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“A Palpable Authenticity”: The Non-Clinton Alternative For Democrats

Is Bernie Sanders the political reincarnation of Eugene McCarthy? I doubt it, but let’s hope he makes the Democratic presidential race interesting.

I don’t know if front-runner Hillary Clinton shares my wish, but she ought to. I’m not of the school that believes competition for competition’s sake is always a good thing. But Sanders has an appeal for younger, more liberal, more idealistic Democrats that Clinton presently lacks. If she competes for these voters — and learns to connect with them — she will have a much better chance of winning the White House.

Sanders, the Vermont independent and the only self-described socialist in the Senate, drew packed houses during a weekend barnstorming tour of Iowa. The 2,500 people who attended his rally in Council Bluffs were believed to be the largest crowd a candidate from either party has drawn in the state. This followed last week’s triumph in Madison, Wis. , where Sanders packed a 10,000-seat arena with cheering supporters — the biggest event anywhere thus far in the campaign.

At the same time, Sanders is rising in the polls. The latest Quinnipiac survey showed Clinton with a 19-point lead in Iowa, 52 percent to 33 percent. As recently as May, Clinton had a 45-point advantage.

Comparisons have been made to McCarthy, the Minnesota senator whose opposition to the Vietnam War galvanized support on college campuses and stunned the Democratic Party establishment. McCarthy’s showing in the 1968 New Hampshire primary — he received 42 percent of the vote — helped lead incumbent Lyndon Johnson to pull out of the race.

But let’s not get carried away. A lead of 19 points is a problem any politician would love to have. Sanders’s numbers had nowhere to go but up, and Clinton’s nowhere but down. What’s safe to say at present is that Sanders — not Martin O’Malley, Jim Webb or Lincoln Chafee — has become the non-Clinton alternative for Democrats who, for whatever reason, are suffering some Clinton fatigue.

One thing Sanders has going for himself is palpable authenticity. He is the antithesis of slick. To say there’s nothing focus-grouped about the man is to understate; one doubts he knows what a focus group is. “Rumpled” is the word most often used to describe him, but that’s not quite right; it’s not as if his suits are unpressed or his shirttails untucked. He’s just all substance and no style — which, to say the least, makes him stand out among politicians.

Clinton, by contrast, has always struggled to let voters see the “authentic” her rather than the carefully curated, every-hair-in-place version her campaigns have sought to project. Part of the problem, I believe, is that women in politics are held to an almost impossible standard; no male candidate’s wardrobe choice or tone of voice receives such microscopic scrutiny. But she also distances herself by campaigning as if she’s protecting a big lead — which she is — and wants to avoid offending anyone. Last, when asked her favorite ice cream flavor, she replied, “I like nearly everything.” What, vanilla lovers were going to abandon her if she had said chocolate?

Sanders’s main appeal, however, is that he speaks unabashedly for the party’s activist left. He is witheringly critical of Wall Street, wants to break up the big banks, proposes single-payer health care and promises to raise taxes. He voted against the 2003 invasion of Iraq; Clinton, then a senator, voted for it but now says that she made a mistake.

Eight years ago, Barack Obama made opposition to the Iraq war his signature issue and rode it to victory in Iowa and beyond. Will lightning strike the Clinton machine twice?

Not the same kind of lightning, surely, and not in the same manner. Obama is a uniquely gifted politician whose appeal went beyond the issues. He was able to make voters believe not just in him but also in themselves and their power to reshape the world. And as the first African American with a legitimate chance to become president, he gave the nation a chance to make history.

This time, Clinton is the candidate with history on her side. The fact that she could be the first woman elected president is not enough, by itself, to win her the nomination. But it does matter. She, like Obama, offers voters the chance to feel a sense of accomplishment.

And nothing about Clinton’s past remotely compares with the millstone of Vietnam that weighed LBJ down and ultimately caused him to give up. I just don’t see a McCarthy scenario brewing — or an Obama scenario, either.

