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Fareed Zakaria GPS

Vladimir Putin's Grip On Power; Interview With The Prime Minister Of Barbados Mia Mottley; Interview With The President Of Kenya William Ruto. Aired 10-11a ET

Aired July 02, 2023 - 10:00   ET



FAREED ZAKARIA, CNN ANCHOR: This is GPS, the GLOBAL PUBLIC SQUARE. Welcome to all of you in the United States and around the world. I'm Fareed Zakaria.


ZAKARIA: Today on the program, from the czars in Tsarinas to Soviet era commissars, to President Putin. We delve into the nature of power in Russia. Looking at the past to help us understand the present. I'll talk to the "New Yorker's" David Remnick and "Newsweek" professor Nina Khrushcheva.

Also the prime minister of Barbados on getting the West to pay for damage from climate changes, rising seas and wild weather.

MIA MOTTLEY, PRIME MINISTER OF BARBADOS: Two degrees is a death sentence.

ZAKARIA: And the president of Kenya on why many nations in the global south are not taking a side on the war in Ukraine.


ZAKARIA: But first, here is my take.

In his important book "The Third Wave," Samuel Huntington pointed out the division among the ruling elite is a key sign of weakness in authoritarian regimes. When prominent members of the establishment break with the system, it often triggers a larger set of changes. Conversely, when you do not see such defections, it means the autocrat will probably be able to survive. Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad offers one example of this principle at work.

So how would be apply to that Russia today?

Yevgeny Prigozhin's failed attack has revealed some dissent within Russia's ruling elite, but Vladimir Putin was apparently able to snuff it out within a day or two. It appears that Prigozhin got no public support from any key figure in the Kremlin which could be why he ended his quixotic march on Moscow.

Putin has spent much of his tenure crushing dissent from liberals. Now he is subduing his challengers on the nationalist side. Power struggles within the Russian states take place in a black box. As the lines often attributed to Winston Churchill go, Kremlin political intrigues are comparable to a bulldog fight under a rug. An outsider only hears the growling, and when he sees the bones fly out from beneath, it's obvious who won.

For now it is Prigozhin's bones that we see figuratively and perhaps soon we shall see them literally. What is not a matter of speculation is the state of Russian society. I've been stunned by one statistics ever since I read it. A 15-year-old Russian male today has the same life expectancy as a 15-year-old male in Haiti.

Remember Russia is one of the world's richest countries in terms of natural resources and it is an urbanized, industrialized society with levels of education and literacy comparable to and perhaps even exceeding European countries.

This analysis comes from an August 2022 working paper by the scholar Nicholas Eberstadt who has long studied demography. He points out that for three decades now Russia has been de-populating. With a brief respite from 2013 to '15, deaths have outpaced births. But he notes that this trend is one that we see in many industrialized countries. What stands out in Russia is its mortality rate.

Using the World Health Organization's data in 2019, before any effects from COVID or the war, the World Health Organization estimated a 15- year-old boy in Russia could expect to live another 53.7 years which is about the same as a Haitian and below the life expectancies for males in Yemen, Mali, South Sudan. European males of around the same age could expect to live about seven years longer than Russians.

Education usually correlates with good health but not in Russia. Eberstadt points out that shockingly Russia is a country with first world educational levels and fourth world mortality rates for its working age population. He then digs deeper into the educational attainments and finds that the mystery deepens.


With huge numbers of well-trained people especially in the sciences, Russia performs miserably in the knowledge economy. Much worse than did the Soviet Union. In 2019, Russia ranked behind Austria in international patent applications despite having 16 times the population. Today it ranks alongside Alabama in U.S. patents, the gold standard for companies everywhere despite having almost 30 times the population of Alabama.

