U.S. Politics and Culture

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Afternoon in America

On Saturday, shortly after mid-day, it was Pan in Pandemonium, not Pandemic. It was the sound of clanking cookware clattering from the windows and on the streets.  Horns honked. People of all colors, wearing masks, danced, spun, and twirled on a triumphant, sunny afternoon.

Moments earlier, television news outlets, including the Fox Decision Desk, checked off the Pennsylvania box for Joe Biden and Kamala Harris, putting the Democratic ticket over the top. Meanwhile, Jim Failla, host of the Fox Across America radio show, offered a different story. Failla reported that Pennsylvania remained  undecided, claiming a 1.5% lead for the incumbent. There is no way to square the Fox Across America report with that of Fox election experts.

Failla acknowledged that Democrats and media declared the race over. He reported that the President pledged to fight the contest to the end, taking the case to the U.S. Supreme Court. Lawyers were filing lawsuits in the battleground states to challenge the results. None of those suits had a meaningful impact on counting or stopping the vote, requested willy-nilly by the President’s lawyers, depending upon whether Trump was leading or trailing in a particular state. One of the cases reached the Supreme Court in a way. Justice Samuel Alito, sitting for the Third Circuit, declined Trump’s request to stop the count of ballots received post-Election Day.

Once the consensus election watchers called Arizona and Nevada for Biden the following day, the Pennsylvania vote was no longer necessary to secure Biden’s election. Biden has reached the required 270 votes without Pennsylvania’s 20. Trump’s best chance to discredit the 2020 count became all but irrelevant.

Failla meanwhile shifted into a philosophical mood. Being a commentator reliant on sports analogies, he likened the Trump Presidency to an administration temporarily interrupted but destined to rise again. He compared Trump’s defeat to the premature retirement of Michael Jordan. Jordan is generally considered the greatest best basketball player of all time, who won three championships, took a year off to play minor league baseball, then returned to his Chicago Bulls to win three more before retiring for good.  Failla must think of the Trump administration as a high-water mark in the American government and his loss to Biden, a voluntary intermission. Unlike Michael Jordan, Trump will be leaving involuntarily.  Jordan stepped away after the first of two three-peats and, in large part, as a reaction to his father’s tragic death. Failla’s analogy predicts Trump running and winning in 2024.

On Saturday night, Biden and Harris took the stage, masked and distanced, to declare victory. Biden repeated his desire to be a president to his detractors as well as his supporters. Biden said, “I understand the disappointment tonight. But now let’s give each other a chance. It’s time to put away the harsh rhetoric, lower the temperature… To make progress, we have to stop treating our opponents as our enemies. They are not our enemies; they are Americans.”

Some of the Trumpers heard Biden, quoting Ecclesiastes, proclaim this a time to heal. They were heartened that Biden is a man of faith. Others hung on to Trump’s unsupported claims of widespread fraud. They remain unconvinced that Biden is an honest broker, hoping to find common ground with civility and goodwill. They blame a hostile media and a dishonest opponent for falsifying polls and blocking Trump’s reelection. They will not be part of the Biden fellowship.

When Joe Biden takes office on January 20th, in one sense, the symbolic clock will be turned back to 2010, of the Tea Party and a divided government. Ten years ago, Obama was blocked while trying to achieve progress on significant issues with a hostile House and a Democratic Senate internally split. Now, some problems, like Covid-19 and climate change, are universally existential. Because of the illness and unemployment triggered by the uncontrolled pandemic, an issue like health care may be existential as well, particularly if the Supreme Court declares the entire statute unconstitutional on a case to be argued tomorrow, with a sixth conservative justice joining the nine-member panel. Racial injustice is an existential issue nationally. Some of Trump’s adherents have described the controversy as the continuation of our ongoing civil war. They consider themselves partisans in that inglorious battle.

It is no longer Morning in America, as Ronald Reagan proclaimed decades ago. The pandemic and the crippled economy can be addressed, once the sciences of epidemiology and economics are embraced anew. Racial injustice remains an unsolved problem. It will take art, not science, to make progress on this fundamental issue. It will require civility, goodwill, and empathy. In matters of race, time is not on our side. It’s late afternoon in America, and the clock’s sweep second hand is ticking loudly in all our ears.

Yes, We Have No Banana Republic

 

The Red

 Today is Election Day in America. For the moment, the U.S. still qualifies as a democratic republic. We may be a banana republic tomorrow. Future ex-president, Donald J. Trump, continues to trash election laws and norms with a retooled federal judiciary backing him. Some judges – state and federal – are pushing back, rolling up the Constitution, and smacking him on the snout with it.

