Sunday, November 19, 2017
The recent revelations about the sexual misconduct of Harvey Weinstein have, for all intents and purposes, served as the catalyst for a litany of women to come forward and tell their stories. Over the last couple of weeks, men from the entertainment industry to the media to both major political parties have been implicated in one scandal after another.
The latest of these scandals involves Minnesota senator Al Franken, who, while on a USO tour in 2006, was accused by Leeann Tweeden of sticking his tongue in her mouth during a rehearsal for a comedy skit. Later on in the tour he posed for a picture in which he mock groped her breasts while she was asleep on a plane. The former is sexual assault; the latter a sick and juvenile stunt. Both acts have triggered an ethics investigation that at its worst could lead to Franken's expulsion from the Senate and at the very least could seriously damage his career.
As a man, I am sickened by Franken's actions. No, they do not rise even remotely to the level of the atrocities of Roy Moore or actor Kevin Spacey. Ivanka Trump is right: there IS a special place in hell for people who prey on children and Moore and Spacey are headed there. But Franken is hardly a choir boy here, and his defenders must stop trying to rationalize his conduct. And, while we're at it, they should also stop "slut-shaming" Tweeden. She is the victim here, not the perpetrator.
It does not matter what she did for a living, what type of clothing she wore or didn't wear, or how long it took her to come forward. If you'll recall, Moore's accusers waited in some instances almost 40 years before breaking their silence. You can't have it both ways, people. Victims of sexual abuse face a myriad of obstacles when disclosing their accounts, from the shame they feel over what happened to the flack they often face from their peers. The tactics being employed by Moore's lawyer underscore just how difficult it is and why so many women choose to remain silent. As progressives, we should be championing these women, not humiliating them. I personally don't give a damn whether you're a fan of Franken or not, whether you agree with his policies or not. He does not get preferential treatment simply because of his political views or affiliations. He is accountable for his actions whether there is a D next to his name or an R.
And that leads me to a sensitive topic for Dems: Bill Clinton. I voted for the man twice and, on balance, he was a very effective president who did a lot for women's rights. But there's no way to dance around this anymore: he was a sexual predator. No, he was not nearly as hideous as the groper in chief currently occupying the Oval Office, but to exempt him from the same accountability that we demand from Trump and Moore is part of the problem.
I give Kirsten Gillibrand a lot of credit for having the courage to speak out. Whether you agree with her or not that Clinton should've resigned after the Monica Lewinski scandal broke, the point is that Democrats chose politics over principles when it suited them in '98. While Clinton did get impeached, as his supporters point out, he was impeached for lying about the affair, not having it. The inability of Democrats to do the right thing back then - particularly the feminist movement which went to the mat for him - indirectly set the stage for Trump's eventual rise to power. When you blur the lines of decency for self preservation, you deserve what you get.
And that's why it wouldn't surprise me one bit if Al Franken ends up being a sacrificial lamb here. Nineteen years ago Democrats swept their president's shortcomings under the carpet. There was always going to be a day of reckoning for that lapse in judgment. With the prospects of Moore getting elected despite the charges against him and the likelihood he will be expelled by his own party from the Senate, Democrats will be hard-pressed to make sure their side of the aisle is as clean as possible. Whether it's fair or not, Franken will pay the price Bill Clinton didn't. He will either be forced to resign or he will be expelled. And his colleagues will not lift a finger to help him.
The good news for Dems is that doing the right thing here, unlike back in '98, won't cost them anything. The governor of Minnesota is a Democrat and will undoubtedly appoint a Democrat to fill the vacancy until a special election is held. And since a Democrat would be favored in that election, the Party would not lose any seats in the Senate. And even more importantly, Franken's removal would allow Democrats to run as a zero tolerance party in 2018, a stark contrast to the Party of Trump and Moore.
Don't think that thought hasn't crossed Chuck Schumer's mind once or twice since Tweeden went public. With the recent successes in Virginia and the Philly burbs, Dems have some momentum going into the midterms. The last thing he needs is a distraction that can derail his plans to retake the Senate, or at least keep the GOP from adding to its majority. If jettisoning Franken helps him reach his goal, it'll be the easiest call of his political career.
