Can the States Save American Democracy?

In yesterday’s New York Times, Hedrick Smith writes about the growing state based reform movement.  Hedrick, the author of Who Stole The American Dream, was a guest on Politics for the People in June.

In his opinion piece, which you can read below, Hedrick comments…

Groups like, which has grass-roots organizations in 40 states, are mobilizing against the de facto disenfranchisement of independent voters (who now outnumber both Democrats and Republicans) through the gerrymandering of nearly 90 percent of the nation’s congressional districts into one-party monopolies. In states with closed primaries, this denies independents any vote in the primaries, which makes them favorable turf for extremist candidates in the only seriously contested voting.”

Jackie Salit, President of and Hedrick Smith, NH, February 2016

The Opinion Pages | OPINION

Can the States Save American Democracy?

WASHINGTON — In this tumultuous election year, little attention has focused on the groundswell of support for political reform across grass-roots America. Beyond Bernie Sanders’s call for a political revolution, a broad array of state-level citizen movements are pressing for reforms against Citizens United, gerrymandering and campaign megadonors to give average voters more voice, make elections more competitive, and ease gridlock in Congress.

This populist backlash is in reaction to two monumental developments in 2010: the Supreme Court’s Citizens United ruling authorizing unlimited corporate campaign donations, and a Republican strategy to rig congressional districts. Together, they have changed the dynamics of American politics.

That January, Justice John Paul Stevens warned in his dissent that Citizens United would “unleash the floodgates” of corporate money into political campaigns, and so it has. The overall funding flood this year is expected to surpass the record of $7 billion spent in 2012.

Later in 2010, the Republican Party’s “Redmap” strategy won the party control of enough state governments to gerrymander congressional districts across the nation the following year. One result: In the 2014 elections, Republicans won 50.7 percent of the popular vote and reaped a 59-seat majority.

Now, with Congress often gridlocked by Republicans from those safe districts, the initiative on reform has shifted to the states. Insurgency has spread beyond California and New York to unlikely Republican bastions like Arizona, Florida, Idaho, Indiana, Nebraska and South Dakota.

At this point, 17 states have become reform battlegrounds. In six, lawsuits are challenging racial or partisan gerrymandering, and in five more, that goal is being pursued by popular movements, state governors or legislative bodies. This summer, federal courts have ruled in favor of suits seeking to strike down strict photo-identification requirements in Texas, North Carolina and North Dakota. The courts found that the requirements discriminated against minorities, and often seniors and students. Other citizen lawsuits have won restoration of early voting days in Ohio and straight-ticket voting for Michigan.

South Dakota and Washington State are holding referendums on proposals for more transparent elections; similar petition drives fell just short of success in Arizona and Idaho. This year, reformers in California, New York and Washington State have been mustering votes to press Congress to control campaign funding and ban corporate campaign contributions.

In the pushback against Citizens United, 17 states and more than 680 local governments have appealed to Congress for a constitutional amendment, either through a letter to Congress, referendums, legislative resolutions, city council votes or collective letters from state lawmakers. In the most prominent case, California’s 18 million registered voters get to vote in November on whether to instruct their 55-member congressional delegation to “use all of their constitutional authority” to overturn Citizens United. Washington State is holding a similar referendum.

In 2014, a Democratic amendment proposal to allow regulation and limits on electoral spending won a 54-42 majority in the Senate, strictly along party lines, but fell short of the 60 votes needed to prevent a filibuster. Now bills calling for a 6-to-1 match of public funds for small campaign donations up to $150, or requiring disclosure of funders for campaign ads, have wide Democratic support, but are blocked by Republican opposition.

Yet out in the country, even in some reliably red states, reform movements have sprouted. South Dakota is one, thanks to three petition drives. One seeks to make primaries nonpartisan and another calls for an independent redistricting commission. A third is for a ballot measure, similar to one in Washington State, that would create a $50 tax credit for each voter to donate to a political candidate; ban campaign contributions exceeding $100 from lobbyists and state contractors; and mandate that independent groups speedily disclose the top five contributors to political ads and electioneering communications made within 60 days of an election.

