The Democratic Party – An Identity Crisis

WTF
Sadly, this is not from the Onion. This was a genuine attempt at messaging from DCCC. Folks, we’ve got some work to do….

An exchange I had on January 19th, 2017 in front of the Trump building where tens of thousands of New Yorkers gathered on the last night of the Obama Presidency and before the Trump Presidency began.

Me: No, no I’m not interested in the third party option, for a variety of reasons there are too many obstacles to that. We’ve gotta reform the Democratic Party from within and/or take it over.

Activist: Yeah, good luck with that…

When history is written, I’ll probably end up being on the wrong side of the argument, at least on January 19th. That is, I will be if things don’t change in a hurry.

While no analysis of how we got here is perfect (although the impeccable “Listen, Liberal!” by Thomas Frank gets close), here is my quick rundown of the top ten “Shatter-points” in the history of the Democratic Party that got them to this point. This is meant to be observational. I morally agree with a few of these developments (Civil Rights and Voting Rights, the need to protest and end the Vietnam War).

  1. Taft-Hartley (1948) | Right-to-work legislation is now on the table and begins in earnest.
  2. The Civil Rights and Voting Rights Act (LBJ’s quote: “we’ve just lost the south for a generation.” That proved to be mostly true, as no Democrat was able to win a national election without hailing from the south until Barack Obama won with parts of the “new south” like Virginia and North Carolina).
  3. Assassinations of 1960s political and moral leaders (JFK, Bobby, MLK Jr., Malcolm X, Fred Hampton).
  4. The Vietnam War (Considerable domestic unrest, a significant generational divide reared its head during 1968, not unlike what happened last year.  The ’68 campaign cycle is still above and beyond ’16, which was more so depressing because of most of the candidates, and the way the media covered the campaigns, etc.)
  5. Rejecting figures like Ralph Nader (who at one time was one of the most admired figures in America in the late 60’s/early 70’s) and small-d democracy in general. Not putting Nader on the ’72 ticket was but an illustration, the more precise problem was pushing his mindset out of the party in general. There is no doubt the ’72 defeat was crushing, but the Democratic Party overreacted to it. McGovern did not lose because he was too far left, he lost because he was not a good national candidate, ran a bad campaign, and was facing the best and most shrewd politician of his generation in Nixon. Did you see the GOP overreact and moderate themselves in the long run after Barry Goldwater was crushed in ’64? No. They stuck to their principles and in the long run were rewarded for it).
  6. Carter bailing on labor, Clinton bailing on labor. (Both post-New Deal-era Democratic Presidents hailed from the south, which was never a strong base for organized labor, but that doesn’t excuse the party becoming less and less friendly to one of its most reliable constituencies historically. Free trade policies like NAFTA ensured organized labor had no place to go in American politics and their long decline would continue. Labor today stands at just over 11 percent (from a point where 1/3 of all workers belonged to a union, as high as 40% in the manufacturing belt of the Midwest and Great Lakes states at on time) and just like post-NAFTA, stands at a crossroads themselves.
  7. Clinton triangulating on a plethora of bad policies that directly punishes reliable democratic constituencies (NAFTA, Crime Bill, Ending Welfare as we know it, Financial De-Regulation, and Tele-communications De-Regulation which ensured the AM talk radio and cable news dominance for the next generation). At the end of the day, Bill Clinton deserves a lot of blame for some incredibly short-term thinking that may have benefited his popularity personally and politically at the time, but in the long run ruined the Democratic Party. There may be a lot of ink spent on how many seats were lost during the Obama years, but the damage was already done, and former President Barack Obama mostly inherited a Clintonian Democratic Party that was built around Bill and built around Hillary taking over the White House in a Clinton restoration in 2008…or 2016…or 2020?
  8. Doubling-down on the Corporate Alliance (Wall Street, Big Pharma, Big Auto, Big Tech, Big Everything, against the Little People) In the late 70s the Democratic Party began openly courting corporate sources for campaign funding. One of the key issues that gave Obama momentum during the ’08 primary was refusing Super-PAC money early on. The party itself ended its ban on corporate lobbyist and Super-PAC money late in the Obama years, in anticipation of President HRC.
  9. Failing to Cultivate the Young Talent and Build the Farm from the Obama years. Ultimately, it was the ground effort and labor of the millennial generation that put Obama over the top in Iowa in 2008. And then in the general election. The Democratic Party has failed to cultivate its young leaders, paying only lip service to this. “Lip service” is a continuing theme with the Democratic Party of the 21st century. Whether it is about the problems facing an indebted generation, ending forever war, the corporate takeover of the country, or racial equity. What strong talk there is on these issues is often not backed up by strong actions.
  10. And finally, yes, I’m sorry, but going with Clinton over Sanders was a mistake. (It is my belief that Bernie Sanders, if nominated, would have won, and his coattails could have been substantial, perhaps saving the party from the rock bottom that this website has consistently predicted was around the corner. The Democratic Party should have listening to its younger members which overwhelming went with Sanders across-the-board, the members they have failed to cultivate, and in-fact are more likely to attack these days.)
Sigh...
What could have been.

