Postcards from Brazile: Not-So-Surprising (and Yet Shocking) Revelations about the Clinton Campaign and the DNC

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“Debbie Wasserman Schultz may be the worst chair of the DNC, but I’m the baddest of them all!” (Photo Credit: Alex Wong/Getty Images)

“Wow. F**k the DNC.” That’s what I thought upon first reading excerpts of Donna Brazile’s first-hand account of Hillary Clinton’s “secret takeover of the DNC.” As published in a piece on Politico, Brazile’s reflections and retelling are apparently themselves an excerpt from her (Brazile’s) upcoming book. Yup—like the subject of her account, Brazile is seeking to profit off a relitigation of the 2016 election. But I digress.

As I alluded to in the title of my own piece, Donna Brazile’s insider information from her time as interim chair of the Democratic National Committee is both a confirmation of what many of us have suspected or known outright, and yet still startling. Even before we were mired in the era of President Trump—a tenure which has every possibility of lasting two terms, despite what approval ratings and legal entanglements might otherwise suggest—it was made evident through WikiLeaks’ publication of thousands of E-mails from a hack of key DNC officials that there existed within the Committee a clear bias in favor of the Clinton campaign. It’s a bias that was suggested by a questionable Democratic Party debate schedule marked by relatively few debates (at least next to the Republican Party and its gaggle of uninspired candidates) on odd days and times, but ultimately confirmed in black and white by these E-mails, not to mention Debbie Wasserman Schultz’s particular animus toward the Bernie Sanders campaign and campaign manager Jeff Weaver. At the same time, it’s perhaps unexpected to have these revelations come from Brazile, someone who infamously was fired from CNN after it was discovered she was tipping off the Clinton campaign in advance of a debate televised by the cable news network, and someone who, within the DNC E-mails, expressed her own, even if momentary, irritation with the Sanders campaign.

Before we dive into Donna Brazile’s—shall we say—allegations, let me cut off a potential objection I see to my analysis here and clarify my purpose. Do I think the way in which the DNC “rigged” the primary, as some would say, cost Bernie Sanders a chance at the Democratic Party presidential nomination? While I may disagree with a number of my fellow “Sandernistas” on this point, I don’t think the pro-Clinton bias exhibited by the DNC prior to the Democratic National Convention tipped the scales so heavily that Bernie would have won even in a fair fight. Beyond the evident collusion between the Clinton camp and the DNC, Sanders faced significant challenges in going up against the larger Democratic Party establishment apparatus (“how dare this independent run as a Democrat!”), as well as a comparative lack of name recognition next to Hillary Clinton, an understandable disparity in support among older women, and a failure to establish a significant advantage among minority voters, a struggle which mirrors the progressive movement’s difficulties in reaching people and communities of color in American politics.

These admissions aside, to adhere to the notion that Hillary still would’ve won the Democratic Party nomination and to say nothing of the other shenanigans is to miss the point. If Hillary Clinton and her campaign didn’t need to game the system, why bother doing it in the first place and inviting criticism/risking low turnout in her favor? This kind of manipulation, even if legal—and that’s a big “if”—is the kind of unethical which undermines people’s confidence in political institutions and representative democracy as a whole. For younger or otherwise more idealistic voters who envision a reform of the political process and rejection of the status quo which favors the interests of corporations and wealthy individuals, these hijinks are far more significant in their implications for campaign finance reform and political participation than the outcome of one election, disastrous as it was in ushering Donald Trump into the White House.

In other words, this aspect of the 2016 campaign season is significant, especially for a party that lost an election it was widely predicted to win and has been suffering down-ticket losses even in states in which it has historically thrived. So, let’s get to Donna Brazile’s “bombshell” account. Here are some of the more salient quotes from the excerpt featured on Politico:

My predecessor, Florida Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, had not been the most active chair in fundraising at a time when President Barack Obama’s neglect had left the party in significant debt. As Hillary’s campaign gained momentum, she resolved the party’s debt and put it on a starvation diet. It had become dependent on her campaign for survival, for which she expected to wield control of its operations. Debbie was not a good manager. She hadn’t been very interested in controlling the party—she let Clinton’s headquarters in Brooklyn do as it desired so she didn’t have to inform the party officers how bad the situation was. How much control Brooklyn had and for how long was still something I had been trying to uncover for the last few weeks.

By now, Wasserman Schultz’s reputation as DNC chair has long been made sour; if you’ll recall, she was forced to resign in disgrace after the evidence of her Clintonian favoritism was made public knowledge. Hence, this is not exactly news that her managerial skills are suspect. Still, it does provide those who felt and continue to feel “the Bern” a certain sense of satisfaction. I know it did for me.

On the phone Gary told me the DNC had needed a $2 million loan, which the campaign had arranged.

“No! That can’t be true!” I said. “The party cannot take out a loan without the unanimous agreement of all of the officers.”

“Gary, how did they do this without me knowing?” I asked. “I don’t know how Debbie relates to the officers,” Gary said. He described the party as fully under the control of Hillary’s campaign, which seemed to confirm the suspicions of the Bernie camp. The campaign had the DNC on life support, giving it money every month to meet its basic expenses, while the campaign was using the party as a fund-raising clearinghouse.

Here, Brazile is describing her conversations with Gary Gensler, CFO of Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign. According to Gensler, Barack Obama’s campaign incurred some $24 million in debt, and between his slow repayment of that debt and the contributions of Hillary for America and the Hillary Victory Fund, a “joint fundraising vehicle with the DNC,” the majority of the remaining monies owed had been taken care of. But that still left some $2 million or so that required the approval of a loan, the arrangement of which was orchestrated by Wasserman Schultz and made possible by the direct connection between the Clinton campaign and the Democratic National Committee. Given the apparent dire financial straits of the DNC at the time, it is perhaps no wonder that Hillary and Co. had so much control over the allocation of monies in the Hillary Victory Fund. Still, that knowledge of this situation was not more widespread—whether within the Bernie Sanders campaign or within the DNC itself—keeps with the theme of a lack of transparency and ethical practices. Even if Hillary still would’ve won the primary nomination, this evidence of an unethical process leaves one to wonder if the race might’ve been closer if there were a more equitable arrangement, and to lament that we’ll never know for sure how close.

I wanted to believe Hillary, who made campaign finance reform part of her platform, but I had made this pledge to Bernie and did not want to disappoint him. I kept asking the party lawyers and the DNC staff to show me the agreements that the party had made for sharing the money they raised, but there was a lot of shuffling of feet and looking the other way.

When I got back from a vacation in Martha’s Vineyard, I at last found the document that described it all: the Joint Fund-Raising Agreement between the DNC, the Hillary Victory Fund, and Hillary for America.

The agreement—signed by Amy Dacey, the former CEO of the DNC, and Robby Mook with a copy to Marc Elias—specified that in exchange for raising money and investing in the DNC, Hillary would control the party’s finances, strategy, and all the money raised. Her campaign had the right of refusal of who would be the party communications director, and it would make final decisions on all the other staff. The DNC also was required to consult with the campaign about all other staffing, budgeting, data, analytics, and mailings.

I had been wondering why it was that I couldn’t write a press release without passing it by Brooklyn. Well, here was the answer.

There are two particular reasons why Brazile’s references to this agreement are significant. The first is that, despite Hillary’s talk on the campaign trail about wanting to rebuild the Democratic Party from the bottom up, the state Democratic Parties were getting less than half of 1% of what Clinton and her campaign were raising. Brazile references a separate Politico article from May 2016 by Kenneth P. Vogel and Isaac Arnsdorf which details this suspect arrangement. Again, old news, but the severity of the situation merits underscoring. The second, though, is the timing of the agreement’s creation. It was signed in August 2015, less than six months after Hillary Clinton officially announced her candidacy, and long before she had officially secured the nomination. This kind of control for Hillary’s sake well in advance of state primaries and the election itself may be unprecedented, and—not to beat a dead horse, but—it flies in the face of a fair and transparent selection process. Some kind of democracy—and we’re the ones who don’t support democracy by not voting for her.

I told Bernie I had found Hillary’s Joint Fundraising Agreement. I explained that the cancer was that she had exerted this control of the party long before she became its nominee. Had I known this, I never would have accepted the interim chair position, but here we were with only weeks before the election. Bernie took this stoically. He did not yell or express outrage. Instead he asked me what I thought Hillary’s chances were. The polls were unanimous in her winning but what, he wanted to know, was my own assessment?

I had to be frank with him. I did not trust the polls, I said. I told him I had visited states around the country and I found a lack of enthusiasm for her everywhere. I was concerned about the Obama coalition and about millennials. I urged Bernie to work as hard as he could to bring his supporters into the fold with Hillary, and to campaign with all the heart and hope he could muster. He might find some of her positions too centrist, and her coziness with the financial elites distasteful, but he knew and I knew that the alternative was a person who would put the very future of the country in peril. I knew he heard me. I knew he agreed with me, but I never in my life had felt so tiny and powerless as I did making that call.

When I hung up the call to Bernie, I started to cry, not out of guilt, but out of anger. We would go forward. We had to.

Wonderful story, Donna. I’m sure your book is full of such vividly-written prose. As unsympathetic as I am toward Donna Brazile’s position as DNC chair, even under these circumstances, and all kidding aside, it is intriguing to hear her talk about how she had reservations even before the election about Hillary’s campaign and the challenges she (Hillary) faced in beating Donald Trump. Plus, it also is kind of nice to have Brazile say something positive about Bernie. He may not be a saint and I might not agree with every last one of his positions on issues, but I do have a lot of admiration for that man. Fellow Sanders fans, this last quote was for you.


Hillary Clinton and the Democratic National Committee were in cahoots—fine, you may be saying. Still, even if you don’t believe this ultimately affected the outcome of the primary election to the extent that Bernie Sanders would’ve won instead, and even if Donna Brazile’s insider account reveals a broken political process that merits fixing, what is the utility of opening up old wounds? Why risk dividing a Democratic Party that has seen so much tumult over the past year and change?

Well, Esteemed Reader, the answers to these queries are manifold. First of all, there is the issue of money, and by that I mean, campaign donations. For all the donors who contributed to the Bernie Sanders campaign (myself included), it makes a bit of a difference to have them sink their money into a cause that the DNC worked so hard to ensure was a lost one rather than an equal and fair bid for the nomination. If you weren’t already aware, a class action lawsuit already has worked its way through the courts, with the case brought against the DNC by attorneys Jared and Elizabeth Beck being dismissed back in August by federal judge William Zloch on the grounds that “the named Plaintiffs have not presented a case that is cognizable in federal court.” As Bruce Spiva, on behalf of the DNC, argued, and as the court evidently agreed, there is no way to determine who is to be considered in standing to be defrauded and eligible for remediation. In doing so, however, Spiva essentially confirmed that the Committee favored Hillary Clinton, and theoretically that it could do so because the Democratic Party can do what it wants regarding the selection of its representatives at the Democratic National Convention and at the state level. Good for party unity, this line of thinking is not.

More pressing than this, though, is the notion that the Democratic Party never has truly healed in the first place from the divisions which surfaced during the primaries. While I’m not here to defend the actions of Sanders supporters who would demean Hillary Clinton and her supporters through thinly-veiled sexism, and while there is some degree of “to the victor goes the spoils” to be expected with how the Clinton camp and Hillary’s faithful reacted to the “Bernie or Bust” crowd, if ever one was to have the impression that the establishment wing of the Democratic Party and newer members/fervent Sanders supporters were a cohesive lot, he or she was missing the signs of an ongoing battle for the soul of the party. Take Hillary Clinton herself. Why author and release a book about the 2016 election concerning “what happened” only to once again deflect responsibility and to blame Bernie Sanders for irreparable harm done to the Dems? For one thing, if Bernie Sanders as one man can bring down the entire apparatus of a major political party, that appeals to a weak party infrastructure even before the events leading up to the election began. Indeed, from the sound of what Donna Brazile is indicating, the debt created by the Barack Obama campaign compounded by poor management from Debbie Wasserman Schultz already had the DNC in dire straits. In this regard, Bernie is a fall guy as much as anything.

Besides this, though, and as Clinton and her parrots would insinuate, Bernie isn’t a “true Democrat,” and beyond Bernie self-identifying as an independent, this kind of deprecation begs the question: What does it mean to be a “true Democrat”? Does it mean blindly supporting the party’s chosen candidate despite any reservations about him or her? Does it mean holding lavish meet-and-greet fundraisers that are meant to exclude a large swath of would-be Democratic voters? Does it mean bypassing whole battleground states because making speeches about income inequality in Giorgio Armani clothing is generally not appreciated by blue-collar types? To me, attacking Bernie for not being a Democrat when the Democratic Party itself has moved away from its roots as a party of the middle class and of working-class Americans is as disingenuous as it is fruitless. At least he ran an authentically grassroots campaign and talked about income and wealth inequality in a meaningful way. And yet he is the divisive one when the class warfare perpetrated by corporations and the wealthy puts the bottom 99% at risk. If Bernie isn’t a “true Democrat” by these standards, I’m not sure I want to be either.


Hillary Clinton may choose to take her potshots at Bernie Sanders from behind the cover of her non-fiction—well, more or less; it’s not fiction if she believes it’s true, right?—book. On one hand, it appears as if Clinton’s personal political aspirations have subsided. That is, “Hill-Dawg” is unlikely to run again in 2020. Though you never know—she or Joe Biden just might rear her or his head in two to three years’ time to represent the Obama administration/Democratic Party establishment in full force. Either way, however, and on the other hand, as a political figure whose work has spanned her formative years as a woman interested in politics, her identity as a notably engaged First Lady during her husband’s tenure as President, her time in the U.S. Senate, and her service as Secretary of State, HRC’s voice carries a certain amount of weight, and she figures to still be involved in the world of politics.

Thus, when Clinton speaks about Bernie in this way—someone who is still directly involved in the political sphere as senator from the state of Vermont and who may yet have designs for another run at the presidency in 2020—it does matter. Perhaps above all else, it is a signal to party leadership that Sanders is not to be trusted with the keys to the car, so to speak. If the management of the DNC under Tom Perez, former Labor Secretary and Donna Brazile’s successor, is any indication, Democratic Party leaders already have this advice close to heart. Recently, Perez revealed his list of appointments and nominations for key Committee positions, and to a large extent, Democratic Party loyalists were favored over individuals who supported Bernie Sanders and/or Keith Ellison. If there’s a better symbolic gesture of just how unwelcome progressives are at the Dems’ table, you’d be hard-pressed to find one.

All this makes Donna Brazile’s depictions of Debbie Wasserman Schultz, the Democratic National Committee, and Hillary Clinton all the more curious. Is Brazile trying to stir the pot merely to sell copies of her own work of non-fiction? Does she legitimately believe the criticisms she leveled against these current and former bastions of Democratic Party infrastructure/leadership? Or might she primarily see value in throwing a bone to Bernie Sanders supporters rather than deliberately alienating them? One can only speculate as to whether or not Brazile’s true motivations are self-serving, but if someone who seemed as staunchly pro-Hillary as she can make these comments, maybe more than just Donna Brazile see the writing on the wall concerning the future of the Democratic Party for 2018, 2020, and beyond. Serious reform of the Democratic Party and of the DNC is needed if its leadership hopes to match the enthusiasm the Republican Party has been able to generate among its loyalists and within its conservative base. Certainly, there’s a long way to go on this front, and with only a year to go before mid-term elections in 2018, the short-term political outlook looks bleak for the party associated with the color blue.

Trump vs. the Affordable Care Act—Now What?

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When you f**k with people’s health care, um, they tend not to like it. Will Donald Trump’s attempted f**kery by way of executive order actually stick to his own legacy while he tries to diminish Barack Obama’s? (Photo Credit: Brennan Linsley/AP)

When Barack Obama stepped into office in 2009 and began signing executive orders, he was criticized vociferously by conservatives, Republicans, and the combination therein. Never mind that they were primed to look for any reason to hate on Obama—Sean Hannity even took time out to assail #44 for his choice of condiments on his burger, of all things—but the suggestion was that Barack Obama was content to rule by fiat rather than work with Congress, Democrats and Republicans alike. Not one to hold his feelings and opinions back, Donald Trump was among these vocal critics, regularly attacking the man who would eventually hand him the keys to the White House, so to speak, on matters of playing golf and issuing executive orders. Of course, now that “the Donald” is President, he spends more than a quarter of his time golfing—usually at one of his resorts and thereby costing the taxpayer while lining his own pockets. As for executive orders, Trump’s pace thus far is likewise hypocritical. As of this writing, Trump’s 49 executive orders puts him on pace to sign the most orders in 50 years. Now if only he could fill his Cabinet with this much alacrity and zeal!

This most recent Trump executive order is especially notable in the context of the apparent war waged by the GOP on affordable health care in the United States of America, as it specifically addresses the Affordable Care Act. Broadly speaking, the executive order is aimed at allowing small businesses skirt some of the requirements currently imposed by the ACA. One of its major functions is to ease the rules that govern the creation of “association health plans,” which are plans that can be created by small businesses across state lines through trade groups, theoretically designed to drive down insurance rates by increasing competition. As Bruce Japsen, a Forbes contributor, tells, however, AHPs don’t have a track record of great success. The idea of association health plans has existed for decades, but according to Japsen via those who have studied interstate insurance sales over time, these plans have not met with much efficacy. AHPs have been prone to cost-cutting methods which have also meant cutting the quality of service, not to mention they’ve been subject to their fair share of fraud and insolvency. As critics have outlined, there is increased risk of “essential health benefits” no longer being covered by these new plans, as well as fewer options and higher premiums on the individual market. In addition, in states where buying insurance across state lines already exists, plans that make use of this provision are sparse to nonexistent. As Japsen details, this “hasn’t worked in large part because plans haven’t wanted to spend the money contracting with more doctors and hospitals in areas they have no enrollees.” For consumers and insurers alike, the prospect of association health plans has been a losing proposition.

The other major function of President Trump’s executive order is to increase the limits by which insurance plans can be considered short-term insurance plans. Effectively, it would be undoing an Obama-era provision that narrowed the window to three months of eligibility for these plans—which are intended for people expected to be out of work only for a limited period of time. By expanding the period of time that these plans can be used by employers, which tend to offer fewer essential benefits and involve higher out-of-pocket costs, it is that much more likely that healthier people will use short-term plans to circumvent the ACA. With respect to the ACA plans, this likely will lead to higher premiums, fewer insurers, and thus, less competition and stability. Other than that, though, a great idea, eh?