All these numbers will likely get much worse given the hundreds of thousands of likely well-trained urban educated Russians who fled the country after its aggression against Ukraine. What explains the stunning mismatch in Russia? A new book by the scholar Alexander Etkin, "Russia Against Modernity," makes the case that Putin has created a parasitic state that gets revenues by extracting natural resources rather than any creative production and which fulfills none of the functions of a modern state in terms of providing welfare for its people. Corruption is intrinsic to this kleptocratic regime, Etkin says,

noting that post-Soviet Russia has seen the fastest rise in inequality anywhere in the world. After the protests against him in 2011 and 2012, which an enraged Putin blamed on then Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, the Russian state became even more anti-modern.

You know, for Putin's regime, the West now represents forces of social, economic and political modernization that could infect Russia. In his speech as he launched the war in Ukraine, Putin accused the United States of seeking to destroy Russia's traditional values and impose new ones on it, which, quote, "directly lead to degradation and degeneration because they are contrary to human nature."

For Putin, modernizing Russia would create a more active civil society with greater demands for better health care, more opportunities for ordinary citizens and a less kleptocratic state. And so he advocates a traditional Russia which celebrates religion, traditional morality, xenophobia and strict gender conformity, of course.

What does this all add up to? I am not sure. But it is fair to say that Russia's biggest problem is not that it is losing the Ukraine war, but rather that it is losing the 21st century.

Go to for a link to my "Washington Post" column this week. And let's get started.

The events of the last nine days in Russia have left many questions. First and foremost, how firm is President Vladimir Putin's grip on power today? To answer that and much more, I have asked David Remnick to join me here in New York and Nina Khrushcheva is with us from Moscow. David is the longtime editor of the "New Yorker" beginning in 1988. He spent four years in Moscow reporting for "The Washington Post." His first book on Russia received the Pulitzer Prize. It is called "Lenin's Tomb: The Last Days of the Soviet Empire."

Nina is a professor of International Affairs at the New School and is notably the great granddaughter of the Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev. Her latest book is "In Putin's Footsteps."

Nina, what is the mood in Moscow and what do people think about this issue of is Putin consolidating his power or is he now substantially weaker?

NINA KHRUSHCHEVA, INTERNATIONAL AFFAIRS PROFESSOR, THE NEW SCHOOL: Well, Putin has been quite weak for quite some time. And one of the reasons, of course, is the war in Ukraine is a year and a half in. Russia is not winning despite all the expectations. So how not weak that power is. The choice in this, we talk about the coup or potential coup and mutiny that didn't work out, is that the choice was between hardcore nationalists like Yevgeny Prigozhin, who in his calls to the military, his interviews, have been talking about cleansing Russia with blood, starting a new revolution, defending Russia from all enemies.

Putin does the same thing. But it was more of kind of insidious nationalism, God driven insidious nationalism with some -- with a lot of militancy but most of it is outside of Russia. And so in this sense the choice, of course, would be for Putin. And I was walking around Moscow especially on Saturday during the mutiny and people were saying quite openly, whatever we think of Putin, I still want my boy to go to school. I don't want him to be a child soldier.


And so in this sense Putin has consolidated his power. Well, Putin has not lost his grip on power. At least not in the near run. Although of course we know from Russian history things can change at any moment, and David was a great witness to this. He left I think -- I remember he left the Soviet Union and then had to come back to witness 1991.

ZAKARIA: David, it is a very different scenario. But describe to us what you think were the key -- what was key thing that happened to make that Soviet edifice of power collapse when you look at it now?

DAVID REMNICK, EDITOR, THE NEW YORKER: The collapse of the Soviet Union had all kinds of reasons that were economic, political, technological, lagging behind and there was a leader, a leader of the communist party, that institution, which ruled the Soviet Union, that felt it was time for a change. You don't have that now. Quite a different position.

I think what's so significant -- one of the things that's so significant about what just happened, is that the regime in Russia is a personalized regime. There are aspects to it, either a mafia regime in a way that they relate to each other, but it's entirely centered on one man and it's a creation that's accumulated over 23 years. What happened in the past week is that the sense of mystery was removed.

This is so important. The sense of ubiquity and all-knowingness, and that Putin knows best, and if something goes wrong, the czar didn't know, in the old phrase. And now we see his ordinariness. We see the fissures in the regime and people are starting to look past Putin. That is a crucial thing.

