Intern Book Reviews: The Great Suppression and Breaking Big Money's Grip on America
Intern Book Review: The Great Suppression by Zachary Roth
“I have come to the conclusion that democracy in government is a case of too many cooks (bad cooks) spoiling the broth.” This is what a Chicago lawyer wrote to James Beck, U.S. solicitor general under President Coolidge, after he denounced “excessive” democracy in the American political system.
According to Zachary Roth’s book, The Great Suppression: Voting Rights, Corporate Cash, and the Conservative Assault on Democracy, many members of the GOP establishment agree with this view, that democracy must be limited in order to preserve Republican party power within government.
Roth does an excellent job going back to the beginnings of anti-democratic rhetoric and working his way up to illustrate how the GOP is threatening democracy. He travels through downtrodden areas where the effects this agenda are taking their toll on the most vulnerable of citizens.
Roth describes a Texas voter ID law that blocked citizens from voting without a narrowly defined accepted ID. Of the hundreds of thousands of Texans who applied for an appropriate ID after the law went into effect, only 279 received it fourteen months later. This law, however, was recently struck down by the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals as a violation of the Voting Rights Act. But only slightly less restrictive laws are still on the books in 18 states.
Similarly, he tells the story of a single mother who was almost convicted of voter fraud in Iowa, despite serving her probation and completely turning her life around. This was thanks to a law signed by Iowa’s GOP governor that stripped formerly incarcerated people of their voting rights, unless they applied to have their rights restored through a complicated and confusing process.
Whether it’s their crusade against limits on money and politics, continued efforts to make casting a vote more difficult, increased judicial activism to reverse previous liberal Supreme Court decisions, or the prevention of local government action, Roth shows that they all lead back to the party’s desire to limit democracy. U.S. Congressman Glenn Grothman (R-Campbellsport) is on the record stating that Wisconsin’s voter ID law would, “make a little bit of a difference as well,” when explaining why he thought the GOP Presidential nominee would win the state for the first time since 1984. Other GOP leaders have come out with even stronger critiques.
Even though Roth makes a strong argument that shows how the GOP has rigged the political system, specifically through gerrymandering and voting restrictions, he fails to mention that Democrats have tried, and continue to try, and gain an upper-hand by using gerrymandering as well. Despite this oversight The Great Suppression serves as a warning to the public that our rights are in jeopardy, and that if there was ever a time to exercise these liberties, the time is now.
Intern Book Review: Breaking Big Money's Grip on America by Bruce Berlin
Bruce Berlin’s book, “Breaking Big Money’s Grip on America”, calls for a mass movement that we all need to join – and that we believe is already underway. The author calls for a “Democracy Movement” to overcome the threat of big money in politics and includes his ideas for how to build the movement.
“Breaking Big Money’s Grip on America” discusses the need for a Democracy Movement by clearly illustrating how money in politics affects many issues -- from the rise of radical Islam as a result of the Iraq War to the 2008 Great Recession. Berlin enlightens us regarding Big Money issues that we may not know about. For example, the average American is unknowingly funding both sides of policy fights thanks to the pernicious effects of corporate money in politics. Folks may donate to groups fighting against special interests – e.g. opposing PhARMA’s efforts to keep drug prices high. But these same Americans are funding PhARMA at the same time through their purchase of medications as consumers.
Berlin also makes pernicious problems like “the revolving door” simple to understand. The revolving door is a system where legislators who get donations from corporations later work for those same corporations as well-compensated lobbyists, consultants, or strategists, or vice versa; and corporations give bonuses to employees who go to work for the agencies that are supposed to regulate them.
Berlin calls for mandatory public financing of elections, an amendment to overturn Buckley v. Valeo, Citizens United, and McCutcheon v. FEC, the elimination of gerrymandering, lobbying reform, eliminating the Electoral College, and establishing a Bill of Voters’ Rights. With these reforms, Berlin’s goal is simple: “to remove the corrupting influence of money in politics and make the government work for the people of the United States”.
His book offers relatable excerpts from speeches by JFK and FDR to Elizabeth Warren that give the reader political insight and encouragement to join the Democracy Movement. “Breaking Big Money’s Grip on America” also focuses on historic movements at their most exciting moments. From the Boston Tea Party, to Rosa Parks refusing to sit at the back of the bus, and from Gandhi’s 240-mile march to the sea to the march on Washington against the Vietnam War — Berlin shares relatable history that convinces the reader that we can fight for and gain our rights.
Berlin describes the United States of America as being at a spiritual and moral crossroads. He activated his audience by connecting the stories of David and Goliath and Lawrence of Arabia to the effectiveness of grassroots organizations that may seem weak compared to the big corporations pouring money into politics. He explains to us, the people, that although we may be weaker in power compared to corporations, we are mighty -- especially when we come together and strategically fight for our rights.
What makes Berlin’s message different is his focus on movement building and unity around the movement’s overarching goals. The Democracy Movement is already happening — organized people are the essential ingredient -- joined by shareholders, artists, lawyers, think tanks, non-profits and lobbyists. But with different approaches to the problem sometimes we need to be reminded that we are all on the same team.
 Roth, Zachary, The Great Suppression: Voting Rights, Corporate Cash, and the Conservative Assault on Democracy. (New York, NY: Crown, 2016), 145.