Lever Time Premium - The Battle To End Dark Money (w/ Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse)
8:33PM Nov 1, 2022
Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse
Hello everyone and welcome to lever time the flagship podcast from the lever, an independent investigative news outlet. I'm your host, David Sirota on today's show, we're going to be talking about some of the most important, yet least talked about elections coming up in next week's midterms. The races for Secretary of State, you may not know what that is. I'll give you a summary. It's the elected office that oversees elections in each state and has the power to potentially overturn election results. If one of those people happen to be a pro Donald Trump election denier for that conversation, I'm going to be speaking with the chair of the Democratic secretaries of state association to help break it all down. Then, for our big interview, I'll be speaking with Senator Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island, about his new must read book called this scheme, how the right wing used dark money to capture the Supreme Court. We here at the lever had been reporting on dark money in politics for years. And Senator Whitehouse is one of the few people in Congress who takes the issue as seriously as we do. We had a great conversation about what comes next in the fight against dark money. This week, our paid subscribers will also get a bonus segment. another installment of pod is not saving America. This past week, producer Frank has subjected himself to the pod bros. recent interview with former President Barack Obama about his advice for Democrats. Let's just say it wasn't the most helpful advice. If you want access to overtime premium, you can head over to lever news.com To become a supporting subscriber giving you access to all of our premium content. And you'll be directly supporting the investigative journalism that we do here at the lever. Speaking of which, if you're looking for other ways to support our work, share our reporting with your friends and family leave this podcast a rating and a review on your podcast player. The only way that independent media grows is by word of mouth, and we need all the help we can get to combat the inane bullshit. That is corporate media. A quick housekeeping note because of next week's midterm elections lever time will be released on Thursday instead of Wednesday. And that will be our election results coverage with the levers reporters and a special guest. As always, I'm joined by producer Frank What's up Frank?
Not much David. I'm feeling tingly today. Last night I saw the movie the triangle of sadness. Have you heard of this at all?
I have not It sounds pretty sad.
It's actually it's not very sad. It's like a very dark very hilarious in your face satire of classism set on a luxury yacht in like the South Pacific
oh my god That sounds amazing. I last night watched the first episode of the of the new season of white lotus Oh yeah, about kind of class in America and kind of making fun of it. It's not exactly satirical it's kind of just biting Yes. I love that kind of stuff. Yeah,
this I highly highly recommend and triangle of sadness to me but like my partner and I saw it we were like blown away by like just how Fila how it just like completely absurd, but like the messaging and the themes were so cutting. It was like it was like, honestly a brilliant film.
I'm marking it down on my list I'm feeling this week. I'm feeling okay, we're one to one as we record this, we're Phillies one Astros one. So I'm very nervous about what's going to happen in the World Series. Hopefully by the time this podcast comes out, it will be Phillies up a game or two. But I've been my son and I have been enjoying it. It's been a really great bonding experience. I'm also actually feeling pretty good about some other election results in the world. I know, anxious about the midterms coming up here in the United States. But arguably the most important election in the entire world took place over the last day or two here. Depending on when you're listening to this. It was the election. In Brazil this past Sunday, Brazil's former President Luiz Inacio Lula de Silva, better known as Lula won that country's presidential election defeating the far right incumbent higher Bolsonaro with 100% of the vote counted Lula one 50.9% of the electorate to Bolsonaro is 49.1% of the electorate still still pretty close race? Yeah, I've worked on campaigns man, that is a that is a really, really close election. But the reason I say it is such an important election, for those who are living under a rock or living in a cave, the Earth's life support system, the climate, the ecological life support system is much of it is in Brazil in the Amazon. So who wins and who doesn't win in a race like that is basically it's a race for for who gets to govern the life support system that we are all relying on. If you I'm assuming you are a person who breathes air, who needs a livable climate, Lula, a former factory worker who had become Brazil's first working class president, originally elected 20 years ago, as of the time of this recording on Monday, October 31, Bolsonaro, has yet to concede, and he has previously suggested he might not accept defeat. But again, the implications for the future of Brazil in this election are massive. Most importantly, again, when it comes to climate policy, and again, that that has implications for us all everybody living on Earth. During Lula's first term in office from 2003 to 2006. Amazon deforestation decreased by more than 43%. During his second term, it dropped by about 52.3%. That's according to data from map biomass under Bolsonaro, who pushed Amazon development as one of his key policies. Deforestation rose by 72%. Now, British are frank, I think a lot of people think deforestation, they think it's some sort of faraway thing. I always think about it as, again, we're all on a spaceship, hurtling through the dark, vast vacuum of space. And Brazil, controls a big portion of the room on the spaceship, which houses the life support system. So I really can't stress enough how important an election like this is, do you think people rank and file people in the United States rank and file people around the world? People who kind of don't really pay that much attention? Do you think lots of people know how important erase an election like that was?
Oh, no, absolutely not. Was this a trick question? Or this was like a rhetorical question. No, I, I think most people in the US don't care about US elections. So like, I mean, that's a little bit cynical, but
am I overstating the case that it's like the most important election on the planet?
No, you're not overstating it. But the quick your question was specifically, like, do you think regular rank and file people care about this? No, probably not. But I agree with you that the the actual implications of this are huge, and we should totally be celebrating this.
That's a good segue, when we're talking about elections that maybe people don't appreciate the importance of that's a good segue to our first discussion of first interview here. We're going to be talking again about the midterm elections here. Specifically, the statewide races for secretary of state that's another example of a set of elections that are hugely important, but that I think a lot of people don't really know much about or really pay much attention to, historically, the secretary of state offices across the country, we're not talking about US Secretary of State, we're talking about Secretary of State of individual states. These are elections that don't get a lot of national attention. Because the typical responsibilities of a Secretary of State as a like a lot of paperwork, you're managing the state's business services, licensing, archives registries. It's like all the paperwork bullshit I hate doing at the lever that I do too much of at the lever to on the sort of back end of our operation. And
please, no one ever nominate David to become a Secretary of State please, for the love of God. I'm
good at the I am good at the paperwork. I mean, I am good at it, although it drives you to be
good at it. It's a question of sanity. sanity. Exactly. True.
That's fair. But but here's the thing. Most importantly, secretaries of state oversee state's elections, sometimes including the certification of election results. Now I can hear listeners putting together why this becomes important. Now that we live in the age of the Republican Party's full blown election denialism. The races for Secretary of State have become infinitely more important. In 2020, we saw the Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, catapulted to national notoriety when he decided to not overturn Georgia's election results when he was being pressured by Donald Trump. Now, it's 2022. And there are several Republican election deniers running for Secretary of State in swing states across the country. A trend that does not bode well for the future of American democracy. To help explain the ins and outs of these races, why they're so important. I'm now going to be joined by Janet Griswold. Jenna Griswold is the Secretary of State of Colorado. She was elected statewide here in Colorado. Otto. She is also the chair of the Democratic Secretaries of State Association, which is the organization dedicated to getting Democrats elected in those offices and to defeat Republican election deniers. Hey, Jenna, how you doing?
Great. Thanks for having me
on. Okay, so you're the Secretary of State for Colorado, before we get into why Colorado's election system is kind of important in the nation, and why your race you're running for reelection now is is so important because of that. Let's just start out with for those listeners who don't exactly know, what a Secretary of State does, let's start there. What is the Secretary of State? What is the job? Why should people care about secretary of state races when they go to vote this year?
That's a great place to start. So Secretary of State and Colorado is one of the four statewide constitutional office holders of executive office. And the Secretary of State of receives a couple of different things, money and politics, making sure that lobbyists are disclosed, disclosing the business registry rappeling. Bingo charities, I oversee the state seal. I always used to joke my first campaign that I was going to bring together a SEAL team. But no one thought that joke was funny. So I have to stop. But the most important thing is a slow eye roll clap. I stand by my SEAL Team idea. But most importantly, is I'm the chief election Officer for the State of Colorado. So I oversee the elections, when
some people hear that certainly some people on the right and we'll get into that they get you know, freaked out, what does it mean, oversee the election, like you can change the election, you can meddle with the election, right? Like what does oversee the election mean?
