Hillary Moving Right, Already, Where Do Progressives Go?

imagesNew Orleans   The headlines in today’s papers range from the bizarre to the insulting.

Donald Trump is having trouble getting Republicans that he has spit on to kiss and make up. The Bush family, one and all, have declined to endorse him. He’s attacking former opponents like Senator Lindsey Graham with vigor. House Speaker Paul Ryan wants to join an alternate reality, even though he’s chairing the Republican Convention, and strategists are suggesting that candidates for the House and Senate avoid the Convention like the plague. That’s enough for the bizarre.

For the insulting, one has to turn to the Clinton campaign which seems to be double-clutching to shift gears from its recent appeals to progressives and the liberal base in the contests with Senator Bernie Sanders to re-position her candidacy, and presumably the Democratic Party and its platform, to something of a center-right party in order to be a more comfortable home for disaffected Republicans fleeing from Trump. Progressives, the young, minorities, immigrants, Muslims, women, Clinton is calculating that none of us have any other place to go, so it’s time to her to swerve hard right.

What are we facing here? One far-right fringe party, led by Trump, calling itself Republican, and one center-right party, calling itself Democrat?

Don’t get me wrong. Of course Hillary needs to go bottom-fishing given how much mud Trump has thrown into the pool. Sure, extend an olive branch, a glad hand, a big, fat grin, but why move right and why the rush? Why not conclude that they can either be no-shows or people with no place to go? Why walk back on the mildly progressive positions so recently weakly embraced?

Seems everybody is being pushed in and out of parties, but no one wants to do the work to actually build their own parties. Let Trump have whatever he wants to call it. Chances are if he wins, or comes close, he’ll re-brand whatever elephantine thing he has left with his name anyway. Let Ryan, the Bushes, and whoever, fight over whatever they think the Republicans pretend to stand for. And, if Hillary wants to make the Democrats back into a 21st century version of the center-right party that Bill Clinton tried to assemble in the 1990s and beat the drums for Wall Street and war and whatever this right shift settles into, how many slaps up against the head is it going to take the rest of us to realize we need a home of our own, too?

One’s a headache and the other may be a heartache, but eventually we need to go somewhere that we’re wanted and respected. And, that’s a far better place to be.


Sanders Wants Leverage on the Democratic Party for What?

Revolution-FistNew Orleans   There are five more primaries this week, and Senator Bernie Sanders is favored to lose almost all of them, extending Hillary Clinton’s lead and her inevitable nomination by the Democratic Party. Sanders is will-bringing it hard every day and trying for every vote, as he should. The simple political calculus is usually that more votes, equals more delegates, equals more leverage. In Sanders case, at this point we have to ask more pointedly what he hopes to accomplish with increased leverage.

Reports from within his campaign indicate he is focusing increasingly on having impact on the Democratic Party platform. Despite the compelling evidence that the Chair of the Party is already stacking all of the major committees with Clintonistas, including one report that of over forty appointments less than a handful went to Sanderites, the Senator is still saying that he expects to get a fair shake at the convention, blah, blah, blah.

Really? Is this what it’s all worth?

Reports from the Clinton camp over the weekend were unusually frank about how she and the campaign were viewing potential choices to fill out her ticket with a vice-presidential nominee. They characterized her as unconcerned about needing to make any concession to the left or the rabid Sanders supporters, because, as we have continually predicted, in the general election, they have nowhere else to go and will have to vote for her given the Republican field or no one at all. It’s hard not to get the sense that Sanders is already negotiating with himself and that Clinton has left the room and moved on, while continuing to make the motions and show up when scheduled.

A founder and former grand poobah of Politico took to the op-ed page of The Wall Street Journal of all places to argue that what we needed was a third-party. He laid out what he felt were the preconditions for a successful candidate in what I would argue is a want-ad for the political class. Meanwhile Sanders is angling for a better platform for the Democratic Party. He seems to be reminding us that he is a “coincidental” Democrat, likely never having lived through a Democratic convention from start to finish and certainly not familiar with the fact that a Democratic nominee is held to absolutely no accountability to any stack of paper produced by the delegates.

I’m not saying Sanders should go rogue and go third party. It’s too late for that, and the wrong strategy for him now, but why not use his leverage so that it means something. Ignore the platform and focus on candidates and races where elections of progressive candidates could make a difference. Take the “revolution” he’s calling for and bring it home. Help the Working Family Party get more votes on its party line in November. Turn time and fundraising to Congressional races where candidates are willing to embrace the arguments for change that Sanders has articulated. Go local on some legislative and gubernatorial races with the same fire. Jump out of the box and join with Rev. Barber in North Carolina and anyone who can be found in Mississippi to stand against hate laws. Pull out the stops to join with Planned Parenthood where they are attacked. Carry a sign with Black Lives Matter. Walk the line with unions.

