Sunday, June 23, 2019

Is Biden Borrowing A Page Out of Trump's Playbook?


Well, it's been a quite a week for Joe Biden. The former vice president and Democratic frontrunner for the nomination ruffled more than just a few feathers when he waxed nostalgically about working with segregationist senators during his freshman years. For the record, this is what Biden actually said,
I was in a caucus with James O. Eastland. He never called me 'boy,' he always called me 'son.' A guy like Herman Talmadge, one of the meanest guys I ever knew, you go down the list of all these guys. Well guess what? At least there was some civility. We got things done. We didn’t agree on much of anything. We got things done. We got it finished. But today, you look at the other side and you’re the enemy. Not the opposition, the enemy. We don’t talk to each other anymore. 
I know the new New Left tells me that I’m — this is old-fashioned. Well guess what? If we can’t reach a consensus in our system, what happens? It encourages and demands the abuse of power by a president. That’s what it does. You have to be able to reach consensus under our system — our Constitutional system of separation of powers.

Naturally, it didn't take long for Biden's political opponents to pounce on him.  Kamala Harris said, "To coddle the reputations of segregationist of people who if they had their way I would literally not be standing here as a member of the United States Senate, is I think it's just it's misinformed."

Cory Booker issued a statement that read, "Vice President Biden's relationships with proud segregationists are not the model for how we make America a safer and more inclusive place for black people, and for everyone. I have to tell Vice President Biden, as someone I respect, that he is wrong for using his relationships with Eastland and Talmadge as examples of how to bring our country together," he added. "And frankly, I'm disappointed that he hasn't issued an immediate apology for the pain his words are dredging up for many Americans. He should."

Biden, upon hearing of Booker's demand, replied that Booker should apologize to him, adding, "There's not a racist bone in my body." Biden later did an interview with Reverend Al Sharpton where he appeared to doubled down on his remarks and stressed they were taken out of context. He also explained that his use of the term "boy" was not directed at black men.

For what its' worth, I think this whole episode is a nothing burger. True, Biden could've chosen two better examples from his past to talk about than Eastland and Talmadge, and I'll concede the point that it's inappropriate for any white man to invoke the term "boy," regardless of the context. Indeed, unless you're talking about an actual boy, it's just not something you do, period.

But here's what I can't quite wrap my head around. Nowhere in Biden's comments is there even a scintilla of evidence that he "coddled" these men, as Harris stated, or that he worked with them to "bring the country together," as Booker stated. Just the opposite, in fact. Biden, while not agreeing "on much of anything" nonetheless knew that he had to work with both men, especially Eastland, who was the Chairman of the powerful Judiciary Committee.

And therein lies the problem that many modern-day Democrats are either unaware of or simply don't want to come to grips with. From the 1930s into the '70s, almost a quarter of Democratic senators were segregationists who hailed from the South. They were called Dixiecrats, and they held tremendous power in the Party. When Lyndon Johnson was trying to get both the Civil Rights and Voting Rights Acts passed, he called many a Southern Democrat practically begging for their support. When Franklin Roosevelt was touting his New Deal in the throws of the Great Depression, he relied heavily on Southern Democrats to get him the votes he needed to get it over the hump.

Biden grew up in that Senate; an institution that was home to both liberals like Ted Kennedy and conservatives like Robert Byrd, and he was smart enough to know that his success hinged on how he navigated through those choppy waters. What Biden was trying to explain - however clumsily it may have come across - is that politics isn't about personalities or purity. It's possible to despise what someone stands for yet still work with that person in order to accomplish a greater good. As strange as it may seem to some, before the era of tribal politics took over Washington, politicians from divergent backgrounds often reached across the aisle to pass legislation. In fact, it was more common than you think. Today, the majority of politicians from both parties are more concerned with scoring cheap points with their base than actually getting something accomplished. If you can fault Biden on anything, it's that he truly believes that the Washington he knew as a junior senator can somehow be resurrected if only he were elected president. Naive? Probably. Racist? Give me a fucking break.

But what I found truly interesting in all this wasn't the knee-jerk reactions from Biden's opponents, who I suspect trailing as badly as they are, saw an opportunity to chip away at his lead. Rather, it was the manner in which Biden handled the whole affair. To be honest, I was taken aback initially. I truly thought that upon getting pushback over the comments that he would issue an apology and move on. Instead, he did the exact opposite. He defiantly doubled down on the comments and then went after both Booker and the media for twisting his words around. It was, to quote several pundits, a Trumpian move on his part.

And that got me thinking. Could Biden be borrowing a page out of Trump's playbook? If you recall, all throughout the 2016 campaign, whenever Trump was confronted by his opponents, and or the media, about things he said or did, he would immediately get defensive and push back. The words "I'm sorry" never made their way across his lips. Not once. It was as though the man could do no wrong. It drove his opponents up the wall, but, ironically, in the eyes of the voters, it made him appear strong and decisive. Turns out people are attracted to politicians who stick to their guns and aren't wishy-washy.