Overall, the theme is one of offering less expansive health coverage while at the same time increasing premiums for the most vulnerable Americans, namely the elderly, the poor, and the sick—often one and the same given a previous inability to accrue savings or the simple fact of not having a steady source of income beyond supplemental avenues—and decreasing the number of available insurance options, all under the guise of cutting costs and creating competition among insurers. In other words, Trump’s executive order is not all it’s cracked up to be, which explains why opposition to it is so widespread, including from consumer groups, physicians groups, policy analysts, and state officials. While the very legality of this executive order has yet to be decided, as with a number of Pres. Trump’s directives in their original form, and while the order merely provides direction to government agencies with respect to how they should interpret elements of health care touched by the Affordable Care Act to alleviate financial burdens, it seems apparent that Trump is not altogether concerned with the long and short of what his own authorization contains, but rather merely that this will eat away at a significant portion of Barack Obama’s legacy as POTUS. This is to say that Donald Trump evidently is OK with ending the so-called “mess” that is ObamaCare whether it works or not, Tweeting as Americans threaten to slide down into the abyss.

And this is before we even get to the issue of ending Affordable Care Act subsidies. President Trump stated that he plans to end federal payments to insurers as part of cost-sharing reductions that allow consumers to manage their deductibles and out-of-pocket expenses. The timetable for this shift is—surprise!—unclear, although some believe the cutoff will arrive next month. Coincidentally—though likely not coincidentally—open enrollment for coverage through ACA marketplaces is set to begin in a few weeks. Accordingly, Trump has been charged with figuratively “throwing a bomb” into these marketplaces, the fallout of which would stand to disproportionately affect Americans in the states that voted him for in the presidential election. Thanks for your support, guys, but it’s time for you to pay more or die! It’s telling when Democrats are on the same side as health insurance companies on an issue, and when congressional Republicans are urging the President to continue these subsidies despite them being challenged in court by House GOP members. Speaking of the courts, a number of states have sued to stop the removal of these subsidies, and more lawsuits are apt to come from insurers and other concerned parties. Donald Trump’s move to essentially “gut” the Affordable Care Act may be his way of trying to push responsibility onto Congress and various federal agencies like the Department of Health and Human Services, but it comes with real consequences. Might these consequences also come in the form of political damage for Trump and the rest of the GOP? Though his popularity has steadily declined, Trump has yet to really feel the brunt of strong criticism for his poor decision-making, especially among his supporters. Then again, if he f**ks with their health care, all bets might be off.


On the specific subject of these ACA subsidies—the main reason for the furor over Pres. Trump’s decision, at that—the debate seems to be a striking example of what is technically correct and what is morally correct. I alluded to the notion earlier that House Republicans have challenged the legitimacy of the subsidy payments. As a federal court decided, this challenge has merit. The Obama administration approved Cost Sharing Reduction (CSR) subsidies that go directly to insurers in an effort to reduce the bottom line of the consumer. As the court found, however, this violates the Constitution because it involves the executive branch making appropriations and bypassing Congress to do it, a violation of the separation of powers doctrine fundamental to the idea of checks and balances. Additionally, by giving money to insurance companies, this, in theory, materially benefits them, though the companies allege consumers are the primary beneficiaries. It’s no small potatoes, either—we’re talking billions of dollars here. This is the aspect of the subsidies that Donald Trump, friend of the American people and of the little guy, has latched onto in explaining why he is choosing to end these subsidies so abruptly and why now. You know, because if this were truly a principle-of-the-thing kind of thing, wouldn’t you have ended the subsidy payments when you first got into office? Unless you were convinced that you and your Republican cronies were going to ram a repeal of the Affordable Care Act down our throats before it even got this far? I mean, did you even think about the matter this hard?

So, yes, CSR subsidies may not be technically constitutionally correct, and conservative publications and thinkers which shamelessly defend the President have already hailed this directive as a defense of law and order in these United States. Never mind his myriad potential other constitutional offenses and conflicts of interests—in the arena of what-have-you-done-for-me-lately, Trump is A-OK. On the other hand—and this is the critical point in all this discussion of the Affordable Care Act, subsidies, and making affordable health care less a luxury and more a right (as it should be)—to yank away these subsidies suddenly like a rug under the feet of average Americans, as many would argue, is not the morally advisable course of action. Even Trump’s boasting on Twitter about hurting the stocks of health insurers smacks of an emotional disconnect with the consumer. While few would or should feel bad for corporations, which do not have feelings and don’t exist outside of the world of legal entities, having share prices dive affects shareholders, and could even result in employees within these companies losing jobs. There are real people behind the dollars and cents that go up and down. It’s not a game.

Of course, Donald Trump’s moral compass has long been suspect in its utility as a guide, if not completely broken. As such, we perhaps shouldn’t be surprised he would put himself at odds with the needs of his constituents, let alone the wishes of his Republican comrades in his adopted party, many of whom are likely to face stiff contests in 2018 in midterm elections, let alone GOP primaries leading up to the big shebang. Already, if Roy Moore’s defeat of Luther Strange in Alabama to fill the vacancy left by Jeff Sessions when he became Attorney General is any indication, “establishment” candidates/incumbents are facing a voting public that has soured on Congress’s well-established tradition of being inefficient and ineffectual in representing the needs of the working class and middle-class America, demographics on the seeming decline as they are. Thus, while Trump himself may be safe given that incumbent Presidents seeking re-election tend to be victorious and that Democrats seem unlikely to unite behind a sufficiently progressive candidate, if voters connect the dots between failures in health care and a faulty GOP health care strategy, contested seats may not be as secure as Republican congressional leaders might otherwise be led to believe.

Donald Trump, in his usual grandiose style, stated that there is no more such thing as ObamaCare, that it is “dead” and “gone.” Also as usual, his rhetoric is misleading. Trump’s executive order and his intended end to subsidized lower insurance costs through the Affordable Care Act would be devastating to insurance marketplaces, an effect exacerbated by the timing of this decision/its proximity to open enrollment. However, without a satisfactory plan waiting in the wings, #45 is invoking the name of congressional Democrats and Republicans and insisting that the two sides work together for the sake of a “short-term fix.” This is not how good political leaders operate: by coercing lawmakers into action, including those of his own adopted party, and encouraging a standoff between the executive and the legislature. It’s bullying, and it’s a refusal to own his own failure in being unable to negotiate a deal that would see a credible surrogate for the ACA. Meanwhile, at least 18 states are suing to block a halt to the CSR subsidies, with insurance premiums and federal budget deficits set to increase significantly if Trump’s plan—if you can even call it a plan—comes to fruition. That’s not just bad for insurance companies and the senators who have counted them among their biggest donors. That’s bad for the entire nation.

In the name of his own vanity, President Donald Trump aims to throw a wrench into the workings of the Affordable Care Act as a means of somehow erasing Barack Obama’s legacy. Obama’s historic presidency, however, is more than just the sum of the legislation he signed into law, and while Obama was far from perfect as leader of the country, he is light-years ahead of Trump in intellect, moral fiber, and professionalism. As aforementioned, thus far, not much in the way of negative associations have stuck with Teflon Don, during his tenure as POTUS or, for that matter, in light of his overrated track record as a businessman and entrepreneur. Perhaps through the lens of TrumpCare, though, the shine on his unnaturally orange visage will begin to fade.

Please, Hillary, Go Back Into Hiding

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There may be a number of reasons why you lost the election, Hillary. But pointing them out while claiming to take full responsibility doesn’t help your image or that of the Democratic Party. (Photo Credit: Los Angeles Times)

At the rate we’re going in this country, I tend to worry that, by the time we’ve thrown the last shovel of dirt on the events of the 2016 election, we’ll be in 2020, ready to elect a new president. I mean, I hope. Right now, it seems like the challenger to Donald Trump is an amorphous blob of old white people, Cory Booker, and Kamala Harris. In essence, it’s one blob against another, and for whatever reason, a good deal of Republican voters support the blob with the bad hair, oversized ties, and predilection for golfing on the taxpayer’s dime. Not helping this trend is the more recent public reemergence of one of the election’s most prominent figures, fresh off a period of mourning filled with sorrowful hikes near her home in Chappaqua: none other than Hillary Rodham Clinton herself. Clinton, at a conference sponsored by Recode, the tech news website founded by Kara Swisher and Walt Mossberg, spoke in an interview about why she lost the election.

As Washington Post columnist Ruth Marcus tells it, though, she did so by “not merely relitigating the 2016 election but relitigating it like the relentless trial lawyer she once was.” This is to say that Hillary accepted responsibility for her part in her electoral loss—except that she didn’t really accept responsibility for her part in her loss. Instead, she blamed a myriad number of factors in her downfall, which may have contributed to her defeat, but only up to a certain point, and all told, the list seems more of a tiresome exercise in excuse-making than anything. Among the justifications thrown around by Hillary Clinton and enumerated by Marcus for her column: the failings of the Democratic National Committee; James Comey; the media, for overhyping her anticipated victory and for making a mountain out of her E-mail server molehill; the Russians; and sexism within the electorate and elsewhere, for making such a big stink about her Goldman Sachs speeches “when men got paid for the speeches they made” and for not believing a woman could be President of the United States. She also acknowledged the private E-mail server was a “mistake,” but, you know, one other people made too—cough, Colin Powell, cough—and for not being a perfect candidate—though no one’s perfect, right? Right?

In recounting these various reasons rattled off by Hillary Clinton, Ruth Marcus allows the Democratic Party nominee her “critique”—more so along the lines of Russian interference and Comey’s fateful letter than the complicated and hard-to-prove matter of misogyny—as well as her “venting,” especially after winning the popular vote. Marcus even concedes HRC her Trump-bashing, as Trump’s abnormality is of the sort about which no one should be silent, much less someone of her stature. Still, ultimately, Marcus is critical of the subject of her piece, as the very title of her column—”Hillary Clinton, smash your rearview mirror”—would signify. Citing the poor appetite other recent Democratic Party general election losers Al Gore and John Kerry had for retrospective analyses, Marcus has this commentary to offer:

But enough, already, with the seemingly never-ending, ever-expanding postmortem. Sure, Clinton was responding to questions, but if anyone knows how to duck a line of inquiry, it’s her. Meanwhile, the excuses — really, bringing up the DNC? — make her look smaller. Clinton is always at her best when she perseveres, not when she lashes out. It’s essential to understand what went wrong in 2016 and to call out the bad actors. Clinton is just the wrong messenger.

What Democrats crave most is not wallowing in theories about the defeat; it’s a template for resisting Trump now, and a vision for 2018 and 2020. Clinton’s obsessive summoning of 2016 gives Trump an excuse to change the subject from his missteps. “Crooked Hillary Clinton now blames everybody but herself,” he tweeted after the Recode interview.

And Clinton’s behavior doesn’t help would-be glass ceiling-crackers. Publicly calling out misogyny is probably not the best strategy for combating it, or for encouraging other women to run for office.

Hillary is not the only Democrat to engage in this kind of looking back in hindsight. To a certain extent, party leadership should reflect on where it went wrong in 2016 and where it continues to lose ground heading into 2018 and 2020. That said, there’s a right and a wrong way to do it, and Clinton’s way smacks of pettiness, however legitimate her finger-pointing may be. More importantly, the relentless retrospection is, by its nature, not a path forward for Democratic hopefuls in the next two to four years. By this token, Clinton’s evidently limitless blame game only reinforces the notion that her presidential aspirations were a vanity project, and that a fair deal of her support was incidental, a means to an end to further her political legacy. And going back to the idea of blaming the Democratic National Committee, as her detractors in and around the Democratic Party would be apt to point out, she has the DNC and the machinations of Debbie Wasserman Schultz to thank for making her eventual nomination for POTUS seem like a predestined coronation. Yea, verily, that DWS and her cronies had it in for the Bernie Sanders campaign was one of the worst-kept secrets in American politics next to Ted Cruz strangling a man in the 90s just to watch him die. Come on—you just know that man has seriously contemplated murder at least once in his life. They don’t invoke the name of the Zodiac Killer for nothing with him—just saying.


As a product of a string of losses up and down ballots over the past decade or so, Democrats have gotten into the habit of making excuses for coming up short in race after race, as well as trying to claim moral victories for candidates doing reasonably well in individual contests held in red states—even though the criticism may be well-founded that party leadership is not doing enough to support these candidates, especially when they adopt more progressive platforms (see also James Thompson, Rob Quist). Besides merely failing to truly own up to one’s shortcomings, though, the specter of Hillary Clinton is one that is arguably not only counterproductive for a party in disarray, but detrimental to American politics at large. We already know the kinds of diatribes that those on Donald Trump’s corner of the political right are wont to throw Hillary’s way. Crooked Hillary. Lock her up. Of course, the irony is not lost on the rest of us in consideration of Trump’s manifold ethical, legal, and moral conflicts. This notwithstanding, Clinton’s critics on the left (“Shillary,” anyone?), regardless if—and I’m primarily talking about the average voter here, but hey, who knows—they truly comprehend what they are talking about, commonly refer to HRC as a “neoliberal.” This is not a term of endearment.

Someone who does know what he is talking about, meanwhile, is Noam Chomsky, who continues to be highly regarded in intellectual circles for his views, political and otherwise. In a fairly wide-ranging interview with Christopher Lydon for The Nation, Chomsky makes a central point about the pitfalls of neoliberalism and what we as a nation need to do to truly reclaim our ideal of “democracy,” and in the context of historical threats to our bodily well-being in nuclear war and catastrophic climate change, he outlines the neoliberal tradition as its own threat, in that its persistent influence may only hasten the onset of the other two. Chomsky explains:

So there’s the two existential threats that we’ve created—which might in the case of nuclear war maybe wipe us out; in the case of environmental catastrophe, create a severe impact—and then some.

A third thing happened. Beginning around the ’70s, human intelligence dedicated itself to eliminating, or at least weakening, the main barrier against these threats. It’s called neoliberalism. There was a transition at that time from the period of what some people call “regimented capitalism,” the ’50s and ’60s, the great growth period, egalitarian growth, a lot of advances in social justice and so on[…]. That changed in the ’70s with the onset of the neoliberal era that we’ve been living in since. And if you ask yourself what this era is, its crucial principle is undermining mechanisms of social solidarity and mutual support and popular engagement in determining policy.

It’s not called that. What it’s called is “freedom,” but “freedom” means a subordination to the decisions of concentrated, unaccountable, private power. That’s what it means. The institutions of governance—or other kinds of association that could allow people to participate in decision making—those are systematically weakened. Margaret Thatcher said it rather nicely in her aphorism about “there is no society, only individuals.” She was actually, unconsciously no doubt, paraphrasing Marx, who in his condemnation of the repression in France said, “The repression is turning society into a sack of potatoes, just individuals, an amorphous mass can’t act together.” That was a condemnation. For Thatcher, it’s an ideal—and that’s neoliberalism. We destroy or at least undermine the governing mechanisms by which people at least in principle can participate to the extent that society’s democratic. So weaken them, undermine unions, other forms of association, leave a sack of potatoes and meanwhile transfer decisions to unaccountable private power all in the rhetoric of freedom.

Hmm, make it so average people can’t participate in political decision-making, weaken unions or otherwise fail to safeguard attempts to undermine them, and transfer power to unaccountable, private entities. Yep, this sounds like today’s standard operating procedure in Washington—and before we go pointing our fingers at the “they” across the aisle, understand this is not merely a Republican problem, though the GOP does tend to be the biggest offender herein. Indeed, Democrats have worshiped at the temple of neoliberalism themselves—cordoning off the press and public alike at big-ticket private fundraisers, failing to stand with the working class when Republicans actively work to diminish forms of organized labor, serving special interests and other moneyed influences—and Hillary Clinton was and perhaps still is the example par excellence of the out-of-touch elitist Democrat who tries unconvincingly to appeal to the masses as one of their own. Come to think of it, by the time she had the nomination sewn up, Clinton wasn’t really trying that hard to appear down-to-earth. Or likable. Or trustworthy. She was making speeches about economic inequality while wearing a Giorgio Armani jacket. She was never going to let you know what she said in those Goldman Sachs speeches—#DealWithIt. She knew you probably didn’t believe a damn word about what she said about her E-mail server or Benghazi or the Clinton Foundation, but shit, she had come this far denying any involvement in anything underhanded, so she might as well stick to the script and try to ride out the storm, throwing darts at Donald Trump and calling his supporters “deplorables” and such. Hey, give the devil in Prada her due—it almost worked.

Almost. Instead, an American electorate, much of it deeply resentful about being looked down upon by liberal elites and ready to blame those unlike them, those who they can’t—or won’t—understand, voted Donald Trump into the White House largely based on anger, distrust, and fear. Noam Chomsky recognizes this state of politics today characterized by the rise of nationalism in the United States, the United Kingdom, France, and elsewhere, seeing the prevailing trend not only as predictable, but justified. After all, these voters are raging “against socioeconomic policies which have harmed the majority of the population for a generation and have consciously and in principle undermined democratic participation.” As Chomsky concludes, “Why shouldn’t there be anger?” In Europe, as Chomsky outlines, democracy is undermined in a very “direct” way. with the likes of the European Central Bank, the European Commission, the EU’s executive wing, and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) calling the shots, handing down decisions with minimal input from the bourgeoisie. The implication herein is that, in the United States, stifling democracy is done more indirectly, but no less insidiously. Among the factors cited in the rise of neoliberalism since its beginnings at the end of the 70s is the massive growth of financial institutions to encompass a larger and larger percentage of the world of corporate profits, all the while becoming disconnected from the “real economy.” Not to mention the likes of Goldman Sachs is well represented in the Trump administration, despite the boast #45 would “drain the swamp” from the jump.

Noam Chomsky goes into even more depth concerning which specific doctrines are to be considered forerunners of the modern neoliberal tradition and, for that matter, the neoconservative movement. I’ll let you seek that out and fill in the gaps as you see fit. The main idea is yet quite apparent, though. From both sides of the political equation, the bargaining and decision-making power of the American public has been nullified—and this is by design. On the conservative side, the rhetoric has been one of vilifying the “godless” left and taking back the country from these “rampaging” sorts. Apparently, it takes a cadre of crusaders to nullify the dangerous advances of a national liberal agenda. We must protect our bathrooms and our businesses from all this LGBT nonsense! On the liberal side, meanwhile, there is an active suppression of the more authentic grassroots forces on this end of the spectrum, and this clash of ideals would appear to be exemplified in the current battle for the soul of the Democratic Party between its more traditionalist wing and its upstart progressive faction.

