Sunday, April 6, 2014 | 2:01 a.m.
No matter how many times we have heard that – or I and others in the media business have said that – the truth remains that our votes do matter. But after all this time, I don’t think the majority of voters get it.
Maybe I’m wrong. Maybe voters understand what’s going on and just choose to ignore the reality of an American democracy returning to the worst of its roots, choosing instead to accept the fate of a republic for the wealthy, which, as is always the case, knows best!
OK, I am being a bit facetious, maybe dramatic, but the facts are clear. Let’s review:
The Founding Fathers determined that only men who owned land should be able to vote. Women and minorities were out.
They limited voting rights to landowners because those were the people who were vested in this new country, by virtue of the fact that they owned a piece of it. Put another way, they had money and, therefore, knew what was best. Everyone else was somehow a lesser citizen.
The Constitution the Founders gave us was brilliant. Even though there are a number of Americans – some are sitting on the Supreme Court – who believe that the Constitution says what the Constitution says and not one iota more, the fact remains that it is and must be a living document. That means it is designed to allow for the evolution of America to take place without doing damage to the republic.
Over the past 227 years, the United States has changed its ignorant ways. People who were not allowed to vote because they were slaves made it to the voting booths. Now African-Americans not only vote but they can participate fully in this great democratic experiment, just like every other citizen.
Women had to fight very hard in the early part of the last century, but they won the right to vote. Now they are just like men — except much prettier, generally smarter and in most cases, much nicer.
And that landowner thing? That went away a long time ago. Today, every citizen of the United States not only has the right but the responsibility to vote in elections at the federal, state and local level. No longer is the United States a place where only the wealthy have a say in how things are done.
Enough review. What happened?
In the past decade or so, the United States Supreme Court has made a few rulings by 5-4 votes that have fundamentally changed the way the United States does business with its citizens. The Bush v. Gore decision chose a president with a 5-4 vote.
More recently, the Supreme Court ruled that corporations could not be prohibited from spending as much money as they wanted on political messages during elections. The Citizens United case resulted in hundreds of millions of dollars being spent by a handful of billionaires in an effort to sway the voters in races all across the country. The vote in that case? 5-4.
And just the other day, the Supreme Court ruled that reasonable-sounding restrictions on the amount of money individuals could spend during a particular election cycle were, in fact, unreasonable. That will open the floodgates for the rich to have a more outsized voice when it comes to sharing the wealth in political campaigns. The vote in that case? 5-4.
What that really means is that the more money that billionaires can throw at elections — presidential and local — the greater the influence the wealthy will have over the political machinery and, hence, our government.
So, we started out with only the wealthy having a say over who gets elected and who runs the country, to a couple hundred years of positive change that allowed every citizen to take part in this democracy, to a few rulings by the narrowest of margins that seem to be putting the wealthy back in charge.
Now, that’s evolution!
What’s the difference between 2014 and 1787?
Today, every citizen has the right to vote. And today, no matter how many billions the rich pump into a particular election, if the people want otherwise, otherwise will win. If the people vote!
The value of our vote is obvious, whether for the president, the person who gets to choose who sits on the Supreme Court; or our votes for U.S. senator, the folks who have to consent to the president’s choice.
If you believe that the wealthy shouldn’t be in charge because all of the people should be, then you need to vote for a president who will select Supreme Court justices who will adhere to the principle of “one man, one vote,” and not to the principle that “all the votes go to the one man who can afford them.”
If you believe that 5-4 decisions on matters of great constitutional import sound more like political gifts to an ideology rather than an interpretation of constitutional principles, then you need to vote for a president who believes the same thing.
Some of the greatest constitutional decisions of our time were decided by 7-2, 8-1, or 9-0 votes, which spoke to the clarity of the constitutional concept involved. Rarely ever was there a 5-4 vote on something so significant to our democracy as we have seen in the past few years.
Yes votes matter. A 5-4 decision one way could easily have gone the opposite direction. A presidential appointment of a justice who believes the constitutional exclusions of voters of 1787 is better than the constitutional safeguards of all voters in 2014 depends wholly on which presidential candidate is elected.
And all of that depends on you. All the money in the world cannot overcome an American citizen going to the polls. So fear not what the Supreme Court says in its rulings today. That can all change with just one vote.
Brian Greenspun is publisher and editor of the Las Vegas Sun.