John McCain

Change Doesn't Just Happen

With just over a week to go until the election, things are popping at People For. I want to let you know how we're using your support to make an impact on many fronts.

The Voters Alliance: Building Progressive Power

People For the American Way's federal political action committee is helping build a progressive majority in Congress. We were thrilled that an extremely successful online contest run by the Voters Alliance raised more than $130,000 for 24 progressive House candidates. And now the Voters Alliance is working with Oscar-winning director Errol Morris and volunteers from the award-winning advertising firm Chiat Day (of Apple fame) to create short but powerful online profiles of moderate voters who have decided that Obama has earned their vote. The spots are being digitally filmed and edited this week in time for a final pre-election push. I'll let you know when they're ready to watch online and forward to your friends.

Sounding the Alarm: The Court is at Stake

People For the American Way has succeeded in getting media and progressive candidates talking about the importance of the Supreme Court in this election. Now we're kicking it up a notch, with TV spots for Maine, Minnesota, New Hampshire, North Carolina and Oregon, reminding voters that senators have hurt their interests by backing Bush's extreme judges. People For the American Way Action Fund has been running radio ads holding John McCain and other senators accountable for voting to confirm Bush's worst judicial nominees.

Confronting Homophobia and Anti-Gay Discrimination

In California, where the Right has stirred a vicious backlash against a state Supreme Court ruling protecting marriage equality, People For the American Way Foundation's African American Ministers Leadership Council has launched a radio ad campaign calling on African Americans to reject anti-gay discrimination. Check out the ads here. This work is part of a long-term effort to engage clergy and challenge homophobia in the Black Church and in African American communities. Rev. Kenneth Samuel, the courageous and inspiring head of AAMLC's Equal Justice Task Force, is on the ground in California now, and he'll be leading this groundbreaking effort to create social change in the months and years ahead.

Calling out the Promoters of Fear and Hatred

We're also challenging campaign tactics that are stirring up a dangerous brew of fear and bigotry. For example, when John McCain falsely accused a progressive voter registration group of trying to steal the election, its offices were barraged with hateful and threatening messages. We made it impossible to ignore this hostility and bigotry by posting images and audio of the actual messages online for the world to see. And with a full-page ad in the New York Times and other media outreach we have worked hard to help people understand that bogus charges of voter fraud are meant to give cover to the real threat to the election from right-wing voter suppression. Our Right Wing Watch blog has been all over the Religious Right's bigotry and fearmongering.

Overcoming Voter Suppression

People For the American Way Foundation's Democracy Campaign staff have been traveling the country training community organizers who are running election protection efforts and distributing in-depth, state-specific voter protection toolkits. With the help of SEIU, NAACP, NEA, Unity 08, Democracia Ahora and other partners, our Foundation has distributed more than 180,000 palm cards in key states to help voters understand and protect their rights. The Foundation is working with allies to recruit poll workers where they're sorely needed and will be distributing inexpensive video cameras to members who will document what happens on Election Day. There's no way to stop all the dirty tricks that the Right has in store, but People For Foundation has been working hard to put protections in place, and after the election it will work hard to figure out what went wrong this time, and fight for legal and regulatory fixes. Two New York Times editorials in the past week have confirmed that voter fraud is a myth and affirmed the importance of the Election Protection work the Foundation is doing to help voters understand and assert their rights.

Change is in the air, but as you know, it doesn't just happen. We all need to make it happen. With your help, we and our allies are going to change the country! Thanks so much for making it all possible.


ACORN Is Not The Problem

I'm not going to sit idly by while good people are thrown under the bus ... especially if that bus is John McCain's "Straight Talk Express." And I am not -- I repeat, NOT -- going to let the Right steal another election by demonizing community organizers while doing all they can to disenfranchise voters.

That's why People For the American Way is not taking the attacks on ACORN (the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now) lying down, and we're not going to let the Right's latest distraction work. We're taking out a full page ad in the New York Times to tell the truth about ACORN, the myth of "widespread voter fraud" and the actual voter suppression being perpetrated by the Right. Check out the ad and find out what you can do to help with these efforts at

ACORN has tirelessly worked to uplift the less fortunate and advocated for improved housing, a fair and living wage, and yes, continues to fight to give a voice to the underserved by promoting civic engagement and voter empowerment. John McCain used to know that but he seems to have forgotten.

