Tag Archives: Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez

There Will Be Blood

What is so hard, what is so hard about saying that this is wrong?Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Democrat of New York, on the floor of the House during the debate over censuring Representative Paul Gosar, Republican of Arizona, for posting a violent video depicting him murdering Ocasio-Cortez and attacking President Joe Biden.

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Picture by Hilary Stone Ginsberg

Someone will be killed. People will die. The eagerness of some Republicans to portray violence against members of the opposite party and the willingness of most of the rest of the party to condone those depictions, inevitably, will lead to violence. Violence begets violence. Of that, there is no question. And, when the inevitable occurs, blood will be on the hands of virtually every Republican, including those who lacked the courage to say: This is wrong!

Ocasio-Cortez’s question was directed at Republican House Leader Kevin McCarthy, who once again demonstrated his willingness to tolerate violent and hateful speech and actions from members of his caucus. McCarthy has said nothing publicly about the cartoon Gosar posted on the Internet. McCarthy’s silence condones Gosar’s ugliness, encouraging the Arizonan and others to engage in more vileness while inviting actual violence. 

Make no mistake about it: Gosar’s posting endangers members of the Congress and the president of the United States. If anyone without the protection of a congressional seat posted a similar video, he or she would have had the Secret Service and the FBI at his or her doorstep in a split second. Threatening an official of the United States government is a felony. 

Gosar has not apologized for the video. He mocked what he called the “faux outrage,” which he finds “infantile.” He says,“The hyperventilating and shrill accusations that this cartoon is dangerous [is] laughable or intentionally hyperbolic.” In his defense on the House floor Wednesday, Gosar noted he took down the video — after three million views of it — and tried to portray himself as the victim. He vowed to “continue to speak out.” 

Only two Republicans — Liz Cheney of Wyoming and Adam Kinzinger of Illinois — voted with Democrats Wednesday to censure Gosar. No doubt many fear the anger of ultra-conservatives. Officials report that death threats against members of Congress have more than doubled in the last few years. Colorado Democrat Jason Crow says such threats “are unfortunately the reality of congressional life.” Ohio Republican Representative Anthony Gonzalez recently announced he would not seek reelection because of threats against him following his vote to impeach then-President Donald Trump. Gonzalez, who is 37, is leaving Congress after only two terms because of fears for the safety of his wife and young children.

Gonzalez is not exaggerating the danger. Representative Fred Upton, a Michigan Republican, received an obscene and violent voicemail in which the caller said, “I hope you die. I hope everybody in your fucking family dies.” Upton’s “crime”: He voted for the bipartisan infrastructure bill, along with 12 other House Republicans and 19 Republican Senators, including Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell.

It is, of course, extremely telling that what raises the ire of Republican right-wingers is not Gosar’s gross video but the votes of those 13 House Republicans. Apparently, doing the people’s business is now a crime on the right. Georgia Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene — who may be even nuttier than Gosar — said this about her colleagues: “Any Republican that votes yes to an infrastructure bill that helps Biden pass his agenda when bumbling Biden doesn’t even know what he’s doing, then that Republican is a traitor to our party, a traitor to their voters, and a traitor to our donors.” 

Nuttiness is endemic on the right these days. Gosar, for example, claims that Ashli Babbitt, the insurrectionist shot dead by Capitol Police on January 6, was “executed in cold blood” by an officer “lying in wait.” Gosar asserts, “Facts are coming to light that the FBI might have had a hand in planning and carrying out” the insurrection, though he fails to cite any of those “facts.” Gosar was one of more than 20 Republicans who voted against awarding the Congressional Gold Medal to the officers who defended the Capitol on January 6. Finally, Gosar has consorted with White nationalists.

And, Republicans are angry at their colleagues who voted for better roads and bridges! As Kinzinger tweeted: “So let me understand, Gosar’s creepy anime of murder and such is ok but [New York Republican Representative] John Katko is the sinner for negotiating and voting for infrastructure?”

In remarks on the floor Wednesday, McCarthy accused Democrats of making “rules for thee, but not for me.” McCarthy has his facts wrong. The last censure vote in the House was in 2010 when New York Democratic Representative Charlie Rangel was rebuked for ethics violations in a bipartisan vote. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi — a Democrat — read aloud the resolution censuring Rangel for bringing disgrace on the House. 

But, the debate over who is doing what to whom and who is or is not being consistent is beside the point. The important point is simple: Violence is unacceptable. Members of Congress cannot issue threats against their colleagues nor against the president (nor against anyone else, for that matter). Gosar is lucky he was only censured. He should be expelled and prosecuted for his felonious action.

Violence begets violence. Inevitable in this atmosphere is a shockingly violent act. When it happens, there will be blood not only on the hands of Paul Gosar and his ilk, but on all his enablers, whose ranks include Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy and every member of the GOP caucus save the two who voted for Gosar’s censure. Sickeningly, even then, they likely will duck responsibility. When will Americans hold them accountable?

Posted November 19, 2021

 

 

Creativity Required

Picture by Hilary Stone Ginsberg

Legislation is not like model car kits where mere assembly of parts suffices. Rather, legislation is like an erector set where creativity brings results. Democrats, it is time to be creative! 

Creativity will be needed to fashion an agreement on President Joe Biden’s ambitious agenda to expand America’s social safety net that satisfies all wings of the Democratic Party. The president remains optimistic. “I’m telling you we’re going to get this done,” he said. “It doesn’t matter when. It doesn’t matter whether it’s six minutes, six days, or six weeks. We’re going to get it done.” 

Centrist Democrats — particularly West Virginia’s Joe Manchin and Arizona’s Kyrsten Sinema — have balked at the $3.5 trillion price tag for the larger reconciliation package, the so-called soft infrastructure bill, which tackles climate change and funds free community college, child care, and other social policy initiatives. There is widespread recognition in the Democratic caucus that a compromise resulting in a lower dollar amount is needed, but the route by which Democrats get to an agreement remains unclear. 