I think Biden is fully aware that in this era of political correctness - which has overtaken the party - the urge to apologize runs deep. It's something he detests at a gut level, not just because it runs counter to who he is as a man, but because it rubs many voters the wrong way. What they see in Biden isn't some relic from the past, but a guy who tells it like it is and isn't afraid to catch hell for it. A rare commodity in politics.

So if I had to guess, I'd say that good old Joe is putting down his marker. No more apologizing; no more explaining a career that's had more ups than downs; and no more pussyfooting with opponents who can't hold a candle to what he's done in his public life. If I were a betting man, I'd look for a very combative Biden on that debate stage Thursday. If Sanders or Harris or Booker get in his face, they're in for one helluva bitch slap. I think the man has his dander up and he's got his eyes set on one thing and one thing only: Trump.

This much is certain: whoever takes on this president in 2020 better bring their "A" game with them. Anything less and Trump will win reelection. I don't know whether Biden has what it takes to beat him. But I do know this: from what I've seen of the other candidates so far, I'm not terribly optimistic.

Friday, June 7, 2019

Did Joe Biden Just Commit Political Suicide?


Take a good look at the polls today. According to the RCP average, Joe Biden holds a 16.8 point lead over his closest rival Bernie Sanders. By this time next week, that lead could be significantly reduced, if not completely gone. That's because Biden, in a move that can only be described as inexplicable, reversed a long-standing position of his and came out in favor of repealing the Hyde Amendment.

In a speech he gave Thursday in Atlanta, Biden cited the litany of anti-abortion laws that are being passed in Republican-controlled states as the reason for what was clearly a flip flop on his part. "If I believe health care is a right, as I do, I can no longer support an amendment that makes that right dependent on someone’s zip code," the former Vice President said.

For those of you who don't know, the Hyde Amendment restricts abortion providers from using federal funds to perform the procedure. That's all it does. With or without the amendment, states like Missouri, Georgia and Utah would still have passed their draconian laws that are nothing more than an end around the landmark Roe v. Wade decision, a ruling that conservatives have been trying to reverse ever since the Supreme Court handed it down in 1973. The "zip code" of a woman is completely irrelevant when it comes to this amendment. Biden knows that, and so does every constitutional scholar in the country.

There's only one reason why Biden did this: he finally succumbed to the pressure being exerted from his left flank. It was a panic move on his part, one which might well cost him the nomination, and even if doesn't, will weaken him in the general election. The strength of Biden's appeal is that he leads with his chin and follows his gut. Apart from South Bend mayor Pete Buttigieg, he's the least polished candidate in the field. And unlike most of the other candidates, he doesn't seem all that afraid to take positions that buck his party's base. Until now, that is.

Frankly, I'm aghast. There was no need for this unforced error. He had a huge lead, a lead that was fueled in large part by the centrist coalition of the party; the same coalition, mind you, that got Bill Clinton elected in '92. While Sanders and Elizabeth Warren continue to split the progressive vote, Biden was cruising along without nary a care in the world. All he had to do was not shoot himself in the foot like he did in '88 and '08.

But, alas, the man can't help himself. It's as though he can't stand prosperity. Not only will he not get any credit from the left for his "come to Jesus" moment, he will catch bloody hell from both the center and the right. That's because almost a third of the people who support a woman's right to choose also support a federal ban on funding for abortions. One of the oldest rules in politics - one that a seasoned veteran like Biden should know all too well - is that if there's no upside for taking a position, or in this case reversing one, don't take it. Politics 101: Do no harm. His ignoring of that rule is a giant red flag.

The sad part about all this is that had Biden just held firm to his original stance, he would've continued to get pummeled by the left, but he would've gained considerably more respect from the center. In short, it would've been a wash. Now he ends up looking like all the other politicians vying for the Democratic nomination, all 23 of them.

The good news, if there is any, is that it's still early. The Iowa Caucus isn't for another eight months. Biden might well survive this, but in the event he doesn't, he'll at least have the satisfaction of proving an age-old idiom right.

You can't teach an old dog new tricks.


P.S.

Originally, I wrote that the Hyde Amendment could only be repealed by two-thirds of both Houses of Congress and three-fourths of the states. This is not true. Since the amendment was passed as just a simple piece of legislation, it can be repealed by a simple majority in both Houses.

Wednesday, June 5, 2019

Why Isn't Kamala Harris Doing Better In the Polls?


The news that Elizabeth Warren has finally hit double digits in a recent poll has apparently been interpreted by many Democratic pollsters as a sign that her "message" is finally starting to resonate with voters. Never mind that if you combine her numbers with those of Bernie Sanders, Joe Biden is still in the lead for the nomination. Never mind that in most of the swing states Democrats need in order to win back the White House, Warren is among the weakest of the potential contenders in a head to head matchup with Trump. But, hey, let's not let a little thing like facts get in the way of a good storyline.

