Allan Lichtman grew up in the inner city of Brooklyn, NY, but has lived in Maryland for 30 years. He and his wife, Karyn Strickler, have a child, whom they reared in Maryland. A professor of history at American University, Allan has testified as an expert witness in more than 70 voting rights and redistricting cases. He has lectured across the world, and his work has appeared in such publications as the American Historical Review, The New Republic, the Washington Monthly, The New York Times, The Washington Post and The Baltimore Sun. Allan has consulted for Vice President Al Gore and Senator Edward Kennedy. His six published books include The Keys to the White House, describing his “keys” system that has predicted the popular vote result in every presidential election since 1984. He has provided commentary on national politics for all major networks and was the regular political analyst for CNN Headline News. He has written a column on Maryland politics for 15 years.
ePluribus Media: Professor Lichtman, thank you for taking the time to answer questions for ePluribus Media. Though it is still a year until the November 2006 elections and months before any primaries, we have already conducted five interviews with contestants for Senate and House seats, and we hope to do many more in the coming year.
If you don’t mind our saying so, you are something of an oddity as a candidate, an “insider” in the fact that you have enormous experience — not just in studying the American government from the vantage point of a university in DC but from direct dealings with the people in power of the past three decades and more. But you are an “outsider” politically, not really a part of the Democratic Party structure (you even speak of “timid Democrats”) but an independent thinker whose views are clearly based on your own study of issues and not simply of strategy. In fact, it may well be that you have spent more time looking into the specifics of issues than any of your competitors. That leaves you with the peculiar status of being something of a long shot but with a resume showing as strong a knowledge of government as that of anyone in the race, even the “seasoned” politicians.
It appears, then, that your purpose in running may be as much to bring these issues into the public debate as to win. Is this true? Before we get into the specifics of these issues, would you care to comment on your reasons for entering this race?
Allan Lichtman: Growing up in Brooklyn you learned two things: how to run and how to fight. So I ran track and wrestled in college. Now I am running for senator from Maryland to fight against an administration and Congress that has built the biggest, most intrusive, least responsive government in history.
Raising issues isn’t enough. If the conventional politicians win in Maryland, they’ll revert to their old tired policies. Maryland and the country need a senator with the ideas, backbone, experience and determination to change what is wrong in Washington. Today there is too much government intruding in our private lives and too little government meeting our needs. George Bush and his allies in Congress have pulled off a revolution in American politics, building a conservative big government that clamps down on our privacy and personal freedom, neglects its responsibilities to working- and middle-class Americans, and pays off big-time to their wealthy corporate clients. This revolution advances an upward redistribution of wealth and power that threatens long-term prosperity. It makes government costlier and less fair, stifles individual freedom and democratic decision-making, and opens fissures between the wealthy and other Americans.
Government should not dictate our family decisions as in the Terri Schiavo case. It should neither look over our shoulder when we browse the library nor give away our property to corporate developers under “eminent domain.” It should not be subverting through so-called “tort reform” our Seventh Amendment rights to a trial by jury in civil cases. It should help free us from dependence on fossil fuels and redirect corporate giveaways to investments in education, health care, the environment, income security and infrastructure. These are the kinds of changes I pledge to work for as a senator from Maryland.
ePMedia: You are running for an open Senate seat, so the voters have to decide whom to vote for based on candidates’ past experiences, not based on a record in the Senate. What makes you more qualified to serve than those you are running against in the Maryland Democratic primary (scheduled for September 12, 2006)?
AL: The voters know that sending a conventional politician to the Senate from Maryland won’t improve their lives or change what is wrong in Washington. As the only experienced outsider in the race, I’ve been tested in the bare-knuckled boxing ring of American politics in more than 70 civil rights and redistricting cases. I’ve put my ideas and principles before the public as a columnist on Maryland politics for 15 years and a commentator for all network and cable outlets. As a political history professor I’ve studied how politics work and how to achieve constructive change. As the only lifetime educator in the Senate, with more than 30 years of teaching and listening to students, I would be a voice for teachers and the most neglected constituency in America: some 100 million children and young adults.