 

By: Eugene Robinson, Opinion Writer, The Washington Post, July 7, 2015

July 8, 2015 Posted by | Bernie Sanders, Democrats, Hillary Clinton | , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

“The Long, Long Battle For Health Care Reform”: The Single Defining Goal Of American Progressivism For More Than A Century

So in this week of epochal Supreme Court opinions, even health policy wonks would not claim that King v. Burwell can match Obergefell v. Hodges in terms of its historical significance. There’s a reason the latter is stimulating spontaneous outbreaks of happiness among people who aren’t political and don’t follow constitutional law.

But at Vox today, Dylan Matthews reminds us that of the incredibly long hard path this country has followed to reach even the Affordable Care Act’s first timorous steps towards universal health coverage. Those conservatives who talk as though no one has ever seriously considered such a socialist abomination until now really are betraying their ignorance about history:

National health insurance has been the single defining goal of American progressivism for more than a century. There have been other struggles, of course: for equality for women, African-Americans, and LGBT people; for environmental protection; against militarism in Southeast Asia and the Middle East. But ever since its inclusion in Teddy Roosevelt’s 1912 Bull Moose platform, a federally guaranteed right to health coverage has been the one economic and social policy demand that loomed over all others. It was the big gap between our welfare state and those of our peers in Europe, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and Japan.

And for more than a century, efforts to achieve national health insurance failed. Roosevelt’s third-party run came up short. His Progressive allies, despite support from the American Medical Association, failed to pass a bill in the 1910s. FDR declined to include health insurance in the Social Security Act, fearing it would sink the whole program, and the Wagner Act, his second attempt, ended in failure too. Harry Truman included a single-payer plan open to all Americans in his Fair Deal set of proposals, but it went nowhere. LBJ got Medicare and Medicaid done after JFK utterly failed, but both programs targeted limited groups.

Richard Nixon proposed a universal health-care plan remarkably similar to Obamacare that was killed when then-Sen. Ted Kennedy (D-MA) walked away from a deal to pass it, in what Kennedy would later call his greatest regret as a senator. Jimmy Carter endorsed single-payer on the campaign trail, but despite having a Democratic supermajority in Congress did nothing to pass it. And the failure of Bill Clinton’s health-care plan is the stuff of legend.

Yes, Obamacare haters may dismiss the experience of virtually every other wealthy country by intoning “American exceptionalism”, as though we have some long-cherished right to die young that’s as essential to the national character as unlimited possession of guns. But this has been a constant issue in our own country, too, and it’s a token of how far our political system has drifted to the right that redeeming the vision of Teddy Roosevelt and Harry Truman and Richard Nixon strikes so many people as a horrifying lurch into socialism.

 

By: Ed Kilgore, Contributing Writer, Political Animal Blog, June 26, 2015

June 27, 2015 Posted by | Affordable Care Act, Health Insurance, SCOTUS | , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“Liberals Discomfort With Power”: No Good Argument For Clinton Needing A Challenger

Even before Hillary Clinton formally announced her intention to seek the office of the presidency, left-of-center pundits had been worried about the appearance of primogenitor. While the Republicans are generally comfortable with the coronation of heirs to the party’s nomination, the Democrats are not. There’s something monarchical about political ascension, the pundits say, something authoritarian and dynastic: it’s anathema to the principles of egalitarianism and meritocracy.

After Jeb Bush announced the launch of his exploratory committee, Glenn Greenwald, the civil-libertarian journalist, said a matchup between the wife and son/brother of former presidents would “vividly underscore how the American political class functions: by dynasty, plutocracy, fundamental alignment of interests masquerading as deep ideological divisions, and political power translating into vast private wealth and back again. The educative value would be undeniable.”

David Corn didn’t go as far as Greenwald. But he found Clinton’s apparent inevitability equally distasteful. Corn advanced the name of former Maryland governor Martin O’Malley as a foil. O’Malley, he said, “would make a good sparring partner. He’s a smart guy with sass, but he’s not a slasher, who could inflict long-lasting political damage.” Critically important, he said, is that Clinton shouldn’t assume victory. Only with a primary fight, Clinton would “earn—not inherit—the nomination,” Corn wrote. “She’d be a fighter, not a dynastic queen. The press and the public would have something to ponder beyond just Clinton herself.”