During Wednesday's presidential debate, McCain was again over the top, saying ACORN "may be perpetrating one of the greatest frauds in voter history in this country, maybe destroying the fabric of democracy." No, Senator McCain, the fraud is GOP attempts to challenge the registrations of eligible voters who are on the verge of losing their homes to foreclosure ... the fraud is right-wing efforts to purge thousands of eligible voters from the voter rolls ... the fraud is the long history of your party's attempts to resurrect Jim Crow.

Let's set the record straight. ACORN plays by the rules, but they register voters the Right would rather exclude, so they are a perfect target in the ongoing effort to stoke paranoia over so-called "widespread voter fraud" (a proven myth). Out of the 13,000 field workers ACORN hired in its drive to register hundreds of thousands of voters, a small fraction submitted inappropriate registration cards. In most cases, ACORN was required by law to submit these incorrect forms, along with the valid forms, to election officials, and in most cases, the incorrect forms had been flagged for officials by ACORN as problematic. But bad registration forms don't add up to "voter fraud."

The Bush administration has spent a good deal of time on fishing expeditions to find problems with groups like ACORN that register voters. In fact, they fired US Attorneys for refusing to participate in this partisan witch hunt.

Using "voter fraud" to distract from real voter suppression is nothing new. But it's still extremely troubling that the McCain-Palin campaign has decided to put party before country and not denounce the GOP's attempts to squash voter participation. I don't think the American people are buying any of this. But even if scapegoating ACORN doesn't work, the Right will have won if they are successful in getting people to look the other way on the real voter suppression in which they are aggressively engaged.

It's up to us to make sure the distraction doesn't work.


Full-Page NY Times Ad Stands Up to Right-Wing Smears and Shoddy Reporting

Anyone who watched last night’s debate should know that John McCain and his right-wing allies are going to outrageous lengths to smear the reputation of ACORN, a community organizing group which has registered hundreds of thousands of voters for the coming election. But many in the media – especially at Fox News and CNN – have failed the public.

People For the American Way is running a full-age ad (see below) in the New York Times in the coming days to call out the right-wing smears and the failure by many in the press to report the full story.

The truth is that there is no voter fraud problem. This is what the top election experts have consistently concluded. When Karl Rove aggressively pushed the Justice Department to investigate and prosecute voter fraud, they came up empty-handed. But all we seem to hear about from Fox and CNN is that Mickey Mouse was registered to vote.

There are already systems in place to catch petty voter registration fraud. It should be a non-issue. Meanwhile McCain and the RNC are using a handful of negligible but colorful examples to distract from the organized disenfranchisement of thousands, perhaps millions, of legally registered voters through so-called ballot security measures.

Learn more about those efforts here, read more about our ad here, and check out the ad here.


Rolling Stone on the Makebelieve Maverick

If you’re taking “the great schlep” or are just in conversation with friends and family members about the coming election, there’s a very revealing profile of Sen. John McCain in the current Rolling Stone: read it here.


Just in Time for Tonight's Debate: McCain Bingo!

McCain BingoJohn McCain and Barack Obama will meet in Nashville tonight for the second presidential debate -- and you know what that means. Debate games! Get your McCain Bingo here, courtesy Dan Vera, a friend of People For.

And as with the first presidential debate and the VP debate, we'll be liveblogging tonight's proceedings. Join us and submit your thoughts during the debate through the commenting feature. 


A Rollercoaster Week

What a roller coaster of a week! I spent a couple of days in New York this week meeting with board members, supporters and potential donors. The turmoil in the financial markets and the uncertainty about what kind of plan will come out of Washington contributed to some tension in the air. But I found that people were also focused on the bigger picture, what is at stake in this year's elections and on the importance of the work we're doing.

Meanwhile, Sen. John McCain was on a rollercoaster of his own: pretending to suspend his campaign to rush to Washington, then sitting quietly through a White House meeting; getting caught red-handed lying to David Letterman; calling for tonight's presidential debate and next week's vice presidential debate to be postponed, then backing down today when it became clear that the American public wasn't buying it.