To those who would say this is yet another example of false equivalence run amok, I would say two things: One, I agree; two, it's irrelevant. You don't tell the cop that pulls you over for speeding that you were only going 15 miles over the limit. When you're best argument begins and ends with "But he's not Roy Moore or Harvey Weinstein," you know you're swimming up stream. Franken's biggest crime may have been poor timing, but timing is everything, especially in the age of Trump.
Look, does Al Franken deserve a better fate? Yes. Will he get one? Probably not.
Since this piece was put to bed another woman has come forward charging that Franken groped her. The alleged incident took place during a photo shoot at the Minnesota State Fair in 2010. If true, this would be the second incident of sexual misconduct Franken has been involved in, this one while a sitting senator.
While we still don't have all the details - there's a chance this claim might not be legit - this much we do know: Franken is a marked man. With the revelation that now Charlie Rose has been accused of sexual misconduct and suspended indefinitely by CBS, we can expect more of these allegations to surface over the next few weeks and months. I suspect that by the time the dust settles, a lot of men are going to fall by the wayside, victims of their own perverted sense of power.
One thing is for sure: there's no way in hell Bill Clinton would've survived this were he president today.
Wednesday, November 8, 2017
Ok, I was wrong. Ed Gillespie didn't win Tuesday. In fact, he got his ass handed to him. When the final votes were tallied, Ralph Northam won Virginia. In fact, he won it going away. Apparently, Trumpism without Trump isn't a winning ticket after all.
Combined with the well anticipated pickup in New Jersey by Phil Murphy, this was a good day for Democrats. They retained control of a valuable governor's mansion in a crucial swing state that Hillary Clinton won last year and flipped another in an albeit VERY blue state. That's a net gain of one.
So how did it happen? And where do Democrats go from here?
First, it cannot be overstated enough that while Virginia is technically a swing state, it has been trending blue over the last few elections. Bob McDonnell in '09 was the last Republican to win in the state, and that had more to do with the fact that a Democrat - Barack Obama - was in the White House than McDonnell's talent as a politician or executive. Both its senators and current governor are Democrats. And while the majority of the state is geographically red, the largest population centers are clearly in blue counties. It's more a mid-Atlantic state than a southern one. In fact, it almost resembles a mini New York.
Secondly, this election reminded me a lot of the one that took place four years ago when Democrat Terry McAuliffe beat Republican Ken Cuccinelli. There you had two candidates who left a lot to be desired and, in the end, the one with less baggage won. Indeed, Northam's margin of victory was greater than McAuliffe's. Gillespie tried to pawn himself off as Trump lite, when in fact he was nothing more than a former Washington lobbyist who once worked for George Bush. His disgusting ads notwithstanding, the Republican base was simply unimpressed with him and the election results showed it. As to whether there was a Trump effect or not, the exit polling from Virginia was most revealing. Immigration, a core issue for Trump during the campaign, was least important among voters. Number one was healthcare.
Third, turnout was uncharacteristically high for an off year election, especially in the suburbs, where Northam performed much better than Clinton last November. This is very good news if you're a Democrat. Typically, Republicans wipe the floor with Democrats in midterms. If they can somehow replicate this turnout next year, their prospects of retaking the House look pretty good.
Lastly, the real story Tuesday wasn't the gubernatorial election, but the Virginia House of Delegates, where going into the election, Democrats needed to pick up 17 seats to gain a majority. As things stand now, they've picked up 15 of those seats with 3 races still too close to call. Even if they fall short, the gains they've made will be enough to send a strong message and to give Northam a chance at governing.
So where do Democrats go from here? Well that depends on two things: One, whether they can finally put 2016 behind them and move on; and two, whether they can formulate a winning strategy that will give them a chance at regaining their majority in 2018 and winning back the White House in 2020. The jury is still out on the former; but so far as the latter is concerned, Ralph Northam may have provided them with something of a road map.
As I mentioned earlier, Northam was hardly your idea of Mr. Excitement. In fact, he was Al Gore, only more boring, if that's even possible. But on the issues, as well as on ideology, Northam not only survived a primary challenge from his left, not to mention a snub from grumpy old Bernie Sanders, he managed to reclaim the center from Republicans. And that's important, because of the 23 Democratic senators up for reelection next year, five are in deep red states Trump carried. I can assure you the liberal wing of the Party isn't very popular in North Dakota or Montana.