I admire Corn and Greenwald immensely, and agree with them mostly. But I’d argue their assessments, as well as those of others in the left-liberal commentariat, are not arguments. Instead, they are statements reflecting a discomfort with power, a discomfort widely shared among Democrats. Meanwhile, Republicans have no such qualms whatsoever.

Despite her flaws, Clinton and her campaign represent a singular moment in the history of the Democratic Party. Namely, there probably has not been this much party unity since 1964 when President Lyndon Baines Johnson, campaigning in the memory of an assassinated president, beat conservative Barry Goldwater in a landslide. But that unity failed to last. Four years later, in the shadow of Vietnam and in the backlash against the Civil Rights Act, LBJ’s Democratic Party would crack up forever.

In the wake of that crack-up, the Republicans routinely won by deploying an array of wedge issues to divide and conquer—from Richard Nixon’s “Southern Strategy” in 1968, to George H.W. Bush’s “Willie Horton” attack in 1988, to his son’s “gays, guns, and God” in 2004. But by 2008, something essential had shifted. Barack Obama forged a coalition among minorities, young voters, and white liberals and John McCain refused to go negative on his opponent’s race, fearing backlash. In 2012, the Obama coalition held despite Mitt Romney’s clumsy attempts at race baiting.

Holding that coalition together is vital to maintaining the gains, large and small, made in eight years of unprecedented, massive, and total resistance on the part of the Republicans. And I’m not only talking about the Affordable Care Act, which is transforming life for millions, nor the Dodd-Frank financial reform law, which is finally taking effect.

Since 2013, when Obama realized he’d get nothing in terms of legislation from the Republicans, the president used his executive authority to make several small-bore advances in climate change, immigration, foreign policy, gay rights, and the minimum wage (among federal contractors). All it takes to turn that around is the next Republican president.

In 2000, Ralph Nader won a few million votes by claiming there was no difference between the major parties. While his message was undeniable, his campaign was indisputably destructive. Nader’s take of the popular vote was enough for George W. Bush to beat Al Gore by a hair. In addition to a disastrous war, giveaways to the wealthy, and incompetent governance, we have Chief Justice John Roberts and Associate Justice Samuel Alito, who, along with the high Court’s Republican majority, believe money has no corrupting effect on politics and that closely held businesses may discriminate on the basis of religious liberty.

Nader isn’t responsible for the Bush era. My point is that the stakes are high—too high to worry about a candidate’s foibles and fret over a “dynastic queen.” That matters less than Clinton’s being a Democrat who will, at the very least, hold the line against attempts to redistribute more wealth upward, to dismantle the welfare state, to privatized the public sphere, and wage more war abroad. Hopefully, if Clinton wins in 2016, she will build on the progressive record started by her predecessor.

Left-liberals are right in saying Clinton must clarify her positions on immigration, Wall Street, unemployment, foreign policy, and a host of other issues. She has been and will continue to be like her husband: maddeningly circumspect and hard to pin down. But that, in addition to all the other complaints thus far, doesn’t amount to an argument against her winning the nomination. Those complaints reflect liberals’ unease with power and the use of that power to protect hard-won progressive gains.

It’s time to get over that.

After all, voting is a political strategy that hopes to achieve political ends, not a quadrennial occasion to assess a candidate’s ideological worth.

 

By: John Stoehr, Managing Editor of The Washington Spectator; Featured Post, The National Memo, April 21, 2015

April 23, 2015 Posted by | Election 2016, Hillary Clinton, Liberals | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Common Victims”: Movements For Racial Justice And Economic Justice Could Converge To Form A Powerhouse For Change

What happens to a dream deferred?

Maybe it just sags like a heavy load. Or does it explode?

That was the poet Langston Hughes, in 1951. In that year, more than half a century ago, the most basic dreams of African Americans were deferred. Segregation was mandatory in the old South. Discrimination was legal everywhere in America, whether in housing, education, or employment. Blacks were not just separated, but isolated, marginalized, restricted to the worst jobs and most dilapidated neighborhoods, the most dismal schools.