The establishment candidate in the Maryland race is Ben Cardin, a go-along-to-get-along congressman who has done a masterful job of concealing his voting record. Here’s what the people of Maryland need to know about Congressman Cardin. He broke with the majority of Democrats this year to vote against the Woolsey Amendment calling for a plan to end the war and to vote for the House resolution giving President Bush a free hand to stay in Iraq indefinitely. He was one of only 43 Democrats to vote for the House version of the renewed Patriot Act, with such serious violations of civil liberties that even the Republican-controlled Senate rejected it. He is the biggest recipient of corporate PAC money of any national politician in Maryland and delivered with the signature legislation of his career: the Cardin-Portman Pension Bill that Norman Stein, a University of Alabama pension-law specialist, called “an industry wish-list” in The Wall Street Journal . The National Organization for Women (NOW) said it would “tremendously weaken spousal protections” and the American Association of Retired People (AARP) said it could reduce pension payouts to workers by 25 percent. His major competitor before I entered the race, Kweisi Mfume, the former National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) head, had failed to muster an effective challenge based on themes, issues or ideas, or to develop momentum for his campaign. I invite you to visit my Web site and compare it to the sites of other Senate candidates in Maryland.
ePMedia: The aftermath of Hurricane Katrina has brought home to many of us the fragility of our reliance on oil. You say that, if we wanted to, we could reduce our dependence on fossil fuels by 50 percent in 20 years. Could you outline for us, in simple, practical steps, just how we would go about this?
AL: I pledged in my announcement speech to draft legislation during my first 100 days with a goal of cutting our dependence on fossil fuels by 50 percent over 20 years. This is a matter of will, not technology. As President Kennedy said of the mission to the moon, we do such things, “not because they are easy, but because they are hard!”
Here are simple, practical steps that we can take immediately to begin the longer-term process. First, adopt real, loophole-free, fuel-economy standards for motor vehicles, not the shell game that President Bush has proposed. Even a modest average five miles per gallon increase in real fuel economy could save more than 20 billion gallons per year by 2020, according to the Alliance to Save Energy. Second, flip subsidies, tax breaks and research and development programs from fossil fuels to clean, renewable sources of energy. Third, begin to convert all government vehicular fleets to low-emission, fuel-efficient vehicles. Fourth, upgrade energy-efficiency standards for appliances and buildings and create incentives for conservation and the cogeneration of energy. Fifth, rejoin the world and engage in cooperative efforts to reduce emissions from burning fossil fuels. My full plan is still in progress; please share with me your good ideas.
ePMedia: Today even the President is calling for conservation, and sales of SUVs are falling. This isn’t going to be enough to convince us to change our ways, however — and even $4-a-gallon gas may not provide the impetus to get us to kick this long-standing addiction. If Katrina and rising prices aren’t enough to convince people, what would you do to get people behind your program?
AL: Leadership cannot force people to alter their ways, but leadership can catalyze change by challenging current policies, pointing to practical solutions, and inspiring grassroots action. In the 1960s, people developed a new environmental ethic and demanded the changes that led to the Clean Air and Water Acts, the Endangered Species Act and other landmark initiatives. It can happen again, but only with renewed leadership that changes the terms of national debates. The president’s fist-and-glove relationship with big oil companies destroys his credibility, while Democrats have failed to step into the breach. In the presidential debate on domestic issues in 2004, Bush and Kerry said not one word on the environment or energy. Yet our energy policies are tied to nearly everything in our lives. Our dependence on fossil fuels gouges us at the gas pump, raises the costs of heating and cooling our homes, slows down the economy, and fouls our air and water. It makes our national security dependent on propping up a few shaky regimes in the Middle East, stokes the war in Iraq, and increases the global warming that drives weather extremes. Scientific studies continue to warn of the perils of global warming, while politicians sit and fiddle in Washington.
ePMedia: You say, “President George Bush must heed the call for a credible plan to end the war, bring the troops home, and restore our shattered standing in the world by working diplomatically and cooperatively with our allies.” What would constitute a “credible plan to end the war” and how should we go about convincing the allies we alienated by going to war that they should help us get out of it?