Platform, splatform. Don’t play the game. Be true to your voters and supporters and change the game right now, while you have the chance, and your voice can still be heard clearly and have weight. There’s no next year. Seize the time and make it matter.


With Michigan Win, Sanders May Finally Force a Change in Democratic Policy

Screen Shot 2016-03-09 at 11.16.03 AMNew Orleans       Win, lose, or draw in the final balloting for the Democratic nomination, Senator Bernie Sanders may have finally paid off the big bets that the Communications Workers Union and a precious few others made in bucking the Democratic Party establishment and the AFL-CIO and doubling down on what initially seemed a quixotic campaign.  His sturdy win in Michigan over Hillary Clinton not only keeps him in the contest, but changes the conversation, especially with other rust belt states like Illinois and Ohio looming large in coming days. 

            Why?  Sanders engineered his victory by going deep on Michigan and hitting hard on trade and jobs and in the process expanded his support to struggling white workers and not just liberals and college towns.  Progressives already owed Sanders a debt for defanging socialism and proudly advocating for more egalitarian and distributive economic policy as a driving force in our politics.  Workers and some unions may have been getting their feet wet with some of these arguments by recognizing that Sanders’ voting and legislative record for worker issues was outstanding, but too often were still seduced by the neoliberal, pro-business Democratic consensus originally forged by Clinton the First and steadily maintained particularly in the first six years of the Obama presidency.  Sanders ballot box proof that being a cheerleader for globalization carries a political price is worth its weight in gold.  American workers and their families did pay with their jobs, stagnant wages, and reduced living standards, making the exchange painful and bearing the brunt without sufficient protection.  Clinton was already dancing around on the Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement essentially saying she’ll take another look, largely because she desperately needs Obama’s full-throated and implicit support to win the nomination, but Sanders may have finally forced her to fully recalibrate her economic positions and program.

            And, if Hillary Clinton is not understanding the upset in Michigan, surely her political advisors have been briefing her that if she gets to the “big game” against Trump, the trade drum is one he has been steadily beating helping him run his opponents ragged as he harvests huge support from working class white voters.  Putting on a preacher’s collar and screaming about social issues has gotten Texas Senator Cruz and some of the rest of the Republican lot some votes and victories, but as Donald Trump is proving it’s still “the economy, stupid,” as James Carville preached decades ago.

            Change is going to have to come in the Democratic Party establishment consensus on economics and workers, and Hillary Clinton is going to have to finally learn not just how to say the words, but how to make people believe that she really means them.  Sanders can’t help her with that, but he’s shown her in Michigan that it matters.


Please enjoy John Doe’s Go Baby Go, featuring Debbie Henry.  Thanks to KABF.


Proportional Representation Makes African-Americans, Latinos, and Rural, Low-Income Whites Kingmakers

USElectionlogooffsetNew Orleans    No matter who your favorite might be in the Presidential sweepstakes, how can you not join me in loving the irony that no matter how the big whoops fume and allow inequality to widen, African-Americans and Latinos are now the kingmakers for Democrats and rural, lower income, less educated whites are now becoming the kingmakers for Republicans? The people shall rule!

We had the early so-called “money primary” won by Hillary Clinton and Jeb Bush, but Sanders small donor machine caught up with the Democrats and deep-pocketed billionaire super-PACs allowed by Citizen United evened the odds for the other Republican candidates. We had the establishment and old-time party pols pulling strings left and right for one candidate after another to be anointed, but then they run up to the old problem, that candidates have to actually get votes. Damn, some of them forget about that and in fact that’s still the little lesson that the young, conservative Senator from Florida, Marco Rubio, is still learning as he runs second and third from state to state.

Watching the election results and reading Elaine Karmack’s Primary Politics: Everything You Wanted to Know about How America Nominates its Presidential Candidates at the same time as Super Tuesday unfolded was a fascinating experience. Karmack rolls through the primary politics and, more importantly, the changing rules from election to election as set by the party pros in detail, especially from Jimmy’s Carter’s mastery of the process forward. She spends valuable time and discussion on the timing of the first primaries and how they build momentum, have changed candidate’s calculations over the years, and have led to “firewalls” like South Carolina being built to offset their impact. Nonetheless the most interesting – and important – of her explanations concerns the Rube Goldberg contraptions created by the compromises and back-room politics between candidates and the national and state parties over the distribution of the critical delegates once the voting is over between “winner take all,” proportional representation, and bonus delegates, largely because that’s the political environment that produces our candidates now.