But the real mystery of the 2020 campaign has nothing to do with Warren or Sanders; in fact, it's a mystery that most pundits haven't spent nearly enough time on. And it has to with Kamala Harris. To put it succinctly, her campaign hasn't gotten off the ground. But for one or two polls showing her in the mid teens, she remains marred in the single digits.

It's unfathomable to me that a woman of color who is an accomplished prosecutor from a state whose economy and population would rival most industrialized countries isn't doing better in the polls. Why is this? Granted Harris isn't the most charismatic speaker on the campaign trail; next to her Barack Obama comes off looking like a cross between Franklin Roosevelt and Martin Luther King, Jr. But four years ago one of the least charismatic Democratic candidates the party ever produced - Hillary Clinton - ran away with the nomination. So the charisma thing, if you ask me, is a bit overrated.

I have seen Harris at her best, on the Senate Judiciary Committee. Did you see the way in which she interrogated Attorney General William Barr? It was something to behold. I can assure you if I were ever a defendant in a case Harris was prosecuting, I'd instruct my attorney to change my plea from innocent to guilty and throw myself on the mercy of the court. I figure I'd get a better outcome from the judge than from the jury once Harris was done. That's how good she is.

Some have suggested that part of Harris's problem is that she hasn't carefully articulated her vision for the country. There's just one problem with that assessment: it isn't true. Harris was a co-sponsor of the Green New Deal and she recently came out in favor of pay parity. If that isn't a clear vision I don't know what is. But here's the thing: even if Harris had failed to come to the table with actual policies, being deliberately vague apparently hasn't kept Biden from jumping out to a huge double digit lead. So I don't think that's the reason.

Nor do I think it has anything to do with brand-name recognition. Even in her home state of California, where she is very popular, she's still in third place, behind Biden and Sanders. Though to be fair, that poll was taken in early April. A lot can change in two months. But even in South Carolina, a state with a large African American population, Harris, in a poll taken just two weeks ago, is in 4th place, trailing Biden, Sanders and even Warren. Wow! If Harris, a high-profile African American woman, can't beat out a two white candidates, who as of yet have failed to make inroads in the black community, that's a real problem.

I've been scratching my head trying to figure out why Harris isn't doing better in the polls, and then I happened upon a piece written by Clare Malone of fivethirtyeight.com, titled oddly enough, "Kamala Harris Is More Interested In Telling You What She Believes Than Who She Is."

Harris is hardly the first political candidate who has struggled letting the voters into the inner sanctum. At the 2016 Democratic Convention, it was left to Bill Clinton to explain to the entire nation just what kind of person Hillary was. That's right, a woman who'd been in politics for over three decades didn't feel it necessary to share her bio, so her husband had to do it for her.

But there's an additional element to Harris's story that complicates things a bit. Malone cites an interview she did with former Obama advisor David Axelrod in which Axelrod, not wanting to discount her accomplishments as a prosecutor, said, "I want to get to that and your career in the law, but I just want to hear a little more about your folks and about the sort of cross-cultural upbringing and how that helped shape you."

For most politicians that invitation would've been like manna from Heaven. Imagine an interviewer saying to an interviewee, can we put off talking about your accomplishments and instead talk about you? My God, Joe Biden would never have shut up. Pete Buttigieg, to his credit, has made it a central part of his campaign. And all of us remember Obama's story and how integral it was to his success in '08. But for Harris, it might as well have been like asking an English major to talk about string theory. Her reply to Axelrod was quite telling.
Well, you know, it’s funny, David. … But in my career, when I was district attorney of San Francisco, attorney general of California and even now as a United States senator, in each position, I was ‘the first.’ And in particular when I was DA and AG, reporters would come up to me and ask me this really original question, put a microphone in front of my face: ‘So what’s it like to be the first woman — fill in the blank, DA, AG. And I’d look at them not knowing how to answer that question, and I would tell them, ‘I really don’t know how to answer that question because, you see, I’ve always been a woman, but I’m sure a man could do the job just as well.’
Did you get that last part? The one about how a man could do the job just as well? I'm sure part of that is from her training as a lawyer. Lawyers, especially prosecutors, are trained to always consider both sides of a legal argument. That's because they are often asked to write briefs in support of a motion they are making, and those briefs must include opposing rulings that the judge might consider. Failing to do so could hinder their chances at winning the case. In fact, as an officer of the court, Harris had a singular responsibility to the law that transcended any agenda she might've had as a prosecutor.

But politics isn't the law. In fact, it's the polar opposite. In politics, as in sales, the primary objective is to sell yourself, who you are as a person, and why that should matter to the customer / voter. Obama understood that; indeed, most successful politicians understand it. The ability to create a personal narrative within the electorate is as important, if not more so, than having an impressive resume, which Harris certainly has. That might explain why the most qualified candidate for the presidency in the nation's history lost to a snake-oil salesman with the attention span of a gnat in 2016.

