Showing posts with label Kirsten Gillibrand. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Kirsten Gillibrand. Show all posts

Monday, January 28, 2019

A Crisis of Hearts and Minds in the Democratic Party

(Pelosi and Schumer respond to Trump’s Oval Office speech / Image Credit: NBC News)

“If history repeats itself, and the unexpected always happens, how incapable must Man be of learning from experience.” 
-George Bernard Shaw

Wayne Messam is running for President in 2020 against Donald Trump. Who? Exactly.

That, in a nutshell, defines the core problem the Democratic Party will face in 2020. Almost every mayor, senator, governor, congresswoman and man believes he can take on President Trump and that she alone is the best candidate to defeat the incumbent. I remember remarking about the demise of the Republican Party when 18 candidates ran in the 2016 primaries. That was a clear indication of a group with too many Indians and no Chiefs. At last count, we had 55 potential Democratic presidential candidates. I am just grateful that Michael Avenatti, the self-proclaimed Trump on the left and Stormy Daniels lawyer, dropped out of the race after facing multiple accusations of sexual assault.

Put it this way: if we thought the battle between Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton was ugly and exposed deep rifts within the base, then I suspect the 2016 primary will feel like a Disney movie compared to what we will witness in the 2020 primaries.

Democratic candidates are already stumbling over each other to showcase their lack of judgement and discredit the front runner, Joe Biden; whether it is Elizabeth Warren’s attempt to prove her Native American heritage with a DNA test or Corey Booker’s Spartacus moment during the Brett Kavanaugh hearings. Curiously, a few days after some of the progressive favourites announced their bid for the Presidency, media stories started showing up about Biden taking $200,000 for stumping for a Republican candidate and about his role in the much-maligned Clinton-era crime policies which resulted in a disproportionate number of people of colour being incarcerated for minor drug-related offences.

At the other end of the spectrum we have Kirsten Gillibrand, who announced her Presidential bid on a late night comedy show and Kamala Harris, both desperately trying to grow their likeability with younger voters. Ms. Harris released well-designed campaign merchandise with a catchy tagline, and is also taking on the new age social media darlings like Beto O’Rourke (who is expected to run) with a video of her dancing to a Cardi B song. No word yet on whether Ms. Harris will release a viral video on serious policy positions.

The problem is that when you have so many candidates with such minor policy differences, it is impossible for voters to differentiate, and candidates need to find extreme ways to stand out against the crowd. Outrageousness is exactly what helped Trump come out on top and ensured that the entire GOP narrative during the campaign and primary debates was focused more on size of manhood and pussy’ grabbing, versus substantive policy discussions.

I have written previously about how Republican’s moral blindness and abandonment of core Conservative principles during the Bush, Jr. years resulted in an internal civil war. No question that the cracks had been building for many years before, but the Bush years were the final straw, and it led to the rise of the rebel and anti-establishment Tea Party.

The freedom caucus, as they are now called, was responsible for pushing out moderate Republicans like Speaker John Boehner and House Majority leader Eric Cantor (who was defeated in a primary), and is entirely responsible for the GOP dysfunction we witnessed during the Obama years. Their antics of ‘no compromise’ without any goal or unifying vision left their party defenseless and wide open for a hostile takeover by Donald Trump. Now, the Democrats, rather than learn the lessons from the demise of the GOP, seem poised to repeat history, within their own ranks.

Much like the Republican Party, the rift we see inside the Democratic Party has been growing for a number of years and is not sudden. While Bernie did not cause this rift, his anti-establishment campaign did ignite and light the match with young Millennials who were feeling disillusioned with Obama. By going after Hillary Clinton, Bernie also took on the ageing Democratic ‘establishment’ and old guard who many felt had unfairly chosen Obama’s successor without consulting the younger, more progressive and diverse Democratic base.

The fact is that the Democratic party was already broken and hopelessly divided when Obama won his first nomination; in fact he too had defied and defeated the establishment by running against Hillary Clinton, and his primary victory simply hobbled an already weak party.

To win his primary battle against Hillary, Obama knew he needed to go around the party machinery. This is why he created Organising for Action; “OFA was created as a shadow party because Obama operatives had no faith in state parties,” according to Nebraska Democratic Party Chair Jane KleebAs a result, during the Obama years there was a massive erosion of power in state legislatures, congressional districts and governor’s mansions.

At the start of Obama’s first term, Democrats controlled 59 percent of state legislatures, by the end it was down to 31percent; the lowest percentage for the party since the turn of the 20th century. Democrats held 29 governor’s offices at the beginning of his term and by the end they had only 16; the party’s lowest number since 1920. There is no question that, while Obama himself was popular, his persona transcended the party and did not trickle down the ballot. His was a coalition built less on party unity and more on personal charisma, optimism and the idea of tearing down racial barriers. Large numbers of people who came out to vote for him were voting for the first time, and many were minorities who had not voted in a long time.

