Fighting to Save Political Parties Out of Sorts with the Base

Edinburgh  Eating curry last night with leaders and organizers of ACORN in Scotland, once the usual questions about Trump were quickly exhausted, one veteran activist asked what Senator Bernie Sanders, last year’s surprisingly successful Presidential candidate, was up to and whether he was gaining ground and credibility in the current chaos. It was a good question, and my answer was that the best I knew his people where focused more on positioning in the Democratic Party than the larger issues. I told the ridiculous story of some moderate Democrats trying to convince Sanders to call off the dogs and make sure that town hall protestors only attacked Republicans, as if Sanders was pulling any strings at all in the activist moment. I found that notion among conservative Democrats as bizarre as the Republican conservative claim that poor old George Soros is paying demonstrators these days to voice their outrage.

Turns out I was either lucky or timely in my observation. Almost as soon as I logged on to the news I stumbled into a story reporting that Sanders’ operatives had been scoring some significant wins in Democratic inner party elections.

In California, supporters of the 2016 presidential contender, Barry Sanders, packed the obscure party meetings that chose delegates to the state Democratic convention, with Sanders backers grabbing more than half the slots available. They swept to power in Washington State at the Democratic state central committee, ousting a party chairman and installing one of their own in his place. Sanders acolytes have seized control of state parties in Hawaii and Nebraska and won posts throughout the party structure from coast to coast.

Presumably the agenda is to move the party in a more solidly progressive direction.

Observers in several papers noted that as miserable as the 2018 midterm elections look for the Democratic Party’s shot at control of the Senate, there’s an arguable path to pick up 24 seats in the House by targeting districts either won by Hillary Clinton by stout margins or where the demographics are heavily weighted with educated white and general Hispanic voters. Polls indicate that Trump’s slide steep has accelerated in both camps. There are fewer districts that Sanders won last year though, so that crossover is uncertain.

Others might argue that you have to be careful what you wish for though without a deeper strategy to engage the base. The Labour Party’s predicament in the United Kingdom is a case study here. Having moved in a more progressive direction as the left took control of internal elections without a program effectively responding to the working class base, right leaning pro-Brexit forces are cleaning their clock. By-elections in hard core Labour districts that they have held for more than 30 years are being watched closely to see if the party can even survive.

Sanders in some ways is well-positioned internally since Clinton is not part of the picture and a more moderate Democratic Party leader has not emerged.

Is it a winning strategy? That’s another question for sure. No lucky guesses will count on that one.


Not Much of a Machine

Source BBC


Little Rock The problem with the first draft of history contained in the snap dash conclusions and generalizations of journalists and pundits is that too many times we forget that a first draft is always replete with errors. We have to hang our hats somewhere, but sometimes we forget to go back and tidy up and start believing the first garbage that went in. In the wake of continuing information coming forward from the election, not only does a movement trump, excuse the pun, a machine, but it also might not be quite the machine we might have hoped it was either.

Factoids are flying our way that are disturbing, and that we have to reconcile:

· 52% of white women voted for Trump.

That’s an almost unbelievable figure given both candidates. The message of women’s empowerment and correction of historic grievances was obviously swallowed and lost somewhere.

· General voter turnout was the lowest for this election since 2000. African-American vote was down. Trump got almost the same share of the African-American and Latino vote as Romney did in 2012, in spite of his incendiary comments throughout the campaign. There was no surge in the Latino vote belying the early voting predictions. Their vote was about the same percentage as the overall totals in recent elections.
· According to NPR, Detroit’s Wayne County delivered 80,000 fewer votes for Clinton than they did for Obama in 2012. She lost the state of Michigan by something like 13,000 votes. If she had even half of those lost, largely African-American votes, Michigan would not have gone to Trump. There were similar stories in other cities.

Demographic shifts don’t matter if we can’t – or don’t – turnout our vote.

· This so-called working class “revolt” for Trump may have been more of the Nixon-Reagan “silent majority” “white-lash.” A better analysis says that where Trump really significantly carried white voters was in the range of families making over $70,000 and less than $100,000.

