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Hope and Change, 2020 Version; This Time Democrats Must Overcome GOP Roadblocks

October 29, 2020

By Joe Rothstein

Yes, our health care system is too expensive, too cumbersome, unavailable to tens of millions and the leading source for personal bankruptcy. Yes, we’ve permitted our education system to decline and our higher education system to strain family finances and burden students with years-long debt. Yes, our bridges, roads, water and sewer systems, power grids and other vital infrastructure are long past due for major repair and modernization. These are just three of many serious problems we face as a nation. And, of course, we’re in the midst of the worst killer pandemic in 100 years.

As diverse as they seem, all these problems have a common denominator. Our system of government is failing us. That’s why we remain mired in these problems.

The enormous outpouring of early voting confirms what polls have been telling us for years. The public wants Washington to fix the problems Washington is uniquely equipped to fix, and has a constitutional duty to fix. If the Democrats take back the White House and control both houses of Congress, they will assume power at a time of historic public engagement. They cannot allow Mitch McConnell to stonewall President Biden’s agenda the way he did President Obama’s. Even more, they would have a rare opportunity to fix the structural problems that have kept Washington frustratingly ineffective for far too long.

Start with the money problem. A Democratic Congress must enact a 21st century version of the McCain-Feingold Act which attempted to limit the Adelsons, Kochs and Bloombergs of the U.S. from buying presidents, judges and other public officials. The Citizens United Supreme Court decision must be overridden by congressional action so that those elected are more likely to represent the public interest, not the special interests of the few who pay for their campaigns.

Then there’s the problem with the election system itself. Congress also must enact a new voting rights act, along the lines of the one the Democratic House passed in 2019. An act that guarantees the sanctity of the vote for everyone, that makes it easier, not harder, for everyone to vote, that punishes those who try to interfere with the vote, and establishes a tamper proof, modern voting system in which we all can have confidence.

The most serious impediment to democracy has been the way we elect U.S. presidents. Bill Clinton and Barrack Obama each won the popular vote and became U.S. presidents. Al Gore and Hillary Clinton each won the popular vote and did not. During the past 20 years, the only Republican candidate to win the popular vote for president was George W. Bush, when he ran for reelection. Yet Republicans have controlled the White House for 12 of those 20 years. This isn’t democracy.

If the United States is one country, and federal laws apply to everyone, regardless of state boundaries, then the votes of 150 million Americans should determine the presidency. Congress must pass a constitutional amendment to abolish the electoral college. And in the interim, states must join a compact that pledges to cast their electoral votes for the winner of the popular vote.

Another long overdue reform is the admission of Puerto Rico and the District of Columbia to full statehood. For years Republicans have resisted this for fear that it would add four reliable Democrats to the U.S. Senate. Rather than competing for those Senate seats, the Republicans do not want to have them at all, denying millions of Americans who pay their taxes and live under federal regulations the full rights of citizenship. A Democratic president and Congress can change that. And should.

Finally, to the extent that the Supreme Court is an obstacle to these reforms, Congress must seriously consider how to recreate the body to remove the ideological odor that now envelopes it. Consider this: five members of the current Supreme Court, the majority, were appointed by presidents who lost the popular vote.

We simply cannot tolerate or respect a court that everyone assumes is nothing more than a black-robed political body. That may involve cutting the court size to 6 and removing the last three appointees. Or increasing the number to 11 or 13 to gain diversity. Or establishing term limits on Supreme Court service. Or developing a system of rotation with other federal courts. Mitch McConnell openly brags that he has helped create a court that will be an obstacle to progress for decades to come. That’s intolerable. It’s also unnecessary. Democrats have multiple ways to undue the damage and must not be timid about using them.

If next Tuesday elevates Joe Biden to the White House and a Democratic majority to the Senate, and the vote represents the will of the largest turnout in American history, as it now appears will happen, the message will be clear: The people of America want action on a wide range of problems and are placing their trust in the newly elected majority to do it.

In 2008 voters cast their ballots for Hope and Change. It’s time to redeem that promise.

(Joe Rothstein can be contacted at jrothstein@rothstein.net)



Joe Rothstein is editor of U.S. Politics Today. His career in politics spans 35 years, as a strategist and media producer in more than 200 campaigns for political office and for many political causes. He was a pioneer in professional political consulting and one of the founding members of the American Association of Political Consultants. During his career Mr. Rothstein has served as editor of the Pulitzer Prize-winning Anchorage Daily News and adjunct professor at George Washington University's Graduate School of Political Management. He has a master's degree in journalism from UCLA.