Democrats have several options. One possible way to satisfy Sinema and Manchin and other moderates might be shortening the timeframe. The original package was for $3.5 trillion spent over a decade. Democrats could shorten the years funded for some or all of the programs contained in the bill. Two staunch progressives — Representative Ro Khanna of California and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York — indicated that a shorter funding period might be an option. “I think that one of the ideas that’s out there is fully fund what we can fully fund, but maybe instead of doing it for 10 years, you fully fund it for five years,” said Ocasio-Cortez. Khanna agreed: “We can front-load the benefits and have less years.”

Fully funding all the programs for fewer years amounts to a budgetary gimmick, but it would bring down the overall price tag, which might satisfy Democratic centrists. Progressives might buy into such an agreement on the theory that it is difficult to defund an existing program — such as free community college — that is popular with the public. 

Other options are available. The starting date for the various parts of the reconciliation package could be staggered, delaying funding for some programs while fully funding others immediately. Or, Democrats might agree to implement all the parts of the bill while providing less funding across all programs than initially proposed. Finally, Democrats might fully fund fewer programs. The latter seems less palatable as progressives insist on including such controversial parts of the bill as tackling climate change, a major sticking point with Manchin who comes from a major coal-producing state. 

Progressives are in a strong position: They have Biden on their side. The president made it clear last Friday when he traveled to Capitol Hill that he sees both bills — the hard and the soft infrastructure measures — as linked. Moderates in the House have pushed for passage of the smaller roads and bridges proposal before taking up the costlier bill, a timeline opposed by progressives who fear that if the hard infrastructure package passed, moderates would have no incentive to compromise on the larger reconciliation legislation. Moderates, like Representative Abigail Spanberger of Virginia say that “success begets success,” and a win on infrastructure would be a catalyst to act swiftly on other parts of Biden’s agenda.

The problem for Biden and congressional progressives is that Manchin and Sinema have different priorities. Manchin agrees with the Democratic left that funding for the social agenda should come, at least in part, from rolling back the Trump-era tax cuts, which were a boondoggle for the very wealthy. The West Virginian is on board with raising the top individual tax rate and the capital gains rate. Sinema appears to oppose raising tax rates for the very rich. Sinema has indicated that addressing climate change is a top priority for her, while Manchin remains committed to the fossil fuel industry. The presence of so many moving parts makes compromise difficult, but with creativity, not impossible. 

Various polls have shown public support for both infrastructure measures. Funding for roads and bridges is popular, with one poll indicating 83 percent support for hard infrastructure. The nation’s roads and bridges are in such disrepair and public approval for infrastructure improvements is so high that even some Republicans climbed on board and supported the hard infrastructure package in the Senate. Solid majorities of Americans favor many of the parts of the soft infrastructure proposal, with 67 percent supporting spending on preschool programs and 55 percent in favor of expanded child tax credits. Two-thirds of respondents agreed that raising taxes on the rich and corporations was the proper way to pay for these innovations. 

A great number Democrats seem to agree that a deal will be reached. Moderates now understand that the physical infrastructure bill and the broader social investment program are linked and that the hard infrastructure bill cannot be considered alone. Progressives realize that the overall spending amount has to come down to satisfy Manchin and Sinema. Now, the bargaining begins.

Creativity is needed to work out a deal. But, it appears now that all sides have at least an inkling of where the various factions stand. And, Spanberger is right: Success does beget success. Passage of the two infrastructure bills might pave the way for movement on other parts of the president’s agenda, including, most importantly, voting rights legislation aimed at preventing Republicans denying the franchise and stealing future elections. 

Be creative, Democrats! And, get it done!

Posted October 5, 2021

 

 

A New Old Vision

It’s not a plan that tinkers around the edges, it’s a once in a generation investment in America. — President Joe Biden, discussing his infrastructure plan, March 31, 2021

Well, finally, the nation has infrastructure week!

Only this time the president is different, and he means it. Former president Donald Trump promised during his 2016 election run that he would spend one-trillion dollars to rebuild America’s road and bridges. He never revealed any plan of substance, and his constant promises of infrastructure-related events all fizzled. “Infrastructure week” became a metaphor for Trumpian plans to do this or that (remember the promises of a soon-to-be-issued plan for replacing Obamacare?). 

President Joe Biden is serious about overhauling the nation’s infrastructure. The need is acute. Any American who has traveled overseas in the last few decades has to be embarrassed about the decrepitude of the nation’s roads, bridges, tunnels, railroads, and airports in comparison to the infrastructure of other countries. And, it is not just the contrast with Europe that is revealing. The Beijing International Airport is a gleaming facility, unlike airports in American cities. The Delhi Metro is a modern wonder, putting such famed metro systems as the New York City Subway to shame. 

Biden’s infrastructure plan is bold. It represents a new way of thinking only because the political orthodoxy of the last four decades rested on Reaganite assumptions about limited government and trickle-down economics. Politicians who do not believe in the efficacy of government accomplish, by definition, little. Even if the need is great, the will to act is lacking. And, reliance on trickle-down economics was based on the erroneous assumption that the private sector would accomplish what the government refused to do. Trickle down was, as George H.W. Bush once said, “voodoo economics.” The evidence is that the vast proportion of the money the wealthy saved from lower taxes became part of their private wealth; little of it was invested in building the nation.

The president’s plan returns American political thought to an earlier age. Biden believes that America can act boldly. He often reflects on the accomplishments of Presidents Franklin Delano Roosevelt and Lyndon Baines Johnson. He knows that in the decades between the Great Depression and the Vietnam War, Americans built a vibrant economy and defeated the Axis threat. Americans constructed the Interstate Highway System, a vision of Republican President Dwight Eisenhower, and sent men to the moon. Americans know how to accomplish much.

The infrastructure plan announced this week rests on the old New Deal concept that government can be a force for public good while also returning to the idea that government policy can be a tool for social justice. If enacted, the infrastructure plan to tax major corporations that do not pay their fair share, combined with the provisions in the recently enacted American Rescue Plan, will do much to redress the tremendous inequities in the distribution of wealth in modern America caused by four decades of trickle-down economics.

Biden boasts his plan would “create the strongest, most resilient, innovative economy in the world.” Part of the proposal includes projects to generate millions of jobs and strengthen American competitiveness. The two-trillion dollar program also would accelerate the fight against climate change by hastening the shift to cleaner sources of energy and, by targeted spending and projects, promote racial equality in the economy.