The Red and Blue

The 2020 presidential election depends on a handful of states, where the outcome is in doubt. The antagonists expect the other forty-four states expect to fall into the party line. A state as populous as New York and California is ignored. They will vote Democratic (Blue). The same was true for a state like Texas, reliably Republican in the past.  Texas’ urban population has been swelling with presumably Democratic voters. For this election, the Lone Star State and its 38 electoral votes are “in play.” Trump expects to win; must win. Florida, with 29 electoral votes, is another state up for grabs. It voted for Trump last time, and Obama before that. Conventional wisdom is that Trump must carry the Alligator State to win. Biden can endure a loss there, as long as he holds conventionally Democratic states. A Biden win in Florida will shut the door for Trump in 2020.

Pennsylvania’s 20 electoral votes remain the elusive grand prize. In 2016, Pennsylvania was called for Trump by a whisker, and the air went out of the Democratic balloon. Obama voters stayed home on Hillary. If Biden can reignite the Obama coalition, he can take back the Keystone State and foreclose almost all Trump paths to reelection.

These three states are swing or battleground states with enough electoral votes to decide the contest. They have been prime targets for voter registration and voter suppression. Recently as red as a baboon’s posterior, Texas has been shading Blue for some time, now resembling a mandrill’s proboscis. If we as a nation are turning banana yellow, it will probably happen in Texas first.

Several Texas pickup trucks kettled a Biden bus on a highway right outside the People’s Republic of Austin on Sunday. Governor Greg Abbott removed all drop-boxes but one for Houston, the most populous city in Texas and fourth nationally. Republicans asked the Texas election commission to throw out 127,000 votes already cast at a drive-thru poll site.

Early voting in the Beef State has already surpassed the state’s entire 2016 total. Trump carried the Jumbo State by 9 points, while most of the 2016 polls predicted Trump winning by a smaller margin.  2020’s pundits and pollsters are predicting that it will break Blue. Trump will lose if he can’t put the Jumbo State in his column. Hence, the Trump Trucks and the Stupid Governor Tricks.

Florida is crucial for a reelection victory. Trump and his grifter clan depend on Sunshine State voters to keep them as squatters on government property. The race was called a toss-up, but yesterday’s data showed a bit of daylight between Trump and Biden, with Nate Silver of Five-Thirty Eight forecasting a Biden win in the Gator State.

The Democrats remain spooked for a good reason. After Orange State voters restored voting rights to a million or so ex-felons, the Republican legislature and governor passed a law denying the right to vote to an ex-felon who has not paid court costs. To paraphrase Justice Clarence Thomas, this amounts to a high-tech poll tax. The federal 11th Circuit Court upheld the law. The Supreme Court had previously voted to keep the law in effect until the Nine – or Eight – get a substantive crack at it. When the Court splits evenly, the decision of the immediately lower court stands.

Florida’s seniors are now a worry for Trump. There is severe fallout at the Villages, long a Republican enclave for septuagenarian swingers. This year a Blue varicose has appeared in its crimson body politic. It has thrown golf games and Viagra inventory into chaos. At the same time, Biden is concerned about low turnout among black men; Biden is asking, “Where’s my Jim Clyburn?” Pollsters are also spotlighting voting by Latino men, whose conservative values defy conventional close-minded Democratic thinking.

Assuming that Trump holds Texas and Florida, Pennsylvania will be in the crosshairs. The Keystone State is also called the Oil State and the Coal State, and those are bad signifiers for Biden. Joe has been somewhat squishy. He has pledged both not to end fracking for natural gas and to end fossil fuels. But then, in 2016, Trump promised to make coal “clean.” No ambiguity this year: Trump plans to frack his way to the top.

The Quaker State is supposed to be Native Son Biden country. Last time it was supposed to be Hillary Clinton Country, but she lost there by just enough to swing the election to Trump. This time, the legal fight in the Commonwealth is over mail-in ballots. Republicans failed to convince the Supreme Court to reject all properly postmarked ballots received after election day.

The electoral problem then and the fear now is female turnout in the Philadelphia suburbs. Biden seems to have brought Main Line women back into the fold. 

