Little over a month remains to strike a deal with Iran in an endless series of nuclear talks before the November 24th deadline created by the interim deal this past November. The United States maintains one goal: to make certain that Iran will never produce a nuclear weapon. At this stage of negotiations, the United States is pushing for Iran to reduce its centrifuges from a current 10,000 down to 1,500. Iran, while seeking to free itself from the crippling weight of UN sanctions against it, maintains a goal of building its enrichment capacity for civil functions. A dominant narrative in US news argues that Iraq hardliners are the force behind failure in these talks: those that refuse to degrade Iraq’s nuclear capabilities even slightly. What, however, about the lesser-mentioned United States hardliners? How are United States domestic politics and American hardline voices tipping the odds of the discussion to failure?
Counterintuitively, for many in Washington right now, the only true political success is failure. Success would mean having made concessions to the other side. Many commentators argue that our best hope right now, and most likely result, is an agreement to extend the deadline, to keep talking and disagreeing. A resistant Congress has been a huge factor in an immobile line on reduction. Some members have even attempted to tighten sanctions, for example this past January, despite ongoing negotiations considering loosening in exchange for parallel concessions. This and other actions by Congress have meant a constant looming threat over negotiation: If the state department and top diplomatic officials can even beat the widely perceived odds to come to an agreement, will the United States Congress even accept it?
The Obama administration seems to be preparing for the possibility that the answer is “no.” The New York Times reported on Sunday that the Obama administration, in consultation with the Treasury Department, is prepared to circumvent a vote of Congress by enacting temporary suspensions of sanctions on Iran, obviously a response to the belief that Congress would be unable or unwilling to do so. Sanctions are a huge source of leverage for the United States and sanction relief for Iran is an inevitable trade associated with any Iranian concessions on enrichment equipment and sites. Congress, unsurprisingly, has proven displeased with the possibility of being shut out from the debate. Senator Robert Menendez, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, one of the sponsors behind January efforts to tighten sanctions, issued a statement over the weekend that Congress will respond if a deal is made that does not “substantially and effectively dismantle Iran’s illicit nuclear weapons program.” A fellow hardliner critic of the negotiations, Senator Mark S. Kirk, stated, “Congress will not permit the president to unilaterally unravel Iran sactions that passed the Senate in a 99 to 0 vote.” If the current Congress poses a threat to the current negotiations, or at least a complication, the impending Congress poses still a greater one.
President Obama may be able to appease Iranian representatives with his ability to temporarily relieve sanctions in the face of a hostile Congress, but he certainly cannot permanently maintain such a transaction. If Democrats hold on to the Senate next month, officials cited by the New York Times on Sunday have said that it is still likely that a vote for a new Iran deal would still lose. If Republicans win the Senate, that likelihood is immensely greater. Can United States officials convince Congress to compromise more than it seems willing to? At the least, can the United States convince Iranian officials that it has a more willing Congress than it does? The Iranian foreign minister has affirmed his ability to convince Tehran. The public will hear much talk in the coming weeks about the dangers of Iranian hardliners and would not accept any compromise that might arise at negotiations. Let us not forget about the American ones.
The time ahead is for negotations on multiple fronts including between foreign officials of the respective nations, between Iranian foreign officials and Tehran influences, and between American foreign officials including President Obama and Congress. There is no doubt that the Pennsylvania Avenue front is a contentious one and it is a reality acknowledged by Iranian officials when considering the United States’ ability to follow through on deals. The near future of U.S. domestic politics holds great implications for the future of Iranian nuclear talks. We might soon see that failure to negotiate will win political points and the time for a decision may very well be pushed to a later date, but it is important to acknowledge that one of the stagnant parts that might be required to move is the domestic gear of our nation. The six weeks remaining to come up with a deal and the future that waits beyond that date are unclear, but if we agree with Henry Kissinger, that Iran is a bigger problem than ISIS for the United States, the pressure to overcome politics and achieve statemanship must be all the more pressing.