Translating even part of this ambitious and bold plan into law will be a heavy lift. While improving roads and bridges enjoys widespread, bipartisan support, the nitty-gritty details about funding have frustrated progress for years. Republicans are unanimous in opposition to both the cost and raising taxes on big corporations. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell captured the Republican view, calling the infrastructure plan a “Trojan horse [for] more borrowed money and massive tax increases.” McConnell said he would not support Biden’s package “if it’s going to have massive tax increases and trillions more added to the national debt.” Oh, so now McConnell is concerned about the debt?

Some Democrats are opposed to key details of the infrastructure plan. Democratic Senator Joe Manchin of coal-producing West Virginia likely will object to parts of the plan that undermine reliance on fossil fuels. Other Democrats want to use the proposal to enact their favored changes in the tax code, changes that are not universally popular. Finally, some progressive Democrats criticize Biden for not being bold enough. “This is not enough” tweeted Democratic Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. “The important context here is that it’s $2.25T spread out over 10 years. For context, the COVID package was $1.9T for this year *alone,* with some provisions lasting 2 years. Needs to be way bigger.”

Even if Democrats finally unite behind a version of the Biden package, prospects for passage will be dim because of the need to gather 60 votes in the Senate to avoid a filibuster. Majority Leader Chuck Schumer is considering a fast-track budget process similar to the one used to pass the stimulus plan, but nothing has been decided yet. Or, Democrats could finally do away with the filibuster, enabling passage of not only the infrastructure package but much needed legislation to secure and protect voting rights for all Americans.

Biden is betting that going bold in the way of FDR and LBJ is what Americans want. So far, he has been right about that bet, judging from his approval ratings. His plan for big spending on infrastructure with tax increases — including on those with incomes over $400,000 annually — has the support of a majority of Americans. But, the president has been in politics long enough to know that high approval ratings last only so long (unease over immigration already may be undermining some of Biden’s popularity). The window for bold action is not unlimited, hence the urgency to pass the infrastructure plan soon. 

Now, it is up to Congress to enact the president’s new old vision.

Posted April 2, 2021

The Relief Package is a Big Deal

If former Vice President Joe Biden thought the signing of the Affordable Care Act was “a big fucking deal,” what expletive describes President Joe Biden’s $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief bill?

The measure is, perhaps, besides Obamacare, the most momentous piece of legislation enacted in decades. Not only does the bill provide $1,400 in direct payments to most Americans to alleviate distress caused by the pandemic, but it also redirects the nation away from its recent past and renews the pledge of the New Deal in expanding the social safety net. The Democratic relief bill thoroughly rejects the governing principles enshrined since the presidency of Ronald Reagan, who believed government was the problem and saw the solution to economic difficulties in policies that directly aided the rich. Biden and the Democratic Party, in channeling Franklin Delano Roosevelt, reflect the view that only an active government can cure the nation’s ills.

According to the Center on Poverty and Social Policy at Columbia University, the relief package will cut child poverty in half and lift nearly 13-million Americans out of poverty. Unlike the stimulus package passed during President Barack Obama’s first year in office, which was too modest in a futile attempt to attract Republican votes in Congress, the Biden plan delivers a turbocharged boost to the economy. “History and a strong body of research would tell us the only way to avoid more lasting scars on households and the economy is by not doing too little,” said Ellen Zentner, chief economist at Morgan Stanley. 

The plan is bold. In addition to direct payments, the measure allows $300 per week for unemployment benefits through the summer, significantly raises the child tax credit, allocates funds for higher education, increases payments to low-income families to help with home heating and cooling costs, distributes funds to older Americans to support nutrition programs, provides housing assistance, and beefs up the vaccine distribution effort. The bill also fulfills Biden’s campaign pledge to make the Affordable Care Act more affordable for millions of Americans by expanding subsidies for health insurance for two years.

This is — make no mistake about it — a Democratic package. Not one Republican in either the House or the Senate voted for it, despite the bill’s public popularity. Polls show that upwards of 75 percent of all Americans back the relief bill, with nearly 60 percent of Republicans favoring it. That level of support is unprecedented and will put Republican candidates in a difficult spot in the 2022 mid-term congressional elections. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell anticipated that problem when he tried to preempt any future Democratic suggestions that the bill led to an improving economy. “The economy’s coming back, people are getting the vaccine, we’re on our way out of this. We’re about to have a boom,” the Kentuckian said. “And if we do have a boom, it will have absolutely nothing to do with this $1.9 trillion.”

Republican Senator Roger Wicker of Mississippi took a different tack by attempting to take credit for a bill he did not support. In a tweet, Wicker praised the “targeted relief” directed at “independent restaurant operators.” The Mississippian co-authored the amendment allotting the funds, but Wicker’s Twitter feed quickly was inundated with tweets like “Oh no, you don’t get to take credit for this. You voted no,” a sticky fact Wicker did not mention in his original tweet. Wicker’s misplaced effort to take credit only proved Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s exasperated point about Republican obstruction: “It’s typical that they vote no and take the dough.”

The relief plan marks a major evolution for the president. In his five-decade career in politics, Biden appealed largely to union workers and blue-collar tradesmen like those in Scranton, Pennsylvania where he grew up. The nearly two-trillion dollar spending package makes the crusader for the middle class also the champion for the poor. 

Biden spent most of his years in Congress concentrating on foreign policy and such domestic issues as criminal justice reform and gun control. Economic policy interested him little, but aides say the president enthusiastically has embraced his new role and is willing to use Democratic power to enact sweeping rather than incremental change. A naturally empathetic man, Biden has been moved by the unequal suffering inflicted on the poor by the pandemic. “Millions of Americans who, through no fault of their own, have lost the dignity and respect that comes with a job and a paycheck,” the president said in January. “And now, a lot of these folks are facing eviction, or waiting hours in their cars — literally hours in their cars, waiting to be able to feed their children as they drive up to a food bank.  It’s the United States of America and they’re waiting to feed their kids.”

