Part 3: Politicians and Our Political Process
The power of money to influence legislation is undeniable. And, over time, the interests of the wealthy have eclipsed the needs of the middle class and poor. In 2016, the top 1% of Americans owned 40% of the nation's wealth. While the bottom 90% owned just over 20%.
In January 2010, in the landmark Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, the Supreme Court declared the First Amendment prohibits the government from restricting independent expenditures for communications by nonprofit corporations, for-profit corporations, labor unions, and other associations. This meant these organizations could spend unlimited funds for political ads. In addition, lobbyists ply legislators with money to support legislation that benefits corporations’, rather than citizens' best interests. Love of money has become the root of all legislation.
Check Their "Facts", 2012
Easily lost in politics is the truth. Politicians want to get elected so they tell the electorate what they want to hear, rather than what they should hear. The facts and the true distinctions between candidates are often obfuscated by half-truths and lack of context. Robert Samuelson of the Washington Post thought about what he'd like to hear from Barack Obama and Mitt Romney in the 2012 presidential debates if they told the truth.
As we saw in the 2016 presidential election, “fake news” has become an effective persuasion tool. And these attempts to recast the issues are often reinforced by voters’ biases. It behooves citizens to check these “facts” and check their sources. But, that often doesn’t happen.
The People's Court : Politicians Guilty!, 2012
People judge the effectiveness of our political and economic system with our votes. In future elections, we should take a close look at how the three branches of the body politic: politicians, lobbyists, and corporations (as opposed to the three branches of our federal government) have worked for or against Americans' best interests. What role does self-interest play in each of these sectors? This poster is part of a series of three, each focusing on one sector of our socio-political system.
Norquist We Didn't Elect You, 2012
For the past twenty years, Republican lawmakers have taken Grover Norquist's pledge not to raise taxes under any circumstances. (Norquist founded Americans for Tax Reform.) This prevents any debate on tax hikes and locks in representatives’ votes even before any discussions. Norquist’s pledge has its roots in the 18th and 19th centuries. It was called governmental "Instruction." People gave their elected officials instructions on how to vote. Even back then it was controversial. And one of its most vocal opponents was English politician Edmund Burke. Here's what he said to the voters of his district when he ran for Parliament:
"What sort of reason is that, in which the determination precedes the discussion; in which one set of men deliberate, and another decide; and where those who form the conclusion are perhaps three hundred miles distant from those who hear the arguments….Authoritative instructions; mandates issued, which the member is bound blindly and implicitly to obey, to vote and to argue for, though contrary to the clearest conviction of his judgment and conscience...."
It’s interesting to read Burke’s statement in light of what’s happening now in American politics. Special interests, like those Norquist represents, hold undue influence in our government. Constituents’ interests are only important to our representatives if they threaten their re-election. Our legislators do not have, as Burke suggested, “unbiased opinions.”
To read more about Burke and how this connects with Norquist's pledge, read Gary Wills' article Edmund Burke Against Grover Norquist from the New York Review of Books.
Talk is Cheap!, 2013
The misappropriation of Congress' time on contentious rhetoric, rather than on finding positions both liberals and conservatives can work with, is not what we "hired" our representatives to do. Rather than pass legislation no one even reads before voting and with no debate whatsoever, Congress should be sequestered until legislators' work habits improve. Put simply: Don't come home until you sort this out!
We Will Eradicate the Spies and Saboteurs, the Trotskyist-Bukharinist Agents of Fascism, Sergei Igumnov, 1937, NKVD (Soviet Secret Police), published during the infamous Show Trials in Moscow, Source: Listverse
Senators, You Failed Your Background Checks, 2013
When our Senate defies the majority of Americans who support background checks for gun purchases it speaks volumes about our senators’ priorities. How did this happen? As is often the case, money is at the root of this issue. The National Rifle Association has contributed millions in contributions to our legislators’ campaigns. This poster is not about the intricacies of forming a rational approach to ending violence in this country. It is about the forces in play in our Congress—how things get accomplished, political influence, and what motivates our legislators' votes. An unbalanced influence of money and power is the motivating force in Congress.