According to Al Arabiya News and Agence France Presse, Saudi Arabian women are preparing to drive on October 26th, the anniversary of the driving protest from last year. A ban prohibits Saudi women from getting behind the wheel, with Saudi Arabia being the only known country to have that prohibition. Last year, at least sixteen women were fined for driving. This year, an online petition has attracted over 2,400 signatures as of October 9 while activists encourage women to use the Twitter hash tag #IWillDriveMyself and to post pictures of themselves driving on FaceBook and Instagram when they drive. Hala Al-Dawsari, a member of the campaign, told Al-Hayat daily that the constant campaigning should lead to one of two things: the lifting of the ban or a good explanation of why women are not allowed to drive.
In conservative Saudi society, gender equality is lacking. According to the Gender Inequality Index, Saudi Arabia is ranked 135th out of 146 countries. It seems like Saudi Arabia is slowly moving in the direction of giving women more rights, as noted by King Abdullah’s decision that women will be able to run in the 2015 local elections, but reform is slow. The driving ban does not come directly from the Qur’an, but from the strict Sunni form known as Salaf (religious predecessors), which is mostly unwritten and gives judges a large amount of discretionary power (they normally rule in favor of tribal customs). Some women do support keeping the status quo – in 2008, Rowdha Youself and other Saudi women launched a petition called “My Guardian Knows What’s Best for Me,” which gathered over 5,000 signatures, while other activists argue that bans such as the driving one and others demean women.
As early as 1990, Saudi women were illegally driving in the streets in order to protest the ban. Now, it remains to be seen whether or not the continued protests against the driving ban will work. King Abdullah would like to modernize the country but needs to listen to Wahhabi traditionalists before he makes the politically risky move. Many believe that women driving could erode traditional values and lead to a Western-style openness. It will be interesting to see the impact of the driving protests on October 26th and if an increasing amount of women demanding for this right to drive will foster change in Saudi Arabia.
It appears as though the originally planned deadline of November 24 for Iranian nuclear talks will most likely be extended past that date. The talks are aimed at curbing Tehran’s nuclear power, and talks with global leaders have so far failed to make any progress. The goal is to form a comprehensive nuclear deal by late November, involving Iranian, U.S., and European diplomats. Because of the vast instability in the region (Syria, Yemen), the talks with Iran and the United Nations Security Council plus Germany (P5+1) have been difficult to resolve . A recent meeting in Oman sought to continue talks to lift sanctions in return for further restrictions on Iran’s bomb-building capabilities. The U.S. has suspected that Tehran has a clandestine program, but Iran continues to deny this suspicion.
President Obama and his aides are still focusing on the November 24 deadline, though it is not certain whether or not any resolutions will come of these talks. With the recent elections and the GOP takeover in the Senate, it is becoming known that plans are set to impose further sanctions on Iran if a deal is not reached by the deadline. This action could greatly affect further diplomacy in the region, which President Obama has been advocating for in his administration. The GOP views the President’s current nuclear diplomacy plan as too weak toward Tehran, so there could be some shift in agenda as the new year begins and the Senate turns over . Also voicing concern over the deadline are Israel and Saudi Arabia, with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu urging the P5+1 bloc to not sign any agreement that doesn’t go far enough in blocking Iran’s nuclear capability. The talks themselves revolve mainly around the timeline of removing Western sanctions on Iran and specifically upon limiting Iran’s enrichment of uranium.
Obama officials believe a deal can be reached by the November 24 deadline, however other experts expect the deal to extend again into 2015. Republican Senator Lindsey Graham (SC) spoke up about bringing the Iran discussion to the forefront, adding that he hopes that sanctions will be a first priority for the new Senate in January under Sen. McConnell’s leadership . The actual act up for negotiation is called the Iran Nuclear Negotiations Act, which was brought forth in July. The act requires an up or down vote from Congress, with an up vote signaling possibly more concessions to Iran than many in Congress approve of. A down vote wouldn’t void a pact with Iran, but would instead reinstate any sanctions previously suspended by the deal. Many believe that if the interim deal is extended, the Republicans are likely to threaten new sanctions against Iran should the agreement be breached or abandoned.