I submit that what may be holding back Harris isn't her talent or her credentials, or lack thereof, but her unwillingness to let her hair down and have that moment with the people. Perhaps she's concerned that if she talks about her personal experiences, she'll be perceived as someone who's looking to make her gender and race a campaign issue. Funny, being the first "fill in the blank" never stopped a first term, black senator from Illinois from ascending the ladder all the way to the White House. While Obama never made his race an issue, he never ran away from it, either. He had a compelling and unique story to tell and he did just that.

Kamala Harris might do well to read his book, "The Audacity of Hope," and borrow a page or two or three from it before it's too late.

Thursday, May 30, 2019

Mueller To Congress: You're Up


Robert Mueller finally broke his silence. The Special Counsel, who for the last two years has been as vocal as a mime, decided it was time to hold a press conference and clear the air. In ten minutes, Mueller gave his own summary of a 448 page report he submitted to the Department of Justice, and he did not mince his words. There were four major points he made:
  1. Russia interfered with the 2016 presidential election and the Trump campaign benefited from that interference.
  2. Despite finding multiple instances of obstruction of justice, based on the guidelines set forth by the Office of Legal Counsel, Mueller was unable to indict Trump.
  3. Contrary to what his boss Bill Barr said in his summary, Trump was NOT exonerated by Mueller.
  4. It is now up to Congress to do what the D.O.J. couldn't: hold this president accountable.
And that brings us back to the "I" word, and I don't mean infrastructure. Like it or not - or even fair or not - Robert Mueller has dumped this mess on Nancy Pelosi's desk and it's now her headache. He made it crystal clear in his presser that there are no legal remedies that can be employed here. The only way Trump can be removed from office is either through the impeachment process which includes a conviction in the Senate or through the ballot box in 2020. That's it. Mueller provided the bread crumbs; it's up to House Democrats to bake the cake.

Legal scholars will no doubt argue over just how powerless Mueller truly was. Some have suggested that he could've defied Justice Department guidelines and indicted Trump anyway. The prevailing sentiment, though, is that Barr or Rod Rosenstein simply would've overridden him and killed the indictment, citing departmental policy, and even if they didn't, the Administration would've challenged his findings in court, leading to a landmark Supreme Court decision that would've rocked the country and established a new legal precedent for generations to come.

Or if Mueller didn't want to go that route - and there's nothing in his resume that suggests he would've - he could've been more definitive in his findings. For instance, instead of writing, "while this report does not conclude that the President committed a crime, it also does not exonerate him," he could have written, "this report concludes that the President engaged in multiple acts of obstruction of justice that, were he not President, would've led to his indictment and prosecution in federal court." Now that would've been definitive. That would've been a finding worth waiting almost two years for.

And, sadly, that would've had the effect of reducing Robert Mueller to the level of James Comey. Face it, regardless of how you feel about how he was treated by Trump, Comey's conduct, both in and out of government, is the very definition of political grandstanding. He overstepped his authority as FBI Director twice during the Clinton email investigation by interjecting himself into the political spotlight; the latter coming just weeks before the 2016 election. That was not only unprecedented, it was inexcusable.

But once he was fired by Trump, Comey added insult to injury by going on a dog and pony tour to peddle his book; a book that was nothing more than a series of self-justifications for his bizarre behavior during the most consequential election of our lifetime. As a result, what was once a distinguished FBI career has now been reduced to a punchline. The man is an embarrassment and a shill. Credit Mueller for not following in his footsteps, for recognizing the limits of his office, and for having the mental discipline not to stray from them.

Maybe that's the reason why, despite Trump's best efforts at impugning his integrity, Mueller's reputation remains intact. He never crossed the line Comey did from prosecutor to judge and jury. He never went down the "no reasonable prosecutor" path. Instead, he carefully laid out the evidence for all to see, and then handed it off to the only agency with the authority to act: Congress. His professionalism harkens back to a time when Washington wasn't paralyzed by bitter partisan divides and things actually got done.

If there's one thing you can fault him with, it's that Mueller truly believes that this Congress, which can't pass a ham sandwich, is actually capable of conducting an impeachment inquiry, but that isn't his problem. He did his job; now it's up to the legislature to do its.

As he stated in his press conference, "The Constitution requires a process other than the criminal justice system to formally accuse a sitting president of wrongdoing." Translation? "You're up, Congress."

Friday, May 24, 2019

Hey, Donnie, Where Are Those Deals You Promised?


Lost in the temper tantrum that our "esteemed" president threw in front of Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer at the White House the other day, and the subsequent pity party he threw for himself in the Rose Garden later that afternoon when, for the umpteenth time, he reiterated that the Mueller Report cleared him of wrong doing - even though it clearly didn't - was the sad fact that the man who ran on being the greatest deal maker in the history of western civilization, once more couldn't compose himself long enough to negotiate with members of the opposition party to hash out even the framework of a deal.