Yes, he may stay in power for a very long time to come. Even in the communist times I remember there was an attempt made on Nikita Khruschev that didn't succeed but then some years later of course it did and he was thrown out of power and Brezhnev eventually took the seat.

ZAKARIA: And in his case he was thrown out of power in part because of the Cuban missile crisis, the sense that he kind of --

REMNICK: He wasn't strong enough.

ZAKARIA: He wasn't strong enough and he failed in an international crisis.

REMNICK: And he was deemed to be by the communist party too erratic in his public statements, there are all kinds of reasons for that. With Putin, it's a sense that, look, he's in power for a very long time and the fact that this could happen on his watch is immensely embarrassing and humiliating. There is to question. And Prigozhin was a critic that was useful for a long time to Putin. He balanced out Shoigu and the defense establishment and this was useful to him in his way of seeing the world.

ZAKARIA: Setting his elites against --

REMNICK: Prigozhin then went on Telegram and said he never should have invaded in the first place. This was a gigantic mistake. Even though he was fighting the war and in his view effectively.

ZAKARIA: Nina, I've got to ask you about this issue that you've raised which seems to me the central one, which is do Russians fear instability, do Russian fear the alternative to Putin as being either a kind of crazy nationalist like Prigozhin or just the collapse of things that -- do they still have memories of the 1990s where, you know, things really did -- society almost collapsed. Russian GDP contracted by 50 percent. Is all that going to help Putin?

KHRUSHCHEVA: I think it is helping Putin to some degree. Of course, many people do not remember 1990s. But the older people do remember. And these are actually people who support him more than others, precisely because they have that memory when, you know, everybody was wiping -- as the way they think about it, everybody was wiping their feet over Russia and so Putin has put a stop to that.

And the fact that actually Putin now uses the Prigozhin mutiny so effectively, that is, you know, you don't like me and you don't think I'm stable, well, but look at what could have happened then. And so stability is especially because Russian history is one giant history of crisis all the time.

You wrote this piece about demographic issues, Fareed, they know that they're life -- I mean corruption is part of that, is that you know your life is going to be over any time soon. So you better steal more. You have to figure out how you can live without being shaken more. And in this sense, actually, Putin uses his power incredibly effectively.

ZAKARIA: Stay with us. When we come back, I'm going to ask David and Nina what all this means for the war in Ukraine.



ZAKARIA: And we are back with David Remnick of the "New Yorker" here with me on set and Nina Khrushcheva joins me from Moscow.

David, let me ask you. It seemed the most significant thing that Prigozhin said in his rambling 11-minute Telegram monologue was a pretty frontal attack on the rational for the war in Ukraine.

REMNICK: That's right. Remember, for months and months, Prigozhin would go on Telegram, with his message at the system that lots and lots of people look at in Russia. And in the most profane language, which has -- which is very attractive, it's something that Putin used to do, and really kind of get a rise out of ordinary people. His critique was aimed at Shoigu and Gerasimov and the leaders of the military effort in Moscow. It was directed at Moscow.


We are here fighting the war in Ukraine and you and your palaces in Russia don't care about people getting killed, and it was a competency argument. That changed. In the latest rant, and in most recent rant, it had to do with the rational of going in the first place. Now he didn't direct it absolutely at Putin. He didn't say Putin did this for some pernicious reason. He said that he was manipulated by the defense establishment.

But that he did say there was no need to invade. And if you had said that as a, you know, left-leaning school teacher or an NGO activist, you would find yourself in jail. But it was quite something else hearing that from somebody who at least pretends to be most effective defense asset that the Russian army had.

And that, I think, sank in. And I think, and Nina could tell us better, that these kind of things also reached state television which is very important. You know, the critiques of the war were not reaching state television. Now this activity has bubbled up into certainly into the newspapers that I'm reading in Russian and I would imagine it's even gotten to the level of the propagandas on television, which is very important.

