Last October, a parent at Watauga High School in Boone, North Carolina asked the local school board to remove Isabel Allende’s internationally-renowned The House of the Spirits from the curriculum. After making its way through a multi-step county review process, last week the school board voted 3-2 to uphold the teaching of the book.
The fight to keep the book in the curriculum was backed by many supporters – including the author herself. In a letter to the Watauga County Board of Education, Isabel Allende wrote,
Banning books is a common practice in police states, Like Cuba or North Korea…but I did not expect it in our democracy.
PFAW Foundation president Michael Keegan also spoke out against censorship to the school board. In his letter, Keegan wrote:
We trust that as educators you will uphold the right of all students in Watauga County to receive a competitive, rigorous education free from censorship. While individual parents have every right to decline reading material for their own children, they should not be allowed to censor the curricula for all students in the county.
The House of the Spirits is not the first book PFAW Foundation has fought to protect. In addition to speaking out about Allende’s novel, in the past year PFAW Foundation has advocated against censorship attempts aimed at Invisible Man, Neverwhere, and The Bluest Eye.
Today House Republicans led by Rep. Lynn Jenkins (R-KS) voted to delay the Affordable Care Act’s individual mandate. In case you haven’t been keeping track, this is the House GOP’s 50th vote to dismantle Obamacare.
In a speech last week at a DNC event, President Obama joked,
“You know what they say: 50th time is the charm. Maybe when you hit your 50th repeal vote, you will win a prize. Maybe if you buy 50 repeal votes, you get one free.”
On Monday, in the wake of Governor Jan Brewer’s decision to veto her state’s anti-gay “freedom to discriminate” bill, People For the American Way president Michael Keegan wrote in a Huffington Post op-ed that we are continually asked to believe the “new, no-nonsense Republican Party” has finally taken to heart the “dangers of embracing extremism.” However, he writes:
“…there seems to be a Grand Canyon-like gap between what everyone knows the Republican Party should do and what they actually do. Time after time, we see that they just can't help themselves. We all know the embarrassing, crazy uncle who shows up at the family reunion. It seems like all of those crazy uncles have now banded together to control the Republican Party.”
And with their 50th vote to undermine Obamacare, it seems pretty clear that the Republican Party isn’t going to be able to rein in those crazy uncles anytime soon.
Amid Congressional hearings and an unending stream of pointed fingers, what is the real takeaway from the unfolding IRS mess? United Steelworkers President Leo Gerard has the answer, arguing that our country needs to rethink the role of corporate money in our elections by passing a Constitutional amendment overturning the Citizens United decision.
In an In These Times article Tuesday, Gerard called for such an amendment, writing that
“while every politician in Washington is cursing the carbuncle, hardly one has complained of the cancer killing the patient. Allowing unlimited, unaccounted-for corporate spending in elections is a malignancy threatening the life of the republic.”
PFAW President Michael Keegan has also spoken out about the danger of allowing the IRS misdeeds to be held up as an example of the perils of oversight writ large.
In a Huffington Post piece last week, he noted,
“The danger of this frame is that it will discourage the IRS from fully investigating all nonprofit groups spending money to influence elections. And it will distract from the core problem behind the IRS's mess: the post-Citizens United explosion of undisclosed electoral spending.”
As both writers remind us, the IRS should never base its work on the political leanings of applicant groups. But where our real focus should lie in this national dialogue is on how to strengthen transparency and accountability in all electoral spending.
Americans of all political stripes should be outraged at the recent revelation that the Tea Party was unfairly targeted by the IRS before last year's election. The IRS should never base its decisions on political preferences or ideological code words, regardless of what bureaucratic challenges it may face. But the lesson that the right is drawing from the IRS's misdeeds -- the lesson that threatens to dominate the public conversation about the news -- is wrong.
We're seeing a knee-jerk reaction, particularly from the Tea Party and their allies in Congress, that is threatening to turn the IRS's mistakes into an indictment of "big government" writ large. Some are already trying to tie the scandal to the Right's favorite target, Obamacare, and to the Benghazi conspiracy theory.
The danger of this frame is that it will discourage the IRS from fully investigating all nonprofit groups spending money to influence elections. And it will distract from the core problem behind the IRS's mess: the post-Citizens United explosion of undisclosed electoral spending.
