Here Comes the Independents: Little Money, But Ascending Influence

Here come the independents.

Across the nation, voters --- like the patriot in the nearby illustration -- are expressing total exasperation with both political parties and looking independent. I wrote earlier of my own decision to run as an independent candidate for Congress in the 26th District of California. Before I knew it, there were several popular citizens running independent campaigns in adjacent districts and the respected editorial voice of the Los Angeles Times has highlighted independent thinking in making state and federal endorsements. Independent registration is up nationwide and in my district.

Why? Apparently, the people of the United States are dissenting from the low expectation view that 80 percent of life is just "showing up." In mind, one supposes, is the undeniable fact that the 113th Congress and its "do nothing" disregard of fiscal deadlines, extension of unemployment benefits, immigration reform, and more is starting to sink into the public understanding.

But it is more than near-term anxiety driving skepticism of the over-wrought excuses from the political parties when Congress after Congress incumbents have little to show for their "showing up" and in some cases, discussed later, not even attendance can be assumed by the voter.

Also starting to be grasped by California voters are three interlocking challenges facing our Nation: (1) a tax system that overtaxes the middle class and under-taxes those of extreme wealth, starving the economic system of needed purchasing power for expansion; (2) a mistaken jurisprudence that over-values corporate wealth thereby making public office the province of the rich; and (3) an abuse of the separation of powers that has ignored presidential nominations, the enforcement of existing law, and otherwise invites government by recess appointment and executive order which is not a healthy constitutional outcome.

Appealing to the common good and common sense, there are responsible ways to address each challenge. True to form, the independent mind has more to offer.

Democrats tend to favor any tax and every expansion of the public sector. This independent does not.

Republicans tend to lack empathy for those left out of the market by bad luck, accident, disability, or the costs of care as we age. This independent does not.

My perspective here is shaped by the ancient teaching that the framers took to heart: democracy depends upon a strong vibrant middle class. Aristotle tells us the rich don't participate in the community and the poor can't. For this reason, while every tax system has to reward ingenuity and hard work; tax systems also need to reset from time to time or they become either too indulgent of the wealthy or for that matter the poor -- and no surprise, it is far more the former than the latter.

Today, the top 1 percent are avoiding their fair share of taxes with large disproportionate bonuses in the form of stock options and other equity positions that are not taxed even as they have been allocated and they represent higher prices for consumers, and only by contortionist reasoning, constitute a negative drag on economic growth. See on this score the work of Thomas Picketty illustrating how the excess of return over growth exerts increasing downward pressure on middle and working class citizens. This money becomes an opportunity for speculation that via hedge funds and the like merely reallocate funds at the top; they do not supply the purchasing power to the broad middle class needed for consumption that expands job opportunities.

Please note: The top 1 percent are escaping proportionate taxation on sums in excess of tens of millions (sometimes multiples of billions of dollars per year. Much of this is inherited wealth, and almost all of it adds little in the way of new jobs or expanded markets. Indeed, it is money that has no patriotic soul as it goes to whatever international venue supplies the highest dividend on this stored, un-invested wealth.

Please note as well: We are not talking about increasing the corporate tax which causes firms to migrate abroad; indeed, the reform most favored by economists would reduce the US corporate rate thereby raising share value and attracting foreign business here. To compensate, in part, taxes would be raised on the wealth accumulations of the top1% CEOs and other coupon clipping aristocracy who today live at unimaginable "guilded age" levels of wealth.

All this wealth talk by the way should not mislead you into thinking that wealth and the material things bought with it are most important. Far from it; what is important is the dignity of work and a life reasonably well-lived in friendship and service of one's neighbors. A fair, progressive tax system is the means to that end.

One of my Republican competitors tries to confuse matters by complaining that inquiry into the failure of the extremely wealthy to contribute proportionately is a matter of envy, it is not envy at all, it is citizenship. It is one thing to try minimize one's taxes within a fairly constructed system; it is another thing to try and defeat a roulette wheel that has been permanently structured to benefit the friends of the house.

Notwithstanding my upbringing as a Kennedy Democrat, I am a considerable admirer of Ronald Reagan -- not for his all too genial acceptance of the economic rationalizations of the top 1% of his age, but of his healthy love of the American way of life -- especially, it's midwestern Gipperisms associated with the University of Notre Dame and all the gathered goodness that institution instills in its graduates and even long-time faculty, like myself. I pride myself on having been of service to President Reagan from 1985 until 1989 when he left the presidency. Yet, I've never quite understood the reasoning of the boss or his advisors who accepted trickle down as the amount of benefits that hard-working middle-class or working-class families are entitled to. The words "Trickle down" themselves are far too little to sustain the purchasing power needed to inspire expansion of businesses, new jobs and economic growth. The Reagan I knew and respected would have understood this.

