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Turnout: The Critical Democratic Problem

[ 251 ] July 7, 2017 |

This voter analysis of GA-6 is depressing because it points out, once again, that the biggest problem Democrats face is that we don’t vote.

Democrat Jon Ossoff had a turnout problem on and before June 20. Republican Karen Handel didn’t. Some examples:

— The Pleasantdale Road precinct at the Gwinnett border is the only majority-black precinct in the DeKalb County part of the District. Ossoff won 82 percent in the precinct, but turnout (among active registered voters) was just 34 percent — well below the 57 percent average for DeKalb.

— Precincts 15A and 15B are apartment-heavy enclaves along Roswell Road in Sandy Springs. Ossoff got 84 percent in 15A and 66 percent in 15B. But turnout was just 30 percent in 15A and 44 percent in 15B. Turnout overall in the Fulton County portion of the Sixth was 57 percent.

I guess one can argue, as some will on the left, that Jon Ossoff was too corporate and thus couldn’t get poor voters to come out. But that seems like self-serving Monday morning quarterbacking to me. There is a more structural problem which Democrats perhaps do deserve blame over–that long-term poverty and disfranchisement means that black communities rarely see it in their interests to vote. A Democratic Party that more aggressively fought for civil rights–i.e. repeal Clinton’s welfare reform, fight for a massive transition of resources for poor communities, and brought everyday black people into the corridors of power–might change that. But of course, that also might just contribute to white backlash, leading to a net zero in terms of Democratic electability. It’s just a really hard question and anyone who says they have an easy answer is lying to you. But until the turnout issue is solved, it’s hard for Democrats to win. And that’s without even taking into account the Republican Party’s goal of establishing Jim Crow levels of black voting.


Mark Penn: SUPERGENIUS of the 1970s

[ 96 ] July 7, 2017 |

Mark Penn’s good advice goes back all the way to his days at Harvard, when he warned Democrats against pursuing impeachment against Richard Nixon.

Students and other citizens who have always opposed Nixon’s presidency understandably favor his removal from office. But the British form of impeachment, used to enforce ministerial responsibility, is absent from the U.S. Constitution. Impeachment on political grounds while technically possible, would be wrong. The Senate, under oath and sitting as judges at a trial, will be compelled by the public to adhere to legal rather than political principles.

The late President John F. Kennedy ’40, would have condemned a political impeachment of Nixon just as he abhorred in Profiles in Courage, the attempt to oust Andrew Johnson. Whether the issue is over secret bombings of Cambodia or a militarily imposed reconstruction of the South, the public and Congress should oppose an impeachment which places the opposition party in power.

The ground swell of public opinion over the weekend had its deepest support among citizens who dislike Nixon and his policies. The outpour of new impeachment supporters, however, came from those who felt strongly that the President was placing himself above the law by threatening to defy Judge Sirica. Nixon recognized this reality when he instructed his lawyer, Charles Alan Wright, to state simply, “This president does not defy the law.” This catch-phrase will be the cornerstone of Nixon’s Watergate strategy in the coming weeks.

If Nixon can present himself as an executive who adheres to the law, he can restore popular faith, sizably reduce impeachment sentiment, and hold onto the presidency.

I’m not sure what Penn understands less, Richard Nixon or how to count delegates. But look, since America is a true meritocracy, Mark Penn’s success is a sign of how we are the greatest nation in human history.

Penn is such a clown that sitting Democratic senators are now making fun of him on Twitter.

I take this as a sign that the Democratic Party is moving in the right direction.


[ 94 ] July 7, 2017 |

It’s unclear whether Rick Perry has figured out what the Department of Energy does yet, but he certainly hasn’t passed Economics 101.

Thanks Texas.

Erik Visits an American Grave, Part 100

[ 22 ] July 7, 2017 |

This is the grave of Joseph Inslee Anderson.

