Tag Archives: Kamala Harris

Obstruction, Part Deux

Picture by Hilary Stone Ginsberg

There are many signs these days of the intellectual bankruptcy of the Republican Party. One of the most striking is the pitiful attempt by Republican leaders to delegitimize President Joe Biden by claiming he is not in charge of his own administration. Biden is, so the line goes, old and fumbling, a figurehead for others, particularly Vice President Kamala Harris, who push him to extremist positions, or manipulated by his White House staff.

In a lame attempt to make this point, Texas Republican Senator John Cornyn issued a string of tweets last month about Biden’s alleged lack of a media presence. Citing a Politico article entitled “The Biden White House media doctrine: Less can be more,” Cornyn wondered if the article “[i]nvites the question: is he really in charge?” Actually, the article did not invite that question at all. Politico simply observed that the current president’s tweets are few, his public comments scripted, and he limits his contacts with the press. And, as one White House official told Politico, the president and his communications staff are happy to have other people push Biden’s policy agenda. “We use the Cabinet, they’re experts in their field,” said deputy communications director Kate Berner. 

Questioning Biden’s media reticence is a funny, weird, and hypocritical critique by Cornyn since Republicans in the House and Senate often scurried from reporters’ probing questions seeking a comment about the latest embarrassing, inflammatory, ignorant, and/or bigoted tweet from former president Donald Trump. Who can forget those TV images of Republican lawmakers fast-walking past reporters’ microphones to avoid commenting? As for Biden having limited contacts with the media, it is true his media availability is significantly less than Trump’s. The “former guy” was a media hog, never shying away from a camera. But, those were often as embarrassing and ill-informed as his tweets. Remember his commandeering the daily press briefings in the early days of the coronavirus pandemic when, among other things, he suggested injecting bleach into bodies?

Republicans also have attacked Biden for an alleged lack of energy. House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy disparaged Biden for having to sleep “five hours a night” and for not having “the energy of Donald Trump.” No one outside the Biden family knows — at least, I do not — how many hours the president sleeps, and McCarthy ought to know that adults usually require seven to nine hours of sleep a night. More importantly, it is a very strange accusation to compare Biden’s work ethic to Trump’s. The former president’s aversion to hard work was legendary. He rarely showed up to assume his daily tasks until 11 in the morning, refused intelligence briefings, and he spent hours every day watching television (when he was not playing golf).

Much of the Republicans political maneuvering and commentary would be silly if it were not part of a larger strategy aimed at derailing Biden’s bold agenda to bring American into the 21st century by revamping the nation’s infrastructure and strengthening its social safety net in an attempt to catch up to the rest of the industrialized and democratic world. Accordingly, Republican tactics center on portraying Biden as too weak and ineffectual to be an effective interlocutor. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell suggested in February — during discussions surrounding passage of the COVID-19 relief bill — that the president was hamstrung by his staff from reaching a bipartisan deal. “Our members who were in the meeting felt that the president seemed more interested in [bipartisanship] than his staff did,” McConnell said. West Virginia Senator Shelley Moore Capito said about the president, “He seemed more willing than his staff to negotiate.” Longtime McConnell adviser Josh Holmes suggested that White House “staff treats Biden as though he’s an invalid who just wanders into a meeting and knows not what he speaks.” It is a wily ploy by Republicans to suggest that the only reason there is no bipartisanship is because Biden is not in control of his own administration. “Gee,” the implication is, “we’d love to reach a deal, but we can’t figure out who’s in charge over there.”

Actually, it is the other way around. Republicans find it useful to belittle Biden because they do not wish to reach any deals with him. Bereft of ideas and policies, McConnell and his cohorts want to insure that Biden does not receive credit for any successes from his popular policies. When asked if he would do anything to support Representative Liz Cheney for calling out Trump’s “Big Lie,” McConnell said his only goal was to stymie Biden. “One-hundred percent of my focus is on stopping this new administration,” said the GOP’s leading obstructionist. 

McConnell is an experienced hand at being Senator No. In obstruction, part un, he vowed to make Barack Obama a one-term president, and, though he failed to do so, the Kentuckian obstructed Obama at every opportunity, including preventing the then-president from exercising his constitutionally mandated duty to appoint a Supreme Court justice. McConnell has never been known to be much interested in policy. The only two things he seems to care about is stacking the federal judiciary with conservative justices and insuring the spigot remains open for big money to flow into Republican coffers. A more cynical pol would be hard to find.

The senator’s cynicism has been on full display in the opening months of the Biden presidency. McConnell opposes creating a commission to investigate the January 6 insurrection because an inquiry could hurt the Republican Party’s midterm election message. He did not explain the contents of that message, leaving the rest of us to wonder if it includes supporting White supremacy, insurrection, and treason. The United States suffered its worst treasonous uprising since the Civil War and Senator McConnell willingly places party before country! Apparently, McConnell forgot that he held Trump “practically and morally responsible” for the insurrection in a speech on the Senate floor following the former president’s second impeachment trial. 

So far, Biden is correct to ignore Republican insults aimed at him personally. But, when those insults indicate a larger Republican strategy with the goal of preventing passage of all of the president’s agenda, Biden needs to say, “Enough is enough! I’m going to act without their cooperation if they continue to obstruct.” Biden’s action must include signaling Senate Democrats that he supports the end of the filibuster so that a minority of a minority can no longer impede passage of popular and much-needed legislation.

Posted May 28, 2021

Call for Unity

Donald Trump left the White House several hours before Joe Biden was sworn in Wednesday, January 20, 2021, as the nation’s 46th president. A small person to the end, Trump broke a long-standing tradition by declining to attend his successor’s inauguration. Just as well, as the presence of former presidents Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, and Barack Obama testified to the sanctity of the American tradition of the peaceful transfer of power while highlighting Trump’s petulant refusal to concede he lost.