Yeah, none of the things that you just said. It means making sure that Coloradans can cast a ballot in compliance with state and federal rule, and law. So it's oversight of the county clerk supporting them, and taking action when necessary. I also see my job as being proactive. So when we see emerging threats or risks to our election infrastructure, or voters, making sure that we have a proactive response, and that's what I've largely done as Secretary of State.
So you are also chair of the Democratic association of secretaries of state. This year, there has been a lot more interest in secretary of state races all across the country. And I guess for those who are living in a cave, or living under a rock and don't don't know why it's because the Republican Party has been not just trying to win elections, but trying to not allow others to win elections, even if they actually win. And by that, I mean, they're trying to, I think kind of explicitly say that they will not accept election results that they don't want. That's a, we've gotten into an era in which running hard at your opponent to try to win an election used to be the tactics, the sort of hardcore taxes of the 90s 2000s, you know, harsher campaigns. Now, it seems like the Republicans have turned turn from I'm just going to try to defeat my opponent into I'm I'm going to try to potentially defeat the election system. Do you think that's a fair analysis that the challenging of election results or the Accepting of the election results has now become a terrain that has become part of the political battle? And is that a change from what had been the case, you know, 510 15 years ago?
So I partially agree with you and partially disagree. In the part where I disagree is I don't think it's a mainstream Republican thought. I do think that there's a group of extremists who are running as Republicans trying to destabilize American elections. So election deniers are running for Secretary of State in Nevada, Arizona, Michigan, Minnesota, New Mexico. These are folks who do not believe in free and fair elections, and they should not be the people overseeing the nation's free and fair elections. And I'll tell you, one of the things that really gives me hope that I hope I hope we can get into is just seeing in in Colorado Republican stand up for our election system. But with that said, we are seeing it as part of the coordinated attack on democracy, their refusal to accept election results unless the candidates win. We saw that in Colorado, we went into the first statewide recount and actually 20 years when roe county clerk Tina Peters, who faces various counts of indictment for compromising her own voting equipment. She was in the Republican primary for Secretary of State and refused to accept the by election results, so we went into a recount it proved again, the election results were accurate. And then we defended and defeated six lawsuits and appeals based on conspiracies. So yes, that's an emerging trend. And it's actually very dangerous, I think, to the nation.
And I wonder if you agree with this, just taking the long view here. It's my belief. And you can tell me if you disagree, it's my belief that this, this trend started in the 2000 election, when it seemed that who wins or who loses elections and the Supreme Court intervenes to stop the counting of votes, started the process of normalizing the idea, not not that you only fight to win an election, but that now it is a seemingly more normalized thing for and I wouldn't say it's Republicans, for Republicans to fight to prevent the election infrastructure from operating accurately and fairly, I traced it back to 2000. Where do you trace this trend back to? Where were the turning points? And I guess then the other question is like, what can turn it back? Is that is that is the so called train running off the tracks, and there's no way to put it back on the tracks.
Wow, well, we need to get into historian onto this podcast with us. But what what I would say is in a very important inflection point, of course, is the first campaign of Donald Trump his subsequent subsequent win, and that the fact that he tried to steal the American presidency in 2020. And we can go into specifics, but ultimately, the failed stealing of the American presidency has not stopped. It has continued into 2021. It has continued into 2022. And in terms of is the train already barreling down the line? Yeah, I don't think it is, I do think that these midterm elections are, are a potential turning point for the country, over 60% of American voters will have an election denier on their ballot. These are folks who are looking to destabilize American elections with the intent of destabilizing the nation. We have the ability to reject this extremism at the ballot box on November 8. And that's why I go back to your other point, like who is behind all of this attempts to destabilize. And again, I think this country has this great opportunity on November eighth to come together across political party, that Republicans, Democrats and unaffiliated to reject extremism. So I don't see what's happening across the nation as Republicans versus Democrats. I see it as extremists versus the American people. And the American people have this great opportunity to reaffirm ourselves to our fundamental values and fundamental freedoms on November 8,
everything you just said, I think is true. This is empirical data about election deniers who are on the ballot. And yet, according to the recent New York Times poll, only 7% of all registered voters see the threat to democracy as the most important issue during this year's election. Relatedly Democrats are outspending Republicans 57 to one by one count on TV ads for their secretary of state candidates. Are you troubled at all? Or or what is the explanation for the fact that yes, I think it's very clear that basic democracy is facing a real threat. And yet, the empirical data that we're seeing, even amid ads, spotlighting that threat, it doesn't necessarily seem at least in polls, that the issue is as salient as it should be.
I do think democracy is a top issue on Americans minds, and I'm not familiar with the exact poll you're talking about. But a recent ABC NBC poll showed democracy was one of the top issues. So I do think Americans are very concerned. But people can have multiple concerns. You know, look, I grew up in a cabin with an outhouse outside on food stamps. You look at the price of groceries right now, you look at the cost of living Americans can have multiple concerns at once. You can be concerned about, you know, just the bottom line of paying rent and buying groceries. While you can be concerned about the fact that extremists are taking away women's ability to decide when to have a family who to have a family with while you're concerned about democracy. So I actually think you're seeing the unprecedented support of great nominees for Secretary of State just because the name You should understand that that we're in this really troubling times. And you see through grassroots support, just a groundswell for nominees, including here in the state of Colorado, we've had, gosh, a ton of support a ton of grassroots support. But also more than that, David, you know, I travel the state on a continual basis. And no matter where I'm at, whether it's Montrose in the western slope, Pueblo, Denver, or Boulder, people are really showing up. And you can see in their eyes that the concern for the future of the country. So again, I think we are in troubled times, and we're not gonna beat every single election denier running across the nation, that's very unlikely to happen. But I do think we're going to win enough races to reject the extremism to disincentivize, at least among some to use it as a political tool. And we'll continue to be able to continue to, we'll be able to be at a point to continue to fight for democracy. But that means having a measure of success in on November 8,
let me ask you about your race, because it's a very interesting race in the sense that that the Republican primary produced a so called moderate, which was kind of surprising. Colorado, Republican primaries in the past have for a long time now have been producing very, not so called moderate candidates. The opponent is a woman named Pam Anderson. And to be clear, it did not produce more extremist candidates. My question is, is there's one argument that would say, the Republican Party, let's say, of Colorado, producing a moderate candidate, a more moderate candidate, is a good thing that we need, that it would be good to have a Republican non election denier as a an elected Secretary of State, and I'm not asking you to argue against your own candidacy. But there's one argument of say having a Republican Secretary of State who's a non election denier would be good, because that would be a pushback inside the Republican Party. Or there's an argument that somebody's presenting themselves as a moderate Republican getting elected, that once they get to an office, they there will be a kind of they will be sucked in by the National Republican Party and the incentive structure it has set up for to to promote and embrace election deniers and that that person would change from being a moderate. Where do you come down on that argument?
First off, I think my record of being a champion for voting rights and increasing asked access for Colorado and intervening in counties led by Republican county clerks and democratic county clerks is a pretty good record to have, you know, in 2019, I lead the largest democracy reform package in the nation. We've increased dropboxes by 65%, added more in person voting, setup automatic voter registration, which has registered at 350,000 Republican Democrats and unaffiliated voters, and I've acted decisively to safeguard our elections. But I do think there's some big differences between my opponent and me, but But to start with some agreement, she's not an election denier. I think that's good for the state. I think it's good for the nation. We should not have election deniers running to be chief election officers period. It is not good. She is not an election denier. She believes Joe Biden was duly elected. She believes our elections are safe and secure. We agree on that. But there are some pretty big differences. I'm the only candidate in this race who has overseen statewide elections, six at this point, several with record breaking turnout. Also, my opponent, you know, says she does not support the big lie. But campaigns with big lie candidates like Eric Edlund running for Congress, or Danny Moore, she has refused to say that she'll stop campaigning with them. At one point she said she supported the entire ticket. Eric Adland was there. And to tell you, David, that's troubling to me.