For many, the racism just sagged, like a heavy load. It destroyed hope that hard work would be rewarded. The deferred dreams of that era seldom produced explosions, because the state had a very efficient system of terror. Blacks who resisted were likely to be lynched, jailed, or otherwise destroyed.

It is a testament to sheer grit, tenacity and courage that large numbers of blacks managed to get educations, raise families, start businesses, and enter professions at all—and demand inclusion in civic life.

The next 20 years were almost miraculous. From the small beginnings of local bus boycotts and sit-ins came the transformation of civil rights laws, finally giving African Americans full civic and legal equality, a hundred years after Lincoln.

The progress of the 1960s reflected a combination of the courage of the civil rights movements, the alliance with decent whites, and the leadership of an accidental president. Lyndon Johnson was able to prick the conscience of just enough of white America, to cajole and pressure just enough legislators, and to make a startling alliance between the White House and the radicals in the streets.

If you have never read or watched LBJ’s “We Shall Overcome” speech, you have missed a key moment in American history.

It helped that the economy was booming, so that economic progress for blacks did not equate to explicit sacrifices for whites (though whites did have to give up their role as a privileged caste). It helped that there were still liberal Republicans in that era, without whom none of the great civil rights laws could have passed.

So here we are, approaching Christmas 2014. Racism still taints the American dream. And unlike, say, in 1964 when there was a sense of a movement on the march with history on its side, it is hard to summon up optimism.

It is one thing when the government decrees that blacks can’t vote, can’t patronize restaurants, can’t apply for good jobs. That sort of racism shames everyone.

But when cops brutalize young black men, and prosecutors wink, and grand juries refuse to indict, that sort of racism is deeper in the social fabric and much harder to explicitly root out. It is encouraging to see outraged citizens on the march again, heartening that the marches includes whites as well as blacks and other groups.

Yet what sort of movement, what sort of policies, what sort of majority support in the country can we imagine that will fix what is broken?

New York Mayor Bill DeBlasio, whose bi-racial son Dante sports an Afro, has spoken of the need to “literally train him, as families have all over this city for decades, in how to take special care in any encounter he has with the police officers who are there to protect him.” That comment provoked outrage from the police.

Sunday, speaking on the ABC News program This Week DeBlasio threaded his way between outrage and support for law enforcement, declaring:

We have to retrain police forces in how to work with communities differently. We have to work on things like body cameras that would provide different level of transparency and accountability. This is something systemic. And we bluntly have to talk about the historic racial dynamics underlie this.

There have, in fact, been moments when thoroughly racist local police departments have been made over to discard their worst racist practices. The Los Angeles Police Department, after decades of strife and civic reform, is better than it once was. But it took a consent agreement with the Justice Department and five years of direct federal supervision.

President Obama, who did manage to summon up some outrage in the Trayvon Martin murder (“If I had a son, he’d look like Trayvon”), has been relatively circumspect, appealing both for reform and for order. He is not close to calling for federal supervision of local police.

Obama is no LBJ. And in fairness to Obama, in the absence of stronger public demands, the federal government is not well-positioned to remake local grand juries and police departments.

We have gone utterly backwards since the 1960s, a time when the Justice Department and the courts vigorously interceded to protect the right to vote. Now, the right to vote is being taken away and rightwing courts are tying the Justice Department’s hands.

We need a broad movement once again, to force government’s hand. As Dr. King appreciated in the last year of his life, it needs to be a movement for economic justice as well as civil rights, a multi-racial movement. Only when there is common appreciation that whites and blacks are common victims of an economic system that delivers all the gains to the top do we have a prayer of mobilizing the whole nation to demand action.

 

By: Robert Kuttner, Co-Editor, The American Prospect, December 10, 2014

December 11, 2014 Posted by | Civil Rights Act, Inequality, Racism | , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“Oppressive Lethargy Of Choicelessness”: What Is The Kerner Commission And Why It Should Be Revisited In Light of Ferguson

What we must remember always — and something I have told many juries in the past — is that the most powerful person in the world, on a day-to-day basis, is not the president of the United States. No, it is a police officer. Your local police officer can engage you — one-on-one, every day of the week, anywhere and any place. Your local police officer has the authority and power to take your life; and more often than not, get away with it; particularly if you happen to be a black or brown male in our society.