And as a bonus: lets be honest — there simply is no “membership” in the Democratic Party.

Populism is associated with President Trump right now, and that is a shame. Because populism isn’t a political ideology, it is a mode and theory of who is going to be empowered and where influence will come from and be most respected.

The simplest explanation of how we got to where we are is the GOP embracing its populist movements, no matter how uncomfortable it may have made the GOP elites, and the Democratic Party refusing to embrace its own populist movements like Occupy Wall Street and Black Lives Matter. Depressing turnout among the progressive base and youth, and running campaigns that are characterized more so by what you are not, rather than what you are and what you stand for, and will do, is what has created the current situation. The voices and so-called membership of the Democratic Party refuse to listen and simply do not get it. Anyone who has attended fundraisers or meetings knows what I’m talking about. It’s a very top-down led party that does not deal with criticism well and as is incredibly evident in 2017–refuses to do the soul searching that is necessary after historical defeats.

In addition to this top-down, failed strategy, the Democratic Party has become a “fundraising machine” of coastal elites.

If it wants to survive — it has to become a movement. It must embrace movement progressivism the same way the GOP embraced movement conservatism.

If you think I’m being too harsh, come back next week as I take down the GOP from top to bottom. I’m writing these words out of love for my country and its people. Any political system that produces these results must be thoroughly analyzed and criticized across the board.

This is not about Hillary Clinton (who full disclosure, I fully expect will run again in 2020 because my wife has a bizarre track record of being right about these things). In a lot of ways and in some parts of the country, HRC is more popular than the party brand itself. Take a look at the 30 million dollar special election in Georgia. Jon Ossoff, a millennial, who ran on meaningless platitudes of everything being “connected”, the need cut wasteful spending, all while refusing to endorse popular policies progressives and other Americans support like single payer, tax hikes on the wealthy, and ending big money in politics. Ossoff, despite all of the money and the attention, lost by a larger margin than Hillary did in the district. The Democrats have tried to message these closer losses than before as “moral victories” rather than an indictment of establishment politics, corporate neoliberalism, or the generational and ruling class consensus. I’m sure Jon is a nice guy, but there will be no big millennial turnout to reverse the direction of the country if millennials are not allowed to run on what most millennials actually prefer. If young candidates run to please the establishment and status quo it won’t work.

But lets end with something productive — where do we go from here? There are two paths the progressive movement can go, and the answer can be BOTH.

 

Plan A: Take the grassroots movement, and eventually go through the Democratic Party as the vessel (50 states, 3000 counties, primary Corporate Democrats, don’t listen to the Chuck Schumer or Nancy Pelosi’s of the world, etc.)

Plan B: The viable third party movement path (a combination of Draft Bernie for a People’s Party, adding and creating a coalition with WFP, who exist in 13 states, the Green Party, Progressive Democrats of America, and non-party affiliated issue-based movements, in addition to realizing the two fundamental loopholes the two party system has never covered up: 1. There is nothing that binds a state or local party org to its national organization. In other words, if progressives takeover the Wyoming Democratic Party, they can later attach themselves to the People’s Party AND 2. Just because a progressive candidate goes through the Democratic or Republican primaries to win, does not mean they have to continue to stay there. If turncoats like the IDC in New York state can block needed electoral and voting reforms, single-payer healthcare in NY State, why not just pull off the opposite?)

I’ll end with former Labor Secretary Robert Reich’s 8 point plan for a new Democratic Party (pay close attention to number 8)

1. Overhaul the DNC
2. Embrace populism
3. Mobilize, energize and educate the base
4. Expose Trump as a fraud
5. Focus on 2018 now
6. Look to the state and local level
7. Protect groups threatened by Trump
8. Failing all else, look outside the party

We will disagree in many measures, but one thing we all must agree on is this — “change will not come from the Democratic Party, change can only be brought to it.”

If we continue on the same path, if we listen to what Mark Penn wants to do (NY Times July 6th op-ed “Back to the Center, Democrats“), not only will Donald Trump be re-elected, but the incredibly deep bench of younger GOP national candidates could very well win in 2024.

This should go without saying but nobody should listen to Mark Penn, who is more interested in protecting his consultancy than improving outcomes for all Americans.

We should listen to the youth, and let them build a movement that has a realistic plan to deal with the dangers and realities of the 21st century.

Not just change we can believe in, but a future we can believe in.

Not just the Resistance, but Beyond Resistance.

Not just “mere politics”, but Beyond Politics, backed by a moral worldview and value-set that can then work its way toward the policies we’re fighting for.

Farewell Barry, and Thank You.

obama-article
Barack H. Obama, 44th President of the United States

New York, NY — The other night before going to bed I watched the Netflix original “Barry.” The film was a slice-of-life moment during Barack Obama’s years at Columbia undergrad in New York City.

Last night, I was barnstorming NYC going from protests to anti-inauguration networking events and fundraisers and meeting many people I have never met before. Like so many conversations with friends and complete strangers since November 8th, my faith in the basic decency of the American people was reinforced yet again. I don’t blame soon-to-be (and likely is as you read this) former President Barack Obama for believing in that same basic decency.