One of the two great myths about the 2016 election is that Hillary lost because of her policy positions. Actually she lost because of her flaws. Had she not had so many of them, she more than likely would've beaten Trump. Ralph Northam is NO liberal; in fact he's what we used to call a centrist, before it became a four-letter word among Democrats. Well, center-left politics, as it turned out, was just what the doctor ordered. In fact, if you look at the election results in the suburbs of Philly, especially in Delaware County where Democrats outperformed Republicans for the first time in over a century, it proved to be the perfect tonic.
The other great myth was that Trump won because he was a conservative. The fact is he was an anti-establishment populist who ran against both parties and won. The answer to his brand of populism isn't a hard-left approach, but a more reasoned, disciplined, rational approach. Northam may have been as interesting as watching paint dry, but he made a lot of sense to people who have grown weary of the identity politics that so many Democrats have been employing over the last few elections. If the Party wants to win back Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan and Wisconsin in 2020, it would behoove it to appeal to voters who aren't black or Hispanic by letting them know they have nothing to fear by voting D. Not every white male who voted for Trump is a racist.
The way to beat Trump is not to continue to belittle his voters, as so many Democrats seem intent on doing, but by giving some of them a better vision for the future. The opposite of fear isn't more fear; it's hope. If Democrats want to be known as a big tent party, they need to make room under that tent for everyone, even those people who don't necessarily fit the mold.
Throughout the campaign, Northam resisted the urge to make this election about Trump, much to the chagrin of many Democrats. As it turns out, he was right. By sticking to the issues that mattered most to voters, he avoided the same trap that every one of Trump's Republican primary opponents and Hillary fell into. Trump's big advantage is to drag every one down to his level. Northam was having none of that, and if Democrats know what's good for them, they would do well to follow his lead.
But for now, Democrats should bask in the glow of this victory. They finally have some wind in their sails. What they do with it is, of course, up to them. There's a lot more work that has to be done to ensure that this marvelous moment doesn't become yet another in a long series of what ifs.
Saturday, November 4, 2017
The RCP average shows the Virginia gubernatorial race a virtual tie going into next Tuesday's election. In less than a month, Republican Ed Gillespie has gone from trailing Democrat Ralph Northam by 6.5 points to trailing him by a mere point. Worse for Northam, of the last three polls taken, two show a tie and one shows Gillespie up by 3.
If you're worried, you should be, and not just because of the recent polling. Of the last three elections, two of them showed the Democrat underperforming the polling average. For instance, in 2014, Democrat Mark Warner beat Gillespie by less than a point, despite an RCP average that showed him ahead by almost double digits. And in 2013, Democrat Terry McAuliffe beat Ken Cuccinelli by a mere 2.5 points, 3.5 points below where he was projected to win. Only the 2016 presidential election lived up to expectations. The RCP average showed Clinton ahead of Trump by 5.3 points going into the election; she wound up beating him by 5.4 points. Given that this is an off-year election, if the trend holds, Gillespie should win by around 2.5 points.
It isn't just the fact that Democrats tend to underperform in non-presidential election years that makes me pessimistic; my main concern is what I've been seeing throughout the country and, if I'm right, Democrats could get their clocks cleaned in next year's midterms. The cultural polarization that has been sweeping the country is now all but complete. What Trump managed to pull off on a national level last November has trickled down to the state and local levels. There is virtually no purple left in the country. The cities remain blue; everything else is solid red.
While Trump is very unpopular on a national level, the regions of the country where he is popular - mostly the rural areas and exurbs - geographically outnumber the rest of the country by a wide margin. Even more disturbing is that while Democrats poll well in the cities and modestly well in the suburbs, Republicans are polling consistently stronger everywhere else. That is the main reason Democrats lost both the South Carolina and Georgia special elections this year. Put succinctly, there just aren't enough Democratic votes in blue counties to offset the Republican votes in red counties.
A breakdown of the last three elections underscores the problem Democrats have. In 2016, Clinton got 64 percent of the vote in Fairfax County and won the state by 5.4 points. By comparison, Warner in 2014 and McAuliffe in 2013 got 57 percent and 58 percent of the vote respectively in Fairfax. Both eked out narrow victories in their elections. In my opinion, Northam needs to get at least 60 percent of the vote in Fairfax this Tuesday or Gillespie will win.