This, broadly speaking, is why we have the Democratic National Committee essentially admitting it intentionally thwarted Bernie Sanders’ presidential aspirations, or Democratic leadership inserting Tom Perez into the mix for chair of the DNC, a largely ceremonial position, pointedly to proscribe Keith Ellison’s chances. As for Hillary Clinton, her dismissive comments of the recent past and the not-so-recent past are of the ilk that even the staunchest Democratic loyalists would be wont to cringe. Baskets of deplorables. Super predators to be “brought to heel.” The Trans-Pacific Partnership as the “gold standard” in trade deals. The now-infamous “Why aren’t I 50 points ahead?” comment. The knock on Hillary over the years is that her opinions on policy issues have changed markedly from moment to moment, and while she and her supporters would characterize this as an “evolution” of her viewpoints, others less inclined to give her the benefit of the doubt see it as a chameleonic tendency to pivot her position to suit her political needs. Criminal justice reform, gay marriage, Iraq, the Keystone XL pipeline, trade—on these issues and more, Clinton has not only changed her stated position, but for certain topics, has shifted appreciably in a short time. Perhaps at no time was this more glaring than during the 2016 primaries, when her critics saw her ideas “evolve” seemingly in response to concern about Bernie’s prolonged and fervent support from his base, thus marking a stark contrast between the two candidates. For better or worse, Bernie stuck to his guns. Contrasted with the shiftiness of Clinton and the babbling incoherence of Donald Trump, Bernie Sanders easily emerged as the most authentic of the candidates running last year. Of course, authenticity goes only so far when you’re fighting an establishment candidate aided by superdelegates, not to mention your own relative obscurity and stances the naysayers deride as “unrealistic” and “socialist.” Universal health care? What, you want everyone to have access to quality health care? What an asshole!


Based on my admiration for Bernie and my 2,500-or-so words up to this point, it might appear that I think Hillary Clinton is a bad person. The truth is, I don’t, if for no other reason than I don’t really know what she believes. The HRC we know today strikes me as someone who is a product of this political system that has justifiably caused so much resentment and unrest among the constituencies of countries all over the world, one that values campaign donations and votes over ideas and real progress. Perhaps I am naïve to think in this way, and should consider Hillary a more-than-willing participant in the political games that pass for discourse and negotiation today. Then again, Clinton is not the only bad actor in this regard. Wait a minute—I sound like Hillary trying to defend herself about her use of a private E-mail server. Have I started thinking like Hillary Clinton? Get it off! GET IT OFF!

Regardless of what I may believe of her, though, the prevailing opinion of the Pantsuit Valkyrie still seems fairly negative, although it is probably helped by the shit-show that is President Trump’s tenure thus far. Hell, Trump’s first 100+ days have been so bad it almost has made liberals like myself pine for the days of George W. Bush. Almost. The creation of vaguely sympathetic figures in Hillary and Dubya and James Comey post-firing notwithstanding, and whether or not she has any political aspirations for 2020 or beyond, the retrospective blame game is not one that benefits the Democratic Party, nor does it reflect kindly on the person throwing stones in a proverbial glass house. Besides, speaking of glass and ceilings and all, while it certainly is neither mine nor any man’s place to tell Hillary Clinton what to do with her political career, if she feels she has anything left to prove, she might be advised to think better of it and consider all that she has achieved. She’s been a First Lady, a U.S. Senator, Secretary of State, was the first female nominee of a major U.S. political party, and won the 2016 popular vote. That’s, ahem, not too shabby. Plus, if endeavors like the Clinton Foundation really are as meritorious as members of her party and the media would make it seem, then she just as well could devote the bulk of her efforts to this cause. And then there’s the occasional six-figure speaking fee. Not that she needs the money, mind you, but I suppose she feels valued because of it.

So yes, in summary, Hillary Clinton was not the worst presidential candidate or perhaps even a bad candidate, but given the Democratic Party’s profound recent struggles, her personal baggage, and an electorate more angry about being marginalized by the nation’s “elites” than someone like me can profess to remember, she is not the kind of dynamic, grassroots-oriented leader the Dems should want. Accordingly, I have but one further piece of advice: please, Hillary, go back into hiding. It might be better for all of us if you do.

Are the Democrats’ Hopes for 2020 Already Doomed?

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It is happening again. The Democrats are employing the same empty strategy that lost them the last election. (Photo Credit: Andrew Gombert/EPA)

Before I begin, let me acknowledge that, on some level, I already hate myself for writing a piece about the Democratic Party’s prospects for reclaiming the presidency in 2020 when there are other critical elections happening prior to then, namely 2018 mid-terms, which, at this rate, party leadership should be concerned about in merely holding onto what they have let alone regaining seats previously lost. Still, when you have someone as unpopular as Donald Trump in the White House, with people counting down the days until his first term is over, it is perhaps never too early to be thinking ahead to the next presidential election and how eight years of President Trump might be circumvented.

According to Musa al-Gharbi, Paul F. Lazarsfeld Fellow in Sociology at Columbia University, however, Trump’s re-election may be all but a fait accompli. Writing for The Conversation, an independent source of news and views from the academic and research community, al-Gharbi cites four key reasons as to why a Trump 2020 victory is not only entirely possible, but likely. Why, pray tell, is—gulp—Trump probable to be a two-term president?

1.  Voters tend to stick with the default option.

The hope here is that, because Donald Trump and his presidency have been anything but normal, convention might be summarily bucked in this regard again, but Musa al-Gharbi cites some pretty compelling evidence as to why the odds are against the orange one receiving the ol’ heave-ho, chief among them this nugget of fact: since 1932, only once has an incumbent party failed to win a second-term—that of Jimmy Carter and the Dems. To put this a different way, it’s apparently pretty hard to get yourself kicked out of the Oval Office.

2. Despite being unpopular overall, Trump is still popular with the people who voted him in.

Or, as al-Gharbi puts it, “popularity is overrated.” Despite not liking Trump and his personality all that much, many Americans are likely satisfied with the job he’s doing,—or even feel he’s exceeding expectations. I imagine some of you are reading this and are thinking, um, are we talking about the same guy here? We are, and much as members of Congress, unpopular in their own right, tend to get re-elected more often than not, Trump supporters, swayed neither by media accounts of the brewing scandal within the Trump administration nor bits of domestic or foreign policy they may find disagreeable, are liable to come out again in 2020 for their anointed candidate. All this makes for shitty news for Democratic hopefuls in 2018 and 2020. Glad I could lift your spirits, eh?

3. The Democrats don’t really seem to have a strong contender in place.

Elizabeth Warren? Cory Booker? Kirsten Gillibrand? Amy Klobuchar? Joe Biden? Michelle Obama? Hell, Hillary Clinton—again? If any of these possible names suggested by their supporters are leaders in the proverbial clubhouse in terms of viability as a challenger to Donald Trump, it’s not especially evident, nor is it clear that any of these individuals would have that strong of a chance to upend Trump if a follow-up election were held today. The Democratic Party, generally speaking, seems to be suffering from quite the crisis of leadership, with its most popular representatives either constitutionally prohibited from running again (Barack Obama) or not even a self-identifying member of the party (Bernie Sanders). Simply put, there is no galvanizing figure among the Democrats, or one that a majority of the party is willing to rally behind.

4. Yeah, about that whole impeachment idea.

If you can’t beat ’em, disqualify ’em? To be clear, for those who are not express devotees of Pres. Trump, it’s kind of difficult to imagine how he hasn’t, in some shape or fashion, disqualified himself. Be this as it may, though, Musa al-Gharbi succinctly states that Trump is unlikely to be impeached until his second term, if at all, if for no other reason than Republicans hold a majority in both the House of Representatives and the Senate—and this reality isn’t apt to change after 2018 either. Besides, the options after Trump on the line of succession aren’t all that inspiring. Mike Pence? Paul Ryan? You may as well pick your brand of poison to this effect.


So, we have multiple concrete reasons from an expert in matters of human social behavior as to why Donald Trump will probably continue to be our evil overlord in 2020 and beyond. This invites the question at the heart (and title) of this piece: are the Democrats’ hopes for 2020 already doomed? Before conceding as much, let’s first address how much is in the locus of control of Democrats with respect to why Musa al-Gharbi says Trump should win. Certainly, historical trends are beyond anyone’s reach. Unless, of course, you happen to have built a time machine, and even then, meddling in past affairs is not recommended, as numerous works of science fiction will attest to. Opinions of Trump as president would also appear to be largely outside the realm of Democratic influence—though many of the aforementioned key Democratic figures seem content to beat that horse to a bloody pulp by assailing Mr. CEO-President at the drop of a hat. As for impeachment, meanwhile? The Dems simply don’t have the majorities needed to force the issue. After all, if voters who don’t possess donor-placating motivations aren’t moved to forsake Pres. Trump, there’s a snowball’s chance in Hell Republicans in Congress, yanked to and fro by wealthy conservatives and corporate industry leaders like puppets on strings, will act against #45, particularly when, despite all the tumult of this presidency, they, by and large, have been able to further their pro-business, anti-poor-people-and-minorities agenda.

This leaves reason #3—the Democrats’ rudderless approach to winning elections—as the primary area where the party can control its own destiny. While the crisis of leadership that evidently plagues the Dems is a big problem, perhaps an even larger issue is found in the overall message that leadership within the party is trying to convey. Matt Taibbi, who consistently writes excellent articles for Rolling Stone magazine, recently addressed the proverbial brick wall against which Democrats have been banging their heads, electorally speaking. His latest essay comes after a special election to fill the vacated seat in the House of Representatives for the state of Montana’s at-large congressional district after Ryan Zinke was confirmed as Secretary (and Destroyer) of the Interior. You may have heard about this one. Democrats were optimistic about the prospects of cowboy-hat-wearing singer-songwriter and upstart politician Rob Quist garnering a victory in a red state like Montana and sending a message of repudiation to Donald Trump and the GOP regarding their regressive path forward for America. They were especially encouraged about Quist’s chances after Republican candidate Greg Gianforte, you know, assaulted a reporter after being pressed on the subject of health care and was charged with as much.

And yet, Gianforte ultimately prevailed. We should bear in mind that there are some mitigating circumstances in the results of this special election. Indeed, early voting did count for a significant part of the final tallies, though if you’re thinking this is a reason to dismiss early voting wholesale, you’d arguably be throwing the baby out with the bathwater. Taibbi highlights other reasons that have already made the rounds during the post-election Democratic Party sobriety hour, including lack of an infrastructure for the party in Montana, being outspent by conservative PACs, and our good friends gerrymandering and right-wing media. Still, Rob Quist’s loss in spite of bad behavior by his Republican counterpart is not the first of its kind in recent memory, one more exhibit in a disturbing series of GOP wins with seemingly little thought given to character next to overarching ideologies. Taibbi details this trend:

There is now a sizable list of election results involving Republican candidates who survived seemingly unsurvivable scandals to win higher office. The lesson in almost all of these instances seems to be that enormous numbers of voters would rather elect an openly corrupt or mentally deranged Republican than vote for a Democrat. But nobody in the Democratic Party seems terribly worried about this.

Gianforte is a loon with a questionable mustache who body-slammed Guardian reporter Ben Jacobs for asking a question about the Republican health care bill. He’s the villain du jour, but far from the worst exemplar of the genre. New Yorkers might remember a similar congressional race from a few years ago involving a Staten Island nutjob named Michael Grimm. The aptly named Grimm won an election against a heavily funded Democrat despite being under a 20-count federal corruption indictment. Grimm had threatened on camera to throw a TV reporter “off a f**king balcony” and “break [him] in half … like a boy.” He still beat the Democrat by 13 points.

The standard-bearer for unelectable candidates who were elected anyway will likely always be Donald Trump. Trump was caught admitting to sexual assault on tape and openly insulted almost every conceivable demographic, from Mexicans to menstruating women to POWs to the disabled; he even pulled out a half-baked open-mic-night version of a Chinese accent. And still won. Gianforte, Trump and Grimm are not exceptions. They’re the rule in modern America, which in recent years has repeatedly demonstrated its willingness to vote for just about anybody not currently under indictment for serial murder, so long as that person is not a Democrat.

The list of winners includes Tennessee congressman Scott Desjarlais, a would-be “family values” advocate. Desjarlais, a self-styled pious abortion opponent, was busted sleeping with his patients and even urging a mistress to get an abortion. He still won his last race in Bible country by 30 points.

One wonders if even the serial murderer bit would be enough to disqualify a Republican these days—especially if he or she went around killing liberals or minorities. Furthermore, while Matt Taibbi acknowledges all of the above justifications were, in part, factors in why Greg Gianforte triumphed and Rob Quist was left to sing a sad country song (aren’t they all sad, come to think of it?), as he argues, this rationalization/moral victory business is also indicative of a self-destructive mentality within the Democratic Party. Taibbi explains further:

A lot of these things are true. America is obviously a deeply racist and paranoid country. Gerrymandering is a serious problem. Unscrupulous, truth-averse right-wing media has indeed spent decades bending the brains of huge pluralities of voters, particularly the elderly. And Republicans have often, but not always, had fundraising advantages in key races. But the explanations themselves speak to a larger problem. The unspoken subtext of a lot of the Democrats’ excuse-making is their growing belief that the situation is hopeless – and not just because of fixable institutional factors like gerrymandering, but because we simply have a bad/irredeemable electorate that can never be reached.

This is why the “basket of deplorables” comment last summer was so devastating. That the line would become a sarcastic rallying cry for Trumpites was inevitable. (Of course it birthed a political merchandising supernova.) To many Democrats, the reaction proved the truth of Clinton’s statement. As in: we’re not going to get the overwhelming majority of these yeehaw-ing “deplorable” votes anyway, so why not call them by their names? But the “deplorables” comment didn’t just further alienate already lost Republican votes. It spoke to an internal sickness within the Democratic Party, which had surrendered to a negativistic vision of a hopelessly divided country.

This sort of us-versus-them rhetoric has long since been established by and understood of the Republican Party. Blame the welfare seekers taking advantage of the system. Blame the erosion of American values. Blame illegal immigration. Blame terrorism. I don’t wish to give Donald Trump too much credit in this regard—in fact, I wish to give him little to none for exploiting these factors—but he did commit to the GOP playbook and ride out the electoral storm unapologetically all the way to the White House. For the Democratic Party, however, a party that touts its inclusiveness, subscribing to the belief that certain segments of the electorate are, at best, not worth the effort, and at worst, irredeemable, seems, if not a betrayal of its core values, then a poor way to distinguish itself from the kind of Republican Party which makes closing America’s open door to refugees of war-torn nations and closing bathroom doors to the transgender community some of its top priorities. As Matt Taibbi offers, “Just because the Republicans win using deeply cynical and divisive strategies doesn’t mean it’s the right or smart thing to do.” In saying as much, he points to how Barack Obama campaigned in red states, even when facing racist rhetoric or when assured of losing in the general election, marking a stark contrast between his approach and that of Hillary Clinton, content to play it safe and keep pandering to the Democratic base.

At the core of the Democrats’ woes, though, and where I feel Taibbi’s analysis hits the nail on its head, is in their strategic and thematic miscues. As the author keenly stresses, a platform based almost exclusively on Trump/Republican negatives is neither a message nor a plan, explaining why the Democrats “have managed the near impossible: losing ground overall during the singular catastrophe of the Trump presidency.” Furthermore, the party appears to lack the commitment to help mobilize people to the polls. Taibbi closes his piece with these thoughts:

The party doesn’t see that the largest group of potential swing voters out there doesn’t need to be talked out of voting Republican. It needs to be talked out of not voting at all. The recent polls bear this out, showing that the people who have been turned off to the Democrats in recent months now say that in a do-over, they would vote for third parties or not at all. People need a reason to be excited by politics, and not just disgusted with the other side. Until the Democrats figure that out, these improbable losses will keep piling up.

This, if you ask me, was one of the most glaring weaknesses of the Hillary Clinton presidential campaign: rather than focusing on why we shouldn’t be voting for Donald Trump—and if you didn’t see why by November, you probably never were going to see it, let’s be clear—a more compelling case should have been made for why she (Hillary) merited your vote. That is, if you weren’t sold by the “first woman President” angle, and if you were tired of voting for the so-called lesser of two evils (by now, we all should be), there should have been a different or modified narrative for her sake. The polling Taibbi cites of voters increasingly disenfranchised with the Democrats and yet more willing to choose a third-party candidate or none at all should scare the living daylights out of party leadership, as should the notion that younger and more liberal Dems are openly discussing the formation of a new party such as the People’s Party to more authentically represent the country’s needs. Granted, we might not expect the results of a splintering of the Democratic Party to bear fruit in the short term, if it even gets off the ground and is sustainable, but at what percentage of a “lost” vote will the Democratic brass truly begin to take notice and action? 10%? 15%? Or will they remain aloof and/or continue to deflect from undertaking genuine reform?

Should the Democrats be disheartened at not winning the special election in Montana? Given the state’s political leanings, no, not really. That said, a loss is still a loss, and if Democrats are looking for some sense of momentum heading into 2018 or 2020, they’ve still got a wait on their hands for that potential pivotal moment. Moreover, if they’re waiting on Donald Trump and other loose cannons to self-destruct, they’ve got a yet longer wait. Simply put, playing the game of not—not losing, being not-Trump or not-Republicans—is not working. Even if a sense of false hope is what Trump and Co. are giving their supporters, at least they are giving them something on which they can hang their proverbial hats. “Make America Great Again.” It may not mean much to those of us who condescend against its very logic, but to those who believe in it as a promise, it means a great deal. As for the Democrats, who is their inspirational leader? What is their rallying cry? Though mid-terms and the next presidential election may seem remote to many of us, if the Dems don’t figure out answers to these questions or think about how to better reach out to underserved portions of the electorate, they and members of the Resistance will still have their work cut out for them in three-and-a-half years’ time.

My Big Problem with Phil Murphy

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Oh, Phil Murphy, you and that smile for the commercials. (Image Credit: Phil Murphy/YouTube)

I get it: Phil Murphy is probably going to win the Democratic Party primary in New Jersey’s gubernatorial race. As Graham Vyse, writing for New Republic tells it, A Former Goldman Sachs Executive Is Running Away With This Year’s Most Important Race for Democrats.” Citing Quinnipiac poll data, he notes that Murphy was 17 points ahead of John Wisniewski, his closest competitor, as of last month, and even with more than half of voters polled identifying as undecided, that’s a significant margin given the primary election is now less than a month away. Indeed, the consensus opinion from experts seems to be that the race for the Democratic Party nomination is Murphy’s race to lose, and as Vyse muses, there is as much to say for him as there is to say against his rivals.