Six weeks ago, I had a dream I was a White House aide, serving at the pleasure of the President. It was the series finale of “West Wing: Obama Edition.” I was summoned into the Oval Office, not unlike Charlie Young often was for Jed Bartlet: “what would you have done differently, Troy?”

“Permission to speak freely Mr. President?”

“Granted”, replied the President, on his last night of service after eight years in office.

“Well Mr. President, I would have….pursued something big and grand first, but it would not have been health care reform. At least not if it is going to be the Heritage Foundation’s plan from the early-90s. I would have pursued a carbon tax, put a down payment on a 21st century green economy infrastructure, bailed out homeowners and people instead of big banks, and then given everything that I had to get the world to succeed at Copenhagen in ’09, the “true last best hope” to stem the tide and roll back the worst effects of climate change the world had. Out of those successes I would have then taken the political capital to try and pass single payer healthcare before the 2010 midterms.”

Perhaps we’ll all learn just like Barack that these things are just out of our grasp. Not possible within this political system. But I still have to believe, and hope. 

What I will always remember about the Obama years is something I can be reminded of every day in the friends and company that I keep. I think Time magazine summed it up years ago best…

The Obama victory was not so much about his generation — but the kids two generations behind him, the college kids and recent graduates, blissfully color-blind, who spent patient months as organizers out in the most rural counties… They reminded me, in classic, solipsistic boomer fashion, of my own generation of the remarkable political activists who went down to Mississippi to register black voters and marched against another war, and came to politics in the Robert Kennedy and Eugene McCarthy campaigns of 1968. That generation’s — my generation’s — passion gave us the propulsion to quickly move to the center of political life and the media. The end of their time — our time — in the driver’s seat may have begun in Iowa.

Whether or not Barack Obama goes on to win the nomination — and let’s not forget in the afterglow that this is truly an open question — his field army will endure and, because of their immense skill, they will bend the political process to their will in years to come. And years from now, when they meet in the corridors of power or academia or at the inevitable reunions, they’ll look at each other and smile, and they won’t even have to say the words: We did something amazing back in Iowa, on January 3, 2008, didn’t we?

– Joe Klein, Time Magazine

And this is the central Obama legacy. His policy legacy will very much be in doubt going forward — but the number of talented and inspiring young people that were brought into politics at a time when cynicism was high is what I truly believe will be the lasting legacy of the Obama years. I met so many great people helping get Barack Obama elected President and so many friendships were forged and strengthened.

Allan Branstiter. 

Pat Meacham.

Jered Weber.

Justin Norris.

Carson Starkey.

The list could go on, but I wanted to highlight these five friends and colleagues.

Allan Branstiter and I met in Fargo at an Obama event. He is an Iraq War vet, and in 2007 I revered Iraq War vets (I still do). I had always opposed the war but looked up to each and every veteran I knew. Allan made an immediate impact on me. On some level I must have made an impression on him because he asked me to help him out on his state senate campaign in North Dakota. He was nominated by the Dem-NPL. He said, “you have more connections than I do and I’ll need all the help I can get.” What Allan did not know at the time was that I probably barely had any more connections than he did.

Pat Meacham I have known for years but as you’ll see from the photo below — we spent some time in Iowa together in 2007 and 2010 campaigning and those photos below with then-Senator Obama and Michelle are hanging up at the Lakeside Tavern in Detroit Lakes, MN if you ever are strolling through that part of the country. It’s a wonderful place where I worked as a summer job during college. A lot of my work ethic was built at that place working double shifts with Pat, cooking and talking…dreaming about a better future.

Jered Weber was the only person who agreed to come down to Iowa with me in late ’07/’08 for the caucus because I had an almost fanatical belief that if Senator Obama won Iowa — he would become President. Jered and I struck up an immediate friendship over the campaign, our love of Star Wars, and being raised in small town America.

Justin Norris liked two candidates in the 2008 Democratic field a lot. Barack Obama and Joe Biden. Justin was the first politically involved person I met at Minnesota State and his encyclopedia-esque knowledge about U.S. History and Politics made me remark upon firs meeting him: “jeez, you’re a genius!” His response I will never forget — “nope, I’m just well read.”

I never knew Carson Starkey until my own Army deployment. He was finishing up undergrad while I was overseas. I saw him as basically doing “my story in reverse” and felt compelled to reach out to this humorist that was so dedicated to satire and sarcasm that he made Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert seem tame. If anyone is ever strolling through St. Paul, MN I highly recommend getting to know the Earl of Payne-Phalen.

What is the common thread that brought us together? Or the ties that bind? The Obama campaign and Presidency.

 

Four times I met the to-be President. Four times. Not gloating. But it happened. It turns out that in the end, I’m not much into hero worship. Barack Obama is no hero to me, and I’m no hero to anyone. The only heroes I’ve ever contemplated are the service members of the United States Armed Forces who gave the “last full measure of devotion.” Something tells me that even they would disagree that they are heroes.

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In addition to all the amazing and inspiring future leaders and public citizens I’ve met throughout the Obama years, I will also remember the words.

