Archive for Democrats


Tired of feeling like roadkill?

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Matt Taibbi last week took on the “lesser evilism” of a Democratic Party that seems to believe “all people who fall within a certain broad range of liberal-ish beliefs owe their votes and their loyalty to the Democratic Party.” He sees lesser evilism (think of it as a variety of TINA – There Is No Alternative) resulting from a party structure dependent on large-money donors. Often, the banks Taibbi has dissected like a cadaver:

This is why the thinking within the Democratic Party has gotten so flabby over the years. It increasingly seems to rejoice in its voters’ lack of real choices, and relies on a political formula that requires little input from anyone outside the Beltway.

It’s heavily financed by corporate money, and the overwhelming majority of its voters would never cast a vote for the nut-bar God-and-guns version of Republicanism that’s been their sole opposition for decades.

So the party gets most of its funding without having to beg for it door to door, and it gets many of its votes by default. Except for campaign-trail photo ops, mainstream Democrats barely need to leave Washington to stay in business.

Still, the Democratic Leadership Council wing of the Democrats have come to believe they’ve earned their status, by being the only plausible bulwark against the Republican menace.

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Categories : Democrats, Strategy
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The 2014 midterm elections were a disaster for Democrats across the country. Appearing on Meet the Press afterwards, former DNC chair Gov. Howard Dean complained about their lack of message, “Where the hell is the Democratic party? You’ve got to stand for something if you want to win.”

It takes more than that. You’ve got to demonstrate you are willing to fight for it too.

Yesterday, some Democrats finally did. By sitting down for over twelve hours to demand a vote on “no fly, no buy” gun control legislation. In the wake of the Orlando shootings, they’d had enough:

Georgia congressman John Lewis deployed a strategy from his days as a civil rights activist and coupled it with social media to stage a dramatic sit-in Wednesday on the House floor with his fellow Democrats to force a vote on gun control — and disrupt political business as normal well into the night.


“Sometimes you have to do something out of the ordinary, sometimes you have to make a way out of no way,” said Lewis, one of the last living icons of the civil rights movement. “There comes a time when you have to say something, when you have to make a little noise, when you have to move your feet. This is the time. Now is the time to get in the way. The time to act is now. We will be silent no more.”

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Super-delicate situation

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Video by Full Frontal.

Democratic members of the Congressional Black Caucus are vehemently opposed to abolishing so-called superdelegates from the presidential nominating process. Setting the stage for a possible confrontation, the CBC sent a letter to both the Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders campaigns, Politico reports:

“The Democratic Members of the Congressional Black Caucus recently voted unanimously to oppose any suggestion or idea to eliminate the category of Unpledged Delegate to the Democratic National Convention (aka Super Delegates) and the creation of uniform open primaries in all states,” says the letter, which was obtained by POLITICO. “The Democratic Party benefits from the current system of unpledged delegates to the National Convention by virtue of rules that allow members of the House and Senate to be seated as a delegate without the burdensome necessity of competing against constituents for the honor of representing the state during the nominating process.”

The letter from Rep. James Clyburn of South Carolina provides some personal history on how the present nominating process developed since 1972. He makes three key points for consideration before the party makes changes regarding unpledged delegates. (Superdelegates, Clyburn notes, is a pejorative term found nowhere in the rules):

Let me be clear, our delegate selection process
is not rigged. It is transparent to the public and open
for participation for all who wish to declare
themselves Democrats. There are three questions,
however, that we should all ask ourselves as we
approach the 2016 Convention and consider whether
or not to allow the continuation of unpledged

Number (1), Do we want to force party leaders
and elected officials to compete against their
constituents and party activists for delegate
slots to our national conventions?

Number (2), Do we wish to force our elected
officials to jeopardize their candidacies by
declaring their presidential preferences in the
middle of their campaigns?

