Archive for the ‘Presidential Campaign 2016’ category

07.02.17 Purity or victory: What’s a progressive to wish for?

July 2, 2017

So much hand wringing in the Democratic Party, ever since Trump unexpectedly beat Hillary Clinton! The intensity of the anguish only increased after Democrat Jon Ossoff failed to beat Karen Handel in Newt Gingrich’s former Georgia district in June. This put the Dems’ record at 0 for 4 in special elections this year. The sky must be falling more rapidly than ever.

After last November, many argued that Democrats failed to capture the White House because they hadn’t run on a clear economically populist message. This view continues to hold sway despite subsequent polling showing that Clinton lost not on economics*, but on her own failures and how culturally alienated (not economically alienated) Trump voters were. (You can read “culturally alienated” here as racist; though other cultural memes such as guns and religion certainly played a part.)

Some commentators have jumped on this latter bandwagon, lecturing Dems that it’s time to give up on “identity politics” (the right wing’s term for giving a shit about minorities and women) and abortion rights. That is, if only Dems would sell their souls, they’d start winning: Without the Neanderthals on your side, you’re toast!

Leftier Democrats (including most Bernie Sanders supporters) buy the economic argument lock, stock, and barrel. The solution, in their view, is to go whole hog for single payer, more regulation, and higher taxes on the rich. Your blogger fits well within this policy camp, but, as we shall see, not wholly with the proposition that this approach is a panacea for electoral woes.

The first thing required of Democrats at this point is some perspective:

  • The Democrats didn’t lose the presidential election. Our candidate won the popular vote by over three million votes. She lost the electoral college by only 70,000 votes in three states. And, of course, she was a terrible candidate and a certain foreign power put a thumb on the scale against her.
  • Compared to previous results in the districts the Dems have lost this year, their totals have improved dramatically. All four special elections thus far have taken place in deep-red places. We should be encouraged by the results, rather than discouraged.

So, my proposition is that Democrats do not need to renounce social and racial justice, or even economic centrism, to win at the presidential level. I don’t believe, in fact, that die-hard racists – those who would rather give up their own health care before seeing any of “those people” get any – can be won over in any case.

Nonetheless, Democrats were wiped off the map across most of the country at the local and state level during the Obama years. As admirable as the former president is in many ways, he was a terrible politician – he paid no attention to the fate of the party and the party, for its part, utterly lacked integrity and competence. This has been and remains an unmitigated disaster for at least three reasons:

  • State office holders (legislatures and governors) create electoral districts. In our horribly flawed democracy, when the GOP controls those levers, it assures that Democrats can’t win at any level.
  • Local and state offices are the bench from which candidates for Congress (and the presidency) emerge. If you have few Democrats holding these offices, you’ll have fewer ready to run for Congress.
  • Losing begets losing: Local voters who only see Democrats as losers or as incompetent or as out of touch with their issues become accustomed to rejecting them.

A progressive neighbor of mine (almost all my neighbors are progressive) asked me to comment about abortion rights, in this context. This question gets to a struggle in most political parties: which is more important, purity or victory? The GOP has certainly struggled with this question and has answered it by booting all the moderates out of their party. This has not hurt them – yet – because our system is tilted in their favor (the built-in advantage for less-populated areas), because they already control most of the levels of power, and because of Democrat incompetence.

So, should Democrats accept anti-choice politicians (or gun nuts) as the price of winning?

Recently, Democrats who were never particularly comfortable with Bernie Sanders to start with, along with many progressive women (for obvious reasons), excoriated Sanders for assisting the mayoral campaign of an anti-choicer in Oklahoma City. This particular struggle has also played out in venues like January’s Women’s March, where anti-choice women’s groups were made personae non gratae.

Abortion rights, gay rights, immigration rights, and the importance of black lives are litmus test issues for me. But I’m here in Montgomery County, Maryland, where I will never be faced with a dilemma in choosing a Democrat over a Republican.

How about in Oklahoma City? Or the suburbs of Atlanta?