Congress Wastes Taxpayers' Dollars, 2013
In September 2013, the Republican-led House of Representatives voted to defund the Affordable Care Act for the 42nd time. Each of these 42 votes cost taxpayers $1.45 million for a running total of $61,000,000. The money could have gone to help Americans in need. Instead, the GOP is holding the American people hostage for ideological reasons. If cutting government spending is a priority for Republicans, the money they have wasted shows the hypocrisy of the party.
Each time the GOP wastes our money in this way, this poster will be updated.
Congress Wastes Taxpayers' Dollars Again and Again, 2015
On February 3, 2015, the Republican-led House of Representatives voted for the 56th time to end or defund the Affordable Care Act. And while the GOP keeps voting to defund the Obamacare, where is their healthcare plan?
A few days after this vote, the GOP did unveil a new healthcare alternative. However, as Dana Milbank of the Washington Post pointed out, it was a literal "cut and paste" of a proposal they put forth in 2014. Is the Republican Party seriously interested in healthcare for the middle class and poor? So far, the answer is no.
I'm Watching You : We're Watching You Too Mr. President, 2013
National security is an important part of our lives. However, the line between security and personal privacy is a very fuzzy one. And, the American people deserve the right to discuss and debate the issue in the open.
Neely Tucker of the Washington Post reported on a Post/Pew poll in which 62% surveyed said it was more important for the government to investigate terrorism than to protect personal privacy. Yet, Laura W. Murphy, director of the ACLU's Washington Legislative Office, suggested an important context to this poll. "Poll results and opinions of the masses are, no matter how well-intentioned, not the point of constitutional protections. While it might be fine for your neighbors to let the government inspect their personal lives, it's not okay for your neighbors to say it's fine for officials to inspect you."
This poster was done after it was revealed that under President Obama, US and British intelligence agencies were gathering data from nine American internet companies under a secret program called Prism.
In October 2013, the federal government shutdown because of an impasse between Republicans and Democrats to fund the government, either for the entire fiscal year or, temporarily, with a continuing resolution. The Republican House offered a series of continuing resolutions, each of which either delayed the implementation of or defunded the Affordable Care Act. These were rejected by the Democrat-held Senate and the President. With no funding, over 800,000 federal employees were furloughed and the government shut down for 16 days. A majority of Americans blamed the Republicans for the shutdown.
Time Killers Are Guilty!, circa 1923-1929, Mather and Co., Work Motivational Posters, Gray, David A. "Managing Motivation: The Seth Seiders Syndicate and the Motivational Publicity Business in the 1920s." Winterthur Portfolio 44, no. 1 (2010): 77-122. doi:10.1086/651088.
The Matadors of the GOP, 2015
In 2015, Senator Tom Cotton (R-AR), with a mere two months experience in Congress, penned a letter to the leaders of Iran, cautioning them that President Obama did not have the constitutional authority to reach an accord on Iran's nuclear program. This letter was signed by 46 additional GOP Senators.
This brought our dysfunctional Congress to a new and dangerous low. And, it may have been against the law. The Logan Act, enacted in 1799, is a federal law barring unauthorized citizens from corresponding with foreign governments that have a dispute with the United States. Both this, as well as then House Speaker, John Boehner's invitation to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to speak to Congress on the subject was a way to undermine President Obama's influence in negotiations with Iran.
The irony of Cotton's letter was that negotiations with Iran were not unilateral between the US and Iran. In fact, there were five other countries involved in this process. Obama would not have sole power to affect a solution to Iran's nuclear program.
In September 2015, presidential candidate Donald Trump stated "It was amateur hour for those charged with striking this deal with Iran, demonstrating to the world, yet again, the total incompetence of our president and politicians." In October 2017, President Trump decertified the arms pact giving Congress 60 days to determine whether to reimpose sanctions on Iran. And, in May 2018, Trump made good on his election promise by withdrawing the US from the pact.