The pain that drove votes to Trump is real whatever the income, but it matters whether this was the heart of the old Democratic base or aggrieved and entitled middle class, white voters feeling unrecognized and unrewarded.

I talked to organizers I knew in Pennsylvania and North Carolina. One had been on the doors for several days with a contract canvass crew doing turnout for the vote in white working-class turf. She described the training as one-role play and out to the doors along with two-and-one-half hour lunch breaks on the shift, and no accountability on numbers contacted. Organizers are close to the ground, but no one had seen this coming, but perhaps we were not on the ground where we needed to be?

Several raised questions with me about whether the Bernie Sanders campaign had laid the seeds for this defeat. We’ll have to look at that, but it also seems clear that either the machine was not working, or the machine could not overcome the weakness of their own candidate, and we are going to have to come to grips with that as well. Trump may have won, not so much with a movement as by turning out the traditional Republican vote and outperforming in some demographics, but also benefiting from a flawed, sloppy, and arrogant Democratic campaign.


Democrats Making a Left Turn

21ps-hilogoNew Orleans   Ruy Teixeira is a senior fellow at the Century Foundation and the Center for American Progress. He made an interesting argument in an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal that he took to be obvious to any observer that the Democratic Party, that even its standard bearer, Hillary Clinton, had moved decidedly and determinedly to the left. For many progressives, and count me as one, who judge the party and its candidates by where we want them to be, rather than where we have been, that seemed much less than obvious, but Teixeira makes an interesting and important case which is worth keeping in mind no matter where we stand on this question.

First, he argues, fairly incontestably, that demographics are driving the party leftward, which they should:

Every year there are more minority voters, more unmarried voters, more secular voters, more college-educated women voters, more millennial voters, and so on. It isn’t simply that these groups lean Democratic; they also tend to favor policies that are distinctly to the left and comport well with the Democrats’ new platform….

Secondly, he argues that Democrats have been forced to confront what he calls the “Piketty problem,” which simply put lies in the fact that no one can really continue to argue that without serious intervention the crisis of inequality can be met. Laissez faire is not going to get it. Nothing is trickling down, so the pretense on which the first Clinton presidency was founded has not crashed and burned. Thomas Piketty has famously argued that society tends towards inequality, that growth alone will not produce more equality, that even unequal distribution of economic growth delivers some narrowing of inequality, and that widening inequality itself slows economic growth.

Teixeira argues that even more than Bernie Sanders, this has pushed Hillary and the Democratic platform left, and, furthermore, that all polls indicate this direction is broadly popular with the American public, not just Democrats. To make this work, Hillary has to have a way to prime the pump for more growth. This is where the work gets harder.

The heart of Teixeira’s argument and it’s worth remembering if she becomes President is that we should,

“Expect Mrs. Clinton to move aggressively to strike bargains that advance key parts of her program, especially those that would directly boost growth in the short run. Reflecting this priority, Mrs. Clinton has repeatedly said that during her first 100 days she would call upon Congress to dramatically increase spending on roads, bridges and other public works, including to provide universal broadband and build a clean energy grid. Her $275 billion program, if implemented, would represent the greatest investment in American infrastructure since the development of the interstate highway system in the 1950s. Mrs. Clinton probably would also prioritize measures that directly benefit the economically squeezed, like raising the minimum wage and mandating paid family leave.”

T-shirts saying “Build Infrastructure, Vote Hillary” may not seem like a catchy slogan, but it might wrong foot the Republicans and catch them in the bind of their own base, including the angry and entitled white voters, who want to see this kind of economic interference that delivers growth and visible progress.

This will be worth watching way past November.


Do We Need a New Party to Turn Texas Blue?

Blue-TexasDallas     With the results of the recent primary elections in Texas, perhaps it is time to look at the progress of Battleground Texas and the notion of “turning Texas blue,” as the Democrats call it. 

            The hope in a nutshell is essentially that “demographics are destiny.”  Robert Draper in the Texas Monthly summed it up quickly:

The 2010 census found that the state’s population had increased by 4.3 million over the previous decade and that more than 3.3 million of the new inhabitants were minorities. Of these, an astounding 2.8 million were Hispanic, historically a reliable constituency for Democrats. These numbers conveyed a new reality: the Texas political landscape was getting friendlier for Democrats and tougher for Republicans.

