washington, dc

The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Ruy Teixeira

Democrats Need to Be the Party of and for Working People—of All Races

And they can’t retake Congress unless they win over more white workers.
by Robert Griffin, John Halpin & Ruy Teixeira

Read the article…

Matt Morrison

Rebuilding a Progressive Majority by Winning Back White Working-Class Moderates

From the findings of Working America, the AFL-CIO’s outreach program to non-union working people.
by Matt Morrison

Read the article…

The Daily Strategist

October 21, 2017

Political Strategy Notes – Labor Day Edition

From “The Working Class Can’t Afford the American Dream” at howmuch.net:

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“This map tells us several things about the working class in America. Of the ten most populous cities in the country, the only place where you can enjoy a decent standard of living without taking on debt is San Antonio. Out of the top 50 largest cities, only 12 are considered affordable. Low-wage workers are better off in smaller cities…The geography of affordable cities is also remarkable. Newark, NJ, Chesapeake, VA and Jacksonville, FL are the only coastal locations where a worker can support his or her family. There are exactly zero affordable cities on the West Coast. Matter of fact, inexpensive locales tend to be far away from the coasts and can be found in the interior of the country. This is especially true in the southwest in states like Arizona and Texas.” ‘Best’ cities include: 1. Fort Worth, TX ($10,447); 2. Newark, NJ (($10,154); 3. Glendale, AZ ($10,120); 4. Gilbert, AZ ($9,760); and 5. Mesa, AZ ($7,780). You can probably guess the ‘worst’: 1. New York, NY (-$91,184); 2. San Francisco, CA (-$83,272); 3. Boston, MA (-$61,900); 4. Washington, DC (-$50,535) and 5. Philadelphia, PA (-$37,850). The chart should be helpful for targeting locations for minimum wage and union organizing campaigns, affordable housing, food co-ops and other projects.

Former Clinton and Obama staffer Ronald Klain’s “Here’s the most significant thing Democrats could do to help working families now” at The Washington Post, and notes: “There’s energy in the Democratic Party around big ideas, such as single-payer health care or a universal basic income. But the most significant thing Democrats could do to help working families right now isn’t designing a grand new program — it’s getting in the trenches to fight for a simple old idea. Specifically, trying to stop the Trump administration from denying millions of workers the overtime pay they have earned…Rather than siding with his voters, President Trump caved to major employers. Last month, his Labor Department announced that it was considering “stakeholder” — read: business — concerns that the new rule’s salary level was “too high.” Attention MAGA red-hat wearers: The president believes if you are making $600 a week, you may be making too much to deserve overtime. The Lord of the Apprentice Boardroom, the King of Mar-a-Lago, the Master of Trump Tower thinks you — making $15 an hour — may be paid too much to get overtime. He believes your boss should be able to make you come to work at dawn, stay far into the night, and not pay you one dime more for the extra hours worked…Democrats should try to attach amendments to legislation, updating the law…and putting the Obama rule into effect. They should talk about overtime whenever they can, and challenge Republicans on it in every corner carryout, gas station, work site and suburban mega-store.”

An optimistic take from syndicated columnist E. J. Dionne, Jr.: “Jared Bernstein and Ben Spielberg explained last week in an online commentary for The Post that the president is using his executive power to undercut regulations on workers’ pay, financial security and job safety, and also their right to form unions. Here again, Trump’s actions belie his words…Trump seems to think that if he goes after immigrants, picks fights about his border wall, regularly recites the words “law and order” and assails “political correctness,” workers won’t notice any of this. He’ll keep attacking academic and media elites to distract from his service to financial elites. And there is so much focus on the scandals genuinely worthy of public attention that the substance of Trump’s economic policies will be confined to the back pages of newspapers or the nether reaches of the Internet…Will it work? I’d insist that it’s always safe to wager that, over time, American workers judge politicians by looking at their paychecks, their working conditions and the economic prospects of their families. Trump will discover the limits of his flimflam…It was Reuther who said: “There’s a direct relationship between the ballot box and the bread box.” I still think he was right.”

Some updated stats on union membership from “Their purpose evolved, but labor unions still protect worker rights” by John O’Connell at the [Hazleton, PA] Standard-Speaker: “About 8 percent of the nation’s 136 million workers, or 14.6 million people, are [private sector] union members. The “top 5 states for union members in workforce”: New York …. 24 percent; Hawaii …. 20 percent; Alaska ….. 19 percent; Connecticut …. 18 percent; Washington …. 17 percent; and Pennsylvania … 12 percent of workforce.” The “Bottom 5 states for union members in workforce”: Texas …. 4 percent; Georgia …. 4 percent; Arkansas …. 4 percent; North Carolina …. 3 percent and: South Carolina …. 2 percent.

There is some statistical good news in the most recent Gallup poll, conducted Aug 2-6, 2017: “In the U.S., 61% of adults say they approve of labor unions, the highest percentage since the 65% approval recorded in 2003. The current labor union approval is up five percentage points from last year and is 13 points above the all-time low found in 2009…Eighty-one percent of Democrats approve of unions this year — significantly higher than the 42% of Republicans who approve. This disparity is not as stark as it was in 2011 when Republican approval was 26% and Democratic approval was 78%. Democratic approval of unions has been fairly steady over time, while the approval levels of independents and Republicans have fluctuated…As more U.S. adults approve of unions, their interest in wanting unions to have more influence is also on the rise. Thirty-nine percent of Americans would like unions to have more influence — the highest figure recorded in the 18 years Gallup has asked this question. Consequently, those who want labor unions to have less influence is at a record low of 28%. Thirty percent want unions to have the same influence as today.”

“On Labor Day — designated a federal holiday in 1894 to honor America’s labor movement — at least eight Democratic candidates will hold rallies in five Midwest cities to tell workers just how far the country has veered from its pro-labor roots,” reports Kira Lerner at Think Progress. “Each candidate will center their campaigns on their support for a $15 minimum wage, progressive health care, and pro-union policies.” At least two labor leaders are running for state-wide office. “Cathy Glasson, a registered nurse and union leader in Iowa who will officially announce after Labor Day her campaign for governor in 2018, said that before this year, she had never considered running for elected office…In Milwaukee, Wisconsin, Mahlon Mitchell, the president of the Professional Fire Fighters Association of Wisconsin who announced his run for governor in July, will rally with workers at a hospital.”