Though candidates like Wisniewski and Jim Johnson are painting themselves as progressive alternatives, the article tells of Phil Murphy as someone who agrees at least in principle with progressives on a number of issues, including a $15 minimum wage, improved environmental protections, a more progressive tax system, more responsible banking, and stronger gun control regulations. Aside from his stated policy stances, reference is even made to his personality and his willingness to shake hands and take selfies with everyone in a given venue. Moreover, with Democrats in control of both the State Assembly and State Senate, and with party members nationally struggling to win races at the gubernatorial level of late, it is argued that for the Democrats, as “desperate” as they are, and with Murphy being a “sufficiently progressive” candidate, “maybe it’s just as well” that the kind of progressive spirit that won Bernie Sanders such popularity among young voters hasn’t quite taken hold in New Jersey and that being a former Goldman Sachs doesn’t disqualify him from winning the race. A win is a win, right?

Maybe I’m being a bit naïve here, but what exactly does it mean to be “sufficiently progressive?” Does that mean you, say, support only the decriminalization of marijuana as opposed to its legalization? Are you against fracking only on weekends and holidays? Do you think the Trans-Pacific Partnership is bad but consider NAFTA in its current form “a’ight?” The notion of a candidate being sufficiently progressive is quite a distinction for Graham Vyse and others to be making, not least of which because it is a subjective assessment. By this token, the idea of sufficient progressivism would appear to be dependent, to a large extent, on one’s circumstances and where he or she fares in the polls. During the 2016, Hillary Clinton repeatedly tried to distinguish herself from her Democratic rival Bernie Sanders by referring to herself as a “progressive who gets things done.” In this context, “sufficiently progressive” would appear to mean progressive enough that she can draw enough support from Sanders supporters and independents without alienating prominent donors or losing her the race. Well, um, it was a nice idea while it lasted.

While not of the magnitude as a presidential election, once again, with the New Jersey gubernatorial election, we have a situation where the Democratic Party nomination is all but assured (in this case, for Phil Murphy), and projections indicate Democrats should carry the day come November. Of course, the specifics are a little different with the race for New Jersey’s next governor, as rather than picking a successor to Barack Obama, a man who, through no conscious effort of his own, inspired feelings of division, New Jerseyans will be choosing someone to replace Chris Christie, whose approval ratings are in the dumps, whose legacy is tainted by Bridgegate, who failed badly in his bid to win the 2016 Republican Party presidential nomination—spending a good bit of time away from the state of New Jersey in the process, mind you—and who has since become more or less a shill for Donald Trump, the President who evidently denigrates the office he holds at every turn. In addition, New Jersey tends to vote blue, as they did in this most recent presidential election, coming out for Hillary at a clip of around 55% to Trump’s 41%. There’s no chance that a GOP candidate can upset Murphy, right?

Pardon my cynicism, but wasn’t Clinton supposed to be a shoo-in with Trump’s campaign in disarray and with all the things he did and said leading up to the election that were supposed to disqualify him? Sure, FBI director James Comey’s letter to Congress about re-opening the investigation into Hillary’s finances and revelations about the Clinton campaign and the Democratic National Committee were contributing factors in her electoral defeat. I mean, just ask her—she’ll tell you. Still, complacency from a campaign and its supporters alike can be a difference-maker for the associated candidate, and while Kim Guadagno, the presumptive front-runner on the GOP ticket in the New Jersey gubernatorial race, is not an odds-on favorite based primarily on her association with Christie as his lieutenant governor, to start coasting at this point can be dangerous. We saw the unexpected happen in the United Kingdom when Brexit referendum voters opted—narrowly, but still—to Leave the European Union. We may yet see it if Marine Le Pen manages to upend Emmanuel Macron in the French presidential election. To reiterate, the New Jersey gubernatorial race is not of the same echelon as a national election, and the details are different, notably concerning the incumbents in each instance.

All this aside, and even if his primary victory is all but assured, to think that Phil Murphy is unassailable in the general election may be an ultimately specious mentality for Democrats to take in advance of November. Back in January, Alan J. Steinberg, writing for The Star-Ledger, a New Jersey-based newspaper, opined that Kim Guadagno isn’t such a dark horse candidate vis-à-vis Murphy. As Steinberg reasons, “conventional wisdom” dictates that Murphy should win based New Jersey’s history as a Democratic state and the guilty-by-association political albatross hanging around the neck of his likely Republican rival. However, this, Steinberg argues, underestimates the positive assets Guadagno brings to the table as a communicator, as a political candidate aware of the issues facing her state, as a problem-solver, as a professional, and as a public official. Not only this, but Guadagno contrasts on a number of key points with Phil Murphy—and in ways that may work to her benefit.

For one, while Kim Guadagno owns a distinguished record of public service, Phil Murphy does not. As Alan Steinberg profiles, Murphy served without significant achievement in the roles of chair of former governor Richard Codey’s New Jersey Benefit Task Force and as U.S. ambassador to Germany. Indeed, Murphy’s greatest contributions seem to be directly to the Democratic Party in terms of securing donations as DNC National Finance Chair from 2006 to 2009—a role which he began by tapping into his list of contacts at his Ivy League alma maters and Goldman Sachs—and as a personal donor to various Democratic Party committees. That’s not even remotely the same thing. Moreover, while Guadagno may be burdened by her association with Chris Christie, Phil Murphy’s ties to Goldman Sachs stand to hurt him in the arena of public opinion. I’ll let Steinberg explain in his own words:

Murphy’s career successes were achieved at Goldman Sachs, the ultimate symbol of American oligarchy. And it is this perception of “Murphy, the Oligarch” that constitutes his ultimate political albatross, especially when it pertains to lifestyle.

Guadagno, her husband, New Jersey Superior Court Appellate Division Judge Michael Guadagno, and their three sons live a decidedly nonostentatious middle-class lifestyle. By contrast, Murphy, his wife Tammy and their children, during his tenure as ambassador to Germany, lived a lifestyle right out of the former Robin Leach television series, “Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous.” This lifestyle was vividly portrayed by Agustin C. Torres in articles in the Jersey Journal.

We are living in an era of a growing anti-oligarchical mood, as evidenced by the surprising showing of the Bernie Sanders campaign. Murphy is well aware of this. The oligarchy issue could result in a low turnout for Murphy among Sanders voters.

Rank-and-file voters tend not to like rich candidates who throw their money around—who would’ve thought? Certainly, in the eyes of New Jersey progressives, the subject of how Murphy has used his finances has been a bone of contention. Back in June of 2016—almost a year-and-a-half before the gubernatorial election—Murphy’s first television ad began airing in the Garden State. As Democratic rival for the nomination Jim Johnson has highlighted, Murphy has already spent upwards of $10 million on his campaign before even getting to the primary, raising questions about his professed desire to institute campaign finance reform and, by virtue of this, his commitment to progressive values. For those aforementioned Sanders voters, this smacks of a candidate buying the nomination, a sore subject after Hillary Clinton, big-ticket fundraiser in her own right, had a network of support from Democratic leaders and superdelegates at her disposal as the race was just beginning. Even if the charge against Murphy is arguably somewhat overblown given he and Clinton, or for that matter, fellow Goldman Sachs alum Jon Corzine, are obviously not the same person, can you blame Sanders voters and other progressives for having such a strong reaction when getting money out of politics is one of their top concerns?


As a Sanders voter in my own right, the amount of money injected into the New Jersey gubernatorial race by Phil Murphy for Phil Murphy is not exactly endearing, nor is his legacy as a Goldman Sachs executive. I suppose I feel roughly the same way about this aspect of his personal history in advance of June’s primary as I did Hillary Clinton’s own connections to Goldman Sachs as a paid speaker in advance of the Democratic Party primary last year— a very, very well paid speaker. In fact, I still wonder what was so potentially damning within the transcripts of those speeches that she refuses to release them, like Donald Trump clutching to his tax returns like a baby to its mother. Concerning Murphy specifically, I also find it suspicious that various political and non-political—well, at least not expressly political—organizations have apparently been lining up for months to shower him with their endorsements. As with Clinton, there never seems to be proof of a quid pro quo, and in Murphy’s case, I don’t know that he did or even would donate to these organizations from his personal wealth for the purpose of securing much-desired public support. If anything, perhaps this says more about the state’s political landscape than it does about Phil Murphy, though to be fair, it’s not like he seems intent on bucking the trend.

And yet, over and over again, I keep hearing about how Phil Murphy is a good guy. In a November 2016 New York Times profile on Murphy written by David W. Chen and cited by Graham Vyse in his own article, he is depicted as a candidate who “oozes affability, remembers the tiniest details about people he has met and quickly owns up to his missteps.” He also has been engaging as a participant in town-hall-style political forums, actively involved in his campaign’s canvassing efforts across New Jersey, and the kind of guy who will shake hands with as many people as possible before walking out the door. He’s punctual. He worked his way up from a low household income. He has the backing of both Cory Booker and Robert Menendez. Maybe I’m wrong about Murphy. Maybe it’s not such a bad thing that Democratic groups in the state of New Jersey have so enthusiastically and so rapidly coalesced in backing him. Maybe I’m just being cynical for the sake of being cynical.

And yet. Irrespective of his finances, his history with Goldman Sachs, or his outward personality, I still have reservations about Phil Murphy as a candidate, and I’ll (finally) tell you why. Much as I’ve wondered how much national Democratic Party leadership “gets it” when it comes to owning up to strategic miscues (see also “Hillary Clinton, 2016 presidential campaign”) and forging a path forward for the party structurally (see also “Debbie Wasserman Schultz on grassroots candidates”), I wonder whether Murphy truly appreciates the unique challenges that face the state of New Jersey, and with this, whether he’s even running in a way that acknowledges he is campaigning for the seat of governor, and not something larger as his would-be predecessor Chris Christie did.

From that very first TV spot which aired back in June 2016, entitled “Honor,” Phil Murphy’s flair for the dramatic shines through. Standing in a small room full of people of different backgrounds, he talks about living paycheck to paycheck before putting himself through college, building a career, and learning how economies grow and create jobs. So he is running for governor of the state of New Jersey to reward the hard work of its constituents with better jobs, a higher minimum wage, and equal pay for equal work. And before proclaiming that he will have your back as New Jersey’s governor, he firmly boasts that he doesn’t owe the insiders anything. That’s Phil Murphy, progressive champion and political outsider for you. Please, please—all this applause is embarrassing!

Since then, though, the ads have continued, but with all the same fanfare and stock footage of smiling, industrious people, and yet few specifics on what he would accomplish beyond the platitudes he has already espoused. Special interest politics has failed our state. We’re going to grow the middle class. We need an economy that works for all of us. Make millionaires pay their fair share. Stop hedge fund managers from ripping us off. Affordable college. This is all great, but how? Beyond the formation of a public bank in the state of New Jersey, very little is said about what particular policies Murphy would effect if he were governor of the Garden State. The only thing I’m certain of is that Phil Murphy doesn’t owe the insiders anything, and that he’ll have our back—and that’s only because it has been drilled into my head with every commercial.

When he’s not not giving specifics, meanwhile, Phil Murphy is spending advertising money not to denounce his biggest Republican rival or even his biggest Democratic rival, but Donald Trump. Now, don’t get me wrong—I enjoy a good Trump-bashing as much as anyone; in fact, I do it pretty regularly on this blog. Still, I’m not running for governor—Phil Murphy is. As such, I feel like he should be speaking to Chris Christie’s failed leadership more than anyone else’s, if he indeed references anyone’s record outside his own. Here’s Exhibit B, a spot titled “Betrayed.” Yes, Donald Trump’s ramped-up immigration enforcement is a blight on our nation. Yes, “alternative facts” are stupid. Yes, deep down, I believe we are “better than this.” Unless we are ardent Trump supporters, however, we already know and subscribe to these ideas. Murphy isn’t telling us anything new, nor is he describing anything any other Democratic governor wouldn’t have to deal with. And he’s not talking enough about certain issues that are particularly relevant to New Jersey voters, including the serious pension shortfall facing the state, concerns about our transportation infrastructure, funding for schools and higher education alongside debates about school choice and testing, and the ever-present preoccupation with property taxes, consistently the highest in the nation. So, while Phil Murphy is busy defending us from the machinations of Donald Trump, who’s actually going to be fixing the problems he inherits from the Christie administration? The office of governor is a full-time job, in case you are unaware, Mr. Murphy, sir.

See—this is where not having a more competitive primary is potentially very dangerous, and beckons genuine reform. Democratic leaders in New Jersey, as they did for Hillary Clinton in the general election, view the quick consolidation of support across the state as an asset, as it shows a sign of strength for the party. For a significant portion of New Jerseyans, however, this is evidence of a political “machine” and of a “rigged” system, and this threatens to turn off these valuable voters for this election, if not longer. In turn, if Democrats and independents don’t come out in force for Murphy come November, and the supposed wide margin between him and Kim Guadagno or another GOP candidate doesn’t turn out to be the blowout many experts anticipate it will be, this “coasting until after the primaries” strategy could backfire. At any rate, it risks the prospect of starting to undo the havoc wrought by Chris Christie. You know, assuming there is a legitimate plan to do this beyond not owing the outsiders anything and having our back.

To bring this to a close, and to repeat, Phil Murphy may be more than the sum of his wealth and his experience in the financial sector, and may have a legitimate plan to deal with the various crises facing the state of New Jersey. In spite of what Graham Vyse and like-minded individuals may insist about him being “sufficiently progressive,” though, and as much as the Democrats could use a win at the state level, victory isn’t necessarily the be-all-and-end-all when the wrong policies may not only be detrimental to voters, but may cost the party in the months and years to come. Jon Corzine’s tenure as governor ended in ignominy and scandal, paving the way for loudmouth Chris Christie to swagger his way to the head of New Jersey’s government. Chris Christie, given his obsequious loyalty to Donald Trump and the sheer brazenness behind the bridge lane closures in Fort Lee, is likewise carrying out the end of his term under a dark cloud of disgrace, and a bigger cloud at that. Eventually, Murphy is going to have show us something beyond rehearsed lines from his commercials and that cheesy smile he forces from time to time. If he doesn’t, he may find it hard to govern—if he even it makes it that far.

Fix the Democratic Party or Start a New Party? The Progressive’s Conundrum

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The Democrats’ most popular senator is actually an independent, and a 75-year-old Jew with a Brooklyn accent, at that. If this is not concerning to a party that touts its diversity and its youthful energy among its strengths, I don’t know what else is. (Photo Credit: Bernie Sanders/Twitter)

Who’s the most popular figure in American politics right now? Well, obviously, our fearless leader Donald Trump, right? Um, yeah, no. As of April 12, per Gallup, Trump’s approval rating sits at 41%, seemingly not all that much improved since hurling 59 Tomahawk missiles at Syria. In fact, since the start of his term, President Trump has gone from having essentially equal approval and disapproval ratings at a point in the mid-40s, to having his approval rating dip to a level of near-stasis around the 40-percent-mark and his disapproval rating escalate to a near-constant rating upward of 50%. So, yeah, it’s not that guy. For the sake of a contrast, Barack Obama finished his tenure with about a 60% approval rating—though let’s be real—as feelings of buyer’s remorse began to kick in shortly after Trump’s electoral victory, this figure was bound to be on the incline.

Given Congress’s depressed approval rating of late, you would be loath to thinking it would be a member of the House of Representatives or Senate either. Back to Gallup we go. Though hating on Congress is nothing new, it’s still fairly startling to see only one in five Americans giving our lawmakers a proverbial thumbs-up. Democratic respondents, likely frustrated with a Republican-controlled legislature running amok, report a scant 10% approval rating. Independents, likely believing both major parties, by and large, suck eggs, lie at the 20% national average. Even Republican respondent approval ratings of Congress are down; the current approval rating sits at 31%, notable after a 50% rating and seven-year high in February. Apparently, people don’t like it when you screw around with their health care—who knew!

Let’s back up a moment. Who is the most popular senator with his or her constituents? Wait a minute—could it be a certain senator from Vermont? Close! Patrick Leahy is second among senators in terms of approval from the residents he represents. Oh, wait—you meant the other senator from Vermont. Yup, the Granite State has quite the one-two punch in terms of positive vibes, and leading the country in terms of the most beloved senator in these United States is none other than Bernie Sanders, according to a recent Morning Consult poll. Both of Maine’s senators, Angus King (#5) and Susan Collins (#6), also ranked in the top ten, which is actually pretty well balanced between Democrats/independents and Republicans.

It should be noted that Sanders, while most-approved of within this poll and possessing the widest gap of approval to disapproval percentage, does not get the lowest disapproval rating overall; that honor goes to Brian Schatz of Hawaii (#8). For the sake of completion, lowest approval rating goes to Thom Tillis of North Carolina (39%), with Democrats Gary Peters of Michigan (39%), Robert Menendez of New Jersey (40%), and Catherine Cortez Masto of Nevada (42%), and Republican Dean Heller of Nevada (43%) rounding out the bottom five. Honorable mention goes to dishonorable Mitch McConnell (44%), Republican senator from Kentucky, the only person in the Senate to garner a higher disapproval rating (47%) than his or her approval rating. Congratulations, Mitch—you toad-faced heel.

Forget about mere popularity within the state of Vermont, though. Nationally speaking, Bernie Sanders, according to a FOX News poll dated March 15, enjoys a 61% approval rating, as opposed to a 32% approval rating. That’s significantly better than Donald Trump (44% favorable; 53 unfavorable) or even Mike Pence (47% favorable; 43% unfavorable). As Janice Williams, writing for Newsweek, frames these statistics, this kind of appeal might have been enough to give Bernie the W in a theoretical head-to-head matchup with Trump. Whether or not this is true is anyone’s guess, but regardless, these kinds of figures likely merit the Democratic Party’s attention.

While Sanders ran on the Democratic ticket in opposition to Hillary Clinton during the 2016 primaries, as a member of the Senate, he is, of course, an independent, and one of only two in the Senate alongside the aforementioned Angus King of Maine. As much as Bernie Sanders is keen to preserve his identity as an independent, though, the establishment wing of the Democratic Party appears content to keep him at arm’s length. Such is the complex dance between progressives who are sympathetic to the aims of the Democratic Party at large, especially as regards the Dems’ superior positions on matters of social policy, and mainstream Democrats who, generally speaking, want nothing to do with progressive candidates.

