Robert B. Reich: An Election Day carol

By Robert B. Reich

In the early hours of Election Day, before dawn reached the nation’s capital, Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy was suddenly awakened by someone standing next to his bed.

“Get out of here or I’ll call the cops!” the justice shouted.

“Don’t get bent out of shape,” said the ghost-like figure.

“Who are you?” demanded Kennedy.

“I am the Ghost of Election Day Past.”

“Heavens!” cried the justice. “Why are you here?”

The ghost didn’t answer but beckoned the justice to follow him.

He led Kennedy to Sacramento, California, the city where he grew up. The day was Election Day 1957, the first time the youthful Anthony ever voted.

“I look so happy,” the justice said, his eyes welling up with tears. “Everyone does.”

“It was a time when people were eager to vote, a time when Election Day was a joyful occasion,” said the ghost. “A time before all the corruption.”

“What corruption?” asked Kennedy worriedly.

The ghost glowered at the justice. “The corruption brought on by your decision in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission,” the ghost snapped. “You wrote the opinion that four of your fellow justices joined. It opened the floodgates to big money in elections.”

“I don’t understand,” the justice cried.

“You decided that corporations are people under the First Amendment, and that independent campaign expenditures, even when made by giant corporations, don’t give rise to corruption or even the appearance of corruption,” the ghost said. “How could you have been so naive?”

The ghost suddenly vanished, and the justice was back in his bed, trembling. He tried to calm himself. “Just a bad dream,” he said.

Moments later another ghost arrived.

“Who are you?” Kennedy pleaded.

“I am Election Day Present,” said the apparition, “and you must come with me.”

The ghost led the justice to a television set where he was forced to watch five straight hours of negative political advertising.

“Please stop! I can’t bear it!” cried the justice. “Who is responsible for this?”

“No one knows. They don’t have to identify themselves,” said the ghost. “You wrote in Citizens United that Congress would pass a law requiring disclosure of the sources of all campaign funds. But of course, it didn’t.”

“But I … I … thought …” the justice stammered.

The ghost towered over Kennedy. “You should have known!” he shouted, and then vanished as suddenly as the first ghost, leaving the justice back in his bed.

“Oh help,” Kennedy groaned. “I’m having a very bad night.”

Moments later, two apparitions appeared. They appeared very old.

“Who are you?” the justice cried, pulling his blanket over his head.

“We are Election Day Future,” said the two in unison. “Come with us.”

“Must I?” whispered the justice.

The ghosts nodded their heads and led the justice into a palatial room in which a dozen people were loudly partying.

“Who are these people?” Kennedy asked.

“The billionaires who now own America. They make all the decisions.”

“What … happened?” the justice asked meekly.

“Citizen’s United allowed a few giant corporations, Wall Street banks and very wealthy people to buy American democracy. And once they bought it, there was no longer any need for Election Day. That’s why they party every year on this day.”

“Oh, no,” said the justice, and he began to weep.

“By the way,” said the ghosts in unison, “let us introduce ourselves. Charles and David Koch.” They shook the justice’s hand, and then vanished.

Justice Kennedy was back in his bed, just as the morning light was beginning to peep through the curtains.

It was Election Day 2014. The justice was overwhelmed with relief and joy. He put on his best suit and went to vote.

“Hello!” he happily shouted to everyone he saw at the polling place. “Isn’t Election Day wonderful?”

Then Justice Kennedy hurried to his office in the Supreme Court building where he met with his law clerks.

“I’ve made a very important decision,” he said. “I’m going to join with the four dissenters to Citizens United, and we’re going to reverse that horrific case.”

His clerks had never seen the justice so happy.

“I want each of you to take the rest of the day off, and be sure to vote!” he beamed. Then he headed for the door and clicked his heels before leaving for home. “Happy Election Day!” he shouted.


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