the country. Discussions of the tensions in Ferguson, Missouri, have focussed on the asymmetry between demographics and political leadership there, but, as the report makes clear, this is an issue of degree, not of kind. Ferguson’s city council doesn’t reflect its electorate, but it does resemble American politics. Whites, who constitute sixty-three per cent of the population, occupy ninety per cent of federal, state, and county-wide elected offices. Men compose forty-nine per cent of the populace but seventy-one per cent of officeholders. New York City is one of the most racially diverse cities in the nation, but whites, who make up thirty-three per cent of the population, hold fifty-one per cent of the seats on the city council. The State Legislature ranks forty-second in gender parity, behind far less liberal states—among them Texas, Alabama, and Mississippi—and forty-fourth in proportionate representation of minorities.

There is something distasteful about the idea of measuring politics in terms of percentages. It carries the whiff of a quota system and suggests that one’s interests can be adequately represented only by a kind of political color coördination. Yet nearly a century after the Nineteenth Amendment was ratified, and forty-nine years after the passage of the Voting Rights Act, it remains true that the groups that travelled the most difficult route to enfranchisement are the most underrepresented at every level of government. This situation is at least mildly confounding. A Gallup poll conducted in July found that sixty-three per cent of respondents believed that we would be better off with more women in elected office. (The partisan divide on the question was noteworthy: seventy-five per cent of Democrats agreed with the sentiment; forty-six per cent of Republicans did.)

The fact that underrepresented groups can vote, and do so in substantial numbers (black women had the highest voter turnout of any segment in the country in 2008 and 2012), begs a question: Why aren’t there more such candidates? “Think of politics as a career ladder,” Michael McDonald, a professor of political science at Binghamton University, who studies electoral representation, says. “You start out by running for school board or city council. From there, you go to state representative or state senator, and that positions you to run for Congress.” But nearly fifty per cent of small cities and forty-four per cent of medium-sized ones rely on at-large municipal elections, in which minority voters are dispersed among the general electorate—not counted as part of a particular ward or district, where their appeal would be more concentrated. This means that minority candidates have to win over more white voters, who still tend to favor white candidates. As a result, McDonald says, “Many minority candidates have a harder time getting onto the bottom rung of the ladder.”

And that doesn’t take into account the dynamics that influence whether someone chooses to run in the first place. “There are a lot of decisions that are made before you even see someone’s name on a ballot,” Brenda Choresi Carter, the director of the Reflective Democracy Campaign, says. Cracking the network of donors, influential allies, supportive labor unions, and pacs is daunting to any political aspirant. It is far more so to groups that are already underrepresented. Carter adds that when the parties recruit candidates at the local level they “pull from within their own network. If those networks are male-dominated or white, they essentially end up with people who kind of look like them.” For women, that skew is often compounded by issues of childcare and the work-life balance.

Moreover, voters don’t necessarily form neat blocs, according to their race or gender. Last year, when Christine Quinn, then the Speaker of the City Council, ran for mayor of New York, she won the support of just sixteen per cent of female voters in the primary. Martin O’Malley, the governor of Maryland, served two terms as mayor of Baltimore, beating a crowded field of black candidates in an electorate that, when he first ran, in 1999, was sixty-three per cent black. In 2006, Lynn Swann, Ken Blackwell, and Michael Steele—three black Republicans—ran for statewide office in, respectively, Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Maryland, but none of them garnered more than a quarter of the black vote. In each instance, black voters preferred white Democratic candidates to black Republican ones.

At the same time, redistricting has created increasingly safe districts that are also increasingly polarized by race. Eighty-nine per cent of House Republicans are white men; only forty-seven per cent of House Democrats are. The creation of a comparatively small number of majority-minority districts has simultaneously created many more districts that are far whiter than the country is as a whole. As David Wasserman, of FiveThirtyEight, has pointed out, the average Republican House district is now three-quarters white. There are no black Republicans in the House.