Right, that speaks to the that speaks to the to the to the Republican Party gravitational pull, that even if you are a quote, unquote, more moderate person, you're going to be in the orbit of election deniers, right?
Yes. And I would say, you know, it's the reason it is, I think so concerning is that the big lie is why Tina Peters compromised her own voting equipment. It's why the Chafee county clerk works behind bulletproof glass. The Big Lie is why someone was just sentenced to 18 months in prison for threatening my life is having real effects on election workers or election infrastructure and on voters. So to be a candidate for Secretary of State, I think it's an appropriate she also by the way, when I was running that big 2019 Bill to increase access. Emily Serota, by the way, was a huge champion in supporting it and getting it through. Go Emily, go Emily. My opponent did not support it. She actually testified against that Bill and tried to kill it. So was just different visions for the state. But you know, ultimately again, I'm glad she's not a gem or shot. I'm glad she's not the Republican nominee of Michigan who says yoga is satanic. I'm glad she's not the Republican nominee and Arizona who's a big line nominee. So I think it's good for democracy in the nation to have Republican nominees for this office who are you know, convinced that elections do work
in Colorado has been a leader in the vote by mail system. I mentioned that I've previewed that at the top of this interview, a Colorado has a well functioning vote by mail system. Some other states have have adopted similar systems, but then seen Republicans tried to repeal them. I mean, there's that incredible story where the Republicans actually passed vote by mail in Pennsylvania. Then the Democrats won the state and the Republicans tried to essentially limit or even in some cases rescind parts of their vote by mail system because they didn't like the results. There's been a push by some Republican lawmakers here in Colorado to end the hour long standing vote by mail system. Do you foresee ending vote by mail as the next voting rights battle on the national level from Republicans?
That's a really good question. We have seen legislation which our legislature and I have stopped to rollback voting rights and voting access in the state of Colorado. It is one of the what do you call it, not the proposals, but one of the policies, the propositions of the Colorado Republican Party to undo vote by mail as we know it in the state of Colorado. But with that said, I'm very confident we're going to stop any scaling back of vote by mail here. But it has been a subject of some of the voter suppression laws passed across the nation across the nation. 34 new laws to suppress the vote or subvert elections have been passed, just last year over 500 had been introduced in the recent years. And I think it's really important to talk about what's happening. Because ultimately, you look at all the data, you look at the pre 2020 policymaking vote by mail doesn't help one party over the other. It just helps voters. It's one of the reasons that we had record turnout in 2020, in the midst of a global pandemic, not only among Democratic voters across the nation, but also among Republicans. In all the data shows that it doesn't help one party over the other. And I wish we were in a place where facts and policy was was produced to actually help people based on reason, not conspiracies, because a lot of the rollback we see is a direct result of the big lie and disinformation about our nation's elections.
One last question for you. This popped up the Republican State Leadership Committee, which is the campaign arm of the Republican Party for state secretary of state races, yeah, it's not been spending money on the election denying candidates as far as I can tell, a committee spokesperson said quote, we simply cannot match what Democrats are spending on these races, and we need to prioritize protecting our incumbents. I'm wondering why you think that is? Is it really that they don't have the resources? Or is this the leadership of the Republican Party, if not having the slightest bit of ethical scruples than being a little bit nervous about getting too close to extremists?
You know, David, I really can't say, I don't know where they've been spending or what they've been spending on. I do know they have attack ads up in the state of Colorado, or they work on announced some money coming into the state of Colorado. But I'm just honestly not sure. What I can say is that, gosh, that this nation, we need to come together and reject this extremism. And I think very luckily, what I'm seeing on the campaign trail is support from Democrats support from unaffiliated and support from many Republicans who just believe that Colorado voters and American voters should be able to choose their elected officials and safe and secure elections. That's why I'm running for re election. Because I think the foundations of this country where everyday people choose elected officials who then go fight for them. And in our you know, fight for the policies that we care about is we should remain dedicated to
Jenna Griswold is the democratic Secretary of State of Colorado. She's running for re election right now. She is also the head of the Democratic association of secretaries of state. You can find her website Jenna for Colorado, and you can find her on Twitter. What's your Twitter account?
Jennifer's vault? Nice and simple. Instagram too. And David, I've been teaching myself how to do Instagram reels and stories. So lots of good content.
I gotta try that. I have not. I have not gotten into that but you are. You're urging me to do that. I will try that. Good luck to you. On the campaign trail, Jenna,
thank you. Thank you so much.
We're going to take a quick break, but we'll be right back with my interview with US Senator Sheldon Whitehouse about dark money. Welcome back to lever time for our big interview. Today, we're going to be sharing my conversation with US Senator Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island of everyone in Congress, Senator Whitehouse is one of the few who has been steadily consistently beating the drum about the flood of dark money that has subverted the American political system. It's a topic that we cover here, week in week out at the lever. Senator Whitehouse is also one of the few elected Democrats who's been critical of the Democratic Party writ large. And its decades long inaction on the issue of dark money, which has allowed Republicans and right wing business interests to chip away at America's campaign finance laws and to effectively legalized corruption. Now, Senator Whitehouse has a new book out, it's called the scheme, how the right wing used dark money to capture the Supreme Court, the levers, Andrew Perez, and I spoke with Senator Whitehouse, about that new book, we also talked about the fate of the DISCLOSE Act, which is the legislation that he's spearheading to expose dark money. And we talked about what comes next in the fight against all of this corruption. Senator Whitehouse thanks for being here. Okay. Tell us about the scheme. How did conservatives use dark money to capture the courts? And I should ask how do you define the term dark money.
So dark money is money that is spent for purposes of political influence, but spent anonymously, so that citizens are denied the fundamental awareness of who it is that it's trying to influence their democracy. And the role of dark money in capturing the court was pretty profound. The vehicle that was used to select justices who would do the bidding of the big donors, was the Federalist Society. And at the time that the Federalist Society was providing the venue for the big donors to do their judge picking. It was also receiving enormous multimillion dollar anonymous contributions. And if you walked out the front door of the Federalist Society and turned down the hallway in the same building on the same floor, you'd come to the Judicial Crisis Network, so called the fictitious name of another Leonard Leo organization. And they ran huge dark money expenditures into TV campaigns, first against garland and then for Gorsuch for Kavanaugh, and for beret taking in checks as big as 1517 20 plus million dollars, while hiding the identities of the donors who are behind it all. Arguably one person contributed as much as $70 million to pick who wouldn't be on the Supreme Court and we don't know who they are or business, Sam before the court.
Thank you, Senator. Okay, so let's I guess we should talk about Leonard Leo, then. And, you know, so we recently reported in collaboration with ProPublica, on how Leo is the beneficiary of this new $1.6 billion donation from Barry side who, you know, effectively donated his surge protector company to, to Leo in converted into a political advocacy, slush fund of sorts. You know, they basically there was there was 400 million in taxes that were effectively avoided on the sale, there were no taxes on the sale, that became a public subsidy for Leo. So can we talk about this case? Like, is this going to be the new normal? Is anyone going to do anything about it?