In the two and a half years since he was elected, Trump, the so-called "author" of "The Art of the Deal," has been an abject failure at the one thing he built his entire brand on. Indeed, the only "accomplishment" his party can "boast" about - and I use the terms accomplishment and boast loosely - is the tax bill that passed at the end of 2017; a bill that stole billions of dollars in tax deductions from hard-working middle class Americans and gave them to the top one percent and multi-billion dollar corporations. And the only reason that ghastly bill became law was because Trump stayed the hell out of the way.

Really, name a single thing that Trump has touched that hasn't turned to shit. Remember the bargain he was going to strike with Democrats back in 2017? He would've gotten billions for his stupid wall in return for a deal on DACA. He blew that up because Stephen Miller, AKA, Joseph Goebbels, objected. Lindsey Graham may have blamed Miller at the time, but the last time I checked Miller wasn't the president; Trump was.

Then there was the great government shutdown of this year; the one where Trump furloughed hundreds of thousands of federal workers for six weeks just so he could wind up with the same deal he could've gotten BEFORE the shutdown. Now that's what I call negotiating. If Jefferson had had Trump's talent, Louisiana would still be a part of France.

Infrastructure is the one issue where there is consensus between Democrats and Republicans. Regardless of whether you live in a blue state or a red state, if you've spent more than five minutes behind the wheel of a car, you know that the roads and bridges in this country are in dire need of repair. In my neck of the woods, both the Long Island Expressway and Northern State Parkway are a disgrace. There are parts of the Northern State where if you drive faster than 50 miles an hour you run the risk of damaging the suspension on your car. You expect road conditions like this in a third-world country, not the greatest nation in the world.

Perhaps there wasn't a trillion dollar deal to be had, but that was still no excuse for Trump not rolling up his sleeves and trying anyway. To storm out of a meeting because he's pissed that Democrats are investigating him isn't just juvenile, it's contemptible. Both Nixon and Clinton managed to negotiate with the opposing party while they were being investigated and both even managed to get some things done. Clinton, in particular, worked with Republicans in both chambers to pass the S-CHIP program and to produce federal budgets that eventually led to three consecutive budget surpluses. The idea that you can't do your job because the other side is picking on you is anathema to the very duties he was elected to perform.

And then there's trade: the issue he spent the majority of his campaign reminding everyone under the sun just how incompetent his predecessors were. If I had a dollar for every time he said the U.S. was getting ripped off, my wife and I would be touring Europe right now. Since he was sworn in, he's blown up NAFTA, pulled out of TPP and imposed a series of tariffs on Canada, Mexico and China that not only haven't produced the results he was looking for, but have hurt consumers at the cash register and damaged our exports. Way to go, Skippy! When it comes to screwing up, as the song goes, nobody does it better.

Regarding foreign policy, Trump's flirtation with North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un has not only been an embarrassment to this country, it has had the effect of strengthening Kim's hand rather than weakening it. Not only hasn't Rocket Man - Trump's nickname for Kim - given up his nukes, he's managed to get Trump to agree to end joint military exercises with South Korea that Kim viewed as provocative. Then after he got Trump to cave on that, he resumed his missile launching program. If Kim ever decides to write a book about his dealings with Trump, I've got the perfect title for him: "How I Played A Fool and Came Out On Top."

His unwillingness to work with people who don't kowtow to his every whim and who fail to stroke his massive ego; his inability to successfully utilize the leverage his office affords him; his reticence to accept any and all advice given him that directly challenges his preconceived worldview; none are emblematic of a great deal maker. What they do reveal is a very insecure man who for the last three and a half decades has peddled this false narrative of a master negotiator who could simply enter a room, snap his fingers and magically get people to do what he wanted. But just like the wizard in the Wizard of Oz, once the curtain was pulled back, the audience finally got a chance to see for themselves who was really running the show. Not some "stable" genius with a game plan, but an aging con artist with nothing but a bag of useless, old tricks and a ton of stale, worn out cliches.

Dorothy shoulda stood in bed.

Wednesday, May 22, 2019

An Open Letter To Nancy Pelosi


Dear Madam Speaker,

I usually don't write letters to politicians. In fact, over the last ten years, I can count on one hand the number of times I've sat down and actually composed one. Hell, I even have a problem finding the right words to add to the Hallmark card I give my wife on our anniversary. I guess I figure for the money they charge, they should be able to come up with the right words on their own without my help. Okay, that was probably too much information. My point is that this was one occasion where a mere greeting card wasn't going to suffice.

Let me just come right out and say I am not one of those Democrats who embrace the Green New Deal or Medicare for All. I hail from a suburban district that went for Trump in 2016, and may well do so again in 2020. It was those districts flipping last year that made you Speaker of the House for the second time in your career. You know it, and I know it. And there is no path to the White House for Democrats that doesn't go through swing states like Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania.

