The Democratic Party – An Identity Crisis

WTF
Sadly, this is not from the Onion. This was a genuine attempt at messaging from the 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 the had 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 (political scientists keep telling the spectrum is real, but ask the average voter and they’ll look puzzled), 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 that 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 the post-NAFTA era, 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 Telecommunications De-Regulation all but ensuring the AM talk radio and cable news dominance for the next generation). At the end of the day, Bill Clinton (both his direct influence and mindset) 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 (both student and public) 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. The proof is in the outcomes.
  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 so much 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 in 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, and 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 and the change we need.

The Tragedy in Aleppo and the Assassination of the Russian Ambassador.

 

aleppo
The above map (sources indicated) and timeline speaks for itself. The situation in Syria, and especially in Aleppo is deep and complex, there are no good sides, no good or easy answers, and so far — nothing but tragic outcomes.

In the midst of the U.S. Presidential Election this year, nearly everyone in the media, and far too many Americans, have ignored the humanitarian catastrophe that is currently unfolding its latest tragic chapter in Syria. The city of Aleppo, which one or more candidates for the highest office in the land, were clueless about, at least in name (and probably many other areas as well). It has been unfolding for the last five years or so. Its roots go back even further.

We have ignored it, and this website, dedicated to cultural and political commentary, is no exception.

My first inklings of things going awfully wrong in Syria were during my deployment to the Middle East in 2011 and 2012. I, like most soldiers, was singularly focused on our specific mission or would-be missions at the time. However, throughout the ESNN (Enlisted Soldiers News Network) there were plenty of rumors about the situation exploding in Syria and worries over re-deployment there from where we were at in Kuwait (completely unfounded at the time of course). By the time I got back to the United States, and certainly after President Obama was re-elected, ISIS, or ISL, or the Islamic State, very much became a “thing” and a new “wedge” in American political discourse. Much of the discourse was hysterical and unfounded rhetoric, ill-informed and ignorant of the history in the region, let alone recent history. The Syrian civil war, is so complex, that I cannot even begin to explain it in this thousand word article. Instead–I’ll arrive at the timeless news of today. Thousands are dead in Aleppo, many of them innocent children. The complete and utter breakdown in humanity is staggering, and disappointing.

President Barack Obama is a great man, a great example to follow, but a good President. Not a great one.

There have only been three great Presidents — Washington, Lincoln, and FDR. President Obama, while historic, does not belong in the “great” category. He is Woodrow Wilson. Some great ideals, some of the right instincts, a professor-like image, certainly historical, but a lasting legacy that will be shaped more from what he is, rather than what he did or did not do. The Obama policy record on socio-cultural issues is comparatively strong, but very muddled and mixed on economic and foreign policy issues, which are issues the President has far more influence and control over. To be fair, he is still the best President of most of our lifetimes. To be fair to his overall foreign policy record: here are a few select areas where he did well:

  • He has removed over 3/4 the troop levels that he inherited from the Bush administration in Afghanistan and Iraq. While he incorrectly “surged” in Afghanistan in the beginning to do so, getting down to historically low levels of troops in the post-9/11 era is no small feat.
  • Despite lowering troop levels, through his use of special forces and our vast intelligence network, he oversaw the capture and killing of Osama bin Laden.
  • He has overseen a policy that has removed roughly 3/4 of the numbers of the Islamic State and suffered very few American casualties while doing so.
  • He understands “smart power” and the limits of American power in the 21st century. He likes to do foreign policy quietly, and he understands that patience is very, very important sometimes to achieve goals that exclusive use of military force cannot achieve.
  • He understands that it is only through using every tool in the toolbox: economic, diplomatic, and the military, that the U.S. can achieve or get closer to achieving its foreign policy goals.

President Obama was and still is a good foreign policy President, I strongly suspect history will be relatively kind to him, but he is most certainly not a great foreign policy President. Very few are.

**********

Turning back to the humanitarian catastrophe and breakdown of systems and humanity in Syria — there is no longer any running away from the fact that regarding the Syrian Civil War, the international community, regional organizations and power-players, and yes, the United States of America — has failed. This failure of leadership, includes our current President, Barack Obama. No one is safe from it.

Certainly, we’re all human and we make mistakes. A situation like Syria however, where a lack of leadership on the international stage has transpired, will only get worse and more frequent under a Trump administration.

Make no mistake about it — Pax America, for all its warts and faults, is dead.

There is still, however, a great need for solid American leadership on the world stage. There is a need for smart, effective, proportional, and humble American leadership.

For the next four to eight years at least, we will not have that.

Earlier today our time, the Russian ambassador to Turkey was assassinated in Ankara. A lone Turkish gunman stepped right out of a James Bond film, and shot and killed the Russian ambassador, shouting “don’t forget Aleppo!”