It's hard to see what anybody will do about it. The logical people to do something about it would be the Internal Revenue Service. Because the use of 501 C threes and 501 C fours is theoretically policed by the IRS under the oversight of the Treasury Department. In fact, they've stopped policing this because they were so terrorized. Back during the Obama administration. When Republicans tried to impeach the IRS commissioner, sent the junior IRS official who had been in charge of the 501 C three is the 501 C fours, sent a referral to the Department of Justice to prosecutor as a criminal and just turned right wing media full on Last with all sorts of, you know, nonsense about who this was targeting, you know, the right wing and conservatives, which a later inspector general report completely debunked. But you know how later works in the press world, nobody noticed. And the original storyline, the fake narrative has prevailed. So the IRS is in basically a fetal position on this, and has basically thrown in the towel on enforcing its own rules and laws, which is really regrettable. But there's also a lot of blame in the Obama administration for not sticking up for their own Commissioner, they actually bought into the right wing narrative, and threw the IRS under the bus rather than explaining what was going on here to the American public and making it a teachable moment. And with that, 501 c 3501 c four, political influence exploded.
Let's let's turn back to the courts for a second, just generally, because I think the courts have gone. There's an understanding and then there's a kind of a lack of understanding. And I want to I want to first talk about President Obama, he appointed 334 judges in eight years, Trump appoints 245 judges in just four years, Republicans flipped the Supreme Court built their supermajority, first by denying a vote on garland. Ruth Bader Ginsburg chooses not to retire under Obama, and she passed away in September of 2020. There's been an asymmetry, I think, in how the parties have approached the courts. Would you say that's right. Do you think Democratic Party could do anything differently?
Absolutely. Well, looking back particularly, there's a lot we could have done differently. First of all, the right wing, has been angry about the court for a long time, impeach Earl Warren was right wing John Bircher slogan, you know, 3040 years ago. So they've been excited about the court ever since Brown versus Board of Education. When there was supposed to be that huge, you know, popular opposition to it. Across the South. Roe versus Wade Miranda versus Arizona, there are all sorts of cases that were turned into cultural touchpoints. That annoyed the right wing. So they've been interested in judges for a long, long time. And we weren't so there was asymmetry there. The second thing is that many, many years ago, the US Chamber of Commerce, commissioned a report to remedy the failing political force of the corporate sector. And one of the recommendations in that memo was that they needed to control the court because the court controls so much of America's social and economic policy. So both at the sort of street and base level of people who are furious about having, you know, desegregation and so forth, and up in the corporate sweeps, where they were afraid of what was going on in the 60s and the 70s, there was this convergence of interest in making sure that they had a court that would rule their way. And we slept through most of that for decades, and have done a lousy job, pretty much constantly. It's really only Dobbs, that has seriously awakened people that what's going on Citizens United had a pretty big effect. But McDonald's has been the real wake up call for us 40 years too late.
Well, so on that topic, you know, obviously this year, Republicans kind of use the Supreme Court to realize their, you know, long term goal to overturn federal protections for abortion rights. On the other hand, and this is something you write about, we write about it a lot to the Supreme Court is a corporate Star Chamber, right? Like its sides with the US Chamber of Commerce 70% of the time now, so I guess, you know, what, what do you think people should, should be thinking about this court? Or how they should be thinking about it? And do you think that people understand kind of the how the court, you know, does so much work on business issues and sides with big business groups? So often, I mean,
we can get into how they side with big business further on in the conversation, if you like, because there are plenty of avenues through which they do the bidding of big corporate interest, particularly big, regulated and polluting corporate interests, to be specific, but the method of all of this has really been to select just justices who would do, you know, the corporate bidding, and it began way back with that memo. The court had never really created a role for corporations in politics. The guy who wrote the memo became Justice Powell, about four months later, memo not disclosed to the Senate at the time, by the way. So he pushed his big role for corporations and in politics, he opened up the doorway for corporations to participate directly in American elections. And he did it over years. He did it first with the Massachusetts banking decision and then No onward, through other cases. And the effect has been really quite profound, I think, the two concepts people need to bear in mind. One is regulatory capture for agency capture, which we think of as something that, you know, happened with crooked railroad commissions in the 19th century that were run by the railroad barons. That's what this Court is. It's a captured entity, not a conservative one or any of that. And you need to have that history of what is called regulatory capture or agency capture in mind in order to understand the behavior of this court. And the second thing you need to have in mind is covert operations. You know, intelligence services run pretty aggressive and pretty comprehensive covert operations in other countries. And what the fossil fuel industry primarily did was they ran a covert operation in clandestine fashion in and against our own country, in order to make sure that they could control the court and have decisions go their way that they could never get Congress to deliver for them ever, ever. So those are the two things I think people need to bear in mind covert operations applied in country as opposed to overseas, and by billionaires instead of by the government and capture a controlled court that does more or less what it's told.
So just to follow on to that on business issues. I want to ask kind of an overview question here where you think the court is most dangerous, most acutely changing the law on business issues for people who don't know how business influences the court also, tell us a little bit about how that works, not just through the appointment of judges, but these things called amicus briefs, the Republican attorneys general sets comes with precedent setting cases, they kind of serve them up to the justice just talk about where people should be most concerned specifically on issues and how that influence works. If
the court is most dangerous in those areas where business influence collides with democracy. And their efforts to disable basic tenets of democracy to advance business interests, has been really profound. The most powerful as you know, money is the mother's milk of politics. So letting unlimited business interest money flow was a very big deal, and also blinding citizens to who was spending the money and allowing those unlimited business interest funds to become Unlimited, anonymous. business interest funds has been a complete upheaval in our politics. It's created things like super PACs that didn't even use to exist the way we see our politics. Now, somebody who's come of age in the last decade, would never recognize democracy that was beforehand because it's been so corrupted by dark money. But then you can also throw in the attack on the Voting Rights Act, disabling its key provisions, the support for partisan gerrymandering, and the sneaky creation of so called First Amendment rights for corporate fictions. So that they can push a new theory that dark money actually enjoys constitutional protection. So that turns democracy on its head. It's not We the people anymore, it's we you have the big bucks, and we have the big we you have the big bucks and want to secretly spend big bucks. And if you don't think that's a real problem, note that it has just been reported that in this election, four Republican senators alone, the dark money has hit $1 billion. You don't spend a billion dollars unless you expect a big payback. So you know who those Republican senators are going to be working for? Nevermind who voted for them. So your book
includes a really really, really remarkable footnote. And just as an aside, having written three books myself, I think you almost need to write a separate book about this and not have it just be a footnote. And I want everyone to hear this because it is really fantastic to hear this kind of frankness. You write while the while the while the focus of this book is the Republican back dark money scheme that's captured the court a moment of reflection and confession on our side is in order. On a great many occasions, Democrats at many levels failed to fight back or give public warning as the scheme progressed. It was worse than appeasement. It was acceptance. You know what the Democrats walked away from the climate fight in the Obama years, as well as the fight during the Tea Party years over whether the IRS as you said should scrutinize political activity you write quote for years we didn't force a vote On the DISCLOSE Act, that's the legislation to force disclosure of dark money. You say for years, we let the donor friendly five to four partisan Supreme Court decisions pile up they'd grown to 73. By the time anyone blew the whistle, individual bad decisions that we should have decried often went totally unremarked. In confirmation hearings, we concern ourselves more with nominees stances on quote, the issues than on the machinery that put them there. We were sleeping centuries. Talk about what in an alternate reality Democrats could have done differently. And what you think the lessons from what you just talked about in that footnote, what they can do differently moving forward?