The reason for this letter has nothing to do with policy or tactics. You've written the book when it comes to both anyway as evidenced by the futility of your two predecessors. And I'm quite certain you can handle the likes of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, just like Joe Biden appears to be handling Bernie Sanders on the presidential campaign trail. The issue before us - indeed, the issue before the country - is Donald Trump.

I'll cut right to the chase: your refusal to move forward with a formal impeachment proceeding or inquiry against this president, while laudable, is simply wrong. Yes, wrong. Look, I get the politics. You know who else gets the politics? Trump. He's betting there's no way in hell you'll impeach him. That's why he's blocking every subpoena your committee chairs have issued. He's trying to drag this out past next year's election in the hopes that he'll win reelection and that a potential future Republican majority will give him the cover he needs to shred what's left of the Constitution.

You cannot let him get away with this atrocity. This isn't about bowing to the Tom Steyers of the country. Nor is it about actually removing him from office. You and I both know there's no way the Senate will convict. That's not the point. The point is that for the last three months your committees have been trying to investigate his administration and they've been frustrated at every turn. Face it, you're stuck between a rock and a hard place. On the one hand, you don't want the possible political fallout of an impeachment inquiry. On the other, you don't want to turn off a base that's screaming for blood; a base, by the way, the party will badly need come next November. So rather than choose one over the other, you're trying to navigate between the two, hoping you don't wreck the entire caucus on a reef.

How's that working out so far? You needn't reply. We both know the answer. You've been around this town way too long not to know that trying to have your cake while eating it too rarely, if ever, happens. To put it another way, you're getting all the grief without any of the glory. You don't want to give Trump something he can use to gin up his base in 2020, I understand. But do you seriously think he's not going to gin up his base? Have you seen his rallies lately? He's talking about locking up the people who investigated him. Now he's turning his heat beams on Fox News because they're hosting town halls for Democratic candidates. He's in 8th gear on an 8 speed transmission. There is absolutely nothing you can do to throttle him up or down.

You say you're not at the impeachment stage yet. When might you be? What bit of information do you need to make a determination to move forward? Don McGahn's testimony? Robert Mueller's? The former was just ordered by the Justice Department to ignore a lawful subpoena; the latter might end up "declining" to show up altogether. As for the tax returns, good luck getting those. And don't celebrate just yet over the decision by a district court judge that authorizes Deutsche Bank and Capital One to release Trump's financial records to the Congress. We both know that John Roberts will have the final say in the end.

And that, more than anything else, is why you must initiate an impeachment inquiry now. You accomplish two things almost immediately: one, you clearly define for the American electorate that this isn't some random fishing expedition; that there's a real purpose to it. You also make it clear that this is ONLY an inquiry to determine whether Trump should be impeached, not an actual vote to impeach. That's an important distinction, and it's a distinction that a majority of Americans do not completely understand. And speaking of purpose, terms like "specific and legitimate legislative purpose" tend to hold more weight legally, especially in front of the Supreme Court.

Now let's talk about the politics of this. The longer you wait, the harder this gets, not easier. Think back to Nixon. It took over a year from the time the Senate started its hearings into Watergate before the public began to warm to the idea of impeachment. If you think the politics of this is ugly now, try the fall of 2020. Do you really want every question that the eventual Democratic nominee gets asked at the debates to begin and end with, "Where do you stand on impeachment?" While Biden or Sanders or Kamala Harris try to define their agenda, Trump cries government coup. Can you spell reelection?

Look, I know you think you're in a no-win situation. You're really not. The decision before you is really quite simple. I didn't say it was easy, just simple. Just today, Trump stood in the Rose Garden of the White House and said there would be no talks until the investigations end. That's right, the President of the United States issued an ultimatum to the House of Representatives. It's his way or the highway. This is what you're dealing with: a little boy who thinks all the toys in the toy chest belong to him. The way to deal with boys like that is to take away their toy chest, not coddle them. You want an infrastructure bill? Don't wait for Trump. Pass one yourself and then dump it in Mitch McConnell's lap. The same with health care, tax reform, etc... There's no reason why you can't walk and chew gum at the same time. While this president takes his ball and goes home, you can make the case to the American people that you have the temperament to run the country.

Since he assumed the presidency, Trump has told more lies than all of his predecessors combined, and that includes Nixon. But there was one instance where he did speak the truth, if halfheartedly. That was when he said this was about setting a precedent for future presidents. Yeah, like he really gives a shit about who succeeds him. If he had his way, he'd be dictator for life. But, seriously, Madam Speaker, he's right about one thing: this IS about setting a precedent; a very dangerous precedent. If you fail to hold this man accountable, you will encourage the next president - be it Democrat or Republican - to behave in the same lawless manner. In fact, you all but guarantee it.