Born in 1757 in Philadelphia, Anderson volunteered for the Patriot forces in 1776. Serving in the 3rd New Jersey Regiment, he rose in two years to the rank of captain, while also serving as paymaster, which I assume given the horrible financial support from the states and the Second Continental Congress for the war they so wanted, was either a huge pain or not much work at all. Also, America never changes much. Anyway, he fought at Monmouth and suffered through Valley Forge. He then fought at Yorktown.

He moved to Delaware and practiced law there from 1784 to 1791. As a good officer during the war, Anderson became a good candidate for patronage and George Washington named him judge of the Southwestern Territory, which was what Tennessee was then called. He quickly rose in frontier Tennessee society, marrying the daughter of a large landowner. He represented Jefferson County at the state’s constitutional convention in Knoxville in 1796. By this time, he had become something of a separatist and introduced a resolution calling for Tennessee secession if statehood was denied. This was not necessary and Anderson was elected to the state legislature. He only stayed a year because when the Senate expelled William Blount for conspiring with the British to seize Louisiana, Anderson was selected to replace him. He remained in the Senate until 1815. He became a staunch Jeffersonian and southerner, despite his upbringing. I assume he owned slaves, although I don’t see any easy confirmation on this, which isn’t surprising given his obscurity today. Anyway, he opposed all intervention into slavery, opposed the rechartering of the national bank, and supported the Kentucky and Virginia Resolutions. He also became a nationalist, supporting the War of 1812. He retired from the Senate in 1815. James Madison then named him Comptroller of the U.S. Treasury. He moved to Washington and died there, still in the same job, in 1838.

Joseph Inslee Anderson is buried in Congressional Cemetery, Washington, D.C.

Judean People’s Front

[ 102 ] July 6, 2017 |

I am not a member of Democratic Socialists of America, largely because I feel that being involved with it is not a good use of my energy, in particular arguing with young leftists and being tarred as being a hopeless sellout. In other words, I’m too old and cranky for it. When I was 25, I would have been all over this. I also simply don’t agree with the idea of a long-term socialist party in the future. It’s just counter to how American politics work. But DSA has done a great job in building its membership and becoming a useful force on the left, largely because it is inclusive, not too worried about ideology, and optimistic. That’s great! It now has 21,000 members, a drop in the larger world of American politics, but would anyone be surprised if it had 100,000 members by 2020? I wouldn’t.

Of course this has attracted the attention of other socialist parties that are really splinter communist parties. Socialist Alternative thus has published an essay that congratulates DSA for all its accomplishes and then calls for it to turn its back on that for the all-important agenda of ideological purity and running pointless candidates in elections.

The growth of DSA will pose real questions and challenges for how it should use its new influence to advance the struggle. Events will require a fuller discussion and debate about what ideas and program are necessary to successfully build a new socialist movement on a solid, principled basis that can avoid repeating the failures of previous mass left formations.

Is their vision of socialism a social-democratic model where capitalism remains intact but with a strong welfare state? Marxists fight for every reform we can squeeze out of the ruling class, but we recognize that these reforms are fundamentally incompatible with capitalism in the long run as shown by the huge neoliberal attacks taking place in Europe. We link the fight for reforms to the need for a fundamental transformation of society which breaks the power of capital and establishes a new social order based on mass, democratic institutions of workers and the oppressed.

More immediately, as a larger force, what will DSA actually do? What will its policy be in the debates that break out in the anti-Trump movement? Will DSA run its own candidates independently of the Democratic Party or within the Democratic primaries? How will DSA hold them accountable when they get elected or when they get elected to leadership positions in social movements? Does the DSA have a way to combat the huge pressures towards opportunism and careerism that such positions inevitably create?

Also, please let us in!

Socialist Alternative urges DSA to take advantage of its rapid growth and dynamism to use this potential to launch a new, broad, democratic Socialist Party. In our view, there is an opening to bring together the best forces on the left, and, more importantly, a new generation that is actively looking to fight for socialism.