The well-publicized tension between the then-leadership of the Democratic National Committee and the Sanders presidential campaign provides perhaps the most salient example of this divide, but even after a failed attempt to keep Donald Trump out of the White House—an attempt which featured Bernie, upon suspension of his campaign, throwing his support behind Hillary Clinton, mind you—this same kind of tug-of-war informs Democrats’ backing of more liberal candidates, or lack thereof. This past Tuesday, the results of a special election to fill the vacancy of the House seat left vacant by Mike Pompeo’s appointment and confirmation as CIA director were surprisingly close given the setting: a Kansas district, which is situated in a deeply red state and which opted for Trump over Clinton by a 27% margin in the presidential election. Only seven percentage points separated the winner, Republican Ron Estes, from the runner-up, Democratic challenger James Thompson. Whether or not this one election heralds a more pronounced Democratic uprising in future elections is yet to be seen, but in another upcoming special election for a House seat in Georgia, Democratic supporters are licking their chops at the chance to grant victory to Jon Ossoff and send a message—however small—to President Trump and the GOP that their agenda is not approved of by a significant cross-section of the American population.

Give Republicans a run for their money in two red states? Democratic leadership must have invested a lot in both candidates, huh? Maybe—maybe not. In terms of Jon Ossoff, the candidate for the vacant House seat in Georgia, both the Democratic National Committee and the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) have invested heavily in support of him, adding millions of dollars to the millions his campaign has raised, eager to spin the narrative of sticking it to Donald Trump. As for James Thompson, the progressive from Kansas? Eh, not so much. Sure, after the fact, the Democratic establishment added the closeness of the race between Estes and Thompson to this same anti-GOP, anti-Trump narrative. But during the campaign itself? Support for James Thompson was quantifiably lacking, despite his identification under the Democratic Party banner.

Michael Sainato, writing for Observer, explores the absenteeism of the DCCC and DNC in a piece that lays out the situation pretty succinctly from the title alone: “The DNC and DCCC Confirm They Won’t Support Progressive Candidates.” Here is a notable excerpt from the piece:

The Democratic establishment tried to appropriate Thompson’s success in the district as a testament that anti-Trump sentiments will translate to big wins for Democrats in the 2018 midterm elections. However, when pressed on why they failed to support Thompson, they dismissed criticisms for ignoring the race. The Huffington Post reported, “A DCCC official who spoke with The Huffington Post on Monday, however, argued that the party’s involvement would have been ‘extremely damaging’ to Thompson because it would have been used against him by Republicans, who have poured significant money into the race. Thompson has performed better than expected in the race because he stayed under the radar, the official added.” This claim makes little sense, especially given that Thompson’s Republican opponent portrayed him as an establishment Democrat anyways.

Rather than this special election representing an anomaly or misstep from the Democratic leadership, there’s a prevailing trend within the party’s establishment to select and support weak, centrist candidates who provide the party with opportunities to fundraise from corporate donors. This trend is symptomatic of a revolving door within the Democratic Party leadership, where party officials often sell out to work for Republican lobbying firms.

In this equation, Ossoff is that “centrist” candidate, which explains the disparity of support. The thinking from the leaders of the Democratic Party seems to be that a moderate Democrat is better than a Republican—even when courting big money from similar or even shady sources, or even “selling out” to working for Republican lobbying firms after the fact. A rose by any other name would still smell as sweet, and as progressives might argue, money in politics, whether at the behest of Dems or Republicans, is still a corrupting influence.

Thus, when it comes to progressive candidates and voters, there’s a dilemma concerning how and where they swear their allegiance in upcoming elections. By virtue of the Republican Party’s alliance with regressive conservative elements, and Trump’s own collusion with the far-right, the right side of the spectrum is a no-go. Supporting the Democratic Party, meanwhile, is problematic in its own right when its leadership doesn’t support them back, hews too close to center, and refuses to authentically embrace grassroots fundraising and organizing on a national level. Existing independent/third-party options are likewise less than savory owing to questionable organizational infrastructure and, as regards the Green Party and Libertarian Party specifically, figureheads in Jill Stein and Gary Johnson that are considered punchlines more so than viable presidential candidates. Broadly speaking, the current list of options for liberals is fraught with frustration.

In fact, if a recent article by Alex Roarty for McClatchy DC is any indication, liberals are “fuming” over the Democratic establishment’s reluctance to stick its neck out for anyone of a more progressive tint. Both Jim Dean of Democracy for America and members of our Our Revolution, an organization founded by former Bernie Sanders campaign staffers, are cited within the piece as reproaching the Democrats for their refusal to “wake up” and to stop ignoring districts they don’t think they can win because they are too “red.” Even James Thompson, the also-ran man from Kansas, was critical of the Democratic Party’s approach to his race, averring simply, “(DCCC) and DNC need to be doing a 50-state strategy.”

The DCCC and DNC spokespeople cited in Roarty’s article seemed to defend the lack of backing for Thompson by throwing up their hands and declaring the race “unwinnable,” a sentiment echoed all the way up to Committee chair Tom Perez himself. This is not the kind of talk that helps energize a party and recruit new members, though. First of all, yes, James Thompson lost, but only by seven percentage points, and with the likes of Mike Pence and Ted Cruz making appearances and Republican donors infusing money into the race against him in the final weeks and days when the final result seemed not so sure. In addition, and in the arena of the self-fulfilling prophecy, if you never try to make inroads in certain districts and areas of the country (e.g. Midwest, South), you are never going to win. It didn’t play well for Hillary Clinton to write off Trump supporters as “deplorables,” and it arguably doesn’t help the Democratic Party to ignore whole swaths of the United States of America.

In short, what are progressive liberals to do, especially when they see some of their most popular figures in Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren, and Keith Ellison reduced to flunkies for the Clinton campaign and/or donation solicitors in the name of “party unity?” See, I think the Democratic leadership thinks we progressives are too stupid to notice that they are less concerned with what’s in our hearts and minds, and more concerned with what’s in our wallets and purses—or that they simply don’t care if we do notice. I believe, however, that progressives—young progressives, especially—are better at reading authenticity or its absence than today’s political leaders give them credit for, such that when Sanders or Warren threw their support behind Hillary for political reasons, or when they create a position in the DNC of deputy chair that is even more ceremonially meaningless than that of Perez’s role of chairperson, it rings hollow. As it should. Representative democracy doesn’t truly qualify as such unless constituents feel they are being represented by someone who embraces and exemplifies their values, and consistently, the Democratic Party brass had made it evident that they can’t or won’t go as far on matters of grassroots fundraising and policy than their more liberal supporters are asking them to.

As Jonathan H. Martin, professor of sociology at Framingham State University, and others of a progressive mindset are convinced, the answer to the question, “What do we do?” is “Form a new party.” As Martin depicts the situation, if people can’t coalesce around an existing party that has seemingly benefited from a Bernie bump of sorts, such as the Green Party, Justice Party, Socialist Alternative, or Vermont Progressive Party, then a new organization needs to be forged, with those who “feel the Bern” in mind. According to Prof. Martin, the two groups who are leading this charge, at least as of late February, are the Progressive Independent Party, which aims to be a coalition of the willing in terms of progressive, third-partiers, and others on the left, and the Draft Bernie for a People’s Party movement, which pretty much says what it entails up front.

Of the two, Jonathan Martin finds the latter more immediately appealing, for if someone as popular as Bernie Sanders were to break ranks and form a new party, polling indicates that not only does a sizable subset of the voting population desire a viable third party, but many Americans do want the kinds of bold reforms that a Sanders type proposes. Martin highlights both the likelihood that this vision could move forward with Bernie at the helm, and the ultimate choice that progressives face in the political uncertainty following the 2016 election, with the following ideas:

While recruiting Sanders for a “people’s party” may sound like a long-shot effort, his own statements indicate that he remains open to third party politics, and might well go that route if his work to reform the Democrats fails. However, if Bernie doesn’t eventually do this, the movement for a new party may go forward without him.

In any case, the DNC election and subsequent events should challenge both influential and ordinary progressives to ask themselves how long they will continue sailing on the U.S.S. Democrat. That ship is not headed toward the desired destination, nor is it even designed to go there. Moreover, in the wake of the 2016 election, it is a boat that appears to be rotting, drifting, and gradually sinking. Why not jump aboard a different vessel, one that really has the potential to get us where we urgently need to go?

For Bernie’s part, the man still seems unwilling to abandon ship, continually speaking in terms of reforming or rebuilding the Democratic Party in more democratic fashion, and eschewing the pleas of Jill Stein and Company to get on board with a third-party agenda. At the immediate moment, therefore, it seems more probable that a theoretical People’s Party will have to soldier on without their muse, though the alternative is certainly not impossible considering just how tiresome the Democratic establishment can be for the rest of us—and we’re not even interacting with them regularly like Bernie Sanders is. As for the rest of us? Perhaps we don’t quite see the Democrats as a rotting, drifting, sinking ship, but how many of us have one foot in a lifeboat—with some rope handy just in case we get the urge to kidnap Captain Sanders and hold him as our progressive prisoner? Presumably, such a political maneuver would be intended for 2020, as the 2018 midterms are just a year-and-change away, but to take a genuine shot at disrupting the duopoly held by the Democratic and Republican Parties, even that kind of mobilization needs to happen sooner than later. In other words, if liberals are thinking about bailing, they may need to make a decision fast with political waters rising.

Fix the Democratic Party or start a new party altogether? For progressives across the United States, it’s a conundrum, to be sure. This much, however, is clear: the Democratic Party, as it is, can’t function as a cohesive unit in the long term, and progressives backed by/composed of a coalition of young voters and working-class individuals either need to be invited to the table, or find a new restaurant altogether. What to do, what to do?

With Democrats Like These, Who Needs Republicans?

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In retrospect, we should have known Heidi Heitkamp and Joe Manchin would vote for Scott Pruitt as head of the EPA based on their unnatural skin tones. (Photo Credit: Getty/Washington Post).

Though it’s been fairly quiet on the confirmation front lately (President Donald Trump has been repeatedly criticized for his—shall we say—dilatory commitment to filling vacancies in his Cabinet), even ex post facto, it can be educational to see how our U.S. senators voted on the 19 nominees thus confirmed. A particularly valuable resource in this regard is an interactive graphic from The New York Times authored by Wilson Andrews, Times graphics editor, that plots the confirmation vote records of each and every senator, sorted by most “no” votes to least.

On the Republican side, the results are disappointing, if not unsurprising. Of the 52 Republicans with a seat in the Senate, only four have registered at least one “no” vote: Lisa Murkowski (DeVos), John McCain, (Mulvaney), Rand Paul (Pompeo, Coats), and Susan Collins (DeVos, Pruitt). Aside from Andrew Puzder, who withdrew his name for consideration for the role of Secretary of Labor, and Betsy DeVos, Secretary of Education, who required Vice President Mike Pence to break a 50-50 tie and has been the only nominee to receive multiple “no” votes from Republicans, no one else has really been in doubt to pass confirmation proceedings. The only other candidates who have failed to garner even 55 votes are Mick Mulvaney (Office of Management and Budget), Jeff Sessions (Attorney General), Tom Price (Department of Health and Human Services), Scott Pruitt (Environmental Protection Agency), and Steven Mnuchin, the likes of which, either based on their past conduct, their conflicts upon conflicts of interest, or both, haven’t exactly distinguished themselves—well, at least not in the positive sense.

As for the Democrats and independents, the results are decidedly more varied. The top “no” voter in the Senate, tallying 17 of 19 nays, is Kirsten Gillibrand of New York, who is not really regarded as a progressive heroine, but has seemingly moved further left as she has gone along, and certainly more so than in her days in the House. Also high on the list are some of the more popular and well-regarded senators in terms of their principles—Cory Booker, Jeff Merkley, Bernie Sanders, and Elizabeth Warren, all of whom have issued 16 of 19 “no” votes. These senators and others who have voted no roughly two-thirds of the time—13 or more “no” votes, let’s say—comprise a minority even within the group of just Democratic and independent senators. Only 15 of this bloc of 48 senators have voted “no” 13+ times (31.25%), and that clip decreases to a scant 15% within the U.S. Senate at large. On one hand, that more Democrats are willing to break ranks is perhaps encouraging in terms of the desire to not merely rubberstamp or preemptively dismiss nominees along the path to confirmation. On the other hand, if you were looking for a unified front from the Dems, you can go ahead and keep looking, and moreover, the divide in votes may be indicative of a larger ideological divide within the Democratic Party.

Though a minority in its own right, a group of eight Democratic or independent senators has failed to record 10 or more “no” votes in 19 confirmation vote proceedings, with five of them failing to eclipse even six of 19, or a third of votes. These are the lowest of the low, literally speaking, regarding “no” votes:

Joe Manchin III (D-WV)

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“No” Votes: 4 (DeVos, Mulvaney, Price, Ross)

Joe Manchin, a professed Democrat, has cast as many “no” votes as Republican Senators who have voted “no” altogether during the confirmation process. As noted, that’s a bar that should be fairly easy to clear—and he hasn’t. The votes for Scott Pruitt and Rex Tillerson don’t come as that much of a surprise for Manchin, hailing from a state that is synonymous with coal, but the “yes” vote for Jeff Sessions is particularly egregious. Some are comparing Joe Manchin, based on his willingness to break from other Dems, to Joe Lieberman, a comparison which is not all that endearing. Though obviously a joke, it’s telling when the official Twitter feed for Full Frontal with Samantha Bee suggests Democrats oppose Manchin in the 2018 primaries with a lump of coal. Brutal, but not wholly undeserved.

Heidi Heitkamp (D-ND)

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“No” Votes: 5 (DeVos, Mulvaney, Sessions, Price, Mnuchin)

Heidi Heitkamp, like Joe Manchin III, suffers the ignominy of voting “yes” on both Pruitt and Tillerson. Also like Manchin, she hails from a state in North Dakota of which fossil fuels make up a significant part of the economy, so not a huge shocker there, but still disappointing. That she would be so principled on nominees like Mick Mulvaney, Jeff Sessions, Tom Price, and Steven Mnuchin makes her positions on Scott Pruitt and Rex Tillerson all the more jarring. Either way, Heitkamp and Manchin are the only two Democrats to vote for both Pruitt and Tillerson, and the former, like the latter, should receive her due censure from progressives within the party.

Angus King (I-ME)

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“No” Votes: 6 (DeVos, Mulvaney, Sessions, Price, Pruitt, Mnuchin)

Angus King of Maine is one of two independents in the Senate, alongside a certain senator from the state of Vermont who gave Hillary Clinton a run for her money regarding the Democratic Party nomination. Like Bernie Sanders, he caucuses with the Democrats. Apparently, though, he doesn’t vote with them nearly as often as his counterpart. Certainly, the “yes” vote for Rex Tillerson is concerning, but his approval for the likes of Ben Carson and Rick Perry is also vaguely disconcerting. Mr. King, you may be independent and may caucus with the Dems, but you are no Bernie Sanders. Not even close.

Joe Donnelly (D-IN)

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“No” Votes: 6 (DeVos, Mulvaney, Sessions, Price, Mnuchin, Tillerson; did not vote on Pruitt)

If you believe Joe Donnelly, he is a lawmaker committed to making life better for his fellow Hoosiers, and this includes working across the aisle when necessary. If you approach his statements and his voting record from a more pragmatic or even cynical viewpoint, though, you might say he capitulates to conservatives when he has to. As both a member of the House of Representatives and a U.S. Senator, Donnelly’s record has been marked by his being more moderate on both economic and social issues. While I respect that this likely has caused him stress in being the subject of attacks from both the left and the right, speaking as someone from the far-left, I and other progressive-minded individuals are looking for better than 6-for-19 on these confirmation votes. That would be fine in baseball, but Indiana does not have a major league team, and these matters are more important.

Mark Warner (D-VA)

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“No” Votes: 6 (DeVos, Mulvaney, Sessions, Price, Pruitt, Mnuchin)

Mark Warner has the exact same voting record on Cabinet position confirmations as the aforementioned independent Angus King. That’s not an endorsement—nor should it be considered as such. Once again, the principled stance on Pruitt alongside a “yes” vote on Tillerson is an odd juxtaposition, and even casting votes in favor of Rick Perry or even Ryan Zinke raises the progressive brow. Warner, it should be noted, is the top Senate Democrat investigating ties between Russia and Trump, particularly in the arena of interference in the 2016 presidential election. That said, being recently spotted having a chat over wine with Rex Tillerson doesn’t exactly inspire confidence for Democratic supporters that his interests and party loyalty are all that pure. Mark Warner, you’re on notice.


Even for those Democratic senators who have cleared the low hurdle of six “no” votes, a few others have yet to garner double digits, putting their judgment in question, or, if nothing else, suggesting they may be too close to center to really inspire enthusiasm among younger members of the party base. The following senators, if not getting an explicit wag of the finger, are nonetheless worthy of a wary eye:

Claire McCaskill (D-MO)

“No” Votes: 7 (DeVos, Mulvaney, Sessions, Pruitt, Mnuchin, Tillerson, Carson; did not vote on Price)

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You may have heard Claire McCaskill’s name in the news recently, when she called upon Jeff Sessions to recuse himself from any investigations into Russia and Trump, averring that she personally had never met Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak—when, in fact, she totally had.  She also has recently been making a push to Bernie Sanders supporters in her bid for re-election—you know, despite endorsing Hillary Clinton early in the primaries and criticizing Sanders’ campaign at the time. These stories may say enough about the Democratic senator from Missouri, but her voting record alone on Trump’s Cabinet nominees should prompt criticism from the left.

Jon Tester (D-MT)

“No” Votes: 8 (DeVos, Mulvaney, Sessions, Price, Pruitt, Mnuchin, Tillerson, Pompeo)

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As far as moderates go, Jon Tester is fairly well regarded among liberals based on a number of his votes in the Senate, as well as policy positions which have evolved and moved further left over time (e.g. same-sex marriage, Don’t-Ask-Don’t-Tell). A bleeding-heart liberal Tester is not, though, with his pro-gun stance, for instance, painting him as more of a “your grandpappy’s” kind of Dem than the “elitist liberals” that are always being decried in right-wing circles. At least on the gun issue, this is perhaps to be expected in a red state like Montana. Still, one might have liked to see more push-back on nominees like Wilbur Ross or even Linda McMahon given his past diatribes against the wealthy. You get a pass this time, Sen. Tester. This time.