Yeah, I think almost every American is pretty anxious about the state of our country right now. Particularly the political state of our country right now. And I think a lot of the upheaval and upset that we're seeing, come comes from frustration, that American democracy is not working for regular people the way it ought to, if you're poor, if you're rural. There, you know, lots of reasons for you to look around and say, nobody's helping me. Nobody cares about what I have to say. And when you look at the academic studies, they confirm that in fact, there's zero statistical correlation between what the public wants and what Congress does. There's strong statistical correlation between what Congress does and what the big money spenders want. And so you have this underlying anger and anxiety that I think is largely driven by all of this dark money, not the dark money itself, but the influence that it creates the ability to stop things that the public wants the ability to control things from behind the scenes and be the secret string polar. And people may not know exactly how it's happening. But I think they've got a very deep sense that something has gone awry. And so I very strongly believe that getting rid of this dark money will turn a corner and help us bring the temperature down in our country and find common cause with Republicans and Democrats across the aisle more easily, because there isn't this third secret clandestine influence pulling everybody's strings on the Republican side. So to me, that is why dark money matters because it is corrosive to and corrupting of democracy. And weirdly enough, actually, in the Citizens United decision by eight to one, all of the Justice agreed, dark money is corrupting. So, yeah, and we're seeing it in happening in real life. And we have not blown the whistle on that. That's where the Democrat failure has been, in fact, in the first year, I think was the first year of the Biden administration, we check the transcripts of for the President, and for the Vice President to see how often they talked about dark money. Each of them use the phrase just once. And it was buried in a long sentence having to do with HR one, it was a throwaway line. In essence, I think we could have come in under the Biden administration, instead, we know you're pissed, we know why you're pissed, we're going to clean up the mess that is causing you to be pissed off. We're here with our brooms, and our scrub brushes. And we're going to take on what has gone wrong. And what has gone wrong, is that people you never see, are spending billions of dollars to make sure you're not heard. To me all the polling shows that that is a powerful, powerful, powerful message. It's not like we have to go into a box canyon with a terrible message in order to do this. It's actually effective. And still, we just didn't, we just couldn't be bothered.
Well, so I guess over the last two years, we've, you know, kind of seen a repeat of the Obama era and in, you know, several ways, one of them is that, you know, that, for instance, that, you know, voting rights legislation was held up effectively, because some Democrats sort of prioritize the filibuster above it. You know, for instance, Joe Manchin and Kiersten cinema, you know, it's our contention that the filibuster, serves as corporate America's kill switch, you know, an effective veto on legislation. You know, do you think, you know, why do you think it is that some Democrats care so much about the filibuster? Is it because it, you know, helps ensure that nothing will ever kind of fundamentally change or is it because they really, you know, really love rules and procedure,
I can't ascribe motive to colleagues. I do think that if you're engaged in the business of corruption, and I mean, that in the Founding Fathers sense of the word More so than a very narrow, technical, legal criminal definition that has now shrunk down to if you are engaged in corruption, the number one task of your corruption is to protect the means by which you corrupt. It is the evil that makes all your other evils possible. And so there's an enormous effort on the Republican side, to make sure that it's clear to everybody that for Mitch McConnell, voting against dark money as a red line doesn't matter what you believe, doesn't matter what you care about procedure, you've got to toe the line and do what you're told, or else, you know, the dark money donors will come down on your on your head. We don't have anything like that discipline on our side, even when the stakes are as high as protecting our democracy from a force that eight out of nine Supreme Court justices agreed was corrupting. There is no real debate over the fact that it is corrupting. And yet with corruption live and well, in our democracy, we couldn't round up 50 votes to stem the source of the corruption. I mean, it's just kind of stunning that we couldn't pull that off. And again, without ascribing motive, it's just a massive failure to have gotten that done. And you know, to be perfectly blunt about it, we'd actually like to go back to the filibuster. You know, the code for this is that they're filibustering, they're not filibustering. They're using a rule called the cloture rule. Because there's no end to the ability of the minority to tie up the majority in knots. If we had clean filibuster rule, which I think you fix mostly by doing things like fixing the quorum requirement. And making sure that when people have said all that, they're going to say, That's it, and you don't get to just repeat yourself indefinitely. There are ways to do that by rules, and then you go back to a real filibuster, where the Republicans get the chance to slow down the Senate, they get the chance to say their piece, every single one could come to the floor. And once maybe twice, vent themselves fully make sure the American public is aware, slow business down in the Senate, so that it really has to be important to use this for the majority, it's not just going to be used to roll them, you know, every day every week. But at the end of that long and arduous process, there is a vote. And that vote is to a majority. And that's what we've lost. So really, what we want to do is go back to a real filibuster where the Republicans get to slow things down, get to make sure that their arguments are heard. And then we vote.
Let's turn to the general state of American politics for a sec. I want to know I asked lawmakers this when they come on this program, because I think it's an important question to hear their theories. What is your overall theory about how Donald Trump became president? Why he remains a political force in America? How did that happen? I think there's an argument out there that if you look at the numbers, that the explanation that it's just racism, for instance, doesn't hold up when you consider as an example, that President Obama won 200 Plus counties in 2008 2012, that Donald Trump then won in 2016. So I just like to hear what you think birthed the Donald Trump phenomenon?
I think two things did one was the base condition of very broad frustration with how our democracy was delivering for regular people, particularly economically. And he was able to touch that frustration, tap into it. And it reached a level where people thought, You know what, somebody who's gonna go in there and just bust things up. He may be kind of a jerk, but maybe he'll turn out to be like, my kind of my jerk. So there was a, he had that sense of frustration, providing solid wind at his back. And he also I think, went out and spent time with the very far right, and learned the vocabulary of grievance and resentment in the very far right. And he was able to capture that better than other colleagues who were sort of trying to disguise their affinities for those groups and keep them in the background. He made it very plain and upfront that he was with the extremists. Those who frankly, been around us forever. It's been a constant theme In democratic, small d, politics, that there's been a angry right wing fringe. So it's been like, back to the John Birch Society, it's been a long time thing. And there's big money behind those groups. So he's able to tap into that. And then I think the third thing was he was able to make peace with the Koch brothers who were running the biggest political operation behind the Republican Party, basically, as the Republican Party, you know, in behind the curtain. And somehow, although they got off to a really bad start, you remember, he took those Republicans who are going out to kiss the ring of the Koch brothers and made fun of them and mocked them and made fun of the Koch brothers and mocked him and wasn't with them on entitlements wasn't with them on trade, and they were to medieval houses at war with each other. And somehow, peace was brokered, and I think it was brokered over him giving them the choices of who'd be on the Supreme Court through Leonard Leo. And through him, giving them all of the environment and energy positions in his administration. I think there was a deal cut between house of coke and House of Trump. So I think those were the three big things he unified the party in that sense, as well as being able to touch base with his most most aggravated and extreme fringe, and tap into the larger broader sense of frustration,
looking at the midterm elections coming up next week. You know, it seems like yet again, voters are kind of overwhelmingly concerned with the state of the economy, and of course, inflation, which is, you know, been on the rise for the last year. So I guess, what kind of economic message do you think Democrats are offering voters right now? Or, you know, what do you think their message should be?
I go back to where we began, I think, you know, we're Americans. First, there's a reason you're mad about the economy. There's a reason you're paying the highest prices of the fuel pump that you can remember. And the oil companies are making the biggest profits that they've ever reported. Those things connect, and Democrats will try to balance the power for you, Democrats will try to make sure you're listened to. And we've shown that we can we did it with that little bite that farmer on drug pricing, we did it with that little bite on Big Oil, on the climate measures in the infrastructure in the inflation reduction bill. We will take on the big powerful special interest for you. But don't believe their lies, because you're the you're the chump in this con game. And I think you know, that's not probably the best way to say it. But I do think that a message that connects the failures of American democracy that are driven by the people behind the Republican Party, to the economic dissatisfaction that people are feeling in the injustice that people are feeling, you got to make that connection. And then there's sort of a patriotic thing about it, too. We're, we're cleaning up our country, it's not just a question of everybody do a little better in their pocket, everybody does a little bit better in their pocket, when we clean up our country.