With a bold lead from DSA, a new party of 50,000 to 100,000 members could be rapidly built. Of course, without further steps toward political clarification of key strategic issues such a formation would have an unstable character. Nevertheless, this would represent a qualitative step forward for the socialist movement.

A new party should have a broad, federal-type character, allowing organizations coming from different backgrounds to affiliate with full democratic rights. Socialist Alternative will bring our political ideas to the discussions in such a formation. It would allow different trends to join forces while collectively discussing and testing out the best way to build a fighting, socialist pole within the broader movement.

Somehow, I think DSA is doing just fine as it is. Perhaps learning that far left splinter parties have been utterly pointless for a century is an example of the left learning from the past, as opposed to enforcing ideological purity to create the Revolution that is probably never going to happen.

The Saddest Man Alive

[ 75 ] July 6, 2017 |

In addition to being just a horrible human being and also running the single worst candidacy of all 2016 Republicans (remember, in early 2015, this guy was seen as the frontrunner to the nomination with all the Koch money he wanted), Scott Walker is just a sad little person who takes no joy from life.

Does the Democratic Party Have the Right to Nominate Democrats for the Presidency?

[ 334 ] July 6, 2017 |

National Nurses United president RoseAnn DeMoro, fresh off such insights as “Donald Trump is our best hope for single payer” and “Tom Perez is the greatest establishment neoliberal in human history,” comments in this profile of Kamala Harris.

“She’s not on our radar,” RoseAnn DeMoro, a Sanders ally and the executive director of National Nurses United and the California Nurses Association, said of Ms. Harris. “She’s one of the people the Democratic Party is putting up. In terms of where the progressives live, I don’t think there’s any ‘there’ there.”

So, someone from the Democratic Party shouldn’t be the Democratic nominee in 2020? I don’t know, this seems, just perhaps, slightly problematic to me. If you are on the left and think Harris hasn’t proven anything or is unacceptably centrist, that’s fine. The former is more defensible, the latter I’m not really sure. But it’s the framing that bugs me. The 2020 Democratic nominee for president is going to come from the Democratic Party, unless it is Bernie Sanders. And the problem here is that what DeMoro and her supporters are really saying is that if the nominee is not Bernie or someone Bernie-approved who is also not a Democrat, then they aren’t voting for a Democrat, even in the face of actual fascism. At that point, DeMoro is just Jill Stein.

Or maybe she just thinks Trump is better on health care than a standard liberal.

A Way Forward on the Working Class

[ 225 ] July 6, 2017 |

What Democrats should do about the working class is something that has been a difficult question since November for many reasons. First is that pundits and journalists and politicians equate “the working class” with “the white working class” which is not only a huge error but is also racist. Second, lots of wealthier Democrats have wanted to flush appeals to the white working class down the toilet because of a stereotypical assumption that they are all racist and misogynist. I do think Jon Ossoff is the right candidate for GA-6, or at least as good as Democrats are going to get in a tough rich southern suburban district like that, but there was also clearly hope from a lot of people that highly educated white people like Ossoff are the future of the party and that’s just not going to fly.

Democrats (and the self-descried left more broadly, which let’s face it, is made up mostly of middle class white people too) absolutely do need a working class strategy, one that makes appeals to all races without prioritizing one group of working people over another. I more or less liked this Ronald Klain op-ed in the Post as a starting point.

Democrats should respond to this — not by writing off white working-class voters, or by mimicking Trump’s divisive rhetoric and hollow promises — but with a combination of honest talk and a new social and economic contract for the working class.

The honest talk starts with unapologetically reminding Trump’s working-class voters that immigrants — like their own ancestors — have always made America greater, bringing new energy, ideas and job-creating businesses to our country. It means telling them (as President Barack Obama did), that the “time has passed” when “you didn’t have to have an education . . . [and] you could . . . get a [good] job.” It means rejecting economic nostalgia, and embracing technology and innovation; when these forces are shaped by the right policies and a fair tax system, they can create a stronger middle class in our country, as they have during earlier periods of economic transformation.

