This isn't meant to gloss over the weaknesses and failures of the Democratic Party. But if we accept that the political system itself is broken we also have to accept that the political system has very little margin or opportunity for self-correction. Its very nature needs to be changed. And such change has to begin with campaign finance reform. And campaign finance reform will never be possible as long as Republicans control the nation's judiciary. Democracy itself will continue to be threatened as long as Republicans control the nation's judiciary.
When President Obama appointed Elena Kagan to the Supreme Court, some on the left thought she would lean too much to the right. On some issues that may prove to be true, but as Heather Gerken noted, it is not proving true on campaign finance reform:
I just finished reading Arizona Free Enterprise Club's Freedom Club Pac v. Bennett, today's Supreme Court decision invalidating Arizona's public financing scheme under the First Amendment. I was struck by how strongly worded the opinions were. The majority and the dissent bordered on vituperative. Chief Justice Roberts and Justice Kagan write as if they were exasperated with one another. Each accuses the other of ignoring facts, ignoring doctrine, even ignoring the basic principles undergirding the First Amendment. The two go so far as to invoke each other's rhetorical flourishes ironically, even sarcastically.
In her first year on the Court, Kagan is not afraid to take on the chief justice, not only substantively but with scathing rhetorical flourishes. She clearly thinks much more than a simple court decision is at stake. As Gerken concluded:
Justice Kagan and the three other liberals, in contrast, find it very hard to figure out why public finance systems that impose no constraints on privately financed candidates are remotely troubling. Justice Kagan said in oral argument that it seemed like the system promote(s) "more speech all around," and her blistering dissent makes precisely the same point.
That is the core problem, in my view, in campaign finance. If the Justices cannot agree on the basic premises of the doctrine, no balancing test or factual record or choice about the level of scrutiny is going to bring agreement. This just isn't an area where a middle ground is likely to be found. One is tempted to quote from Harry Potter: "neither can win while the other survives." One view or another is going to have to win out. The Justices know it's a fight to the finish, and they are writing their opinions accordingly.
A fight to the finish is exactly right—a fight for the very nature of democratic governance. Will this nation continue its experiment with democracy and republic or will it succumb completely to the plutocrats? This is not hyperbole. From climate change to war, the moneyed interests don't care about the public interest, and they know that truly representative government is a direct threat to their financial and political supremacy. And the right wing of this extremist right-wing Supreme Court has proved that it cares little about the Constitution or precedent and is aggressively pursuing a nakedly political agenda.
On many issues, President Obama has pursued policies that have been deeply upsetting to many liberals. With Associate Justice Sonia Sotomayor already proving herself a voice of both reason and humanity, and unafraid to join in much warranted criticism of her right-wing colleagues, the early indications are that both of Obama's appointments to the Supreme Court have been oustanding. They no doubt will disappoint some on some cases, but they already are demonstrating not only stark differences with the Court's extremist majority but a willingness to express those differences bluntly and without flinching. They are neither impressed nor intimidated. The dishonest pugnaciousness from the right is being met by an honest but equally pugnacious left. We need more. We need more Democratic senators in order to ensure that we will have more quality judges on the federal benches on all levels. We need four more years of President Obama appointing judges. We need more Democratic presidents to follow President Obama in order not only to assure more honesty and competence in the federal judiciary, but to thwart these increasingly open and obvious attempts by activist right-wing judges to undermine the very nature of our system of governance.
Whether you're thrilled with President Obama or disappointed with him or somewhere in between, it's more obvious than ever that our political system is almost entirely captive to money. The bottom line is the bottom line. The only hope for a democratic future both in our nation and in our Democratic Party is significant campaign finance reform. Elected Democrats have made some efforts toward that end, but Republicans are doing everything possible to stop them. Republicans are doing everything they can to consolidate power in the hands of the wealthiest of the wealthiest, and their last line of defense is and will continue to be their activist extremist judges. If you need one reason to vote for Democrats, this is it. Some hold to the delusion that things will get better if they allow the Democrats to lose control of what little control they have of the government. But the reality is that the only people punished when people try to punish elected Democrats are the people all Democrats are supposed to be trying to protect. Losing elective office isn't punishment; losing homes and regular meals and medical care and educational opportunities and civil and human rights is. If you want more better Democrats it has to start with more judges who have both integrity and conscience.