Virginia, for all intents and purposes, has become this year's bellwether election. If the Dems hold it, even if by a narrow margin, they can use the momentum to go forward into next year's midterms. But if they lose it, all bets are off. Call me a Debbie downer, but I think the latter is in the offing.
"Welcome back, my friends, to the primary that never ends." - Michael Tomasky
"Just when you thought it was safe to focus on 2018..." - Peter Fegan
By now the bombshell revelation by former DNC Chair Donna Brazile that the Clinton campaign was in cahoots with the DNC and ostensibly ran it has sent shockwaves throughout the political world. It not only reopens a wound that was finally starting to heal, it threatens the Democratic Party's chances at having a successful midterm next year and retaking the White House in 2020.
Let's cut to the chase. It doesn't matter what dire straits the DNC was in - $24 million in debt or $24 in debt - there's no way to sugar coat this. This scandal - and it IS a scandal - just reinforces everything Bernie and his supporters have been saying about Clinton and the DNC: the debate schedules, the fundraising mechanisms, the resources that were allocated, the whole ball of wax.
If you are a Hillary supporter and you seriously believe that all this is much ado about nothing, you're sadly mistaken. True, there's no direct evidence that any of the DNC's efforts actually cost Sanders the nomination. Pundits have gone over this time and time again. He just didn't have the votes to win. His platform and his positions, despite having wide appeal among younger and more progressive voters, didn't resonate with a majority of registered Democrats. He didn't lose by a little; he lost by a lot.
But that is hardly the point. Like all the scandals that have plagued Hillary throughout her political career, it is the perception of wrong doing that, once more, has done the most damage. There was a clear conflict of interest in having someone like Debbie Wasserman Schultz, who was an avid supporter of Clinton, in charge of the party apparatus. That isn't just bad optics, it's profoundly poor judgment that left a bad taste in the mouths of millions of people; some of whom I'm sure took out their frustrations by staying home last November.
Now before we go dragging Hillary off to prison, as Donald Trump has publicly called for, let's get a grip shall we. Yes, what Clinton and the DNC did was wrong and inexcusable. But it is equally wrong to continue the lie that Trump told repeatedly on the campaign trail that the Democratic primary process was rigged. As I said above, there's NO evidence whatsoever that Bernie was robbed of the nomination. To state otherwise, as Elizabeth Warren did, is irresponsible.
Yes, in retrospect, Bernie was right about the unrest in the Rust Belt states and the Democratic Party should've heeded his warning about the growing threat. But Bernie lost fair and square. He and his supporters need to except that fact and move on, just like Hillary and her supporters need to except the fact that she ran a lousy campaign, and that, more so than Comey's October surprise and/or Putin's interference, was what cost her the election. In fact, Hillary should change the title of her new book from "What Happened" to "What Happened?" because it's clear she still doesn't get it.
And getting back to Bernie, I would also point out that he has made it abundantly clear over the years just how much contempt he has for the Democratic Party. Yes, he ran for the Party's nomination, but, apart from having his name on the ballot, he had no skin in the game. He wanted all the perks without any of the responsibilities. Not that it justifies what she did, but at least Hillary raised money for the DNC; Bernie didn't raise so much as a cent. It's more than just a little hypocritical to claim you were treated unfairly by a club you technically don't belong to.
Bernie's supporters are quick to point out that he caucuses with the Democrats despite his philosophical differences. Big deal; so does Angus King, another independent. The difference between King and Bernie is that King hails from Maine, where being an independent is a birthright, not a political gimmick. I've been to both states and they are as different from each other as day is from night. In Maine, it's not uncommon to see Democratic towns electing Republican mayors and vice versa. In Vermont, there are two types of people: progressives and those who think that Deadheads are too mainstream. You can probably squeeze the total number of Republicans in the state into a single Ben and Jerry's.
If you need more proof that Bernie is no team player, he has decided not to endorse Democrat Ralph Northam in the upcoming Virginia gubernatorial race against Republican Ed Gillespie. This is typical of Sanders. When he doesn't get his way, he takes his ball and goes home with it. Now you know why I said he would've made a lousy president. Stunts like this.
