Last week, while the rest of the country’s politicos chattered about the Republican National Convention, President Obama made an unannounced visit to Reddit, the social media site, and answered a few questions from the technorati via the site’s “Ask Me Anything” (or “AMA”) question and answer feature.
As one of Andrew Sullivan’s readers pointed out, Ron Paul has a very active fan base on Reddit and “at the very moment their own party plays dirty tricks to shut them up at the RNC, along comes Obama and at least implies through his use of the AMA that he is listening.”
The interview was the first of its kind in American presidential politics and for a few hours, part of the national political conversation shifted from Tampa to the Internet, where a record number of visitors to Reddit shut the site down.
Another first: Obama, who answered ten questions in total, responded to one question (full disclosure: it was from me) about how he would get money out of politics:
This is the first time Obama publicly called for a constitutional amendment to overturn Citizens United, the 2010 Supreme Court decision that helped usher in the era of super PACs in American democracy.
Mitch McConnell, GOP Senate leader, called Obama’s support of an amendment “an act of genuine radicalism.” Obama staffers, including campaign manager Jim Messina and campaign advisor David Axelrod, had earlier noted that the president “favors action — by constitutional amendment if necessary,” as Messina wrote in a blog post, but this is the first time the president himself declared his support for the amendment.
There are around 20 proposed amendments to undo Citizens United in the House and Senate, but amending the Constitution isn’t an easy process, as activist group Move To Amend explains: An amendment has to be proposed either by a 2/3 vote of both the House and the Senate, or else by a constitutional convention convened when the legislatures of 2/3 of the states so request. The amendment has to be ratified either by the legislatures of 3/4 of the states, or by conventions in 3/4 of the states, depending on which means of ratification Congress proposes.
All of the amendments to the Constitution, of which there are now 27, were proposed by Congress, and all but one were ratified by state legislatures – the exception was the 21st amendment ending Prohibition, which was ratified by state conventions.
Nearly 200 amendments to the Constitution are proposed in Congress each session. Because it’s so hard to change the Constitution, it could take decades to undo the harm caused by Citizens United. There are other ways to fix the problem of money in politics in America: passing the DISCLOSE Act, as the president also has suggested, is just one.
The corrosive influence of money on our political system has been a focus for Moyers & Company over the past year. Learn more about Citizens United, dark money and the people fighting against it in our Money and Politics spotlight.