 “We all grow,” said Representative Jim Clyburn of South Carolina, the third-ranking House Democrat. And, we all change, which is what has happened to the Democratic Party as it has moved to the left. The progressive tilt of the party was demonstrated in the vigorous presidential campaigns waged in 2016 and 2020 by Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont, a self-described democratic socialist. The electoral successes of Representatives Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York and Ilhan Omar of Minnesota, among others, also have turned the party into a vehicle for progressive ideas. 

Democrats have embraced a host of progressive ideas such as the Green New Deal, Medicare for All, tuition-free college, immigration reform, and democratization of the political system. The Republican Party’s laser-like focus on tax cuts and the politics of grievance leaves Democrats as the only political players seriously entertaining ideas aimed at addressing economic and social problems. And a lack of bipartisan cooperation from the opposition means Democrats have little incentive to work with Republicans on compromises, a fact of modern political life that pushes both parties to the extremes.

The president has moved with his party. He knows the problems afflicting Americans are vast and require bold initiatives. Solving those problems is good politics. Besides. “Uncle Joe’s” gut tells him that helping the poorest among us is the right thing to do. 

Sometimes good politics and good morals align. And, the result is a very big deal, indeed.

Posted March 12, 2021

Never Again!

We are learning new and even more disturbing details about the storming of the nation’s Capitol by Trump supporters, right-wing extremists, and QAnon conspirators (overlapping groups, to be sure) last Wednesday. The revelation of additional information indicates how close the United States came to anarchy and/or the overthrow of our democracy. The information reinforces the determination that such events — the election of an unfit, amoral president, the overthrow of truth, and an insurrection— never happen again. 

Michigan Representative Peter Meijer said a fellow Republican in the House voted against supporting the results of November’s election even though the member knew the election was free and fair. Meijer said his colleague voted against certification out of concern for the safety of the member’s family. In an opinion piece in The Detroit News, Meijer wrote, “My colleague told me… voting to certify was a constitutional duty” that this member shunned out of fear. “An angry mob succeeded in threatening at least one member of Congress from performing what that member understood was a constitutional responsibility,” Meijer concluded. Meijer added that worse were the members who “doubled down, repeating lies of a stolen election” and voted not to certify after “a dead woman’s blood dried mere feet from our chamber.” 

Think about how scary Meijer’s revelation is. His information means that the machinations of President Donald Trump, the sinister ploy of Republican senators such as Josh Hawley of Missouri and Ted Cruz of Texas, and the drumbeat of deliberate misinformation by right-wing media, which all contributed to riling and provoking Trump’s base, at a minimum, succeeded in intimidating at least one member of Congress. It means that one member — afraid for his or her family — was cowed by vicious thugs into voting against the truth and the elected representative’s conscience.

More than 100 Republicans in the House voted against accepting the results of the election. They were joined in their traitorous votes by eight senators who supported one or more of the challenges to electors. These Republicans are guilty of an attempt to overthrow the Constitution. I do not know how many of them are so dumb as to believe the nonsense Trump and his cohorts spewed or how many made a cynical calculation that voting against the truth was good for their presidential ambitions or how many feared being “primaried” by someone nuttier than they. It makes no difference. There must be a reckoning for all of them.

The Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution says, “No person shall be a Senator or Representative in Congress… [who] shall have engaged in insurrection or rebellion against… the United States.” The amendment was one of the three Reconstruction amendments enacted to preserve the gains of the Union victory in the Civil War. It is relevant in this case. Democratic Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez said Sunday that Democrats are considering invoking the amendment to expel Republican lawmakers who supported overturning the results of the November election and encouraged the insurrection. Speaker Nancy Pelosi said Democrats are discussing the relevance of the Fourteenth Amendment following last week’s riot.

Evicting 120 or so Republicans from Congress is not likely. But, perhaps the willingness of Democrats to ponder the Fourteenth Amendment’s relevance indicates an eagerness among loyal Americans to impose some form of punishment on disloyal members of Congress. Perhaps, censure is in order. In any event, those Republicans who voted against truth and law forever will be remembered for their crimes.

The other disturbing piece of news from this weekend confirms what was suspected all along. According to Republican Senator Ben Sasse of Nebraska, Trump “was delighted” while watching the televised events unfolding Wednesday at the Capitol. Sasse told conservative radio host Hugh Hewitt that “senior White House officials” conveyed to the Republican senator that “Donald Trump was walking around the White House confused about why other people on his team weren’t as excited as he was” by a mob storming the Capitol. 

Trump was “delighted” while millions of Americans were appalled. Trump’s delight suggests that Senator Roy Blunt, a Missouri Republican, was being naive when he said Sunday, “Now, my personal view is that the president touched the hot stove on Wednesday and is unlikely to touch it again.” Blunt’s assessment echoes Maine Republican Senator Susan Collins’ justification for voting against convicting Trump during his Senate trial for attempted extortion of Ukraine on the grounds that the president learned “a pretty big lesson” and would not engage in future illegalities. Yes, Trump learned something. He learned he can get away with just about anything. 

What Trump never learns is the right lesson. Everyone knows that, or should. It is abundantly obvious. President Trump is an amoral man whose narcissism insures that he looks out only for himself. He cares nothing for his followers or his loyal sycophants. On the issue of Trump loyalty, Oklahoma Republican Senator Jim Inhofe told Tulsa World that Vice President Mike Pence was “angry” because the president was attacking Pence for the vice president’s refusal to act illegally and overturn the Electoral College returns. Inhofe said, “I had a long conversation with [Pence]. He said, ‘After all the things I’ve done for [Trump].’” As for Trump’s disdain for his followers, reflect for a moment on his remarks on the Ellipse to the crowd before it headed to the Capitol and mayhem. After repeating his baseless claims of election fraud, the president egged on his supporters, urging them to “walk down to the Capitol… and I’ll be there with you.” Well, perhaps he meant in spirit, because Trump apparently watched the insurrection on television. Granted the Secret Service would not allow the president to walk in such a crowd, but, let us be honest, this president would not want to be bothered. 

