05.29.16 Rigged

Posted May 29, 2016 by Keith Berner
Categories: Presidential Campaign 2016

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The system is rigged. It always has been.

It was rigged in favor of landowners. And men. And white people. The number of ways our so-called “democracy” is anti-democratic is mind-numbing. And our fellow citizens’ minds have been purposely numbed by a corporate media and dumbed-down education system to believe our deeply flawed system is the envy of the world.

So, we reach Political Year 2016 (which began last year, of course). We still have Tuesday voting (rigged against workers). We have a notoriously irresponsible news media, rigged in favor of its greedy corporate owners. We have small, unrepresentative states that get to choose first for everyone else. We have closed primaries that prevent free democratic choice. We have caucuses that assure only the most highly motivated couple of percent take part.

We have Republicans – empowered by the courts – working assiduously to make voting more difficult and removing all remaining obstacles to racist disenfranchisement.

We have superdelegates, put in place by Democrats to after the McGovern debacle of 1972 to thwart the popular will if that popular will could threaten party victory and party elites’ power.  And we have Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz as head of the DNC, who has done everything in her power to kill off threats to Hillary Clinton in service to party elites.

So, our broken system results in two front runners who are hated by most of the country. On the “bad” side is a fascist bigot, who – alas – will be backed by the majority of his party: the angry on the ground and the power-hungry running the show. On the “good” side is a family that has created scandal out of everything they’ve touched for a generation, because of their hubris and obsession with secrecy.

And there’s Bernie Sanders, a supposed saint. His policy stands seem saintly, indeed. But he forgot about the South and African Americans in planning his campaign. And his supporters scream and yell and throw things and threaten to make everyone suffer if they don’t magically get their way.  Sanders himself seems increasingly distracted from the substance of his revolution that did not happen, as he refuses to condemn bad behavior on his side and whips up the frenzy of his mobs who think something has just been stolen from them.

A revolution would change the rules. There would be Saturday elections, with plenty of early voting opportunities, in multi-member districts, with ranked voting. Districts would be determined by natural and jurisdictional borders. The system would encourage and enable participation. The media would cover facts, expose fallacies, and discuss various points of view (even those I disagree with). Schools would make social studies and government studies about more than how great America is. No one would give a shit about Iowa and New Hampshire.

Sanders and his supporters knew what the rules were before they embarked on their noble cause. At best, they would launch the revolution to change them, but those rules were still in place and hardly secret. It is not like Lucy yanked away the football when Charlie Brown was already running towards it. No, that football was clearly not in place to be kicked this year, last year, four years ago. The rules were not suddenly changed to hurt Bernie Sanders.

A substantially greater number of participants in the Democratic primaries and caucuses this year have chosen Hillary Clinton over Bernie Sanders. That includes an overwhelming majority of minority voters. Sanders is right that closed primaries hurt him. But his supporters seem to have no problem at all with the even less democratic caucuses where he did well.

And, it’s fine with me to hate the superdelegate system. But to pin your hopes on it at the last minute when that is your only possible route to the nomination? This is what Sanders & Supporters are doing now.

It doesn’t matter that Clinton is imploding or polling worse than Sanders against Trump. What matters is that Clinton won the most votes this year. Sanders didn’t. Even if Sanders wins in California, that result will not change.  So the supposedly pure-democracy-loving Sanders campaign is now willing to disenfranchise everyone who chose Clinton, because they know better. How is this different than the behavior of party elites?

It isn’t and this is hypocrisy 101: claim to be be for the people. Except when you don’t like their decisions.

I’m not saying I like their decision. I voted for Sanders in Maryland. I have come to the point where I guess he’d do better in November than Clinton. But I am not willing to just toss aside others’ votes for what amounts to a guess.  I’m also not against trying for a political revolution. I believe it would be our only long-term hope. But when you turn on your own principles to bring it about, you’ve gone too far for me.

I want Bernie Sanders to continue campaigning in California. I want his supporters to be at the table pushing hard in the convention rule-writing. And I want Sanders to give a prime-time speech at the convention at which he reminds us again how rigged this whole country is for the ultra-wealthy. I want him to keep demanding progressive change. I want his dignity to be intact for the many fights to come.