“Dreams from My Father” and “The Audacity of Hope” are how I will partly remember the Obama years and my role as an American citizen in them.

“Dreams from My Father” is ironically titled you could say, and is a journey a young Barack “Barry” Obama was on that was shaped more by the absence of a Father than anything else. The Obama campaign, like a few things before it, and many things since, gave me a purpose and family away from my own wonderful, but dysfunctional and imperfect family. It brought me back from youthful alienation and into the community of people. Got me away from thinking about just myself. I gave up my pursuit of happiness, because even Thomas Jefferson is not right about everything, and I embarked on a pursuit of joy, which is a far more fulfilling pursuit.

“The Audacity of Hope” was a remarkable journey as well. Where I met amazing people and experienced a Presidential campaign that brought me to three different states, thousands of conversations with people I otherwise would not have met, got me addicted to the “politics of joy”, and impacted my life in ways I’m still pulling together. In the end, Barack was right. “We are the ones we’ve been waiting for” all along. Not in an egotistical way, but in a democratic way. In the only way a democracy and a civil society can be made more perfect, or truly whole again. With a little help from your friends, asking a little bit more out of yourself, and walking amongst others in a spirit of solidarity, embarking on life’s journey, side by side.

 

Goodbye Barry, and Thank You for serving and inspiring us all to be better citizens.

In Order to Win the Future — We Must Rediscover the Past

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The above photograph (courtesy of either Jacqueline Van Moer or myself…I don’t remember) is Alexander Hamilton’s “the Grange” homestead. Hamilton completed this home a few years before he was famously shot by Aaron Burr, another New Yorker, in the famous duel just across the Hudson River from where we live. Hamilton, although born elsewhere, is the quintessential first generation American. Hard-working, enterprising, ambitious, and brilliant. He served as Aide-de-camp to General Washington during the American Revolution and was our nation’s first Treasury Secretary. You may recognize him from the ten dollar bill, and now Lin Manuel Miranda’s famous musical.

Full disclosure, I’m an amateur historian. But I’ve always read and loved history. Much of my private, personal (not academic or campaign experience) political education has been learned and read through a historical lens. I’ll do my best, but I’m no pro.

Agreeing Loudly dot com introduces you to two new historical series; one that will be locally-based, at least my version of local (New York), and the other a national story intended to give the read perspective on our ongoing, beleaguered, but bizarrely nonexistent national conversation.

I invite you all to help me out on this journey, and point things out that I am overlooking or may have missed. Give your thoughts and feedback and contribute, especially *actual* historian Allan Branstiter of “The Margin of Error” and a frequent “Agreeing Loudly” guest and contributor. As well as Justin Norris, especially for the latter half (discussed below).

Also, especially for longtime residents of NYC and NYS — feel free to join in on the conversation. Come one, come all, and bring friends.

For anyone friends, family, acquaintances, or readers that will be visiting the area — I’ll also try to use this space to recommend really good walking tours or double-decker bus tours that are affordable and valuable.

In the spirit of “piercing bubbles” I’d also like to invite any other amateur or professional historians to contribute to this site and explore their states in a similar or unique manner.

I’ll be covering the New York-focused series in two places: right here at AL.com in the form of longer articles and in more photographic and anecdotal form on Instagram @nycwalkinghistory – which will no doubt be changed to @nywalkingonhistory or @nyswalkingonhistory as goals are accomplished. What goals? Read below:

Double-decker bus tour in Manhattan and parts of Brooklyn.

Goal — in the next three years (2017, 2018, and 2019) — my beautiful wife, Jacki, and I (and sometimes just me) will be doing a walking historical tour on the streets of every neighborhood in the five boroughs of New York City. We’ve already covered nearly every neighborhood in the Borough of Manhattan, and have been pretty decent progress in the Bronx and Brooklyn as well. In the years to come, we’ll be covering the rest of Manhattan, the Bronx, and Brooklyn, as well as venturing past CitiField (where the New York Mets, my National League loyalties lie there) in Queens and getting out to Staten Island.

Furthermore, and especially as we get closer to covering every neighborhood in New York City, we’ll be venturing Upstate via the Hudson Valley and into Long Island past JFK airport and be doing for the 62 Counties of New York State what we did for the neighborhoods of New York City.

counties-of-nys
Unfortunately and unfairly, New York City hogs most of attention and spotlight in the public imagination (for understandable reasons). However, there is so much history in each and every county. A lot of it — I don’t even know yet, but I’m excited to find out. In addition to NYC, Long Island, and the Hudson Valley, you’ll find seven other main regions Upstate. I speculate (and we’ll see if I’m right) that the Finger Lakes area is not too different from the Lakes Area of Minnesota where I grew up. I’m also really excited to see Buffalo, NY — and see how similar it is to Duluth, MN, my only previous exposure to a Great Lakes city outside of Chicago, IL.

The second major historical running series that will begin relatively soon is the story of US History as told through Consequential Presidential Elections.

Ideally, I’ll get a bit of an assist from resident scholar Justin Norris, Carson Starkey, Allan Branstiter, etc. for this series. Once again, I’m an amateur historian. And I’ll do my best.