ZAKARIA: Nina, that is -- you know, David puts it exactly right. Do people -- are people aware that Prigozhin argued that the Ukrainians did not attack, there was not a Neo-Nazi attack, that this was all being done by Russia and his argument is because the Russians who were dominating the Donbas wanted to extract even more from Ukraine?

KHRUSHCHEVA: I mean, according to polls, the majority of Russians think that. But actually, if you read polls correctly, they may not be the majority. Probably 20 percent think that -- currently 20 percent thinks some of it, 20 percent is absolutely gains, they're probably even more, and 40 percent maybe even more think just leave us alone. It's your war, you fight it, you began it, it doesn't go well but we're just trying to survive.

And I think one of the kind of difficult to understand things about Russia it's not necessarily a coherent space. It's not a coherent country. It's not a coherent ideology in any way, and one of the main symbols of it is the double eagle, and I use it as an explanation all the time, but it's important. I mean, that part of the schizophrenia is part of the Russian psyche.

So yes, now they question the beginning, whether we need it or not. But the thing is, we're almost a year and a half into that war so who is going to look at the beginning? Now the question, and that's what the propagandas do. Now we need to win. Because imagine that Russia is going to lose all of it in 11 time zones so the argument shifted and that's why I don't believe it hurts Putin that much.

ZAKARIA: David, it does -- the whole thing does sound somewhat terrifying, particularly the way you described it, which was Putin's vertical of power as he called it, it's totally personal. You know, when you think about, if Xi were to die in China, we know what would happen, the Communist Party Central Committee would elect a new --

REMNICK: It provides -- you know, you may not like it. But there's a coherence and a logic and he and his personality are central to it.

ZAKARIA: But in his case --

REMNICK: You could imagine a future after it.

ZAKARIA: Right. Exactly. And if Putin goes, you have these 11 time zones, the largest nuclear arsenal in the world, veto in the Security Council. Could the Russian state just collapse?

REMNICK: I don't know. I mean, I -- and I should say that the key word here that people talk about in Russia to describe power in that structure is clans. Not parties, not civic organizations and constituencies, but clans. Clans within the FSB, clans within the Interior Ministry, within the Defense Ministry, all the rest. So there are factions.

And there are -- there is no raving liberals, that's for sure. But the difference between the temperament, at least, of the prime minister and the mayor of Moscow is quite different than some of the factions that you would see in the intelligence area, in the FSB. But I don't think we should sit around waiting for a Gorbachev, much less a Sakharov, to emerge post-Putin. It is a colossal mess.

ZAKARIA: Nina, what do you think Putin's fate is in a situation where he did not achieve his objectives in the war in Ukraine?

KHRUSHCHEVA: And as for Putin, I think David also mentioned something about gangster state, which Putin, the relationship are very gangstery and so he's in charge, sort of the Robert de Niro in his best roles.


And we do know when power shows weakness, when it kind of goes and the clans, even if they're fighting amongst themselves, they're still needing that icon in front of them, I mean, the picture in front of them because they don't know who among them was going to win. So the man on top is a very useful tool for them to kind of center around and fight it out while he's still there. And the same thing is happening with Putin.

So if he goes, we don't know what that fight between clans are going to happen. And as David said, it's not going to be -- it doesn't look like Gorbachev can be or even Khruschev can be part of that scenario. So it would be the (INAUDIBLE), the Power Ministry, the FSB, the army, the clandestine services, and these are not pretty people.

So for now, for all of these clans, it's convenient to have Putin and that's the source of his power. So he kind of take them one against another and stays on. And so in this sense, actually, the stalemate war is convenient for him because as long as he fights that, as long as he doesn't give up, he continues to be the president.

REMNICK: I should point out that there is in a sane world an opportunity to signal a transition. There is an election or an election coming up in Russia. And Putin has, you know, in the past appointed a successor figure and allowed that successor to at least putatively be president for a while, Dmitry Medvedev. He could do that again.