Secretary of State John Kerry and Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif met earlier this week preluding the deadline to discuss their differences of opinion, and have yet to bridge any gaps. The two sides seem to have differing views of how the talks are going, with the U.S. thinking “there is still time” for progress, and the Iranian officials thinking there is “no progress” being made . Iran continues to deny it is seeking power to build a bomb, while Western powers do not believe their claims that the nuclear program aims to produce atomic energy to reduce fossil fuel reliance. As the deadline approaches in two weeks, it remains unclear whether or not an agreement will be reached.
Last Tuesday’s elections proved what many had felt to be true for the past several months if not years: Americans are upset with the direction in which the country is headed, and they want something to change. With the GOP taking over the majority in the Senate and maintaining their majority in the House of Representatives, all eyes are on the Republican leaders to see how they handle this newfound power. This win for Republicans, on multiple levels, may also indicate the potential for a Republican win in the Presidential race in 2016.
One of the largest changes facing the new Congress is the changing of all the committee chairmen to Republican leaders. These leaders will face some challenges from 2016-hopefuls like Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio, and Rand Paul, just to name a few from the Senate. These younger conservatives are pushing for bold plans regarding action on ObamaCare and taxes, just to name a few, yet those ideas might not be the best move for the Republican Party. Republican pollster David Winston is hoping that the GOP can take action on issues where the Republican base is comfortable and can syphon off Democratic votes to get bills passed. “I think the hope is that things move forward,” he said in an interview with Politico. “For a whole lot of reasons, there’s going to be a focus on jobs and the economy, and then after that there will be an assessment of what’s achievable and what’s not.”
With ObamaCare being a main issue driving voters to the polls this cycle, the question remains what the Republican Party intends to do about the health care law. Speaker John Boehner has been cited saying that the House “will move to repeal ObamaCare because it should be repealed.” However, the same article calls for Republicans to have a plan ready for proposal should they succeed in repealing ObamaCare. “Jim Capretta of the Ethics and Public Policy Center added, ‘you need to not only say you’re against the ACA (Affordable Care Act), but you’re going to need to have a replacement plan to show people you have a better way of providing people with health insurance coverage.’”
Regardless of the results of Tuesday’s election, the Wall Street Journal cautions reading too much into a potential 2016 win. “Turnout by Democratic-friendly voting blocs, including minorities, young people and unmarried women, tends to drop off in midterm elections and surge in presidential election years.” The same article quotes former RNC chairman Haley Barbour, who feels that the 2014 elections are less about “the party’s prospects in 2016 and more about widespread discontent with the Democratic administration.” Barbour sees this election as a challenge from the voters to do better than the Democrats have in the past few years.
Overall, this election has posed some interesting questions about the future of the Republican Party. What remains to be seen is how the GOP will handle their new power and what plans they have for attacking President Obama’s policies.
On Wednesday November 5th Democracy Matters partnered with the Eisenhower Institute and the Political Science department to co-host a panel on the issue of campaign finance. Featuring Ellen Weintraub, a commissioner of the Federal Elections Committee(FEC), and Professors Mott, Larson and Mullen, the panel discussed all issues involving money and its effect on public policy.
The panel started off with a brief introduction into the club Democracy Matters, describing its mission to engage students in conversation about the issues of money in government. Following this introduction, Mrs Weintraub explained the founding of the FEC, its current role in policy, and the implications of the Citizens United case. The current issue surrounding campaign finance involves wealthy donors, PAC’s and lobbying firms ability to influence policy. Following the Citizens United case, the Supreme Court ruled that limiting third party groups from funding policy campaigns violated first amendment rights. As a result, third parties financial capabilities have effectively drowned out the voice of average U.S citizens.