Before the Supreme Court's decision in Citizens United, only a limited number of nonprofit 501c(4) groups could spend money to influence elections -- those who did not take contributions from corporations or unions. But Citizens United lifted restrictions on corporate spending in elections, setting the stage for individuals and companies to funnel unlimited money through all corporations, including c(4)s and super PACs in an effort to help elect the candidates of their choice. Spending by c(4)s has exploded since Citizens United, since the decision allowed any c(4) nonprofit corporation that didn't spend the majority of its money on electoral work to run ads and campaign for and against candidates. And c(4)s, as long as they follow this rule, don't have to disclose their donors under the laws currently in place.
The IRS, then, was forced to play a new and critical role in policing this onslaught of electoral spending. IRS officials clearly made poor choices in how to confront this sudden sea change and those mistakes should be investigated and properly addressed. But strong oversight of this new wave of spending remains critically important and clearlywithin the IRS's purview.
If we let understandable concerns about bad decisions by the IRS lead to weakening of campaign finance oversight, our democracy will be the worse off for it. Instead, we should insist that the government strengthen its oversight of electoral spending -- equally across the political spectrum. We should pass strong disclosure laws that cover all political spenders, including c(4)s. And we should redouble our efforts to overturn Citizens United by constitutional amendment and reel back the flood of corporate money that led the IRS to be in this business in the first place.
This week, NBA center Jason Collins made history when he became the first active player in a major men’s pro sports league to come out as gay. In an interview with George Stephanopoulos aired yesterday on Good Morning America, Collins reflected that “when you finally get to that point of acceptance, there’s nothing more beautiful.” Collins has demonstrated his commitment to being open about who he is – and in doing so, has become a role model to all who are struggling to accept themselves.
Today People For the American Way President Michael B. Keegan sent Collins a letter of congratulations and support:
Becoming the first active player in a major men’s pro sports league to come out as gay could not have been an easy decision. You said yourself that if you had your way, “someone else would have already done this” – but you were the one to take this step, and we’re grateful for your courage.
The majority of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender young people report experiencing harassment at school because of their sexual orientation or gender identity and the need for supportive LGBT role models has never been greater. At this moment, no one can know the full effects of your decision to come out, but what I do know is that it will change the lives of so many others who are struggling to accept who they are.
On behalf of People For the American Way’s staff, board, and members all across the country, congratulations. We are with you.
With best regards,
Michael B. Keegan
President, People For the American Way
Last night, People For the American Way president Michael Keegan joined Rev. Al Sharpton and David Brock of Media Matters to discuss Bill O’Reilly’s most recent delusional outburst and the GOP’s reality problem. Watch:
I suppose I shouldn't have been surprised when Republicans started complaining that President Obama's second inaugural address was too "partisan" and lacked "outreach" across the aisle. But who was left out? What did they find "partisan"? The acknowledgement of climate science? The idea that women should receive equal pay for equal work? The nod to civil rights struggles of our past and present? The hope that no American will have to wait in hours-long lines to vote? The defense of the existence of a social safety net? The determination to offer support to the victims of a historic storm and to find real answers to the epidemic of mass shootings? In the not-too-distant past, none of these would have raised eyebrows except on the very, very far right. But I guess that's the point: what was once the radical fringe is now in control of the Grand Old Party.
In many ways, Monday's inauguration ceremony was a Tea Party Republican's nightmare-come-true. The openly gay poet. The Spanish sprinkled into the benediction. The one-two-three punch of "Seneca Falls to Selma to Stonewall." It was the embodiment of all that the far right has tried to wall itself off from as the country begins to include more and more of the real America in its democracy.
What would have pleased this faction, short of winning the presidential election? I imagine they would have preferred a paean to the America of their imaginations -- where the founders were flawless and prescient about the right to bear assault weapons and the Constitution was delivered, amendments included, directly from God; where there are no gay people or only silent ones, where the world is not getting warmer; where there have been no struggles in the process of forging a more perfect union. This, of course, would have been its very own kind of political statement -- and one that was just rejected by the majority of American voters.
If embracing America as it is rather than as a shimmery vision of what it never was constitutes partisanship, and if it turns off people who cling to that dishonest vision, let's have more of it.
Losing the Latino vote "spells doom for us." - Mitt Romney, April 15, 2012
"Should I win a second term, a big reason I will win a second term is because the Republican nominee and the Republican Party have so alienated the fastest-growing demographic group in the country, the Latino community." - President Obama, October 26, 201 2
At last, bipartisan agreement! You don't need a degree in political science to know this: demonizing and alienating the fastest-growing group in the country is no way to build long-term political success. Pair that with the fact that demonizing any group of Americans is un-American and just plain wrong. But in recent years, Republicans, and especially party standard-bearer Mitt Romney, just haven't been able to help themselves. In an effort to win over a shrinking and increasingly extreme base, Romney and team have sold their souls to get the Republican presidential nomination. And they went so far to do it that even their famous etch-a-sketch won't be able to erase their positions.