In 2016, Hillary failed to bring together the same voting coalition that helped Obama win office. Millennials, deeply disappointed with Obama for not being progressive enough, broke for Bernie and many older blue collar voters who voted twice for Obama, and had not cast a vote for a Republican presidential nominee beforebroke for Trump because they felt completely ignored and betrayed by Democrats. Of course, we cannot negate Hillary’s own long-standing establishment baggage and deeply polarizing personality. We also have to credit Trump for reading the depth of frustration among working class white voters, a group who had long been the core of the Democratic base. There is no doubt Trump’s message was deeply divisive, but that fact remains that he was the only candidate speaking directly to them.

After the 2016 election, I hoped the Democratic Party leadership would take time to introspect, listen with humility and then forge a new platform for the American people for 2020, one built on ideas, and not ideology rooted in identity politics. Yet, two years on, the dysfunction and factionalism within the base and party seem to have grown deeper and wider, and with their unhealthy obsession to remove Trump from office by any means, it is clear Democrats learned nothing from their humiliating 2016 election defeat.

In fact, it feels like every corner of the Democratic coalition is self-destructing or tearing itself apart in some manner. The Women’s March organisation, a powerful activist group within the base, which was formed by a diverse group of women as an act of resistance to Trump’s misogyny, had a rift in its very first meeting. Apparently, it began when the black and Latino women told their Jewish counterpart that “Jews needed to confront their own role in racism”.

Rather than find ways to unify, it seems the divisions from this first meeting only continued to grow over the past year and finally blew into full public view this year with charges of anti-Semitism roiling the movement and overshadowing plans for more marches. This rift eventually led to marches being cancelled in some cities, and three competing marches being held in New York City.

Then there is the Bernie wing of the party, who call themselves Democratic Socialists, which is represented by young, outspoken leaders like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. This group genuinely believes their time has come. 2016 was the first time since Gallup has been asking this question that a majority of “Democrats had a more positive view of socialism than they did of capitalism. Much like the Freedom Caucus, this is a rebel group that is intent on remaking the soul of the Democratic Party from the inside. In a recent interview with Five-Thirty Eight, Waleed Shahid, a Bernie Sanders campaign alumni who recruits progressive candidates for Congress, was asked if this far-left group was the equivalent of the House Freedom Caucus, his answer was unequivocal: “Yes, it is”.

One could argue that the Democrats seem united, having selected Nancy Pelosi as speaker, whom the new left was totally against, and having withstood the government shutdown as a cohesive unit. The problem is that this unity is an illusion because it is driven entirely by a shared hatred of Donald Trump, and not built on a unifying vision or faith in leadership. Hate is never a reliable adhesive for long-term unity and it just corrodes the vessel it is carried in.

Democrats will not win in 2020 by simply being the anti-Trump party, again. Hillary Clinton spent all her time and energy vilifying Trump, rather than offer Americans ideas and solutions and we all know how that movie ended. Nor will they win if they cannot clearly articulate what they stand for, and they would do well to remember that a house divided is a house that can be conquered.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

The Political Silly Season

“I'm not a witch. I'm nothing you've heard. I'm you. None of us are perfect...”
Christine O'Donnell

This quote is not from a spoof on Saturday Night Live or Sabrina the Teen Witch trying to make new friends in high school, but the opening lines uttered in an advertisement being run by a candidate who is running on the Republican Party ticket for the Delaware US Senate seat. Don’t get me wrong. Given how broken Washington is these days, I am even willing to give witchcraft a shot – hell, it could not make things worse. As for candidates, forget about being perfect. What troubles me greatly is not isolated cases of people dabbling in witchcraft, but that all of them seem to lack even the most basic qualities of leadership. I am talking about clear, rational thinking, problem solving skills and an ability to articulate their positions. Case in point is the New York Governor’s race where we have one man who wears black gloves, and represents the ‘Rent is 2 Damn High’ party, and even a self-confessed Madam who professed rather astutely that "businesses will leave this state quicker than Carl Paladino at a gay bar." I guess at least she does have some indirect gubernatorial experience, having supplied female escorts to the last Governor of New York, which is more than we can say about any of the other candidates. The recent debate also included a former Black Panther member, Freedom Party, Green Party and Libertarian Party candidates. Then, on the Republican ticket, we have Carl Paladino, who it seems is willing to “take out” reporters when he is angered about being questioned about his love child. He has also stated that he believes homosexuality is a bad life decision and one that children should be taught and encouraged not to make. Finally, we have Andrew Cuomo, the Democrat and consummate politician. His father was the first Italian American Governor of New York and he, too, has spent his entire life in politics. A fact that should have been a great weakness and Achilles heel for him, at a time when the one thing the whole country agrees on is getting rid of career politicians. You know something is very wrong when, in this environment, Cuomo seems like not just the sane choice for NY Governor, but the only one.