I'm proud that you came through for us this week. In just a few hours, more than 30,000 people signed our petition urging the presidential debate commission not to get pulled into McCain's political charade. We have more reason, not less, to take stock of our would-be leaders at a time of crisis. Earlier today People For joined forces with other organizations mobilizing to keep the debates on schedule and together we presented more than 170,000 petition signers to the commission office in Washington, DC.

Your activism is energizing to all of us at People For. One of the most heartening things that came across my desk this week was a note from Vicki Ryder, a People For member in Rochester, New York. Hundreds of you (thank you!) have posted "Sarah Palin Doesn't Speak for Me" photographs to our website. Vicki took it a step further, organizing a gathering of 300 women in a downtown square. "The organizing was easy," Vicki told us, "since so many of us who cherish true democracy are horrified by the thought of what a McCain-Palin administration would do to further erode our fast-disappearing rights. All I did was send out an invitation to some women I know, and the word spread quickly."

Vicki got some great media coverage of the event, making sure that a lot of people heard her message about McCain's selection of Sarah Palin:

"We don't like the idea that she doesn't support the Constitution. We think that the vice president of the United States, who's a heartbeat away from the presidency, should support the Constitution. She believes in banning books; she believes in imposing religion in the public schools, there are a lot of things we find totally objectionable."

Thanks and congratulations to Vicki for going the extra mile — and giving hundreds of her friends and neighbors a way to get involved. And thanks to all of you who wrote me after last week's note to tell me how you're getting engaged in this year's important elections.

One thing everyone can do is host a house party for next Thursday's vice presidential debate — and raise a little money to support our "Sarah Palin Doesn't Speak For Me" campaign. Gather with friends, old and new. And before we all start hollering at the TV set, join me on a nationwide conference call to get an inside look at what People For the American Way is doing between now and November 4. We have a nerve-wracking few weeks ahead of us, so let's join together for Debate Watch Parties next Thursday, and let's have fun while we're working to change the world.


No Suspension Here -- Save the Debate

We considered suspending all action on the People For Blog to focus our attention on the economy, but then we realized that, umm, there’s a lot of other stuff going on too.  Like, for instance, some upcoming debates.

Or at least that’s what ought to be happening.  John McCain has not only threatened to skip the first debate, but is proposing that the second debate (the vice presidential one) be delayed.

People For is responding with a resounding “No.”  Sign our petition calling for the debate schedule to remain intact.  After all, there’s an election in 40 days, and don’t you think Americans ought to know what it is they’re voting for?


A Taste for Contact: McCain's Debating Style

The first debate between McCain and Obama is this Friday—unless McCain’s call to postpone it is successful, that is.  In preparation, the New York Times has put together analyses of the debating styles of both candidates.

 Notably, they spotlight McCain’s taste for contact:

What lasts from a review of Mr. McCain’s national debates — 21 this primary season and more than seven in 2000 that included George W. Bush — is that he relishes direct confrontation. He presents himself as the authority on the broad themes of war and peace, life and death. And depending on his level of contempt for his opponent, he can drip with condescension, even as he sits calmly with his hands folded in front of him, smiling.

No doubt, McCain does not try to hide how he feels about his opponents.  It did not take a studied political observer to pick up on McCain’s distaste for Romney, for Paul, for Keyes, or for Bush, especially during the South Carolina debacle.


Double Talk Express: McCain and Fair Pay

At a town hall meeting last week, John McCain appeared to pledge in earnest to fight discrimination and, if necessary, take offenders to court:

But it was McCain who sided with corporate lobbyists earlier this year and opposed the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act. Why, you might ask? He claimed “it would lead to more lawsuits.”

Later, at a different town hall meeting, he told a 14-year-old girl that the Fair Pay Act wouldn’t help anyone but “trial lawyers and others in that profession.”

What’s worse, McCain has helped confirm hundreds of right-wing federal judges to the very courts that he claims he would use to fight discrimination. The problem is, those judges – including Chief Justice John Roberts and Justice Samuel Alito – have consistently whittled away at Americans’ protections against discrimination. And they’ve made it increasingly difficult for those Americans’ who do suffer discrimination to win just compensation.

The Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, for instance, was created to undo the damage done by the Supreme Court in the Ledbetter ruling, which made it easier for companies to get away with pay discrimination. McCain not only endorsed the ruling, but he has vowed to nominate more judges like the ruling’s author – Justice Samuel Alito.

If McCain wanted to try some real straight talk for a change, he’d simply tell the women of America that under a McCain administration, they’d be on their own.


The Human Toll

Today, People For the American Way Foundation* put out a report titled The Human Toll: How Individual Americans Have Fared at the Hands of Bush Judges.  It’s essentially a review of the stories of individual Americans who have found themselves in front of judges put on the bench by George W. Bush.  In many cases, the result isn’t pretty.

With that in mind, let me point out an important fact: John McCain has supported every single one of George Bush’s judicial nominees.

So, for that matter, have most of the incumbent GOP Senators up for reelection this year.  John Sununu (NH), Elizabeth Dole (NC), Ted Stevens (AK), Gordon Smith (OR), Norm Coleman (MN), James Inhofe (OK), and John Cornyn (TX) are probably the ones in the closest races.

You might want to keep that in mind while you read the report.  It’s a pretty interesting read, if I do say so myself.

* - (Which is affiliated with People For the American Way in ways too complicated to get into here.)


Have They No Shame?

In an election in which so much is at stake, and so many crucial differences between the presidential tickets, our national conversation keeps getting stuck — and not by accident. It dawned on me this week that race and gender are the elephant (and donkey) in the room — they’re more often exploited in subtle and cynical ways than discussed honestly. You need only witness the side show about "lipstick" that Republicans are using to keep the campaign away from issues that affect Americans and our shared future.


Another Shot At Fair Pay

Via TAPPED, it looks like the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act will be up for another vote in the Senate this month. John McCain has opposed it in the past, and last time it was defeated in a procedural vote. But if Sen. McCain wants to admit his mistake and support the bill now, we’d all welcome his change of heart.


Reigniting the Culture War

For all the talk about reformers and mavericks, the Republican convention this week struck me as a return to the GOP's decades-old culture-war handbook, with speaker after speaker launching attacks on the "elites" in the media and Washington who supposedly look down on small-town America. At the GOP convention, there was a dispiriting number of distortions and ugly charges hurled from the podium, but nothing exemplified the spirit of the event to me more than the repeated outright mockery of community organizers.


Oh, What a Week

Sarah Palin and John McCain

By the end of the Democratic National Convention last week my feet were aching but my spirit was soaring. I loved meeting People For members, and had a chance to connect with a lot of progressive advocates, political leaders, and potential donors. Our standing-room-only panel on the future of the Supreme Court was thoughtful and lively. Several of our staff did magnificent jobs in other panel discussions throughout the week. And the whole event felt like history in the making.


Governor Palin is Wrong; There's No Scientific "Debate" Over Evolution to Teach

Sarah Palin

As soon as news broke last Friday that Senator John McCain had chosen the relatively unknown governor of Alaska, Sarah Palin, as his running mate, a media scramble began to find out more about her. In the brief period since then, one of the most concerning things to come to light about someone who holds public office and aspires to higher office is her belief that creationism should be taught alongside evolution in public school science classes. As Palin has put it, "let kids debate both sides." This is a regurgitation of the right wing's "teach the debate" campaign. On the face of it, it sounds sort of benign, doesn't it? Give kids more information, let them decide? What could be wrong with that?


Five Years Later: Decriminalizing Gay People

Many people probably don’t recall much, if anything, about June 26, 2003, but I recall a great deal. That’s because it’s the day on which the Supreme Court issued one of its most important rulings in the area of individual rights and human dignity. In Lawrence v. Texas, a sharply divided Court struck down a Texas state law that prohibited consensual, private sex between adults of the same gender, a law that essentially made criminals out of gay men and lesbians. Five justices held that the law was an improper intrusion on the right to liberty guaranteed to everyone by the Constitution, effectively invalidating all state laws that invade the home to prohibit so-called sodomy.