AL: Although the Senate does not directly command the armed forces, it can pass a resolution demanding that the president implement a credible plan for ending the war. A credible plan would have real timetables and deadlines. First, the Senate should demand that the president present, no later than the end of this year, a plan for the withdrawal of American troops from Iraq. Second, this plan should provide for a phased withdrawal of American forces to commence no later than the beginning of next year and to be completed no later than the end of next year. Third, the United States should make it clear that it has no ambitions for permanent bases in Iraq or American control over Iraqi oil. This withdrawal plan would fully take place after the passage of an Iraqi constitution and the subsequent election, to give the Iraqi people ample notice to take charge of their own destiny. History suggests — as in Ireland, Israel or Algeria — that stability follows only after sovereignty is established. It cannot be imposed through occupation at the point of a bayonet.
It will take little convincing to bring along our allies in a phased withdrawal from Iraq. Already such countries as Poland, Bulgaria, the Netherlands, Ukraine and even Britain have either withdrawn troops from Iraq or are seriously considering withdrawal. Once out of Iraq, America can begin restoring its standing in the world and begin repairing damaged relations with allies. Perhaps it will even once again become a beacon of hope for the world.
ePMedia: You say, “We should draw a bright line against the transfer of the private property of any resident of Maryland or any other state to private corporate interests.” How, exactly, would you accomplish this? Would legislation be enough, or would an amendment to the Constitution be required?
AL: Historically, three great innovations protected Americans from Old World tyranny: voting rights, the right to own and manage property, and civil rights and liberties. The government has a well-established authority to regulate private property to protect the environment or preserve endangered species — regulations that rarely affect the small-property owner. With due compensation, governments can take private property into the public domain for such common purposes as building roads and reservoirs that all of us use.
To draw a bright line between these purposes and takeover for corporate development would not require a constitutional amendment. Congress could use the power of the purse by withholding federal funds from projects that used eminent domain to compel people to sell their property for profit-making developments like casinos or hotels. Unless progressives take the lead on this issue, the right will insist on much more dangerous measures that will interfere with the legitimate purposes of government to protect our environment.
ePMedia: How, specifically, would you strengthen protection of the Seventh Amendment? One of the arguments used in favor of tort reform is the fear of “jury nullification,” wherein juries make rulings based not on law, but on what the jury decides for itself is “justice.” The huge jury awards against tobacco companies and drug concerns such as Merck are pointed to. Does there need to be reform, as well as protection, of our jury system? If so, could this ease the pressure for tort reform?
AL: The fear of jury nullification is part of a myth spread by corporate interests and their allies in Washington. Their purpose is to deprive ordinary citizens of their only opportunity to exert real power: serving on juries. Jurors can make miscreant corporations pay for their misdeeds, punish discrimination, and redress the grievances of those victimized by negligence.
Study after study by independent authorities have exposed the Big Lie of America’s so-called “litigation crisis.” A United States Department of Justice study of the nation’s 75 largest counties in 2001 shows that tort trials decreased by 23 percent since 1992. In tort jury trials, the median, inflation-adjusted award tumbled by 65 percent during this period. In federal courts, tort filings declined by six percent from 1997 to 2003. Large awards as in the tobacco settlements are based on the evidence in the cases, and they have not undermined the profitability of the industry. The appellate process also amply protects company interests, as was illustrated in the recent Supreme Court decision rejecting a potential $280 billion judgment against tobacco companies. We need to protect medical practitioners from excessive costs of malpractice insurance. However, studies show that settlements in malpractice cases bear no relationship to the cost of malpractice insurance for medical providers. The burdens should be placed on the insurance industry, where it belongs.
ePMedia: Among the means you list for bringing government spending more in line with government income is to keep a revised version of the estate tax. As you know, this tax has been characterized as a “death tax” that takes away family farms and ruins small businesses. If you are going to be successful in convincing many Americans that you are not advocating increasing their taxes or those of their heirs, you are going to have to change the terms of the discussion on this issue. How would you go about doing this?