In April, Nebraska’s Republican-dominated Legislature voted 29-15 to set up an independent redistricting commission. Gov. Pete Ricketts, a Republican, vetoed the bill, but reformist legislators promise a revised proposal in the next session.

Groups like, which has grass-roots organizations in 40 states, are mobilizing against the de facto disenfranchisement of independent voters (who now outnumber both Democrats and Republicans) through the gerrymandering of nearly 90 percent of the nation’s congressional districts into one-party monopolies. In states with closed primaries, this denies independents any vote in the primaries, which makes them favorable turf for extremist candidates in the only seriously contested voting.

In addition, nonpartisan local-election primaries, in which all voters can choose any candidate without regard for party, are being pushed by a citizens movement in South Dakota. Louisiana, California and Washington State already use them.

Two dozen states have attacked gerrymandering head-on. Eleven have set up independent redistricting commissions or other politically neutral mechanisms. Legal challenges have been mounted in half a dozen others. In seven more, including Illinois, Indiana, Ohio and Pennsylvania, popular movements, state legislatures and even the Republican governors Larry Hogan of Maryland, John Kasich of Ohio and Mike Pence of Indiana, who is now Donald J. Trump’s running mate, have said it’s time to outlaw gerrymandering.

In April, Governor Kasich won resounding applause from the Ohio Legislature when he called for an end to gerrymandering: “When pure politics is what drives these kinds of decisions, the result is polarization and division. I think we’ve had enough of that.”

Reminder: Conference Call with Hedrick Smith Tonight

Author of:

Who Stole the American Dream?

Sunday, June 19th @ 7 pm EST

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12710918_10153893746657290_1289370713155256536_o President, Jackie Salit with Hedrick Smith, Feb 2016

I am looking forward to our conversation with Hedrick Smith this evening and the opportunity to discuss Who Stole The American Dream?  We have been having a rich conversation about the book both on and off the blog.  Below are just three excerpts from postings members have made about the book.

In speaking with Hedrick on Friday, he suggested that people might find it valuable to visit and particularly recommended the success stories section.

Dial in this evening and spend an hour with Pulitzer prize winning author, Hedrick Smith as we explore what happened to the American dream, how the power of the American people to do something about our economy has been diminished and Smith’s view on what needs to happen to move forward.  We share much — especially in the need for broad based mass movement of Americans to revitalize our democracy.

Talk with everyone tonight!

…I don’t like to talk about electoral reform as a means to the end of “electing moderates.” Any electoral system that’s implemented to get a particular ideological outcome is no electoral system at all. I support open primaries and nonpartisan primaries and other electoral reform because it gives candidates greater access to the ballot, gives people an equal voice in our process, and provides for greater choice and competition in our election system, and thus holds elected officials more accountable.”
It has been argued that Americans do best when confronted by a powerful and imminent threat. It’s here. It’s us, just as Pogo once observed. Nobody said that keeping a republic alive and well would be easy and they were surely right. Hedrick Smith offers ample evidence. He also presents a coherent strategy for rebuilding confidence in ourselves.  This Mr. Smith brought Washington to us. Bravo!”
The timing of our discussion could not be better…  Americans are just now coming to the realization we are dealing with systemic challenges.  It is encouraging that voters are looking beyond the political party establishment for solutions.  I would like to think that behind the campaign circus is an awakening – that voters know more than they have been given credit for and they’re exercising the only obvious options. In that case, there is hope for voters who have basically slept through the burglary of their dream.”

Reader’s Forum–Lou Hinman



There’s class warfare, all right . . . but it’s my class, the rich class, that’s making war, and we’re winning.   –Warren Buffet, CEO, Berkshire Hathaway  (quoted in Who Stole the American Dream?)

The richest 1% of Americans now control nearly 40% of America’s wealth. The great merit of Hedrick Smith’s book Who Stole the American Dream? is that he tells the story of how this happened.