Dollars & Sense Magazine is featuring a revealing interview with Labor journalist Chris Brooks and veteran union organizer Gene Bruskin about “Labor’s Southern Strategy.” At one point, Bruskin comments on the successful campaign to organize 5,000 workers at Smithfuled foods in Tarheel, NC: “The first time the UFCW tried to organize the plant in 1994, they thought they could just go through the normal NLRB procedures. The company just unloaded on them. During the second election in 1997, the company brought in the Sheriff’s office, they stood outside the plant with armed rifles when people walked into work. During the vote, the lights went out in the plant when people were casting ballots. They beat up organizers. It was a massive, unrestrained employer campaign. It wasn’t public though, because the union was keeping it quiet outside of the plant and the company was exerting total control inside of it…It took years before the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) and the courts weighed in. It also took years before the union decided to engage in a big public campaign outside the plant to counter the company’s inside campaign. We put a lot of time, energy and resources into telling the story of the workers, not just in the plant. but also in an aggressive media campaign, also in the churches all around the state and in public places all along the East and Midwest, using key allies like Jobs with Justice. These stories put the company on the defensive. By making the oppression that workers faced in the plant synonymous with the Smithfield brand, we created a wall of public pressure to guard workers against the company’s attacks. I think we successfully exposed Smithfield’s actions in a way that hurt their brand, in a way that the UAW hasn’t seemed to be able to do to Nissan or Volkswagen.”

In his HuffPo article, “A Labor Day Cheer For Economic Nationalism: Trump had no intention of delivering for American workers, except at the level of rhetoric. His actual policies are viciously anti-labor,” Robert Kuttner, co-editor of The American Prospect, writes, “Trump had no intention of delivering for American workers, except at the level of rhetoric. His actual policies are viciously anti-labor. His infrastructure program is a complete phony, using privatization of vital public facilities with no net increase in public investment. The Goldman-Sachs wing of the administration has taken control of trade policy, and with Bannon gone that control will be complete…Now that right wing economic nationalism is defunct, there is an opening for progressive economic nationalism. It would include serious spending on public infrastructure and a green transition both to modernize made-in-USA technology and to create good domestic jobs. If taxpayer dollars or public debt is funding these investments, it’s perfectly fair play to demand that they produce made-in-USA employment. It’s also fair play to ask countries that don’t respect decent labor or environmental standards to pay a social tariff so that we don’t import the wretched standards along with the products (and under Trump, America could barely pass such a test). It’s time to clean up our own act.”

In The New York Times, William E. Forbath, professor of law and history at the University of Texas and Brishen Rogers, a Temple University law professor,  urge “A New Type of Labor Law for a New Type of Worker” and they argue that Democratic lawmakers should be “putting labor-law reform at the top of their agenda.” Further, “A few simple but bold legal reforms would make a world of difference. First, Congress could pass laws to promote multi-employer bargaining, or even bargaining among all companies in an industry. If all hotel brands, all fast-food brands, all grocers or all local delivery companies bargained together, none would be placed at a competitive disadvantage as a result of unionization, which is often the main reason employers resist it so fiercely. Second, Congress could ensure that organized workers can bargain with the companies that actually profit from their work by expanding the legal definition of employment to cover more categories of workers…Organized and united under new labor laws that they had a hand in achieving, retail, hospitality, health care and other service workers could become a solid, multiracial working-class base for a progressive Democratic Party.”


Guess What? Young People Really Loathe Donald Trump

This bit of polling news was of interest to me, so I wrote it up for New York:

It’s not exactly breaking news that millennials are not a hotbed of support for Donald J. Trump (or for that matter, his party). But via Axios, we learn that the latest weekly Gallup approval-rating numbers for the president among 18-to-29-year-olds have hit a dismal new low of 20 percent.

Trump’s approval rating in this age cohort has been sloping downward since late April, when it stood at a merely abysmal 36 percent.

Like most Republicans, of course, Trump’s popularity is directly proportional to the number of years poll respondents have been walking the earth. He’s currently at 33 percent among 30-to-49-year-olds; 42 percent among 50-to-64-year-olds; and 43 percent among those over the age of 65. If you have to pick where to be strong or weak, this is the pattern you’d like in the very short term, since likelihood to vote is also more or less directly related to age. These Gallup numbers are not screened for voter registration, much less likelihood to vote, so the overall profile for Trump isn’t quite as bad as it looks when it comes to people who will, for example, be voting in 2018.

In the long run, though, you don’t want your political party to be led by someone who is loathed by the voters of the future.

No, you don’t see many MAGA hats among millennials.


Waldman: What Dems Should Learn from Obamacare Experience

At The Plum Line, Paul Waldfman’s “‘Single payer’ is becoming Democratic Party consensus. Here’s the danger to avoid” identifies some lessons learned about health care politics. “So what lessons can we take from the experience of the ACA that might help Democrats as they move toward another enormous health-care reform?,” asks Waldman. “Here are a few”:

It’s going to take years. There’s a certain amount of wishful thinking in some quarters that goes like this: Medicare-for-all is an idea people find attractive; single-payer systems are simpler than what we have now; so all that’s required to get it done is the proper application of will. But it’s never that easy. It’s going to require lots of detailed policy work and lots of political work to prepare for the moment where Democrats control the presidency and Congress and can make it happen. We all laughed at President Trump when he said “Nobody knew that health care could be so complicated,” so liberals need to keep that in mind.

Disruption is frightening. The fact that people don’t want to lose what they have — and can easily be frightened into thinking they might — is a political reality that will always need to be dealt with. It helped defeat the Clinton plan, it helped undercut the ACA, and it helped defeat the Republican repeal effort. You can’t wish it away. If you’re going to change the insurance millions of people now have, you’d better have a darn good plan to overcome their fears.

We need to think about the transition from where we are now to where we want to go. Other countries with universal systems had an easier time putting them in place than we will, because health care was less complicated decades ago when they did it. We now have an exceedingly complex system in place and transforming it won’t be easy, so the plan we decide on has to be one we can get to from where we are now. The implementation of the ACA was hard enough; implementing a single-payer plan would be even harder. The design of your favored plan should include an understanding of what will happen in the first months and years.