As Mitt Romney knows, the slipping support of the GOP among Latinos is no mystery. We've seen this movie before, in 1994, when Republican California Gov. Pete Wilson pushed anti-immigrant smears to promote California's anti-immigrant Prop 187 which in turn buoyed his own tough re-election campaign. It worked in the short term - both the ballot measure and Gov. Wilson won handily - but what a long term price to pay as California became solidly blue for the foreseeable future.
We're now seeing what happened in California at a national scale. Harsh anti-immigrant rhetoric helped Romney win the Republican primary. But in the general election, it may well be his downfall.
In case you tuned out Romney's appeals to the anti-immigrant Right during the primaries, here's a quick recap. He ran ads specifically criticizing Sonia Sotomayor, the first Latina Supreme Court justice. He says he'd veto the DREAM Act , a rare immigration provision with overwhelming bipartisan support. He took on anti-immigrant leader Kris Kobach, architect of the draconian anti-immigrant measures in Arizona and Alabama as an adviser , then said his immigration plan was to force undocumented immigrants to"self-deport." He even endorsed Iowa Rep. Steve King, who suggested building an electric fence at the Mexican border, comparing immigrants to "livestock" and "dogs." Romney's new attempts to appeal to Latino voters are clearly empty - he's already promised the Right that he will use their anti-immigrant rhetoric whenever it's convenient and shut down any reasonable attempts at immigration reform.
If President Obama wins reelection, however, we have a real chance for real immigration reform. He told the Des Moines Register last week that if reelected he will work to achieve immigration reform next year. Beyond incremental steps like his institution of part of the DREAM Act by executive order, real comprehensive immigration reform would finally ease the uncertainty of millions of immigrants and the businesses that hire them. It's something that George W. Bush and John McCain wanted before it was thwarted by extremists in their own party. It's something that Mitt Romney clearly won't even try.
If President Obama wins, and especially when he wins with the help of Latino voters turned off by the GOP's anti-immigrant politics, he will have a strong mandate to create clear and lasting immigration reform. And Republicans will have to think twice before hitching their futures on the politics of demonization and exclusion. Whereas George W. Bush won 44 percent of the Latino vote in 2004 and John McCain 31 percent in 2008, Mitt Romney is polling at just 21 percent among Latinos. That's no coincidence.
My group, People For the American Way, has been working to make sure that the GOP's anti-Latino policies and rhetoric are front and center during the presidential election. We're running a comprehensive campaign aimed at the large Latino populations in Nevada and Colorado and the rapidly growing Latino populations in Iowa, Wisconsin, Virginia, and North Carolina. In each of those states, we're strategically targeting Latino voters with TV and radio ads, direct mail, internet ads and phone banking to make sure they hear the GOP's message about their community. In Colorado, we're going up against Karl Rove's Crossroads GPS , which knows just as well as Romney that the loss of Latino voters "spells doom" for Republicans. In all of these states, higher turnout among Latinos motivated by Mitt Romney's attacks could swing critical electoral votes.
This is a battle where the right thing to do and the politically smart thing to do are one and the same. Republicans have embraced racially-charged attacks against Latinos, pushing English-only laws,attempting to legalize racial profiling by immigration enforcement, dehumanizing immigrants, and even attacking the first Latina Supreme Court justice for talking about her heritage. They deserve to lose the votes of Latinos and others for it. This presidential election is a choice between right-wing scare tactics-- the last resort of those fighting to return to an imaginary America of the past-- and policies that embrace and celebrate our growing Latino population as an integral part of what is the real America.
Last week, People For the American Way Foundation launched a new report, “12 Rules for Mixing Religion and Politics,” which offers guidelines for policymakers and advocates seeking to bring faith into political debates.
Joining us at a launch party for the report and a discussion of the issues it raises were Minnesota Rep. Keith Ellison, the first Muslim in Congress; Sister Simone Campbell, director of the Catholic social justice group NETWORK; and Rabbi David Saperstein, director of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism.
Here are some photos of the event from People For Foundation’s Dylan Hewitt:
Sister Simone Campbell talks with People For’s COO, Nick Ucci
People For President Michael Keegan, Rep. Keith Ellison, and Senior Fellow Peter Montgomery
Michael Keegan and Rep. Keith Ellison
Sister Simone Campbell and Rabbi David Saperstein
Rabbi David Saperstein
Rep. Keith Ellison and Minister Leslie Watson Malachi, director of People For the American Way Foundation’s African American Ministers Leadership Conference.