There is a moral dilemma. If we insist that our party be pure, we may be hurting a Democratic candidate who could win and do a lot of good for people who need it. Think that if a somewhat distasteful Democrat wins over an evil Republican: they may help lift more black folks out of poverty and devote more resources to the needs of single moms and their infants and the schools those kids will go to. Is it moral to, in effect, facilitate the victory of a Republican, who will help only the wealthy and, most likely, be even worse on social issues than the flawed Democrat?

I also think purity is bad strategy. Progressives cannot win the school board seats, the city halls, and the state legislatures everywhere with an identical message or set of priorities. And, we have to understand that the only thing that matters in January of a new Congress is the numbers of Ds (and Is aligned with them) vs. Rs. It’s the votes for Speaker of the House and Senate Majority Leader that determine everything that follows. There must be more Ds than Rs, even if I don’t love every single D.

We also have to be practical in our thinking: how much difference is the mayor of Oklahoma City going to make on reproductive freedom? He (it is a man) doesn’t have any authority on that issue and lives in a state where even a solid pro-choicer would have zero influence.

Another example worth considering is Joe Manchin, the Democratic – but rather right-wing – senator from West Virginia. He only votes with other Democrats about 60% of the time. He is wrong on guns and coal and numerous other issues. But, the key question is: if we “primary” him and beat him with a reliable progressive, can that progressive win in November?! Remember, Manchin is standing with Dems right now in opposing Trumpcare. And he will vote for a Democrat to lead the Senate in 2019.

(I’m not declaring absolute opposition to a race against Manchin. I am saying that this is not the no-brainer purist lefties may proclaim.)

Democrats in blue states and counties have a responsibility to move the party left. There should be no room in Montgomery County for Democrats who favor powerful, wealthy development interests. There should be no room in Maryland for Democratic state legislators (or governors) who support the bail bond or gambling industries or downplay racial injustice.

But, if we are to stop the GOP agenda and the party’s racist and xenophobic acolytes across the country, we have to beat them at the ballot box! Maybe if Dems were politically dominant right now, I would be fine with kicking out every Wall Streeter and abortion opponent. But protest marches and candlelight vigils are not going to take our country back. The only thing that can do that is winning elections. Towards that end, we need to temper the virulence of our internecine battles and tolerate some politicians we’d rather not. The Democratic Party must be a big tent.

So, to answer the neighbor who asked me to address this question: I can live with a mayor in Oklahoma City whom I disagree with completely on abortion. And I can live with a Joe Manchin in one of the most racist, Trump-friendly states in America. I feel this at the same time I feel it is past time to kick the right wing Dems out of Montgomery County and Maryland.

As a college football coach famously put it in 1950: “Winning isn’t everything. It’s the only thing.” That needs to be progressives’ and Democrats’ mantra for at least the next few years.

*It was apparent that within days of the election that Trump voters, on average, were more wealthy than the rest of the country.

(c)2017 Keith Berner

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01.19.17 Shame on America. Shame on Americans.

January 19, 2017

Any critical thinker will find that the United States has more often than not behaved in direct opposition to its proclaimed values. From the Indian genocides, to slavery, to Jim Crow, to the overthrow of elected governments around the world, this country has put its hypocrisy on display over and over again.

The election of a racist, misogynist, xenophobic, Putin-loving, authoritarian, is – as I’m hardly the first to note – a new nadir of horrific depth. Yes, Hillary Clinton won the popular vote. But there is no denying that the overwhelming land area of the country and about half of the population are getting in Trump exactly what they wanted.

On both right and left, there is a popular trope afoot that a neglected, impoverished sector of the American populace — the white working class — had good cause to rise up for change.

On the right, this is self-serving bullshit, because the GOP has never given a hoot about those people. Sure, some of the rednecks were too dumb to realize they being duped. But the above-the-national-income average of Trump voters reveals the falsehood in the claim. Trump voters were not primarily driven by hope for a better life or by stupidity. No, they voted the way they did because they are racist pigs. These people don’t care if they lose their health insurance, as long as they are certain that African Americans, Latinos, and all those other “outsiders” aren’t getting any. (Oh yeah, and as long as women and gays know their place.)