Look, here's the deal. The 2016 election is over. Bernie lost the nomination, Hillary lost the election and a racist, xenophobic, misogynistic would-be dictator is president. The issue before us should be how to rectify that outcome, not how to relitigate it. But we can only do that if the Hatfields and the McCoys stop feuding. So long as Bernie's supporters still insist that their guy was robbed and Hillary's supporters keep harping on the three million more votes she got, Trump and his supporters are going to keep on winning.
A maniac with the impulse control of a toddler has the nuclear launch codes. Common sense would dictate that any petty squabbles be put aside for the sake of the country and the planet. Both sides need a come to Jesus moment.
And right now would be as good a time as any.
Monday, October 30, 2017
The news that Paul Manafort has been indicted by Robert Mueller for money laundering should come as no surprise to anyone. Most legal analysts who have been following the Russia investigation knew it was only a matter of time before he was charged. Manafort's ties to pro-Russian factions in Ukraine were well established. Given that his apartment had been raided by FBI agents in July, it would've been surprising if he hadn't been charged.
But the news that George Papadopoulos had been arrested, pled guilty to several counts of perjury on October 5 and is currently cooperating with Mueller's team came totally out of left field. The timing of Mueller's announcement here was no accident. He is clearly sending two messages. The first is to Manafort: We have Papadopoulos. He's cooperating with us. Would you like to get the same deal we gave him? The second is to the White House: We have Papadopoulos. We know who he spoke to. Now would be a good time to come in and talk to us before we come for you.
Do not think for a moment that they aren't shitting their pants in the West Wing. They can try all they want to make this about Hillary's emails and her campaign's connection with the Steele Dossier - which was originally funded by a conservative website on behalf of a Republican donor - but Mueller's sights are clearly focused on what went on in the Trump campaign, and he's not going to be swayed by any spin (read pressure) from Fox News, Breitbart, et al.
Make no mistake about it: Papadopoulos is the big fish here. He wasn't just a foreign policy advisor to the Trump campaign, he acted as a go-between for Russian officials who had "dirt" on Hillary Clinton and high-ranking members of the Trump campaign; one of whom is believed to be Manafort himself. The fact that he pled guilty to get a reduced sentence means Mueller has his smoking gun. In fact, he has the whole damn armory.
Where we go from here depends on two things: One, how long it takes for Manafort's lawyers to broker a deal with Mueller to their liking; and two, whether or not Trump decides to intervene by either getting rid of Mueller or by issuing pardons against all parties involved. I don't think Trump will opt for the former, not because he wouldn't like to, but because at this point he would find it very difficult, if not impossible, to find anyone at the Justice Department who would comply with such an order to do so. But I do believe he might very well use his executive authority to issue pardons for anyone connected with the investigation.
That's why the news this past August that the Mueller team has joined forces with New York State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman is so crucial here. Trump can only pardon people for federal crimes, not state ones. And that ace in the hole is what will allow Mueller to be as aggressive as he needs to in order to get at the truth.
Now I would caution those who think that we're nearing the close of this investigation to take a deep breath. Even if Mueller gets Manafort to flip, we still have a long road ahead. If the objective is to get Trump, whether it be on obstruction or collusion, then Mueller still has to find a few more pieces to the puzzle, and those pieces will be much harder to get the closer he gets to this president. Manafort was low hanging fruit, as is Michael Flynn, who it wouldn't surprise me to learn is next on Mueller's list.
If this were a baseball game, I'd say we were in the top of the third, and that's assuming we don't go into extra innings. The bottom line: it may well be a year or more before this comes to a, hopefully, satisfactory conclusion.
Sunday, October 29, 2017
Now that Jeff Flake has channeled his inner FDR; now that Bob Corker has made it abundantly clear that the White House is basically a day-care center; now that John McCain and George Bush have each publicly rebuked this president and his policies, there's only one question I have. Now what?
Because here's what it comes down to: no matter how profound they might be, words alone do not change a blessed thing. In fact, unless accompanied by strong action, even the most eloquent of words tend to - as McCain put it - fall into the "ash heap of history."