Conversations about the shifting demographics of the country have presumed that these changes will be reflected in our politics. We need look no further than Congress to recognize that there may be strength in numbers, but numbers alone do not automatically translate into strength. ♦

Cornel West Strikes Back At Paul Krugman's Rolling Stone Article:  He Got My Obama Critique 'Wrong'

Nobel Prize-winning economist Paul Krugman doesn't seem to get Cornel West's critique of President Obama, West told HuffPost Live on Wednesday.

In a recent Rolling Stone cover story, Krugman stood up for Obama and called out West for his fierce criticism of the president. Krugman argued that the "current wave of Obama-bashing" coming from both sides of the aisle is unwarranted. As he sees it, the commander-in-chief's progress on certain issues, like the economy, health care and national security, has made him one of the most "successful presidents in American history." Krugman went on to lambast Obama's liberal critics, like West, for denouncing the president as one who "posed as a progressive and turned out to be counterfeit."

West challenged Krugman in an interview with host Marc Lamont Hill, saying that the Princeton professor fundamentally misunderstood his comments.

"Paul, he’s wrong. He’s my dear brother and I appreciate his contribution, but he’s wrong about that," West said. "The claim from the left is not [that] Obama's eloquence would have pushed through against the Republicans' entrenched position."

West argued his assessment included valid economic criticisms from the left, including dissatisfaction with Obama's pandering to Wall Street following the financial crisis and his weak push for the stimulus bill. West said that Krugman's incorrect interpretation of the leftist critique distracted from such valid criticisms.

"[Krugman’s critique is] a red herring for the left. So you can dismiss that, but you can’t dismiss the substantial leftist critique," he said. "Brother Krugman, he is a dyed-in-the-wool, genuine, progressive liberal. He’s not a leftist."

Watch the full interview with "Black Prophetic Fire" author and activist Cornel West here.

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Progressive Senator Bernie Sanders On Breaking the Domination Of Big Money in American Politics And Zoe Carpenter On the Mega-Donor Class and the Oligarchic Role of Super PACs in Elections

Bernie Sanders on Breaking Big Money's Grip on Elections

Monday, 03 November 2014
By Bill Moyers, Moyers & Company | Video Interview 
Video of interview with progressive Senator Bernie Sanders

Bernie Sanders, Vermont’s independent senator, is angry about what he sees as big money’s wholesale purchase of political power. It’s a grave threat, he believes, not only to our electoral process but to democracy itself.

Two weeks ago, Sanders visited a town hall meeting in Richmond, California, to fire up supporters of Mayor Gayle McLaughlin and a slate of progressive city council candidates. They’re running against a ticket backed by the energy giant Chevron, the third largest corporation in the United States. Chevron owns an enormous refinery in Richmond and is spending $3 million to defeat the progressives, who have charged the oil company with damaging the city’s economy and environment.

Bernie Sanders. (Photo: Moyers & Company)

Chevron’s Richmond money – they’re spending more than $100 per voter – is just a fraction of the billions being spent this year on the most expensive midterm elections in history, money unleashed by Citizens United, McCutcheon and other court decisions that have turned voting into what feels more like an auction than ‘one person, one vote.’ Because the Supreme Court says money is speech and big business can buy all it wants, corporations are trying to drown out the voice of anyone trying to speak out against them, whether in Congress or a state legislature, on a judge’s bench or in city hall.


BILL MOYERS: Welcome. This just in from the prophetic Andy Borowitz: With midterm elections a few days away, “a new poll indicates that billionaires are likely to retain control of the United States government…proxy candidates of billionaires are likely to win ninety-eight per cent of next Tuesday’s races, with the remaining two per cent leaning billionaire.”

Now Andy Borowitz is one of our leading humorists and I figured he was joking. But now I’m not so sure. And neither, I’d guess, is United States Senator Bernie Sanders. Because a couple of weeks ago, Bernie Sanders was in Richmond, California, a small city of just over 100,000 in the Bay Area of San Francisco. He was speaking out against the energy giant Chevron and the big money it’s spending to influence the local elections there.