Republican demagoguery is a certainty. Republicans will have legitimate critiques of any universal plan, but they will also tell insane lies about it. Remember “death panels”? Expect that times 10 in the case of single payer.

Beware the interest groups. Some on the left look with scorn on Obama’s decision to co-opt those groups, but if you don’t do that, you’d better be ready for a vicious fight. Insurers, drug companies, medical device makers, hospitals, doctors — they all have a lot of money at stake, and whatever plan you come up with, you’re going to have to deal with them.

There will be winners and losers. Democrats can reasonably claim that many more people will be better off if we move to a universal system, and that everyone has something to gain. But that doesn’t mean that there will be no one who winds up with something worse than they have now, and acknowledging that fact can help you prepare for the backlash.

You have to be able to explain it to people. This was one of the major liabilities of the ACA: It was a complex solution to a complex problem, and few ordinary citizens understood what it did. Single-payer systems start off with an advantage in this area; you can say “Everyone gets Medicaid,” and that’s easy to understand. But if that’s not your preferred plan, you need to find a simple way to describe it.

Waldman argues further that the term “single-payer” may be asking for trouble because it is too narrow. The term “suggests that the only system they’d accept is one in which there is one government insurer and no private insurers. That’s one possibility, but there are many other ways to get to universal, secure coverage that have multiple payers.” Further,

I happen to think the best and most achievable system given where we are is one in which there’s a basic government plan that covers everyone — an expanded Medicaid, perhaps — plus private supplemental insurance on top of it, a hybrid system of the kind that works well in countries such as France and Canada. The point is that it would be much better to speak of “universal coverage,” which allows for a number of different designs as long as they achieve the same goal.

Waldman concludes by repeating his first point, that it’s going to take years. It’s going to require phases, incremental reforms and hybrid public/private policies to move America toward universal coverage. Democrats have to accept that it’s all up to them, since the modern Republican Party is uninterested in building a bipartisan consensus, and seems wholly devoted to obstructing any forward progress on health care. That’s why the 2018 midterm elections are a critical priority for better health care in America.


New Centrist Group Comes In Peace

When a new group of Democratic centrists calling itself New Democracy was formed recently, I watched carefully, and had this initial assessment at New York:

Right away, the ranks of those who are ever-ready for a “struggle for the soul of the Democratic Party” rejoiced, glimpsing a new factional fight. That included conservatives eager to suggest the group would be a redoubt for pro-life candidates progressives wanted to exclude; progressives quick to label it as advocating the “rich-friendly neoliberalism inflected with white identity politics” that Democrats have begun to repudiate; and mainstream-media folk looking for a new entrant in the “fight over the party’s direction….”

Those who were familiar with the New Democrats (and the organization that launched them, the now-defunct Democratic Leadership Council) can be forgiven for assuming the new group would again be taking up the cudgels against “fundamentalist liberalism” and an interest-group-dominated Democratic Party — particularly given the new prominence of democratic socialist Bernie Sanders and his followers. After all, New Democracy’s founder, Will Marshall, was a co-founder of the DLC more than three decades ago, and he still espouses some of the same policy views (bemoaning economic anti-globalization and pessimism) and political perspectives (embracing a “big tent” party committed to persuasion as well as mobilization of voters) familiar to participants and spectators of intra-party fights in the past.

But in an interview with Ezra Klein, Marshall disclaimed any interest in struggling for souls:

“I was interested to see that Marshall has formed a new organization: New Democracy, which promises to “expand the party’s appeal across Middle America and make Democrats competitive everywhere.” The DLC wing of the Democratic Party has been surprisingly quiet as its legacy has come under attack, and as the argument over the future of the party has centered on how far left it should go. The debate, I assumed, was about to be joined. But when I reached him, that’s not what happened.”

“’I don’t know the one true path to durable progressive majorities, and I don’t think anyone else does either,” Marshall says. “’When you’re in the minority, you need to expand in every direction.’”

When asked to live up, or down, to his reputation as a lefty-basher, Marshall demurred:

“A few decades ago, Marshall helped lead a confident ideological insurgency that reshaped the Democratic Party from top to bottom. Today, he sounds chastened. ‘We’re not interested in engaging in sectarian battles for control of the Democratic Party’s steering wheel,’ he says. ‘New Democracy isn’t aimed at safe blue districts. The Democratic Party is doing well there. We’re focused on the competitive ground where we need to make big gains.'”

Among the current and former elected officials New Democracy has signed up, most are indeed from red and purple states. But they hardly resemble the “southern white boys” the DLC was often accused of representing. Their southern contingent prominently includes two African-Americans from the reddest of red states, U.S. Representative Terri Sewell of Alabama and Columbia, South Carolina, mayor Steve Benjamin. Perhaps their best-known white Southerner is New Orleans mayor Mitch Landrieu, whose conspicuous stand against neo-Confederate monuments makes the idea this group promotes “white identity politics” a bit absurd. Most typical of the New Democracy supporters is probably former Iowa governor and Obama Cabinet member Tom Vilsack, who has watched his state’s hard-won Democratic majorities unravel rapidly over the last few years, from the top to the bottom of the ballot.

I should note that I was a colleague of Marshall at the DLC back in the day. I almost certainly preceded and exceeded him in the sort of humbled reevaluation of the organization’s tenets that Klein observes, as reflected in my own conflicted assessment of the DLC when it closed its doors, in 2011. But his ecumenical spirit was exemplified by a joint statement on economic policy he co-signed with the American Prospect’s Robert Kuttner — yes, the same rigorously progressive Robert Kuttner whose commitment to economic “populism” made Stephen Bannon think he might make common cause with Trump in China-bashing — back in 2004. Some of us who knew both men thought this meeting of the Democratic minds could be a sign of the End Times.

In any event, Marshall and his colleagues appear to come in peace, asking for a job some Democrats are loath to do. As Jesse Jackson once said to a DLC gathering, “it takes two wings to fly.” That doesn’t mean party conflicts can be perpetually avoided. As Klein observes, when it comes time to nominate a presidential candidate for 2020, there can only be one winner. And Marshall’s suggestion of a red-state/blue-state division of labor won’t convince populists who believe that their own message, not some squishy business-friendly centrism, is the ideal ice-breaker for white working-class voters. But with Donald Trump still raging around the White House, and Republicans still controlling most of the levers of power in Washington and a majority of the states, a delay in the intra-party fisticuffs as long as possible probably makes sense.


