Joe Kennedy Avoided the SOTU Rebuttal Curse, but Let’s Calm the Presidential Chatter

Visit any progressive blog today or the social media platforms of your Democratic friends, and you’ll probably notice many of them gushing about Joe Kennedy III’s rebuttal to President Trump’s State of the Union address last night. Kennedy largely avoided the SOTU curse that so many others have fallen into. Remember former Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal’s rebuttal to Barack Obama? I don’t remember anything about the content, but I do remember his sweater and the number of times he was compared to Mr. Rogers. I also remember the excessive water sipping by Sen. Marco Rubio a few years ago.

Speaking at Fall River, MA, Rep. Kennedy was generally confident and poised. He also drew a sharp contrast between the United States depicted in Trump’s speech and the actual effects of some of his policies. Here are some lines from the speech that drew that stood out to me:

“Many have spent the last year angry, anxious, afraid… we see an economy that has made stocks soar, but failed workers.”

“This administration isn’t just targeting the laws that protect us, they’re targeting the very idea of the laws that protect us.”

“Turning American life into a zero sum game where for one to win, another must lose…. a long list of false choices — five up safety net for safety. Dreamers or poor kids. Coal miners or single moms. The answer that Democrats offer — we choose both. We fight for both. The greatest strongest nation in the world should not have to live anyone behind.” Support for child care, living wage, education, infrastructure, health care.”

In general, the speech was strong enough to appeal to the base and maybe some independents, too. This is especially important heading into the fall 2018 elections, when the Dems will have to get out their base, which traditionally stays home during mid-term elections.

If I have one main critique of the speech, it is this: what are the Democrats offering other than being anti-Trump? Kennedy didn’t pitch anything bold, such as universal health care or even something less risky like a higher federal minimum wage or paid maternity leave. All of these, including Medicare for all, generally poll quite well and they are part of the Democratic Party’s platform, but they were absent from that speech last night.

I do think 2018 will be a good year for the Democrats. Right now, the momentum is on their side. The base is fired up. They keep winning state-wide elections that they shouldn’t be winning, including in deep red states, and math and history is on their side to win back the House in November.

With that said, the Democratic Party needs to offer a clear platform and policy proposals when the 2020 race gets closer. I am not convinced that being anti-Trump is going to be enough. I’m also not convinced that a 30-something with the Kennedy name is enough to challenge Trump, who will go as low as he needs to to win re-election, if he even decides to run again.

Kennedy’s speech was good. It drew a sharp contrast between Trump’s words and the reality that some Americans are living in, Americans who still haven’t seen their wages rise, or DREAMERs who have been here since they were children and now fear deportation. Kennedy’s speech reached out to them, especially when he promised that the Dems would fight for DREAMERs. Lets hope so because the GOP won’t, at least not without insane immigration demands. However, I would like to see him serve a few more terms in the House and perhaps get bumped into a leadership position to raise his profile more before he’s seen on any type of presidential ticket.

 

One Week Later

The last time I posted on my blog, the county was shocked, making sense of the election results that proved all pollsters wrong. In a week, the world feels like it has been turned upside down. President Obama, to his credit, has been as gracious as he can be in his transition of power. Hillary Clinton conceded last Wednesday and has since blamed James Comey and the FBI letters for her loss. The Democrats, meanwhile, are gearing up to select a new DNC chair. So far, popular progressive Rep. Keith Ellison has tossed his name into the ring, as well as Howard Dean. So far, a lot of Dems, including Harry Reid and soon-to-be Sen. Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, have backed Ellison. In the House, meanwhile, the Democrats have delayed their leadership elections, which does not bode well for Nancy Pelosi. The Democrats are licking their wounds and ready to clean house, at least somewhat. If they want to move forward, gear up for 2018, and start winning elections again, that’s probably for the best.