All acts of violence represent a failure in the human character and a failure of political systems to solve problems and disagreements. Russia and many others have failed humanity by propping up an Assad regime that is at least as terrible as the Saddam Hussein regime in Iraq that the United States spent more than $2 trillion on, at the cost of thousands of American soldiers’ lives, and well over a hundred thousand civilian lives.

The assassination of the Russian ambassador today is similarly reprehensible. However, it does not represent what Franz Ferdinand represented in the lead-up to World War I.

World War I was caused by many factors, the chief driving one, being nationalism and two power-blocs codifying that system of nationalism via treaties. In general terms — we can describe that as the world retreating to comfortable, but worn corners. That is also what is happening today. Be worried, but do not freak out and do not lose hope. Not only is the Russian ambassador not Franz Ferdinand–but Franz Ferdinand himself is not Franz Ferdinand. In 1914, only folks like Lord Grantham cared about Franz Ferdinand. Ferdinand represented the excuse to do what the powers that be wanted to do anyway. Remember this: large and powerful nation-states only go to war when they think they have something to gain. There is a country that looks like that today: Russia.

But it will not be now and it will not be here.

If you are now very concerned, you should have already been concerned. Russian aggression, combined with rising nationalism in Europe, and the world retreating to “comfortable, but worn corners”, has been going on for nearly a decade. Recent Russian aggressions in Ukraine, Georgia and the ones that will likely transpire in the future (next four to eight years), most likely in Latvia, Estonia, and Lithuania (all NATO  member-countries), should concern us all. I dearly hope I’m wrong about those last three predictions, but thus far, this website has a track record of being relatively right about political predictions, and ridiculously wrong about sports predictions.

Like the slow burn of the last decade or so, we will continue to see the rise of far right-wing, national front-type parties in Europe. And if that battle over the future of history is not fought now rhetorically at home, and abroad, I cannot promise anyone anything.

Sen. Tom Cotton “Gin” Focuses Attention on the Next War at GOP Convention

Tom Cotton Gin
Taking the stage Monday night, Sen. Tom Cotton “Gin” of Arkansas, argued forcefully to prepare the nation for War with Iran, as well as War against a roving band of sixth graders that have been terrorizing Front Street all summer.

Desperate to continue justifying the nations bloated “defense” budget, Senator Tom Cotton (R-AR), the GOP’s “rising star” took to the stage Monday night to briefly talk about why the nation should elect Donald Trump as its next President. After giving passing mention to why his years of experience as a reality T.V. star qualifies him to be commander in chief, Cotton, an Army veteran himself, argued passionately for re-arming the nation for the next fight: the War in Iran. However, he did not stop there.

Concerned that the Iran War will not equal the potency and excess in the defense budget that the nearly fifteen year long two-front Afghanistan-Iraq Wars have brought, he also highlighted a second enemy: the roving band of sixth graders on their bikes who have been loitering all summer around Front Street.

The mastery of the elementary school years by the numerous 11 and 12 year olds around the community has given newfound confidence and outright arrogance, to the incredible dismay of curmudgeons and pre-mudgeons everywhere. “I just wanted to enjoy my summer, yet here come these kids on their bikes and 32 ounce sodas rotting their teeth, and they just sit on those bikes, and I don’t what they’re up to…”, says Brian Kilmeke, an enthusiastic Cotton supporter who is already backing his 2020 Presidential bid just in case Trump is unable to make America great again…

“When I was that age you didn’t see us disrespecting elders like that, and acting all entitled, I seriously worry about kids these days”, Kilmeke added.

Sen. Cotton promised that not only would the defense coffers continue, but increasing the budget to meet the growing threat of “Icy Mountain Dew” gangs on Front Street across American cities and towns would a top goal of his administration…. I mean after Trump loses and all. In explaining his choice for the next abstract, impenetrable threat to America, Cotton offered these words: “I needed to create an enemy that is not only present everywhere, but also equally disliked John and Jane and union Joe too. Unless it is your kid on one of those bikes, those 12 year olds and their multi-colored freezies fit the bill. We’ll probably go after those who prefer purple, blue, and red first. Those are the best flavors. I can tell those are the leaders.”

Add this to throwing away the Iran Deal, starting a War with Iran, and ensuring a third and fourth round of tax cuts for billionaires, we can be assured that things are just getting started.

Missing the Crazy Forest for the Tree with a Silly Hair Piece and Orange Skin

by Carson Starkey

Treme you want to talk about a trombone

So you want to talk about “reasonable” alternatives to Donald Trump, who is an existential fascist evil without parallel, anywhere in American history? Maybe we should talk about a trombone first.