A member of Congress scared by a president “delighted” to lead an insurrection against the government he heads must never happen again! The way to guarantee a return to sanity is to punish the truth deniers and the inciters. Trump and all the others who incited the storming of the Capitol must be held to account: Trump via impeachment and conviction; his abettors by the full weight of the legal system; and members of Congress by expulsion and/or censure.

We are learning just how fragile our constitutional framework is and how easy it is to circumvent truth and the law. We must punish the guilty to guarantee that such recklessness as we witnessed last week never occurs again.

Posted January 12, 2021

Trump’s Fantasies

I alone can fix it. — Donald Trump, accepting the 2016 Republican nomination for president. 

I alone can fix it because I alone broke it. — Not said, but the message from Trump’s speech accepting the 2020 Republican nomination for president.

It is as if we are watching the same tape, a loop that repeats and repeats. Donald Trump is the incumbent president, running a campaign reminiscent of the one he ran four years ago. He tried to shift slogans a while back, from “Make America Great Again” to “Keep America Great,” but the latter is a tough sell in the middle of a pandemic, high unemployment, and civil unrest. So, MAGA it is again, even if the “again” is a tad awkward nearly four years into Trump’s presidency. 

The sense of déjà vu is reinforced by the decision to ditch the usual exercise in platform writing and run again on the document adopted in 2016. Nothing wrong, in theory, in repeating the promises and criticisms of the previous campaign, except it raises the nagging question of why the Trump administration has to promise to do in its second term what it promised to do in its first. Also awkward are such sentences as this: “The current Administration has abandoned America’s friends and rewarded its enemies,” a barb aimed at the Obama administration that could be easily interpreted as the GOP platform criticizing the Republican president. Oh, well, no one reads platforms, anyway. 

Platforms are the prose of a campaign; convention speeches, the poetry. Not that there was much poetry at the just-concluded Republican National Convention. Instead, there was fantasy. All America was surprised to learn the pandemic is over. We all missed that tidbit, but COVID-19 was mentioned as little as possible, and, on one occasion, in the past tense. “It [the pandemic] was awful,” opined Larry Kudlow, Trump’s senior economic adviser and noted epidemiologist. And, when the Trump administration was not saying COVID-19 is not dangerous, it was demonstrating it. At least, that is the takeaway from seeing all those applauding Trump fans sitting cheek by unmasked jowl on the White House lawn listening to the president speak. 

Fantasy was the theme of Trump’s acceptance speech: “Greatest economy in history” is hard to reconcile with high unemployment, and “I say modestly that I have done more for the African-American community than any president since Abraham Lincoln,” arguable as a perversion of Lincoln’s reputation and absurd as a supposition that Trump is ever “modest.” Fantasy appeared in Trump’s abuse of the naturalization process when he televised at the convention the naturalization ceremony of five newly minted American citizens, without, apparently, telling at least two they were being used as propaganda. Many of the speeches were fantastical as well, portraying a kinder gentler Trump who pardons suffragists and a bank robber, expresses concern for the well-being of his aides, represents a party that celebrates the removal of the Confederate flag (“a divisive symbol,” said former South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley), and believes gratitude is more important than grievance (according to Vice President Mike Pence).

The kindler, gentler Trump was a naked play for the votes of college-educated, minority, and independent voters alienated by three-plus years of presidential vitriol, name calling, and lawbreaking from the White House. But, this being a Trump renomination extravaganza, there also was plenty of red meat for the base. In his acceptance speech, Trump accused Democrats of standing “with anarchists, agitators, rioters, looters, and flag burners.” He said Democrats remained “completely silent about rioters and criminals spreading mayhem in Democrat-run cities.” And, the convention invited Mark and Patricia McCloskey, the gun-wielding St. Louis couple, to tell the faithful, “No matter where you live, your family will not be safe in the radical Democrats’ America.” Given the origin of their notoriety, it does not take much imagination to understand the barely coded message: Not safe from people of color.

Trump has two problems in running for reelection. First, his administration has been an abject failure, with more than 180,000 Americans dead from the pandemic, the economy in tatters, and protests against systemic racism roiling the nation’s cities. Hence, the need to pretend the virus is in the rear view mirror, extol the record-breaking stock market, and highlight Black speakers at the convention (as Ruth Marcus writes in The Washington Post, there were probably more African Americans speaking than sitting in the audience). 

Trump’s second problem is an inability to define his opponent, former Vice President Joe Biden. As Nate Cohn notes in The New York Times, the last two incumbents to seek reelection, George W. Bush in 2004 and Barack Obama in 2012, used their conventions to paint their opponents with a negative brush. Bush depicted John Kerry as a flip-flopper who tried to have it both ways on the Iraq War, and Obama portrayed Mitt Romney as a rapacious plutocrat who symbolized the policies eroding middle-class industrial jobs in the Midwest. Trump and his lackeys have tried to describe Biden negatively, calling him “Beijing Biden” or “Sleepy Joe,” the latter a particularly tough sell given Trump’s ample, lumbering physique contrasted to trim, lively stepping Biden and the president’s frequent slurring of words that makes his challenger appear positively eloquent. 

Then, there is the “Trojan horse” charge, the accusation that Biden is either a closet socialist or a front-man easily manipulated by radicals such as Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders or New York Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. Biden as stealth candidate has not gained much traction either, largely because, as I have written, the public sees the former vice president as “reasonable.” 

Fantasy is what is left. Trump must pretend the problems are not that bad, and regardless, he alone can fix them. The public is asked to ignore the nasty fact that those problems occurred on his watch. That may be a fact, but how important are facts to an administration that has touted “alternative facts” from the very beginning?

Posted September 1, 2020

 

Reasonable Joe

The magic of Joe Biden is that everything he does becomes the new reasonable. — Andrew Yang, August 20, 2020, the final night of the Democratic National Convention.

In a well-planned, well-executed convention full of moving speeches and pointed remarks the sharpest insight came from Andrew Yang, entrepreneur and former Democratic presidential contender. Yang’s analysis describes what makes Joe Biden an effective candidate in 2020.

Yang pointed to the future and the looming battle against climate change. “If he [Biden] comes with an ambitious template to address climate change, all of a sudden, everyone is going to follow his lead.” Well, not everyone, but Biden’s support for a vigorous attack on carbon emissions will make selling such a program to Congress and the public much easier. If amiable, nice guy Joe likes something, what can be bad?