Seriously, what would've happened if after John F. Kennedy declared we would land a man on the moon, NASA had not delivered? What if after Martin Luther King, Jr's famous I have a dream speech, there had been no marches from Selma to Montgomery? And what if the Continental Congress had chosen to do nothing after Thomas Jefferson penned the Declaration of Independence? History demands more from its leaders than just great oratory; it demands great followthrough. The will to change requires more than just a sharp pen or tongue, it requires a moral conviction to move forward, even when the odds are stacked against you.
In 1961, the United States wasn't capable of getting a rocket off the launch pad without exploding, so landing a man on the moon before the end of the decade was, to many, an impossible goal. It was the men and women of NASA who made that goal become a realty. MLK, Jr was the leader of the non-violent peace movement in the country who spoke many times about the inequality and injustice that the black man was subjected to. Yet, it was those marches that took place in the mid-sixties that focused the attention of the nation on the cruelty of racism. Today we honor those marches as much as we do his speeches. And, let's face it, in 1776, the idea that a rag tag group of colonies could challenge, much less defeat, the greatest nation on the globe was farcical. But thanks to the the skill and bravery of men like George Washington, Thomas Jefferson is revered as a patriot rather than reviled as a traitor.
If it's true that history only remembers the winners, it's equally true that the winners are those who seize it. We now find ourselves at a pivotal moment in history. We have a rogue president in the White House who has been called out by members of his own party and by conservative writers from David Frum to Jennifer Rubin. We have a pending indictment from Special Prosecutor Robert Mueller. Slowly but surely, Donald Trump is transforming the GOP into his own image. Who will stand up to him? Floor speeches and op-ed pieces won't cut it. This Republic needs action - bold and defiant action.
Instead of deciding not to seek reelection, what if Jeff Flake and Bob Corker decided to run as independents in 2018? What if other Republican senators like Susan Collins and the aforementioned John McCain decided to thwart their party's legislative agenda just to deprive Trump of any accomplishments? Better still, what if all four called for invoking the 25th Amendment? And what if, along with those four senators, there was an equal number of Congressmen who did likewise? Mitch McConnell and Paul Ryan would shit their pants if that happened. That would be no mere floor speech, that would be the political equivalent of a Mutiny on the Bounty, so to speak. And it would be the beginning of what I believe would be a death spiral for Trump.
Think of it this way. The reason so many women have come forward to accuse Harvey Weinstein of sexual misconduct is because of one brave woman who led the way. Her courage helped pave the way for the others to make their voices heard. And now Weinstein is finished, along with, possibly, journalist Mark Halperin. Call it the domino effect, if you will, but it works.
Going blindly along with Trump because they're afraid of facing a primary challenge is the very definition of cowardice on the part of the GOP. In 1974, Republicans put country ahead of party and voted with Democrats to pass three articles of impeachment against Richard Nixon. That eventually forced his resignation from office. The question before us is whether there are enough brave Republicans in 2017 who are willing to do the same against this president.
If, as Corker has suggested, his fellow colleagues know all too well how unhinged Trump is, than to remain silent isn't merely an act of complicity, as Flake pointed out, it is an act of treason that will be remembered long after his term in office is complete, assuming we live that long. The Democrats still have no unified strategy, and even if they did, they're in the minority, so they cannot force him out. The responsibility and burden for what happens rests squarely on the shoulders of Republicans.
I have never been much of an optimist. Indeed, I have been called a cynic by at least one friend. Do I think the GOP has it in them to save this country from the likes of Trump? Probably not. Indeed, some Senate and House Republicans are now calling for investigations into, you guessed it, Hillary Clinton. She's the gift that keeps on giving for these people. I predict that during the 2024 presidential election, we'll still be hearing about her emails.
Andrew Sullivan may have summed up the current crisis best:
The key is to sustain a sense of the urgency of the moment, a resolute refusal to accept this descent into an illiberal authoritarianism, and a decision to put all our differences aside for a year in order to mobilize a turnout next year that eclipses Obama’s. We have to turn the mid-terms into a presidential election. Sane Republicans need to vote for the Democrat. Leftists have to put aside their divisive identity politics. Liberals need to coalesce around a simple strategy - not impeaching but checking Trump decisively.Tall orders to be sure, but no taller than the overthrow of an imperial government or a successful lunar landing. We need another giant leap for mankind, and we need it now.