So last question, to bring this back to dark money and your book, which is such an important book. You're the sponsor of this of the DISCLOSE Act. We've been talking about that referring to it, it would force some disclosure of the dark money dominating the midterm elections dominating American politics. If you could somehow wave a wand and the filibuster, have that bill pass? How do you think in practice that would change things can disclosure of the problem fix the problem? Or would the spenders who were overwhelming the system and corrupting the system, would they just keep spending
this some might keep spending but here are the things that would change. First, citizens would be in on the joke. citizens would understand who was behind these ads pouring out of their television screens and devices at them. And that's important knowledge for citizens to have. Second, a lot of the filth and lies that is broadcast by dark money would go away because somebody, somebody or something real would be accountable for that smear. And those lies, as opposed to having a front group like a Kleenex that you can make up for one election, be the mouthpiece for all your lies and smears, and then throw it away and people can be mad at it. But it doesn't matter because you throw it away. It never really existed in the first place. And the third thing is that when people get the joke about what's going on and can understand motives, and then some of these ads actually probably become counter productive. So I think a lot of the big money spending goes away. Once someone real or something real. Let's say it's a corporation, something real has to own it. And I think that brings down the temperature and the amount of this dark money spending and clues citizens in to what's going on around them.
Senator Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island, the new book is called The scheme how the right wing used dark money to capture the Supreme Court. I encourage everybody to get it and to read it. Senator, thank you for taking some time with us. Please keep fighting this fight. Don't get discouraged and get in the face of your senate colleagues to keep forcing this issue. Thank you so much.
Thank you, David. Thank you, Andrew.
Okay, now our bonus segment. This week we're presenting another edition of pod is not saving America, in which producer Frank sacrifices his mental health to listen through an entire episode of pod save America, and then reports back on how close the pod bros are to actually saving America which is frankly not that close. The episode that Frank listened to was their recent interview with former President Barack Obama about his election advice for Democrats. That's after Obama presided over the party losing the House, the Senate, most governorships and hundreds of state legislative seats, the largest loss of democratic power since the Eisenhower era. Thanks again for being a supporting subscriber and for funding the work we do here at the lever. Now, here's that bonus segment.
All right. Welcome to another installment of everybody's favorite bonus segment here on lever time pod is not saving America. It is me producer frank here with the levers Matthew Cunningham. Cooke. Matthew, how you doing today?
I'm doing great, Frank. Thanks for having me on.
Oh, my pleasure. so formal. I love I love I love your your greetings, because they're always I feel like I feel like I'm suddenly thrust into an NPR interview. It's great. Yeah. So Matthew, I wanted to have you on because the pod bros over at pod save America recently did an episode where they had former President Barack Obama on for an episode they titled Obama's advice for Democrats. And this came out on October 15. Before we actually get to that, because I think you know, some folks might think we're going to be talking about the recent AOC appearance on pod save America. I just want to briefly touch on that. So it was a little bit of a hubbub on Twitter recently. AOC appeared on pod save America just like a week or two ago. And there was a clip going around a viral clip of her and the pod bros talking about the quality of in and out fries. This was the clip that they they chose to push they chose to provide me they you know, to be fair, they pushed a couple other clips. But you know, there was a little bit of a backlash on Twitter, specifically our boss David Sirota tweeted, he tweeted something that in effect, said, You know, it's a real bummer that, you know, AOC will go on pod save America, but will refuse to do most progressive media appearances. And then, David sort of got dog piled on Twitter for being critical of her whatsoever. So yeah, so what was your kind of what was your kind of takeaway from that whole, just like tiny little Twitter blow up?
I think that AOC is, in so many ways, a really transformative political figure. But the question is whether or not that transformation is fully aligned with movements on the ground. And, you know, in particular, in her district, frankly, you know, so I mean, that's the one thing that I might go to first, as opposed to her relationship with progressive media is, you know, there's there's an eviction crisis in her district. There's a voting rights crisis in her district, there are there's a policing crisis. Sure district. And I don't see too much activity on that front particular Lee, kind of the level of activity that would correspond with her celebrity and her national profile. So that would be my first concern. But I do think I mean, my second concern would be the same as as David's though is, how are you going to be accountable to any type of constituency if you don't show up on media that specifically is targeted at kind of, you know, the PEEP national groups of people who support AOC? And I think if she listened or her staff, listen to our interviews with with more mainstream politicians, I would say our whole approach David's whole approach is tough, but fair, you know, and so I think that that it's not like we're going to be asking her gotcha questions. We're we're looking to get kind of deeper into her perspective. So, all that adds up to say is, I understand why David was so bummed because this idea that she's above criticism or above accountability altogether is exactly the same thing. The same phenomena that that brought us the Obama disaster. So segue into
Wow, what a beautiful segue. Matthew, I didn't want to do that. Thank you so much. So moving on to this Obama interview, so I I listened to the entire thing. It's, it's all right, you know, it kind of like it kind of like really lit a fire in my belly. You know what I mean? Like you hear it, you just get so sort of like riled up. This was the pod bros big like pre midterm election. Conversation with Obama. They didn't really they didn't really zero in on like, the specific races, but more so just sort of like where the National Democratic Party is at. So I'm gonna be playing a few clips, and Matthew is going to be hearing these fresh for the first time. So he, we're gonna get that right on the spot. Reaction from
my bloodless face.
Just a heads up for the audience. I have edited these clips for time, but tried to keep the context as intact as possible. So just wanted to give that one precursor. Right, so our first clip, this is Obama talking about how Democrats need to center their messaging on democracy, and Biden's accomplishments.
These midterms are hot, like 2010 are happening, and we would say, a suboptimal economic environment. But sort of unlike 2010, Democrats have a handful of pretty powerful arguments that seem to be moving voters about who are Republicans, right. Do you think there's a way to sort of weave those things into one narrative about the stakes in this election?
I think the first and most important issue is, are we going to preserve and hopefully strengthen our democracy? Now? I think for the average voter out there, we can talk about specific issues that are important to them. And do we create the kind of economy that gives everybody a fair shot, and that grows the economy in a way that is good for not just a few, but the many. And the great thing that I think we have going for us is is that even with really slim majorities, what we've shown is is that we can deliver, the Biden administration has accomplished a lot. You've got a historic infrastructure bill that's going to help rebuild America and create jobs all across the country, you've got inflation Control Act that has lowered prescription drug prices is made sure that health care is even more affordable through the ACA, that is looking at lowering energy costs. You've got a gun bill, that is the first major piece of unsafety legislation that we've seen in 30 years, you know, across the board, what we've seen is that when Democrats have a working majority, or even really slim majority in Congress, they can make people's lives better. That should be enough to inspire people to get out.
Matthew, I think that should be enough. I don't think they have to I don't think they have to do anything more than that. I, I pulled this clip specifically because this we've seen this over and over again from the Democratic Party is this complete ignoring of people's economic anxieties, which almost every voter poll has told us is the number one concern of almost every single voter across party lines, people are super anxious about the economy, about inflation, about their their livelihoods? And, you know, and that's not to downplay the threat to American democracy, which is very, very real and very, very serious. But according to like, I think a recent I think feeling was a time Seanna poll. The threat to democracy is like only 7% of voters think that's the most important thing right now. And that doesn't mean that it's not it just means that that you got to meet the voters where they are. So if you're going to lead with like, oh, the whole this whole election is about the threat to democracy, and then pivot to Biden's accomplishments which like, again, these people really I think, I think politicians and political strategists and just in general think right Killer people give as much of a shit about politics as they do. Wherein, whereas in reality, I think like, I would I don't know if I'm speculating, but I'd say like 90% 85% of Americans just like don't fucking care. They don't give a shit about about politics. They don't read the news. They don't care whatsoever. So like to tout accomplishments that they might not have even heard of while everyone's feeling this economic strife, I think is just it's so dumb, and it's so tone deaf.