SENATOR BERNIE SANDERS in Richmond, CA: And if Chevron can roll over you, they and their buddies will roll over every community in America. If you can stand up and beat them with all of their money, you're going to give hope to people all over America that we can control our destinies.

BILL MOYERS: Chevron’s the Fortune 500 company that has a big refinery in Richmond and acts like it owns the place. After that refinery erupted in fire two years ago, the city, led by Mayor Gayle McLaughlin, sued Chevron for what it alleges is a long history of negligence. Chevron’s fighting back, spending an incredible $3 million plus to beat McLaughlin and her allies and replace them with a more pliable city council that will protect the oil company’s interests.

All that cash for one small election – but it’s just part of a spending frenzy of perhaps $4 billion all across the country, making this the most expensive midterms in history; money unleashed by a series of Supreme Court decisions allowing millionaires and billionaires to drown out the voice of anyone who tries to speak against them.

And that’s why Bernie Sanders is with me now. He’s not a Democrat. He’s not a Republican. He’s an independent in his second senate term, after 16 years in the House of Representatives, and eight as the mayor of Burlington, Vermont. Welcome back.

BERNIE SANDERS: Great to be with you.

BILL MOYERS: It's a long way from Burlington, Vermont, to Richmond, California. And there's a lot of other places you could've been going. Why did you go there?

BERNIE SANDERS: Because it disgusts me and angers me to see a huge, multinational corporation like Chevron try to destroy a local government, which is standing up for the working people and standing up for the environment. The idea that just because they have unlimited sums of money, they can toss aside and defeat people who are trying to do the right thing. It's not what America is supposed to be about and it upset me very much.

BILL MOYERS: You were very upset. Let me play you another excerpt from the speech.

BERNIE SANDERS: Unlimited sums of money from one of the largest corporation in America who says, 'How dare you ordinary people, working class people, people of color, young people, how dare you think you have a right to run your city government? Who do you think you are? We're going to teach you a lesson. We're going to tell you who owns this community, who controls this community.' And that's what this fight is about here in Richmond. And you damn well better win that fight.

BILL MOYERS: So what is the fight?

BERNIE SANDERS: The fight is for the future of democracy in America. What you're seeing in Richmond is one small part of what's going on in this country today, Bill. And let me just say this. If people think the situation is bad now, and it is horrendous, the chairman of the Republican Party now, he wants to take it further. He thinks Citizens United did not go far enough. So the Koch brothers and he want to eliminate all campaign finance legislation, all regulations, and have a situation where the billionaires will say to somebody, 'You want to run for governor of California? Here's a check of a half a billion dollars. You work for me. No longer independent expenditures, we own you completely.'

BILL MOYERS: I read one account that says Chevron is spending over $150 for every, quote, "likely” voter. What do they get back for their investment?

BERNIE SANDERS: Well, what they're going to get back, clearly, is a city council which will be less attentive to the environmental needs of that community. They are the largest employer. They have, as you've mentioned a moment ago, there was a terrible fire there a couple of years ago. People there are very concerned about the environmental impacts of Chevron, and they will get a much more docile city council if they win.

BILL MOYERS: Chevron would tell you they're just protecting those interests they have there. And that they will also tell you that they create jobs and pay taxes there for public services.

BERNIE SANDERS: Do they create jobs? Of course they create jobs. But the point is, corporations all over this country create jobs. But they cannot run and dominate our democracy.

BILL MOYERS: I wager that just about everybody watching this show knows what you and I think about this issue. And yet, while you're speaking and I'm reporting, those folks are out there creating a reality on the ground with their money. And things get worse.

BERNIE SANDERS: Things are getting worse. You know, when you look at this campaign, and you realize the enormously serious issues this country faces, right, we got a collapsing middle class. We have more wealth and income inequality today than we've had since the 1920s. We have all of these enormous issues. And what big money can do is put an unbelievable amount of TV and radio ads out there to deflect attention from the real issues facing the American people.