Yang is not just speculating about the effectiveness of President Biden. There is a precedent of Biden endorsing a significant change in public policy that then “becomes the new reasonable.” In early May 2012, Vice President Biden announced that he was “absolutely comfortable” with same-sex marriage, “with men marrying men, women marrying women.” The vice president added that all married couples — same sex or heterosexual — “are entitled to the same exact rights, all the civil rights, all the civil liberties.” Biden noted that he was ahead of his boss on this issue and that policy is set by the president, not the vice president. 

At that time, Biden was the highest-ranking White House official to embrace same-sex marriage, then legal only in six states and the District of Columbia. The Obama administration had endorsed civil unions, but not gay marriage. Some quibbled that Biden had not really gone all that far out on the limb, noting that he had not called for the federal government to recognize gay marriage. But, most saw the vice president’s remarks as a significant step toward full marriage equality, and many were no doubt reassured by the tone of Biden’s endorsement, which suggested that gay marriage threatened no one and was no different from heterosexual marriage in the way couples treat one another. Biden pointed out that he had just visited the home of a same-sex California couple raising young children. “And, I said, ‘I wish every American could see the look of love those kids had in their eyes for you guys,’” Biden said. “‘And, they wouldn’t have any doubt about what this is about.’” A few days later, President Barack Obama, in the middle of a re-election campaign, followed Biden’s lead, and three years later the Supreme Court made marriage equality the law of the land.

Reasonable Joe, the comforting candidate for a time of tumult!  Biden may not be the candidate progressives wanted, but, for many Americans, he seems the safer choice next to Trumpian chaos, mismanagement of the pandemic, high unemployment numbers, and attacks on long-standing, revered institutions such as the postal service. The public’s sense that Biden offers a steady hand at the helm was buttressed during the long primary campaign in which his familiar face and reputation as a moderate stood in stark contrast to candidates to his left. Because the public, for the most part, sees Biden as a moderate, Trump’s effort to paint the Democratic nominee as a “Trojan horse” for leftists such as Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders and New York Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez has not gained traction. Trump’s attempts to belittle Biden — “Sleepy Joe” and “Slow Joe” among them — have failed because “Joe” is just so likable.

But, the Democratic Party — like the nation — is moving to the left, and Biden’s perceived moderation is far more progressive than the programs pursued by Obama in his eight years in office and Hillary Clinton in her failed presidential bid in 2016. Biden’s image as a nice guy, amiable and reasonable, makes him non-threatening and perhaps the best candidate the Democratic Party could have nominated to push a progressive program against Trump.

Make no mistake about it, Biden is running on a progressive platform. As I noted in an earlier post, Biden favors expanding health insurance through a generous public option and lowering the enrollment age for Medicare to 60. He would make college far more affordable for many and significantly reform immigration policy. Biden backs many of the proposals of the Green New Deal, including floating a climate plan to decarbonize the American economy by 2035.

Some on the left may be tempted to sit out this election, just as they sat out the last one. The argument among some progressives is that Biden is a moderate, the party ignored its true representatives in overlooking Sanders and Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren, and the Obama-Biden administration temporized and did nothing to combat growing income inequality. All true, but all irrelevant for this moment.

Sanders effectively countered this argument, rightfully calling Trump an existential threat to the United States. “Under this administration,” the Vermont Independent said, “authoritarianism has taken root in our country. I and my family, and many of yours, know the insidious way authoritarianism destroys democracy, decency, and humanity. As long as I am here, I will work with progressives, with moderates, and, yes, with conservatives to preserve this nation from a threat that so many of our heroes fought and died to defeat.” 

What Sanders did not say, but what is also true is this: Biden may not be the most progressive Democrat around, and, in a Biden presidency, progressives may only get half a loaf, if that. But, if Biden wins in November, progressives can live to fight another day. If Trump wins, the nation that permits dissent and allows all to dream of what might be will disappear. There will no longer be a fight to fight.

Besides, Joe is a nice guy, and that counts for a lot after Trump. Anyone who saw 13-year-old Brayden Harrington’s touching tribute to Biden knows the former vice president is not only reasonable, but also decent and humane.

Posted August 25, 2020

“They Like Me Very Much”

I don’t know much about the movement [QAnon], other than I understand they like me very much, which I appreciate, but I don’t know much about the movement. — President Donald Trump, August 19, 2020

Our transactional president: If a group or individual likes him, that is all that matters. It is of no concern to Trump what its beliefs might be, how kooky it is, or whether it presents a danger to the nation. The only lens that matters for him is, “They like me very much.” Narcissism, after all, is the one constant in the Trump firmament. 

“I don’t know much about the movement,” Trump says. Think about that! Not only is he willing to accept the support of a fringe group about which he claims to know little, but he then goes on praise it: “I’ve heard these are people that love our country.” One would think the president of the United States would do a little homework and learn that QAnon is a viral conspiracy theory that attracts people who believe the president is battling a Satanic, criminal band of sex traffickers and pedophiles, which includes Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama, and George Soros. But, of course, doing homework, even a little, is anathema to this president. When told by a reporter about QAnon’s central premise, the president replied: “If I can help save the world from problems, I am willing to do it. I’m willing to put myself out there.” Good to know, Mr. President, good to know!

Trump consumes hours of television news daily, where QAnon has been discussed, so it is hard to credit his ignorance. Not that anyone should doubt Trump’s ignorance, but, in this case, he probably knows more than he is telling us. As Jonathan Greenblatt of the Anti-Defamation League told The New York Times: “Condemning this group should not be difficult. It’s downright dangerous when a leader not only refuses to do so, but also wonders whether what they are doing is ‘a good thing.’”

Believers in QAnon have been charged with violent crimes, including one follower accused of murdering a mafia boss in New York and another arrested this past April for threatening to kill Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden. The FBI warns that QAnon poses a potential domestic terrorist threat. No, Mr. President, ignorance is no defense.