To be blunt, the Democrats have few easy paths forward. In 2018, they have an enormous amount of Senate seats to defend, including some in red states. In the House, they still have a few dozen seats to flip until they win back the majority. The party is poised to be in the minority at least for the next four years. Meanwhile, it may be hard to develop a strong, progressive alternative vision to Trump because it seems likely they are going to have to fight to protect progressive gains made over the last few decades. Paul Ryan is already licking his chops about privatizing medicare and medicaid, which would unravel a large part of LBJ’s domestic legacy. In the “60 Minutes” interview that aired a few days ago, Trump warned that if Roe V. Wade is overturned, abortion rights will go back to the states and women will have to go to another state to get an abortion. The problem is that nearly 2/3 of state legislatures are in GOP control. So yes, I think the Democrats have quite a fight on their hands going forward, but if Trump’s governing is totally mismanaged, it is possible there could be another wave election, on par with 2006, which would give Democrats control of at least one branch of Congress.

Despite this, I have been amazed at how fast the left has organized. Already, there are mass protests planned for January 20 and 21, the weekend of the inauguration. The women’s march on the 21st appears to be gaining the most momentum, to the point where it already earned a story in the NYT. There are buses headed to that rally from all across the country, including in Scranton. I will be there with my partner, and we already know of a few friends joining us. Meanwhile, organizations such as Planned Parenthood and the ACLU have reported record donations since Tuesday’s results. Even locally, I have been meeting with people about what we can do in this community. This election has rattled enough people that they are wiling to fight over the next few years.

If you want to get involved, here are some easy ways:

  • Contact your  Senator and Congressman/woman. Tell them to be vigilant and NOT support any attempts by the new Trump administration to roll back women’s rights, LGBT rights, and civil rights. Tell them to NOT support any attempts to privatize the social safety net programs, namely Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security.
  • Contact your local Senator and Congressman/woman and tell them to pressure Trump to rescind the appointment of white nationalist/alt-right leader Steve Bannon as top adviser.
  • Make a donation, no matter how small, to organizations that work to protect women’s rights, LGBT rights,  civil rights, and immigrants.
  • Plan to attend the inauguration protests. Go to rallybus.net. If you can’t be there, and if you can afford it, sponsor a bus seat for someone who wants to attend but can’t afford a bus seat.
  • Get involved in your community. Reach out to people that want to mobilize. There are more folks out there wanting to do something than you may imagine.

 

 

 

A Post-Election Train of Thought

As I write this, I am working on few hours of sleep.  My partner and I stayed pretty late at a field organizer’s house last night, watching the election slip away from Hillary Clinton as the GOP also maintained control of the House and  Senate. Yep, come January, the U.S. is looking at a far-right Republican Party controlling three branches of government and most likely the Supreme Court. As I write this, I am an hour and a half away from teaching Virigina Woolf’s “A Room of One’s Own” and “Professions for Women” in my Women’s Lit class. I will, of course, let them have an open, respectful discussion about the election, if they chose to. Teaching Woolf in this moment feels daunting. If you haven’t read either essay, here is as summary: Woolf declares that there have been so few female writers prior to her time in the early 20th Century because there was  not the economic or emotional space for women to write. They had to be mothers and/or  housewives, or if they did write, they had to face the crippling claims that women were not smart enough to write and publish.  Woolf goes so far in “A Room of One’s Own” to imagine if Shakespeare had as sister, born with the same talent and genius as he. If she went to the theater with a play she wrote, or if she wanted to act,  she would have been laughed right out the door. Woolf concludes that Shakespeare’s sister would have killed herself, due to the inability to fulfill her dreams and pursue her natural talent.

I don’t mean to be dire, but I knocked on a lot of doors, made a lot of phone calls, and did the usual campaign grunt work. I guess I can afford to feel a little down, after the campaign was so optimistic over the last few weeks, even after the Comey letter. I’m still unsure how to process this. I am bewildered and frightened by the FBI’s involvement in the election process, be it Comey’s press conference in July or the letter about 10 days prior to the election. I am alarmed at the massive hacks Wikileaks and possibly Russia committed against the DNC and Hillary campaign. I do wonder what other influences they will have on our election process going forward and how to prevent that. I am befuddled that the Democratic Party, with a president/figurehead who has a higher approval rating than when Reagan left office, STILL managed to lose the White House, and not only the White House, but the House and Senate, where they only needed FOUR pick-ups and had to defend far, far less seats than the GOP.