There will be no schedule and the new articles will be published as they are researched, completed, and edited. No time-table and no promises. But I promise this won’t become like Aaron Gleeman’s top 40 Twins of all time series.

A brief rundown of what elections and the time periods around them that I will be researching and writing on:

1800

(Jefferson v. Adams, and the first peaceful transfer of power)

1828

(Jackson v. Quincy Adams, and beginnings of the rural Democratic Party tradition)

1860

(Lincoln v. Douglass v. Breckenridge v. Bell, and the Civil War)

1896

(McKinley v. Jennings Bryan, and Populism on the Prairie)

1912

(Wilson v. Roosevelt v. Taft, the two party system holds, and the Grand Ole Party rejects progressivism for good)

1932

(FDR vs. Hoover, the New Deal, the new policy consensus, and the leader that history called for)

1960-1964-1968

(JFK v. Nixon, LBJ v. Goldwater, Humphrey v. Nixon, a New Generation, a second New Deal, the tumultuous year that was 1968, and the beginnings of the break-up of the New Deal coalition and the New Deal itself)

1980

(Reagan vs. Carter, American Optimism, the opening of an era of boomer short-sightedness, and the beginning of the end for the New Deal)

1992

(Clinton v. H.W. Bush v. Perot, the Democratic Party sells its soul to win back the White House, betrays working people and families, and the boomer Clinton Party triumphant)

2008

(Obama vs. McCain, History made, Opportunities Missed, and the first Information Age election)

 

2016: Challengers, Incumbents, and Successors.

by Troy M. Olson

It's the economy, stupid
Screen cap courtesy of the 1993 documentary The War Room, popularized by James Carville, top strategist for Bill Clinton on the 1992 Presidential campaign.

One of the most fascinating aspects to the 2016 Presidential campaign thus far is the shakeup in the traditional breakdown of Presidential campaign politics.

Historically, Presidential runs have fallen into three types of campaigns: the “challenger” campaign, the “incumbent” campaign, and the “successor” campaign. The differences are fairly self explanatory.

Challengers are from the political party that has not held the White House the last four years. Recent examples of this would be Barack Obama in 2008, Mitt Romney in 2012, or any Republican candidate for President this year.

Incumbents are one-term Presidents running for re-election. Recent examples of this would be Barack Obama in 2012 and George W. Bush in 2004.

Successors are candidates from the same political party as the President exiting the White House (or theoretically, stepping down after one full term for various reasons like LBJ did in 1968) and are running to try and keep their party in the White House. Recent examples of this are Al Gore in 2000, John McCain in 2008, and now Hillary Clinton in 2016.

Each type of Presidential campaign has different challenges and obstacles to overcome. Generally speaking, challenger candidates have the easiest path to the Presidency, incumbents have a tougher path, and successors have the most challenges and obstacles to the Presidency.

I don’t mean to minimize the path to the Presidency for challenger candidates, since every path to the Presidency is a long and arduous one. Any successful campaign requires not only not only solid planning and organizational abilities, but also name ID, a compelling narrative, money, and loyal followers. Any good candidate also needs to be resilient, flexible and—most important of all—needs a campaign that compliments their unique personality and public image. One of the main reasons the heavily-favored Hillary Clinton lost to Barack Obama in the 2008 Democratic Primary was that she ran more like an incumbent rather than the challenger candidate that she truly was (or at least should have positioned herself to be). By running like an incumbent she created unnecessary hurdles for herself.

This brings us to 2016: a successor campaign (the Democrat seeking to succeed Obama in the White House) vs. a challenger campaign (all the Republican candidates).

As mentioned in the “Case for Losing in 2016” article last week, history says it’s unlikely that the same party holds the White House for more than three consecutive terms, and it is actually quite hard to even win it for the third term, let alone a fourth time. That is because “successor” campaigns have the most obstacles and hurdles to clear. While the argument for re-electing a President is “stay the course, don’t change horses in mid-steam, etc.” the successor campaign has to make the case that “while we are changing horses now, let’s have the new horse going in the same direction.” If you have a relatively popular two-term President about to leave office, this would seem like a benefit, but the historical reality is always much more difficult.

In modern Presidential campaigns, sitting and former Vice Presidents have had trouble parlaying their position into the Presidency. Richard Nixon in 1960, Hubert Humphrey in 1968, George H.W. Bush in 1988, and Al Gore in 2000 all struggled to grasp what “type” of campaign they need to be running. Only Bush the Elder was able to capture the Presidency and succeed as a successor candidate.

Members of the same party but outside of the administration (Senate, Governor, or another official) have not fared much better, which I think explains Hillary’s troubles a great deal. Not only is she tied to the faults of the previous Democratic administration (Obama), she also is tied to the faults of Bill Clinton’s administration, while also receiving very little credit for the positive roles played. Historically, the successor candidacy is the toughest campaign to win, even if you have the institutional advantages of being the incumbent Vice President.