Trump has praised Marjorie Taylor Greene, a QAnon supporter who won the Republican primary in a Georgia congressional district. She is poised to become the first QAnon believer to gain a seat in Congress since her district is overwhelmingly Republican. Trump praised Greene as a “future Republican star… [who] is strong on everything and never gives up – a real WINNER!” 

Greene is not the only ultra-rightwing loony to earn Trump’s accolades. “Great going Laura,” Trump tweeted after Laura Loomer won a Republican congressional primary in Trump’s Florida district. Trump added that Loomer has “a great chance against a Pelosi puppet!” Fortunately, in this case, Trump truly is ignorant as Loomer is contesting a heavily Democratic district in which her Islamophobia will not play well. Loomer has called Muslims “savages,” declared Islam “a cancer on society,” and demanded ”a non-Islamic form of Uber and Lyft because I never want to support another immigrant driver.”  Loomer has been banned by Lyft and Uber, as well as Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, and other social media platforms. 

As I have said, no one should ever doubt Trump’s ignorance, but, at the same time, no one should doubt his affinity for conspiracy theories (see “birtherism”) and wackadoodle racist candidates. Still, it is mystifying why Trump or anyone in his orbit believes appealing to the fringiest of the fringes in American politics is an effective campaign strategy. But, apparently, Republicans, judging by the lineup at next week’s convention, are doubling down on winning a narrow slice of the American body politic. Among the speakers: the St. Louis couple who gained notoriety by brandishing guns at Black Lives Matter protestors and the high school student maligned for his confrontation with a Native American man.

These are not speakers likely to broaden the president’s appeal beyond his 35 percent or so of loyal followers. The Republican National Convention, no doubt, will offer a stark contrast to this week’s Democratic National Convention, whose themes were the big tent and, most importantly, diversity, welcoming speakers of all backgrounds, creeds, races, ethnicities, and sexual orientations. (QAnon devotees need not apply.) Biden reached out to all wings of the Democratic Party to insure that progressives like Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders and New York Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez spoke at the convention and support the ticket this November. The Democrats also featured Republicans such as former Ohio Governor John Kasich, former New Jersey Governor Christine Todd Whitman, businesswoman Meg Whitman, and former New York Representative Susan Molinari, all of whom testified to the existential threat to our nation posed by President Trump. 

The Republican virtual shindig will be the opposite: No one who ever criticized the president will be speaking and Republican exclusivity will contrast with this week’s Democratic inclusivity. Trump and his number of dwindling supporters will continue to reach out to only those who, “Like me very much.” Fortunately, for the nation, the rest of us do not like him very much, at all. 

Posted August 21, 2020

The Face of America

In choosing Senator Kamala Harris as his running mate, presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden demonstrated character traits missing in President Donald Trump: A generosity of spirit and an ability to put aside petty grievances in the interest of a greater good. Just as former President Barack Obama overlooked Biden calling him “clean” and “articulate” in choosing the Delaware senator as his vice presidential choice, Biden ignored Harris’s skewering of him on race during the presidential nominating debates last year. Biden’s selection contrasts neatly with Trump’s pettiness.

Wednesday, the two tickets exhibited very different images of America. Biden and Harris, making their first public appearance as running mates, look like America, as it is and as it will become. Harris, a woman and the biracial child of Indian and Jamaican immigrants who is in an interracial marriage, is the face of a diverse nation. Trump’s “Make America Great Again” means, of course, Make America White Again, and the president displayed his racist and backward views in two tweets. In one, he congratulated “future Republican Star Marjorie Taylor Greene on a big Congressional primary win in Georgia.” Greene is a devotee of the QAnon conspiracy theory that believes Trump is waging war on “deep state” saboteurs who worship Satan and traffic children for sex. She is infamous for racist, Islamophobic, and anti-Semitic comments. Since her district is heavily Republican, Greene virtually is assured of a seat in the new Congress next January. Prepare for the QAnon caucus within the Republican conference.

Trump’s other offensive tweet repeated his theme of “them” versus “us”: “The ‘suburban housewife’ will be voting for me. They want [sic] safety & are thrilled that I ended the long running program where low income housing would invade their neighborhood. Biden would reinstall it, in a bigger form, with Corey [sic] Booker in charge!” Not only is Trump’s subtext obvious, but his image of “suburban housewife” is mired in a suburbia that probably never existed but certainly does not now. (And, what does Trump know about Biden’s potential Cabinet picks that no one else does?)

Harris was always an obvious choice for Biden. She is smart, capable, and qualified to become president on day one. Biden vowed to choose a woman, and his final list of potential nominees was filled with superbly able women. An African American woman was also indicated since Black women are the Democratic Party’s most loyal constituency and Black voters lifted Biden to victory in the primaries. A Californian, Harris is also the first Democratic nominee from west of the Rocky Mountains, and her selection recognizes the importance of the West in American and Democratic politics.

Biden knows he is a transitional candidate — an older white male who heads a coalition that depends on women, people of color, and the young. Biden is among the last of the leaders of the Democratic Party who came of age in the immediate years after World War II and inherited the legacy of Franklin Delano Roosevelt and the New Deal. Biden’s Democratic Party is rooted in the blue-collar Whites among whom he grew up, and his presidential appeal always has centered on the argument that he can win those voters back to the party. Harris represents the ethnic, racial, and gender diversity of the Democratic Party of the future. While not as young as other possible choices, Harris’s evident youthful vigor will play well on the campaign trail. She hails from the San Francisco Bay Area, a multiracial and multiethnic globalized hub of the emerging information economy.

Harris does not come from the most progressive wing of the Democratic Party. Many on the left would have been happier with Senator Elizabeth Warren as Biden’s running mate. (Warren would make an excellent Secretary of the Treasury, but, unfortunately, the governor of Massachusetts is a Republican, complicating Democratic hopes of gaining a majority in the Senate if Warren were to take the post.) Harris has a complicated record in law enforcement. As California’s attorney general, she declined to investigate shootings by police officers and did not support reforms to hold police accountable for violent actions. Her waffling on Medicare-for-All during her abortive presidential campaign indicated a politician unsure of herself and lacking in truly progressive ideals. 