I am not ready yet to even ponder the future of the Democratic Party. I’ve been a part of it since I was 18 and worked on a number of campaigns. This loss, however, stings the worst, due to all that Trumps stands for. I have no idea what type of world we’ll be living in. I’m not optimistic the Dems can take back even one branch of government in 2018. The Senate map is nasty for them, frankly because they have to defend a ton of seats they won in 2012. The House is also an uphill slog, and Dems vote in even lower numbers during mid-terms. Still, I will get back to organizing,  fighting, and  reshaping the party. I hope others do, too, including the Bernie folks.

The Democratic Party is now post-Clinton and post-Obama. It has no figurehead, no well-known, younger leaders to direct it and craft a platform in preparation for 2018. It will have to get it together quick because the Dems are the only real check on Trump that remains, other than the lower courts. My main concern going forward is the lack of depth within the party, how thin the bench is, due to the fact Democrats have lost several mid-terms over the last several election cycles. Who will step up?

Regardless, I will keep putting in the work. I hope that others do, too. Find others in your community. Get together. Donate to causes that do good work for women’s rights, LGBT rights, immigrant rights, religious tolerance,  lower-income folks, etc, etc. They will be the groups most impacted by a Trump presidency and GOP-controlled Congress.

Right now, I’m going to get ready to teach Virginia Woolf, to have an honest, respectful discussion with my students about the election, if they want to have it, and then I’m going home to rest so I can get back to work.

 

 

Obama’s Re-Election and a New Voting Coalition

The New York Times has a great article today about the politics of the under 30 generation. The overall thesis is that the politics of young people reflects a belief that government can solve problems and we do indeed need to continue funding programs like Medicare and Social Security. This is the anthesis of the conservation revolution of the 1980s that helped elect Ronald Reagan twice, followed by George Bush I and later George Bush II. It is also very much possible that this generation, much like the younger generation that supported Reagan, could reshape American politics in profound ways for years to come. Essentially, after seeing President Obama get re-elected twice and Democrats winning five out of the last six federal elections, we could be seeing the unraveling of the Reagan revolution and trickle down economics.

The article, titled “Young, Liberal and Open to Big Government,” focuses on college students in Montana. The setting is significant because Montana is considered a deep red state. However, the article notes that because of the under 30 generation, Montana elected two Democratic senators and a Democratic governor in the last few election cycles. This points to the influence that young folks can have at the ballot box, especially in off-year elections when senators, governors, and state legislators are on the ballot.

Throughout the article, the young people interviewed expressed a desire for a system of government more in line with FDR’s philosophies than Reagan’s. Sam Thompson, a 22-year-old college students, is quoted as stating that while he considers himself fiscally conservative, but he opposes cuts to Medicare and wants expanded healthcare coverage. Billie Loewen and Heather Jurva, editors of a student newspaper, state the under 30 generation has a Depression-era mentality. Panicked they won’t find good jobs, or will lose healthcare coverage once they turn 26, they believe government needs to play an active role in helping the economy. These quotes are backed up by a nonpartisan PEW Research Center poll from November that found under 30 voters are the only age group in which a majority said the government should to more to fix the nation’s problems.

This trend of young people voting for Democrats is not new. They’ve been casting more and more ballots for Dems since 2004; however, the under 30 crowd now composes a bigger slice of the electorate, 19 percent this most recent election, up from 18 percent in 2008. Furthermore, the millennial are the most ethnically and racially diverse crowd.