Now Dmitry Medvedev has become an incredible extremist in an attempt to regain his stature in the Putin political establishment these days. I doubt that he would return as a putative president or a future president. But Putin could, now that he's in his 70s, now that he's been in power for 23 years, and now that he's had this disaster in front of him, he could in a sane world at least indicate some political preference for a successor figure, either to replace him semi-immediately or down the road, and make it kind of obvious where his -- and in the interest of some kind of authoritarian stability.

It's not clear that he'll do that because it's not clear that he trusts that process won't undermine him and his power. Because, you know, it's like the old dictator who would begin a speech, if I die.


ZAKARIA: Thank you both very much. This is a fascinating conversation, you know, about the riddle wrapped in the mystery inside the enigma as Churchill said.

Next on GPS, my next guest says the world's rich countries bear the lion's share of the responsibility for causing climate change, so why shouldn't they pay to clean it up? I'll be back with the prime minister of Barbados, Mia Mottley, in a moment.



ZAKARIA: Climate change has imperiled island nations like Barbados with more intense hurricanes and more frequent floods and droughts. The nation's prime minister, Mia Mottley, popped into global consciousness two years ago when she delivered a speech advocating forcefully for global action on climate change and for the rich nations to do more.

She has declared that the crisis is a code red emergency. I sat down with her last week on the sidelines of the summit for a new global financing pact in Paris. It was organized by President Emmanuel Macron and aimed at tackling the global challenges of climate change and poverty. Here is our conversation.


ZAKARIA: Madam Prime Minister, pleasure to have you on again.


ZAKARIA: So, you're very eloquent but also very frank. So, I've got to ask you there are a lot of people in the north, in the United States, in Britain, in France saying, why should we at a time when we're just recovering from the COVID economy, we have inflation, why should we be providing more money and in whatever form, financing and things like that, to countries in the developing world to deal with climate change or whatever it is? What do you say to them?

MOTTLEY: Two fundamental reasons. One, it was their industrialization and their prosperity that caused the problem but more importantly than even that now they don't live on a different planet from us. There is no blame game any more on this planet. If we don't find a way of living on this planet together, as Ajay Banga says, we need to remove poverty on a livable planet. And the reality is there is no plan to go on Mars yet.

What happened in the last winter in the United States of America in Wyoming with temperatures 30 degrees from ours, what happened last week in Canada with smoke coming down to New York and D.C., how much more evidence do we need to know that we are in this together. And unless we can limit the temperatures to below 1.5 consistently, because we've gone there already, unless we can do it consistently, it will be, as I said in Glasgow, a death sentence.

ZAKARIA: But it's going to take trillions of dollars, right?

MOTTLEY: That's right.

ZAKARIA: I mean, we're talking about sums of money larger than people can really even imagine. How do you get to those numbers?

MOTTLEY: Well, you talk more than I do about the disparity in income and the whole inequality gap in the United States of America. Where is that coming from? I believe that in addition to getting countries to summon the will to be able to increase their capital in the World Bank and other regional development banks we also --- and in addition to the technical things we can do to unlock private sector capital, there is the reality that we need to find a new source of capital for global public goods. And we believe that multi-national corporations who are benefiting egregiously, who have caused the problem, need to leave a few cents on a dollar profit on the table.


ZAKARIA: To you when you look at what is going on in Paris with this climate financing conference and others, do you think we're on the right track?

MOTTLEY: I do think that we're moving in the right direction. But I don't think we're moving with the pace or with the scope that is necessary. Whether we like it or not, it is coming at us. And if you know you're on a track, and a train is coming at you at full speed, you don't stay on the track. And what is necessary now is for us to build a coalition.

Regrettably, I think, what is happening is that domestic politics and geopolitics are getting in the way of us doing right thing. We know what has to be done. But unless the political will can overcome the geopolitics and overcome the domestic politics, we're not going to get there without significant losses of lives and a significant impairing of livelihoods.

ZAKARIA: You've been sounding the alarm on this for a while. Do you come at this fundamentally as an optimist? Do you think we're going to get there?

MOTTLEY: I have to be. I genuinely believe that we can get there. We are human beings. We have the capacity to reason. We have the capacity engage.