Number (3), Should we expect party leaders
and elected officials to give unbridled support
to presidential nominees they had no role in

For newcomers to the process this stuff is pretty weedy. However, one comment from the Politico column gets at why the CBC will fight to retain unpledged delegates (emphasis mine):

“The superdelegate system is not perfect but it has worked for us quite well over the years and frankly the superdelegates have never needed to cast any superdelegate votes to alter what the voters did during the primary elections,” said Rep. Emanuel Cleaver. “Never. That’s not the case this year either. The concern many of us have, of course, is that our numbers would shrink in terms of having influence over and involvement with what happens at the convention.

The Hispanic Congressional Caucus stands with the CBC, Cleaver says.

I have not walked in the shoes of a black voter, especially one from the South. But I have seen enough to know that black Democrats view procedural matters like this through very different eyes. One anecdote may illustrate that.

So speaking of weedy, annual precinct meetings here occur either at the polling place where the precinct normally votes or at an alternate publicly accessible location nearby. But getting access to community centers, libraries, etc. for the meetings on a set day and hour once a year is problematic, putting many party meetings in conflict with community groups’ scheduled monthly meetings. It’s a chronic problem. So at a state convention a couple cycles ago, a (white) delegate proposed modifying state party rules to allow meetings to be held in people’s houses. Seemed innocent enough.

Black delegates erupted in protest (mostly older women). How many of their friends would feel welcome attending their annual meetings at a strange house in a strange (possibly white) neighborhood? No way, they argued. Such a change would suppress participation among their community. They insisted — no, demanded — the existing rules be kept in place. Only neutral, public locations for the meetings. The proposed change failed.

It was a real eye-opener (and not the last). Their lived experience gave them a very different perspective on what appeared at first to an older, white male to be an innocuous request. I got schooled.

For what it’s worth.

(Cross-posted from Hullabaloo.)

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What’s fair is fair

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Dick DeVos, Jr. residence on Michigan's Lake Macatawa.

Dick DeVos, Jr. residence on Michigan’s Lake Macatawa.

Rep. Gwen Moore (D-WI) of Milwaukee plans to introduce a bill this week requiring drug testing for anyone claiming large tax deductions in a given year. Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker wants to require drug screenings for those receiving public assistance? Fine, says Moore.

Think Progress:

Her “Top 1% Accountability Act” would require anyone claiming itemized tax deductions of over $150,000 in a given year to submit a clean drug test. If a filer doesn’t submit a clean test within three months of filing, he won’t be able to take advantage of tax deductions like the mortgage interest deduction or health insurance tax breaks. Instead he would have to make use of the standard deduction.

A spokesman for Moore told Atlantic, “We don’t drug test wealthy CEOs who receive federal subsidies for their private jets, nor do we force judges or public officials to prove their sobriety to earn their paychecks. Attaching special demands to government aid exclusively targets our country’s most vulnerable individuals and families.” Alana Semuels writes:
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Categories : Democrats, National, Poverty
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How political pressure works

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Just Brew It 2016. Photo by Gordon Smith, former DH blogger, now local city councilman.

Just Brew It 2016. Photo by Gordon Smith, former DH blogger, now local city councilman.

President Barack Obama’s recent shift towards expanding Social Security provides an example both of how political pressure from below works and of the limits of a president’s ability to impose his will. Scott Lemieux writes at New Republic:

What has changed, then, is the politics. The leader of the Democratic Party believes it’s in his political interest to support expanding rather than cutting Social Security. The pushback against chained-CPI from both Democratic voters and many congressional Democrats was crucial in making this happen. And you can bet Obama has been paying attention to Bernie Sanders’s strong presidential run, too, which has shown there is an appetite for a stronger welfare state. He changed his public position on Social Security for the same reason he belatedly came out in support of same-sex marriage rights: that’s where the party was.

President George W. Bush’s epic failure to privatize Social Security (at least, in part) early in his second term, Lemieux writes, demonstrated the limits of both the bully pulpit and Overton Window shifting for moving the political center of gravity. In fact, Bush’s backfire may have been “the best thing to ever happen” from a liberal perspective. Republicans have backed off and their putative presidential candidate opposes entitlement cuts, saying, “Of course they believe they’re ‘entitled’ to receive the benefits they paid for–they are!” A deal’s a deal.

