5 Questions For: Rhode Island Senator Sheldon Whitehouse on Clinton, Obama and money in politics
Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) is his state’s junior Senator, first elected in 2006 and thus up for reelection in 2012. He is one of the Senate’s more liberal members on everything from marriage equality (he supports a repeal of DOMA) to the elimination of the Citizens United ruling. He spoke to Raw Story at the PPL Newsroom.
Raw Story: Last night’s speech with President Clinton was a big hit with the crowd. How do you think President Obama can top that tonight?
Whitehouse: You know, I think the bar is very, very high for President Obama. First of all, I think the First Lady hit it out of the park the day before. Yesterday, Clinton hit it out of the park so hard that it’s still flying. So one thing we know about the President is that when it’s time to give a good speech, he can do it. But the bar is very, very high and I think people across America just loved Clinton’s speech yesterday. It was smart, it was true, it was on the issues, it was really vintage Clinton, particularly since he freewheeled a lot of it way off-script, which is also vintage Clinton. But everybody loved it, absolutely loved it.
I was very proud, and I think everybody in the arena was very proud, to have President Clinton showcased as our last Democratic president last night, and to put him up in prime time and show America what happened and remind Americans that when Democratic policies are in place, the results for regular Americans and for our economy are really, really good ones. Contrast that with the way the Republicans have tried to hide their last President, not because he individually is a bad person but because he will be a reminder that when you take these Republican policies and remove them from the spin shop and put them out into regular families’ lives, it was a disaster for American families and the American economy. So in addition to all the great things that Clinton said last night, the very fact that we put him out there and that we’re proud of him is a reminder that our policies work for regular American families — and the fact that they had to hide President Bush is a reminder that their policies don’t work for American families.
Raw Story: It was interesting that, unlike Michelle Obama’s speech which didn’t make many pointed attacks, but Clinton’s was very geared at attacking Republicans. How much more of that do you think will happen today?
Whitehouse: My guess is that the First Lady’s mission was to describe the President in a very personal way and let people know where his values come from and that they’re real and that they’re founded in his experience, and I think that she did a terrific job of that. I think President Clinton’s job was to basically call the lie on so much of the nonsense that the Republican Party has been trying to feed the American public. And that leaves the President the freedom to look forward and to talk about his vision and to talk about the coming years. So that’s my expectation as to what he’ll do, I doubt he’ll try to engage too much, I’m sure there will be a little tweak now and again, because some of the things that have been said about him and about his policies are so preposterous that you kind of can’t let is pass. But I think he’ll do any of that with a very, vey light touch and it’ll be mostly about vision.
Raw Story: The Democrats have made a real point in the last two days to differentiate themselves from the Republicans on issues of women’s rights. Where do you see the President going with that tonight?
Whitehouse: I think that the role of, the independence, the empowerment of women is something that is at the very heart of the Democratic platform, and disempowering women, moving choices from them to the government, and moving backwards on issues on which we’ve moved way forward in the last decades really characterize the Republican platform. And I think that with women voters being so important in the coming election, that’s going to be a very important distinction for Democrats to draw.
Raw Story: There’s been a lot of implicit references to Citizens United with the explicit ones to the role of money in politics in this election. What are you doing on it?
Whitehouse: I’m supporting the Udall amendment or a modification of it, we’re still working on exactly what the right phrasing should be. I’m the author of the DISCLOSE Act which, in the meantime, would at least let the American public know who the big donors are, so that they may still be big political donors, but they won’t still be big secret political donors. There is precious little value to having these million dollar contributions into campaigns be secret. Nobody in their right mind does that kind of political spending without a motive. And if they want to hide their identity, you can draw a very sensible, logical conclusion that that motive is not one the American public would support. So it’s even more important that we have some transparency. You know, “Sunlight is the best disinfectant,” people say. Okay, let’s open up some sunlight on this, let’s see who these people are behind the scenes who are actually pumping the money into this election so that we can know when they come back later to have their favor repaid by the candidate they elected, we can watch out for the quid pro quo, we can watch out for the crooked deal, we can watch out for the corruption of our political system.
Raw Story: Obviously the Obama campaign has made a big point here that turnout is the name of the game for them. So what do you think is the Republican end game when it comes to pushing voter ID, which often manifests as voter suppression?
Whitehouse: I think the Republican end game is very simple, and that’s to suppress voter turnout among groups that they think are more likely to vote for Democrats than Republicans. They would love to restrict access to the polls to people who are going to vote Republican. And that’s what I think they are doing, and I think President Clinton did a terrific job of calling them out on it last night.
[Image via Transportation for America on Flickr, Creative Commons licensed]