It brings home to us in the starkest terms the enormity of what has gone wrong in America, and the desperate need for citizen activists – patriots – to lead us in restoring both democracy and prosperity. Hedrick Smith shows quite clearly that without more citizen involvement (more democracy) there will be further accumulation of wealth in fewer and fewer hands, but no prosperity (a better life for ordinary people).

Hedrick Smith has many good ideas about what must be done economically. Here are some of them:

  • rebuild the working partnership between business and labor
  • a renewed social contract to create jobs and restrict the off-shoring of manufacturing
  • a domestic Marshall Plan to create millions of jobs rebuilding America’s crumbling infrastructure
  • reform the corporate tax code to promote job creation and make billionaires pay their share
  • a $1 trillion reduction in military spending over the next decade
  • mortgage relief for the millions of Americans who were ruined by the subprime mortgage fraud
  • strengthen Social Security and Medicare

He also makes crucial political recommendations:

  • support for the movements for open primaries and redistricting reform
  • “armies of volunteers to get the country back on track”
  • “organize at the grass roots” (what the Democratic Party refused to do when the Tea Party was organizing their “town meetings” to oppose Obama’s health care reform)
  • restore fairness (along with liberty, the cornerstone of American democracy)

There is really only one point where I disagree slightly with Hedrick Smith’s assessment and his prescriptions. In his call to “mobilize the middle class” I think he is putting the cart before the horse. The middle-class may be the biggest loser in the transformation that has taken place. But, as a class, it is not well positioned to lead the movement to restore fairness to American democracy.

Restoring fairness demands that we take on the power of the political establishment (otherwise known as the 2-party monopoly). The force that can lead this is the mass of political independents (whose numbers have been increasing for decades and who, according to mainstreams polls, now outnumber both Democrats and Republicans nationally). This force includes millions of people in the middle class. It includes millions of people who were once in the middle class. It includes millions of working people. And it includes millions of people living below the poverty line, or only slightly above it.

I hope that Mr. Smith will accept this as a “friendly amendment” to his admirable book.

Lou Hinman has been been an independent activist for most of his adult life. He lives in New York City.


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Reader’s Forum–Richard Ronner

Photo on 9-24-15 at 12.03 AM

The Missing Middle: How Gridlock Adds to the Wealth Gap

In Chapter 18, “The Missing Middle,” Hedrick Smith quotes several veteran legislators describing a time of bipartisan cooperation and interparty camaraderie, when families of legislators of opposing parties would have dinner together in their homes, or offer to help one another with re-election–practices impossible to imagine in today’s toxic partisan climate.  He compares the passage of the healthcare legislation of the 60’s–Medicare in 1965–with the Affordable Care Act of 2010, and looks at the passage of the signature Democratic legislation of the 60’s, the civil and voting rights acts, which could not have been achieved without significant support from key Republicans.  Smith demonstrates that common, innocuous (if unethical) practices like gerrymandering safe districts inexorably leads to increasingly extreme political views, and the disappearance, over time, of the moderate middle.

Smith relates the fascinating history in a very readable narrative, in this case beginning with the political realignment initiated by these highly controversial (in some quarters) bills–the deliverance of the southern block of conservative Democrats to the Republican column, culminating, over decades, in the rise of the far right.  Reading this material raises questions and a hunger for more understanding of a complex history–the convoluted and obscure story of the history of the Senate’s operating rules, for example, having to do with filibusters (talking and phantom) and cloture thresholds of 67 senators needed to cut off debate.  Though not everything can be addressed even in this rather sizable volume, there is a tremendous amount of political information and understanding to be gained from this book.

Richard Ronner is a nurse practitioner and a long time independent. He is active with the NYC Independence Clubs and New Yorkers for Primary Reform.