BILL MOYERS: Well, that's interesting. Because, you know, I've seen you quite recently on television. It’s always the same questions and always the same five headlines. What's the story that the corporate press is not letting you tell?

BERNIE SANDERS: Oh, my God. You see, this is the issue. I mean, I've been on a million of these shows. They say, 'Here's the story of the day. What do you think about the Secret Service? What do you think about this? What do you think about Ebola?' All of those issues are important.

But the issues that impact ordinary people, is they’re asking why, despite all of the productivity, people are working longer hours for lower wages. Have we had that discussion, Bill? Have you ever heard anybody talking about it? They're asking how come we've had this unfettered free-trade policies that have resulted in the loss of millions of good-paying jobs and you got both parties still saying, well, that's pretty good.

And this issue of income and wealth inequality, wow. One percent owning 37 percent of the wealth in America. Bottom 60 percent owning 1.7 percent. One family, the Walton family of Wal-Mart, owning more wealth than the bottom 40 percent. Do you think we should be talking about that issue? You can't get the discussion going on TV.


BERNIE SANDERS: Because it's not in the interest of the corporations who own the networks to actually be educating the American people so that are debating the real issues. It's much better to deflect attention away from those issues and get into the story of the day.

There was some guy who was a football fan who walked halfway across the country. Boy, that's a really big story. Or, Chris Christie yelled at somebody. History will certainly remember this as one of the important issues of the 21st century.

BILL MOYERS: This, to me, is this fundamental question facing Bernie Sanders. How do you get your message directly to those who need it most? And you know who they are. They're conservative working people, who don't realize that their party has been sold all these years to the financial and business interests that are rigging the rules against them. How do you reach those people?

BERNIE SANDERS: Well, believe me, I wish I had the magic answer. You're asking exactly the right question. There are parts of this country, Bill, where the only information people get is on radio. You got Rush Limbaugh. 95 percent of talk radio is extreme right wing. You got Fox Television, which does an extraordinary job of deflecting attention away from the real issues.

The idea that you have these working-class people who are voting for candidates who refuse to raise the minimum wage, who refuse to provide health care for their kids, who want to send their jobs to China, who want to give tax breaks to corporations, it blows my mind. And that is the issue that we have to figure out.

BILL MOYERS: But is there no way to make a concerted effort to reach out conservative working people, people who share, I think, a populous bias in behalf of government by, and for the people. Wouldn't you bolster your credentials as someone willing to really shake things up, get beyond this distracting tedium of left and right and horserace mentalities that you're asked about all the time on the radio. Is there a way to make a campaign out of that?

BERNIE SANDERS: This is something that I'm thinking about hard. When they ask Tea Party people, and I've seen some of the polls, do you think we should cut Social Security? You know what they say overwhelmingly? No. Should you cut Medicare? No. Tea Party working-class people will be shocked to know that the people who founded the Tea Party, the Koch brothers, want to eliminate Social Security, Medicare, the concept of minimum wage. In other words, the ideology of the Koch brothers, who put the initial money in to found the Tea Party, is very different from the average, working-class person. And you're saying how do we reach out to get to work in coalition with those folks is something that we have got to do.

BILL MOYERS: I heard Morning Joe ask you if you're going to run for president. And you've been asked that everywhere. And I don't want to beat a dead horse. I particularly don't want to beat a dead dark horse. But if you were to do it, and I'm not going to play games with you about saying, are you, or are you not? If you were to do it, would you run as a Democrat or an Independent?

BERNIE SANDERS: I haven't resolved that yet. There are advantages and disadvantages of both. There is strong contempt now for both the Democratic and Republican parties. All of the elections that I have won in Vermont have been as an independent.

So, that speaks to running as an independent. The problem is that the deck is really stacked against independents. You would have to spend an enormous amount of time, money, energy just getting on the damn ballot in 50 states in this country. And then, the media would probably marginalize you. And you may not be able to get into some of the debates.