Political Strategy Notes

From E. J. Dionne, Jr.’s column, “A Hurricane of Conservative Hypocrisy“: “…it is entirely appropriate to call out the hypocrisy of Texas conservatives who voted against assistance for the victims of Superstorm Sandy in New York and New Jersey but are now asking for federal help on behalf of their folks. They broke this basic rule of solidarity in the name of an ideology that, when the chips are down, they don’t really believe in. Of course we should help all the areas devastated by Harvey. I’d just appreciate hearing our Texas conservative friends, beginning with Sen. Ted Cruz, admit they were wrong.”

The ‘Medicare for All’ cause in the Democratic Party just got a big boost from U.S. Sen. Kamala Harris, who announced her co-sponsorship of the single-payer health care bill of Sen. Bernie Sanders. As Brooke Seipel notes at The Hill:  “I intend to co-sponsor the ‘Medicare for All’ bill because it’s just the right thing to do,” Harris announced Wednesday at a town hall in Oakland…It’s not just about what is morally and ethically right, it also makes sense just from a fiscal standpoint,” she said.” Harris’s support of single-payer health care reform will likely enhance her cred as a national leader with younger voters and help position her for a white house run.

Anthea Butler says it straight in her NYT op-ed “The Cheap prosperity Gospel of Trump and Osteen,” and observes, “while the storm churns through Texas and Louisiana, causing floods, death and misery, it is time to consider the damage the prosperity gospel has done to America. Mr. Trump and Mr. Osteen unwittingly revealed its ugly underbelly: the smugness, the self-aggrandizing posturing. It has co-opted many in the Republican Party, readily visible in their relentless desire to strip Americans of health care, disaster relief and infrastructure funding…Now Ted Cruz and Texas Republicans seek federal disaster aid, although they voted against the same in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy. The Republicans in states affected by the disaster will find out soon enough what it feels like to come to Washington and relief organizations with their hat in their hands.”

At HuffPo Allan Abramson proposes “A New Democratic Agenda,” and suggests: “After all these years, we need to learn from the defeats. We must learn to focus on a few key issues, and hammer them repeatedly. We need charismatic speakers and meaningful slogans. And, we need a 50 state strategy…Here are some suggestions for an agenda for 2018. Keep it simple, and keep it focused on the priorities of our base. People need to see the benefits of voting Democratic. Otherwise, another decade in the wilderness. Abamson then presents a 4-point agena for Dems, with jobs, Medicare, voting rights and  a fair tax system for everyone.

Sen. Bernie Sanders makes a couple of important points in his interview with Alexandra Jaffe at Vice news. “Asked by one disaffected supporter why he hasn’t simply started a new party, Sanders defended the Democrats, insisting his only option was to work within the party. “Don’t lump Democrats and Republicans together,” he said…If you want to be critical of Democrats, I’m with you. There’s a lot that we can criticize. But to say that the average Democrat is equivalent to the average Republican member — these are the guys doing voter suppression. They don’t believe in climate change. They condone racism and homophobia.” So the place that I am in right now is to try to transform the Democratic Party, to open it up to people like you…Things don’t happen overnight. And especially when you’re taking on the entire political establishment, you have to begin someplace,” he said. “Our job now is to mobilize people to talk about the advantages the costs effectiveness, the human right that healthcare is.”

At Newsweek, former Secretary of Labor Robert Reich notes a disturbing change in Ameircan attitudes: “…Trust in all the major institutions of our society has plummeted…In 1964 more than 60 percent of Americans thought government was “run for the benefit of all the people” while just 29 percent said government was “pretty much run by a few big interests looking out for themselves.”…Nowadays the numbers are almost reversed, with 76 percent believing government is run “by a few big interest” and just 19 percent saying government is run “for the benefit of all.”…In the early 1960s most Americans said they had a “great deal of confidence” in the nation’s major companies, banks, and financial institutions…Now just one in ten has a great deal of confidence in them.”

Alexandra Whittaker of Instyle Magazine has an article that spotlights training resources for women political candidates, “Want to Run for Office? These Boot Camps Will Teach You How.” Whittaker notes in her introduction: “In the face of political tension and an increasingly polarized country, individuals have two choices: turn inward and avoid talking about sensitive issues or get in the ring. A cultural movement has emerged encouraging people to pursue the latter, not just as volunteers, organizers, and thought leaders but as elected officials too. And at the forefront that movement? Women. Organizations that train candidates to run campaigns for local offices and federal positions alike are reporting more inquiries from interested female candidates than ever before.”

Eric Bradner has an instructive  CNN Politics article about Elizabeth Warren’s successful outreach to African American voters. Bradner notes “Warren has increasingly added a focus on racism and cultural issues to her signature economic populism over several major speeches — while also developing new relationships with black leaders across the country…”People talk about her in presidential terms often when I travel the country, and I think in the African-American community, it’s because they appreciated that she, in a very full-throated way, will speak to the issue of racism,” said Michael Curry, who chairs the national NAACP’s advocacy and policy committee and was until recently the NAACP Boston chapter president…”The fight against racism and inequality and ugliness in all its forms is a righteous fight,” Warren said. “I came to Detroit to say I will be part of that fight.”…”I saw in her speech an intentionality to speak to our communities — to say, ‘I’m here for you, and I plan to be a champion on the issues you care about,'” said Curry, the NAACP board member from Boston…”She does not marginalize the community,” [Boston City Councilwoman Ayanna] Pressley said. “She sees an African-American in their totality, and I appreciate that. She is inclusive. So I don’t only get a call to come sit at a table about an issue that is disproportionately impacting communities of color. I’m invited into any room where she believes that my office … or my lens could add value.”