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Reader’s Forum–Natesha Oliver

Natesha Oliver (r) with Cathy Stewart and Politics for the People member, Cheryl White (l)
Natesha Oliver, (l) with Cathy Stewart & Cheryl White @ the National Conference of Independents 2015

Chapter 17: The Skills Gap Myth: Importing IT Workers Costs Masses of U.S. Jobs

After reading Ch.17 of “Who Stole The American Dream” by Hedrick Smith, I say  the American people have been robbed of “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” or should I say have been SOLD OUT. Liberty has been systematically altered in the negative, life has been pissed on by Congress and other elected officials trusted to ensure its progress and hell, most Americans can no longer afford to pursue happiness, when at one point they could. That breaks morale and THAT makes me wonder is that the intent of our current governing structure, to break the morale of Americans to the point we are easily controlled? We all know at our lowest point we don’t care about s**t and will accept damn near anything.

We are facing a new Administration next year and after reading portions of Hedrick Smith’s Who Stole The American Dream, I am more concerned than ever about My personal future.

Between flip floppers, mean and hate filled minded, scandal scarred, and  candidates that don’t even associate with people progressing politics, where is this country headed? Reading this book gives a good indication of where we can go back to if we don’t force a change in how we, Americans, check this government.”

Natesha Oliver is the founder of MIST, Missouri Independents Stand Together. She lives in Kansas City.


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Reader’s Forum-Jeff Aron


Many thanks to June and Cathy for giving me the opportunity to reflect on the first part of Who Stole the American Dream ? by Hedrick Smith.

Who Stole the American Dream? is a provocation and a call for action. Hedrick Smith clearly answers the question he poses in the title of his book and offers remedies.

As someone who participated in the movements of the 60’s and who has continued the effort to expand democracy, even as a counter effort to limit its “excesses” was launched by American business and political leaders, Mr. Smith’s description of the period both validated my experience and provided new ways to think about it.

There are many ways to respond to the thesis of the book; here are a few of the observations that it stimulated:

1) While the great compression and virtuous circle were associated with and fueled the growth of an American middle class, it has been my understanding that much of our economic growth derived initially from our position as ‘the’ postwar industrial power and subsequently from the huge increase in deficit spending associated with the war in Vietnam. In the 1970’s this period ended and we entered a downturn that had many economic expressions, e.g., in 1971, the US pulled out of the Bretton Woods accord; the 1973/1974 oil embargo and subsequent energy crisis.

2) For me and others of my generation, the 60’s were a revolt against the false notion of America as one big family in which all were advancing on a rising tide. The struggles that we were a part of were an effort to recognize and bring those who were left out of the “family” into full participation in our economy and history; and possibly ironically, it was, as well, a repudiation and challenge to the hegemonic notion of the family and materialism that many of us felt had distorted so many lives.

3) I was unaware of Lewis Powell’s brilliant and clarion call from the conservative right. As I read his memorandum it brought to mind the founding document of the Trilateral Commission, The Crisis of Democracy: Report on the Governability of Democracies, by Crozier, Huntington and Watanuki. I do not know if there was any connection between Powell and the Trilateral Commission, headed by David Rockefeller who represented the liberal wing of international capital. However, as Mr. Smith points out, it was a Democratic Congress in 1978 and Carter administration leadership, e.g. Zbigniew Brzezinski, Cyrus Vance, Walter Mondale, Andrew Young (also leaders of the Trilateral Commission) which was responsible for much of the legislation and policy which Mr. Smith identifies as key to producing, as well as understanding, “who stole the American Dream”. In fact, if one were to identify a seminal document which identifies both the economic and political problems to be addressed by American (and international) business leaders, one could also point to this document and this grouping.

4) It has become fashionable to identify two Americas (“tale of two cities”) based on the growing inequality of wealth. This is a crucially important lens through which to look at our current situation. However, I believe that understanding our country’s crisis requires a broader canvas which includes race, warfare, global expansion and international capital.

5) Although there are countries in the tradition of western capitalism such as Germany which, for the present, have chosen a different and more progressive economic and social path, there are also other capitalist countries, such as China, which may equally represent the future of a new capitalist order. Are there implications here for the future of the American Dream?