She makes the case that in 2008, Hillary Clinton essentially lost to Obama because she failed to understand the importance of the early lead achieved in Super Tuesday and its companion elections. The fight may have dragged on until May, but Obama had an insurmountable lead by mid-February because proportional representation meant that he would get a fair share of delegates, enough to hold his margin, whether he won or lost in later, larger states. His plurality forced super-delegates to have to follow the results and leave Clinton. The mix-and-match on the Republican side with proportional splits to the top tier candidates if they make minimum thresholds of 15 or 20% in order to push out marginal candidates and winner-take-all largely if a candidate takes 50% also mean that no matter all of the sound-and-fury from the Republican establishment and the grind over the next two weeks, Trump may have just won the nomination given his performance on Super-Tuesday.

What’s more interesting to me is that for all of the elites’ posturing, we now have kingmakers that represent a minority of the total electorate on each side, but because of the primary process, are likely able to determine the eventual nominee. African-American block voting in the primary elections gave Obama the nomination of course, but they also denied it to Hillary in 2008 and are bestowing it now in 2016. Hispanics block voting in Texas were also the difference for Clinton this go-round, just as they were the critical block in play in her close win in Nevada. Jesse Jackson may have delivered that message in the 1980s, but it has finally been received by all the candidates now.

And, in the party of business and the rich, our Republican friends are now finding that the economy and anger over inequality and lost opportunity has trumped evangelical piety, as rural, low-income and working class, less-educated whites are flocking to Trump as their protest candidate, creating a bastard child that the Republicans have to recognize, but can’t control. The Secretary of State in Massachusetts said that 20,000 Democrats left the party in recent weeks and re-registered as Republicans to become part of the Trump voting block that led him to victory in the most liberal state in the United States. Trump was able to leverage that block in Tennessee, Georgia, and other southern states that had been claimed by the Huckabee’s and Santorum’s in the past, and that Texas Senator Ted Cruz had counted on putting him, not the interloping Trump, in the cat bird seat.

In 2016 I’ve been clear, like it or not, Hillary Clinton is now the Democratic nominee and that race is all over but the shouting. Since she’s the nominee, I’m rooting for Trump on the Republican side, and my odds are looking good. In future elections in 2020 and especially 2024, no matter how the deck is stacked any nominee will be determined by African-American and Latino votes in the Democratic primaries, regardless of the general election. Whether the disenfranchised white vote holds as a Republican block or votes with their feet not to vote at all in the future, will be an open question for a while longer. And, whether any of the blocks – and the candidates who claim them – can put together the rest of the vote to win will be the biggest question of all.



Initiative Campaigns Could Save Unions and Obama in Ohio in 2012

NWisconsin Budgetew Orleans In a wild case of unintended consequences the current Republican attack on unions in New Jersey, Indiana, Wisconsin, and Ohio could end up insuring the re-election of President Obama and possibly save public sector unionism at the same time though like all political struggles it would be a high stakes gamble.

How?  We could do this by upping the ante and putting protection of collective bargaining on the 2012 ballot with the Presidential election in Ohio, perhaps still the most critical of all battleground states.

Wisconsin has the right of recall and this is being engaged currently by unions and others in reaction to Governor Scott Walker’s moves to eviscerate public sector worker collective bargaining rights.  This was the successful strategy in California several years ago fueled by Congressman Darrell Issa’s resources which dislodged Governor Gray Davis within two years of his election and then replacing him with Arnold Schwarzenegger.  Wisconsin does not have a initiative and referendum procedure at the state level, so despite positive opinion polls in the state currently to protect bargaining there is no way to get there from here.  Neither New Jersey nor Indiana allow statewide initiatives and referenda, though about 20% of New Jersey’s local jurisdictions do so depending on the map this could be an opportunity to construct a tactical and strategic bulwark against some of the more draconian measures being proposed by Governor Christie there.

Were protections for union workers on the ballot in Ohio in 2012 there is no question it would energize the low-and-moderate income base, and this was certainly in evidence several years ago when ACORN and allies moved to put an increase in the minimum wage on the ballot there.  A revitalized labor movement in Ohio aligned with Obama there could make a huge difference in securing his re-election.  Tactical protective initiatives in Missouri, Nevada, Washington, and similar states that are important in the Obama column could also be important, and in several of these states workers are desperate for more protections.

There are two problems.  First, it takes a huge effort to put a measure on the ballot, mount the campaign, and hang on for the victory more than 18 months from now with the same fervor labor is showing today, even though now is the absolute perfect time to be preparing for just such efforts.  Secondly, Ohio is one of the few states that allow off-year initiatives, and given the current assault there are undoubtedly many pushing an immediate effort to place the measure on the ballot in Ohio for the fall of 2011.

A 2011 effort – and victory – might also break well for both labor and Obama if it finally proved again that these were fighting times and we had the will and way to win.  The residue of such a struggle and success might embed deeply enough to secure deeper participation in Ohio and still put Ohio in the best place for a union future and an Obama second term.

Either way these are not times for holding your cards, but demand laying down big bets while it’s still possible and it’s we are still a player in the game.