Jonathan Chait writes at New York Magazine about the tendency of Republicans to conflate Trump’s Electoral College win with a popular vote victory: “The Electoral College has turned two of the last five Republican national-vote defeats into victories. The Republican Party has developed a very convoluted way of suppressing this strange reality. The larger part of their response consists of constant implicit or explicit equations of the election result with the will of the voting public. So frequently do Republican partisans depict their candidate as the conscious choice of the majority that they themselves forget the actual circumstances of his election…On the rare occasions when the merits of the Electoral College do arise, Republicans will explain that the electoral vote system is the perfect expression of the Founders’ divine will, and changing to a national-vote system would create all manner of evils. Then, when they have satisfied their qualms about the creaky presidential voting apparatus, they revert to talking about the election as if it really was a national popular vote.”


Trumka: Unions Can’t Trust Racists and ‘Wall Streeters’ in White House

At a breakfast hosted by the Christian Science Monitor, AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka explained why the labor movement won’t be finding much common ground with the white house anytime soon. As Don Gonyea reports at npr.org:

“You had one faction that actually had some of the policies that we would have supported on trade and infrastructure, but [it] turned out to be racist,” the union leader said….

…Trumka continued, describing the other faction inside the administration, “You had people who weren’t racist, but they were Wall Streeters.” He said that faction was gaining power, and moving the administration away from many of the things that Trump promised during the campaign that union members actually liked…”The Wall Street wing of his administration has won out and they’re doubling down on all the policies that got us here,” he said.

…As for Charlottesville and the president’s combative approach, Trumka described it as “a spirited defense of white nationalists, neo-Nazis and other groups of that sort, and we were not going to be associated with that.”

Ultimately, he says all of this left the AFL-CIO with no acceptable partner to try to work within the White House.

Jessica Corbett of commondreams.org quotes Trumka on the effects of Trump’s economic inaction:

“There’s no question that the optimism of a lot of people―our members, of all the sectors, not just the building trades, a lot of the optimism is fading,” Trumka said. “I think a significant amount of the optimism has faded away, because we haven’t seen an infrastructure bill, we haven’t seen the renewal of manufacturing, we haven’t seen the things that we were hopeful about that we could work with him on.”

Gonyea notes that “Labor endorsed Democrat Hillary Clinton. According to exit polls, she carried union households, but by just 9 percentage points. Compare that with President Barack Obama’s 18-point margin among labor voters four years earlier. The shift certainly helped Donald Trump secure victory in closely contested battleground states like Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania.”

As for how organized labor is preparing for the 2018 midterm elections, Monitor staff writer Francine Keifer reports,

“For a long time, our program stopped focusing on our members and giving them the facts they needed,” Trumka explained, when asked about what’s new in their approach to the coming election. “Now we’re going back and doing it every day.” As workers hear “the simple facts” about Trump’s actions, as he put it, people are beginning to “come back across the bridge.”

Polling indicates that’s starting to happen. A plurality of non-college educated white voters in the Rust Belt battlegrounds of Wisconsin and Michigan disapprove of how the president is doing his job, according to new NBC/Marist polls. In those states plus Pennsylvania, a large plurality of voters say he has not kept his campaign promise to bring back manufacturing jobs, and they want to see Democrats take back Congress in 2018.

He said his organization would focus on the “blue wall” in 2018 – traditionally Democratic states such as Wisconsin and Michigan that went narrowly for Trump – and that it would, in a sense, come home to its members.

It sounds like some of Trump’s white working-class supporters are beginning to bail, and there is no reason to think they will support Republican midterm candidates, who clearly support Wall St. more than workers. But many may stay at home on election day, unless otherwise inspired. The challenge for Democratic candidates in 2018 is to make it clear to disillusioned Trump voters that they will fight for fair trade, a major infrastructure investment and other programs that benefit working families..


Tomasky: Hurricane Harvey Spotlights GOP Hypocrisy on Federal Spending

At The Daily Beast Michael Tomasky has some choice words for Republican hypocrisy on federal spending. “You could say calling Texas politicians hypocrites because they voted against Hurricane Sandy aid but presumably want every federal dollar they can get their hands on now is shooting fish in a barrel,” Tomasky writes. “That, of course, doesn’t mean we shouldn’t do it. Some fish end up in barrels for a reason.”

However, Tomasky adds, “The flood victims are people and they’re Americans, and we should support them getting the federal aid they need, because we believe in the government doing this kind of thing irrespective of who the people are.” Helping Texas get through this disaster is part of our patriotic obligation and also a matter of simple human decency. But that doesn’t mean ted Cruz and other Republican politicians get a free ride on their double standard when it comes to helping people of other states when they experienced natural disaster, nor their monumental hypocrisy about government spending in general, as Tomasky points out:

We should have a discussion about hypocrisy on this question that’s a lot broader than disaster relief. How much federal money do those government-haters down in Texas get, anyway? How many federal dollars go to its many excellent research hospitals? How many federal highway dollars? How much federal money sustains Texas agriculture and livestock? How many senior centers and convention centers and community centers were built with federal money? It’s an awfully big state!

It can be hard to find answers to these questions because no single clearinghouse exists to provide, which is something I’ve long argued some rich liberal ought to fund (read this piece I wrote on the topic in the journal I edit). But I did find this on scientific research funding at higher-education institutions in Texas. The total amount was $4.52 billion in 2014, 45 percent of which came from the feds (20 percent private, 19 percent state, 16 percent from the institutions themselves). Here, if you’re interested, is a documentprepared by some outfit in Texas called the Legislative Budget Board that summarizes the federal money Texas receives in every area from human services to homeland security and everything else. Even if you do no more than browse through the table of contents, you’ll see the staggering extent to which the state, like any state, simply could not function without the federal dollars it gets. Federal funds across the board pay for one-third of everything the state of Texas does.

Democrats and liberals need to do a much better job of getting in the faces of Texas Republicans, and the ones from all the other deep-red states, and calling them on this. Suppose the next time a gun nut shoots up a movie theater in a red state, Democrats muse about withholding federal crime victim assistance money to that state? They shouldn’t do it, of course. But they should make citizens aware of the contradiction that the government-haters live every day of their lives.