AL: The retention of a reasonable inheritance tax would save ordinary taxpayers hundreds of billions of dollars over 10 years without affecting family farms or small business. The burden would fall only on the wealthiest Americans. According to a study by the Brookings Institution, even a modest 35 percent inheritance tax with a large $5 million exemption would save the taxpayers $30 billion per year.
ePMedia: Much of the rest of what you propose for fiscal reform would outrage the corporate world, for they would feel the pinch of increased taxes. How can the government, in the face of determined corporate lobbying and money, fight the power of the corporations and get them to pay what you obviously feel is their fair share of the tax burden?
AL: It is past time for the American people to reclaim their country, not by punishing wealthy corporations, but by restoring basic fairness to government policies. Grassroots politics has in other times prevailed against corporate financial power and can do so again. Most reforms of Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal — including Social Security, the National Labor Relations Act (Wagner Act), and minimum wages — were enacted in the teeth of corporate opposition. Even though 80 percent of wealthy Americans and corporate executives contributed only to Republicans in 1936, FDR prevailed with 60 percent of the vote. We can only hope that it will not take another Great Depression or a similar national tragedy to restore grassroots power in the United States.
ePMedia: If you win, you will likely be only one of two Senators with a background in education. How, specifically, could you turn this fact to the national good?
AL: Mahatma Ghandi said, “All our philosophy is dry as dust if it is not immediately translated into some act of living service.” As an educator I try to perform acts of individual service every teaching day, a unique preparation for public service. I’ve learned how to listen and to share what is in my heart and mind. You can’t fool students. They immediately know whether you are authentic or not. As an educator and historian I’ve tried to think critically, to question authority, and to form original ideas. I’ve studied the origins of today’s problems and how to build new coalitions for constructive change. Surely the nation can benefit from having an educator to speak up for teachers, children and students amid the scores of lawyers, businessmen and professional politicians in the Senate.
ePMedia: You are quite clear and definitive in your support of a woman’s right to choose. Many Americans, however, are uncomfortable even talking about reproductive rights, especially as they relate to their children. This often becomes an entry for those who want to restrict abortion and other reproductive rights. Instead of restricting all rights, they restrict those of children. How do you see these possibly conflicting rights, those of parents in relation to their underage children and those of the children in terms of their own bodies?
AL: We must continue to support the right of women to choose safe and legal abortions. But we must also provide women broader choices and make abortion less necessary. Once a woman is pregnant, she has three choices: she can give birth and keep the baby, give birth and give up the baby for adoption, or have an abortion. We can make the first and second options far more feasible for women by strengthening adoption services and providing safe options for maternal health care, including cost-effective care by nurse midwives.
We can also help prevent unwanted pregnancies, especially among teenaged women, through education programs and effective contraception, including emergency contraceptives that prevent fertilization, ovulation or implantation without inducing abortions. For young women, reproductive choice should be a matter decided between them and their parents, not controlled by government as a means for chipping away at broader abortion rights. Abortion rights for young women protect those very few in abusive family situations where parental participation is not feasible. Education is also a crucial part of reproductive choice. More than a decade ago Maryland pioneered a comprehensive education program to reduce teenage pregnancies. From 1988 to 2000 the teenage pregnancy rate fell by 30 percent in Maryland, compared to just 14 percent in George Bush’s home state of Texas with its more punitive approach to young women.
ePMedia: Voting rights have long been a specialty of yours. Before the 2000 election many of us thought this an issue of the past. With disputed elections, however, and things like questionable voting machines and required ID cards, voting-rights issues have come back upon us with a vengeance. Do you have any recommendations for a program for ensuring that we manage to return to an above-reproach one-person-one-vote system? To date, voting rights has remained a state issue. Do you see a necessity of bringing about reform through federal law?
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