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Categories : Democrats, Strategy
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Whither the Democrats?

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A story about California Governor Jerry Brown in the New York Times comes as friends ponder just where the Democratic Party goes in the wake of the 2016 presidential primary. (I’m not the one here to comment on California politics, but I’ve got the 3-hour news jump.)

Whether a hard rain is gonna fall or not this year will depend on how the party appeals to the wave of energized voters who support Bernie Sanders and whether it can energize those who support Hillary Clinton. Putting aside arguments about the process, it is undeniable that there are broad bases in the party for both Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders. Party leadership that is typically ham-fisted about finding any kind of message would be foolish not to take to heart themes that have energized Sanders’ base and led to his strong showing nationwide. Adam Nagourney suggests Jerry Brown can show them how it’s done:

Mr. Brown is in many ways a blend of these two very different candidates, having created a style that has made him an enduringly popular and successful California governor. And it is not only Mr. Brown: The California Democratic Party stands as a model of electoral success and cohesion, in contrast to national Democrats struggling through a divisive primary and debate about an uncertain future.

California is one of the few states in the country, and easily the largest, where Democrats are completely in control, holding every statewide office as well as overwhelming majorities in the Assembly and the Senate, not to mention both United States Senate seats. Mr. Brown and his party are using that power to try to enact legislation — on guns, tobacco, the environment, the minimum wage and immigrant rights — that suggest the kind of agenda that has eluded national Democrats.

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Categories : Democrats, National, Parties
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Not a good look

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Social media has largely taken over the family-and-friends propaganda market from email. I’ve mentioned my collection of over 200 specimens of right-wing “pass-it-on” emails. You know the ones: the lies, smears and disinformation we all have received from fathers and T-party uncles, the kind with large, colored type and maybe a gif of praying hands above the exhortation to “pass it on.” But in-box Izvestia pretty much tailed off as Facebook, Reddit, etc. gained market share. Sadly, what with email was overwhelmingly a phenomenon of the right has shifted left with social media. Not a good thing. We should be better than this.

In the misty past before the dawn of the internet (1980?), I was visiting the home of a friend who told me with some alarm that I should never buy any more products from the Procter & Gamble company of Cincinnati, Ohio. Its president, she said, was on the Phil Donahue Show and said the company gave money to the Church of Satan. As proof she told me, you could look on their packaging and see a small crescent moon and stars symbol, a “satanic symbol.”

“When did you see this?” I asked.

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Standing Ovation

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Photo by TJ Amos

Photo by TJ Amos

I’m an inside/outside player. On the outside, I get to throw stones at the Democratic Party on national blogs when I get a bug up my ass. On the inside, as someone who helps get local and statewide candidates elected, people think I bring something valuable to the table and they listen to me. And I have a national platform to take them to task if they don’t. But if I were on the outside completely, I’d just be another harping lefty activist who’s all sticks and no carrots. But since I’ve been doing field successfully for 7 cycles, I’m now an old guy and maybe even The Establishment. When George W. Bush arrived, I knew I needed allies to fight back, so I went to where I could find them in bulk in one convenient location. Do I agree with all of them on everything? Hell, no. But that was never the point. Strength in numbers was. When I got there, local politics was still a southern old-boys club. Now, I’m one of the people in charge. My chair and I and my “Moral Monday” arrestee state senator are from Chicago.

I do not understand the need among many progressives to bet it all on one spin of the roulette wheel with everything bet on black, or on the long bomb with time running out, or on who’s running at the top of the ticket in a presidential year. My job description doesn’t change depending on who’s at the top of the ticket. As long as someone from our side of the aisle wins and gives me the next three SCOTUS picks, I’m good. Some coattails would be nice as well. That’s just a part of why I don’t much care about the Bernie v. Hillary thing.

Last week I went to the funeral of a friend of mine who was diagnosed with Stage 4 cancer just weeks before. People said he was too focused on helping the community to look after himself. Isaac Coleman was a Freedom Rider and a member of SNCC. Two years ago he was declared a local “Living Treasure.” The church was packed. They started the “service” by naming off groups he had worked with and asked people from those groups to stand. Some got to stand multiple times. The largest group was the local Democratic Party. Isaac was a fierce advocate for the right to vote. “Take five,” he would say, “and if you can’t take five, take ten.”