Biden’s Inaugural Address was a clarion call to unity, asking Americans to put aside “this uncivil war that pits red against blue, rural versus urban, conservative versus liberal.” But, Biden uttered more than platitudes. The president also called upon America to live up to its core values of truth, equality, justice, and acceptance of diversity of opinion. “Every disagreement doesn’t have to be a cause for total war,” Biden said. 

The new president’s appeal to our “better angels” contrasted with his predecessor’s constant stoking of division, distrust, and hatred. Other contrasts between Biden and Trump were the evident openness of the new administration — the new press secretary briefed Wednesday evening — and the eagerness of those at the top to get down to work. Biden signed several executive orders only hours after becoming president, and Vice President Kamala Harris presided over the swearing-in of three new senators in her role as President of the Senate. Trump always showed little interest in actually being president, in the work of the presidency, and in the weeks following his electoral defeat he did little but stew, lie about the validity of the election, play golf, and issue pardons to his cronies.

There is evidence that the sway of Trumpism is diminishing. The Proud Boys, the far-right group asked by Trump at the first debate with Biden to “stand back and stand by,” is rethinking its undying loyalty to the former president. After the election, the Proud Boys wrote in an online message on a private channel “Hail Emperor Trump.” But, as soon as Trump departed the White House, the White-supremacist group referred to him as a “shill” and “extraordinarily weak.” It may be a positive sign that no militias descended on Washington, D.C., and state capitols and no anti-Biden protests occurred, despite warnings from the FBI of the potential for violence and the threats of far-right activists to mobilize in the days leading up to the Inauguration.

One place where divisiveness still lingers is the Capitol. Biden is quite right to call for unity and to appeal for bipartisan cooperation, which may occur as some Republicans search for ways to work with Democrats on much needed legislation, such as economic relief from the ravages of the pandemic and rebuilding the nation’s decrepit infrastructure.

While unity and bipartisan cooperation is a worthy goal, some accountability is needed for those who worked to undermine American democracy by pushing the “big lie” of election fraud. That there was no significant fraud and that Biden fairly won election as the next president was evident immediately after November 3. Yet, a significant bloc of Republican senators and a majority of the House GOP caucus voted against certifying the electoral returns of two states. They did so only hours after a mob — encouraged by Trump and congressional opposition to certification — stormed the Capitol, putting the lives of members of Congress in jeopardy.

The United States cannot pretend this did not happen. Obviously, we will never forget those frightful images of insurrectionists desecrating the “people’s house.” But, we also must never forget the role played by prominent Republicans. House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy is a case in point. Two weeks ago, McCarthy was a prominent challenger of Biden’s victory, telling constituents, “I agreed with objections that were made to two states.” Yet, Wednesday, McCarthy had the temerity, the gall, the nerve to stand in Statuary Hall and tell Biden and Harris he was “very proud of you both.” The California Republican added, “I listened to your [Biden’s] speech today. You talked about tension and division. Our task as leaders is to bind this nation’s wounds and dedicate ourselves to the values that all Americans hold dear.”

Not too proud, evidently, to vote against Biden’s and Harris’ certification as president and vice president. Politics is not a profession that emphasizes self-introspection, but really, Mr. Minority Leader, how lacking in self-awareness can you be? On Inaugural Day, McCarthy also said, “As leaders, we are judged not by our words, but by our actions.” Indeed! Mr. Minority Leader, your action in objecting to electoral certification before and just after the insurrection of January 6 speaks much louder than those words you spoke on Inaugural Day!

McCarthy is not the only Republican who requires scrutiny. Senators Josh Hawley of Missouri and Ted Cruz of Texas fanned the flames of insurrection by their words and actions. Illinois Democratic Senator Dick Durbin called the behavior of Hawley and Cruz “inexcusable” and said the Senate must  “seriously” investigate their actions. Some Republicans in the House may have given aid to the mob before and during the storming of the Capitol. Speaker Nancy Pelosi said “there will be prosecutions” if evidence shows that members of Congress “aided and abetted an insurrection in which people died.”

Public understanding of the role of elected officials in undermining the peaceful transfer of power — a bedrock of republican government — needs to occur not because Americans are vengeful but because knowledge is the most effective tool for preventing future betrayals. We know that lies — deliberate lies told by people who knew better or ought to have known better — unleashed the mob on the Capitol. The only way to fight lies is with truth and the truth will only emerge when the culprits are named and their abettors come to grips with their betrayal of constitutional government. Only then will the unity of which President Biden spoke truly occur. 

Posted January 22, 2021

2020 Was Awful, But…

Not many people will quibble with the notion that the soon-to-depart 2020 was among the worst years in history. Certainly, 2020 was the worst year in America since 1968, that baleful 12 months of assassinations, war, civil unrest, and urban riots. 

Yet, depending on whether you are a glass half-empty or half-full type of person, you may be optimistic about the coming year. Some hopeful signs of — if not good times — at least better times emerged during and at the end of 2020. 

Topping the list is the coming change in leadership. President Donald Trump is capable of unimagined mayhem in the remaining few weeks of his presidency. But, despite his machinations, he will be gone at noon on January 20, 2021, and Joe Biden will lose the “elect” in President-elect Joe Biden. Historians and pundits may argue for decades and centuries who was the worst American president, but Trump surely will be near or at the top of the list.