I think that's right. I mean, the first thing that I just this is my hobby horse that I just have to harp on for a second is when he talks about the threat to democracy. I mean, his own role in creating the threat not just through his economic policies, which were significant in contributing to the rise of Trump. Serota showed in his hit podcast meltdown, which you should all listen to. He let Patrick Leahy significantly expand what's called the Blue SIP slip rule to appeals court judges when it had only applied to district court judges in the past, which meant that there were about a dozen key spots on on federal courts of appeals, the second most powerful courts in the country that were left unveiled by January 2015, when Mitch McConnell became majority leader again. And that was it's you can't describe the threat to democracy. Without looking at the judges appointed by Donald Trump. It's it's it's just impossible. That's point 1.2. When the right waged a deranged, racist campaign against Obama's nominee to be the Associate Attorney General for Civil Rights, Davao, Agboola, I'm not sure if I'm pronouncing that right. He had done some work on on supporting Mumia Abu Jamal was legal team. He was not a member of the legal team, but in his capacity as counsel to the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund. He had done work supporting Romania's legal team. And so the right waged a vicious attack against this and several Democratic senators voted against his nomination killing the nomination to be to lead the Civil Rights section of the Justice Department. That position was left unfilled by a Senate confirmed appointee for the rest of Obama's presidency. So I think that that really kind of speaks to just how this is somebody who is just totally incapable of taking any accountability whatsoever. I mean, he's not able to process it. One thing that's interesting to me is, I believe, I'm not sure about the second one. But he, he said at one point that his proudest moment of his presidency was when he resisted the calls to go to war in Syria in 2013. And I agree with them, I think that was probably the highest high point of his presidency. So it's interesting that he's able to have what I would view, a sober and sophisticated analysis of his strong points as president, but is totally unable whatsoever to analyze his weak points of which there are
many, many. And that actually brings us to the next part of this, I didn't pull a clip, but because it's all explained exactly what what it is. But at the end of this last little bit of him talking, he then transitions into talking about the Supreme Court's dobs decision, which repealed Roe v. Wade, and how important the fight for reproductive rights are for this election really underscoring that is another major, major part of like the Democrats platform and what we should all be talking about. Then John Fabbro, one of the hosts of pod save pivots directly to asking about Trump. And I bring this up because it is important and something I noticed by the end of this, actually, I didn't want to date the end of it. I noticed that like 20 minutes in they do not ask a single follow up question to Barack Obama. They do not press him on a single thing. All they do during this interview is just tee him up. Let him say whatever he wants to say, and then move on to the next question. And this is Obama's relationship with liberal media and this is liberal media's responsibility, which is to make this guy look as good as ever and that is to me like these guys aren't like let's let's not get twisted. These guys aren't journalists. They're not taking this seriously. Lee, if they had they would have maybe maybe asked him about not codifying roe during his Prevot presidency, but they don't they just pivot on to the next thing. Yeah.
I mean, I think that it's I mean, I was just trying to come up with a joke but you know that the the Barack Obama's initial stand for the first two letters and Botox. I mean, it really is like that, you know, he's trotted out every two years doing jack shit in the interim, ya know, I mean, like, what, you know, Jimmy Carter out there building houses, you know, going and, you know, doing international diplomacy in his post presidential career, what has Barack Obama been doing? Even though, you know, he was he was pretty young when he he left office. So I think that that I mean, at least it's better than what Bill Clinton was doing when he left shores hanging out with Jeffrey Epstein. But
yeah, that's what Obama's greatest strength is that he didn't hang out with Jeffrey Epstein.
Yeah, yeah, he's not he's not flying around on jets called the Lolita Express or air fuck one, which was the name of Ron Burkle is dead Jesus. Yeah, I mean, I think that there, it's, it's impossible to overstate the narcotic effect of Barack Obama on America. I mean, the ability I mean, really, you know, a master surgeons ability to suture the colossal divides and problems in American society, with a pretty face, who is, you know, who's a great public speaker. And what what the liberal media's warship of Obama is ultimately about doing is aligning any type of analysis of Barack Obama's policies. And again, I mean, I will say, you know, this is different than Obama's own personal approach, where he wrote an autobiography of aluminous autobiography, defending essentially, every decision he ever made, you know, he is basically has indicated that he's very willing to get down into the details of what happened under his administration, by writing that book, that he got, you know, some huge advance for. But the liberal media won't kind of go to that because their job is not even kind of taking the man at his word. It's about creating this, this picture of him that totally disregards any sense of reality. Yep.
I think that's spot on. And speaking of that, sort of, like, you know, relatability that like, you know, that thing that shines through with Obama. This next clip, is Obama talking about, you know, the new crop of Democratic candidates, specifically John Fetterman. And what makes him specifically so relatable?
Words like authenticity get overused. The thing I love about Fetterman, and you see it in a lot of our other candidates is you feel as if when you're talking to them, that you're having a normal conversation. And they have some sense of how the rest of America lips. Now why it is that those qualities don't seem to always apply to successful Republican candidates. What's going on there? I don't know. Exactly. But I suspect and I've talked to you guys about this before. Again, it's it's the degree to which conservative media just has a lock on how people are presented, people will vote for DeSantis even if I'm not sure that they would really have a great time.
He doesn't he does not seem like a lot of fun. Hanging out
with that guy. Ah, it's just
so funny, silly that conservative media dominates half the country. I couldn't have done anything about. You know, Sinclair's total dominance of, you know, local television news, you know, particularly in red states, you know, is a function of the Obama administration's total commitment to monopoly power under his administration, which again, you know, under Biden, has really totally put Obama in a shame on the question of antitrust. You know, it's like Obama could have appointed and then Lena Khan would have been too young but Tim will, was in the Obama administration, but in a very low ranking position compared to what he is now. And I believe Jonathan Cantor, the Associate Attorney General, for antitrust, who's generally kinda seen as a trust buster? I don't believe he had any position whatsoever under the Obama era. So he could have done something about conservative media. Yeah. Now, I mean, I think that the whole idea that Rupert Murdoch is allowed to dominate the media environment in four countries in, you know, the UK, US, Australia, and I believe he has a major influence in New Zealand and even has influence in Papua New Guinea as well, if I recall, goodness, correctly, he owns a newspaper there. Yeah, it's like why how is that allowed? You know? Yeah. Well, the specific point is that there is no other monopoly quite like that. So it would have been very easy for Obama to go after Murdoch, specifically, without running afoul of other monopolies because of this question of, should you be allowed to have this level of media dominance across the globe, not just in the US, you know, and he refused to do it, you know, he refused to kind of raise those questions. I mean, Rupert Murdoch being a security risk, you know, I mean, the man has more power than, you know, basically anybody you know, and my favorite statistic on this is every single news outlet owned by Rupert Murdoch across the globe supported the war in Iraq, you know, it's like he controls at all. And Obama didn't even mention Rupert Murdoch ever, you know,
this is why I love talking with you, Matthew, because I had not even considered that aspect of what Obama was talking about, like the actual like the taking on of conservative media. And I think that's such a brilliant point, my, my sort of take away from this was more about like, the, the kind of the relatability aspect, which is that no one supports Trump or DeSantis. Because they, like, they think that they're good, decent people, you know, like, not like,
like, Trump or DeSantis babysit their
kids. No, like, every poll, like has them at like, you know, whatever, like, didn't like unfavorable, or like whatever, like whatever those stats are, the people support them, because those guys give their voters an enemy to hate, and then just drill down on it for years and years and years. And they're better at messaging. And they're better, like we've talked about here, the better at naming an enemy. And you know what, I mean, the the main enemy that they mostly name are the Democrats. And you know what, they kind of tell the truth when they are tearing down the Democrats, that they're just a bunch of elites, they're in the pocket of Wall Street, they only care about, yeah, identity, politics, culture, war bullshit, they don't actually do anything good for regular working class people. All of that is mostly true. But because Democrats are so fucking terrible at messaging, they provide no answer for voters as to who is responsible for the trouble in their lives. They're not going to name their donors because you know, that shooting themselves in the foot, and they barely even name the Republicans as like the greatest enemy, like, call back to Pelosi a few months ago, being like, I want a strong Republican Party, like the disconnect between the way that like, Republicans talk about Democrats and Democrats talk about Republicans is completely lost. That's that was my big takeaway.