Further, notes Tomasky:

Let’s get out of the false narrative that there’s either rugged self-reliance (laudable, American!) or government dependence (weak, foreign!) and nothing in between. In real life, virtually everything is in between. Everybody—yes, everybody—needs the federal government. Even the richest Texas oilman, needs police protection, a fire department, good roads to drive on, clean water to drink and air to breathe, someone to clear take-off and landing for their private planes, and 50 other services that only government can provide and only tax dollars can pay for. I’d happily acknowledge that yes, sometimes government does get in the way, provided they’d acknowledge this obvious truth.

As Tomasky concludes, “So let’s save Houston. But while we do it, let’s remind Texas what it owes Washington.” And let’s do a better job of reminding voters that the same Republicans who trash federal government spending can often be found feeding on it in their home states.


Lux: What Does It Mean to Be a Democrat?

The following article by Democratic strategist Mike Lux, author of The Progressive Revolution: How the Best in America Came to Be, is cross-posted from HuffPo:

The events of the last week have reminded all people of good will how important it is to elect a president who is thoughtful, even-tempered, and unalterably opposed to hate groups and hateful rhetoric. In times of violence and hate, we need a president who will stand up strongly for what is right and work hard to heal the hatred and bigotry in this country, not inflame it. Sadly, my Democratic Party allowed Trump to win the presidency because he had a far clearer message than we did. Now more than ever, we know that our failure allowed the worst person we could have elected to win, and for our country to be a decent place to live it is urgent that we start winning elections again.

But to do it, we have to answer an important question: what is a Democrat, anyway?

If you follow politics, you know that Democrats craft their message the way members of Congress make legislation: with committees making compromises and coalitions bickering over word choices. It’s like the old adage of legislation as “sausage making.” The difference is that while “sausage making” sometimes produces good legislation, it never produces good messaging. The latest example is the rollout of the big new slogan Congressional leaders recently announced: “A Better Deal: Better Jobs, Better Wages, Better Future.” Besides not being very exciting, the whole frame implies tinkering, that the system is fine but we can do just a little bit better.

The problem with this is that most Americans today believe this country is seriously off-track, and are hungry for a powerful message of change. To find a path back and win, Democrats need to tell a big, compelling story, based on our values, of who we are, what we will do, and why we are Democrats in the first place.  What voters need to hear from any Democrat running for office is the answer to one central question: Why are you a Democrat? The Democratic Party has lost nearly a thousand state, local, and federal seats in the last decade, and is at one of its lowest points of political power in almost 90 years. Why are you putting the (D) next to your name?

As Democrats chart a path back and push through the current internal struggles, we all must answer this question: why are we Democrats?

I think we need to begin by going back to our roots, rediscovering our identity as the party of the people, not the well-off and powerful. We can start answering that identity question by looking at our party’s history as the oldest continuous political party in the world— it was founded in the first decade of our country’s existence. Doing that is tricky because our party, just like our country, was founded by deeply imperfect people, including racists, slaveowners, and people who countenanced the killing of the indigenous people already living here. We should not forget or forgive these sins, or sweep them under history’s carpet. But I do not believe we are well served by throwing away everything our ancestors did or believed in creating the United States of America. However flawed The Democratic Party’s founders were as people, their aspirational beliefs about equality and democracy laid the foundation for the country we live in today.

The Democratic Party, from its beginning days at the founding of our nation’s history, has always had as its foundational idea that the government should be of, by, and for the people.  Unlike Alexander Hamilton, who viewed democracy as a “great beast” and wanted the government to partner with big New York banks to run the country, and John Adams, who feared the idea of expanding the vote to non-property owners because someday people might want to expand the vote to “even women and slaves,” the founders of the Democratic Party, Thomas Jefferson and James Madison, wanted the big banks to have less power and working people to have more power. They wanted to expand democracy so that the government would be more responsive to everyday working people. The name, “Democratic” Party, represented that idea and identity.  Democrats from the very beginning fought for more, rather than less, people getting the right to vote; more people getting a good public education; and more power for small businesses, farmers and workers instead of more power for the big banks.

That history still guides who we are today. To me, there are five reasons to be a Democrat:

First, we are Democrats because we take seriously the big idea in Jefferson’s Declaration of Independence, which began by dedicating our new nation to the aspirational concept that all people are created equal. That means all of us should have the opportunity to have our liberty and pursue our happiness, that we should all be treated fairly in our courts of law, that we each should be able to get a good education and a legitimate chance to make a success of ourselves, that we should all be judged, as Martin Luther King said, “by the content of our character, not the color of our skin.” The irony is that even though Jefferson was a slaveowner, the power of that foundational idea has driven progressive reformers ever since to abolish slavery and secure equal rights for all our citizens.

Third, we are Democrats because we want to fight for the many, not the few. We know that when economic and political power gets too concentrated in a few very wealthy hands, the middle class, and our democracy, will break down. We know that huge corporate cartels with near-monopoly power distort markets, squeeze workers, jack up prices, evade rules everyone else has to live by, hurt small businesses and innovative entrepreneurship, and get sweetheart deals from government. We want to put more power into the hands of working people, communities, and consumers, and less into the hands of big business and the wealthy. That’s why Democrats fight for strong anti-trust enforcement, breaking up the too-big-to-fail banks, closing corporate loopholes, and having the wealthy pay their fair share of taxes.

Fourth, as the party of the people, we value compassion and community. We want a government that invests in our people and fights for working folks, children, and senior citizens. We fight for people to have good jobs with good wages and benefits. Democrats have always advocated for Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, VA care, strong labor unions, affordable college education, great public schools, and a higher minimum wage.  We know that compassion is not only the right thing to do, it pays off in the long run. Immigrants we welcome to the American community make huge contributions to building a stronger country and economy. Getting poor kids enough food and a good education pays off tenfold when they become productive adults. Giving people the security of health coverage allows them to take the risk of starting new businesses that generate good jobs.

Finally, Democrats understand what “freedom” really means. We know that people want freedom in the pursuit of their happiness; they want a chance at the American Dream. They want a good education growing up and a good job and decent place to live as they enter adulthood. They want the freedom to drink clean water and breathe clean air. They want a future without the specter of climate change hanging over their heads. Women need the freedom to control their own bodies and destinies. People don’t want to be burdened down by overwhelming debt. They want the freedom to be able to negotiate a decent wage with their employer. They want the freedom to start their own small business without worrying that huge corporations are going to make it impossible for them to innovate or compete.