Trump spent his four years in office belittling his opponents, turning his supporters into unthinking, reflexive sycophants, issuing racist and xenophobic tweets, and showing little inclination to perform the duties of his august office. Trump’s disinterest in actually governing was most obvious during the pandemic, when he declined to model appropriate behavior and take steps to mitigate the worst of the contagion. During his tenure, America became less secure as Trump withdrew the nation from or weakened alliances that have guaranteed international security for the last seven decades. Trump eroded America’s role as the indispensable nation, and he diminished America’s moral stature as he coddled dictators and autocrats while attacking democratic allies. At home, America slid into greater inequality as wealth became more concentrated following the giveaway masquerading as the 2017 tax cuts passed by Republicans and signed by Trump. The president failed to provide effective leadership as the nation plunged into economic crisis during the pandemic. Trump repealed numerous environmental regulations, allowing large corporations greater leeway to pollute the nation’s air, ground, and waterways and exacerbating climate change. Not only did Trump fail to provide moral leadership as the nation faced its racist history after the brutal murders of African Americans by police, but the president’s words and actions stoked racial animosity.

For the good news: Trump will be gone in three weeks and Biden will be sitting in the Oval Office. Trump may have to be forcibly removed from the White House, but removed he will be. Biden will return America to the Paris Agreement on climate, making the nation a full participant once again in the crusade to stem global warming. Not only is America returning as a full-fledged partner in the fight against climate change good news, but a seven-percent reduction in carbon dioxide emissions in 2020 is reason for optimism. Much of the fall off, no doubt, is due to government-imposed lockdowns and restrictions on movement around the world during the pandemic, but some of the drop is a result of the falling cost of renewable energy like wind and solar power. 

Trump’s presidency worsened race relations in America. The president is racist, and his appeals to disgruntled white voters — the majority of his base — and, as the Black Lives Matter Movement intensified, his refusal to provide moral clarity widened the racial divide that has plagued American history since the first Blacks were brought to Jamestown in 1619. But, America’s march toward diversity did not cease during Trump’s four years in office. Polls showed that two-thirds of Americans — including 60 percent of Whites — supported the Black Lives Matter movement during the summer of 2020, a period of intense protests against police brutality. The election of Kamala Harris as the nation’s first female vice president, first Black vice president, and first Asian-American vice president further signifies greater acceptance of diversity. It is too early to judge the historical significance of the Trump presidency, but future historians may see his four years as a mere pause between the election of Barack Obama as president in 2008 and the Biden-Harris victory in 2020.

Effective leadership at the top — something Trump could not or would not provide — would have lessened the severity of the coronavirus pandemic. But, Americans — and others — showed what people can do in the face of adversity. Scientists responded with unprecedented speed to develop vaccines, some of which are already being distributed. Americans — and others — witnessed the dedication of nurses, doctors, hospital employees, emergency responders, and other health workers who risked their lives to save others. Also, Americans developed greater appreciation of essential workers — many of whom are immigrants — such as truck drivers, farmworkers, grocery stockers, and others who do the often dangerous and behind-the-scenes work that keeps our economy going.

And, let us not forget all of us Americans who turned out to vote in 2020 in record numbers. We voted by mail and in-person, early and on election day, in the face of a pandemic. No doubt, much of that record turnout stemmed from reaction to the incumbent, the most divisive president in modern American history. But, the numbers also demonstrated the pluck and determination of Americans in hard times, showing that our democracy is still vibrant.

The flip side of Trump’s machinations to undo the result of that record vote total is that the decades of attempts by the Republican Party to restrict the vote have been shown, once again, to be baseless. Republicans for years have used false claims of voter fraud as an excuse to roll back voting rights. Trump and his lawyers and allies trotted out similar allegations, none of which have been proven. In addition, a sizable number of Republican state and local officials in battleground states did their jobs by beating back Trump’s threats of retaliation, following the laws of their states, and certifying Biden’s victory. 

Make no mistake about it: 2020 was an awful year. We have lost more than 330,000 Americans and more than 19-million Americans have been infected by this horrendous virus, which has lasting ill-health effects for many of those who survive. But, with 2021 only a few days away, there are grounds for optimism. The pandemic will be licked as the vaccines become widely available, America will reassert its role in the world, Trump will be gone, and Biden will provide the stability and the steady hand that has been missing for the last four years.

We can all be thankful for that.

Posted December 29, 2020

Secession… Again?

This decision will have far-reaching ramifications for the future of our constitutional republic. Perhaps law-abiding states should bond together and form a Union of states that will abide by the constitution. — Allen West, chair of the Texas Republican Party on the Supreme Court decision turning down the Texas lawsuit to overturn the election results in four states.

My guy Abraham Lincoln and the Union soldiers already told you no. — Representative Adam Kinzinger, Illinois Republican.

We have seen this movie before: A significant minority of Americans refusing to accept the results of an election. In 1861, it led to Fort Sumter and four years later the ruin of the Confederacy and the end of slavery. Americans for a century-and-a-half since believed the Civil War settled the question of the inviolability of the Union. As President Abraham Lincoln said in his First Inaugural Address in the midst of the secession winter: “No State upon its own mere motion can lawfully get out of the Union…. The Union is perpetual.” 

But, some Americans apparently did not stay for the end of the movie. They still do not believe in the essence of democracy, which is that losers accept the results of the election. The peripatetic Allen West — who represented Florida in Congress but now serves as chair of the Texas Republican Party — seems to be among those Americans. Count Rush Limbaugh — the radio show host and provocateur — also among them. Limbaugh said recently, “I actually think that we’re trending toward secession.”