That's what I'm kind of weighing. But the main issue that I'm trying to figure out, and I'm going around the country talking to people, is there support for a candidacy which is really prepared to take on the billionaire class? Is it, in fact, possible to do what you just said?

It's easy to talk about, let's reach out to working-class tea party people. Can you do it? How do you do it? How do you get the resources to do it? How do you build the grassroots organization? This is what I do believe from the bottom of my heart. In this election coming up right now, the estimate is that 60 percent of the people are not going to vote, 60 percent.

BILL MOYERS: Midterm election?

BERNIE SANDERS: Yes. 80 percent of low-income, working people are not going to vote. Bill, what I am absolutely sure of is that we do not change this country unless there is a political revolution, there is a radical change in consciousness where working people are not only voting, they're participating in the political process, they understand how important politics and government is for the future of this country and for their kids.

BILL MOYERS: So, what's your strategy? I mean--

BERNIE SANDERS: The strategy--

BILL MOYERS: I know you care about, I know you want to make a difference. But I know the system is against your making a difference.

BERNIE SANDERS: You have to bring people together who may not agree on every issue, but who understand that the middle class is collapsing and we are moving toward an oligarchic form of society, where the billionaires will control the economy and the political life of this country.

So, that means reaching out to people from different walks of life and say, you got to overcome this difference and that difference. So, I think what we have to do, Bill, is lay out an agenda which says we are going to take on the billionaire class. You know what? We're going to overturn Citizens United. We're going to move to public funding of elections so these guys don't buy elections.

BILL MOYERS: Are you going to ask them to join a third party?

BERNIE SANDERS: That's a question we have--

BILL MOYERS: It's a difficult question.

BERNIE SANDERS: It's a difficult question. You know, I have, that's been my life, as an independent. And that's one I'm wrestling with, Bill. But given, I, the answer is I just don't know. But what I do know is you need a strong progressive agenda which says, you know, why is it that in a country like Denmark, everybody has health care as a right?

Why is it that higher education is free? Why is it they have a great childcare system? Why is it that they're leading the world in terms of environmental protection and fighting global warming? Can we do that in this country? The answer is we can. But you're not going to do it when 60 percent of the people don't vote in an off presidential election.

BILL MOYERS: How do you make the Hillary wing of the Democratic Party pay attention to the power of a populist message unless you're in the debates in 2016, when most of the public is paying attention to political messages?

BERNIE SANDERS: This has been my political experience. When you rally the grassroots of the country or the city or of your state, when people begin to stand up and say, 'Enough is enough. We want to do well by our kids. We want to protect the environment. We believe we should join the rest of the world in terms of having health care for all, single-payer health care for all, et cetera, et cetera.'

When people begin to move, the people on top will follow them. So, whether it's Hillary or anybody else, what we have got to do is mobilize the American people in a way that we have not seen in recent history around a progressive agenda. Bill, every poll that I have seen, when they ask the American people, what is the most important issue that you're concerned about? You know what they say? Jobs and the economy.

How come we are not investing heavily in rebuilding our crumbling infrastructure. $1 trillion invested in rebuilding roads, bridges, water systems, rail creates 13 million decent-paying jobs. You know what? The American people want us to do that. They want us to raise the minimum wage. So, you need a very strong agenda. You need a mechanism. And you've asked a hard question. Easier to say than to do, to rally people around that agenda. And once you do that, things will take care of itself.

BILL MOYERS: This is what Barack Obama did in 2008. He asked people to take over the Democratic Party, progressives and populists, everyday people that you describe in your speech out in Richmond. He asked those people to come in and, elect me and we'll do just exactly what Bernie Sanders would do if he were president. Hasn't happened.

BERNIE SANDERS: I have lot of respect for Barack Obama. But, his biggest mistake is that, after running a brilliant campaign in 2008, where millions of people in fact were galvanized, young people, people of color came out and said, 'Hey, we're going to make some real change.' The day after the election he said, okay, thank you very much. Now I'm going to work inside the Beltway and we're going to start negotiating with Republicans and all that stuff. The simple truth is, in my view, nothing gets done unless millions and millions of people will demand it. Politics is 365 days a year.