But the time has already come to stop clawing for one or two delegates here and there or seeking to have superdelegates overrule the voters’ will. And on June 8 (the day after the California primary), it will be time finally, completely, and with unity to whatever is necessary to stop fascist from becoming president of the United States.

©2016 Keith Berner

05.01.16 Hillary Clinton for President

Posted May 1, 2016 by Keith Berner
Categories: Presidential Campaign 2016

Tags: , ,

Oh how it pains me to write this. My opinion of both Clintons has been consistent for a very long time. I hardly need to recount their political and policy sins again.

Also, I have not given up on the political movement Bernie Sanders represents. Yes, the system is rigged for the wealthy. Yes, income and wealth inequality are killing what remains of our grossly imperfect democracy. Yes, we need a political revolution to truly address our problems.

But that political revolution is not going to happen in 2016. Bernie Sanders has no remaining path to the Democratic nomination (other than the vanishingly unlikely and extremely distasteful possibility of convincing delegates that a majority of Democratic primary voters – and an overwhelming majority of African American voters – who voted for Clinton this year don’t matter; is that the kind of democracy we seek?).

Sanders should stay in the race until the Philly convention and continue speaking out for the progressive agenda and revolution we need. He should use all the leverage he can to influence Clinton and the party platform (though, the latter hardly matters).

But, as I have written previously, this year, our nation stands at the edge of an abyss the likes of which it has not seen in the lifetime of anyone reading this. Hard-right theocrats, racists, and Ayn Randers control the Congress, governorships, state legislatures, and school boards coast to coast. The only thing that stands in the way their agenda’s being fully enacted is the presidency.

If you need to hold your nose to support Hillary Clinton (as I do) than start holding it. It is not sufficient simply to stop attacking her (though that is absolutely necessary, since every attack from the left will be in a Donald Trump ad this fall). No, we also need to write checks, make phone calls, and knock on doors. We must do whatever it takes to keep GOP hands off the White House.

©2016 Keith Berner

04.27.16 Schadenfreude (election wrap-up)

Posted April 27, 2016 by Keith Berner
Categories: Maryland, MD-8 Congressional Race

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Before I go negative, I want to acknowledge Jamie Raskin’s extremely important victory yesterday. His win not only sends a substantively excellent man to Congress. It also demonstrates that – at least in this district and this year – money can’t purchase victory. Passion, vision, and grassroots organizing won the day. Everyone in MD-8 can be proud of this result!

Now to my Schadenfreude* list:

  1. Washington Post: Both the editors and MoCo political correspondent, Bill Turque, did their best to discredit Raskin as a left-wing extremist. It’s downright fun to annoy the big-business-obsessed Post by voting for progressives who scare them.
  1. David Trone: The man spent over $12-million to sully the electoral process in our district, after he went around the country delivering over $150k to right-wing Republicans in order to “buy access” (his words), ala Donald Trump. It’s sad to think that he didn’t bankrupt himself in the process of this campaign, but one can hope he’ll never try this again.
  1. Kathleen Matthews: Without a public-policy or community-service background, this corporate shill became the most heavily PAC-funded congressional candidate in the country. After having overseen Marriott’s opposition to labor and $1-3/4 million in contributions to Republicans, Matthews tried to play on her husband’s connections (Chris Matthews is the star of Hardball) and her gender to steal our district. Her distant third-place finish should send her right back to the corporate world.
  1. Jonathan Shurberg of Maryland Scramble: The overwhelming majority of Shurberg’s posts are “just the facts”: links to primary sources, scans of candidate mailings, and the like. These are generally offered without commentary and make Scramble is a very useful blog, indeed. It’s the less frequent commentary that deserves criticism. In this race, Shurberg:
  • Excused Matthews’s and Trone’s lack of legislative background by pointing out that lots of members of Congress don’t have any (and what a great job they’re all doing, eh?). In defending the two moneybags, he also purposely ignored opponents’ arguments that neither had any background of public service.
  • Declared the money from one’s pockets or from corporate PACs to be no dirtier than money raised in small dollar amounts from inside Maryland and our district. Shurberg went after Matthews’s opponents for citing the difference and, thereby, demonstrated a (newly found?) love of big money in politics.
  • Forgave Matthews’s responsibility for Marriott contributions to GOP candidates and office holders
  • Explained away Matthews’s money from Hardball guests
  • Repeatedly attacked Raskin and his supporters in a tone that can only be described as mocking, gleeful, and morally superior. It is well known the Shurberg has never forgiven Raskin for the 2014 state delegate race, when Raskin didn’t endorse Shurberg. It was still remarkable that Shurberg couldn’t suppress his contempt borne of personal hurt.
  • Huddled with Kathleen Matthews during the entire J Street annual gala last week.