Constitutionally VP’s do very little, but throughout the last 70 years they have taken on more and more pet projects and policy responsibilities inside the White House. The degree to which the VP gets to actually do things depends greatly on their relationship with the President, but overall the office has come a long way from 1945 when Harry Truman came into office after the death of Franklin D. Roosevelt.

When Truman assumed the office, he had met Roosevelt in person only a few times. The new President had not been briefed at all on the post-War situation or the upcoming Potsdam conference. Perhaps most galling was the fact that he was completely unaware of the Manhattan Project and the looming atomic age. Through no fault of his own, Truman arguably inherited the worst possible situation in American history in terms of how prepared he was to take over the highest office in the land. Thankfully Presidential transitions, whether within the same party or the other major party, have improved a great deal since.

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In the 2016 Republican Primary, every candidate can credibly lay claim to the mantle of “challenger” candidate, except perhaps Jeb Bush, who (like Hillary Clinton) has characteristics of both incumbency and successor, which have hampered both of their campaigns from the start. In 2008, Clinton’s status as a former First Lady and a Senator who voted in favor of the Iraq War hindered her ability to position herself as a “challenger” candidate. In a “change” campaign, she looked more and more like a deposed Monarch, seeking to return to the throne. Jeb Bush has fared far worse on the Republican side in 2016. While Hillary has learned from several of her 2008 mistakes, while proving to be quite agile and resilient in 2016, she has not learned from all of them. Her team and organization, while better, still leaves a lot to be desired.

While Hillary is positioned well enough to be the first successful “successor” campaign since George H.W. Bush’s 1988 win over “challenger” Michael Dukakis, a more fresh-faced and upstart “challenger” candidate like Marco Rubio or a complete outsider-“challenger” candidate like Donald Trump would be a poor match in the early going. Many members of the Democratic establishment and voting base do not understand how perilous this election cycle is because of it. While Sanders has successfully positioned himself as the “challenger” candidate that he is, nominating him has its own downsides to it.

This is why early last year on the “Agreeing Loudly” podcast, I argued for who I thought was “the safe horse in midstream,” Vice President Joe Biden, who was torn between his private anguish and grief, and his sense of public duty. To me, Biden represented the most sure-fire candidate in 2016 because he had the support and record as VP to earn at least a term as President. A Biden presidency would have allowed the party a four year window to rebuild and create a deeper bench at every level all the way up to potential 2020 Presidential candidates. Instead, Democrats are left with a hotly contested primary and an extremely shallow pool of future candidates.

Understandably, Biden chose not to run in 2016. While I predicted at the end of the year that Hillary Clinton would win narrowly in the fall, I also explained this would weaken the future of the Democratic Party. This is not necessarily an argument to nominate Sanders, who I think would also lose in 2020 even if he managed to win in 2016. For Democrats, what is most important right now is to continue to have a substantive debate on the issues—like the very one Clinton and Sanders are currently having.

I cannot say the same, however, about Clinton and Sanders supporters. Divided generationally more than anything else, Democratic primary voters are throwing increasingly ridiculous accusations at each other.

We are in the beginning of a political age where all of the cynicism toward politics that began in the 1960’s and 1970’s has crescendoed into a rejection of our two-party system from within the two-party system, just as it has typically occurred throughout history. The rise of Sanders on left running on a plank of true egalitarianism, and the rise of Trump’s amateur big government paleo-conservativism on the right, is evidence of this fact.

Whether this leads to a slight shake-up of the sixth party system, or the eventual creation of a seventh party system, it will be sorted out in the next decade and a half. While the art of Presidential campaigning is somewhat in flux, a few things will never change. Presidential elections will often be about, “it’s the economy, stupid.” And Presidential campaign teams need to know who they are to the electorate—challengers, incumbents, or successors—and prepare the campaign’s messaging around that reality.

For Further Reading/Study on This Topic and Related Topics, Check Out:

Plouffe, David. The Audacity To Win: The Inside Story and Lessons of Barack Obama’s Historic Victory. New York: Viking-Penguin, 2009. Print.

Popkin, Samuel L. The Candidate: What It Takes to Win-And Hold-The White House. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2012. Print.

The War Room. Dir. Chris Hegedu and DA Pennebaker. Feat. James Carville and George Stephanopoulos. Universal/Focus Features, 1993. Film.

Conversations with the Ghost of America’s Future Past

America's Future Past

by Carson Starkey and Troy M. Olson

The following takes place during the hottest summer on record in the year 2028, breaking the previous record set all the way back in 2027.

On a lonely park bench, somewhere in between Main Street and Evergreen Terrace….

Carson

I suspect that President Rubio’s third round of tax cuts will be as popular as his first two. Who would’ve thought that voters would tolerate combined giveaways of seventeen trillion dollars over four years? And the Iran War? I mean, damn, fifteen trillion over ten years? Again, that seemed unthinkable after what should have been public relations catastrophes in Iraq and Afghanistan.

But I suppose when we relied on such roundly unpopular candidates like Hillary Clinton and Andrew Cuomo to oppose Republican policies, we got the outcomes that we deserved. I hope Presidential candidate Cory Booker and his Vice Presidential pick Mark Zuckerberg fare better.