In addressing the government’s inability to change this system, sophomore Chase Wonders stated “ I found it interesting that the FEC’s original purpose has been decimated, not by party politics, but the schism of ideology that is currently affecting the country.” Furthermore, Mrs. Weintraub believes that it is this ideology combined with the courts inability to conceptually understand the process of campaign finance that is prohibiting changes to be made.
Concluding the lecture, Mrs. Weintraub and the other panelists opened the floor to questions from the audience. Professor Mott, a legal academic and Professor at Gettysburg College, questioned the Supreme Court’s approach in addressing the Citizens United case. According to Professor Mott, instead of portraying the case as a freedom of speech issue, the court could have instead interpreted the case as a violation of the freedom of the press. While unlikely changing the outcome, this interpretation would have negated the courts ability to rule on campaign finance. Concluding the questions portion of the panel, Mrs. Weintraub stressed the severity of the issue, stating “campaign finance is rooted so deeply in politics, that it effects almost every aspect of our lives without us even knowing it.”
As the panel came to a close, Democracy Matter’s co-chairman Nolan Lynch, stressed the importance of continuing the conversation regarding campaign finance. As stated by Nolan, “it is not the lawyers or the IRS that will be able to effectively solve this issue, it is up to the common voice of the people to go out and make an effective change.” With the issue receiving more exposure, it will be interesting to see if campaign finance will continue to crowd out the voices of the average citizen and corrode America’s democratic values.
NOW, a feminist organization founded in 1966, strives for women’s equality in all aspects of life through both education and litigation. This national organization educates masses on feminist issues through twitter, Facebook and their website, NOW.org. Through these outlets, NOW discusses relevant topics and launches events such as National Love Your Body Day (Gullickson). However, they also work to achieve political power by encouraging the progressive vote and providing funding to politicians who support NOW’s four key issues: economic equality, reproductive rights, voter suppression, and marriage equality.
The economic agenda for women is an especially important cause, as women are currently paid 78 cents for every dollar that men make, a figure that is only intensified with racial discrimination, such as that against Latinas and African-Americans. By encouraging the support of Democratic politicians who seek to raise the minimum wage, attain equal pay for equal work, and promote ideas such as paid family leave, NOW strives to achieve economic justice for women. Regarding reproductive rights, NOW supports affordable health care, access to women’s birth control, and the right to an abortion. Not only do these rights afford women proper autonomy over their bodies, but they provide economic justice, as women would not need pay large sums of money for these concerns. Furthermore, NOW strongly believes in the fundamental right to marriage for those in same-sex relationships. Attaining marriage equality is a key issue for feminists and a cause the organization seeks to promote in the upcoming midterm elections.
Due to the abundance of pertinent issues that are at stake, NOW also seeks to limit the recent voting restrictions, such as photo ID requirements, that tend to influence lower class, minority communities. According to Terry O’Neill, president of NOW, “Restrictions on early voting […] hurt minimum wage workers, two-thirds of whom are women, who usually can’t take time off to vote on Election Day.” (O’Neill). Similarly, many women who have recently been married or divorced are unable to vote because their drivers licenses and birth certificates do not match. As Republicans limit the amount of single women who are able to vote, it becomes easier for them to propose and implement legislation that is detrimental to women.
With the mid-term elections coming up this November, NOW is emphasizing the importance of women’s vote in order to achieve a majority in the Senate that is sympathetic to women’s rights. As Terry O’Neill indicated in the title of her most recent article on Huffingtonpost, “Women’s Votes Always Matter — But They Matter More In 2014” (O’Neill). Be sure to vote and encourage your friends and family to do the same, especially if they live in states like North Carolina, Kentucky, New Hampshire and Alaska. Moreover, the National Organization of Women is asking for donations and fundraising consistently throughout the year. To support their cause donate at: http://now.org/more-ways-to-give/
Gullickson, Caitlin. “What Does “love Your Body” Mean to You?” National Organization for Women. N.p., 21 Oct. 2014. Web. 24 Oct. 2014.