Tim Kaine (D-VA)

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“No” Votes: 9 (DeVos, Mulvaney, Sessions, Price, Pruitt, Mnuchin, Tillerson, Carson, Perry)

Tim Kaine’s presence on this short list means Virginia has two under-10 “no” vote senators to its name, the only such state to earn that distinction given two Democratic/independent senators. Kaine, as you’ll recall, was Hillary Clinton’s pick for vice president, and a way too “safe” one at that. He is the sort that is unlikely to generate much enthusiasm from even party loyalists, let alone a younger portion of the base looking for more conviction on important issues, such as free trade (like Clinton, Kaine has supported NAFTA and came late to his resolution against the Trans-Pacific Partnership) and regulation of the banking industry (proposals of his, while under the guise of being pro-regulation, have been criticized by progressive groups as being anything but). Tim Kaine may be a nice enough guy, but he was the wrong choice for Clinton’s presidential campaign, and may be symbolic of the “mainstream” wing of the Democratic Party that is keeping it from more enthusiastically embracing more liberal views.


To be fair, one might argue that “no” votes without much hope of dramatically altering the outcomes of these Cabinet nominees mean very little. In this regard, stances taken against potential office holders amount to little more than posturing. By the same token, however, for those who have registered more “yes” votes than “no” votes, perhaps these confirmation votes presage a deeper reluctance to embrace the Democratic Party as a whole, or at least magnify the effect of their senator’s centrism.

Where the rubber meets the road, so to speak, then, is with the looming vote to confirm Neil Gorsuch as the next Supreme Court justice. In a vacuum, Donald Trump’s choice of Gorsuch to fill the vacancy left by the passing of Antonin Scalia might not be so hotly contested by Democrats. As things in the political world have shaken out of late, though, there is additional context to consider. Republicans already had majorities in the House of Representatives and the Senate before the fateful events of November, and with Trump—a loose cannon if ever there were one—ascending to the highest office in the nation, the stakes are higher than ever for a party in the Democratic Party that is reeling from electoral defeats up and down the levels of government.

Of even higher relevance, meanwhile, is Merrick Garland’s stalled nomination for this same vacancy. As you’ll likely recall, Garland was tapped by President Barack Obama near the end of his tenure, which he was perfectly justified in doing. Effectually, Obama called conservative Republicans’ bluff, nominating the kind of jurist that appeals to those on both side of the political aisle, and thus requiring GOP lawmakers to all but in name concede their refusal to confirm or hear Merrick Garland was petty gamesmanship. Which, of course, they did. Mitch McConnell and Co. held their breath and waited for Obama’s second term to conclude, rejecting calls from their Democratic counterparts and their constituents alike to “do their jobs.”

With all this in mind, we return to the current kerfuffle over Neil Gorsuch. Whereas Trump’s various Cabinet picks have only needed a 51-vote majority to secure confirmation, the role of Supreme Court justice, because it is so vital and because it is a lifetime appointment, would require 60 votes as part of a procedural cloture vote to end debate and move on to the actual confirmation vote if Senate Democrats are determined to filibuster the nomination. So, how committed are the Dems and independents in the Senate to staving off the confirmation vote? Well, let’s just say they should have enough votes—a minimum of 41 would be required—to filibuster Gorsuch’s nomination. But it’s not exactly a safe margin, and fairly significantly, I feel, a few senators have either wavered on whether or not they will support a filibuster, or have outright indicated they are against this measure. Once again, Wilson Andrews and The New York Times, with the help of Audrey Carlsen, Alicia Parlapiano, and Jugal K. Patel, have devised another helpful graphic to help us sort out the positions for or against filibuster.

Undecided or Unclear: 2

Up for Re-election: 2 (Benjamin L. Cardin, Robert Menendez)

Ben Cardin and Bob Menendez are likely to vote against Neil Gorsuch in a final vote to determine if he is confirmed or not. Remember, though, we are talking about specifically pledging to support the 60-vote filibuster, and as of Tuesday, April 4, 4:30 P.M. EDT, their commitment was judged by the team at the Times to be undecided or unclear on that front. Cardin, for what it’s worth, has said he supports the filibuster on social media, and Menendez has apparently followed suit. Both senators are facing re-election in 2018, but that provides only slight plausibility as to why they would wait until Democrats were all but assured of having the necessary 41 votes given they do not really hail from strong red states. In short, and to be quite frank, it’s pretty cowardly of Ben Cardin and Bob Menendez to make their intentions known after the fact. The above-cited article from The Hill also name-checks Angus King, who, as we know, is an independent and has only managed a scant six “no” votes (and is up for re-election), as a late decider. As Democrats, however, you would expect better of Cardin and Menendez, both of whom have gone 12-for-19 in “no” votes, and as a progressive hailing from the state of New Jersey, I am severely disappointed in the latter.

Against Filibuster: 4

Up for Re-election in Solid Trump State: 3 (Joe Donnelly, Heidi Heitkamp, Joe Manchin III)

Not Up for Re-election: 1 (Michael Bennet)

Joe Manchin. Heidi Heitkamp. Joe Donnelly. We’ve heard these names before, haven’t we? Suddenly, their positions on Cabinet nominees, viewed through the lens of their opposition to the filibuster, make a lot of sense. All three are running for re-election in what are deemed “solid Trump states,” meaning Donald Trump carried them by more than five percentage points in the presidential election.

On one hand, I get that re-election in hostile territory, so to speak, stands to be difficult, and there are those of us who would be willing to accept a moderate Democrat who agrees with the party at least some of the time as opposed to a Republican who is more likely to promote a regressive political agenda. On the other hand, though, being, for all intents and purposes, light versions of Republicans arguably does little for the party and only helps depress turnout in elections, especially among independents and progressives. In this regard, the Dems who capitulate to conservative or even moneyed interests can be seen as conceding without making a concerted effort to expand their base among neglected demographic groups in their jurisdictions—playing politics in the short term and risking party support in the long term. In other words, the likes of Donnelly, Heitkamp and Manchin are playing not to lose rather than to win, and this same strategy as employed by Hillary Clinton and other Democrats only seems to be hurting the Democratic Party at the polls. Once again, speaking bluntly, Democratic leadership doesn’t seem to “get it.”

As for Michael Bennet, even for someone whose job is not immediately in danger, he has recognizably faced pressure from both the left and right regarding the filibuster. If Jon Tester, a senator in a red state up for re-election can support the filibuster, however, I submit Bennet (10-of-19 “no votes”) could have, too. Way to ride that center rail, Mike.


The Senate Republicans are expected to exercise the so-called “nuclear option,” essentially rewriting the rules so that 51 votes can advance proceedings to the actual confirmation vote. So, why bother with a filibuster? Democrats and others on the left would insist that this is more than warranted for the GOP’s refusal to hear Merrick Garland, and besides, with a president whose ethical conflicts are barely disguised as such, and who many contend is too unhinged to serve in his present role, there are those who call on Senate Dems to demand Trump release his tax returns at a minimum before considering Neil Gorsuch for the vacancy in the Supreme Court. Then again, Republicans would say that the Democrats “started it,” after rewriting Senate confirmation rules for executive and judicial nominees in their own right in 2013.  Is all fair in love, war, and politics, or do two wrongs not make a right? I guess it depends on what side of the fence you’re on, honestly.

Even if the Republicans “go nuclear,” as President Agent Orange would have it, resisting the confirmation of Gorsuch and other picks until that point based on the merit of held ideals would convey to voters that the Democrats are willing to fight for their constituents and for what they believe in rather than merely trying to hold on to what seats they have. Moreover, claims from Joe Manchin et al. that politics should be kept out of the judiciary are weak sauce when politics so clearly stand behind the decision to nominate Neil Gorsuch in the first place. If Dems like Claire McCaskill want votes from Bernie Sanders supporters, they can’t just ask for it—they have to earn it. That is, they have to demand the kind of change that authentically speaks to the needs of their rank-and-file constituents, and not merely count on voters’ ability to distinguish their policies from those of the GOP, especially when calling for incremental or middling reforms. Otherwise, with Democrats like these, who needs Republicans?

Right-to-Work—Not Right, Especially Not for Workers

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Sure, right-to-work has nothing to do with the actual right to work and depresses wages for union and non-union workers, but let’s keep misleading people and extolling its virtues. (Photo Credit: Darron Cummings/AP)

I consider my father to be an intelligent individual. Before recently retiring, he worked for several decades as an accountant, and toward the end of his gainful employment, he also served as a human resources director of sorts, absorbing most of the functions that a full-time, HR-exclusive professional would for a small business. He is quick-witted, has a good sense of humor, and continually tries to improve himself by challenging himself physically and mentally. With respect to politics, however, I feel his judgment lately is somewhat suspect, especially as it errs on the side of the conservative. My parents are both lifelong Democrats, and at one point, Dad even joked that he would vote for an ax murderer if he were a Democrat rather than a Republican. (My father does not deny outright that he said this, but he does not admit it either, and legitimately or not, claims not to remember this statement.)

With this personal political history in mind, it caused the rest of the family great concern earlier in the 2016 presidential campaign when Dad said he was considering voting for Donald Trump. For someone on the Republican ticket, Trump’s legacy as a conservative was notably lacking, so the idea that the family patriarch would be considering a vote for a GOP candidate was not immediately so alarming. His apparent support for Trump, a grade-A asshole, meanwhile, was. Mom, an avowed believer in Hillary Clinton, if for no other reason than wanting to see a woman become President, belabored the point whenever the election or politics came up. Dad responded by saying that he liked Trump because he was straightforward and “not a politician.” On this note, I agreed that politicians and politics as usual had justifiably driven resistance to “establishment” or “mainstream” figures within both parties, and thereby had helped fuel the billionaire’s appeal. But electing Donald Trump as President of the United States, I argued, was like, because you didn’t enjoy Alice Walker’s The Color Purple, burning down the whole library in protest. Even as a symbolic gesture, a vote for Trump was a vote for hate and a vote against reason and, you know, actually being qualified for one’s intended office.

Eventually, my father began to sour on Donald Trump, not so much because of his intended policies—or lack thereof—but mostly with respect to his denigration of women. As good as any reason not to cast a vote for the man, as far as I was concerned. To wit, I don’t know who Dad voted for this past November. All I know is that since the election and in the months since, every time a discussion of a remotely political nature has threatened to rear its head in our house, he has sought to put the kibosh on it, plaintively asking, “Do we have to talk about politics?” Accordingly, it is pretty rare that my father makes any political commentary unsolicited. (His social commentary is more regular, though no less disturbing, particularly as it concerns anti-feminist attitudes or criticisms of appeals to diversity and political correctness.)

One area where Dad has been notably vocal, though, and a point on which I patently disagree with him, is the subject of unions and other professional organizations. Whether it is because of his experience in the human resources realm or in spite of it, or even related to my mother’s dealings with union representation (Mom is a registered nurse), I can’t say for sure, but suffice it to say, Pops believes unions are “ruining this country.” Harsh words, but Dad is certainly not alone in his antipathy to these organizations. In 2013, Al Lewis, now-business editor of The Houston Chronicle and then-Dow Jones Newswires reporter, Wall Street Journal columnist, and writer for MarketWatch, explored America’s distaste for unions alongside their apparent acceptance or tacit compliance of many with standard operating procedure for corporations and the executives who manage them. Lewis describes the psychology of anti-union sentiment:

Unions…could counter many of the economic injustices that plague America. Unfortunately, unions have lost their power to do so. Union membership in the private sector is down to 6.6 percent of all workers, [a] Bureau of Labor Statistics report showed. In the public sector, 35.9 percent of all employees remain unionized.

This is why, as Americans, we often view unions as a cause of higher taxes. We also are still wondering where the mob buried former Teamster boss Jimmy Hoffa. We sense a more subtle form of institutional corruption in the unions’ alignment with mostly Democratic politicians. We detest the extra layer of bureaucracy unions add to any workplace. And we suspect that it can kill business.

The pension liabilities some companies have amassed in past union negotiations simply blow our minds. And we are uncomfortable with the idea of monkeys running a zoo instead of zookeepers. So by now, most Americans have decided they don’t want to be in a union, even if the decline of unions correlates to the decline of the middle class.

The perception of union leaders as not merely working with political leaders, but for them or in cahoots with them, certainly would seem to work against acceptance of the abstract concept of unions in the United States, as does the image of the union leader earning a comparatively exorbitant salary next to the members of the organization he or she represents, or unions lobbying for their pensions even with many states and municipalities in a state of financial turmoil. More than mere politics or even morality, however, Al Lewis speaks to implicitly-held theories of leadership and who or what types of individuals are capable of leading groups of workers. “We are uncomfortable with the idea of monkeys running a zoo instead of zookeepers.”

Right there, we have a sense of the larger and more pervasive attitude toward those at the top of the hierarchy and those forming the base of the pyramid. Those at the top are presumed to have superior management and leadership skills, not to mention acumen in their given field. Those at the bottom are presumed to be deficient in such skills, drones born to follow rather than lead. Especially as it concerns trade professionals, there exists a stereotype of the blue-collar worker as fat, lazy, stupid, or all three. You know the idea—the plumber crouched over his work, his rear-end barely concealed by his briefs and sagging jeans. There is undoubtedly a perception gap when it comes to these two groups, a phenomenon further expounded upon by Lewis to conclude his piece:

Americans hate organized labor, but somehow they do not hate organized management. As the labor unions have declined, professional corporate managers have formed increasingly powerful guilds of their own. They belong to elite groups, such as the Business Roundtable or the Trilateral Commission, to name a couple. Many are even having a little cabal in Davos, Switzerland this week. What? You thought that was about improving the world? This is how they end up on each other’s boards, approving each others’ compensation packages.

In this subtle way, CEOs have built the most successful union in all of history. You ask a company why it pays its CEO so much, and the answer is always because it is what all the other CEOs get paid. All the other CEOs who sit on each others’ boards, that is.

It is the greatest spin job in all of economics and politics. When someone making $943 a week tries to organize, and fend for their own economic interests, Americans have been conditioned to call it socialism. But when someone making several hundred thousand dollars a week does it, they call it free enterprise.

The many, in other words, look up to the few, and as part of this aspirational model, look down upon their present station, or simply down upon those who they believe exist at a lower echelon than them. In the context of unions, when workers organize and try to buck the paradigm of the survival of the fittest paradigm, we have been conditioned to view it as a violation and an aberration rather than the way things should work. As Mr. Lewis intimates, somehow we have been led to associate the activities of professional organizations with greed and excess, or even asking for something undeserved, when executive compensation packages continue to reach obscene levels, even in the face of scandal. Simply put, the American people, by and large, seem to have it backwards when it comes to how they regard the balance of power in our society.


Republican Governors Snyder and Walker attend National Governors Assoc Winter Meetings in Washington
Scott Walker, Rick Snyder, and Chris Christie have all taken hard-line positions against union workers. They also all happen to be shitty governors. Coincidence? (Photo Credits: Reuters/Brian Frank/Mike Theiler/Mike Blake)

So, yes, likewise simply put, public support for unions has been on the decline, as has participation from workers in those professions who might stand to become or remain members. As of the date of publication of Al Lewis’s article, union membership was down to 11.3% of all workers, a level the author notes is the lowest the United States of America has seen since the Great Depression. Rarely are comparisons to the Great Depression ever a good thing for trends involving employment and labor. This historical perspective alongside current negative feelings about organized labor forms the backdrop for the much-politicized battle over the responsibilities and rights of workers in relation to unions, often correlating with party affiliation. Journalist and academic Thomas Edsall, in an op-ed appearing in The New York Times back in 2014, phrased this succinctly with the very title of his essay, “Republicans Sure Love to Hate Unions.” Edsall elaborates on the depth of the GOP’s war on unions as fueled by stronger conservatives within its ranks:

Republicans are willing to go to great lengths to weaken the union movement, especially at the state level. Even as the strength of organized labor as a whole declines, conservatives view unions that represent public sector employees, in particular, as anathema. They are desperate to gut the power of the 7.2 million organized government workers — who range from teachers, to clerks in the Department of Motor Vehicles, to social workers, public hospital employees, meat and poultry inspectors, road workers, property tax auditors and civil servants in general. These are the employees who populate the extensive bureaucracies that the right loathes.

Those familiar with the evolution of the Republican Party over the past few decades should not see this reality as much of a surprise. The GOP has become unflinchingly pro-business in its adoption of fiscally and socially conservative positions, to a fault and to the extent that they have sought to undermine regulations on corporations, other businesses, and whole industries (e.g. banking and finance) because they view them as bad for business. Unions, seen as a constraint of a different sort and emblematic of the type of bureaucracy conservatives always claim to want to bypass, are therefore a prime target for Republican lawmakers and state leaders. Three Republican governors in particular are cited for their anti-labor hostility and posturing in Edsall’s op-ed. The first is Scott Walker, Wisconsin governor and early 2016 presidential race dropout. The second is Rick Snyder, Michigan governor, who we now know was a key player in the lead-filled dumpster fire that is Flint’s water crisis. The last is my personal favorite, New Jersey governor Chris Christie, whose administration engineered Bridgegate and who has gone after the teachers’ union with fetishistic fury. Many people, myself included, would characterize actions taken by all three during their tenures, especially those leading to the crisis in Flint, as reprehensible. Does this necessarily mean that their positions on unions are therefore wrong? Well, no. But let me tell you—it doesn’t inspire a great deal of confidence either.

Again, the Republican resistance to union participation shouldn’t come as much of a surprise. The Democrats’ failure to meet this war on organized labor in kind, however, is vaguely disappointing, though perhaps not altogether surprising either, if you understand the schism within the Democratic Party between its establishment wing replete with big-money donors, and its progressive wing predicated on grassroots funding and organizing, as well as advocacy for a $15 minimum wage, among other things. Thomas Edsall puts the nature of the Democrats’ weak defense of unions in blunt terms: “If Republicans and conservatives place a top priority on eviscerating labor unions, what is the Democratic Party doing to protect this core constituency? Not much.” In saying as much, Edsall points to the Obama administration’s undermining “of the bargaining power of the most successful unions by imposing a 40% excise tax, which takes effect in 2018, on health insurance premiums in excess of $10,200 annually for individuals, and $27,500 for families, in order to finance Obamacare.” These so-called “Cadillac plans,” Edsall continues, intended as a luxury tax of sorts, are seen by labor leaders as threats to health insurance benefits that various unions have had to fight for with executive management of companies. As one labor leader quoted within the piece opines, non-union and union workers alike will be hurt by these plans, with non-union workers in particular at risk of having their benefits slashed and their deductibles skyrocket. To put this in different terms, and as far as labor groups are concerned, with “friends” like the 40% tax, who needs enemies?