On the left, this lie is just another round of way-too-common self-flagellation. Again, it’s utter bullshit to believe that the Democratic Party platform and the Clinton campaign forgot about people in need. Hundreds of pages of policy were devoted to improving the lives of the poor and middle class.  Could there have been more emphasis on those policies in the campaign’s public communications? Maybe. But it’s ridiculous to think that racists would have voted any differently with more information. It is the very fact that Democrats are proud to be diverse that resulted in our loss.

The reality is that this is a deeply racist country without any deep commitment to democracy and justice. Unless we face this fact, we on the left are going to keep shooting at each other and avoiding reality. There is no other side – whether among elected officials or their near-fascist followers – that is worth negotiating with, nonetheless catering to.

The only way to overcome American Shame is to beat those who perpetrate it. There should be no talks with Republicans, no visits to Appalachia to feel poor white men’s pain. No, we must find and organize righteous voters. We should be recruiting righteous candidates. We should be forcing the hard right (the only right remaining in the US) to own its failures and alienate at least some of its racist supporters (those who decide that they need to eat, even if that means black people get to eat, too).

So, no votes for Trump nominees from Democrats. An unbreakable filibuster for every Trump court appointment. No cooperation in Congressional committees or Democratic votes for GOP bills in the House and Senate.

Barack Obama tried turning his cheek for his first five years in office. We must not repeat that mistake. And we can start by rejecting the claim that there was any blame on our side (apart from party incompetence and Clintonian misjudgment) for the beatings we have taken everywhere.

None of this means that the Democratic Party and the left in general have nothing to learn or change. But it does mean that we must focus on victory and call the bigots what they are, today and from now on.

©2017 Keith Berner

 

01.16.17 Bernie and Hillary supporters go for the jugular

January 16, 2017

I endorsed and contributed to Bernie Sanders’s campaign (twice). When it was apparent (after the New York primary) that he had no path to victory in the primaries, I endorsed and contributed to Hillary Clinton’s campaign. I have Facebook friends on both sides who apparently believe that trashing the other candidate and their supporters is more important than stopping the GOP/Trump agenda.

From a Bernie supporter on Christmas day:

All right, Planned Parenthood, you gave us Hillary Clinton, and that gave us Donald Trump. And now you want our help? Why shouldn’t we put our efforts into starting a truly progressive health care organization?

He and his respective bitter losers have been screaming for weeks about how Bernie would have been a “certain” winner against Trump. There are some smart, highly logical people in this group, who are so blinded by their ideology that they can’t see the error in conflating hindsight with prediction. (And who thinks it would be a good idea for some disgruntled boys to found a service in place of PP? Is it ok to throw women under the bus while they try to grow their little fantasy into an international movement?)

Oh yeah, this same person denounced Bernie himself, when Bernie got behind Clinton at the convention.

Today, a gang of Hillary freaks used a Slate article in praise of John Lewis (who recently called Trump’s presidency illegitimate) to launch more than 80 comments attacking not Donald Trump, but (you guessed it): Bernie Sanders. (The person who posted – a friend of my friend — did so with the comment “Don’t get me started on that asshole Sanders.”) In the face of James Comey, Russian hacking, Clinton campaign mistakes, Clinton’s horrific mishandling of the email scandal, they blame (you guessed it again) Bernie Sanders for delivering Trump to the White House.

My friend commented on that post by declaring that Bernie Sanders didn’t mention Hillary’s name often enough as he campaigned hard for her in the fall. Geez, if only Bernie had said, “Hillary, Hillary, Hillary,” she’d be president, right? I wrote back to him, denouncing this destructive movement and calling for unity.

In both cases, these individual “friends” of mine took the 5-10% of the national agenda I disagreed with them on to denounce me in harsh, personal and political terms. The Bernie supporter called me a “right-winger” who was “trying to destroy [his] world” when I switched my loyalty to Hillary last spring. The Hillary supporter has accused me of “being enamored of [my] own intellect.” Both leveled these insults publicly.

It’s awful political news for all of us that these people won’t stop fighting with each other and that both consider me (and Planned Parenthood and John Lewis) the enemy. Fighting the last battle assures a loss in the next war!

It’s horrific personal news, when these fanatics are so rigid that they throw a friend overboard over a partial disagreement.