Everywhere I look I see voters being asked to choose between mediocre and less mediocre, corrupt and less corrupt, sane and less sane candidates.  In Connecticut there is a Democrat running for Senate who misspoke about his military service; but it seems he misspoke on five separate occasions over as many years. Richard Blumenthal claimed he served in Vietnam when in fact he never left the shores of America. I realise there is a very fine line between politics and lying, but how do you trust a man who has a tendency to misspeak until he is caught doing it? On the other side we have Linda McMahon, who has reportedly spent upwards of $42 million of her personal fortune to make her bid for the Senate seat in the old fashioned manner – by buying her way in. She is the owner and was the CEO of World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE), which she and her husband built from a small regional company into a global multi-billion dollar empire. A self-made woman but one who is also widely criticized for her decision to classify all wrestlers working for her company as independent contractors rather than employees, purely so that her company would not have to shell out for their Social Security, Medicare, and unemployment insurance. Perhaps, we do need some cut throat, no bullshit, take no prisoners type people to break the current deadlock in Washington and get this country moving again, but my problem is, again, that on the issues that matter to me, I have not been inspired by her. I also do not get a sense that she has a plan or vision. It feels more like she is seizing on the current voter anger and discontent against establishment politicians and using it as an opportunity to fulfil some personal milestone of a type A personality. I am not convinced that we are in good hands with her, but still encourage people to vote for her as she is certainly a better choice over someone who blatantly lies.

I want to move now to the race that personifies mediocrity, nay, in fact it takes mediocrity to another even more shallow level that I once never imagined possible. If you have not figured it out yet, I am talking about Nevada’s Senate race between Harry Reid and Sharron Angle. These candidates have much more in common that the political pundits have given them credit for. For one, each is not only running against the other, but has the added distinction of running against himself and herself. If you think Joe Biden has foot in mouth, then you need to hear some of the gaffes these two have made. While there are too many to list individually, I did pick my favourite gem from each candidate. Angle, during the primary, said that she wanted to “phase out both Social Security and Medicare.” Reid for his contribution stated that Obama was likely to succeed because he is "light skinned" and speaks with "no Negro dialect." Angle has also shown that she has one of the Democratic Party’s strongest traits - snatching victory from the jaws of defeat. When Angle won the Republican primary a few months ago Harry Reid looked like very old toast, but today it’s a really tight race. I feel sorry for Nevadans, but then again it is the home of Las Vegas, and the people of this state have always loved a blind roll of the dice.

Back in New York, we have Mr. Charles B. Rangel, the 80 year old member of the US House of Representatives who serves New York’s 15th District, and has served it since 1971. Since 1971! This means he has held his current office for close to 40 years and nearly served 20 consecutive terms. The House Ethics committee recently charged him with violating 13 ethics and federal regulations. Serious charges that include misusing his office to raise millions for a college building bearing his name, failing to report income tax on properties he owns, and using a rent-stabilized apartment in Harlem as an office while stating that it was for living purposes. Rather than do the honourable thing and resign to clear his name, he has not even made an attempt to explain the charges against him. Instead, Mr. Rangel decided his best defense was offense. He stood up on the floor of the House of Representatives and challenged members of both parties to kick him out. He defiantly told them that if they think he is guilty of violating House rules, then "fire your best shot at getting rid of me through expulsion." He then proceeded to hold a very public and lavish 80th birthday party at New York’s exclusive Plaza Hotel. I am not sure what shocked me more; the fact that he genuinely seems to think he did nothing wrong or that members of both parties have so many corrupt, dirty little skeletons in their own closets that they have quietly faded into the night hoping voters will be the judge and jury for Mr. Rangel.

Finally, there is the junior Senator from New York, Kirsten Gillibrand and all the endorsements she has received during her short term. She filled Hillary Clinton’s vacated Senate seat by special appointment and is now up for re-election. While Mayor Bloomberg recently stated that he will not endorse either Schumer or Gillibrand, he was clearly dazzled by her at a dinner the other night, enough to give her attractiveness a solid endorsement. He told the media, “I did not ask her where her dress came from or anything, but she’s a pleasure to sit next to and she certainly looked good.” Earlier this year Harry Reid, the Senate Majority leader, lauded Gillibrand for being the “hottest member” in the Senate. This seems to be the general consensus on Gillibrand’s service so far. When Gov.Paterson, who is legally blind, was asked by a reporter for his assessment of Gillibrand’s appearance, he replied "Well, I never noticed it, but upon information and belief she is a very pretty woman.” And he added “I think her real influence on people has been in the areas of agriculture and in the areas of national security and in the areas of finance, where she is real hot.”

My advice to all you voters is to go ahead and vote for the wrestler, the witch and the wardrobe. Even if they don’t change a damn thing in Washington, they certainly cannot make things any worse. Besides, we would at least be far more entertained while we continue to watch our tax dollars being used for wasteful spending and corporate bailouts, and we would have much better looking people to hate. And that folks is progress in my book!