Still, progressives do not seem overly disappointed with Harris’s selection. Acceptance of Harris by the Democratic leftwing stems partly from a recognition of the obvious forward-looking nature of her choice and also from a realization that Harris does have some claims to progressivism. She has one of the most liberal voting records of any sitting senator and has worked with Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez on climate legislation. “She’s not Warren… in terms of her background, but I don’t think it makes sense for us to criticize the reality,” says Larry Cohen, chair of Our Revolution, a group with ties to Independent Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders. Cohen describes Harris as “extremely competent.”

It will be an ugly next few months. Already, Trump has trotted out a Harris-is-a-nasty-woman accusation with all its racist and sexist overtones. Trump also touchingly came to Biden’s defense when he accused Harris not only of being nasty to Trump appointees but to Biden during the Democratic debates. The president and his supporters also engaged in a completely erroneous claim that Harris is not eligible to run for high office because her parents were immigrants. Trump and his surrogates are just getting started, and the attacks on Biden and Harris will only intensify. When it comes to nasty, Trump is a master.

Nothing is ever assured in politics, but the Biden-Harris ticket is in a strong position. Of course, Team Trump is doing all it can to suppress the vote and potentially steal the election. The Democratic nominees not only have to convince enough Americans to vote for them, but Biden and Harris also have to insure that their supporters get to vote and that those votes are counted. 

In the end, competence, combined with Biden’s steadiness of purpose, sure looks good after the mayhem and chaos of the Trump presidency.

Posted August 14, 2020

Biden Goes Left — Sort of

Vice President Joe Biden is running a canny race. Yes, he is taking a little too long to choose his vice presidential running mate, but, in the end, getting it right trumps doing it quickly, and no one will remember that he missed self-imposed deadlines. In all other respects, Biden has been adept. He is respecting the dangers of coronavirus, which allows him to limit his public appearances. Aside from avoiding the pitfalls of verbal gaffes, for which Biden is notorious, fewer campaign appearances by Biden permit President Donald Trump to hog the limelight. And, when it comes to gaffes, Trump is much more prone than Biden.

Trump has found Biden an elusive target. The president has tried to pin various derogatory labels on Biden — “Sleepy Joe” being the most notorious — but none has stuck. Among the reasons may be public weariness at Trump’s insults, Biden’s under-the-radar campaign, and the latter’s success at avoiding specific policy proposals that Republicans find easy to attack. 

All this has allowed Biden to appear more centrist and moderate than his current policy proposals. True, Biden has been a moderate Democrat throughout his long political life, and he is hardly the candidate Democratic progressives wanted. But, during the current campaign, Biden has managed to move to the left and to promise change on the order of Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s New Deal without causing a damaging political backlash.

There is much evidence today that the nation is moving to the left politically. Still, Americans traditionally vote for candidates closer to the ideological center. When compared to Trump’s erratic behavior and often extreme positions, Biden’s perceived moderation is comforting. Also, Biden has a reputation as a pragmatist who gets things done, a valuable perception given Trump’s inability and unwillingness to tackle effectively the pandemic and economic collapse. Finally, Biden appears moderate to voters when compared to Hillary Clinton, Trump’s 2016 opponent. While Clinton was hardly a wild-eyed radical, Americans generally find male candidates less threatening. Sexist misconceptions led many to view Clinton as a more extreme choice than Trump, an advantage not available to the incumbent this time around. (Sexism probably convinced many that Clinton’s email fiasco was more serious than Trump’s myriad ethical and moral lapses.)

Despite adopting, on issue after issue, progressive policies, Biden has convinced voters he is a moderate, up to a point. On most issues, Biden has moved to the left, closer to the policies of his primary challengers such as Senators Bernie Sanders of Vermont and Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts and to the left of the former vice president’s positions during the primaries. For example, on criminal justice reform, a critical matter following the brutal police murder of George Floyd, Biden has proposed abolishing mandatory minimum sentences. He also favors creating a national roster of police officers who abuse their authority. These are all polices far to the left of the 2016 Democratic platform.  But, to Trump’s chagrin — as demonstrated in his July 19 interview with Chris Wallace of Fox NewsBiden is against defunding the police.

On college education, Biden now favors free college for students from families earning less than $125,000, but he does not support making college free for everyone — a position endorsed by Sanders during the primaries. Biden has called for tripling federal assistance to schools that educate children from poverty-stricken homes, and he is more skeptical of standardized testing and charter schools than the Obama administration, of which he was part. 

Other issues fit the same pattern. On healthcare, Biden backs a more generous public option — including making many prescription drugs available without co-pays — than he did during the primaries, and he wants to permit Americans to enroll in Medicare at the age of 60. But, he shies way from Sanders’ Medicare-for-All, a position to which the Democratic Party is moving but which does not poll well. However, government-supported health insurance is becoming more popular, even in Red States, as shown by this week’s vote by Missouri voters to expand access to Medicaid. 

Biden supports many of the vigorous proposals of the Green New Deal and his unity task force on climate change is chaired by the proposal’s co-author, Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York. Biden calls for making all new buildings carbon neutral by the end of this decade and ending the use of fossil fuels to create electricity by 2035. But, his website does not include the words “Green New Deal.”

Finally on immigration, Biden would admit more refugees, and, unlike President Barack Obama, Biden supports a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants. Crucially, Biden does not link this proposal to tougher border enforcement. But, at the same time, Biden has not endorsed abolishing Immigration and Customs Enforcement and decriminalizing illegal border crossings. Those two policies were floated by some of the candidates during the Democratic primaries, but polls show most Americans are skeptical.  

It is a shrewd move by Biden to move to the left — close to the policies of the Democratic Party’s most progressive bloc — without antagonizing centrist voters. Biden has achieved this by leaning on his reputation as a moderate, by contrasting himself to the extremism of his opponent, and by stopping just short of the more progressive parts of the left’s agenda. Biden is, to be sure, less progressive than Sanders and Warren, but, according to Waleed Shahid, the communications director for Justice Democrats, a group that has backed left-wing challenges to incumbent congressional Democrats, Biden’s platform is “the most progressive… of any Democratic nominee in the modern history of the party.”

Posted August 7, 2020