A new social and economic contract for the working class would include replacing the confusing mishmash of higher education plans with a clear program to make four years of education after high school free and universal. It should include defending and then building on the Affordable Care Act so that every American has health coverage without fear or doubt. It should ensure that benefits such as unemployment compensation and workers comp are available to all, whether they are employees or contract workers. It should make affordable child care a right (not a scavenger hunt) and life-long skills training an American area of excellence.

But like any true contract, this set of benefits must be paired with obligations. This includes an uncompromising insistence that the economy it creates will be inclusive — and that, with a program in place to restore economic opportunity for those who have been left behind, there can be no excuses for resentment of America’s growing diversity. It also includes acceptance that young people will have to get education after high school, working adults will have to continually improve their skills, and some long-beloved occupations will be replaced with new jobs. The nostalgia for an America where brawn alone was enough to create a middle-class life and where a comfortable stagnation was revered as “tradition” must be abandoned.

I’m not saying this is going to work per se, or that it will draw back in all those Erie and Scranton white people who voted for Trump. But it’s the right kind of message. Democrats will stand up for you and create a better America. It will fight for a higher minimum wage, better health care, free college education, and a lot more. And it will apply to all of us–regardless of race, gender, sexual orientation, and legal status. I don’t like everything Klain has to say, including the easy bromides about post-high school education that liberals love but that serve as a cover for the fact that they don’t actually have an economic plan for working people, some of whom simply are not ever going to be college material but deserve a dignified life anyway. And it’s way too friendly to DISRUPTORS who demonstrate TRUE DISRUPTION by building gigantic suburban office parks, something no one has ever, ever, ever thought of before. The whole message needs work. But as a mainstream Democratic set of talking points and strategy, we could do worse.

Do You Care What Mark Penn Says About Politics?

[ 91 ] July 6, 2017 |

Of course you don’t! But that’s not going to stop him from co-writing Times op-eds that say, and I don’t want you to be too shocked here, that Democrats should turn their backs on any sort of economic or social justice, take a huge dump on transgendered and undocumented people, and shift hard to a pro-millionaire, anti-union centrism that Mark Penn always thinks is the right place for Democrats to be.

In other words, this is an open thread to make fun of Mark Penn.

Erik Visits an American Grave, Part 99

[ 29 ] July 6, 2017 |

This is the grave of Ron Brown.

Born in 1941, Brown grew up in a middle-class Harlem family and attended elite prep schools, one of the first black students at some of them. He attended Middlebury, graduated in 1962, and joined the military. He was discharged in 1967 and worked for the Urban League, while obtaining a law degree from St. John’s in 1970.

He soon became a rising star in the Democratic Party. His work with the Urban League led him into elite circles and he became Ted Kennedy’s deputy campaign manager for his failed 1980 challenge to Jimmy Carter. He was hired by the leading Washington law firm Patton, Boggs, & Blow as a lobbyist in 1981. This made him the consummate Washington insider. I guess it’s some kind of civil rights victory to be among the first African-American Beltway elites. Among his major clients was the horrid government of Baby Doc Duvalier in Haiti. Brown served as Duvalier’s chief lobbyist in Washington beginning in 1982. He was paid $630,000 over the next four years to lobby the Reagan administration to continue aid to Duvalier and he refused to drop the Haitian government when criticized for it. He was hired by Jesse Jackson in 1988 to head Jackson’s Democratic National Convention team although he was already basically running Jackson’s campaign. When Michael Dukakis completely blew off Jackson, naming Lloyd Bentsen his VP candidate instead and not even telling Jackson, who heard it on the news, Brown served as the intermediary between the two camps to get Jackson on board for the general. He became head of the Democratic National Committee in 1989 after distancing himself from Jackson, a black leader for a post-Dukakis era where centrists would hold the balance of power in the party. The DLC leadership loved him. Here was an African-American politician more comfortable with Wall Street than 125th Street.