It should be stressed that this Thomas Edsall piece was published in 2014, before the rise of Donald Trump. Even then, the Democratic Party was being lectured by Edsall and others to “neglect the union movement at their own peril.” Accordingly, Edsall’s closing paragraphs seem duly ominous, if not presaging the disaster of a Trump presidency outright:

Even when the party had full control of both houses of Congress and the White House in 2009, Democrats gave a less than halfhearted effort to pass labor’s top priority: legislation that would make elections for union representation easier. Democratic strategists looking toward the future are focused on “the rising American electorate” — single women, minorities and the young, with no reference to labor.

At the same time, many voters in the Republican electorate are themselves middle and low income. In 2014, 67 percent of those who cast Republican ballots earned less than $100,000 in household income; 30.4 percent made less than $50,000. Republicans face their own problems remaining competitive in presidential elections, which will only worsen if they do not strengthen their support among these less affluent voters.

But even with labor unions no longer the force they were — and in fact in part because of their decline — the pressure will fall on both parties to more effectively represent the interests and rights of economically struggling voters, who at some point will refuse to tolerate their eroding income and lack of opportunity.

Translation: people are going to get pissed, and will vote accordingly. In acknowledging this effect, I, in the same breath, acknowledge that there was—as crazy as might seem at first glance—a slice of the American electorate that went from casting their ballots for Barack Obama in 2012 to turning out for Trump in 2016. Their numbers are not insignificant, but as Sean McElwee argues, focusing on this relatively small subset of 2016 election voters obscures the real trend that should be garnering Democrats’ attention, particularly those more entrenched members of the establishment. Where Donald Trump and his campaign succeeded, and where Hillary Clinton, her campaign, and Democrats including Obama have failed to manage, is mobilizing those who should be among their base to the polls. McElwee attributes a large part of this failure of the Dems to their reluctance to make voting rights a priority for various groups, a problem exacerbated by Republicans’ efforts to nullify any inherent advantages with these blocs. He explains:

When Republicans take power, their first priorities are voter suppression and right-to-work, their second is to destroy the capacity of government to aid working families and their third is to turn the government into a patronage machine for wealthy whites. Democrats have failed to understand that in order to win, they must do the opposite. Voting rights must be a priority, and policies should strengthen the ability of working people to organize and mobilize.

“Working people.” Sean McElwee highlights them above any other segment of the Democratic Party’s core supporters, at least traditionally speaking, and references to their “organizing” clearly invokes the importance of unions. From there, or perhaps even concurrently, Democratic leadership must invite workers and sympathetic activist/progressive groups to the table. As McElwee sees the matter, this is the only path forward for a successful Democratic Party, or to quote him directly, “Party elites will have to cede some power to make this happen.” If recent party history is any indication for the Democrats, this is easier said than done.


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If this man is introducing a piece of legislation, let alone supporting it, chances are it’s a terrible idea. (Photo Credit: Steve King)

In terms of the first priorities of the GOP underscored by McElwee in his piece and quoted above, the voter suppression angle probably isn’t that hard to understand. Numerous articles have been written about the “real” voting scandal of 2016: not the closeness of the vote in certain swing states begging a recount, not even the possible hacking of voting machines and other Russian interference in the presidential election, but voter suppression at the hands of Republicans determined to try to widen their advantage over Democrats at the polls, including by limiting opportunities of people of color to vote and creating unnecessary hurdles for them to cast their ballots. (Together with gerrymandering, these are issues of considerable importance that do not get nearly the attention they should.) Right-to-work, meanwhile, is a concept that is likely unfamiliar to the average voter, especially one from a state that does not have such a law on the books. The term “right-to-work” sounds pretty benign in it of itself. Should people have a right to work? Sure, why not? Let’s rubber stamp the bill along and call it a day, shall we?

Not so fast. It would be bad enough if “right-to-work” was a form of euphemistic language—you know, in the way “civil asset forfeiture” is another way of saying “the police gets to take your shit if you’re at all implicated in a crime and without proof of wrongdoing or even being charged.” But it’s more than that—it’s a complete misnomer. Right-to-work has nothing to go with the right to work. The University of Missouri–Kansas City recently featured a profile on right-to-work legislation in the University News, UMKC’s independent student newspaper. First, the editorial defines the term and gives context to the political debate surrounding it:

Right to work legislation prohibits unions from requiring that dues or fees be paid by all employees that it represents. This usually has the effect of weakening labor organization, as unions will have less financial power to fight for higher wages or benefits such as health care. Additionally, so-called “free riders” can take advantage of the workplace protections and benefits without contributing to the unions that acquire them. Conversely, proponents say that job growth increases because businesses prefer to operate in states with right to work laws.

Data can usually be spun by either side to support or reject the claims of the other. There is no firm consensus by economists or statisticians on the effects of right to work, as it cannot be easily isolated from other factors such as variable standards of living or the economic recovery following the recession. In general it increases job growth and in general it decreases wages, all usually in tandem with other pro-business and anti-labor policies. This is a subject where hard, unbiased data is scarce and so the debate devolves into opposing ideological and political arguments. Therefore, right to work legislation probably makes less impact as an economic policy than it does as a political call-to-arms.

This University News profile, whether to be merely diplomatic about the matter, or because it legitimately wants to be cautious because of the purported lack of “hard, unbiased data” on right-to-work legislation, describes its economic impact with an air of neutrality. Still, certain elements of this synopsis scream out to the liberal and progressive reading it and suggest a negative connotation. “Has the effect of weakening labor organization.” “‘Free riders’ can take advantage…without contributing.” “Decreases wages.” “Anti-labor.” Sure, job growth may occur, but seemingly chiefly because companies prefer to operate in climates that are favorable to business and let them take advantage of workers in their own right; job number increases, after all, would mean little when the quality of the positions being added is suspect. However you slice it, that businesses would lobby and Republican politicians would craft policy in favor of right-to-work doesn’t appear to be an accident, especially not in light of the aforementioned war on unions perpetrated by the Republican Party.

This same profile, on the other hand, invokes visions of “danger” as well as cites some guy named Martin Luther King, Jr. in capturing the antipathy held by labor leaders and others toward right-to-work policy. The danger, as the UMKC student staff behind the article have identified, is “in inciting political will to elect those with an interest in supporting big business,” and that it “also attracts those businesses’ donations.” As for MLK, he was downright foreboding about the concept in the abstract. As quoted within the feature:

In our glorious fight for civil rights, we must guard against being fooled by false slogans, such as “right to work.” It is a law to rob us of our civil rights and job rights.

Leave it to a man assassinated, presumably for his views on matters of not only racial inequality, but income and wealth inequality, to put things in perspective and give the matter its due weight. Even then, King and others saw the importance of protecting labor from the machinations of big business and the politicians who aid and abet corporate attempts to shrink union representation. Sure, they may not have been statisticians with “hard, unbiased data” at their disposal—but perhaps they didn’t need to crunch numbers to see the writing on the wall.

For those who have crunched the numbers, meanwhile, the evidence for why right-to-work legislation is problematic for rank-and-file workers regardless of political or union affiliation is that much more compelling. In 2011, Elise Gould and Heidi Shierholz authored a report for the Economic Policy Institute on the “compensation penalty” of right-to-work laws, finding that wages, the rate of employer-sponsored health insurance, and employer-sponsored pensions were all significantly lower in states that had these laws on the books. Sure, this is just one study, and the EPI does lean more to the left, but the comprehensiveness of the report alone suggests Gould and Shierholz might be on to something.

The historical implications of right-to-work legislation only magnify its problematic nature. Michael Pierce, associate professor at the University of Arkansas, directly ties right-to-work to the South’s prejudicial past (and sometimes present) and deliberate attempts to disenfranchise Jews and people of color. From his January 2017 essay:

As Kentucky legislators pass a measure outlawing the union shop and Missouri’s General Assembly contemplates doing the same, it is worth remembering that so-called Right-to-Work laws originated as means to maintain Jim Crow labor relations and to beat back what was seen as a Jewish cabal to foment a revolution. No one was more important in placing Right-to-Work on the conservatives’ political agenda than Vance Muse of the Christian American Association, a larger-than-life Texan whose own grandson described him as “a white supremacist, an anti-Semite, and a Communist-baiter, a man who beat on labor unions not on behalf of working people, as he said, but because he was paid to do so.”

OK, you’re thinking, Vance Muse was just one man from one Christian organization. That doesn’t necessarily mean much. No, but when it inspires whole states, their governors, and their legislators to pursue right-to-work legislation specifically to marginalize unions and their members, this is more than just the trivial misdeeds of one man. Pierce closes his piece with these thoughts:

The Arkansas Farm Bureau Federation and allied industrialists were so pleased with the Christian American Association’s success in passing the anti-strike measure that they agreed to underwrite a campaign in 1944 to secure a Right-to-Work amendment for the Arkansas constitution. This placed Arkansas alongside Florida and California as the first states where voters could cast ballots for Right-to-Work laws. While Muse and the Christian Americans consulted with the campaigns in California and Florida, they led the one in Arkansas.

During the Arkansas campaign, the Christian Americans insisted that right-to-work was essential for the maintenance of the color line in labor relations. One piece of literature warned that if the amendment failed “white women and white men will be forced into organizations with black African apes . . . whom they will have to call ‘brother’ or lose their jobs.” Similarly, the Arkansas Farm Bureau Federation justified its support of Right-to-Work by citing organized labor’s threat to Jim Crow. It accused the CIO of “trying to pit tenant against landlord and black against white.”

In November 1944, Arkansas and Florida became the first states to enact Right-to-Work laws (California voters rejected the measure). In both states, few blacks could cast free ballots, election fraud was rampant, and political power was concentrated in the hands of an elite. Right-to-Work laws sought to make it stay that way, to deprive the least powerful of a voice, and to make sure that workers remained divided along racial lines. The current push for Right-to-Work in Kentucky and Missouri (along with the fueling of nativism) does something similar—it is an attempt to persuade white working people that unions and racialized others are more responsible for their plight than the choices made by capital.

Two things jump out here. The first is that there is a pronounced racist component to right-to-work—even if modern-day conservatives and Republicans downplay that factor. This may be a case of guilty by association, but Rep. Steve King, now-infamous white nationalist, loves right-to-work. Loves it. King loves it so much that he re-introduced legislation in the House to institute a National Right to Work Act. Where there’s smoke, there tends to be fire, and when there’s bad policy with the specter of racism looming, there tends to be Steve King. Just saying. The second is the mentality that connects to the earlier consideration of Americans “hating unions more than CEOs.” Anti-labor, anti-immigrant—it’s all part of the same classist soup that corporations and the wealthy use to depress the working class by turning them on themselves. Divide and conquer—a page straight out of the GOP playbook.


Given the efforts of Republican Party and industry leaders to weaken the rights of labor, in accordance with any number of factors that lend themselves to lower union enrollment numbers and fewer dues being paid, it would seem that the Democratic Party, a party which preaches inclusiveness and fighting for “the little guy,” would exhibit a more robust, if not more cohesive, challenge to the erosion of the bargaining power of the working class amid the erosion of manufacturing jobs. Owing largely to its own moneyed interests, however, the Democrats are currently primarily a fundraising operation, and only secondarily a defender and mobilizer of organized labor, allowing Republicans to undercut them in individual elections such as the 2016 presidential election, as well as threaten their political support from unions by taking labor group endorsements all but for granted. To reiterate the words of Thomas Edsall, however, they do so at their own peril. As Edsall notes, the Democratic percentage among union voters has consistently stayed in the 60% range for the past two decades, Not only is organized labor making up a smaller and smaller part of the general electorate, though, but Republicans continue to win local, state and federal offices despite changing demographics which should favor the Dems. If Democrats can’t even get into office, let alone do something about the strength of unions and their ability to organize, it paints a pretty grim picture for the working class in the United States.

Right-to-work: it has nothing to do with the right to work, nor is it right for workers, union or not. And if nothing is done to form a coalition to resist attempts to disempower unions and those workers who would join their ranks, we could be on our way back to the days and ways of the robber barons sooner than we think—if we aren’t there already.

Do Progressives Have a Seat at the Democrats’ Table?

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Tom Perez may be progressive like Keith Ellison and may have grass-roots appeal. But as the establishment wing of the Democratic Party’s pick to neutralize Ellison as a figurehead of the “Sanders wing” of the party and someone with more a nuanced view of Israel’s role in the Middle East, his victory in the race for DNC chair is symbolic of the notion that the Democrats don’t want to jeopardize their big-dollar donors by bringing in more progressives and younger voters. In doing so, however, they risk damage to their sense of party unity and the ability to recruit independents to their cause. (Photo Credit: AP Photo)

Don’t get me wrong—Tom Perez, the newly-elected chair of the Democratic National Committee, seems like a nice enough guy, not to mention that as Hillary Clinton’s nomination for the office of President of the United States was an historic one because it meant that a woman was a presidential nominee for a major political party for the first time, so too is Perez’s victory in that he holds the distinction of being the first Latino DNC chair in the party’s storied history. Also as with Clinton’s capture of the nomination, once more, the emphasis from ranking members of the Democratic Party and from its most fervent supporters is on a unified party as the best way to defeat Donald Trump and other Republicans in Congress and down the ticket. Unfortunately, much in the way tensions between factions in the Democratic Party have lingered related to the presidential race and behind-the-scenes machinations of the Democratic National Committee, so too does a power play within the party related to the DNC vote threaten to undermine this call to arms and further sow the seeds of division among registered Democrats and would-be Democratic voters. Along these lines, and in short, when it comes to the notion of whether or not the Democratic Party has learned anything from its pattern of losses in the Senate and House and gubernatorial seats, aside from the obvious in their electoral loss to Trump this past November, the apparent answer is no, and it begs the question: will it anytime soon?

Let’s first step back and look at the particulars of the vote itself. Though there were other qualified candidates for the position of DNC chair on the ballot, so to speak, this was essentially a two-horse race between Tom Perez, the Obama administration’s pick to fill the vacancy left by Donna Brazile, who would not be continuing in her capacity as interim chair after Debbie Wasserman Schultz essentially left the post in disgrace, and Keith Ellison, backed by Bernie Sanders, prominent Democrats, various labor organizations, and more progressive members of the party. Perez missed the necessary majority of 214.5 votes (427 were cast) in the first round of voting by a scant one vote, requiring a second round of voting. In that second round, he was able to officially outlast Ellison to 235 to 200. Suffice it to say the vote was a close one, but what did not appear to be close was the enthusiasm behind the candidates, at least from those in attendance there in Atlanta where the vote took place. Jonathan Easley, writing for The Hill as part of a live blog about the proceedings, had this to say about Keith Ellison’s level of support:

It is clear who has the energy here. Ellison’s supporters are loud and in charge and erupting at every chance. “Don’t mourn organize!,” declared Ellison backer and labor leader Randi Weingarten to an outburst of shouts and applause. Minnesota Democratic leader Ken Martin followed, noting that Ellison’s district has gone from the lowest turnout in the state to the highest. “This party is going to rise from the ashes under Keith Ellison,” he said, turning out another standing ovation.

Like Perez, Ellison stressed unity. “Unity is essential, we have to walk out here unified, not just between the candidates but the groups that support all the candidates,” Ellison said. But if Ellison doesn’t win his enthusiastic supporters are going to be extremely let down.

As with Bernie Sanders’ concession of the nomination to Hillary Clinton, needless to say they were let down, as I was. I’m not sure that they were all that surprised, though. I sure wasn’t. This is the Democratic Party we’re talking about here, an organization primarily devoted to fundraising, and only secondarily to change, which it sees fit to dole out incrementally. Back in December, I wrote a piece devoted to the very topic of Keith Ellison’s bid for DNC chair, detailing why voting committee members may not have supported the representative from the state of Minnesota, and surmising that, despite the enthusiasm behind his campaign and endorsements from key political figures, Democrats may well pick someone other than Ellison because, well, they’ve made a habit of making poor decisions lately and getting behind the wrong candidates. About a month-and-a-half removed from the election, the complete list of people running for the top post in the Democratic National Committee had yet to be fully formed, and wounds from the presidential campaign and election were still fairly fresh. At that time, resistance to Keith Ellison’s designs to be DNC chair seemed strongest from those resenting his identity as a Bernie backer, with those vowing to vote for anyone but him dining on the faulty notion that Sanders cost Clinton the election. (Primarily, Hillary lost herself the election, though it was a complex mix of factors that lay behind the Dems’ electoral demise in November.) If the old standby about party unity above all else was a genuinely-held sentiment, come February when the vote was scheduled to take place, these frustrations had a chance to be brought down to a simmer and more people could conceivably have warmed to the idea of Keith Ellison as Donna Brazile’s/Debbie Wasserman Schultz’s successor.

A little over two months later, though, with the race for DNC chair having run its course and more candidates having entered the fray, the apparent reasons for Committee members to bypass Ellison in favor of someone else are yet more insidious and no less galling to progressives and younger Democratic voters. Keith Ellison announced his candidacy for Democratic National Committee chair on November 14, 2016, and pledged to forfeit his seat in the House of Representatives if elected on December 7. On December 15,  Secretary of Labor Tom Perez announced his candidacy, endorsed by the likes of Joe Biden and other Obama administration figures. Why do I mention these details concerning the chronology of the race for DNC chair? As Glenn Greenwald, writing for The Intercept, argues, “the timeline here is critical.” Greenwald, who has written more than one piece on the resistance Ellison faced as a candidate to head the DNC, asks not why Perez ran, but knowingly questions why the White House recruited Perez to oppose Ellison. His analysis, as he himself readily acknowledges, owes a certain debt to an article authored by Clio Chang for New Republic, which tries to make sense of choosing Tom Perez in the first place. After all, if Keith Ellison and Tom Perez are ideologically similar, why bother actively trying to torpedo the chances of the former to buoy those of the latter?

The distinction between the two candidates, as Greenwald and Chang detail, is a two-headed monster in it of itself. The first, er, head is found in the death grip the Democratic Party establishment has evidenced it wants to maintain on leadership of and, thus, direction of the party at large. Clio Chang explains:

It appears that the underlying reason some Democrats prefer Perez over Ellison has nothing to do with ideology, but rather his loyalty to the Obama wing. As the head of the DNC, Perez would allow that wing to retain more control, even if Obama-ites are loath to admit it. Sanders has been accused of re-litigating the primary in his criticisms of Perez, but the fact that Perez was pushed to run, while Ellison was quickly and easily unifying the left and center, seems like the move most predicated on primary scars.