There are at least two significant differences between the secessionists of 1861 and the nutty folks of 2020. In 1861, the South left the Union not because it did not believe Lincoln was the legitimate president of the United States, but rather because it recognized Lincoln as the legitimate president and the secessionists believed his election represented a threat to slavery. Lincoln and his fellow Republicans (this is when the Republican Party was loyal to the Union) could protest forever that all they intended was to limit slavery in the Western territories and to leave it alone in the Southern states. Southerners, however, understood that restricting slavery was the first step to its abolition, so they left the Union.

The second difference is the sectional nature of secession in 1861. One section of the United States, the South, seceded. The eleven states of the Confederacy were contiguous, and they all sought to protect a socio-economic system — slavery — at odds with the ethos of American democracy and 19th century morality. The rest of the United States believed slavery immoral, and while most Northerners did not seek the immediate abolition of slavery, most  believed the country should embark on a path leading to the eventual end of the institution.

But, look at a map of the 2020 election. While it is true that most of the blue areas are on the Atlantic and Pacific coasts and in the upper Midwest and the interior of the nation is red, there are anomalies. Georgia is surrounded by red states. Will North Carolina and South Carolina of the Trump States of America grant a right of transit from the rest of the United States of America to Georgia and vice versa? And, then there is the question of voting patterns. Even in deeply red Oklahoma, one-third of Sooners voted for Joe Biden and Kamala Harris. Same, only in reverse, in California, where a third of the voters sought to keep Trump and Pence in power. Will Republicans from the United States of America and Democrats in the Trump States of America have a population exchange reminiscent of the bloody Hindu and Muslim exchange during the birth of independent India and Pakistan?

Secession in 1861 led to internecine violence. The chance of secession in 2021 is next to zero, but the threat of violence is real. Election officials merely doing their jobs in reporting Democratic victories in swing states have been targets of right-wing threats. On Saturday, the odious Alex Jones of Infowars told pro-Trump rally goers in Washington, D.C., that President-elect Joe Biden “will be removed one way or another.” It does not take much imagination to understand what “another” means in this context.

This is scary stuff, and it is being tacitly encouraged by Republicans who supinely are following Trump in his fantasy that the election was stolen and that the “steal” can be stopped. Every Republican in Congress and every Republican state attorney general who supported Texas’ absurd law suit will be complicit if the worst occurs. Trump is irredeemable, but really, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, do you believe the election was fraudulent?

The real Civil War likely will be not between Democrats and Republicans but within the Republican Party. Already, there are signs that some Christian evangelicals are rethinking their blind loyalty to the Republican Party. Beth Moore, the founder of Living Proof Ministries and a popular Southern Baptist speaker, voiced on Twitter her frustration: “I’m 63 1/2 years old & I have never seen anything in these United States of America I found more astonishingly seductive & dangerous to the saints of God than Trumpism. This Christian nationalism is not of God. Move back from it.” Another evangelical, Karen Swallow Prior, tweeted: “While I did not ever vote for Trump, I did vote for local and state @GOP candidates. (I am a lifelong conservative, after all.) I am now embarrassed and ashamed that I did so. What a bunch of money-grubbing, power-hungry, partisan cowards who care nothing about conservatism.” As conservative columnist David French notes, “The frenzy and the fury of the post-election period has laid bare the sheer idolatry and fanaticism of Christian Trumpism.” Some, proving the French’s words, are saying: Enough. 

Revulsion over Trump’s antics and Republican sycophancy has not reached significant proportions yet. But, cracks in the overwhelming support evangelicals have given Trump are appearing, and state and local Republicans have declined to do Trump’s bidding in overthrowing a legitimate election. Even some elected Republicans in Congress have shown they are willing to stand against Trump and Trumpism. 

Their courageousness may tear the Republican Party apart. That would be a shame, since the nation needs two vibrant political parties representing different points of view and serving as checks on each other. But, a civil war among Republicans is preferable to a civil war among Americans.

Posted December 15, 2020

 

What a Losing Campaign Looks Like

RealClearPolitics average of national polls shows Biden holding a nearly 10-point lead, with one recent poll giving the Democratic challenger a 16-point lead and another puts the margin at 14 in favor of Biden. Leads of that magnitude portend a landslide victory of historic portions.

The trend is clear enough for previously Trump-loyal Republicans to begin distancing themselves from a flailing president. With Democrats all-but-certain to retain control of the House and poised to reclaim a majority in the Senate, Republicans worry that a potential “blue wave” might turn into a blue tsunami. Separating from Trump may not help many Republicans as their subservience throughout his term has tarnished their image, but they have little left in their playbook to counter Trump’s dismissive response to the pandemic and his off-again, on-again approach to negotiations with congressional Democrats over a new stimulus package. Republican Senator John Cornyn of Texas, locked in an unexpectedly close race, says Trump “got out over his skis” in playing down the coronavirus threat. “He tries to balance that with saying, ‘We, you know, we got this.’ And clearly, we don’t have this,” Cornyn said. “I think the biggest mistake people make in public life is not telling the truth, particularly in something with as much public interest as here because you now the real story is going to come out.”

Nothing in the president’s recent behavior suggests he is capable of making a major push to close the gap with Biden. His boasting about how well he is recovering from his bout with COVID-19 suggests perhaps that the steroids he has been taking are clouding his judgment. Trump’s posturing on the White House balcony the evening he returned from the hospital reminded many of the poses of Benito Mussolini, the Italian Fascist leader. He has continued to play down the seriousness of the pandemic, tweeting just before leaving Walter Reed Medical Center Monday evening, “Don’t be afraid of Covid. Don’t let it dominate your life.” Wednesday evening, the president released a bizarre video in which he claims contracting the disease was “a blessing from God” and praises a miracle cure from an untested drug he was given. In the video, Trump appears to struggle to take in enough air.

