Adaptation is Key for Working Families Party and Winning

New Orleans   Joe Biden, good mainstream liberal and former Senator and Vice-President under Barack Obama, seems to be toast.  He didn’t pass the torch, he got torched in the recent candidates’ debate.  Bernie Sanders, the standard bearer of the left last time, seems almost left behind now.   Where is this all going?

A Pew Research survey finds that only 46% of Democrats see themselves as liberal or very liberal.  37% say they are moderate and 15% hail conservative.  A Gallup poll indicated that Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents indicated that 54% wanted the party to be more moderate and 41% more liberal.  Democrats are younger than Republicans with 43% under 40 and 12% over 70.  A 56% majority are women, and 54% are white.  They are lower income with 36% making less than $30,000 and 37% having a high school or lesser educational degree with two-thirds still claiming a religious affiliation.  Contrary to the Republican-Fox News opposition, these are not flamethrowers, and really for all of the talk, neither are candidates like Elizabeth Warren or Kamala Harris.  They are full-steam ahead for sure, but they aren’t exactly rock-the-boat people.

We could see that in the recent desertion by the moderate Democrats on the $4 billion plus migrant support bill.  House of Representative progressive Democrats had insisted on a clear standards of care protocol for migrant families and their children, but were abandoned by moderates who joined with Republicans to pass a Senate-version of the bill, undercutting Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

To win more progressive programs and policy, we need to look at local elections that can build that base. The recent legislative session in New York State where after years of fighting between the progressives and the left, Democrats won control of the body, and acted like it for a change, most amazingly in the area of rent control and tenant protections.  They were about as bipartisan as Republicans in Alabama, North Carolina, or Wisconsin.  Part of this story has been the high-wire act of the Working Family Party, where ACORN and its successors have been long-time mainstays from the founding.  The WFP in New York took almost death-defying risks in opposing Governor Cuomo’s re-election and faced an existential threat when the Governor upon returning to office threatened legislation to end fusion or multi-party ballot endorsement that affords WFT a ballot line.  The Democratic wave in the 2018 election and their grassroots work and base saved them.

The Working Families Party has to be both progressive and adaptable to grow.  It’s not enough to be just one or another.  They missed a bet by going with the incumbent in the House race won by Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez, the now famous AOC socialist firebrand in Congress, but they learned the lesson quickly.  A 31-year old public defender who had never stood for public office, Tiffany Caban, just toppled the incumbent district attorney in the Queens borough of New York City in the Democratic primary and credited the WFP and Socialist Party work and support for her victory.  The Wall Street Journal reported that “WFP New York State director Bill Lipton said the party’s legislative agenda for 2020 includes raising taxes on the wealthy, public financing for elections and fully legalizing marijuana.”

To win and then covert victories into change, a real grassroots political party has to be nimble, learn from its mistakes, and push the envelope, and go with candidates willing to bear their standard.  Hillary Clinton should have taught every candidate and the Democratic Party that lesson.  If she didn’t, the Working Family Party in New York and around the country, bears watching, because as one of our organizers constantly says, “Ya gotta learn!”

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Don’t Be a Ninny, Make Your Case on Fox

New Orleans      What are we up to now, more than two dozen candidates in the Democratic sweepstakes for president, right?  What does it take to win the general election?  I know Donald Trump doesn’t believe this, but really, I’m pretty sure a candidate has to face all of the voters and hope they go with you, even if that didn’t work out for Hillary Clinton or Al Gore.  Yes, I know the Electoral College sucks, but the odds still favor you overwhelmingly if you win a majority of all of the voters.

This may seem a strange way to introduce the subject of Fox News, the deservedly maligned hater network, Trump drumbeater, and scourge of all things progressive.  I’m not trying to reopen the question of whether or not they should host one of the candidate debates in 2020.  The Democratic Party and its chair, Tom Perez, were correct not to reward Fox News and its team the ability to moderate one of the debates.  The Trump debacle with Megan Kelly and all of the drama last time should have been enough, but their daily fare of vitriol is also more than a plenty.  Fox News doesn’t know the meaning of the word “moderate,” and they think calling someone a moderate is a high-dungeon, slap down cussword.

Nonetheless for a candidate to refuse to do a townhall with their viewers seems crazy to me.  I’m biased, having been interviewed twice by Fox folks during their attack on ACORN.  I’ve often told the story to hundreds of organizers that one of the lessons I learned indelibly as a 20-years old as head organizer of Massachusetts Welfare Rights Organization was that you need to be available to those who disagree with you, even violently, just as you are to those who agree with you, even enthusiastically.  If you want to change minds, you have to be willing to soak up the anger and handle the hard questions.  In the American political culture, there is respect to be gained by taking the field, even in a fight against long odds, but there is none gained in hiding or running from trouble.

How are candidates going to sway voters, if they do not take the opportunity to make their case?

Bernie Sanders did a town hall on Fox, and there were 2.5 million viewers.  Two million may have hated his guts, but they listened, and maybe he moved a half-million.  That was worth an hour of his time.  Same for Senator Amy Klobuchar for 1.6 million and Mayor Pete Buttigieg with1.1 million viewers.  You don’t have to get every vote.  Just most of them.  Elizabeth Warren has said she’s not going because the Fox business model is hating.  Kamala Harris has also said no.  Believe me, others will say, yes, and they should say, yes.  This is an opportunity.  It makes it harder to demonize them as targets.  Furthermore, the policies advocated by Democrats appeal directly to the Fox demographic.  You don’t always get to pick the ground, so fight them where you can.

Here’s a last great reason for all the two dozen to line up for a Fox town hall:  it’s driving Trump crazy!  He was madman tweeting that Fox should deny the Democrats access.  He had to be reminded by one of his Fox boys that “covering candidates from both parties is part of the job of a news channel.”  He was also called out for being too chicken to be interviewed by Chris Wallace.

Face the tigers in the den, and you win.  Anyone who wants to be president needs to learn that quickly.

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