The second unhealthy effect of wealth on our political system. relates to the extreme cost of running for political office. As a candidate, I am refusing the unlimited corporate monies the Court has mistakenly allowed. Speech, especially political speech, is highly valued in our Nation. It should be. If a law tries to censor speech, our Constitution rightly rejects it. But the judges badly erred when they found an analogy between speech and money. Doing that, precludes meaningful limits on contributions and spending in political campaigns and opens the doors wide to the appearance and reality of corporate lobbyists controlling the political process. We cannot afford to have high office be the province of the affluent alone. Money is not speech; corporations are not persons with First Amendment rights. We know what unlimited spending brings; the reality and appearance of favoritism. The obscene levels of multi-million dollar campaign spending and the perceived access it insures demeans the three words that Ronald Reagan told us were the most important in the constitution, words that I believe President Barack Obama finds to be the most important as well, namely, "we the people."

Thirdly, many people have observed that our Congress has failed repeatedly to perform. Last Congress was a true do-nothing Congress. It had fewer pieces of legislation than almost any Congress since the 1950s. Now, I don't believe in legislation for the sake of legislation. Indeed, I think the great philosopher Montesquieu was right to caution against a full-time congress -- such likely then be up to nothing but mischief.

It may have been unwise to disregard Montesquieu, but in truth, we keep our liberty as a nation "planted thick with laws," as Saint Thomas More is recalled as having said, and law and regulation is essential to ensure that the community is capable of addressing threats from exterior sources and peaceably resolving internal dispute as well.

In any event, we are rule of law and laws need to be enforced evenhandedly. But it cannot be, if the Congress ignores the president's nominations of the heads of departments to, for example, bring labor peace by the administration of the labor laws; or sustain the housing market by adjusting monetary conditions to bring mortgage money to where it is most in need.

I was disappointed that Congresswoman Brownley chose to not join the conversation with the community in discussion forum arranged by the media and local university. Here's a case where more speech clearly was warranted and it was truly unfortunate for all of us, her neighbors and constituents, to be deprived of the benefit of her wisdom and the benefit of an opportunity of accountability.

When it is mentioned that Ms. Brownley declined to join in the discussion, it is commonplace for it to be suggested cynically that Julia Brownley has pre-judged those like myself who seek to serve for the next two years to be without merit and thus not worthy of her time. Others bluntly assert that there was no percentage in it for her because she should just let the Republicans and that independent fellow --me -- fight among ourelves. I don't know Julia Brownley. But people I respect who do know us both assure me that she would never have this unkind or disregarding attitude.

That is good to know, but you can see the concern and the lost opportunity. Jeff Gorrel, another Republican in the race, called Ms. Brownley's refusal to come "arrogant." It was clear our hosts -- the local press and the faculty of the university hosting the event were very disappointed, too.

To me, the chosen absence of the incumbent I will just observe that the fact that these partisan considerations are being discussed at all is an example of the erosion of public support for the Constitution and the Republic for which it stands. The calculus of thinking about not participating in an important local forum solely in terms of whether it gives partisan advantage or makes partisan sense, illustrates exactly why George Washington disliked political parties and thought them to be inimical to the well-being of democracy. Said Washington: they bring merely the spirit of revenge to the table, not the spirit of harmony.

Being an independent allows me to set all this partisan division and speculation aside. With the type of understanding and experience that I have been fortunate to have been given as chief constitutional lawyer to President Reagan and an ambassador appointed by President Obama who effectively used international law to shut down the trading routes used by Iranian shipments, I will be going to Washington as your representative with no commitments other than the clear reflection of our local needs and capabilities in relationship to our national interest and the common good. No other candidate in this race has this experience or can honestly make that pledge.

It was Woody Allen who said 80 percent of life is just showing up. That percentage and meager expectation may be good comedy, and the observation may uncomfortably apply to the Democrat incumbent in my district or the Republican in yours, but for reasons elaborated at, this independent intends not to just show up, but to raise up our abilities in service to others.

Declare your independence from unworkable and corrosive partisanship so that we truly remain, as President Reagan liked to say often, "That shining city on the hill."

If we make history as independents, we can and we will.