His actions in recent days do not reassure voters that he is taking the pandemic any more seriously after coming down with COVID-19 than he did before contracting the disease. By all reports, Trump is walking around the White House without a mask, including when going to the Oval Office, against the advice and wishes of top aides. Trump and his doctors have been less than forthcoming about his symptoms, treatment, and infection history. The last point is critical because Trump came into contact with numerous people in the days before he tweeted that he and his wife were infected. He debated Biden just days before going to the hospital.

Trump acts as if his defeat on November 3 is a foregone conclusion. He behaved boorishly in his debate with Biden, violating the debate rules in repeated confrontations with both his opponent and the moderator. His campaign has run through so much money that it has been pulling TV ads in key battleground states. The president killed stimulus talks, saying that there would be no aid for struggling Americans until after he is reelected. Even Trump eventually realized that taking the blame for stalled talks was not a good idea just weeks before an election, so he quickly suggested that he might be agreeable to a scaled-down version of a stimulus package. 

Trump and his sycophants know there is not much time and not much they can do to change the trajectory that has Biden increasing his polling lead in the wake of so many presidential self-inflicted wounds. Vice President Mike Pence did little in Wednesday night’s debate to convince voters that the Trump administration is about to get a handle on the myriad crises afflicting the nation. He offered the same nonsense on the pandemic, saying Trump acted forthrightly in banning travel with China, while offering no effective rebuttal to Senator Harris’ accusation that Trump has presided over a catastrophic public-health failure. Pence was somewhat politer than his boss in his face-off with Harris, though he frequently talked past his allotted time and often interrupted his opponent, a tactic sure to alienate women viewers. All in all, Pence found himself diminished by Harris and a fly that landed and stayed on his white hair for more than two minutes.

Pence had a memorable and scary moment of not answering a question at the end of the debate. The moderator, Susan Page of USA Today, asked Pence what “would be your role and responsibility as vice president” if Trump refused to cede power if he lost the election. The president has repeatedly refused to commit to a peaceful transfer of power and his vice president was no more reassuring that the administration would accept the election results. Pence merely said “I think we are going to win this election” and then repeated his talking points about tax cuts and rolling back regulations, then ending by accusing the Democrats of trying to undo the results of the 2016 election.

Trump, too, has returned to his theme that the Democrats plotted against him in 2016 and that his opponent, Hillary Clinton, “cooked up the Russia hoax.” It is a curious obsession, given that Trump won the election. But, the reappearance of the accusation of a Democratic plot four years ago is one more indication that Trump and his allies have little to offer voters this time around, and it is an admission that they know the election is all but lost. The only question remaining — which Trump and now Pence have refused to answer — is: Will they go quietly?

Posted October 9, 2020

The Fight Goes On

One-hundred years ago today, August 18, 1920, Tennessee became the 36th state to ratify the 19th Amendment to the Constitution. Its adoption made it unconstitutional to deny the vote to anyone on “account of sex.” It was the largest expansion of the vote to a previously marginalized group of people in American history.

It is an anniversary worth celebrating and commemorating. It marks an important milestone for a nation in which only white male property holders could vote in 1790 to one recognizing universal suffrage. Yet, while one person, one vote is the theoretical dictum of the United States, the right to vote remains under attack today, 100 years after women received the ballot and more than 150 years after the 14th Amendment forbade denying the vote to anyone based on “race, color, or previous condition of servitude.”

This 100th anniversary reminds us that vigilance is needed to protect the right to vote. Republicans have tried to deny Democratic-leaning groups access to the ballot by insisting on voter ID’s frequently not available to the poor, the young, and minorities. Several Republican-dominated legislatures have reduced access to polling places, either by restricting their hours of operation or by closing some altogether. States have limited early voting, which is important for many hourly wage workers who cannot get to the polls on election day. The available tricks to limit voting are virtually, well, limitless, all in an attempt by Republicans to guarantee that groups likely to vote Democratic do not get to vote. The reason for these violations of democratic norms is easy to surmise, since many Republicans have explained that enabling everyone to vote means Republicans do not win elections. 

This year, President Donald Trump has launched an even more insidious attempt to limit the vote. In the midst of a pandemic in which mail-in voting is the choice of many who want to vote but not get sick, the president is doing everything he can to prevent Americans from voting by mail. Though there is no credible evidence that mail-in voting is susceptible to fraud, Trump frequently has said the election will be “rigged” if people do not vote in person. Now, he is attacking the Postal Service — and denying it needed funds — in a cynical attempt to undermine that institution to prevent millions of Democrats from voting.

Trump’s hand-picked head of the Postal Service has introduced supposed cost-cutting measures just when Americans are gearing up to vote by mail. He has reassigned postal executives who have institutional knowledge of the workings of the organization, removed mail-sorting machines at post offices and mailboxes from neighborhood streets, and he has forbidden overtime. All of this is an obvious attempt to hamper mail-in voting in the hopes that a snarled postal service will not be able to deliver ballots in time for them to be counted. Democrats in Congress are beginning to investigate, and Speaker Nancy Pelosi has cut short their August recess to address concerns about the Postmaster General and the recent changes. There is some evidence the Trump administration is beginning to relent in its attempt to interfere with mail delivery.

The ratification of the 19th Amendment granted the ballot to women but it did not, obviously, insure equality. That struggle has persisted, and it is only in recent years that women have begun to enter politics in large numbers. Presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden’s selection of Senator Kamala Harris as his running mate puts a woman potentially a heartbeat from the presidency, and it elevates the child of a Black man and an Indian woman onto a major party ticket. This is all historic, but it does not mean her legitimacy has not been challenged. The vestiges of racism and sexism already have come into public view in attacks on Harris.

