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Bob Edgar: Far right stands to gain; it must be easier for people to register and vote

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PAUL JAY, SENIOR EDITOR, TRNN: Welcome to The Real News Network. I’m Paul Jay in Washington. And joining us again now is Bob Edgar. He’s the CEO of Common Cause since 2007, a national, nonpartisan, nonprofit lobby group. He’s the author of the book Middle Church: Reclaiming the Moral Values of the Faithful Majority from the Religious Right and was a congressman for the Democratic Party in suburban Philadelphia. Thanks for joining us.

BOB EDGAR, PRESIDENT, COMMON CAUSE: It’s great to be with you, Paul.

JAY: So you’re a nonpartisan group, but you were a Democratic congressman, just to frame where you’re coming from.

EDGAR: We actually invented or captured a new word called transpartisan. We try to transcend party politics.

JAY: Well, transcending party politics is maybe better than transcending some of the fundamental differences in the United States, which some people think they can do. We hear no red states, no blue states, just the United States. We hear one nation and we’re all in this together. But anyone who works for a living knows it’s not one nation, and anyone who’s living in poverty knows it’s not one nation and that there is a difference and there is some objective, big differences in the country. What’s at stake in this election, do you think?

EDGAR: Well, I think this election’s going to be traumatic. It’s going to be traumatic because you’re going to see elected some politically right-wing candidates who are to the right of the philosophy of old Jesse Helms, [whom] we used to think of as the far right. I call it the radical right.

JAY: Do you think part of the problem that’s helped create the space for what I think a rather simplistic argument of just smaller government and less taxes, but this underlying alienation from government, that there’s a big government out there that’s alienated from me, an ordinary person’s interest, is part of the problem is that the leadership of the Democratic Party is part of a big government, a section of the elite that is alienated from ordinary people, almost or maybe as much, but maybe in a somewhat different way, as the leadership of the Republican Party?

EDGAR: I think we need National Choose Up Sides Again Day. I think both parties have lost their definition. Both have extremes on all sides. And we really have to ask ourself, what kind of government do we need for this time in our history? We can’t have a government that has wars in Iraq and Afghanistan but doesn’t put that on the budget or pay for it or raise taxes to cover that cost. We can’t have a defense system that is exquisitely prepared for World War II. We need a strong, practical defense system, but one that’s calibrated for this time in history. If there are terrorists in 60 countries, we’re not going to get terrorists by bombing 60 capitals. We’re going to get terrorists by a very sophisticated police effort, not a military effort. And I think we made a big mistake in going into Iraq. I think the sooner we get out of Afghanistan the better. And we have to realize that when you go into those excursions or wars, you’ve got to pay for it. And we’re paying that price. And I laugh at the conservative Republicans who want to get government off our back and out of our pocketbooks but blindly fund these war expenditures, and I laugh at the Democrats as well who simply want to go with the wind, go with where they think average, ordinary people are. Average, ordinary people want their government to work.

JAY: You have two unholy alliances on this question of war and peace and the role of US military. You had at the rally, the One Nation Rally, recently, as I understand it, speakers were virtually prohibited from saying we’re antiwar, because right now the Democratic Party in power is supporting the Afghan war. So there was all kinds of politics around what you could say and who got to speak. On the other side, you have people like Rand Paul, who supposedly ran against expansionist wars, whose father, when he ran in the Republican primary in New Hampshire—. We have an interview with Rand Paul. But Rand Paul’s berating the Bush administration for these expansionist ideas, for building an empire. And now they’re uniting and standing next to the very same Republicans who were pro-war.

EDGAR: Well, that’s what I said. I think we need a National Choose Up Sides Again Day. And I would do a couple of things. I would urge people to vote, so that we have 70, 80, 90 percent of our people voting rather than 50 percent of our people voting. I’d make registration a lot easier. There really isn’t that much voter fraud. The real problem with voting is that a lot of people just don’t vote.

JAY: It’s one of the things, it seems to me, that defined the Obama administration. Number one for me what defined the Obama administration was the refusal to investigate Bush, Cheney in terms of illegal war activities and such, number one. Number two, they politically continue to fight for this 5, 6, 7 percent in the middle that might vote Republican, and spend no time trying to register the millions and millions of poor people who don’t vote.

EDGAR: Well, this’ll surprise you. I think every child born in the United States should be registered at birth. They get a Social Security number at birth. Why shouldn’t they be registered at birth, and then at 18 their registration becomes effective, so you don’t have to go through all this door-to-door stuff and, you know, figuring out how to get registered? Common Cause works on that. It does state-by-state. We think there ought to be same-day registration. We think there ought to be early voting. There ought to be opportunities for people to have access with computers and other kinds of sophisticated technology. We can find ways to give more people the opportunity to vote. But let me get back to your point about Obama. My hope for Obama is that in January, after the dust settles from the midterm election, that he’ll hold a White House conference on reform, that he’ll get recommitted to presidential public financing and fixing the broken system, so that before the 2012 election we don’t see the flood of special interest money, but we see the flood of small donors in the presidential system. I think there are some reforms at the House and Senate level that can be made. My hope, and some of the Republicans are talking about this, is the president takes the leadership of the House and Senate, regardless of who is in the mix after this election, go to Camp David and spend some days together, get to know each other as people, begin to lay out a plan for how we move forward, ’cause I can tell you that the issues of global warming, the issues of energy, the issues of quality education in this country, the issues of health care are not going to go away, and if we continue the partisan bickering and the lack of ability in government, we’re going to be overtaken by other nations.

JAY: But don’t you think this attempt at bipartisanship, which he was quite committed to for the last two years, has actually covered up objective differences that can’t be bridged? He’s dealing with a certain section of society which is at war. And if—there’s a point where you have to rally your forces to fight in that struggle, and not just try to keep compromising with people who are fighting a war against you.

EDGAR: Yeah. When I served in Congress, not one piece of legislation was put in place by Democrats alone. We had Jacob Javits, we had Senator Brooke, we had [John] Heinz and [Richard] Schweiker, all Republicans who worked closely with us on these issues. And it was often our Democratic colleagues who were to the right of right who opposed issues or wanted to pork-barrel legislation.

JAY: But a very different Republican Party then.

EDGAR: You’re dealing with a very different Republican Party, and that has to be exposed, and people have to begin to ask the question, is that the direction we want to go? Do we want to go to the Sarah Palin route, do we want to go the Chris O’Donnell route of inexperienced people taking office who don’t have the common good in mind but have their own interests in mind? I want to see Democrats and Republicans and independents step forward and run in a fair election process who care about the common good. And I want special interests to continue. After all the reforms take place, we still need the special interests. But we need them to come in with their talking points, not with their stacks of dollars.

JAY: Thanks for joining us.

EDGAR: Good to be with you.

JAY: And we’ll find out on November 2 just whither the Republican Party and the Democrats. Thanks very much for joining us on The Real News Network.

End of Transcript

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In May 2007, Bob Edgar was named president and CEO of Common Cause, a national nonpartisan, non-profit "citizens"" lobby working to make government at all levels more honest