O’Neill, Terry. “Women’s Votes Always Matter — But They Matter More In 2014.” The Huffington Post. TheHuffingtonPost.com, 15 Oct. 2014. Web. 23 Oct. 2014.
With the 2014 midterm elections coming up, the political sphere is getting ready for a shift in congressional party dynamics. The Democratically controlled Senate is likely to turn Republican, and the United States seems to be focusing almost solely on the GOP’s forecasted gains. The current dynamics seem to suggest that the race is already over, despite still being weeks away.
The New York Times recently published an article detailing the actions the newly-Republican congress are planning on taking, suggesting their anticipation of success in the midterms. Similarly, Politico detailed the celebrations hosted by Magnum Entertainment Group, a rightward-leaning event planning firm located in Washington D.C., that are scheduled to occur on November 4th. Invitees included the Republican Governors Association, National Republican Congressional Committee, and Republican National Committee. Thus, discussion is undeniably focused away from the election itself, with the exception of specific tight races. The public now is increasingly set on the future of our political system with a Republican-controlled House and Senate. Will there continue to be such deadlock? Will federal regulation of fracking become banned? Will we see more spending cuts? What will be the fate of Obamacare?
While these are important questions, one factor of our political system remains overlooked: voter turnout. The public is quick to criticize platforms and legislation, but no one seems to discuss the fact that only around 40% of the eligible voting population shows up to the polls during midterm elections (see figure 1). Presidential years experience an increase up to around 60% of eligible voters, yet compared to other democratic nations this number is quite low. Many other democracies have compulsory voting polities, forcing citizens to become more engaged in their country’s political sphere. While the argument of whether to adopt compulsory voting is controversial, the mere idea raises a point: the country should take a larger interest in what happens in our nation’s capital.
Yet, despite the fact citizens should feel a civic responsibility to vote, almost half choose to abstain. This certainly skews opinions, because the 40-60% of registered voters casting a ballot on Election Day are not representative of the nation. Voter turnout is skewed by such factors like ethnicity, income, and education. Looking at the chart below (see figure 2), it is very apparent that income and voter turnout are correlated. Lower-income individuals do not vote for a variety of reasons, two of which being that they either do not believe they are informed enough or do not believe they have time to make it to the polls. Because Election Day falls on a non-holiday Tuesday, many low-income individuals do not have the flexibility in their schedule to physically go to the polls and wait in line. In addition, they often have fewer connections to candidates than higher-income individuals. Wealthier Americans are much more likely to participate in political activities than poorer individuals, with the exception of protests (see figure 3). Most prominently, the wealthy are much more likely to have political contacts and donate to campaigns, causing them to be more likely to prioritize voting come Election Day.
Similarly, ethnicity plays a role in voter turnout as well. Hispanic/Latino and Asian Americans experience significantly lower turnout rates than blacks and non-Hispanic whites (see figure 4). Particularly with the election of the United State’s first black president, there was a rise in the black vote, surpassing the white vote for the first time and following a steady climb in turnout since 1996. However, most other minorities still need to close the gap between themselves and white voters. While Hispanic/Latino voter turnout continues to grow in both presidential and midterm elections, it is overshadowed by the larger growth in the eligible population who chose not to vote. With poor representation of certain minorities, we see the interests of these groups receive even smaller attention. Our political system would be bettered by increased voter turnout because it equalizes voter participation and allows for a more accurate representation of our nation’s opinions. Rather than focusing on the outcome of a race that isn’t even over yet, the nation should shift its attention towards bettering the system in which chooses the men and women who represent us.
Charts and References
Figure 1: US voter turnout 1948-2012 (Fairvote 2012)
 Data from http://www.census.gov/cps/data/
Figure 2: 2010 US Voter Turnout by Income
Figure 3: Participation by Socioeconomic Status (Weeks 2014)
Figure 4: Voter Turnout by Ethnicity (Taylor and Lopez 2013)