No, I think that's absolutely right. I think the other thing is just, you know, you half of Bernie support in 2016, which is a better picture than 2020, where the primary season ended very early. You now came from people who just hated elites, and saw that Bernie hated them, too. Yeah. I mean, in West Virginia, you saw, you know, Bernie, you know, winning the primary by like, 50 points. And then, and then two years later, when they ran a left wing primary challenger against Joe Manchin, she got washed by like, 60 points. And I think that the main reason why is that Bernie had the money and kind of the national profile to be able to run television ads of him saying that he hated Wall Street, and people like that. And no, it wasn't about any fundamental attachment to democratic socialism. It wasn't really about any particular issue. It was like is Bernie's hate, pure. And if you've met Bertie, you know, his hate is pure, you know who he really really does hate the people on Wall Street, you know, with every fiber of his being and now and holds just total disdain for them. And I think that more than anything else is what explains Bernie's appeal. And when we forget that when the left forgets that we're doomed to oblivion, yeah, because it represents a total fundamental misunderstanding of American culture. which is this is a country built on blood? Real? You know, it's a violent country with a fucked up ass history. And you aren't going to get anywhere with you know, love and puppies. No, that's not how things are done here. So
no, you just you just gotta tell people who who are the people that are fucking you is like, that's all you gotta do, but like, and it helps when that they're actually the correct people.
But yeah, you know, I mean, you've just seen this time and again, you know, it's like nobody thought when Barry Goldwater ran in 64 He lost Michigan, you know, but 25 points. And then four years later, George Wallace wins the Democratic primary. You know, you can't you can't understand this country if you're not understanding hate.
Oh, that's hardcore shit. I'm but I'd say that that is that is that's true. All right, before we go to the next clip, I just want to point out that during this episode of pod save America, these guys had to mid roll breaks. Now for those of you who don't know what podcasting is a mid roll break is the break that you take in the middle of an episode for you to sell your ads. Usually, a show will just have maybe one mid roll break. shows as big as pod save America have to and each one of those breaks has at least two ads in it. I just want to bring that up to remind everyone that these guys are making so much goddamn money off of shilling for the Democrats and providing copia for their voters. So like that's just want to highlight that in and of itself. Alright, so for our last couple of clips. This next one, Dan Pfeiffer asks Obama specifically about Supreme Court reform. And this one actually really shocked me.
I think it has to be thought through. One of the arguments we made at the time when McConnell decided that he had to invent a new principle that he then reached later about Merrick Garland and why the guy wouldn't even get a hearing or a vote is that if you start playing such explicit political games, in the appointment process, it's hard for people not to feel as if this is just an extension of day to day congressional politics, as opposed to the Supreme Court stands above. But I do think that if we reform the Supreme Court, simply by figuring out ways to get more Democrats on there and stack it up, then it's not going to solve the legitimacy problem. The Supreme Court it's just that we'll win more cases for a while.
Yeah, you'll win more fucking cases Obama which is the whole goddamn point of this fucking court like that, like this one really kind of like got my blood boiling like this, this, this this on believable need to uphold the integrity of these beautiful institutions. Oh, they're so delicate, we have to protect their integrity, like, who at this point who gives a fuck about the integrity this court is like stripping the rights of this country away, like, but like by decades, like every single decision is setting us back in time. And there's like, there's no recourse. Like the only thing like the fact that he's immediately shuns the idea of any sort of radical court form against court packing or like anything else, they could do it like this one. Yeah. This This infuriated me entirely.
My question, which is just totally on brand for the lever here is how many big law white shoe firms has Obama spoken to and gotten speaking free in the last year? That's that's that's kind of immediately what my question is probably
a lot I would wager. All right, for last clip, closing it out with some international conversation, this is Obama on the rise of global fascism. And that the best way to combat that is by communicating better values. Here it is.
That's where I do think there's a through line between what's happening here in the United States and countries around the world. I mean, you look at what's happening in Europe. You look at the Italian election, you look at the recent French election, you look at, you know, these far right parties that are popping up in Scandinavia, it's when I looked around, yeah. Right. And, and obviously, Hungary is we've seen over the last several years, in all these places, right, what you're seeing is that if you define democracy, just as elections, that's not enough. That there's that There's an infrastructure that has to be built, and a set of values that have to be transmitted. And that, how we thought about globalization and trade and immigration and all that stuff that how, in some cases, the actual policies, but certainly how we communicated that to voters throughout some of the wealthiest countries in the world didn't work, then connect, right? And you see this rise of strongmen politics that is dangerous.
This is one of my favorite Obama moves that he does, which is like he'll like kind of acknowledge his responsibility, but then be like, Yeah, but it didn't really have that much to do with it. Like in this one. He's like, you know, might have had a little bit to do with some of the policies that we did, but like, mostly, I think it was actually about the way we communicated. I think there was the communication part that has led to global fascism, like, do these people have no concept of history? Or that like how economic strife leads to people like ending up in a farther far right extreme position? Like it's it's so devoid of any sort of historical context that it just sort of like it boggles the mind. Yeah. I mean,
it's, it's astounding, and again, you know, Obama fails to mention his own interventions in European politics, where he endorsed McCrone in 2017. He could have easily done a a joint McCrone mellophone endorsement and called for broad unity against fascism in France. He did not do that. He called for electing central centrist politicians like me against fascism. And then his own former political director Jim Messina was Theresa Mays top strategists on the 2017. UK election. Yeah. Yeah, now and he did not endorse labour in either 2017 or 2019, when Jeremy Corbyn was the leader of the Labour Party. So again, I mean, where it really would have mattered to frankly, because in the UK, you have this centrist third party, the Liberal Democrats that always take votes away from labour. And so an Obama endorsement of a left wing leader like Corbin would have actually helped labour win substantially more seats, particularly in 2017, when it actually mattered. It was something like they were 2000 votes away from a minority Labour Government. After that election, it was a very small margin of victory for the conservative party there. So again, you know, it's what is his own? And then that's on top of, you know, the whole Eurozone debt crisis and Grexit. I mean, you know, the Greece, you know, eu debacle. And Italy and Spain and Portugal, where we're part of that, too. We're part of the whole kind of targeting the poor countries in the Eurozone, with kind of the same types of policies that have devastated the global south for decades and decades. And, oh, all of a sudden in all of those countries, you see the rise of fascism.
And how could it possibly have happened? Yeah,
whoever could have done this horrible thing that you know, we're all trying to find the guy who did this Yeah, yep. I mean, this is it's again, you know, I go back to just the narcotic thing I feel like I'm stepping into an opium den in the you know, in the British section of Hong Kong and you know, 1910 right now listening to Obama right now it is it is designed to close your eyes to the reality of what's actually going on in the US Yeah,
it's supposed to make all of the Liberals listening to pod save be like Oh, that's right these guys they got it they're the adults in the room like this makes me this makes me feel better. That's that's, that's literally all this is for it's just it's liberal copia. Well, Matthew that ends the segment and other pod is not saving America. Thank you so much for joining me and for your always brilliant analysis I've told you before, I think you're the smartest person I know. So
thanks, Frank. Well, you are the most talented Podcast Producer I've ever.
Oh, thank you. Thanks, Matthew. I'll talk to you soon.
That's it for today's show. Thanks a ton for being a paid subscriber to the lever. It's really true we could not do this work without. If you particularly like this episode, please pitch into our tip jar. The tip jar link is in the episodes description or over at lever news.com/tip jar, every little bit helps us do this kind of journalism. One last favor. If you liked this podcast and our reporting, please tell your friends and family about the lever and about the work that we're doing here forward them our email, tell them to subscribe at lever news.com The only way independent non corporate media grows is by word of mouth. So we need all the help we can get to continue doing the work we're doing. Until next time, I'm David Sirota keep rocking the boat