I think one of our disappointments in the developing world on the pandemic and on the climate crisis is the absence of global leadership, absence of global moral strategic leadership that brings people to the table and says, hey, we need to leave something each and every one of us. In my own country, I use a simple motto, share the burden, share the bounty.

If we don't share the burden of saving the planet, then it is a moot point. And to believe that mankind cannot become extinct or that civilizations don't become failed is also a false narrative because we know of failed civilizations and we know of extinct species on Earth.

ZAKARIA: Prime Minister, always a pleasure to have you on.

MOTTLEY: Always a pleasure to be with you and please keep up the excellent work.


ZAKARIA: Next on GPS, the president of Kenya. You'll want to meet that nation's self-proclaimed hustler-in-chief who went from poverty to the presidency last September. Back in a moment.



ZAKARIA: Kenya is a country that has always fascinated me. It is one of the largest economies in Sub-Saharan Africa and is home to a major African tech hub, its own version of Silicon Valley, called the Silicon Savannah.

Observers say it is the most stabled democracy in east and central Africa. And Kenya's new president, William Ruto, is the country's self-proclaimed hustler-in-chief who pulled himself out of poverty. He went from selling chickens at a roadside stall, to the highest office in his land. I talked to him when I was in Paris last week.


ZAKARIA: President Ruto, welcome.

WILLIAM RUTO, PRESIDENT OF KENYA: Thank you very much, Fareed.

ZAKARIA: So, you have had not a difficult, but a dramatic ascension to the presidency. You ran against Kenyatta, to whom you were a deputy president. He campaigned against you. You were running also against Raila Odinga who was for many, many years the opposition leader. Narrow victory. The case goes to the Supreme Court but everyone abided by the results.

Years ago, there were almost riots. It was the similar situation between Kenyatta and Odinga. What do you think has changed in Kenya that people accepted the Supreme Court ruling?

RUTO: Two things. Kenya is maturing as a democracy. And people have come to appreciate that we are a democracy and the people have the final say. Secondly, we ran a different campaign in this election.

In 2022, we ran a campaign about issues. It was about housing, it was about jobs, it was about health. And I think it speaks to the maturity of the people of Kenya, it speaks to the maturity of our democracy and it speaks to the fact that Kenyans want and have come of age to be able to identify an issue-based campaign, an issue-based candidate.

ZAKARIA: So, speaking of that maturity of Kenyan democracy, one of the most interesting and dramatic moments after the Russian invasion of Ukraine was the ambassador of Kenya to the United Nations saying, we denounce this, we believe the borders are important, otherwise all of Africa would be torn up. Do you think that there is an opportunity for Kenya to show leadership here?

RUTO: As our ambassador said we have in our continent communities on either sides of our borders. If we were to redraw the borders, we would have one hell of a challenge in our hands. It was decided against without our input, in fact in Berlin, some good people sat down and drew lines all over the place and say this is going to be our nation. We've come to respect that. And I think as people who respect the U.N. charter and as people who believe in settling even when we have issues we use peaceful means.

ZAKARIA: But you are not -- are you changing the Kenyan government's position that you condemn -- or do you condemn the Russian invasion of Ukraine?

RUTO: We condemn war everywhere. We've been participating in peacekeeping worldwide.

ZAKARIA: But to say you're against war, does not say are you against the aggressor? I mean, surely you do not fault the Ukrainians for defending their country. That's also war. But there is an aggressor and a victor in this conflict.

RUTO: You see, when a determination is made -- I mean, when you -- in a situation of war, war is war.


Everything happens in war, right?

ZAKARIA: But somebody starts the war.

RUTO: So, that is why it is necessary for us to use the instruments that we have to defend the charter that we all signed up to. ZAKARIA: You are a chicken seller who has become a president. Now, in America we are used to rags to riches stories. But in Kenya, for a long time, it didn't seem that that was possible. One family had dominated for a long time. Do you think that gives you a particular perspective on your role?