Wednesday, October 25, 2017
That was no ordinary speech Jeff Flake delivered on the floor of the Senate Tuesday. The only thing that comes remotely close is Elizabeth Warren's now epic "Moment in the Sun" speech from 2014, in which she took on not only Wall Street but her own party in a manner that would've made Frank Capra blush with pride.
What Flake did was historic and unparalleled in American politics. He didn't just challenge a sitting president, or even his own party; he challenged the entire country as a whole. He didn't mince his words in the seventeen plus minutes he spoke. No hedging of bets or halfway measures. He was blunt and to the point, even if at times his voice crackled just a bit, as if he were delivering the eulogy of a dear friend. That friend being the United States of America.
Do not simply read the transcript; listen to it. Listen to ALL of it. And do not simply dismiss this speech as merely the parting shot of a lame duck senator who finally has the freedom to speak his mind because he knows he doesn't have to run again. In today's GOP, the courage to speak one's mind is as rare as a palm tree at the Arctic Circle. Look also past the obvious policy disagreements you may have with Flake. He is, despite what the wing nuts may say about him, an avout conservative who fervently believes in self-sufficiency, limited government, low taxes and equally low regulations. On any given day he would be a formidable opponent for the Democrats.
But this was not any given day; not by a long shot. While he may not have spoken as eloquently as Barack Obama, or as passionately as Warren or Bernie, the totality of what Flake said will continue to reverberate long after he and everyone we know is gone from this Earth. This was Lincoln at Gettysburg, only longer. I'm not kidding. The parallels are striking. Both men spoke of the deep divisions within the country. And while the Civil War claimed millions of lives and split the country in two, the divisions we now face are no less of a threat to the Union that Lincoln eventually gave his life to preserve.
And while I am hesitant to highlight any one part or parts of the speech - it was that good - two passages stand out. The first is aimed directly at Flake's own party; the second at all of us.
When we remain silent and fail to act when we know that that silence and inaction is the wrong thing to do -- because of political considerations, because we might make enemies, because we might alienate the base, because we might provoke a primary challenge, because ad infinitum, ad nauseum -- when we succumb to those considerations in spite of what should be greater considerations and imperatives in defense of the institutions of our liberty, then we dishonor our principles and forsake our obligations. Those things are far more important than politics.
There is an undeniable potency to a populist appeal -- but mischaracterizing or misunderstanding our problems and giving in to the impulse to scapegoat and belittle threatens to turn us into a fearful, backward-looking people.This populist appeal is the driving force behind Donald Trump's success, and to a certain extent, behind Bernie's as well. Make no mistake about it, but for the xenophobia, sexism and megalomania, Trump could've run as a Democrat and won. Not all backward-looking people are registered Republicans; some are independents who vote for "antiestablishment" candidates like Sanders. And they're not going anywhere.
This isn't just a Republican crisis, or a Democratic crisis; it's a national crisis. The inability of the people to fully comprehend the extent of the problems that beset them, coupled by a dearth of credible solutions to those problems has created the very "vacuum" that allowed Trump to rise to power. The corruption that has plagued both parties was perceived by the electorate as a cancer that only his tonic could cure.
In a sense, what Flake is doing is laying down the gauntlet, not just for members of his own party, but for all of us. He isn't just speaking out against Trump, like so many Democrats seem hellbent on doing; he's calling for an anti Trump to rise up and save the Republic. He will not be complicit and neither should we.
Much has been written about the flagrant lies that Donald Trump has told over the last two and a half years. Indeed, the Washington Post has compiled a tally of them. At present, it is well over a thousand since he was sworn in. But here's the thing to remember: it's only a lie if people think it's a lie. And to the people who voted for and continue to support him, Trump is as innocent as a newborn baby. Pointing out the number of lies he tells only helps him to solidify the hold he has over these people. Like any good despot, he revels in undermining the very institutions that have historically defined the nation. The more they attack him, the more secure his position becomes.
If there is an anti Trump out there, he or she will have to craft a positive vision for America that brings hope to the hopeless, encouragement to the frightened and a safe haven to the lost. Healing the wounds that separate us will not be an easy task. Sadly, I am not nearly as optimistic as Flake that "this spell will eventually break." We could be in a for a very long and painful ride.
Lincoln spoke of our better angels; Jeff Flake referenced them in his speech. Now it is up to us to resurrect them before it's too late.