6) As a 16 year old, I was a member of the “gentle army” that gathered at the Washington Monument in 1963 and I returned there many times not only in support of civil rights but also to protest the war and in support of the poor people’s army. While gains were made, 50 years later we can see that many of our hopes for a better world have been dashed and in significant ways, we failed in our efforts. Our two party political process has become ever more self-serving and insulated. Of all the obstacles to addressing the serious problems our country faces, I believe that the Democratic and Republican parties are the major roadblocks to the “American Dream”. Americans, rich as well as poor, are diminished by this bipartisan monopoly on power.

Jeff Aron has been active in independent political efforts in New York City and nationally since the late ’70’s. He is a passionate supporter of


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Hedrick Smith on Yellowstone Public Radio


Yellowstone Public Radio logo

Journalist Hedrick Smith

On The Historic 2016 Campaign Season

  May 6, 2016

(If you do not see audio file, you can listen here.)

Journalist and author Hedrick Smith recently delivered a President’s lecture at the University of Montana about the widespread political disaffection in America. Smith won the Pulitzer prize for international reporting while covering Russia and Eastern Europe for the New York Times. After his newspaper career, he went on to win Emmys for his work on the award-winning PBS Frontline series.

Smith talked with Sally Mauk at MTPR studios to give his take on this historic campaign season.

Copyright 2016 KUFM-FM. To see more, visit KUFM-FM.



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Reader’s Forum-Who Stole the American Dream?

Today we kick off a series of posts about our current selection written by P4P members.

boston 0614
Steve Richardson

Who Stole the American Dream?  According to Hedrick Smith, the author, it’s big business owners who decided offense was their best defense against increasing regulation and taxation by the federal government.  A few radical moves by Nixon in the early ‘70s provoked the backlash that created armies of lobbyists in Washington and a relentless push to unburden businesses – at the expense of workers.  It would be decades before the key outcomes – income inequality, partisan gridlock, and dangerous levels of public debt – would become evident.

The timing of our discussion could not be better.  Smith’s book was published four years ago, when the chronic economic and political concerns were hidden by the Great Recession.  Americans are just now coming to the realization we are dealing with systemic challenges.  It is encouraging that voters are looking beyond the political party establishment for solutions.  I would like to think that behind the campaign circus is an awakening – that voters know more than they have been given credit for and they’re exercising the only obvious options.  In that case, there is hope for voters who have basically slept through the burglary of their dream.  As Smith puts it, “Americans will have to come off the sidelines and reengage in direct citizen action in order to reestablish ‘government of the people, by the people, for the people.’”

This syncs with our independent voter message.  He – and we – have many ideas of what could or should be done, but none of them matter until and unless our fellow citizens are ready to take matters into their own hands.  By focusing on specific actors and actions, Smith has made a valuable contribution toward motivating the victims to fight back.  Millions of Americans can relate to the loss of jobs, home equity, and retirement benefits, and Smith builds a strong case that these were not natural “free market” consequences; rather, our economy has been plundered by capitalists who managed to turn Washington into a profit center.

Clearly, we need to get the money out of politics – not by regulating campaign contributions but by closer scrutiny of public policies.  It is remarkable how long we bought the “trickle down” economic theory that what was good for business would be good for workers.  It is now incumbent upon the 99 percent to determine what is good for us.  But we’ve outsourced democracy to two parties that have violated our trust, so the first step is to take back control of our government by changing the way representatives are elected.  Mr. Smith deserves credit for including election reforms in his 10-step plan to “reclaim the dream” (#9 Rebuild the Political Center and #10 Mobilize the Middle Class), but I would have placed them first and second.

Steve Richardson is a founding member of the Virginia Independent Voters Association and serves on’s national Election Reform Committee.



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Can We Heal Our Great Divide?

Our current selection is Who Stole the American Dream? by Hedrick Smith.  I know we are going to learn a lot from the book and have much to discuss with the author on our conference call on Sunday, June 19th at 7 pm EST.