Trump has revisited his ugly and racist “birtherism.” He spent years promulgating nonsense about Barack Obama’s eligibility to be president, and now he and his right-wing cohorts took mere seconds after Harris was chosen to revive “birtherism.” The current “birther” allegation revolves around the 14th Amendment and suggests that Harris, as the child of immigrants who were not yet citizens of the United States when she was born, is not a full-fledged citizen of the United States. This is nonsense as the wording of the 14th Amendment is clear. Its first section says, “All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States….”

No ambiguity in those words. The amendment was adopted to protect the rights and citizenship of the formerly enslaved men and women newly freed by the 13th Amendment. It granted citizenship to anyone born in the United States, regardless of the status of their parents. It was necessary because, obviously, the parents of the formerly enslaved were not citizens of the United States (assuming both their parents were of African descent, which, of course, was not always the case). 

Harris’s heritage has come under scrutiny as well. The California Senator is Tamil and African by history, and she identifies as Black. Ultra-conservative radio and TV host Mark Levin claims Harris’s Jamaican origins disqualifies her from inclusion as an African American. Others argues she is not descended from slaves, as if that is necessary to make one an African American. It is nonsense. In any event, Jamaica was an English colony that had one of the most brutal and violent plantation systems. And, Kamala Harris is Black because she says she is Black. People define themselves. End of story.

Not that Trump and others are not trying to define her. The president has mixed sexism with his racism in labeling Harris “nasty.” Others refer to her as “angry.” The nasty and angry Black woman is a sexist and racist stereotype of long standing. It is no surprise that Trump has used it, since his sexism and racism have been apparent for decades.

Yes, this anniversary reminds us that freedom and equality require vigilance. While all may, in theory, vote, the exercise of that right requires access to the ballot. We must do all we can to prevent Trump and his minions from denying us that exercise. And, we must all rally to Harris, as we must rally to anyone, who is the focus of sexist and racist attacks. 

So, celebrate the 100th anniversary of the 19th Amendment, but, remember, the fight goes on.

Posted August 18, 2020 — 100 years after the ratification of the 19th Amendment 

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, Trump, and the Virus

Former Vice President Joe Biden seized the moment Tuesday night to capitalize on his stunning victories in that day’s primaries and those of a week before on Super Tuesday to present himself as the president-in-waiting. Projecting an air of confidence, seriousness, and compassion, Biden promised to unite the nation and provide capable leadership in stark contrast to the incompetence of President Donald Trump.

Biden, the presumptive front-runner when he announced his candidacy only to founder in a series of gaffes, a lack of organization, and a sense that perhaps he is too old for the job, appeared on the verge of elimination less than two weeks ago. But, he rose from political near-death partly because Democrats — leaders and voters — perceived his main challenger, Vermont Independent Bernie Sanders, as unelectable and partly because Biden’s unflappable determination projects an air of solidity the nation sorely seeks during the coronavirus pandemic.

Democrats are more united than divided, and the main impetus to unity is — and has been — a desire to oust the incumbent from the White House. That need became even more critical as the number of COVID-19 cases rose and the stock market plummeted. It may be debatable just how radical and revolutionary a candidate Sanders is, but that may well have ceased to be determinative. More important was the sense that steadiness, even familiarity, in a candidate is necessary in perilous times. 

The nation tried an outsider, a TV celebrity, and a man who promised he alone could fix whatever ailed our society. Millions bought the shtick, only to place an inexperienced, poorly educated, incompetent narcissist in the presidency. And, guess what? It turns out that inexperience and incompetence really are problems. Many political watchers — and millions of those who do not attend Trump rallies — quickly understood that Trump was in over his head. The wish to change leaders always has motivated many Democrats, but the need became overwhelming as the virus reached American shores.

No one knows the extent of the pandemic: How many people will contract the disease, how many will get very sick, how many will die. Nor does anyone know how serious the economic disruption will be, how far the stock market will plunge, and how deep will be a recession, if there is one. The lack of knowledge may be scariest of all, because panic, rumor, and fear readily displace what little knowledge we possess.

Joe Biden is a known quantity. He has been in politics longer than many voters have been alive. He was President Barack Obama’s vice president, a role which he handled with aplomb. In the chaos of Trump’s presidency, no-drama Obama looks better and better. And, so does his vice president. The nation took a chance last time, and it was a disaster. A number of voters may have looked upon Bernie Sanders as another risky choice. That is probably unfair, but there is no question that any attempt by a President Sanders to implement his progressive agenda would be divisive in an already polarized nation.

The nation has serious problems: Exploding inequality, unchecked climate change, and a costly and broken healthcare system, which will be taxed as never before in the current pandemic. Sanders offered serious solutions to these problems, as did some of the other Democratic candidates. Biden represents something of a contrast, a return to politics-as-usual and a more comforting time when politicians across the aisle actually liked one another and were able to cooperate and compromise.

Biden is a smart politician. He knows he needs Sanders and Sanders’ vocal base. The Democratic Party has become more progressive in recent years, and, while Biden represents stability in a trying time, he also knows he must reach out to and work with the more liberal wing of the party. The two already agree on much. Biden supports much of the Green New Deal as does Sanders. Both candidates favor a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants, and both want to make higher education more affordable. The main areas of disagreement are over healthcare, where Biden takes an incremental approach that builds on the successes of Obamacare while Sanders pushes for a Medicare-for-All plan. 

Many of the differences are in style and speed of implementation. Biden will take the necessary steps to mollify Sanders’s vocal and energetic base because he needs Sanders’s supporters as they are the future of the Democratic Party. Sanders, for his part, has promised to support Biden. Sanders may be staying in the race for now to pressure Biden to the left. 