In reasoning out the conflict that manifested in the form of the split between supporters of Ellison and Perez, Chang diminishes the “progressive vs. establishment” narrative that has been spun by various outside sources trying to fashion a frame of reference for their audiences, in favor of depicting the struggle as a power struggle. Barack Obama and others high up on the Democratic Party food chain were uneasy about giving Keith Ellison and his less-moderate supporters too much control. This is almost unquestionably related to the antagonistic attitude Ellison and his main man Bernie Sanders have taken against big-ticket donations and highly-paid consultants. The Democrats may view themselves as morally superior to their counterparts in the Republican Party, but on the subject of money, they are all but addicted to mega-bucks fundraisers and wealthy patrons much as the GOP is. Chang connects this resistance among the Democratic elite to grassroots organizing and fundraising to a similar battle fought over the simultaneous existence of the Democratic National Committee and Organizing for America, Obama’s grassroots fundraising creation from his initial campaign. Ultimately, the DNC absorbed this separate organization, and as Chang highlights, critics of the move blame it in part for the string of losses the Dems have suffered since Obama was first sworn in. The Democratic Party seems expressly averse to a reliance on bottom-up change and small donations, and a separate resolution by those voting Committee members at the festivities in Atlanta against a ban on corporate donations to the DNC exhibits this attitude perfectly.

Glenn Greenwald, meanwhile, while he acknowledges the White House’s role in thwarting Keith Ellison’s hopes to be DNC chair, also sees a more reprehensible dimension to his opposition, and from additional parties as well. Ellison, as you may well know, is the first Muslim to serve as a member of Congress. In the past, all the way back to his days as a college student, he expressed support for the likes of Louis Farrakhan and the Nation of Islam, before reversing his position on them and condemning their anti-Semitic positions. This personal history of Ellison’s, while it could be and was used as fodder against him politically, was not enough to disqualify him in the minds of DNC voting members. His attitudes on Israel, however, break with the mainstream bipartisan lip service that the United States government pays to our chief ally in the Middle East. At first glance, the combination looks bad. A Muslim—waxing philosophical about our relationship with Istael—oy vey! In all seriousness, though, and in reality, Ellison’s past commentary on U.S.-Israel relations is relatively benign, all things considered. By a sizable margin, Israel receives the most aid of any foreign nation from the U.S., mostly in the form of training and weaponry for use by the Israeli Defense Forces. Keith Ellison, like any number of other critics, is justified in wondering why we shower Israel with money when they aggressively pursue the expansion of settlements in the West Bank and disputed territory in East Jerusalem against the consensus within the international community. To this end, why do we kowtow to Israel at the expense of our relationship with much of the Arab and Muslim world?

As you might have guessed with respect to these questions and in general, where there’s money, there’s an answer. Keith Ellison, because he appears more amenable to a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and because he is not more staunchly pro-Israel, is at odds with wealthy Jewish patrons who possess strong ties to the upper ranks of the Democratic Party. In particular, billionaire Haim Saban, the foremost donor to the Democratic Party and both Hillary and Bill Clinton’s campaigns, demonstrably labeled Ellison an anti-Semite and an anti-Israel individual, and the Anti-Defamation League, a Jewish organization Greenwald slyly quips is ironically named in this instance, saw fit to chime in with their reservations about Ellison and his views on Israel. Their combined influence and lobbying translates to considerable power in Democratic Party circles, and since we know the Democrats can’t get enough of big, fat campaign contributions, they are inapt to risk such important sources of revenue. The result was character assassination at its finest of Keith Ellison leading up to the chair vote. Coming from members of a group that identifies itself as the “chosen people,” it would seem the Jews pulling the strings are quite choosy themselves.

Whether seeing the progressive challenger with rabid support on the left as something of a nuisance or an outright threat, as with attempts to deep-six Bernie Sanders’ chances to capture the presidential nomination for the Democrats by discrediting him or showing favoritism to Hillary Clinton, the establishment candidate, the smear campaign against Keith Ellison by people and organizations close to the Democratic Party alongside the power play made by the Obama White House in the first place to prop up Tom Perez betrays an unwillingness to authentically embrace party members and supporters more to the left on the political spectrum, often coinciding with younger entrants into the field. What’s more, in all likelihood, both moves were patently unnecessary on the part of those scheming to influence the final result. Going back to the primary race and clear evidence of bias in favor of Clinton on the part of Debbie Wasserman Schultz, Donna Brazile, and others involved with the Democratic National Committee, as revealed by Wikileaks’ DNC leaks, for all their machinations, Hillary was almost certainly going to capture the nomination. Sanders did provide a spirited challenge for the bid, but Clinton had the support of superdelegates before the race even began, not to mention entrenched, loyal support elsewhere. In the case of Ellison and Perez, meanwhile, the thing that is perplexing to many is the notion the DNC chair is, as Glenn Greenwald describes it, “a largely functionary position, with little real power over party policy or messaging.” As Clio Chang helps buttress this notion, the role of chair is designed to help win elections by increasing turnout and facilitating small-dollar donations, and Ellison is well-experienced in this regard. But apparently, his progressive base of support is neither allowed by the Democrats to have its cake, nor is it allowed to eat it. And, if we’re sticking with the whole birthday party analogy, they are being asked to clean up afterwards, not be petty, and unite. For the good of the party.

All this chicanery, it can be argued, is detrimental to the Democratic Party’s ability to strengthen its base, particularly among younger voters and independents. The DNC’s bias in favor of Hillary Clinton only fueled sentiments that the primaries were “rigged” against Bernie Sanders, serving to erode confidence in a Democratic vote that was already shaky to begin with given Clinton’s scandal-dotted past. Now, with Tom Perez capturing the post of DNC chair over Keith Ellison despite the latter’s enthusiastic following, this fuels the whispers among Sanders supporters that something truly iniquitous has occurred, and in turn, that the Dems don’t really want them at the adults’ table, so to speak. It certainly didn’t help perception matters when, as noted in the Jonathan Easley live blog, the electronic recording devices initially planned on being used to record the chair vote were scrapped in favor of a paper balloting system mid-stream under the pretense that the devices were vulnerable to manipulation and thus unreliable. Then why even have them there at the event in the first place? This just makes it appear as if there is something to hide, a notion not lost on the Ellison supporters in attendance.

Tom Perez may be well suited to serve in his current capacity as DNC chair, and almost certainly will end his tenure on a higher note than either Debbie Wasserman Schultz or Donna Brazile did. Keith Ellison, because he is loyal to the Democratic Party, will soldier on as deputy chair, lending his support serving in a role that is seemingly of even less consequence than the chair itself. Once more, the Democratic Party brass has evidenced it is resistant to change, unwilling to move away from a moderate position, and that it simply doesn’t understand the American electorate—or doesn’t want to. Conceived of in different terms, it is playing not to lose, hoping its distinctiveness from Donald Trump and the regressive politics of the Republican Party are enough to win it back seats all the way up the levels of government. As sports fans can attest to, however, playing not to lose rarely is a sound strategy, especially when you’re already losing. The Democrats haven’t learned anything from their recent electoral defeats, and as the old saw goes that those who fail to learn from the past are doomed to repeat it, their prospects for 2018 and 2020 already look bleak.

Replacing Justice Scalia with, Well, Justice Scalia

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Judge Neil Gorsuch isn’t Justice Antonin Scalia—but he’s not that far off either. (Photo Credit: Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

On the eve of the start of Black History Month, President Donald Trump didn’t disappoint his conservative fans or white supremacist supporters when he announced his nomination of silver-haired white dude Neil Gorsuch to fill the vacancy in the Supreme Court left when Justice Antonin Scalia left this Earth and departed for that big courthouse in the sky. Gorsuch, despite being the youngest SCOTUS nominee in a quarter of a century, has the pedigree of a Supreme Court Justice. He’s studied at Columbia, Harvard, Oxford—not a shabby hand, eh?—and in terms of his professional career, he’s been a clerk for a United States Court of Appeals judge and two Supreme Court Justices (Byron White and Anthony Kennedy), worked in a D.C. law firm, was principal deputy to Associate Attorney General Robert McCallum at the DOJ, spent time as a Thomson Visiting Professor at the University of Colorado Law School, and has served in his current role as a judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit out of his duty station in Denver, Colorado.

In other words, Judge Gorsuch is, unlike a number of Trump’s picks for his Cabinet, eminently qualified for the position for which he has been tapped, and for that, I respect the man. Do I think he should be confirmed as the next Supreme Court Justice, however? In a word, no. It’s nothing personal. I mean, heck, I didn’t know who the guy was until Pres. Trump’s prime-time announcement. Regardless, as I’m sure a number of key Democrats do, I have concerns about his priorities as a jurist and whether or not he would let his political and personal/spiritual ideologies interfere with his interpretation of the Constitution as a member of SCOTUS. Accordingly, I feel the Dems should take their time and do their due diligence before rubber-stamping Neil Gorsuch into service on the highest court in the country. After all, and if nothing else, it’s only fair.

On that last note, let’s take a few steps back and consider the current political climate in which we’re operating. In a vacuum, given his extensive experience, Gorsuch might not be considered a terrible pick, or at the very least, Democrats might have been more willing to work with the Trump administration and Republicans on moving along the confirmation process at a brisker pace. With Pres. Trump in the midst of signing a slew of grotesque executive orders to start his tenure in the Oval Office, however, and in light of the GOP’s obstruction of the Democrats’ own pick to fill Scalia’s vacant seat in the Supreme Court in the remaining months of President Barack Obama’s run as Commander-in-Chief, a measure of resistance on the Dems’ part might not only be advisable, but warranted.

Antonin Scalia died on February 13, 2016, and Obama officially nominated Merrick Garland to fill Scalia’s vacancy on March 16, 2016. The move on President Obama’s part to pick Garland, in addition to selecting someone highly experienced in his own right, was intended to force the hand of Republicans in the Senate. Would GOP lawmakers confirm Merrick Garland and resign to having a Supreme Court Justice many of them admired, but wasn’t as conservative as the more vocal factions within their ranks would have liked, or would they be a dick about things and refuse to hear Garland on principle that he was Obama’s choice and therefore had to be neutralized? Um, I think you know where this is going. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and the Republicans chose to be a dick about things. No hearings. No votes. Nothing. Essentially, they refused to do their jobs, claiming they lacked sufficient time to process Garland’s nomination and that the incoming President should decide who fills the vacant SCOTUS seat—even though they realistically had plenty of time to respond to Merrick Garland’s bid, and there was no standard or tradition which prevented a President of the United States from nominating someone to fill a sudden vacancy in his or her final year in office. Yup, Senate Republicans were being huge dicks.

Now, of course, the shoe is on the other proverbial foot, with of course the difference being that the Republicans had a majority in the Senate then and do now, which explains why they’ve been so keen to try to ram-rod President Trump’s Cabinet picks through the confirmation process. Not only do Republican leaders seek this treatment with Neil Gorsuch, however, but to an extent, they seem to expect it. The aforementioned Mitch McConnell had this to say about what he hopes to see from his Democratic Party counterparts:

In the coming days, I hope and expect that all Senate colleagues will give him fair consideration just as we did for the nominees of newly-elected presidents Clinton and Obama. This is a judge who is known for deciding cases based on how the law is actually written, even when it leads to results that conflict with his own political beliefs. He understands that his role as a judge is to interpret the law, not his own viewpoint.

Well, Sen. McConnell, you certainly talk a good game. Indeed, McConnell is not the only person to speak highly to Gorsuch’s credentials or his education, and Trump’s nominee has been known to diverge from his conservative principles when it suits him. Still, this blanket praise for Judge Gorsuch seems to be what we should anticipate from our federal jurists at somewhat of a minimum. Deciding cases based on how the law is actually written, interpreting the law and not one’s own viewpoint—these, one might argue, are important ethical standards for any judge. That is, Neil Gorsuch shouldn’t be assumed to be or propped up to be superior to other judges just by virtue of remaining free from bias. By this token, we should ask nothing less of the man, especially if he is to take up residency on the Supreme Court.

As for the timing of the SCOTUS nomination, Mitch McConnell conveniently leaves out what happened not at the onset of Barack Obama’s tenure, but in its twilight: that of the refusal to even dignify Merrick Garland’s nomination with a response. Thus, if Republicans are indignantly claiming that Democrats delaying votes to request additional disclosures from and information about key Cabinet picks or seeking to drag their feet on confirming Mr. Gorsuch is fundamentally and substantially different from their move to block Garland’s nomination so as to eliminate their chance of replacing the late Antonin Scalia with someone other than another version of him, let me not mince words by offering that this is complete and unmitigated bullshit. 

Moreover, claiming that “the people” should be effectively allowed to pick the next Supreme Court Justice nominee by choosing the President is also balderdash, hogwash, and poppycock. Not only should politics not get in the way of going through the motions on reviewing a candidate for a SCOTUS vacancy (i.e. if you want to be dicks and refuse him after giving him a hearing, OK, but at least give him that), but numerous constituents did use their voice during the months of the GOP refusal to acknowledge President Obama’s nomination, and it was in protest, with the common refrain from those in dissent being “Do your job!” Especially for members of a political party that has made it a habit of treating those buoyed by the social safety net as lazy, shiftless sorts, refusal by Republican Party leaders to entertain Obama’s selection in the name of politics could be seen as blatantly hypocritical. At any rate, rather than heed the desires of all their constituents, Mitch McConnell and Co. catered to their base. Not terribly surprising, but ideally, not how lawmakers professing to act in everyone’s best interests should be acting.

Before we get ahead of ourselves in conceiving of Democratic Party resistance to Donald Trump’s nomination for the Supreme Court as political ransom, if not brinkmanship, it should be stressed that key Democrats do see legitimate reasons, if not to vote against Neil Gorsuch outright, to, if nothing else, demand the chance to engage him directly on his views and trends within his judicial record. Richard Primus, in a well-thought-out piece about Gorsuch for Politico, identifies him by the designation “Scalia 2.0,” a nod which probably won’t gain him much traction with Scalia 1.0’s detractors. This passage, in particular, perhaps best encapsulates the thrust of Primus’s article, and in doing so, puts President Trump’s nomination in a historical context:

The most sensible way to think of Gorsuch may therefore be to imagine what Scalia might have been if he had come along thirty years later. Scalia came of age at a time when legal conservatives were doing battle with a relatively liberal Supreme Court. Perhaps not surprisingly, they framed their views in terms of judicial restraint and deference to majoritarian lawmaking. Gorsuch’s generation of conservatives, which has lived its whole adult life with a more conservative Court, seems more inclined to see majoritarian regulation as the problem and the judiciary as a good solution.

If Richard Primus makes this very general distinction, though, why the allusion to Judge Gorsuch as a new version of Justice Scalia? Despite the two men operating or coming of age, so to speak, in different eras, they share the same staunchly conservative views on a number of key issues, including abortion, affirmative action, capital punishment, and firearms, which obviously appeals to the right. Meanwhile, noting the divergence within the quoted passage above, Neil Gorsuch tends to differ from Antonin Scalia on the dimension of the role of the courts in relation to business regulation, favoring instead greater judicial discretion and, therefore, diminished capacity for regulatory agencies to interpret existing statutes, and on the specific issue of the First Amendment, Gorsuch appears inclined to view “religious freedom” more expansively, which would stand to give businesses and closely-held corporations more leeway in how they operate and how they pay their taxes (or don’t). Again, a seeming victory for the religious right, notably evangelicals, who came out strongly for Trump in the 2016 election. In all, the concern is that Judge Gorsuch, as a Justice on the Supreme Court, would favor corporate interests over the concerns of average Americans, and would emphasize “religious freedom” over individual liberties and freedom from discriminatory business practices.

In all, representatives from both parties would appear to have important decisions to make in the coming days and weeks regarding Neil Gorsuch’s nomination. For Democrats, the chief concern is whether or not they should compel Republicans to seek 60 votes to confirm President Trump’s nominee. Under a procedural vote known as cloture, the minority party in the Senate has the ability to require the approval of 60 senators to end the debate over a candidate for a position as vital as Supreme Court Justice and advance to an up-or-down vote. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, for his part, has indicated his party’s intention to seek this strategic avenue rather than to acquiesce Gorsuch’s confirmation, though some Democrats conceivably could be concerned about employing this tactic only to have it used against them in the future, and would accordingly opt to fight harder another day on another issue.

Republicans, meanwhile, could override the 60-vote requirement of the cloture-filibuster-strategic-thing-a-ma-jig—you know, assuming the Dems actually go ahead with a unified front in favor of such a maneuver—by making use of the so-called “nuclear option.” This would involve an actual change of the rules for filibustering a Supreme Court nominee, enabling the GOP to push Neil Gorsuch through the confirmation process like poop through a goose. Donald Trump, because he is a big, stupid baby and wants to get his way all the time, has advised his Republican confederates to use the nuclear option at first sign of a potential deadlock on Gorsuch’s nomination. (Side note: even when not involving actual nuclear weapons, Trump seems way too eager to use the nuclear option. Dude may have a nuke problem, in fact. Just saying.) Understandably, despite their recent history of dickishness, Republican leaders may be reluctant to “go nuclear,” along similar lines as to why Democrats might be hesitant to insist on 60 votes to confirm Judge Gorsuch. As this report by Jake Miller for CBS News details, such a rule change would come fairly close on the heels of a shift in 2014 to require only a 51-vote majority to confirm non-Supreme Court judiciary and executive branch nominees, and could be seen as greasing the ever-slippery slope away from what many would argue is a necessary system of checks and balances for the federal government. Besides, they, too, by changing the rules of the engagement, run the risk of having this tactic turned around on them.

I, of course, as a registered Democrat and as someone who would like to see the Democratic Party regain control of the Senate, if not the House and White House eventually as well, have a dog in this fight over Justice Antonin Scalia’s vacant seat on the Supreme Court. Perhaps unsurprisingly, I hope Senate Democrats filibuster the nomination of Neil Gorsuch, and do whatever is in their power to prolong the confirmation process in light of ideological differences they have with Judge Gorsuch. You know, push back a little. Show us party supporters you have a backbone, for Christ’s sake! Granted, challenging Republicans on the Gorsuch nomination and taking back control of the executive and legislative branches is only as good as the commitment to truly progressive policies and principles, something which isn’t exactly guaranteed from a party that just went all in on Hillary Clinton as its presidential nominee. In the short term, however, Neil Gorsuch can and should be resisted as an extension of Donald Trump’s and the GOP’s pro-business, anti-personal-freedom agenda. Case closed.