Bill Clinton named Brown Secretary of Commerce in 1993. He and Clinton were not close because Clinton refused to allow Jesse Jackson to even address the DLC in 1991. Brown hated most of Clinton’s Arkansas people as well. But they needed each other. Clinton needed some kind of connection with the African-American power community and Brown needed Clinton to ensure his rising star. Brown played a pretty big managerial role in the Clinton campaign and hoped to be rewarded by being named Secretary of State. That was not going to happen and Commerce, basically a backwater ever since Herbert Hoover left the office, was all that was left for him. Brown was considered a liberal in the Clinton cabinet, but he was also very comfortable with the rise of the DLC and the move toward centrism. Brown was also fairly slimy. He had a long history of questionable business arrangements that may have crossed the nepotism border, including to his lover. That dropped him to a lower profile in the spoils. This was a time when being nakedly corrupt wasn’t an actual required qualification for the Cabinet. Suspend your disbelief and bear with me here. He faced some difficulty in his confirmation hearing over all this. He was hired by a Columbus based company called PEBSCO that specialized in supplemental retirement insurance to government employees. Brown knew nothing of the issue. But he was Ron Brown and could introduce people in Washington to PEBSCO lobbyists and officers. And of course he profited handsomely on the deal.

Soon he faced allegations of using his position to pressure corporations to give political donations to Democrats. There’s little question that Brown gave greater access on international trade trips to businesses that were Clinton supporters, but it’s also true that this is just part of the general ooze of a corporate-influenced government and everything Brown was criticized for on this front was modus operandi for Republicans, then and now. Almost immediately after his confirmation, Brown was under investigation for taking $700,000 from the Vietnamese government to influence the U.S. to normalize relations between the two countries. Brown admitted he knew everyone involved but denied taking the money. Even though all this happened before he became Commerce Secretary, this dogged him constantly. Finally, Attorney General Janet Reno asked for an independent counsel to investigate Brown for the statements on his financial disclosures, which were, how shall we say, less than accurate.

That investigation was ongoing the next year, when Brown went on a trade mission to Croatia and Serbia. His plane crashed in Croatia. He was 54 years old. It’s entirely possible he would have gone to jail had he not died. The “Wonderful Husband” epitaph is somewhat amusing given that he was carrying on a semi-open affair with a Washington insider for years that was the subject of 1997 New Yorker article, from which I borrowed some of the material for this post

Believe what you want about Brown’s death, but everyone in the know is aware that he was murdered by the greatest mass killer in American history–Hillary Clinton. Chalk him up to her death toll that includes Vince Foster, Marc Rich, Chandra Levy, Pat Nixon, Nicole Brown Simpson, Andre the Giant, and whatever figure on the left Doug Henwood admires who dies from any given cause.

Ron Brown is buried on the confiscated lands of the traitor Lee, Arlington National Cemetery, Arlington, Virginia.

I Can Haz Slogan

[ 283 ] July 5, 2017 |

This new slogan by House Democrats is terrible.

The campaign arm for House Democrats on Wednesday tried out a new slogan: “I mean, have you seen the other guys?”

The sticker slogan, one of several floated as part of a fundraising effort by the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC), caused a stir on social media, where many wondered why the party would try out such a self-deprecating campaign line.

“Not exactly the most inspiring slogan, @dccc,” wrote ProPublica reporter Derek Willis.

“Dems are asking people to vote on a new sticker and I’m not sure anyone in history has been as bad as this,” tweeted Adam Serwer, a senior editor for The Atlantic.

Or as someone tweeted to me:

As Willis and Serwer note, this is pathetic. Hell, as Serwer notes, all their ideas are terrible.

It’s possible that “not being Republicans” might be enough to win the House in 2018. But if it is, it won’t be because of that slogan. It will be in spite of it. If Democrats want to convince people to vote for them, “We aren’t Trump” is not going to be enough. There has to be leadership, ideas, and vision. I’m not saying that everyday voters follow position planks on platform, but as Trump showed, they need to believe that the party they are voting for will appeal to their lived experience. Democrats clearly have not figured out how to do that yet. Maybe a national $15 minimum wage would be a start. Or, I don’t know, Medicare For All. That seems good and relevant. Anything is better than what the DCCC proposed today.