This is what it means to be a Democrat.

The Democratic Party’s problems will not be solved by a new slogan. Our credibility and our very identity as a party has been badly eroded over the last few decades. Most voters don’t see us as the party of the people, in large part because too many Democrats forgot where we came from and lost their way. Clinton and Obama won by promising hope and change for people who worked hard and played by the rules, and they did a lot of good things. But when Wall Street bankers who crashed the economy got bailouts, bonuses and get-out-of-jail-free cards, while millions of workers lost their jobs, people turned away from us. And we have paid the price, losing over 1,000 offices up and down the ballot since 2009.

Our message and identity problems will be only solved when we go back to our roots: Democrats began as the champion of workers and farmers and small businesses. Our founders promoted aspirational ideas like equality, fraternity, the freedom to pursue happiness as each of us defined it, and building a more perfect union.  If we embrace those historic values, and fight for them, rather than just mouth the words, we will start winning elections again.


Political Strategy notes

At The St. Louis Post-Dipatch, columnist Tony Messenger writes, “Already, scientists are pointing to climate change as a culprit to explain the expected record 50 inches of rain that might fall in Texas as a result of Hurricane Harvey, and the rising tide of water that is swamping and isolating America’s fourth-most-populous city…Perhaps Harvey, hitting hard in the conservative Gulf Coast of Texas, in the nation’s center of the oil business — which has funded climate change denial to the tune of hundreds of millions of dollars in the past decade — will turn the tide…Responding to massive flooding and the threat of climate change in the 1990s, leaders in the Netherlands, where much of the country is under sea level, have been waging a battle that would look foreign in St. Louis or Houston. They don’t build more levees, they give the water room to roam…Congress has an impending September deadline to renew the nation’s National Flood Insurance Program, which is currently about $25 billion in debt. Failing to plan for floods in the age of climate change, you see, is really expensive. It’s also deadly. That’s the story of the day in Houston…Today, we mourn the dead. Tomorrow, let’s honor their memories by pulling our nation’s collective heads out of the murky and dangerous waters of climate-change denial.”

Politico’s Elena Schneider and Austin Wright report that Democrats are targeting several Republican House members who are embroiled in ethics controversie. “Among the incumbents on their early target list are California Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, whose ties to Russian officials have come under scrutiny and was once warned by the FBI that Russian spies were trying to recruit him; New Jersey Rep. Rodney Frelinghuysen, who faces an ethics complaintfrom an outside watchdog group over a letter that some perceived as targeting an activist; New York Rep. Chris Collins, whose stock-market investments are under investigation; Montana Rep. Greg Gianforte, who pleaded guilty to assault for attacking a reporter; and California Rep. Devin Nunes, whose handling of classified information is being investigated by the House Ethics Committee.”

Kristen Day, executive director of Democrats For Life of America, writes at The Hill: “Some have charged that allowing anti-abortion Democrats to run in pro-life districts is a way of ignoring the wishes of the poor, women, and African-Americans. The evidence, however, shows that support for a small-tent strategy is found predominantly among affluent white liberals. One poll finds that just 7 percent of African-American Democrats support a small-tent approach, compared to 35 percent of white Democrats. Poor and working-class Democrats, likewise, are more likely to oppose an abortion litmus test than are Democrats in the highest income brackets. And fewer Democratic women favor exclusively restricting Democratic Party support to proponents of legal abortion than Democratic men do, rejecting this approach by a two-to-one margin…Most polls over the last decade show that between a quarter and a third of the Democratic Party identifies as pro-life.” Day’s bio notes that she “also advocates for policies to reduce abortion in America by providing more support to pregnant and parenting women and their families.”

But, in her article, “Hey, Democratic Candidates: Pro-Choice Women Are Your Base: Running an anti-choice candidate might pick up a few Republican votes—at the expense of turning off the party’s loyal voters,” Katha Pollit, columnist for The Nation, writes, “Only women are expected to let history roll backwards over them. Only women’s rights to contraception and abortion are perpetually debatable, postponable, side-trackable, while those who insist on upholding the party platform—and the Constitution—are dismissed as rigid ideologues with a “litmus test.” Party leaders can’t come right out and say so—in fact, Democratic National Committee chair Tom Perez has issued a statement declaring that abortion rights are non-negotiable…What tends to get forgotten by those who push for the Democratic Party to run anti-abortion candidates is that the party base is pro-choice. That is who votes in primaries, and that is who knocks on doors and makes phone calls and gets out the vote on Election Day. An anti-abortion Dem might steal some votes from the Republican candidate, but at the cost of losing the most ardent Democrats—who happen to be women.”

There is a profound difference between the “pro-life” advocacy of Democrats, who consistently support funding for policies that help take care of children and the conservative ideologues who don’t show much concern about children’s health once they are born. As Sister Joan Chittister, Order of Saint Benedict, has said, “I do not believe that just because you’re opposed to abortion, that that makes you pro-life. In fact, I think in many cases, your morality is deeply lacking if all you want is a child born but not a child fed, not a child educated, not a child housed. And why would I think that you don’t? Because you don’t want any tax money to go there. That’s not pro-life. That’s pro-birth. We need a much broader conversation on what the morality of pro-life is.”

Emily Badger addresses a trend I’ve wondered about in her post, “Political Migration: A New Business of Moving Out to Fit In.” At The Upshot Badger cites Bill Bishop’s book, “The Big Sort,” which posits that Americans have been self-selecting since the 1970s into like-minded communities that are less likely to hold competitive elections…In a 2014 survey by the Pew Research Center, 50 percent of people who are “consistently conservative” and 35 percent who are “consistently liberal” said it was important to them to live in a place where most people share their political views. It is less clear, though, how many people actually act on that sentiment. Most movers are primarily concerned with job prospects and affordable housing.” However, adds badger, “One study that relied on the voter files of millions of people in seven states, by Wendy Cho, James Gimpel and Iris Hui, found that registered Republican movers show a preference for ZIP codes that are more heavily Republican than the ones they left. Democrats do the same, although to a lesser degree.”