A pox on both their houses. Democrats will have to build a big tent and win without them. As for me, my life will be happier with friends who don’t insult me when I disagree with them.

©2017 Keith Berner

11.07.16 The GOP’s existential threat to democracy

November 7, 2016

For the past 50 years, the Republican Party has pretended to have a number of missions. It has seemed to be the party of patriotism, a militarily aggressive foreign policy, the Bible, and the Wall Street elite. In 2008, I described the party as an awkwardly constructed “3-1/2 legged stool” (see Parts I and II): a coalition that didn’t really fit together, but was joined for convenience. That analogy was true, but—in retrospect—rather superficial.

Last week, New York Magazine’s Jonathan Chait took a deeper look in an aptly titled piece, “The GOP’s Age of Authoritarianism Has Only Just Begun.” The author (who, in my estimation is the best analyst of the US body politic today) unpacks the apparent paradox between libertarianism and authoritarianism (which I had referred to eight years ago). He demonstrates that the core driving force of the GOP is service to the wealthy. This is the GOP of Paul Ryan and Ayn Rand, under which it is immoral to suggest any impingement on the right of the rich to keep every penny they control.

While “libertarianism” can mean different things to different people (including protection of civil liberties and civil rights), the US version has been deeply aligned with the GOP. The justification here is that full liberty is meant only for those who can afford to purchase it and enforce it. And this is where authoritarianism comes in.

In the aughts, as W’s “with-us-or-against-us” politics was in full swing, I remarked sardonically that the only reason why the GOP hadn’t called tanks into the streets and canceled elections was because of their confidence that elections posed no threat to their and their donors’ power.

Sure—ever since the mid 1950s (with the exception of Pat Buchanan)— the GOP had favored aggressive US imperialism around the world (the military leg of the stool). But who were these policies ultimately in service of? The giant corporations who manufactured our might and the open markets that enriched the rest of US industry. (The 170-year history of US intervention in Latin America— supported by both parties—has often constituted outright theft of others’ resources.)

No doubt the GOP has championed theocracy (another stool), from assaults on reproductive freedom and gay rights, to prayer in the schools. At bottom though, this was purposeful manipulation of cultural and religious symbolism to exploit the lower classes into supporting an economic agenda counter to their own interests. Many claim that Trump 2016 embodies the realization by the down-and-out that the GOP has never had their interests at heart. Of course, this is not really the case, as shown by the $72,000 annual income of the average Trump supporter, well above the national average.

Even regarding economic policy, the GOP uses its stated mission (jobs, jobs, jobs) to obfuscate its real one. The Party doesn’t give a hoot about job losses caused by automation or trade, nor wealth losses caused by declining wages. There is no purpose behind their wealth transfers to the rich other than to make the rich richer (trickle-down is a convenient lie and its effectiveness been empirically disproven).

The Republican Party has opposed democracy and the US Constitution whenever it has served their core mission. From Nixon’s infamous “Southern Strategy,” to the voter-fraud fraud, to harassment at the polls, to W’s far-right rule as if he’d been popularly elected, contempt for the public has been a purposeful right-wing strategy. The current culmination is the Party’s announced intention not to allow a president Hillary Clinton to get a single Supreme Court appointment, if they keep the Senate. (Supposed uber-patriot, John McCain was the first senator to announce this intention last month. It has now been echoed by many or most GOP senators.)

The GOP and its donor class now feel threatened, not so much by a risk that their agenda will be turned back, as by the possibility of having their oh-so-close complete victory snatched away from them. They still don’t need to call out the tanks, but the Trump campaign is even better, as it avoids the inconvenience of civilian casualties (beyond the occasional immigrant beaten).

While it is uncomfortable for the likes of Ryan and Mitch McConnell to be tied to Trump and his Deplorables’ explicit racism and misogyny, their continued support for the man is not a display of weakness or hypocrisy. Most of their discomfort is feigned. As Chait points out, they believe a Trump presidency will lead to the final dismantling of the New Deal welfare state, elimination of most federal regulations, and the end of progressive taxation. These are their true goals and the ends justify all means necessary. So much the better if appeals to bigotry motivate a sufficient number of voters to allow a semblance of democracy to proceed.