Clearly Shurberg wanted Raskin not only to lose, but to be embarrassed. He seemed to want Matthews to win (he certainly found ways to excuse nearly everything about her that progressives objected to) but wasn’t honest enough to come right out and endorse her. If Shurberg used to be a progressive, he sure sold out those values in this race and most likely did so in a fit of personal pique. The Progressive Neighbors Steering Committee should take note and remove him from their membership.

  1. The giant PACs and bigwigs who funded Matthews’s campaign: Money down the drain. Hah-hah! (sound file)
  1. Emily’s List: Sorry, gender isn’t everything. I get why Emily’s list doesn’t fund men. But they ought to be selective about the fights they pick. This year in Maryland, their outsized support of Kathleen Matthews and Donna Edwards put them on the wrong side of two men (Raskin and Chris Van Hollen) who have impeccable records on women’s issues. Again, money down the drain. And – in this case – money that could have better used elsewhere.

I’m really sad about how poorly Kumar Barve did in yesterday’s election (a little over 2%). In a race where all the oxygen was not sucked up by Trone and Matthews, this serious, accomplished legislator would have gotten a lot more attention. I still would have endorsed and worked for Raskin, but Barve was my clear second choice and I hope he will continue serving the public good. (I also feel sad for Ana Sol Gutierrez [5.5%], another good person.)

I can’t quite put Will Jawando (<5%) on my Schadenfreude list, because he’s not a bad guy (except for that Big Pharma money he took). But it would be nice if he would do some work in our area before he decides to run for another seat (he ran for state delegate in 2014 and lost badly). Simply having a story that is superficially similar to Barack Obama’s doesn’t really qualify him for office.

Final comment: If one accepts the probability that Trone and Matthews were fighting against each other for the same set of pro-business, moderate Democrats, we can thank Trone for helping Raskin win.

*My writing Schadenfreude with a capital “S” is not a symptom of the widespread disease I call “Random Capitalization Syndrome”; rather it is true to German grammar, where all nouns are capitalized. For more random linguistic tips or a dose of severe grammatical discipline, feel free to contact your blogger any time.

©2016 Keith Berner

04.19.16 In which Matthews takes umbrage at Trone

Posted April 19, 2016 by Keith Berner
Categories: MD-8 Congressional Race

Tags: , ,

There’s a certain amusement in watching bad guys rip each other to shreds. Though the substance is frightening as hell, your blogger has chuckled as Donald Trump, Ted Cruz, and Marco Rubio traded insults and sexual innuendo this primary season.

So it is in our own (MD-8) congressional race. As David Trone has thrown over $9-million (soon to be $12 million) at his pursuit of personal glory, he has taken out a couple of full-page Washington Post ads. Kathleen Matthews, for her part, doesn’t like Trone’s reference to her in one of these as a “local media celebrity.” So Matthews has issued a strongly worded retort. As Bill Turque reports:

“You can run as many ads as you would like, but when you do, I’d appreciate it if you clean up your act when referring to me,” Matthews said at the end of an indignant open letter to Trone released by her campaign.

This cracks me up. For one thing, as supposed policy credentials, Matthews has been touting nonstop her experience as a local media celebrity (er, I mean, her record as a reporter on WJLA TV covering one hard-hitting story after another). For another, while Matthews has (rightfully) criticized Trone’s attempt to purchase a congressional seat outright, last week she contributed $500k to her own campaign, making her again, “birds of a feather” with Trone.