The challenge though is daunting, no matter who is moving into the state and how rosy it may color some politicians glasses.  There are 13.5 million registered voters in Texas.  The estimates of party strength is 45% Republican to 21% Democratic.  If those figures are correct, that means that the party preferences within the 13.5 million fall to 6,075,000 elephants and only 2,835,000 donkeys, more than a 3 million voter gap, and another 5 million quasi-independents among the registered voters who are out there, which doesn’t exactly indicate that they are up for grabs.  The actual strength of the primary voter participation this week underlines the problem when 1.2 million voted in the Republican primary and only about a half-million voted in the Democratic primary.  And, this is despite the fact that Democratic election strength is increasing in the major urban centers, especially Houston, Dallas, and San Antonio and that almost 60% of the state’s general election votes are in 13, mostly urban counties, of the state’s 254 counties.   Nothing happens overnight certainly, but this is hardly an auspicious beginning.

A party is built from the ground up, not the top down though, and despite the mixed results tallied by the Tea Party insurgency in the state, I wonder if it is not helping the Republicans stay politically healthy by providing the competitive contests and candidates, no matter how wacko, that deeply engage Texas voters.  Most of the lions of the Republican Party in Texas emerged scratched by the Tea Party candidates but not unscathed, and the Tea people had enough success to remain lively, but the favor they are doing the Republicans is getting their base to the polls and forcing a better definition – and profile – for the Republicans on the issues.  Democrats may tear their hair at the Republican excesses, but might should be more concerned by the solid showing of Jeb Bush son and general Bush family scion, George P. Bush, 37-years old with an American-Hispanic heritage, won solidly as the Republican nominee for Texas Land Commissioner.  Think that’s not serious?  The Democrats haven’t won any statewide race in 20 years since 1994, and young Bush jumped right over from Florida and picked their pockets.

To turn Texas blue is not going to just be a matter of registering voters.  Party building is grassroots and involves candidates, competition, and winning and governing at the local level.  Bill White was an excellent Mayor of Houston but lost when he ran for governor by over 600000 votes, ending his career.   To turn Texas, I think we need a Working Families Party or New Party of Texas or some formation along those lines that can act as a progressive, deeply organized and grassroots effort to bring the party alive at the base with local candidates and sharp, effective and progressive campaigns on issues that push voters our way.  Such a caucus would clarify issues, push the Democrats, and start to turn the terms of the debate about Texas and the future.  

Sitting with a friend in Houston the other night we were in a solidly democratic state senate district in the Houston Heights.   The incumbent had a decent record and more than enough money so 6000 voted to push him forward.  A couple of years ago there were twice that many votes in the primary.  The winner might have been the same, but a real contest might, like the Tea Party has given Texas on the issues,  put life back into the regulars and pushed independents in Harris County into the party.  To ever win statewide again Democrats need to win here by 20-30%, not 10% to offer the kind of margins that fuel victories. 

To turn Texas blue is not a matter of injecting national issues and nationally favored candidacies on the Texas hardscrabble but a matter of building an indigenous, aggressive local party, candidate, and initiatives that organize hard, take on fights without apology, and win.   A new party formation might be able to do that, but it’s hard to see it happening many other ways.


Latina Women Trumping White Men as Keys to the Future

gty_latino_vote_obama_nt_110901_wblogLittle Rock   Professor Christina Bejarano, a Texan now teaching at the University of Kansas, was on the program at the Clinton School of Public Service giving a brief talk on the “Latino Gender Gap in U.S. Politics,” so I popped in for a minute to see what insights she might offer.  The bottom line in her presentation was simple and sweet:  Latina women may be the swing voters to capture in the contest to win Hispanic voters by both parties.