(There is one aspect of discomfort that is real for Ryan, McConnell, and McCain: they consider Trump an amateur whose lack of self-restraint has seemed to put victory at risk.)

So, here we end up with authoritarianism in service to a libertarianism for the few. There’s no problem with a Supreme Court that hands victory to one presidential candidate over another or an FBI that delivers an October-November surprise in service to the forces of reaction. Who cares if minority voters are intimidated face-to-face, kicked off voter rolls, or impossibly inconvenienced by closing polling places only in their neighborhoods? What’s the problem with a know-nothing, wanna-be-dictator for president, as long as Ryan and McConnell are naming his advisers and cabinet appointments (not to mention his Supreme Court picks)?

The Trump campaign is only truly embarrassing to the small minority of so-called “intellectual” Republicans (like David Brooks, Ross Douthat, and Michael Gerson). These are a mostly honorable bunch, with whom I’ll disagree much more often than I agree, but whose motives seem noble, if misguided. It is interesting to note that there are almost no actual GOP officeholders that are members of this group. This is because all of them are exclusively interested in cash from the biggest donors, power, and the continued suppression of the popular will.

Two-thousand-sixteen is a GOP wet dream. The chance to get a president they can boss around, both houses of Congress, their own Supreme Court, and control of most US states, makes a little thing like democracy a trifling matter.

Chait predicts this is only the beginning. If he is right, progressives’ hope that the GOP will degenerate into civil war and destroy itself is fantasy. Instead, the corporate elite will learn from the lesson of having allowed an infantile candidate to lead them. Next time, they will be back with someone much more polished, who can control his own impulses, stay on-message, and go back to dog-whistles instead of blasts of racism and misogyny.

The GOP is not the only threat to US democracy, of course. A grossly irresponsible broadcast media is perhaps just as dangerous, as purveyors of sensationalism (CNN) and lies (Fox and the alt-right). Even the newspapers of record have been scared to speak out for truth, engaging in “false equivalence” (“Democrats declare earth round; experts disagree”).

I sympathize in principle with those who say we need a responsible center-right party to make our democracy work. (Maryland, an example of nearly complete one-party Democratic rule, is not pretty, giving rise to machine politics are that are also profoundly anti-democratic.) But there is no hope in sight that the GOP can resurrect its earlier moderation. Until big money is removed from politics, redistricting is made non-partisan (are you listening, Maryland?), and voting rights are aggressively enforced, moderation is impossible. And the problem is that the only way to accomplish any of these objectives is to get control of legislatures and courts.

It took Barack Obama five years to understand that he was dealing with an intractable enemy in the opposing party. One piece of good news is that Hillary Clinton will have no illusions in this regard. For the rest of us, there will be no point in trying to play nice with a radical, authoritarian GOP. All we can do is to beat them anywhere and everywhere they show their ugly faces. James Comey will have robbed us of the chance to bloody them badly this year. He needs to be removed from office and we have to try again in two years and four.

©2016 Keith Berner

10.31.16 Fire James Comey (on November 9)

October 31, 2016

See this outstanding article by Richard W. Panter in the New York TimesOn Clinton Emails, Did the F.B.I. Director Abuse His Power? Even if Comey did not commit an illegal act, his credibility is too compromised to continue serving as the nation’s top law-enforcement officer. While I would like Obama to act on this promptly, the damage that has been done to our electoral process cannot be reversed and firing Comey prior to November 9th would fan right-wing rage without a clear benefit.

©2016 Keith Berner

10.29.16 Does the rattlesnake bear the blame?

October 29, 2016

When a rattlesnake bites a person taunting it, which one is to blame?

The analogy to present circumstances is imperfect: a rattlesnake isn’t morally at fault for biting. The GOP and all its alt-right companions are nothing if not morally culpable. Just the same, it is as inherent to the nature of the GOP as to the rattlesnake to act the way they do. (It sadly took Obama five years to learn this and stop negotiating with himself.)