The very idea that as an activist you would bet so much on a single, big political race would have seemed alien to him. It is to me. The local needs are too great.

I live in a state taken over by a T-party legislature that has passed one of the worst voter ID bills in the country, drafted absolutely diabolical redistricting maps, passed HB2 as a get-out-the-vote tool, and launches regular legislative attacks against our cities where the largest block of blue votes are. President Bernie isn’t going to fix that for me. Neither is President Hillary. And not in Michigan or Wisconsin either. We have to beat them ourselves. Here, not in the Electoral College.

But friends on the left now talk about the Democratic Party the way conservatives talk about “the gummint,” as though it is some sort of monolithic beast with agency of its own apart from that of its voters and activists. I get it. That’s how it looks if your focus is Washington. It looks a mite different out here in the provinces where we’re fighting the border wars. Sometimes out here — and more regularly than every four years — we get to win. That’s what keeps us going. Because the battle never ends.

I work with some very good people and some very good Democrats. But I’m seeing smart, good-hearted (many new) activists who didn’t learn from 2008. They think ideology is what’s most important. Talk the nuts and bolts of winning — practical politics — and they see you as gutless, cautious, calcified, afraid to bet it all on black and lose dramatically, because grinding out yardage on the ground is selling out. (A Princeton historian addressed that in part on air last week.) Their focus is the Big Enchilada (the presidency) when the fights that have more immediate impact on their lives are more local. That’s not to say global warming and national issues are not important. But if you want to sustain yourself for the Long March, you need to drink in some local victories or you’ll burn out before getting there.

Isaac never did. At then end of the service, we all gave him a long, standing ovation.

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I’d buy that for a dollar

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Department of Health and Human Services headquarters by the National Mall. Photo by Matthew G. Bisanz via Wikimedia Commons.

Moving left again:

[A]s she tries to clinch the nomination, Mrs. Clinton is moving to the left on health care and this week took a significant step in her opponent’s direction, suggesting she would like to give people the option to buy into Medicare.

“I’m also in favor of what’s called the public option, so that people can buy into Medicare at a certain age,” Mrs. Clinton said on Monday at a campaign event in Virginia.

Mr. Sanders calls his single-payer health care plan “Medicare for all.” What Mrs. Clinton proposed was a sort of Medicare for more.

Clinton was replying to a woman who as a small-business owner is contending with the cost of health insurance. The Wall Street Journal:

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At Political Animal, Nancy LeTourneau comments on Rebecca Solnit’s essay on cynicism in Harpers. She writes that when Barack Obama entered the White House riding on a message of hope and change, that “the Republican strategy of total obstruction was designed to dampen all that with cynicism about the political process.” Cynicism about the political process is not in short supply in 2016. Hope is. But let’s not give Republicans too much credit.

Solnit writes:

Cynicism is first of all a style of presenting oneself, and it takes pride more than anything in not being fooled and not being foolish. But in the forms in which I encounter it, cynicism is frequently both these things. That the attitude that prides itself on world-weary experience is often so naïve says much about the triumph of style over substance, attitude over analysis.

Anyone who dares venture onto Facebook or Twitter these days knows the posture. Solnit continues:

If you set purity and perfection as your goals, you have an almost foolproof system according to which everything will necessarily fall short. But expecting perfection is naïve; failing to perceive value by using an impossible standard of measure is even more so. Cynics are often disappointed idealists and upholders of unrealistic standards. They are uncomfortable with victories, because victories are almost always temporary, incomplete, and compromised — but also because the openness of hope is dangerous, and in war, self-defense comes first. Naïve cynicism is absolutist; its practitioners assume that anything you don’t deplore you wholeheartedly endorse. But denouncing anything less than perfection as morally compromising means pursuing aggrandizement of the self, not engagement with a place or system or community, as the highest priority.

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