            Why?  Well, her research shows that Latinas vote 10% more frequently that the men, are more likely to be citizens, are more likely to care about local issues rather than events in the home country, are more likely to push their men to become citizens, and are not planning on leaving the United States, but deepening roots and staying here.  Part of the reason she argued is that greater activity in the home and community has tended to “socialize” Latina women more thoroughly, leading to these kinds of results.  Of 23 million Hispanic registered voters, this gives Latina women a huge potential voice, and, importantly, it’s the women who are both more progressive according to surveys and focus groups and more likely to be Democratic voters. Additionally, she mentioned that there are now several important PACs forming with interests in Latinas and Texas like Poder Pac and Latina Lists, and there might be something big beginning to happen here.

            Couple these comments with Charles Blow’s column in the New York Time about the weird positioning of the Republican Party around their diminishing base of white men, and it’s not hard to see which star is rising and which one is falling.  Exit polls he cited show that the high water mark for Republican man love was the 11% advantage that George W. Bush enjoyed in beating Gore in 2000 and Kerry in 2004, while Obama won men by 1% in 2008 and lost them by 7% in 2012.  

            Citing the litany of Republican politicians’ feet being inserted either in their own mouths or in women’s south sides time after time, Blow says that, “The Republican Party is in danger of becoming a man cave of cavemen and the women who can abide them.” 

            I think they may have already crossed the red line there.  Listening to an interview on KABF of potential candidates running in what is now a Republican seat in the 2nd District, once known for Democratic Ways of Means old lion, Wilbur Mills, and now Republican, a leading woman Republican and staunchly conservative candidate, was tellingly caught and conflicted on some of these issues, arguing for voter IDs in Arkansas, not because there was voter fraud, but because she remembered problems as a younger woman acting as a poll watcher when men would try, and sometimes get away, with voting for their wives, and on choice explaining her position as having been pro-choice as a younger woman, but then becoming anti-abortion after motherhood.   Maybe you can run and win in Arkansas debating those differences and distinctions, but that kind of schizophrenia is politics is poison, and the Republican men leading their party seemed to be grabbing for that pill box.

            Where does our hope for the future go?  Viva, Latinas!


Huge Obstacles to Beating Scott Walker in Wisconsin Recall

We Are Wisconsin

Madison    The life-and-death struggle in Wisconsin to turn back the radical and sweeping rightwing program of Governor Scott Walker being waged by progressive forces is entering another set of critical challenges.  The primary to choose a Democratic opponent to Walker votes on May 8th only weeks away with the general election a month later on June 5th.

The Democratic primary is generating very little interest it seems and Walker has already spent millions with a huge bank account raised in readiness assiduously around the country as progressives and unions were mounting the recall petition campaign against him.   My casual observation about the invisibility of the campaign concretized as part of the mountain campaigners are trying to climb to arouse interest in the campaign.

I sat through an earnest and fascinating meeting at the Blatz Brewery building where Caroline Murray, organizing director for Van Jones’ Rebuild the Dream and veteran community organizer and friend, was meeting with union representatives, the League of Young Voters, community-based organizations connected with the Gamaliel network, Wisconsin Citizen Action, and Voces de Frontera and various DJ’s, artists, and others connected to the Milwaukee community, to try and figure out an event between the primary and the general election that might motivate “millennial” young voters to actually connect with the importance of getting out to vote by combining art, culture, and politics.  There was lots of head shaking assent about the importance of motivating these newer voters and a willingness to try new things, but skepticism on the level of buy-in from the community and whether the impact would be equal to the effort.

Talking later to Bruce Coburn, former head of the Milwaukee AFL-CIO, long time AFL, SEIU staffer and friend, as I cadged a ride in the rain to the bus, he was still guardedly optimistic about the residual impact of the We Are Wisconsin movement that had grown up during the initial struggle and recall effort.  He was encouraged by what he had seen of the sustainability and robustness of the efforts in Milwaukee and several other cities, though recognized that energy was flagging in many Wisconsin communities overtime, as is often the case.  He believed the fight was all in, but it was clear that he was deeply worried about progressive prospects for victory in the gubernatorial election.  Nonetheless there was real optimism and hope when he talked about the real opportunity he saw for “independent” political action once the state and federal elections were over at the end of the year, which I could heartily support.

Hard work was being done everywhere and commitments were deep, but this looks like a fight to the wire where once again the odds are against us and every bit of support anyone can muster and offer is needed and necessary.

Scott Walker