You're facing a possible rebellion within your rank and file. You have a sitting president who's literally shitting all over the Constitution. Your duty requires you to do more than just bring him a fresh role of toilet paper.

Sunday, May 19, 2019

This Is the Reason Why the Rust Belt States Don't Like Democrats

I rarely, if ever, go after an op-ed writer. If I disagree with something they've written, I may mention it in passing in one of my own pieces, but with the exception of an op-ed that Thomas Friedman wrote several years ago about how the U.S. needed a strong third party to challenge the political establishment - an argument I found totally nonsensical to the point of calling it an "obsession" - my philosophy has always been to respectfully disagree and move on. That's my way of saying, go with God. After all, that's why they're called op-ed writers and not reporters, right?

But an op-ed written by Jill Filipovic for The New York Times called, "Does Anyone Actually Want Joe Biden To Be President?" made me so upset, I simply couldn't let the opportunity pass without taking her to task.

Let's start with the title of the piece, which I assume is a question since Ms. Filipovic ended it with a question mark. Though, given the sarcasm implied, I'm fairly certain it wasn't. But I'll answer it nonetheless: Yes, there are people who actually want Joe Biden to be president, at least that's according to the polling which shows him with a considerable lead over Bernie Sanders for the Democratic nomination and a single-digit lead over Trump in the general election. The last time I checked, pollsters contact actual people on these things. But I could be wrong; maybe they're contacting aliens from another planet. By the way, Jill, nice picture of Biden with his head down. Where'd you get it from, Fox News?

In her opening paragraph, she throws down the gauntlet on the issue of electability.
The most important requirement for the Democratic Party’s presidential nominee? Electability. It matters more, we keep hearing, than nominating a candidate who has good policies. It matters more than nominating a candidate with a track record of passing progressive legislation. It certainly matters more than nominating a candidate who could be the first female president.
Wow, so much to unpack. First off, she assumes that "electability" and "good policies" are somehow mutually exclusive. They aren't. Case in point, Trump's policies have been terrible and yet he somehow got elected. On the other hand, Barack Obama won two consecutive presidential elections espousing some pretty good policies. One should never conflate these two terms. As for the importance of nominating a candidate with a track record of passing progressive legislation, the last truly progressive piece of legislation that passed Congress was the Voting Rights Act of 1965. For your edification, Jill, Lyndon Johnson, the president who signed that legislation into law, was this country's last real progressive to reside in the Oval Office, not Jimmy Carter, nor Bill Clinton, nor Obama. The Affordable Care Act, which was signed into law by Obama, was viewed by many progressives as a sellout to the insurance and pharmaceutical industries. Oh, and by the way, the first female president could've been Hillary Clinton, but four years ago, I suppose she would've been one of those  "electable" candidates that nobody wanted to be president; that is if I follow your logic.

Let's jump to paragraph four,
Mr. Biden, whose campaign officially kicks off this Saturday in Philadelphia, is the kind of guy you could see sitting behind a big desk, acting as a wise custodian of our democracy without posing any threat of changing much. He is from one of those scrappy Rust Belt cities fetishized by so many pundits — people who believe that the imaginary working-class white voter who is going to deliver the White House to the Democrats wants Joe Biden, which is what, in turn, makes Joe Biden electable.
"He is from one of the scrappy Rust Belt cities fetishized by so many pundits - people who believe that the imaginary working-class white voter who is going to deliver the White House to the Democrats wants Joe Biden." This in a nutshell is how Trump became president. The sheer arrogance of that statement is why Democrats are so despised in that region of the country. Can you imagine Obama making such an asinine statement? Me neither. Know who else wouldn't make that statement? That's right, Biden, old Mr. Gaffe himself. Maybe that's why he's up by 11 over Trump in Pennsylvania, you know, that state with all those scrappy working-class voters that people like Filipovic shit all over.

Now down to paragraph eight,
The Democratic Party of 2019 does not look much like Joe Biden. Women, African-American, Latino and Asian voters are all much more likely to say they support Democratic candidates than Republican ones. White voters, male voters and especially white male voters generally support Republicans.
There are two huge assumptions made in this paragraph, and both are vastly misunderstood and, I might add, a tad bit overrated by many pundits. Yes, it's true that today's Democratic Party doesn't look like Joe Biden, but that apparently hasn't hurt him, especially with respect to African American voters, who don't appear to be enamored of progressive candidates like Bernie Sanders or Elizabeth Warren. This was one of the reasons why Hillary ran away with the nomination in 2016. With respect to white, male voters, perhaps the majority of them do support Republicans, but that's still no excuse to ignore them the way so many Democratic candidates are doing this year, or take them for granted, which is what the party as a whole did in 2016.