Back to Matthews’s letter, she concludes:

I am proud of my work — all while raising three children with my husband of 35 years. . . . That doesn’t make me special, but it certainly doesn’t make me a ‘media celebrity.’ It is a derogatory term and, as a working mom, I find it offensive and uncalled for.

I get Matthew’s tactic of trying to appeal to women. But where, may I ask, did Trone disparage her child-raising or life with her husband? All he did was call her what she is. Except, of course, that he left out the part where Matthews spent a decade as a $1.4 million/year shill for the Marriott Corp,  overseeing campaign contributions to the GOP and helping Marriott in its efforts to crush unionized labor. Too bad Trone focused as little attention on Matthews as he did.

©2016 Keith Berner

04.17.16 Bernie Sanders for President (with caveats)

Posted April 17, 2016 by Keith Berner
Categories: Presidential Campaign 2016

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Bernie Sanders represents my values. It’s about time we had a national leader who is not only willing but eager to speak truth to power. Sanders is right to describe our economic and political systems as rigged for the wealthy and powerful (who, of course, are usually the same). He is right to condemn corporate corruption. He is right to speak out against a Democratic Party establishment (currently embodied by the odious DNC Chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz) that has tried repeatedly to rig the current presidential campaign in favor of the establishment candidate, Hillary Clinton.

From a progressive-values standpoint, Sanders has very few flaws. He didn’t suddenly discover the moral catastrophe of economic inequality because of pressure during this campaign. He has been speaking up for the left-out, the “little people,” ever since he ran for mayor of Burlington, decades ago. Before that, he was an active participant in the civil rights movement. (Hints from Clinton supporters like [for shame!] Congressman John Lewis [D-GA] that he might have been insufficiently so, have been proven a lie.) His own integrity and incorruptibility are beyond question.

The only less-than-bright spot in Bernie Sanders is his relative lack of enthusiasm for gun control, which is hardly surprising for a politician from a rural state. Attempts by Clinton to portray Sanders as a gun nut, though, are wildly off the mark.

So, why have I lacked passion in my support for Sanders for president? Partly, it’s because I assumed he never had a chance. Party, it has been my assumption that his nomination would doom the Democrats in November. (I have softened on this as his poll numbers against Trump and Cruz have remained higher than Clinton’s; though I still believe that his numbers would drop significantly under a full-throttled GOP onslaught.)

I have also been thrown by the almost obsessive opposition to Sanders by progressive figures like Nobel laureate and New York Times columnist Paul Krugman. Krugman and others have been hammering away at how Sanders’s economic numbers don’t add up and how he lacks any reasonable plan for getting getting his program through a Congress that has stopped even the decidedly centrist Obama in his tracks.

I find these arguments compelling, but also have to remind myself (and you, dear reader) that almost no political candidate’s numbers add up or plans for success have any chance in the real world. Bernie Sanders’s campaign is aspirational. It is not a legislative program. And, Sanders is right that the only hope for progress in this country is a political revolution. That revolution isn’t going to start in Congress. But it has to start somewhere. If not Bernie Sanders, then who?!

Finally, I have been disturbed by Sanders’s almost complete failure to reach out to and captivate African Americans. I cannot imagine a political revolution in this country that does not include the very people who were the targets of America’s Original Sin and the country’s ongoing indifference to their daily lives and struggle. In creating his campaign, Sanders forgot African Americans and wrote off the South. To some extent, this was a reflection of his own skepticism about his chances. If he wasn’t really trying to win then it hardly mattered if he lost too many states with early primaries.

To some extent, Sanders’s blindness to building a real “rainbow coalition” (to use a phrase that ended up sounding empty in Jesse Jackson’s mouth), like his stance on guns, is a result of decades serving a lily-white rural state. Sanders has tried to repair the damage recently and had some success. He is certainly not a bigot himself. But his early failures figure into my relative lack of passion for his candidacy.