And Hillary Clinton is the taunter. For nearly 30 years, Clinton and been bitten over and over again by the snake. Yet, over and over again, she persists in the same behavior that turns GOP overreach into scandal that ends up tearing her down and our interests along with her. From Whitewater to “Emailgate,” Clinton’s instinct is to hide stuff that doesn’t need to be hidden and – when busted – to dig deeper and cast a web of petty lies that further enrage and empower the rattlesnake.

Imagine that Clinton decided while secretary of state to use a State Department server for her email. Imagine if a year and a half ago, she came out within a day and said, “Wow, that was a real error in judgment on my part. Here are the keys to everything.”

Instead, she pretended it didn’t happen, she lied about circumstances around it. As recently as late summer this year, she stood up in front of the country and claimed that FBI Director James Comey had exonerated her of bad behavior. (He had declared her breaches unindictable, but was unflinching in condemning what she did.) It wasn’t until September that she could bring herself to simply say, “I’m wrong. I’m sorry.” At which point, who could possibly believe her sincerity?

This latest imbroglio almost certainly has zero legal implications or connection to public policy. It doesn’t matter. Decades of Hillary Clinton’s behavior have so undermined her credibility that we don’t stand a chance of simply laughing this latest turn out of existence: it will be on the front pages nonstop through November 8.

We still need Hillary Clinton to be elected. And – after she is – we know the GOP plans to waste millions of dollars and hundreds of hours to investigate everything from her secret plans to kill babies to how she ties her shoes. But we can also count on her to react each time by making everything worse. We have seen no evidence at all that she is capable of learning from her past mistakes and, so, we know she will continue making them.

Now, I know some readers will condemn me for criticizing Clinton at all in this time of political crisis. Sure, we have to do whatever it takes to win. But just as I have no tolerance for GOP evil, so have I none for Clinton hagiography on the establishment “left.” (“Left” is in parentheses here because many of these folks are military hawks and Wall St. apologists.)

Oh for a progressive leader who has an ounce of common sense and enough humility to learn from mistakes on the way to becoming an ever-more-effective leader. We don’t have that this year. Will we ever again?

©2016 Keith Berner

10.22.16 Voting for Hillary Clinton in “Safe” Maryland

October 22, 2016

I’m proud that Maryland is in the top three bluest states in the country (Hawaii is first and Vermont and Maryland are neck and neck). This means that any individual progressive (or wing-nut) can cast a protest vote in Maryland and not put our 10 electoral votes in play. In fact, when I switched my presidential endorsement from Bernie Sanders to Hillary Clinton in May, I wanted her to beat Donald Trump nationally, but still planned to write in Sanders as a protest vote in November.

So, what changed for me?

This election stopped being about one candidate or one party vs. another. Trump’s campaign has ended up making it a referendum on bigotry, misogyny, xenophobia, and – finally – democracy itself.

In this new light, it is essential to decimate the forces of darkness – not only Trump himself, but the legions of “deplorables”* behind him and the GOP elite that sowed these bitter seeds for decades and will not denounce evil when it is in their midst.

We must each stand up – in public and in the voting booth – to declare our opposition to hate and our love for democracy.** It is not enough to achieve an electoral-vote landslide on November 8. No, we must drive up the popular total everywhere – in swing states, as well in deep-blue and deep-red ones. The moral outcome of this election must be overwhelming. To vote for Jill Stein, Gary Johnson, or a write-in candidate, as our democracy is under assault, is an abdication of responsibility, a retreat from the real world of nuance and hard choices.

Which side are you on? You may not abstain (or meekly protest, which is a form of abstention) in the face of evil.

*Hillary Clinton was an idiot to have publicly called Trump supporters “deplorable” in September, even though she was mostly correct in using the term. Yes, there are many angry, suffering people who have been neglected by the elites of both parties. Yes, at the very least, Democrats must address their needs (the GOP never will). Yes, poor education and pernicious TV have fostered ignorance that cannot solely be blamed on the individual. Just the same, citizens who welcome and propagate lies and embrace hate are deplorable. It is correct to denounce them and the party that mobilized them.

**Our democracy is flawed. But a flawed democracy does not equal zero democracy – the difference is profound. The need-to-be-improved good should never be set against the impossible perfect. Fight to improve our democracy, but do not allow it be stolen from us.

©2016 Keith Berner