Republicans should be rattled by these figures. The Democrats, President Obama especially, have built a new coalition, the most diverse ever, that can win national elections even without a majority of the white vote. This will fundamentally alter U.S. politics, just as the Reagan revolution did. It will make it easier and easier for Dems to win elections.

What has yet to be seen, however, is whether or not the Democratic Party will truly reflect the views of its base. President Obama has faced a lot of criticism on the left for not doing more to fix the economy and not pushing greater FDR, New Deal-like policies during his first two years in office when his party had supermajorities in the House and Senate. What has changed, however, is the conversation regarding the tax system and fair economic policy. Recently, during the debt ceiling talks, the president got the GOP to cave on taxes and he secured a tax increase for top percent of income earners, certainly the opposite of the trickle down theory. Now he is pushing to close tax loopholes. However, the president still believes in some “grand bargain” to lower the debt, a bargain that will probably include cuts to social programs, the opposite of what a lot of his base wants.

The millenials  are also liberal on social issues, and it has yet to be seen what will be done regarding immigration and gay rights, though the president has vowed to push those issues hard during his second term.Immigration was one of the cornerstones of his recent inaguration speech, and it’s likely it will be pushed again tomorrow during his State of the Union address.  He can even use the power of executive order to pass some progressive laws, especially regarding gay rights and immigration.

What is clear is that this country is rapidly changing, and the shifting demographics will indeed play out at the local, state, and national level. There is a new coalition now, one that believes in a larger role for government, the opposite of austerity and trickle down economics.

Which Way Is the Country Moving Post-Election?

John Cassidy, staff writer for the New Yorker, has an interesting blog post regarding which way the country is shifting politically. Cassidy’s post presents some evidence that is good news for progressives, especially in regards to ending trickle down economics and creating a fairer tax system. Cassidy cites a new poll from Politico/George Washington University showing that 60 percent of Americans now back higher taxes on those earning more than $250,000 a year, and 64 percent support raising taxes on larger corporations. He goes on to state that support for higher taxes on the rich extends across the political spectrum, and even among Republicans, there is almost a 40 percent backing for a more progressive tax policy.

Cassidy also notes that support for gay marriage is at an all-time high, referencing a Gallup poll conducted in late November that showed 53 percent of Americans now support gay marriage or some form of a civil union. However, it’s important to point out that on other issues, the country is not shifting that much. Most Americans do not favor major cuts to the Pentagon budget or increased government spending to create stimulus programs.

The blog post reminds me of some comments I’ve heard from friends lately, friends so sure the country is shifting to the left because Obama won re-election and the Dems gained seats in the Senate. Some of them have even stated it will be nearly impossible for the GOP to win national elections again. However, these conversations have occurred before, and history has shown the opposing party has a way of bouncing back. After Barry Goldwater was soundly defeated in the 1960s, it was said the GOP was dead, but after a generation, they bounced back with the likes of Ronald Reagan and George Bush I. Then, after losing to Clinton twice, the GOP resurrected itself yet again in the 2000s, maintaining control of Congress and the White House for a few election cycles.

Right now, the GOP has a lot of soul searching to do, and the party is in disarray. For the party to stay relevant, it is going to have to produce a broader range of national candidates, perhaps pushing to the national stage politicians like South Carolina Gov. Nikky Haley, Florida Senator Marco Rubio, or Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal. It can no longer be the party of old white guys. The party also needs to move more to the center, especially on social issues and the tax code, because as Cassidy’s reporting points out, the country no longer favors trickle down economics, and that is indeed a huge victory for progressives and a sign that on the tax system at least, the country has indeed moved to the left.

The left, meanwhile, needs to keep the momentum and organization used throughout the election cycle, especially to pressure the president to close Gitmo, truly draw down the war in Afghanistan, and create more economic stimulus. Without maintaining organization, activism, and discipline, the Democrats could face some major losses in 2014, especially since they will have more Senate seats to defend than the GOP. For the country to truly move forward on a number of issues, the movements that got Obama elected twice have to continue.