The New York State primary campaign has provided an opportunity for me to rekindle some passion. Sanders has shown his typical, unusual courage in speaking out against Israeli policy and Prince of Darkness Benyamin Netanyahu ­– in Brooklyn of all places! Sure, college students have been pushing for boycotts and some progressive Jewish leaders have been denouncing AIPAC and Likud. But an actual elected official speaking the truth about Israel? And a Jewish one, at that? Unheard of! (Your blogger is also Jewish, but foremost a humanist.) This alone reinforces my commitment to support Sanders over a Clinton, whose whole family swears allegiance not only to AIPAC and Likud, but also to the butchers in Cairo (Mubarak and Sisi) and Riyadh.

Hillary Clinton, meanwhile is a poster child for most of what is wrong in our political system and country. I’m glad she has moved decidedly left in the course of this campaign, under pressure from Bernie Sanders and his supporters. She says she now opposes free-trade-at-all-costs and Wall St. dominance. Her utterances on this and other topics are encouraging, if not wholly persuasive. (Remember, Barack Obama appointed Wall St. and the NSA to run his administration after sounding very different during his campaign.)

As I have written, I have particular loathing for the Clintons because their hubris leads them over and over again to waste political capital on scandals of their own making. Open the books on Whitewater in 1992 and there is no impeachment. Admit to flawed judgment and release all the emails in 2015 and “Emailgate” disappears. Release transcripts of the Goldman Sachs speeches and you start to climb out of the hole your politically incompetent decision to feed at that trough dug in the first place.

I will never understand how African Americans managed to forgive the Clintons for the explicitly racist campaign Bill ran on Hillary’s behalf in 2008, and the implicit racism of Hillary’s dog whistles for the folks who now support Trump in places like West Virginia and Pennsylvania. Now we have the spectacle of Bill’s shouting down Black Lives Matter protesters last week. (The thought of that man running loose in the White House gives me the [slick] willies.)

(I accept Hillary’s denunciation of the 1994 crime bill. Everyone has learned a lot since then, including her. This is a case where she should be applauded for growth, rather than condemned for flip-flopping.)

To the extent that Clinton’s consistent progressive rhetoric this campaign season can be believed, there remains one area of profound difference between her and Sanders: foreign policy. Clinton voted for the Iraq War and has tried to distance herself from that decision only out of political expediency. Her embrace of military intervention in Libya more recently shows a continued arrogance (your blogger was torn on the issue at the time for humanitarian reasons, but was not secretary of state). It’s not not only that Clinton puts too much stock in military solutions; it is also that she believes in an American mission to remake the world. Hillary Clinton is a neocon. The fact that the GOP neocon establishment has recently hinted at supporting her in November should give more circumspect foreign policy analysts pause.

(Your blogger is not an isolationist and has some fear that Sanders could be too much of one. As destructive as US involvement in the world has usually been, the chaos that would result from complete US disengagement would not be pretty.)

A Democrat better win in November. The stakes for anyone to the left of Attila the Hun are higher this year than perhaps ever in American history. Unlike in the disaster years of 1980 and 2000, Democrats now have precious few holds on power across the country. Even as the national GOP is providing an amusing political spectacle this year, right-wing freaks own outright a substantial majority of governorships, state legislatures, and school boards from coast to coast. A slightly unbalanced Supreme Court has broadly expanded the powers of the corporate elite in the past 20 years and game will be up if the GOP gets one more appointment there. The only thing standing in the way of a right-wing extremist abyss is the presidency.

In this context, it is frightening to hear Sanders supporters tout a “Bernie or Bust” line. It’s bad enough that Nader and his supporters deemed Gore the larger evil in 2000, leading to hundreds of thousands dead in Iraq, not to mention W’s myriad other policy disasters, which – at best – will take decades to recover from.

It seems unlikely now that the Democratic nominee will be anyone other than Hillary Clinton. Trump and Cruz may be flawed enough to lose even in the face of an uninspired Democratic electorate or a new Clinton scandal. But if Bernie supporters stay home, or – worse – continue to attack Clinton after the nomination is secured – they create unacceptable risk.