Rahm’s Chicago

[ 224 ] July 5, 2017 |

Rahm Emanuel’s new education policy is senseless on the face of it.

To graduate from a public high school in Chicago, students will soon have to meet a new and unusual requirement: They must show that they’ve secured a job or received a letter of acceptance to college, a trade apprenticeship, a gap year program or the military.

Mayor Rahm Emanuel (D) said he wants to make clear that the nation’s third-largest school system is not just responsible for shepherding teenagers to the end of their senior year, but also for setting them on a path to a productive future.

“We are going to help kids have a plan, because they’re going to need it to succeed,” he said. “You cannot have kids think that 12th grade is done.”

How is this possibly workable? Are you going to require Chicago employers to hire recent high school graduates? Is everyone just going to have to pay the application fee to community college, even though many won’t go? I can see the military jumping all over this to get more recruits. I can also see people effectively paying a black market for job offers that don’t exist. The implementation of this seems like an utter disaster waiting to happen. You know damn well Rahm isn’t going to make sure Chicago schools are funded well enough to have meaningful guidance counseling for all its students, an issue brought up in the article linked above.

“It sounds good on paper, but the problem is that when you’ve cut the number of counselors in schools, when you’ve cut the kind of services that kids need, who is going to do this work?” said Karen Lewis, president of the Chicago Teachers Union and Emanuel’s longtime political opponent. “If you’ve done the work to earn a diploma, then you should get a diploma. Because if you don’t, you are forcing kids into more poverty.”

Right. The other option is that high school graduation rates in Chicago see a sharp decline. And won’t that just be great for everyone!

Janice Jackson, the school system’s chief education officer, said that is how the new requirement is supposed to work — pushing principals to improve efforts to help students prepare for the future. About 60 percent of district students have postsecondary plans when they graduate, she said, and she doesn’t think the schools should wait for more money to set an expectation that the remaining 40 percent follow suit.

Would Chicago really withhold diplomas from students who meet every requirement except the new one? Jackson says it won’t come to that, because principals, counselors and teachers won’t let it. They’ll go to students in that situation and press them to make sure they have a plan.

Well, Rahm has respected teachers so well during his tenure that it’s hard to see how these overworked, underpaid, downsized workers won’t devote all their free time to their students. Oh wait, many already do.

To put it another way:

But you know Rahm has the kids’ education in mind. After all, his shuttering of hundreds of schools has paid off in what counts: more upper class housing.

The Uptown controversy has to do with a sign posted outside 4525 N. Kenmore, the building that was formerly Graeme Stewart School. Chicago Public Schools closed the school and sold it to a private developer who’s turning it into the Stewart School Lofts, which are being marketed shamelessly on a placard over the school’s abandoned playground as “best in the class” rentals.

CPS officials hailed the Stewart sale as a win-win. “This is the fifth former school site we have sold in the past three months,” CEO Forrest Claypool said in a press release. “While we still have work to do, I am encouraged that the engagement process is working and expect this positive trend to continue.”

Not everyone sees it that way, especially Wozniak, who lives in Uptown. “To me, this is Rahm Emanuel’s Chicago,” she says. “We’re closing schools and turning them into private projects and disinvesting in neighborhood kids.”

What really galled her was that damn sign. “I find that insulting to all the kids who went to Stewart and all the people who worked there,” Wozniak says.

More maddening still is that Emanuel earmarked $16.1 million in TIF dollars to subsidize the development of a high-rise apartment complex at Clarendon and Montrose—not far from Stewart.

So once again there’s no money for our dead-broke schools, but millions for upscale housing.

Forcing kids to an acceptance letter to graduate will truly make Chicago great again.

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