Troy

Right. I keep thinking back to a bet I made with a longtime friend, he is a huge history buff and always thought my insistence that there would be a war with Iran was ridiculous because it lacked an appropriate and likely instigating event. But what was the Gulf of Tonkin? WMDs? It’s frustrating to see how incredibly bright people are not prepared rhetorically for what the powers that be want to actually do.

On the subject of Zuck, I think he would be a good strategic pick, although certainly a poor symbol and torch carrier for his generation. Or perhaps the perfect symbol? Simple electoral math tells us that adding up the Northeast and West Coast still gets you a loss. I do appreciate that he is more willing to espouse progressive values openly though. Booker has always been far too cautious. Afraid of offending people. It all started so promising for him with “Street Fight”.. sigh.

Carson

Well, Zuckerberg isn’t really a liberal. He gets in front of a reporter and spews meaningless word salad about innovation. He doesn’t really have a worldview. He has a set of opinions that he thinks are stylish at any given moment. And he believes deeply in “meritocracy” because America rewards people like him. Which is why he and Cory Booker sponsored lots of grift machine charter schools in Newark, New Jersey. Excuse my ferocious concept for Zuckerberg.

Troy

Agreed. I’m not saying Zuck is a great leader of people or anything. In fact, he is not particularly great at anything other than creating a multi-billion dollar company based around the principle that we should all be “peeping Tom’s.” That’s a hard sell, or maybe it’s not a hard sell at all… but credit where it is due.

I have personally observed one success story in charter schools, and it is pretty clear over the last few decades that one success story is all that grift needs to keep up the well-oiled machine running.

Carson

I sure wish that Democrats in the Senate had fought harder to oppose President Rubio’s nationwide privatization plan for metropolitan water supplies. I guess Dick Durbin and Chuck Schumer had other priorities than protecting people from lead poisoning. It is a damn shame that so many had to die.

Troy

Protecting people used to be the base level of governance and the state. I’m starting to think all those crazy anarcho-libertarian casuals from college were right. That being said, they are far too insufferable to give credit to. And of course, self-fulfilling prophecy.

Speaking of Schumer, it would be nice if the now-40 year old hipster class would show up during the primary. If we can’t get a progressive and advocate for working families elected in the state of NY the party is truly hopeless. Let the soul searching begin.

Carson

The hipster class talks a good game about social responsibility because they pay for useless shit at Whole Foods. At the same time, they were voting for Daley Jr., Rahm, Hillary, and Schumer. Ask them to pony up for infrastructure or housing integration, and they retreat to platitudes about freedom.

Troy

Right. We diagnosed the problem years ago. We need a better team, but what choice is there? We have no choice but to appreciate the last few white males that still vote for the Democratic Party. It speaks to the power of white privilege that even in their mathematical irrelevancy they still hold sway.

Carson

If only they could be appraised of their situation accurately. Illinois has produced some weird statewide results in the last two decades. Surface lefties in the Senate, but ultra-conservative Mayors and Governors.  Tammy Duckworth has become Durbin’s protege. They’ll have at least two more Republican Governors.

Troy

The sad reality of midterm leftist apathy.

Carson

And a Daley has reclaimed the city as rightful Irish property.

Troy

Ha. We could probably via political Dukes and Earls and economic royalists who fund them, make a map of the privatization of the United States. Replace Chicago with the “Realm of Daley”, etc.

Carson

So many errors. So little party building. Trusting Vice President Castro to take on immigration reform in 2017-18 was also a complete failure, but having that be plan-A, B, and C was the real failure. Too many articles and activists spouting off about “demographic inevitability” after the 2012 election.

Troy

All of this makes me think back to the final year of the Obama administration, if only we knew then how good we had it. And if only the political impacts of his Presidency did not blind millions of American leftists and young people to the importance of party building. Too much emphasis on the Presidency, at the expense of party building. In addition, an irrational belief that the other party saying crazy things will deliver you the Presidency in perpetuity when two-hundred plus years of American history says otherwise. All the wrong takeaways and lessons learned.

Carson

Amen.

What you just read may scare you, I know it scares me.

However, there is still something we can collectively do about it.

We can change the future…. if we try.

Remembering Paul Wellstone and his impact on my life 13 years later

by Patrick K. Meacham

Many things have been said about Senator Paul Wellstone. On the anniversary of his death I wanted to express how one day in my life was vastly impacted by the death of a man I had never met.

There I was, between thoughts of how long until my wife will let us leave the party and how bad will traffic be on I-94 heading home. I was hearing this millennial speak about all of his life defining moments that he has had in the 4 years since he graduated some fantastic, 3rd rate liberal arts college, that everyone has heard of but no one can remember an acquaintance that actually went there.

You can probably guess a few his life defining moments – hell, you’ve probably heard them from friends, thought about doing them yourself or actually had eerily similar life moments.