BILL MOYERS: Not just voting?

BERNIE SANDERS: Exactly. And anyone, you can have the best person in the world as president of the United States, that person will accomplish nothing unless millions of people are standing behind him or her. Just an example, Bill, everybody, all the young people in this country are worried about student debt. The fact that hundreds of thousands of young people can't even afford to go to college.

You have a million people, a million young people marching on Washington saying, there's a vote coming up. And if you vote the wrong way, we know who you are. We actually are paying attention. You aren’t going to get reelected. We will lower the cost of college substantially and deal with the student debt crisis. It will not happen. It will not happen unless millions of people are activated.

BILL MOYERS: The practical issue is how do you get millions of people mobilized if in fact both parties are on the side of money? You know, you're making the right argument, I know, and people are responding. But they don't know what to do. If they do what they did with Barack Obama and come out for the Democratic Party, they stand to get betrayed again. If the independent party, third party is difficult to organize and get on the ballot, what do they do?

They're frustrated. You know, even your own wife says she gets depressed when she hears you make another speech like you did in Richmond. And people write me and say, 'I'm depressed watching your show because I don't know what to do.'

BERNIE SANDERS: Number one, we are, in fact, a very, very difficult moment. But let's also look back on history. Bill, if you and I were chatting here 30 years ago and we would say, you said to me, you know, 'I think that the United States, people of our country are going to overcome the deep racism in this country and elect an African American,' you said that 30 years ago, people would say, 'Bill, you're crazy. That'll never happen.'

Thirty years ago we had two women in the United States Senate. Today we have 20 and that number is certainly going to go up. In terms of gay rights. If you and I were sitting here ten years ago and you were to say to me, 'Bernie, you know, I think in conservative states in 2014, they're going to be passing gay marriage.' Would you have dreamed of that ten years ago? You wouldn't have. I would not have, okay?

Right now, we're engaged in a huge fight. It is the economic struggle against the billionaire class who wants it all. They want to kill Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, the whole thing. Can we beat them? We can. Now, here's some good news. I know, in the middle of all the bad news. I'll never forget this as long as I live. I was elected mayor of Burlington in 1981. I made promises to the people of my city. Two years later, Bill, we doubled, almost doubled voter turnout.

How's that? And you know why? Because I kept my word and people said, you know what? He is making a difference. He didn't lie to us. So if you have leadership which delivers, or at least says, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, remember what he said? He said, 'These are the economic royalists. They hate my guts and I welcome their hatred because I'm on your side.' That's the kind of policy and language we need.

BILL MOYERS: I apologize for being tedious but you're right, you know? We-- a lot of changes. Black rights, women's rights, gay rights. But here in New York, we have a governor who's been really good on gay rights and he's a handmaiden of Wall Street. I mean, Hillary Clinton, Chuck Schumer, their constituency is Wall Street. So people who want to come out and do what you want to do, are led by people who say, well, we'll go only so far because our loyalty remains to money.

BERNIE SANDERS: Yes. The only point, there is a difference between social issues and the economic issues. And I will not deny for one moment that taking on the ruling class of this country and the billionaire class, it's tough stuff. It is tough stuff. So I don't have any magical solutions. But what I do know is that if we do not create an economy that works for ordinary people, if we do not end the fact that 95 percent of all new income now goes to the top one percent. We've got to end it, and the only way I know to do that is to rally ordinary people around the progressive agenda. So our job is to create a 50 state, grassroots movement around a progressive agenda.

BILL MOYERS: And then would the purpose be, as the tea party's purpose was to take over the Republican Party, would the purpose be to take over the Democratic Party?

BERNIE SANDERS: That is certainly one of the options. I mean, the options are to--

BILL MOYERS: Because I don't see how you could do it just as an independent outside, stiff-armed by both parties, ignored by the press.

