Guarding our Democracy


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U.S. Rep. Elijah Cummings

For Americans, and especially Americans of Color, this year’s elections are not an abstract debate.

They are a struggle upon which our livelihoods and lives may well depend.

During the last four years, we have seen a Tea Party Minority in the U.S. House and Senate do everything within its power to re-write America’s progressive legacy. We have witnessed vicious and often patently false attacks upon our president, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Attorney General Holder and other leaders in the Obama Administration. So, we must approach these elections with crystal clarity. President Obama – and his progressive legacy – are on the ballot this year just as surely as if the president’s name headed the list of candidates.

What would reactionary success at the polls this year mean to everyday Americans, and especially to those of us who are Americans of Color? Both conservative and progressive experts agree, the consequences could be devastating.

The progress we made during the first two years of President Obama’s presidency would be brought to a halt – or even destroyed. There would be less federal funding for education, infrastructure, and energy – and there would be serious efforts to hobble the Justice Department’s civil rights enforcement.

Almost certainly, Republicans would pass bills similar to what’s been in the budgets written by House Budget Chairman Paul Ryan over the past few years: reducing Pell grants, food stamps, and money for renewable energy. They’d target the EPA, and go after the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, the new agency created by Dodd-Frank that reins in the bad practices of banks and other lenders. And women’s right to control their own bodies would be on the block.

One commentator, Michael Tomasky, has summarized the impact of total Republican control of Congress in this way: “defunding all or significant parts of the Affordable Care Act (ObamaCare); weakening the Environmental Protection Agency; knee-capping the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, blocking President Obama’s judicial appointments.”

“If the Republicans win the Senate,” says Norman Ornstein of the conservative American Enterprise Institute, “the conclusion they’re going to draw is ‘obstruction works,’ and they’re going to double down on it. So they’ll be thinking, ‘Why go out of our way to do stuff and why compromise when in [the 2016 presidential race], we can win it all?'”

Neera Tanden, president of the Center for American Progress, agrees. “A GOP Senate takeover would be terrible for Obama’s presidency,” Tanden says. “It would spell the end of any progress on any legislative action and, with GOP control of both houses of Congress, Republicans would set up debates to help their presidential candidates in 2016. And of course, investigations of the administration would double.”

As New York Senator Chuck Schumer predicts: “It would let loose six years of right-wing frustration. The potential for gridlock is enormous.”

“Their whole effort is grounded in their contempt for government,” Ohio Sen. Sherrod Brown observes. “On Medicare, on Social Security, on consumer protection, on regulation of Wall Street . . . If you want to know what a wholly Republican Congress would do, the thing to do is to look at what they’ve done in state capitals where they can. In Ohio, they’ve gone after voters’ rights, workers’ rights, and women’s rights. They’d bring that to Washington.”

The Republicans have been extraordinarily candid about their determination to turn back history and destroy the progressive gains that we have achieved during Barack Obama’s presidency.

In 2008 and 2012, when President Obama was officially on the ballot, Americans of color registered and voted in record numbers, creating – and then defending – the congressional support for progressive change that expanded economic opportunity, supported education, vastly increased access to affordable health care, protected our natural heritage, and defended our most fundamental civil rights.

The national progress that our electoral participation created is at stake in a limited number of close Senate races this year.

It is no coincidence, therefore, that reactionary elements in states like Arkansas, Arizona, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, and North Carolina have done everything in their power to make it more difficult for Americans of color, the elderly, women, and students to vote. On a positive note, however, these are states in which African Americans and Hispanic Americans can vote in substantial numbers – as we did in 2008 and 2012. We have the power – if we exercise that power – to defend our democracy and President Obama’s progressive legacy by voting in large numbers again this year.

The United States Department of Justice and organizations like the NAACP and ACLU are challenging voter suppression laws passed by reactionary Republican elements. In states like North Carolina, the grass roots coalitions that led President Obama to national victory in 2008 and 2012 are mobilizing another historic voter turnout for this November.

They realize that President Obama’s vision of a stronger, more equitable, and more sustainable society is at stake. It is our duty – and in our self-interest – to join them and support them in defending our democracy.

U.S. Rep. Elijah Cummings represents Maryland’s 7th Congressional District in the United States House of Representatives.

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