Turns out he backpacked through Europe after his freshman year of college – staying at hostels and “roughing it”. At one point he bought a $900 bottle of champagne in a Budapest strip club or was it somewhere near Munich…doesn’t matter. But existential…religious…architecture…something, he rambles on about as I dreadfully eye the naked ice cube void of the scotch it was swimming in two minutes ago. Now I’m wondering how I could afford to travel to Europe on a county paycheck, let alone at 19. All of my money went to Ron Diaz and Skoal in college. It helps, though, I suppose when mom and dad paid for your ticket, college and that apartment you dreadfully call a flat – YOU LIVE IN MINNEAPOLIS! Nobody calls it a flat – not even the the bartender at Brit’s Pub.

Next I begrudgingly learned that he up and quit his non-profit job because the company’s ideals didn’t meet up with his – and he became an organic farmer for a summer while contemplating joining the Peace Corp – which never happened. Oddly enough, I never did learn what he currently does for work. I envision him working in real estate or as a mortgage broker in some exurb that he commutes to an hour a day because it’s a stepping stone to his “real goal” of becoming the next Jack Dorsey or Nick Woodman.

As if that wasn’t enough for the man – and his manhood – he informs me that he just finished his first marathon last week. By that time I was dreaming of hooking the Laphroaig Quarter Cask up to an IV and peacefully drifting into a coma of solitude with hints of a peat bog, butterscotch, and vanilla. I came out of my imaginary coma to hear the end of his pontification on how confidence is everything and that I should and can accomplish the impossible. Which is odd considering we were just talking about marathons and I’m an obese white male with a history of bad knees and smoking.

About that time my wife tugged on her earlobe and gave the universal sign of let’s get the hell out of here – but it was too late – I had already fallen into the trap. It started with the wondering of why all of his life defining moments are all full of a synthetic, non-organic, predisposed occurrences and it consumed me on our walk through the parking lot. What are my life defining moments?

On the drive from Minneapolis to our home in the small bedroom community north of the Twin Cities that only Rockwell could paint and Keillor could put into prose – Mason Jennings was playing on The Current singing “The Ballad of Paul and Sheila”.

And it hit me…

Like a ton of fucking bricks – I knew what my single life defining moment was, and I was instantly brought back to that moment in time – I didn’t know it then but I knew it now

Thirteen years ago today, an 18 year old version of myself was lying on the 70’s fall floral patterned pullout couch in my parents basement enjoying one of my last free afternoons prior to hockey tryouts – and Peter Jennings came on with a special report that Senator Paul Wellstone had died in a plane crash outside of Eveleth, Minnesota.

My first election was 11 days away, my first political hero had died, and the nation’s progressive conscience was gone.

One of my life defining moments.

It was easy then and is still easier now to support a man that fought tirelessly for economic justice, health care, peace and the everyday underdogs in our society. I’m not ashamed to admit that 18 year old me was also intrigued by the thought of how a skinnier George Constanza became the liberal voice in the United States Senate.

Senator Wellstone was the only Senator with a tight reelection looming to vote against the Iraq Resolution. Many notable Democratic Senators (Clinton, Biden, Kerry, Reid, Schumer, Harkin, and Edwards to name a few of the 29 Democrats) voted for and sent our troops into the quagmire that was, became, and is Iraq. I didn’t know how much that vote would mean to me at the time but when a high school best friend is buried after being killed in the Anbar province – you get mad, you cry, and then you wish there were more people like both Senator Wellstone and Corporal Linden.

Bernie Sanders said on the 5th anniversary of Paul and Sheila’s deaths “he understood that the way you can win elections is by rallying ordinary people at the grassroots level. And perhaps that achievement, from a political perspective, will be what he will be most remembered for”. The legacy he left and the bridge that he built between protests and unrest to movements and political change is still being used today – the playbook on grassroots politics he wrote helped President Obama mobilize hoards of volunteers, phone bankers, and door knockers in 2008. Bernie Sanders himself is taking a page out of and benefiting from the Wellstone way of campaigning – it wouldn’t surprise me if Senator Sanders goes to bed with “The Conscience of a Liberal” on his night stand and “Winning Your Election the Wellstone Way” is required reading for his staffers.

Eight years after Senator Wellstone’s death, I was sitting next to a Mayor Betsy Hodges, then a city council member from Minneapolis, at a pizza restaurant in Duluth, Minnesota for an evening get-together for classmates and speakers of the graduate program that I was attending at the University of Minnesota Duluth.

Hodges asked where I was from and what I did when I wasn’t traveling 2 hours on a Friday afternoon for weekend graduate classes in Advocacy and Political Leadership. I tried to recite to her my elevator speech, and it felt like we could have climbed the IDS Tower and back while I fumbled through my background and resume. She then asked how a white male from northern Minnesota ends up coaching girls’ hockey, volunteering for Democratic Politics, and working with and advocating for individuals struggling with mental health and other challenges in an urban area.

I didn’t have to search for or fumble through an answer to this question “I guess, I like to fight for the underdogs – I learned it from Senator Wellstone”.

To me, one of my life defining moments is in what I said to Councilwomen Hodges and in what my life has become – and my attempt to adhere to my favorite Wellstone quote “live a life in which you don’t have to separate the life you live from the words you speak.”  It was that day 13 years ago that profoundly impacted my course through life since and hopefully it defines my life and the words I speak for rest of my life.