Paragraphs eleven and twelve should be taken together,
But what about those Obama-to-Trump swing voters who will reportedly make or break this election, as they did the last one? The Democratic Party shouldn’t leave anyone behind, but working-class white men are declining as a share of the Democratic base, while whites generally are declining as a share of the general population. The entire premise that white men without college degrees are the only possible swing voters is a faulty one. 
There’s also little evidence that most voters pick a candidate based on policies and that a moderate candidate who wrote campaign talking points to appeal to a broad swath of voters would do significantly better than a more visionary and progressive one. Instead of trying to win back a waning electoral and demographic force, Democrats would be better served to consider what will get voters to the polls. Hillary Clinton’s loss can only be explained by a long list of factors, but surely one of them was apathy: The certainty that she had the election in the bag probably depressed voter turnout.
I'll cut to the chase: the Obama-to-Trump swing voter was THE reason Trump won. Just take a look at the results in Ohio. Obama won the state by 166 thousand votes in 2012; Trump won it by 455 thousand in 2016. That's a difference of over 620 thousand votes. Across the entire Rust Belt region, the results were similar: Obama voters abandoning the Democratic Party in droves for Trump. And while I agree in principle that most voters don't pick a candidate based solely on policies, they do tend to vote for the candidate that they feel best represents their interests and who shows at least a modicum of empathy. Hillary's main problem had little to do with apathy; it had everything to do with arrogance. The belief that she "had the election in the bag" didn't so much depress voter turnout as it motivated people to go out and vote against her.

It took a while for Filipovic to get around to the 2018 midterms, but in paragraphs fourteen thru sixteen she finally does,
Women made record numbers of political contributions in 2018 and, at least anecdotally, dominated campaigns behind the scenes. Mr. Trump’s white working-class base still voted Republican, although in lower numbers than when he triumphed. Women of color, and particularly black women, continued their trend of staunchly supporting Democrats, and turnout among racial minorities hit a highat 28 percent of voters, and 38 percent of voters under 30. A majority of white women with college degrees voted for Hillary Clinton in 2016, but it was this group that gave Democratic candidates a new advantage in 2018, increasing its support for Democrats over Republicans by 13 percentage points from two years earlier.
In several key states, including Ohio and Florida, white women with college degrees flipped: A majority voted Republican in 2016 and Democratic in 2018. White men, regardless of education, did not. It’s white women, not working-class white men, who are the most promising swing voters for Democrats in 2020, and who could wind up as loyal lifelong Democrats.
Strong turnout among voters of color, a Democratic shift among white voters, and significant flips by college-educated white women all reaped dividends for the women who ran in 2018. Female candidates in the midterms outperformed male ones by a significant margin, on both the left and the right (and the gap was larger with Democratic candidates than Republican ones). In other words, if the 2018 election is any indication, women are more electable than men are — especially, but not only, with Democrats.
There's no other way to put this: the vast majority of House pickups for the Democratic Party in last year's midterms came in suburban districts that went for Trump in 2016. While many of those candidates may have been women, some of them black, they were hardly progressive; if anything most of them were centrists. Given that Trump's base will turnout in greater numbers in 2020 than they did in 2018, the margin of error for Dems is smaller than you think. White women with college degrees voting blue last year did NOT prevent Republicans from retaining the governor's mansion in Ohio or flipping Senate seats in Florida, Indiana and Missouri. If, as Filipovic states, women are more electable than men, especially with Democrats, it appears as though the majority of Democratic voters haven't gotten the memo. So far, Biden and Sanders - two men - are collectively polling over 50 percent, while Kamala Harris, Elizabeth Warren and Amy Klobuchar - three women - are collectively polling at just over 17 percent.

And, finally, there's this,
Since Donald Trump’s election in 2016, no force has been greater, bolder, louder and hungrier than women. . . It is baffling, then, to know all of this and conclude that the most electable candidate is Joe Biden, an older white man tightly associated with sexual harassment and racism, even if he is polling ahead more than a year before the election.
Sexual harassment and racism? Please! Look, the man has a history of being a little too, shall we say, handsy, and his support for the 1994 crime bill is a black mark that will plague him throughout the campaign, I get it, but neither makes him a sexual predator or a racist. Whatever else you might think of Biden, he's hardly Harvey Weinstein or David Duke. This moral equivalence crap that people like Filipovic keep peddling is why some people can't stand progressives.

Look, as I've said on several occasions, it's still early, and no one can predict who will emerge as the Democratic nominee. It may well be Biden, or perhaps Sanders, or Harris, or Warren, or Pete Buttigieg, or Johnny Galecki - I hear he recently lost his job and is looking for a new career path. We just don't know. But what is certain is this: the conclusions that Filipovic draws in her op-ed piece run counter to the available data, and no amount of wishful thinking or personal grievances on her part is going to change a reality she can't bring herself to accept.

In 2016, the so-called fly-over states sent a message loud and clear to the country. If Democrats don't stop listening to writers like Jill Filipovic, they'll send the same one again in 2020.