Had Enuf! NeoCon Wor Peeplz, 2014
Neoconservatives (Neocons) traditionally espouse the idea that America has a duty to promote its form of democracy throughout the world by any means, including military action. They, like the "hawks" during the Vietnam War, subscribe to the domino effect. For example, letting Iraq and Afghanistan fall to extremists will cause other close-by regions to do the same. Yet, fighting extremism is much subtler and requires a lot of diplomacy and understanding of each situation. Many see the world in shades of gray. Neocons see the world in black and white.
This poster takes the popular internet meme of cute cat pictures known as LOLCATS, and turns it on its head. Instead of cute and cuddly, the kitty in this poster is angry and uses the pidgin English associated with LOLCAT, to convey its anger.
Your 'Greed Economics' Doesn't Fit, 2015
One of the signature Republican proposals since they took control of the House in 2010 has been tax cuts and reforming the tax code. In 2015, E.J. Dionne, columnist for The Washington Post, wrote that "Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI.) values his reputation as a serious policy analyst and a genial soul. But he’s not above name-calling, and he insists that President Obama’s budget is the product of 'envy economics.'” Ryan's own plan cuts taxes to the rich while also cutting services to the poor and middle class. So, Dionne states, isn't it fair to call Ryan's economic plan "greed economics"?
In 2018, nothing has changed, except the GOP holds, not just the House, but the Senate and the presidency. And, in December 2017, Congress voted to enact its tax plan and President Trump signed it. Similar to the GOP's 2015 proposal, the law will reduce taxes to the rich while cutting programs to many middle class and poor to pay for a loss in revenue. The Center for Budget and Policy Priorities, a non-partisan research institute which focuses on fiscal responsibility in equitable ways, called this plan "irresponsible."
According to their analysis, "Despite...looming fiscal pressures, congressional Republican leaders have abandoned their earlier pledges to pursue revenue-neutral tax reform. Instead, they’re aggressively advancing a costly tax cut. Together, the bill’s revenue loss and associated debt service costs would add $1.7 trillion to deficits and debt between 2018 and 2027, and would bring the debt to 97 percent of the GDP by 2027."
Chronicles of American Politics: The Posters of the Chamomile Tea Party
Part 1: Partisanship on Overdrive
Part 2: The Electorate
Part 4: The Issues
Download a brief bibliography of topics covered in this exhibit.
Next, Part 4: The Issues
All Chamomile Tea Party posters are published under a Creative Commons license. You are free to distribute these posters with attribution, providing the purpose is non-commercial and they are not altered. High resolution posters are free and can be downloaded via chamomileteaparty.com.
The Chamomile Tea Party was formed to comment on the bluster of the Tea Party, which began in 2009 as a protest against Barack Obama's social and fiscal agendas. In the intervening eight years, the political landscape has morphed. Tranquility and compromise, which, at the time, seemed merely difficult to obtain, now seems impossible. These posters reflect the conflicts the American political system has been experiencing during this turbulent period. They are meant to encourage an exploration and a dialogue about the cultural minefield we now find ourselves in. The Chamomile Tea Party is affiliated with Artists for a Better Image, Inc.
Jeff Gates is an artist and writer. He has a B.A. in political science from Michigan State University and an M.F.A. in graphic design and photography from UCLA. He is the recipient of two Artist Fellowships for his photographs from the National Endowment for the Arts. He is the founder of Artists for a Better Image, where he studies stereotypes of artists in contemporary culture. His art is in the collections of museums such as the Smithsonian American Art Museum, the Victoria & Albert Museum, Huntington Library, the Baltimore Museum of Art, and the International Center for Photography. He has written for publications such as The Washington Post, The Atlantic, National Public Radio, and Smithsonian Magazine.