And how does it, all too often occur, that a police officer — most often a white police office — happens to shoot and kill or otherwise brutalize a black or brown male? Because by doing nothing when our local police officers engage in everyday minor, but insidious wrongdoing — most often directed at black and brown community residents, we enable and embolden all law enforcement personnel to believe that any wrongful conduct is acceptable simply because they wear a badge. They assume and too many in our society accept that, because they are police officers, our Constitutional constraints, under which they are sworn to perform, do not also apply to them even though they apply to each and every other American citizen.

So when I discuss the civil rights issues we tackled yesterday and the civil rights issues we confront today, including those that focus on law enforcement, I constantly advance the position that, while everything has changed, nothing has changed.

When the race riots of the 1960s occurred in communities across the nation, President Lyndon Baines Johnson appointed a commission, chaired by Illinois Governor Otto Kerner. My mentor, the Honorable Nathaniel R. Jones, served as an Assistant Counsel on the staff of this commission before he assumed the position of General Counsel of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) and then was appointed by former President Jimmy Carter to the federal Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit.

The Kerner Commission Report concluded that the trigger for the riots — throughout the country — invariably derived from confrontations between the local police and members of local African-American communities. It also concluded that the residents’ held an often justified perception of the largely white police as an occupying force which was in the community to serve and protect the interests of the privileged white communities rather than to serve and protect the legitimate interests of the local minority residents and that the police inherently harbored racist attitudes toward residents of minority communities that they were also charged to serve.

Moreover, the Commission found that the underlying conditions in the making over decades — in fact, over centuries — in African-American communities provided the context for the precipitating trigger incidents of the unrest in the 1960s: racially segregated communities, inferior schools, high unemployment, and insufficient or inadequate governmental responses and attention to community needs leading those who resided in minority communities to suffer from a societal-imposed color “cast” status. They became victims of what the Nigerian author, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, in her award-winning novel, Americanah, more recently described as the “oppressive lethargy of choicelessness” — a choicelessness growing out of government sanctioned inequality and second-class citizenship and a choicelessness that was waiting to explode.

Do these findings of the 1968 Kerner Commission sound familiar in 2014?

So, I urge President Barack Obama to revisit the Kerner Commission, some 50 years later; and to ascertain where — if anywhere — we have come since the founding of our nation with its original sin (slavery and its ongoing legacy); and where we have yet to go, since we are far, far from having arrived at a “more perfect union.”

What to do?

I propose that President Obama appoint a Commission, chaired by not one governor, but by two former presidents — Jimmy Carter and George W. Bush, under the auspices of the Carter Center and the George W. Bush Library; and comprised of distinguished and diverse members such as Governor Deval Patrick, Oprah Winfrey, Henry Cisneros, Retired Supreme Court Justices Sandra Day O’Connor, John Paul Stevens, David Souter, former Attorney General Janet Reno, to be supported by a staff of highly respected and renown professionals from all walks of life to address and to courageously face our past and our present in order to plot our course forward.

While everything changes, the one constant that has not changed is the deeply embedded institutional and individual attitudinal racism that pervades our country. The fact remains that the impetus for local community explosions — racism — almost always is triggered by a confrontation between police officers (most often white) and black and brown males — youth and men, alike.

In 1852, at the Friends House in Rochester, NY, Fredrick Douglass stated in his historic address entitled, What to the Slave is the Fourth of July?, that “We must do with the past only as we make it useful to the present and the future.” Such is as true today as it was in 1852. And it is as true today as it was in the 1960s.

 

By: James I. Meyerson, Assistant General Counsel in the Office of the NAACP General Counsel, 1970-1981; The Huffington Post Blog, August 18, 2014

August 19, 2014 Posted by | Law Enforcement, Police Officers, Racism | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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