Book Image

While you are getting started with the book, I was eager to share the TEDxOrcasIsland talk that Hedrick gave last year, entitled “Can We Heal Our Great Divide?” In his talk he lays out his economic theory of what has gone wrong and what we can do about it.  He speaks abuot how we have seen a “revolt of the bosses, a revolt from the top down.” He links rebuilding the American economy to reclaiming our democracy and talks about the need to end gerrymandering, expose dark money and the value of Top Two primaries.  And that it is up to the American people, from the bottom up to do this. Hedrick reminds us that American history shows us that we can make transformative change happen…look at the revolutionary war, the women’s movement, the 60’s.  He goes on to speak about the power of the civil rights movement.  He shares:

I remember when Martin Luther King put on his coveralls–he didn’t just give that speech at the Lincoln Memorial–he put on his coveralls, went out and got arrested. And they denounced him as an outside agitator. That was meant as a diss, an epithet, a denunciation…. Yes, he said, I am an agitator. Look in your washing machine, there’s an agitator in the center and it’s agitating the water and the soap to knock the dirt out of your clothes.  And I’m here to agitate the dirt out of our society–racism, discrimination, segregation.”

Hedrick goes on to say,

I think we need a new spirit of agitation in America.  We need a new generation of agitators, and I don’t mean just the young generation. I mean all of us generations together.  We can do it.”

I hope you will give his talk a listen.

If you cannot view the video, you can see it here.


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Next Selection-Who Stole the American Dream?

As we enter the final week of our celebration of National Poetry Month, I am very happy to announce that our next book club selection is Who Stole the American Dream? by Hedrick Smith.

Book Image

Hedrick Smith is a bestselling author, Pulitzer Prize–winning reporter, and Emmy Award–winning producer. He has written five best selling books, including The Russians and The Power Game. As a reporter at The New York Times, Smith shared a Pulitzer for the Pentagon Papers series and won a Pulitzer for his international reporting from Russia in 1971–1974. in addition, Smith has been a producer for PBS’ Frontline.

In Who Stole the American Dream?, Hedrick Smith analyzes what happened to the American dream over the last four decades, how it is our economy has crumbled and we have become so divided as a country.

I met Hedrick in February in NH, when both he and Jackie Salit, the President of spoke at the NH Rebellion We the People Convention.  Hedrick is an outspoken advocate for structural political reforms from campaign finance reform, to ending gerrymandering and top two nonpartisan elections.

It was a pleasure to hear him speak and I know we will greatly enjoy reading and exploring his book. Our book club conversation with Hedrick will be on Sunday, June 19th. I am looking forward to it! President, Jackie Salit in conversation with Hedrick Smith

You can get your copy of Who Stole the American Dream? on Amazon, at your local bookseller or library. It is available in hardcover, paperback or on Kindle.

Let me leave you with an excerpt from the Prologue:

A House Divided: Two Americas

Over the past three decades, we have become Two Americas.  We are no longer one large American family with shared prosperity and shared political and economic power, as we were in the decades following World War II. Today, no common enemy unites us as a nation. No common enterprise like settling the West or rockeing to the moon inspires us as a people.

We are today a sharply divided country–divided by power, money, and ideology.  Our politics have become rancorous and polarized, our political leaders unable to resolve the most basic problems. Constant conflict had replaced a sense of common purpose and the pursuit of the common welfare.  Not just in Washington, but across the nation, the fault lines that divide us run deep, and they are profoundly self-destructive, unless we can find our way to some new unity and consensus.

Abraham Lincoln gave us fair warning. “A house divided against itself, ” Lincoln said, “cannot stand.”

Americans sense that something is profoundly wrong–that we have done off track as a nation.  Many skilled observers write about this, but it is hard to grasp exactly how we arrived at our present predicament or how to respond–how to go about healing America’s dangerous divide.  The causes do not lie in the last election or the one before that.  They predate the financial collapse of 2008.  The timeline to our modern national quagmire lies embedded in the longer arc of our history, and that history, from 1971 to the present, is the focus of this book.”



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