RUTO: It does, in a very significant way. Because today we are having a real conversation in Kenya, because I decided that we are going to change the development paradigm. We have deployed 30 billion Kenyan shillings to support people who have no access to credit before. People who have no security.

It has brought a new dimension into government. The realization that the bottom matters. That the people lower down can actually make a significant contribution if not phenomenal contribution to national development.

ZAKARIA: President Ruto, pleasure to have you on.

RUTO: Thank you, Fareed.


ZAKARIA: Next on GPS, as the U.S. prepares to celebrate its birthday, I'll delve into a problem that has been at the heart of American democracy, money in politics.



ZAKARIA: And now for the last look. This week Americans will celebrate their freedom and commemorate the signing of the declaration of independence. But it is also a good occasion for some reflection on what in the American system could be changed. What if one could be so bold, might the founding fathers have gotten wrong?

James Madison, the father of that other great American document, the constitution, was a genius. But consider one big error he made. Madison dismissed the dangers of factions, what we might today call special interests. Because he believed in a large diverse country factions would remain small and coalitions would readily form to block any effort to undermine the common good.

He didn't like or anticipate political parties hoping instead that legislators would be independent minded and shift coalitions from issue to issue. In fact, parties formed and special interests became powerful because they offer something vital to American politics, money. When small groups of people can spend vast sums to elect politicians, the democratic process is perverted.

Usually there isn't outright corruption but donors often expect something in return for their money. And that is why we have so many crazy tax credits and regulatory loopholes. Each one is usually payback for some campaign donation. It is also why we can't make progress on a host of important issues. Look at the NRA which spends aggressively to keep the Republican Party in line against gun control. Or consider the spending power of teachers' unions which scares Democrats from supporting education reforms.

To be clear, there is nothing wrong with throwing money toward advocacy. Spending to spread a message and build grassroots support on issues, that is the democratic process in action. But politicians have had the wisdom to see that massive spending tilts the field and so Congress placed restrictions on major campaign contributions since back in the days of Teddy Roosevelt.

Campaign finance regulations kept expanding until 1976 when in a water shed decision, the Supreme Court reversed the tide with Buckley v. Valeo. The court struck down limits on how much a candidate could spend because under the First Amendment, it argued, the spending was in service of advancing their message.

In other words, money was a form of speech. This ruling unleashed the flood gates of money into politics. The Citizens United case of 2010 extended the logic of Buckley and opened the door to outside groups raising and spending unlimited funds to elect preferred candidates so long as they are not coordinating with a candidate. That is all just free speech, supposedly.

Thanks to this ruling, spending on federal elections grew from under $2.5 billion in 1980 to about $14.5 billion in 2020 and that is adjusting for inflation. After Citizens United, there were calls for a constitutional amendment to overturn the decision. The amendments are difficult to pass. Several amendments throughout history were designed to overturn Supreme Court cases.

But what really needs to be overturned is the older decision, Buckley v. Valeo, that said money is speech. No other major democracy in the world believes this. In the United Kingdom's last general election, parties were allowed to spend no more than about $25 million. And each candidate could spend another $15,000 or so.

France's presidential candidates last year were limited to around $20 million. Other countries may not cap spending but they restrict how the money can be used. Denmark and Norway prohibit buying TV campaign ads which massively diminishes the need to raise money. The last I checked all of these countries were vibrant democracies.


So, one proposal for a constitutional amendment would affirm that Congress and the states may regulate and set reasonable limits on the raising and spending of money by candidates and others to influence elections. This shouldn't be a partisan issue. The campaign finance laws that the court struck down passed with bipartisan support.

Citizens United initially seemed to help Republican candidates in 2012, 64 percent of outside spending benefited Republicans versus 36 percent for Democrats. But liberals learned how to play the game. In 2020 outside spending favored Democratic candidates, 56 percent to 44 percent.

American democracy is drowning in cash. People feel they have lost any voice in the real process of government. Let's take the power away from special interest groups, lobbies and billionaires and give it back to the people.

Thanks to all of you for being part of my program this week. I will see you next week.