There’s a point in the movie “High Noon” when Gary Cooper says to his deputy, “Don’t shove me, Harv. I’m tired of being shoved.” I was reminded of that line this week when I received a letter from a radical hedge fund billionaire threatening to launch an attack on me if I didn’t accede to his demands by “high noon on Friday.” Tom Steyer of California is demanding that I either repudiate my support for the Keystone XL oil pipeline, or secure a commitment from TransCanada that all the oil in the pipeline be kept in the United States — a violation of US treaty obligations.
While most people in Massachusetts are worried about whether they can pay their rent or their student loans next month, out-of-state billionaires like Steyer spend tens of millions — more than most working people will earn in their entire lifetime — telling them how to vote. I think most Americans are tired of being shoved.
No longer are we allowed to debate ideas and projects on their individual merits. We must begin each debate as committed ideologues for one side, or face the wrath of angry activists on the other. We are constantly shoved. That’s a problem, not just for Washington, but also for America’s future. Blame for the division in this country has been laid, in many cases rightfully so, at the feet of Congress and the White House. But there is a more insidious problem in this country, and it’s tearing at the very fabric of our legacy: inequality.
The Declaration of Independence claims that “all men are created equal.” For more than 200 years, we have worked to make that claim true. We abolished slavery, gave women the vote, passed the civil rights act, enacted the Lilly Ledbetter Act, and soon, hopefully, will repeal the Defense of Marriage Act. Despite all these advances, an enormous inequality remains in this country between the powerful and the powerless. Billionaires like Tom Steyer or the Koch brothers can spend endless amounts of money to push their personal agendas, while working families barely cling to the hope of a comfortable retirement and better opportunities for their children. When did the rich decide that their voices were more important than the voices of the rest of the American people?
Of course, the ruling of the Supreme Court in Citizens United is partly to blame. Citizens United was probably the worst court decision of my lifetime. It elevated soulless corporations to the status of individuals, while allowing billionaires to dictate politics with the stroke of a pen across a checkbook. I have cosponsored efforts to overturn Citizens United, and joined with my opponent in calling for its reversal. But I also put my opposition into practice, and refuse to let any billionaires or outside groups spend millions of dollars on my campaign. I made a pledge to let the people of Massachusetts decide this race, and I intend to stick to that pledge. I hope that my opponent will use today’s “high noon” deadline to repudiate any and all out-of-state billionaires who attempt to influence this election.
As a lifelong Democrat and a staunch opponent of Citizens United, I find it disheartening that the American people are now being shoved from the left as well as the right. The billionaire threatening me doesn’t represent the gun lobby or some right wing group; he represents a left-wing environmental faction that has adopted the same divisive tactics as other special interests — the same tactics that have brought government to a standstill.
If we want to move government forward in the best interest of America, we cannot let our people be shoved around by either side. At high noon on Friday, I will stand my ground on behalf of the working men and women whose jobs Tom Steyer so carelessly denigrated in his ultimatum. Billionaires won’t shove me around. Much like Gary Cooper and the American people, I’m tired of being shoved.
Representative Stephen Lynch is a Democratic candidate for US Senate.