Let us read from The Gospel of David Simon, his letter to New Orleans, “Treme,” Season 1, Episode 5, as we examine our collective responsibility to one another in times of confusion. Toni Bernette (Melissa Leo) is a standard left-of-center respectable criminal defense attorney in post-Katrina New Orleans, seeking to retrieve a trombone that New Orleans police officers stole from her client Antoine Batiste (Wendell Pierce) after they smacked him around and arrested him (wildly overreacted with unnecessary violence) for disorderly conduct. She is delivering a morality lecture to chronically disappointed Lieutenant Terry Colson (David Morse) about the injustice. She finishes her complaint by pointing out that the purloined musical instrument is an instructive microcosm for below-average public services in New Orleans (#NiceThings #CantHaveEm). Lieutenant Colson responds by pointing out that the police officers are competing against widespread financial hardships, missing family members, and a wave of resurgent crime now that cleanup has begun in earnest. “We’re overwhelmed and underfunded. The crime is coming back and we’re not ready. But you wanna talk about a trombone…”

America is mired in stagnant wages, and has been since 1973 (and feel free to Google that whenever you want, because the Economic Policy Institute and the Center for Economic Policy both have nothing but time on their hands). We are burdened with the entirely unnecessary and avoidable debt, somewhere in the range of four to six trillion dollars worth (again, feel free to Google Joseph Stiglitz and Linda Bilmes), derived from two catastrophically stupid, unpopular wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. One of our two major political parties is overflowing with hysterical white nationalists, unapologetic financial criminals who believe that the rule of law only applies to black men who smoke/possess forbidden herbs, and religiously motivated sociopaths who desire wars with Iran, Syria, Iraq, Mexico, Canada, the country of Africa (as defined by Fox News or Sarah Palin), and Massachusetts. But you wanna frame the guy who sells ties and cologne at Macy’s as an existential threat…

When I say that one of the two major political parties is populated with unhinged, disreputable sociopaths, I’m not restricting that description to a handful of talk radio listeners who care passionately about Ted Nugent. The vast majority of American conservatives hold cartoonishly weird, dangerous ideas about public policies and governance. Allan Branstiter isn’t kidding when he says that your parents, and really all conservatives, will support Donald Trump, or any other self-proclaimed Republican candidate under any circumstances, no matter how preposterous, rather than vote for a treasonous-reverse racist-America-hating-welfare cheating-communist-socialist-terrorist (all one phrase, single breath) Demmycrat. We live in a society where nobody changes her/his mind. Which is why, in the course of the Obama years, we’ve witnessed American conservatives plummeting into previously unknown depths of shameful behavior. One especially painful narrative stands out for me. Remember that time when Republicans invited the Prime Minister of Israel to campaign for them in 2012 and 2015, with the sole message that what America needs is a war with Iran? So if you’re looking for a “reasonable” alternative to Donald Trump, you’ll have better luck finding a Super Bowl ring at the headquarters of the Minnesota Vikings. The non-Trump choices all worship at the Altar of Discredited Mythology.

To wit, while The Donald campaigns on his idea for a $9.5 trillion tax cut, Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio call for equally absurd tax cuts of $8.6 and $6.8 trillion, respectively (“We’ve Lost Sight of How Wildly Irresponsible the Republican Tax Plans Are,” Vox, Ezra Klein and Jeff Stein, February 25, 2016). Donald Trump has proposed, although we all know that this would never happen with Speaker Paul Ryan and Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, that we should invest trillions of dollars in domestic employment, denounced the Iraq War, and endorsed the broad contours of fair trade policies that would benefit American blue collar workers (“The shocking truth about Donald Trump: He’s actually the least terrifying GOP candidate,” Salon, Conor Lynch, September 3, 2015). Alternatively, Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio are both in strong agreement that they would abolish social insurance (presumably in separate legislation, which would seem unnecessary given the size of the millionaire welfare boondoggles that they propose). John “Medicaid Expansion” Kasich has spent most of his political career (when he wasn’t working for the eminently respectable institution of enlightened policy discourse, Fox News) attempting to criminalize collective bargaining, making contraception an endangered idea, and of course showering welfare checks onto wealthy people (“John Kasich Is No Moderate,” Salon, Luke Brinker, July 21, 2015).

So before you post another meme about the possibility of a Trump presidency being the end of America, take a moment to consider that you’re not original in your fears or thoughts. Plenty of other demagogues have come and gone. There’s a distinct possibility that The Donald has no intention of governing, and that this is all an elaborate plot to expand sales of his mediocre fashion products, as most conservative political machinations are expressions of subtle, highly intellectual satire designed to test the limits of cultural norms. Even if Trump does actually intend to win the 2016 presidential election, consider the fact that he makes Ted “Government Shutdown” Cruz and Marco “Eternal Warfare with All Muslims” Rubio look reasonable by comparison.

Do you still want to talk about a trombone?