Biden’s vice presidential choice will be critical. For one thing, Biden will be 78 when inaugurated, so a competent vice president who is ready to step into the Oval Office is critical. Also, the selection of the vice president will be an important message about party unity. A woman, even better, a woman of color, would do much to raise turnout in November. Stacey Abrams of Georgia ticks all the right boxes. So does California Senator Kamala Harris, but since she ran for president this time around she may have alienated some voters.

Voters look for candidates who are likable and trustworthy. Biden fits the bill. He may be old, bumbling, and gaffe-prone. He may represent the politics of yesterday. He has been around forever. He has little organization and money, and he performed terribly in the early primaries and caucuses, finishing fourth in Iowa and fifth in New Hampshire. But, he is “Uncle Joe.” 

He is also Donald Trump’s worst nightmare. After all, Trump’s numerous illegal efforts to destroy Biden’s candidacy led to the president’s impeachment. He will do the same again. But, in addition to being likable, Biden is tough. If Trump gets into the gutter, which is his default position, Biden will fight back. And, given the danger Trump represents in dangerous times, Biden will win the fight.

Posted March 13, 2020

 

The Second Democratic Debate Winner: The Left

The debate winners: Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren and Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders. The debate losers: The moderates.

The two New Englanders demonstrated that the energy and bold ideas are on the Democratic left. The progressives issued stirring calls for remaking America, promising universal, quality healthcare, free college education, immigration reform, and a Green New Deal. The moderates responded with slogans: “Wish-list economics,” according to Montana governor Steve Bullock; “Fairy-tale economics,” said former Maryland representative John Delaney; and, “Costs $3 trillion,” asserted former Vice President Joe Biden (he meant $30 trillion; one of his several slip-ups of the evening). The clinching argument for most of the moderates: Pushing Medicare for All will enable President Donald Trump to label Democrats “socialists.”

The problem for the moderates within the Democratic Party became obvious during this second round of debates aimed at winnowing the crowded Democratic field of candidates. The calls for moderation appear founded in fear: Fear that Trump will slap them with a name; fear that union members will be distressed because the benefits for which they fought so hard will disappear; and fear of cost and increased taxes. But, all those fears are not exactly a clarion call for action. No one storms the ramparts to follow a leader who says, I will not lead, I will follow you into incremental change.

Warren said it succinctly in delivering the most devastating line of the two nights of debate: “I don’t understand why anybody goes to all the trouble of running for president of the United States just to talk about what we really can’t do and shouldn’t fight for.” Barack Obama was not elected president in 2008 by saying, No, we can’t. As Obama said in his 2011 State of the Union address: “We do big things.”

Running away from the sobriquet “socialist” is probably futile. South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg — who probably falls midway between progressive and moderate on the Democratic ideological spectrum — put it clearly: “If it’s true that if we embrace a far-left agenda they’re going to say we’re a bunch of crazy socialists. If we embrace a conservative agenda, you know what they’re going to do? They’re going to say we’re a bunch of crazy socialists.” Buttigieg is right: Trump is determined to make Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York, a self-described “democratic socialist,” the Democratic face, regardless of who is the party’s eventual nominee. Mayor Pete’s recommendation? “So let’s just stand up for the right policy, go out there and defend it,” and not let Republicans define Democrats. Of course, Buttigieg was not all that clear on what is “the right policy,” but his point was correct.

It is not obvious that moderates are right in claiming that the 150-million or so people with private health insurance plans are satisfied with their coverage. It may be that they like their current insurance compared with today’s alternatives, but if offered Medicare for All, they might find it superior. Union members are often cited as voters especially satisfied with their plans, but that good employer-sponsored coverage came at a sacrifice in wages. Freed of having to negotiate health insurance, unions might be empowered to get higher wages. Besides, satisfaction with private health insurance might disappear once consumers realize that there will be no copays and deductibles under Medicare for All.

Some predicted a shoot-out on the first night between Sanders and Warren because their fan bases overlap. But, they were too busy fending off the attacks of the moderates to argue over who was the better progressive. Warren, in particular, has little incentive to attack Sanders since she seems to be peeling off his supporters. Sanders does appear to be sinking, though he still has raised a lot of money and has a loyal core base of support. For the time being, agreement appears to breed harmony among the two candidates on the left. The only tangible differences between them are Warren’s insistence that she is a capitalist — though she favors a heavily regulated capitalist system — while Sanders proudly owns the democratic socialist label, and Sanders’ forthright admission that taxes will increase under a single-payer system, though he quickly notes that a decrease in out-of-pocket expenses will more than compensate for paying higher taxes. 

Warren and Sanders “won” both nights. Their solid first night debates became even more impressive after the mediocre performances of most of the second night debaters. The exceptions on night two were Julián Castro and New Jersey Senator Cory Booker, both of whom had solid if unspectacular performances. Castro, the former secretary of Housing and Urban Development, has been steady in both debates so far, and Booker gave a much better performance Wednesday night than he did in the first round of debates. He turned most questions into strong discussions of values, and his critiques of front-runner Biden were good-natured compared to the carping against Biden from some of the other Democrats on the stage. 

California Senator Kamala Harris, who starred back in June, disappointed this time. She still has not fixed on a healthcare plan. Sometimes she appears to favor Medicare for All, sometimes improving Obamacare, and sometimes a mix of the two. A fluid position on one of the most important issues — if not the most important — to Democrats does not say much about her core values. Her energy appeared low, perhaps a deliberate reaction to her more hyperbolic performance a month ago, but it gave the impression at times that she was dialing it in.

