In his first State of the Union Address, President Obama did an impressive job of delivering an honest and hopeful assessment of where we are as a nation and where we need to go. Owning up to some of his administration’s failures, he spoke to Americans’ fears and anxieties, but also to our values.
Speaking to our values
President Obama took a strong and much-needed stand against rampant corporate influence in our political system. In the wake of the Supreme Court’s game-changing decision in Citizens United v. FEC, he echoed People For the American Way and our allies in saying that the decision reverses over a century of legal precedent, that it opens the floodgates for unfettered and destructive corporate influence in our democracy -- including the possible influence of foreign corporations and entities -- and that steps must be taken to correct its damage.
At this point in the speech, with most of the chamber on their feet in applause, Justice Samuel Alito shook his head and appeared to mouth the words, “that’s not true.” Although it wasn’t as overtly dramatic as Rep. Joe Wilson’s “You Lie” interruption from earlier in the year, in a way, it was even more stunning because Supreme Court justices in attendance at the State of the Union address typically take great care not to show any visible reaction positive or negative to the President’s speech. As if it wasn’t enough for Justice Alito to be part of radically changing the law to fit his right-wing ideology, apparently the tradition of showing respect to the President was too great a challenge for him as well.
The President also rightly called out congressional Republicans -- particularly those in the Senate -- for their unprecedented obstruction aimed at crippling our government. He specifically went after the GOP for holding up the confirmations of well-qualified public servants which is something People For the American Way has been fighting against all year, especially around nominees like Dawn Johnsen who is long overdue to be confirmed as head of the DOJ’s Office of Legal Counsel.
Finally, The President took a firm stand on repealing the military’s discriminatory policy of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.” LGBT equality certainly stands out as one of those areas in which change has been slow to come since President Obama took office. And, to many, the President’s words are less important than the action he has been promising all along. But I was encouraged that the President spoke about ending Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell in the frame of one of our most fundamental American values: equal treatment under the law for everyone. Now, it’s up to the President and this Congress to actually end Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell and to do it this year and it’s up to all of us to hold them accountable.
PFAW’s Government By the People Campaign
Many right-wing media figures and bloggers were quick to agree with Alito’s mouthing of “not true,” and challenge the President on his statements. Of course, as Justice John Paul Stevens and others made clear in their Citizens United dissent, the concerns expressed by the President about foreign influences in American elections were absolutely valid. PFAW’s own Josh Glasstetter has an excellent post on Crooks and Liars’ “Third Branch” blog that deftly refutes the Right’s distortions.
The threat of foreign influence, however, is just one of many problems with this latest Supreme Court ruling and the magnitude of the decision’s impact cannot be overstated. Because of how far the Court’s ruling goes, the only complete solutions can be:
- a constitutional amendment to ensure Congress has the authority to limit corporate influence in elections; or
- a reversal by the Supreme Court which would likely require a different ideological makeup of the Court itself.
People For the American Way’s brand new Government By the People Campaign seeks to remedy the impact of the Citizens United decision by doing both of the above, as well as by supporting legislation that will mitigate the damage in the short term. The campaign itself is a people’s movement to amend the U.S. Constitution (securing passage in Congress and the states) accompanied by reinvigorated Court advocacy to elevate Americans’ appreciation of the Supreme Court as an institution and a voting issue and efforts to pass other legislation along the way to mitigate the damage of the decision.
Rep. Alan Grayson (D-FL) has introduced several bills as part of a “Save Our Democracy” platform, and Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-CT) and Sen. Al Franken (D-MN) have both introduced bills to address the issue of foreign interference specifically.
We applaud such efforts to help save our system of government from the Supreme Court’s reckless move last week. And we welcome organizations and individuals from across the political spectrum to join our efforts to pass a constitutional amendment overturning the decision.
If you have not done so already, make sure you’re part of our Government By the People Campaign by signing our petition for a constitutional amendment now.
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