So, why am I still going to vote for Bernie Sanders in the Maryland Democratic primary on April 26? Because his voice still needs to be heard. Also, because if he can manage to win convincingly in the remaining primaries (which I doubt), he could just eke out a victory in July. (If Sanders does not win in New York this Tuesday, I will call publicly for him to tone down the anti-Clinton rhetoric.)

Bernie Sanders is an American hero for raising issues that Democrats have ignored for decades. He is worthy of your vote. But let not your love of Bernie now blind you to the greater imperative of Democratic victory in November.

04.17.16 Jamie Raskin for Congress

Posted April 17, 2016 by Keith Berner
Categories: Maryland, MD-8 Congressional Race

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Jamie Raskin’s record of accomplishment is astounding. Let’s start with his 2006 campaign for the Maryland Senate from District 20. (Beginning there gives short shrift to Raskin’s career as a nationally respected professor of constitutional law at American University.) In launching the effort, Raskin not only took on an entrenched incumbent, Ida Reuben, who had been serving a decidedly anti-progressive party machine and big-business interests for decades. He also purposely took on a long history indifference to state politics by D-20 voters.

While our district is home to some of the most progressive voters in the country, many of our neighbors had only been focused on national and international politics. Year after year, Ida Reuben and her ilk represented us in Annapolis, keeping Maryland blue, but hardly better than center-right. Raskin not only trounced Reuben thoroughly (2 to 1) in a race he was supposed to lose. He also carried Tom Hucker and Heather Mizeur with him as state delegates, in a progressive sweep. D-20’s powerful chair of the House Ways and Means Committee, Sheila Hixson, got with the program, moving from cautious centrism to forceful progressive leadership, with Raskin as a guide and partner.

Jamie Raskin’s election, then, was not only about a single senate seat. He consciously sought to create a movement, providing the vision and voice that have given D-20 and our values the power we lacked in Maryland. This is leadership defined.

The list of legislation passed with Raskin’s authorship, contribution, co-sponsorship, or advocacy is too long to recount here. Same-sex marriage, gun control, environmental regulation and remediation, economic justice, campaign finance reform. Not everything Raskin has touched has become law. (There is more work to do in a state that remains far more conservative than its Democratic reputation implies). But so many laws would never have seen the light of day or gotten to victory without him in the trenches.

Raskin’s most recent success is his “Noah’s Law” the toughest anti-drunk driving measure in the country, which passed in the just-concluded legislative session, overcoming years of liquor-lobby opposition.

Another element of Jamie Raskin’s leadership is his compelling oratory. He generates enthusiasm and motivates action by walking into a room and opening his mouth. The legions of passionate volunteers who have served in his campaigns demonstrate this. In fact, it is the door-knockers and phone-callers who have made Raskin viable against two opposing campaigns flush with millions of dollars of dirty money. (Kathleen Matthews is the most heavily corporate-PAC funded congressional candidate in the country. David Trone has spent a completely mind-boggling $9.1 million in a blatant attempt to purchase personal glory.)

Indeed, the contrast could not be starker between Raskin, whose life has been dedicated to public service and the two moneybags candidates who have served only themselves and their business interests.

I have written previously about these birds of a feather, both of whom cared so little about policy and politics – prior to seeking their own renown in Congress – that they didn’t bother to vote in two of the last three primaries. Each has been responsible for massive contributions to far-right GOP candidates and officeholders around the country (see Matthews and Trone). Both claim a moral pass on this, because throwing money to bad guys in a corrupt system was what they had to do for business.

There is no moral exemption for helping bad guys in order to enrich yourself or your corporate masters. If you send money to the GOP, you are backing GOP policies, period. While Jamie Raskin has been working hard every day to clean up campaign corruption, Kathleen Matthews and David Trone are its very embodiment.

Your blogger is deeply offended by the mere presence of Matthews and Trone in this race. Their progressive rhetoric is superficial. Their lack of community service reveals their selfishness. Should either be elected, the best a progressive voter could expect would be general support for a Democratic agenda, without any leadership for progressive values. And we could expect both to advocate for the status quo regarding the role of big, corrupting money in our broken democracy.