As for Biden, he was better in round two, but he still showed his age. He was tongue-tied on several occasions, and at the close of the debate he appeared to confuse the method for sending his campaign a text message with the campaign’s web address. Biden’s continuing mediocre performances further suggest his time has come and gone. He is old, chronologically and in ideas.

The two nights belonged to the progressives  — Warren and Sanders. A sign of how far to the left Democrats have moved in recent years came when several candidates on the second night thought it helpful to attack — from the left — Obama’s policies on immigration and trade. Obama is still revered among the party faithful, but he — like Biden — is yesterday. The energy among today’s Democrats is on the left, with many in the party urging a bold, progressive approach to America’s problems.

Posted August 2, 2018

Not All Democrats Are the Same

The Republican strategy for the 2020 presidential election is obvious: Tar all Democrats with the label “socialist.” It will not work for two reasons: One, the public does not view contemporary American socialists as scary; and two, not all Democrats agree on everything. Most Democrats are not socialists, but, rather, progressive reformers. 

A Republican smear campaign already is underway. The modern GOP is bereft of ideas and has abandoned the precepts of conservatism. That leaves only insults and attacks as the party’s campaign strategy. Labelling Democrats as socialists began with President Donald Trump’s State of the Union Address. “Tonight,” the president said, “we renew our resolve that America will never be a socialist country.”  Trump greeted Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders’ campaign launch with a caustic tweet: “Crazy Bernie just entered the race. I wish him well!” And, Trump’s campaign press secretary, Kayleigh McEnany, offered Sanders a backhanded compliment: “Bernie Sanders has already won the debate in the Democrat primary, because every candidate is embracing his brand of socialism.”

McEnany may be engaging in good campaign tactics, but she is wrong. Sanders is the only avowed socialist running for president — at least among the prominent candidates of the major parties — and he categorizes himself as an independent. Senator Kamala Harris of California — who made a splash when she announced for the presidency — says pointedly: “I am not a democratic socialist.” 

Sanders’ dynamic 2016 presidential bid — when he nearly wrested the nomination from Hillary Clinton, the party establishment’s preferred candidate — helped move the Democratic Party to the left. Now, virtually all Democrats favor some form of universal health coverage and a vigorous attack on climate change, even if they shy away from the term, “The Green New Deal.” Even centrists like Senator Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota — who prefers to move incrementally on healthcare — favors the ultimate goal of coverage for everyone, and she describes the Green New Deal as “aspirational,” while questioning specifics. If Joe Biden enters the race, the former vice president will join Klobuchar on the center-left of the Democratic Party.

Coffee entrepreneur Howard Schultz’s possible independent bid for the presidency is a sign the Democratic Party has become more radical. Schultz, a “lifelong Democrat” who describes himself as socially liberal and fiscally conservative, is pondering a third-party run because he believes the Democratic Party is too progressive. 

Saying the Democratic Party has moved to the left is not the same as saying all Democrats are democratic socialists. Only Sanders uses the term. “What democratic socialists want is closer to what exists in Scandinavia or Iceland, expanding what Europeans talk about — a large welfare state,” says Michael Kazin, a historian and former member of Students for a Democratic Society, a democratic socialist organization of the 1960s. The Democratic Socialists of America’s web page says, “Democratic socialists believe that both the economy and society should be run democratically — to meet public needs, not to make profits for a few.“ The ultimate goal is the end of capitalism, though the specifics of how that would transpire are vague. 

Next to Sanders, Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren is the most radical candidate. An examination of the ideological differences between Warren and Sanders illustrates the vast array of thought among Democrats. Though the two New England senators agree on many issues, there is a fundamental difference between them. Unlike Sanders, Warren is a champion of the capitalist system. “He’s a socialist, and I believe in markets,” Warren says. Warren is an old-fashioned progressive regulator, a politician who believes capitalism works best when competition is fair. Sanders thinks capitalism is unjust and must be changed radically.

Sanders and Warren have roots in different branches of American radicalism. Sanders comes from the Eugene Debs tradition of American socialism. Debs sought — first through the labor movement and then as the most prominent member of the Socialist Party of America — to create a “cooperative commonwealth” in which industry would be controlled democratically and workers would receive a fair share for their labor. He was not an advocate of revolution, believing instead that change could be achieved through voting, labor action, and class unity. Debs developed his radical worldview through his own experience. He left school at the age of fourteen, working for many years at low pay in dangerous jobs on the nation’s railroads. 

Warren identifies with the left wing of progressive liberal thought exemplified by Louis Brandeis and other progressives of the early 20th century. Brandeis, known as the “people’s attorney,” used his skills as a lawyer to counter the power and corruption of big corporations. He supported small businesses and urged reform and regulation of capitalism to forestall socialism. As he told Woodrow Wilson during the 1912 presidential campaign, “The law we want to enforce is the law of competition.” Wilson rewarded Brandeis for his advice by appointing him in 1916 as the first Jewish Supreme Court justice.  

Warren’s study of bankruptcy law led to her advocacy of liberal measures to aid victims of unfair lending practices. Like Brandeis before her, she thought a regulatory agency was needed to protect consumers from the trickery of big banks. Sanders, like Debs, does not believe in such piecemeal reforms. Sanders sees a system that exploits workers and needs radical change, and he stresses ending the exploitation of labor: Long hours, low wages, and unfeeling and uncaring bosses.

In the short run, the differences between Sanders and Warren are not that great. Both will run on Medicare-for-All and the Green New Deal. Both will attack burgeoning economic inequality through higher taxes and programs to help the middle class. And, Democrats will benefit from a healthy debate among their many and differing candidates for the 2020 presidential nomination. 

Posted February 22, 2019