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Robert Reich: An Election Day Carol

'I am Election Day Present,' says the apparition, 'and you must come with me.'

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Image from Flickr user Andrea Labate.

By Robert Reich
By arrangement with Robert Reich

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

“Get out of here or I’ll call the cops!” the Justice shouts.

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

“Who are you?” demands the Justice.

“I am the ghost of Election Day Past.”

“Heavens!” cries the Justice. “Why are you here?”

The ghost does not answer but beckons the Justice to follow him.

He leads the Justice to Sacramento, California, the city where he grew up. The day is Election Day, 1957, the first time the youthful Anthony has ever voted.

“What corruption?” asks the Justice, worriedly.

“I look so happy,” the Justice says, 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,” says the ghost. “A time before all the corruption.”

“What corruption?” asks the Justice, worriedly.

The ghost glowers at the Justice. “The corruption brought on by your decision in ‘Citizen’s United versus Federal Election Commission,’ the ghost snaps. “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 cries.

“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 says. “How could you have been so naïve?”

The ghost suddenly vanishes, and the Justice is back in his bed, trembling. He tries to calm himself. “Just a bad dream,” he says.

Moments later another ghost arrives.

“Who are you?” the Justice pleads.

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

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

The ghost leads the Justice to a television set where he is forced to watch five straight hours of negative political advertising.

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

“No one knows. They don’t have to identify themselves,” says 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 stammers.

The ghost towers over the Justice. “You should have known!” he shouts, and then vanishes as suddenly as the first ghost, leaving the Justice back in his bed.

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

Moments later, two apparitions appear.

“Who are you?” the Justice cries, pulling his blanket over his head.

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

“Must I?” whispers the Justice.

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

The ghosts nod their heads, and lead the Justice into a palatial room in which a dozen people are loudly partying.

“Who are these people?” asks the Justice.

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

“What … happened?” the Justice asks 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,” says the Justice, and he begins to weep.

“By the way,” say the ghosts in unison, “let us introduce ourselves. Charles and David Koch.” They shake the Justice’s hand, and then vanish.

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

It’s Election Day, 2014. The Justice is overwhelmed with joy. He puts on his best suit, and goes to vote.

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

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

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

His clerks have never seen the Justice so overjoyed.

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

Robert B. Reich, Chancellor’s Professor of Public Policy at the University of California at Berkeley, was Secretary of Labor in the Clinton administration. Time Magazine named him one of the ten most effective cabinet secretaries of the twentieth century. He has written thirteen books, including the best sellers Aftershock: The Next Economy and America’s Future and The Work of Nations: Preparing Ourselves for 21st Century Capitalism. His latest, Beyond Outrage, is now out in paperback. He is also a founding editor of the American Prospect magazine and chairman of Common Cause.

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