Jamie Raskin is not the only worthy candidate for Congress in MD-8. Kumar Barve (D-17) has served honorably in the Maryland Senate, making a name for himself as an environmental leader, among other things. Ana Sol Gutierrez (D-18) has been a reliable progressive vote in the House. But both lack Raskin’s power and results. Gutierrez seems in this race to be running solely on her Latina identity, a worthy consideration, but hardly sufficient to justify your vote.

Will Jawando is smart, articulate, and progressive. But he is tainted by having taken Big Pharma money, has provided little or no community service in the area, and seems to offer only his ethnic identity (as an African American) and brief, barely-relevant service in the Obama White House as rationales for his campaign.

Former State Department official Joel Rubin has contributed positively to the race, mostly by criticizing Matthews and Trone.

Coverage of this campaign would not be complete without commenting on pernicious role played by the Washington Post. It is hardly a surprise that the virulently pro-corporate, anti-union newspaper endorsed Matthews – they can count on her to do its bidding and serve its interests, if not explicitly, then certainly in style and attitude. (Another indication of Matthews’s likely fealty to big business if she were elected is her endorsement by former Montgomery County Executive Doug Duncan, the prince of pavement.)

Even though the Post acknowledges that there is hardly an iota of stated policy difference among the candidates, it condemns Raskin for being “doctrinaire.” This flies in the face of his success in building bridges, not only across Maryland’s partisan divide, but also within the Democratic Party. (Raskin has managed to create an enduring alliance with hardly progressive Senate President Thomas V. “Mike” Miller [D-27], a remarkable feat.)

The Post’s influence is more insidious than its editorials. While sole Montgomery County political reporter Bill Turque has done some good reporting on the race. He has also ignored Raskin (at times) or damned him with right-wing language that clearly reflects the Post’s editorial bias.

Jamie Raskin has an extremely bright future, not only as a movement leader, but as an effective legislator who will serve the public good for decades. And if Raskin ever decides to move on from legislating, look for him to serve in the judiciary or in a future Democratic administration.

Maryland D-8 voters must show we cannot be bought. We owe it not only to ourselves but to the country to keep Jamie Raskin on an upward trajectory in service to all of us.

©2106 Keith Berner

04.16.16 Chris Van Hollen for Senate

Posted April 16, 2016 by Keith Berner
Categories: Maryland

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This is a long piece. If you don’t know Chris Van Hollen well and have not been following the story of Donna Edwards’s lies about his record, you’ll learn by reading all of it. Otherwise, the executive summary is clear: Chris Van Hollen is an unusually effective progressive leader. Donna Edwards is unusually ineffective and lacks the character to be in public office.

Congressman Chris Van Hollen (D-8) is a superstar. He offers a rare combination of deep progressive values, legislative expertise, and being part of the Democratic Party leadership. His talent is demonstrated by the fact that it took very few years after his election to Congress in 2002 to become a member of the leadership and that he did not have to become a corporate sellout to do so.

There have been times when your blogger has disagreed with Van Hollen. Two instances I recall were when he floated a potential unilateral concession to the GOP during budget talks several years ago, a move that I found distressingly similar to Barack Obama’s long period of negotiating with himself, while the GOP gave nothing. Another instance was when he briefly sided with the anti-privacy Senator Diane Feinstein regarding the NSA.

Otherwise, Van Hollen has been a champion of almost everything progressives hold dear: the environment, political reform (more on that, below), gun control (more on that, below), women’s rights, gay rights, Wall St. reform, responsible foreign policy. You name it, our congressman has been far more than a sidelines cheerleader. Rather he has provided real leadership over and over again.

Part of leadership is seeking compromise in service to the public good. Guess what? You cannot move legislation (or negotiate an arms control treaty), without giving up something to get agreement with the other side. There are limits to what concessions moral leaders can make. But ultimately, good compromise means calculating that what you’re winning is worth more than what you’re giving up.

Which brings us to Chris Van Hollen’s sponsorship of a campaign finance reform package in 2010 in the wake of Citizens United. The bill would have forced transparency regarding contributions to and expenditures by PACs. In order to gain support from red-state Democrats, the bill exempted the NRA (and, to appease other Dems, the Sierra Club) from its provisions. Most pro-gun-control Democrats supported the measure (which ultimately passed the House, but failed in the Senate) because the finance transparency to be gained was far more important than the potential lost insight into the NRA, whose agenda and actions were hardly a secret to start with.