BERNIE SANDERS: Well, let's be very clear. Now, the Tea Party has been enormously successful. Enormously successful. They've taken kind of a center right party and made it a right wing extremist party. If you had a grassroots movement, if you had the trade union people, if you had the environmental community, the women's community and ordinary working class people standing up, can you take the Democratic party and make it into a progressive party? I think there's a chance you can.

BILL MOYERS: But to do that. You have to have some way to respond to neutralize Citizens United. Is there a form of, and I know people's eyes go dead when I say campaign finance reform, but is there an answer to Citizens United that you think is achievable?

BERNIE SANDERS: Well, people's eyes should not go dead when you talk about campaign finance reform because if they're concerned about any issue, they've got to be concerned about campaign finance. Give you an example. State of Vermont, we have our candidate for lieutenant governor right now getting public funding running for election. It's not a huge sum of money, but he's running a credible campaign. So I think the alternative has got to be to do everything that we can to overturn Citizens United. But move to a public funding of elections. States can do some of that.

BILL MOYERS: There's a recent poll. More than half of all people in this country do not believe the American dream is real. 59 percent of the people polled in June agreed, quote, the American dream has become impossible for most of us to achieve. And more and more Americans believe, quote, "there's not much opportunity to get ahead. " A living wage, retirement security, the opportunity for your children to get ahead are increasingly out of reach. Why aren't people furious about this?

BERNIE SANDERS: I would say they are furious and Republicans take that anger and channel it against people who are even worse off than working class people. And I think also people don't see an option, they've kind of given up in seeing, yeah, I'm working longer hours for lower wages. Yeah, my kid can't afford to go to college. Yeah, my aunt does not have any health insurance. What can I do about it?

And also there has not been, because of media, because of weak politics on the part of the Democratic Party, the kind of focus that we need to say, you know where the problem is? These guys are getting richer and richer. You're getting poorer and poorer. Have you heard that kind of discussion? Have you heard that type of focus? I don't think so.

BILL MOYERS: What's wrong, what's gone wrong with the Democratic Party?

BERNIE SANDERS: In one answer I'd say money. Time after time we see a hesitancy on the part of the Democratic Party to stand up to the billionaire class because you can't do that when you're out hustling campaign contributions.

So whether the issues are disastrous trade policy, lowering the cost of prescription drugs, all of these special interests have enormous power and influence to the Democratic Party. Instead of having public meetings with people, you have Democratic candidates running all over the place, trying to raise money to keep up with the Koch brothers. So I would say, you know, money is corrupting, certainly has taken over the Republican Party, has significantly impacted the Democrats.

BILL MOYERS: How do we get money out of politics?

BERNIE SANDERS: Well, first thing is we need a massive grassroots movement to have state after state, and we have, I think, 16 of them already onboard saying, we support a constitutional amendment to overturn Citizens United. I think there's something like 500 communities around America saying the same thing. Then when we do that, we move to public funding of elections. You want to run? I will not be able to outspend you.

BILL MOYERS: Senator Bernie Sanders, thank you for being with me.

BERNIE SANDERS: Great to be here.

BILL MOYERS: At our website,, there’s a web exclusive interview with Gayle McLaughlin, the mayor of Richmond, California, where Chevron is spending those millions trying to defeat her and other progressive candidates.

And we have a guide to everything you need to know to cast your ballot on Tuesday. And what to do if someone tries to keep you from exercising your right.

That’s all at I’ll see you there and I’ll see you here, next time.

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Who's Buying the Midterm Elections? A Bunch of Old White Guys
By Zoë Carpenter
Monday, 03 November 2014
The Nation | Report 

Paul Singer, a New York hedge fund manager, as he exits a vehicle in New York, Nov. 1, 2007. (Photo: Rob Bennett / The New York Times)

This is the year of the mega-donor: just forty-two people are responsible for nearly a third of Super PAC spending in the 2014 election cycle. Super PACs, meanwhile, are outspending the national parties. The list of would-be kingmakers includes Tom Steyer, the former hedge-fund manager who’s poured out $73 million to elect environmentally friendly Democrats; Michael Bloomberg, who’s distributed upwards of $20 million on behalf of both sides; and Paul Singer, the “vulture-fund billionaire” and powerful Republican fundraiser.