“You could even argue pretty convincingly that impeaching and removing Trump would be very adverse to the short- and long-term interests of the Democratic Party. Why make some conventional Republican like Pence or Paul Ryan (the next in line) who has not bragged about sexual assaults or embraced racists or cozied up to Vladimir Putin or gone crazy on social media a sitting president? What horrendous public-sector policies or congressional initiatives would impeaching Trump torpedo? Why squander the opportunity to reap electoral benefits from a good backlash against Trump?” — from Ed Kilgore’s New York Magazine post, “No, Impeaching Trump Would Not Reverse the 2016 Elections.”

Democratic candidates and campaigns have an article to read at Foreign Affairs, “What America Owes Its Veterans: A Better System of Care and Support” by Phillip Carter at Foreign Affairs. Among Carter’s observations: “But despite some recent improvements, the VA and other federal agencies struggle to keep other promises to active service members and veterans after they come home. Aging bureaucracies struggle to meet the needs of a diverse and dispersed population. Educational and economic support programs fail to keep pace with the changing needs of veterans and their families. To fix these problems, the United States must rewrite the contract it strikes with its service members, building a support system that not only ameliorates their battle wounds and financial losses but also helps them thrive after their service in a twenty-first-century economy…..Without scaling back programs such as disability compensation and health care, which primarily ameliorate the harms of service, the government should expand benefits such as the Post-9/11 GI Bill and small-business financing, which can create enormous economic opportunities for those who serve. It should also find ways to leverage the enormous social capital that veterans develop during their service for economic and societal gain.”


Trump, His Base, and White Racial Grievances

After considerable meditation on why Trump’s sympathetic attitude towards Neo-Confederates hasn’t disturbed his base, I offered these conclusions for New York:

GOP elected officials have been unusually willing to put some distance between themselves and Trump on the validity of protests to defend Confederate and neo-Confederate symbols. But as my colleague Eric Levitz pointed out last week, that sentiment has not been shared by the large pro-Trump segment of the Republican base. Indeed, these voters are far more likely to agree with Trump’s reaction to Charlottesville than with the health-care legislation he has been promoting all year.

That’s the most important reason the president’s shocking expression of solidarity with the “fine people” among the open white supremacists carrying torches in Charlottesville has not much affected his approval ratings. It’s true, as Nate Silver observed this week, that Trump’s public standing is so generally low that a negative reaction to any one development might not move the needle much. But there was a visible erosion of support for Trump that appeared after earlier missteps, such as the firing of James Comey, and his embrace of a very unpopular health-care bill. Voters expect Trump to be — well, if not racist, then anti-anti-racist. And his supporters responded to demands to take down symbols of unvanquished southern white pride much as Trump did in his infamous August 14 press conference: as just another “politically correct” imposition on perpetually hard-pressed white people. As Silver puts it:

“Issues related to race, gender, sexuality, religion and social class have long been an animating force in American politics, of course. But they’ve come back in an especially strong way in the Trump era, so much so that views on these questions tend to be stronger markers of support for Trump than views on economic and policy issues.”

Drawing on research about the attitudes of 2016 Trump voters, Thomas Edsall goes further, suggesting that the president’s base easily identifies with white protesters against alleged offenses to “our history, our legacy,” as Trump himself put it in this week’s rally in Phoenix. Indeed, political scientists looking at Trump’s emergence as the shocking front-runner for the GOP presidential nomination last year noted at the time that “white racial identity and beliefs that whites are treated unfairly are powerful predictors of support for Donald Trump in the Republican primaries.”

A more recent study by prominent political scientists zeroes in on the importance of white racial grievances to core Trump supporters, as Edsall explains:

“The three authors describe a rapidly “growing sense of white victimhood.” They cite surveys showing that among Republicans, the perception of discrimination against whites grew from 38 percent in 2011-12 to 47 percent in January 2016.

“A February 2017 survey by the Public Religion Research Institute separately asked voters whether “there is a lot of discrimination” against various groups. 43 percent of Republicans said there is a lot of discrimination against whites, compared to 27 percent of Republicans who said that there is a lot of discrimination against blacks.”

These findings help us to understand the special rage Trump supporters exhibit when they (or their leader) are accused of racism. They think of themselves as the victims of anti-white racism. And Trump has frequently fed that perception, as Christopher Ingraham reports:

“Trump has used the word “racist” or “racism” at least 56 times on Twitter, according to the Trump Twitter Archive, a website that tracks and archives all the president’s tweets. In two-thirds of those Tweets, Trump levied accusations of racism at individuals or groups of people. And those accusations followed a very clear pattern: Trump has directed accusations of racism toward black people three times as often as he has done so against whites.”

Trump’s current determination to view anti-racists demonstrating in Charlottesville as just as objectionable as, if not more objectionable than, the white marchers whining about being “replaced” fits into this pattern, and has evoked a predictable, if shocking-to-elites, response from his core supporters.

You can argue all day long that this makes them, and him, prima facie racists. But racists or not, they are definitely anti-anti-racists who manifest a knee-jerk negative reaction to protests against racism as advancing the interests of non-white people who, in their view, have been coddled for too long. They oppose the removal of the statues of the Confederacy, not because they particularly care about them, but because anti-racists would like to see them removed. That is an attitude that is just beneath the surface in their attitudes toward race-tinged conflicts involving police violence and immigration, as well as monuments to the Confederacy and Jim Crow.

But even Trump must be careful not to take anti-anti-racism too far; there are limits to what even his core followers will support out of antipathy to his opponents. A quarter century ago, when David Duke (who was, like a political zombie, present among the white rioters of Charlottesville) was on the very brink of being elected governor of Louisiana, he wasn’t brought down by his past as a Ku Klux Klan leader. It was when photos of him wearing a swastika arm band as an LSU grad student started circulating (punctuated by opponent Ed Edwards saying to him in a televised debate, “I was working on welfare reform back when you were still goose-stepping around Baton Rouge”) that white Louisianans had second thoughts about making him their governor and national symbol. There were, of course, a lot more World War II veterans alive back then. Still, Trump must learn to keep his anti-anti-racism semi-respectable. It’s not an easy balancing act, particularly for a man of our president’s temperament.

But it could take many steps over the line to convince Trump’s base that he’s doing anything other than standing up for their rights. He may lose support for breaking economic policy promises, but on the cultural and racial front, they are quick to take his side against those they view as oppressors of the white majority.