Fast forward to the Maryland Senate campaign of 2016. For weeks, Congresswoman Donna Edwards (D-4) has been portraying Chris Van Hollen as being in bed with the NRA, based on the 2010 bill, which had nothing to do with gun control. Given Van Hollen’s “F” rating from the NRA (which Edwards shares), your blogger considers this beyond distortion: it is an outright lie. Edward’s own advertising has featured this libel.

This past week, Edwards’s libel gained national attention, as a heretofore little-known PAC called Working for US, featured Obama’s image in a new ad making the same spurious claim about Van Hollen. The ad implied (1) that Obama opposed to the 2010 campaign-finance bill (he did not) and (2) that Obama had endorsed Edwards (he had not).

The President does not usually intervene in primary races between Democrats. But, the PAC’s ad (as put by the Washington Post in an April 14 editorial) was “beyond the pale.” Barack Obama publicly called for the ad to be pulled. In short order, House and Senate Minority Leaders Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) and Harry Reid (D-NV) followed suit. (Van Hollen is part of Pelosi’s and Reid’s team. Would they be likely to work with Edwards now?)

If Donna Edwards had not already been spouting the same lie as the PAC promoted, she might have been able to distance herself from it. She can’t and, in fact, has reasserted it in recent days.

Party because the 2010 campaign-finance reform bill didn’t become law, it’s not easy to understand a PAC’s inner workings. Nonetheless, John Fritze at the Baltimore Sun reported on April 14 that the major funder of the noxious ad was a Maine-based hedge fund manager, S. Donald Sussman. (Kudos to Jonathan Shurberg at Maryland Scramble for pointing me to the Sun article.) Fritze writes:

Van Hollen’s campaign found irony in the fact that the ad was paid for a hedge fund manager. The Edwards campaign has said for months that Van Hollen is too cozy with Wall Street.

“Chris Van Hollen has been leading the fight to close the loophole that lets hedge fund managers pay less in taxes than working people,” Van Hollen spokeswoman Bridgett Frey said. “That she claims to take on Wall Street is clearly the height of hypocrisy.”

Your blogger worked hard to get Chris Van Hollen elected in 2002. I have remained a fan over the years, but entered 2016 also positively inclined towards Donna Edwards. Her voting record is nearly identical to Van Hollen’s and she offers the bonus of adding much-needed diversity to the overwhelmingly white, male US Senate. What Maryland progressive would not be proud to be represented by an African-American woman?

At the same time, I was disturbed by the pervasive stories of Edwards’s apparent inability to get along with others. Her lack of support in this race from the Congressional Black Caucus or many Prince George’s County political leaders has been striking. Various analyses have deemed Edwards among the least effective members of Congress, in terms of legislation passed or contributed to.

Nonetheless, I flirted with political neutrality in the contest between Van Hollen and Edwards. Van Hollen’s effectiveness is highly compelling. So is Edwards’s stated commitment to principle – I don’t mind having some progressive bomb throwers in power.

Edward’s despicable campaign decisively ends my flirtation. She is a hypocrite on campaign finance. Her claimed purity about the NRA helped damage an effort to do something about the issue.

It’s worse: her inability to get along with anyone makes her not a Bernie Sanders figure (who is rather pure, ideologically, but has a record of being able to work with those who don’t agree with him on everything). No, Donna Edwards is the Ted Cruz of Maryland progressive politics. Bomb-throwing that inspires a movement can be laudable. Alienating produces no value for anyone. The mendacious, hypocritical campaign Edwards has run saps any remaining attractiveness from her candidacy.

Your blogger feels almost guilty for toying with a decision not to endorse Chris Van Hollen. Racial and gender balance are important objectives. But they cannot outweigh the substantial differences between candidates for a single seat. Chris Van Hollen has the character, the skills, and the record of accomplishment Maryland needs in its next senator.

©2016 Keith Berner


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