But I do want to offer some steps that we can take that I believe would help reform our institutions and move our system in a way that helps reflect our better selves. And these aren’t particularly original, but I just want to go ahead and mention them.
First is to take, or at least reduce, some of the corrosive influence of money in our politics. (Applause.)
Now, this year, just over 150 families — 150 families — have spent as much on the presidential race as the rest of America combined. Today, a couple of billionaires in one state can push their agenda, dump dark money into every state — nobody knows where it’s coming from — mostly used on these dark ads, everybody is kind of dark and the worst picture possible. (Laughter.) And there’s some ominous voice talking about how they’re destroying the country.
And they spend this money based on some ideological preference that really is disconnected to the realities of how people live. They’re not that concerned about the particulars of what’s happening in a union hall in Galesburg, and what folks are going through trying to find a job. They’re not particularly familiar with what’s happening at a VFW post. (Phone rings.) Somebody’s phone is on. (Laughter.) In Carbondale. They haven’t heard personally from farmers outside of the Quads and what they’re going through. Those are the voices that should be outweighing a handful of folks with a lot of money. I’m not saying the folks with a lot of money should have no voice; I’m saying they shouldn’t be able to drown out everybody else’s.
And that’s why I disagree with the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision. (Applause.) I don’t believe that money is speech, or that political spending should have no limits, or that it shouldn’t be disclosed. I still support a constitutional amendment to set reasonable limits on financial influence in America’s elections.
But amending the Constitution is an extremely challenging and time-consuming process — as it should be. So we’re going to have to come up with more immediate ways to reduce the influence of money in politics. There are a lot of good proposals out there, and we have to work to find ones that can gain some bipartisan support — because a handful of families and hidden interests shouldn’t be able to bankroll elections in the greatest democracy on Earth.
The second step towards a better politics is rethinking the way that we draw our congressional districts. (Applause.) Now, let me point this out — I want to point this out, because this is another case of cherry-picking here. (Laughter.) This tends to be popular in states where Democrats have been drawing the lines among Republicans, and less popular among Republicans where they control drawing the lines. (Applause.) So let’s be very clear here — nobody has got clean hands on this thing. Nobody has got clean hands on this thing.
The fact is, today technology allows parties in power to precision-draw constituencies so that the opposition’s supporters are packed into as few districts as possible. That’s why our districts are shaped like earmuffs or spaghetti. (Laughter.) It’s also how one party can get more seats even when it gets fewer votes.
And while this gerrymandering may insulate some incumbents from a serious challenge from the other party, it also means that the main thing those incumbents are worried about are challengers from the most extreme voices in their own party. That’s what’s happened in Congress. You wonder why Congress doesn’t work? The House of Representatives there, there may be a handful — less than 10 percent — of districts that are even competitive at this point. So if you’re a Republican, all you’re worried about is what somebody to your right is saying about you, because you know you’re not going to lose a general election. Same is true for a lot of Democrats. So our debates move away from the middle, where most Americans are, towards the far ends of the spectrum. And that polarizes us further.
Now, this is something we have the power to fix. And once the next census rolls around and we have the most up-to-date picture of America’s population, we should change the way our districts are drawn. In America, politicians should not pick their voters; voters should pick their politicians. (Applause.) And this needs to be done across the nation, not just in a select few states. It should be done everywhere. (Applause.)
Now, the more Americans use their voice and participate, the less captive our politics will be to narrow constituencies. No matter how much undisclosed money is spent, no matter how many negative ads are run, no matter how unrepresentative a district is drawn, if everybody voted, if a far larger number of people voted, that would overcome in many ways some of these other institutional barriers. It would make our politics better.
And that’s why a third step towards a better politics is making voting easier, not harder; and modernizing it for the way that we live now. (Applause.)
Now, this shouldn’t be controversial, guys. You liked the redistricting thing, but not letting people vote. I should get some applause on that, too. (Applause.)