Five Years After Lawrence: Decriminalizing Gay People

Many people probably don’t recall much, if anything, about June 26, 2003, but I recall a great deal. That’s because it’s the day on which the Supreme Court issued one of its most important rulings in the area of individual rights and human dignity. In Lawrence v. Texas, a sharply divided Court struck down a Texas state law that prohibited consensual, private sex between adults of the same gender, a law that essentially made criminals out of gay men and lesbians. Five justices held that the law was an improper intrusion on the right to liberty guaranteed to everyone by the Constitution, effectively invalidating all state laws that invade the home to prohibit so-called sodomy.

Five years later, I can still recall vividly the absolute joy and elation that I felt learning that these pernicious laws were no more. The Court’s ruling meant not only that these laws could no longer be used to intrude into a realm of personal conduct in which government has no place, but also that they could no longer be cited to deny gay people jobs or participation in any other aspect of human endeavor on the ground of criminality.

Justice Kennedy’s majority opinion was a ringing endorsement of constitutional liberty. According to Justice Kennedy:

Liberty protects the person from unwarranted government intrusions into a dwelling or other private places. In our tradition the State is not omnipresent in the home. And there are other spheres of our lives and existence, outside the home, where the State should not be a dominant presence. Freedom extends beyond spatial bounds. Liberty presumes an autonomy of self that includes freedom of thought, belief, expression, and certain intimate conduct. The instant case involves liberty of the person both in its spatial and more transcendent dimensions.

As news of the Court’s decision unfolded, it was equally wonderful to learn that the five-justice majority had also overturned the Court’s 1986 ruling in Bowers v. Hardwick, in which the Court, by a vote of 5-4, had upheld a Georgia anti-sodomy law under which Michael Hardwick had been arrested for having had sex in his own home with another man. Bowers was a strikingly anti-gay decision in substance and language and, like Plessy v. Ferguson, a low point in Supreme Court history and an instance of the Court’s abject failure to protect the constitutional rights of minorities. Justice Kennedy, writing for the Court in Lawrence, soundly declared that Bowers "was not correct when it was decided, and it is not correct today. It ought not to remain binding precedent."

One of my law school classmates was Michael Hardwick’s original attorney. I accompanied her to the Supreme Court that day in March 1986 when Bowers was argued, and I commiserated with her when that terrible ruling came down several months later. She was the first person I called after learning that Bowers had been overturned, and we shared a long-delayed moment of joy.

And so June 26, 2003 is a day that I remember quite well. But as significant as the Lawrence ruling was, I am mindful that four justices did not join Justice Kennedy’s majority opinion. Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, who was part of the majority in Bowers (truly a low point in her judicial career as well), declined to join the majority in overruling that decision. She agreed, however, that the Texas "sodomy" law was unconstitutional, but only because it treated same-sex and opposite-sex couples differently.

Three justices dissented outright from the ruling in Lawrence: then-Chief Justice William Rehnquist and Justices Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas. Scalia and Thomas are still on the bench today. The late Chief Justice Rehnquist has been replaced by the equally ultraconservative John Roberts, while Justice O’Connor has been replaced by the extreme right-wing Samuel Alito.

Counting the numbers, then, it’s very clear that the constitutional protection of the essential human dignity of gay men and lesbians is hanging by a slender thread on the Supreme Court. John McCain has praised Justice Scalia and has also promised to put more justices like Roberts and Alito on the Court, which should be a consideration for any voter who cares about gay rights and the future of the Supreme Court.

Cross-posted on The Huffington Post


Ledbetter v. Goodyear and Fair Pay, One Year Later

As a Senator, John McCain has helped George W. Bush pack the federal courts with right wing judges, judges who serve for life and who will extend the legacy of President Bush for decades to come. In fact, it seems that Senator McCain has never met a bad Bush judicial nominee he didn’t like, including John Roberts and Samuel Alito. With McCain’s help, Roberts is now the Chief Justice of the United States, and Alito is right by his side on the Supreme Court.

And with McCain continuing to heap praise on Roberts and Alito, it’s only fitting, as we approach the first anniversary of one of the most harmful rulings in which Roberts and Alito have participated, to take a look at the damage done in that one decision alone.