Take a look at the list of top donors. They might have distinctly different political agendas, but they have one thing irrefutably in common: they’re almost exclusively old white guys. Only seven women made it into the forty-two, and not a single person of color.

One of the things highlighted in the aftermath of Michael Brown’s death in Ferguson, Missouri, is how poorly America’s political leadership, from city councils to the US Senate, reflects the diversity of the country. According to data compiled by the Reflective Democracy Campaign, white men make up 65 percent of elected officials—more than twice their proportion in the general population. Only 4 percent of our political leaders are women of color. As Jelani Cobb writes in The New Yorker, the midterm elections won’t right this imbalance between demographics and political representation, no matter which party wins the Senate.

In fact, the midterms suggest that white men are gaining clout, at least behind the veil. As campaign-finance laws erode, political power is increasingly concentrated among the billionaires playing the strings of the electoral marionette—a pool that looks less diverse even than Congress. (Given the prominence of dark-money groups, it’s likely that some of the biggest individual players in the midterms are anonymous. But there’s no indication that secret donors are any more diverse than others.)

It’s shrinking, too. Between 1990 and 2010, the number of individual donors increased each election cycle. This year, the pool contracted from 817,464 individual contributors in 2010 to 666,773 as of late October, according to a new analysis from CRP. “Despite only a slight increase in the cost of the election, outside groups, which are overwhelmingly fueled by large donors, are picking up more of the tab, candidates are cutting back on their spending, and there are fewer large (over $200) individual donors contributing overall to candidates and parties,” reads the report.

Politicians should be accountable to the electorate, which is growing more diverse. But the fact that candidates are growing more dependent on a narrow group of contributors means that they may be responsive to a limited set of concerns. There are many factors blunting the political impact of demographic changes, but certainly laws that amplify a less diverse group of people’s voices over others’ in an election is one of them.

The unfettering of big money also makes it harder to elect minority candidates. “Why is it that the Congress we have right now doesn’t look anything like the rest of the country? A lot of it has to do with our campaign-finance laws and the fact that there’s so much money in the system and you need so much money to run for office,” said Lawrence Norden, deputy director of the Democracy Program and the Brennan Center for Justice. “There’s no question that it makes it more difficult for people who aren’t connected to these very wealthy donors to run for office.”

Candidates raise money from people they know, Norden explained, and American social circles are deeply segregated. Three-quarters of white Americans, for example, don’t have any non-white friends. Neighborhoods remain segregated by race and class. “If you don’t have a lot of money to begin with, you’re not interacting with the people who can provide that money,” said Norden.

A number of structural changes have been proposed to right lopsided representation, many of them focused on increasing turnout among minority voters. Those suggestions are particularly salient in response to the GOP’s campaign to pass laws that make it more difficult for low-income people and people of color to vote. But turnout won’t affect the diversity of elected officials if the pool of candidates isn’t diverse to begin with. As long as the financial bar for running a viable campaign keeps rising, it’s going to be more difficult for people of color, women and low-income people to appeal for votes at all.

There’s some evidence that public campaign financing increases proportional representation. Connecticut implemented a voluntary public-financing system in 2008, which provides a fixed amount of funding to candidates who rely on small donors. A study by Demos found that the program led to a more diverse state legislature and increased Latino and female representation. Another study found that the percentage of women elected in five states with public financing was significantly higher than the national average. Unfortunately, in several states recently politicians have set to dismantling, not strengthening, public financing.

“It’s really clear that that’s a major barrier to women and people of color, in particular, that can happen on all levels, even the local level,” said Brenda Carter, director of the Reflective Democracy Campaign, about the growing power of outside money. Still, she noted that there’s been little research into the specific ways in which the influence of money in politics has a disproportionate effect on minority candidates. “Adding a race and gender lens to the money-in-politics conversation is a really important thing,” she said.