Black voters in the Big Scrapple may stay home though, damaging the Democrats because they do not see Biden and Trump’s difference. This point of view sums up what many young voters say. It is pretty much what Ralph Nader said in 2000 when he drew Florida votes away from Al Gore, and what Donald Trump argues brashly to voters of color soured on the Democratic establishment: what have you got to lose? If I had a Trump-supporting police officer’s jackboot on my neck, I would think there was everything to lose.

Today, November 3, 2020, people are lining up to make themselves heard. Hopefully, all of their votes will be counted. Things may look different, though, on November 4, when battalions of election lawyers line up like storm troopers on courthouse steps of many of the battleground states.

Fuel and its Fossils

The seismic event taking place near the end of the third presidential debate was caused by Joe Biden. In a moment of candor, he stated that his goal is to end the fossil fuel industries. The wave of heat and motion unleashed by Biden’s declaration exploded from the Nashville debate stage all over the world. One reason for its impact is that it fits in with Donald Trump’s hysteria over a Biden presidency. He portrays Biden as a Trojan Horse. Once he is in the Oval Office, Democratic Socialists will burst from his flanks, forcing anti-democratic policies on the peaceably, anti-scientific world that is Trump’s alternate reality.

The idea of Biden as a socialist is laughable. He is one of the surviving centrists of late twentieth century American politics, a believer in the quaint arm-twisting and aisle-crossing days of old. He is an incrementalist at heart. As Barack Obama’s Vice-President, Biden spearheaded the nuts-and-bolts recovery plan needed to restart the national economy in 2009. He also was instrumental in the legislative combat needed to establish the Affordable Care Act, a relatively modest plan for healthcare policy. Recall that Obamacare was vilified on the left as a middling program lacking a public option, unable to deal the drug and the insurance lobbies.

Biden is offering a phased approach to energy overhaul. The Future is green, he argues, to be built while the oil-soaked Present recedes into history, following rikshaws and stage coaches. Dependent on natural forces instead of natural resources, a renewable energy supply would bank and recycle the power of wind and sun, rather than draw down from the diminishing sources of fossil fuels. Extraction of petroleum and coal is an increasingly destructive way to sustain the world’s energy needs. trashing the planet, while its CO2 by-product blasts holes in the planet’s atmospheric cocoon. Climate hawks dispute Biden’s go-slow approach, but his approach complements his fundamentally conservative political outlook.

The battle over energy policy is political. One can only harness wind and solar power, not possess it as if it were a vein of coal or field of oil. Renewable energy has the potential of being a more egalitarian source of fuel. For that reason, it’s an abomination to those industrialists, such as Charles Koch, perched atop the Pecuniary Pyramid. Trump has been a well-digger for Koch and his ilk, trying to stop time. Trump’s is a regressive world-view, which explains why Trump has no plans for a second term. He traffics only in the past. For Trump, the future is today, and today is transactional.

The year 2020 – the pandemic, the recession, election and the year itself – symbolizes the struggle between the Past, represented by Trump and his anti-scientific horde of nostalgic barbarians, and the Future. He can’t deal with a novel virus because in his world, nothing really is novel. At most, it’s a restatement of the old, even ancient. Trump admires Putin but he emulates Louis XIV, the Sun King.

Trump will continue to support his benefactors’ flagging industries, with tax cuts and by running up debt to patch the holes caused by his policies and trade wars. After all, bad debt and bankruptcy are Trump’s M.O. He has always used other people’s money for his projects, and his projects all have been old-school losers : casinos, golf courses, a football league, and water – yes, water! He invested in steak while vegetarian culture was becoming more mainstream. As President, he will continue to remake America according to his own Luddite vision.

As a nation, we need to invest wisely; to foster new industries; to enrich our world as well as fill our wallets. We can’t survive on the transitory, sleight-of-hand nature of the Trump’s retrogressive economy. His rollback of regulations has extended the life of the destructive fossil fuel industries or short-term gain, without furnishing oxygen to new, sustainable business models. Given more time, Trump may well make the United States his seventh bankruptcy.

Trump fantasizes about building beach resorts in North Korea. He thinks about creating 19th century playgrounds for the wealthy in the 21st Century. He is a grotesque sentimentalist, unsuitable as a custodian, much less the leader, of a nation desperately in need of insight and innovation. Biden may not be a visionary, but he understands that, for a world confronting an existential threat, standing still means going backward.

Louis the Liquidator

Just who is this businessman cum Republican Party hack now running (or ruining) the United States Postal Service?  Louis DeJoy is the retired CEO of New Breed Logistics. New Breed was sold to XPO Logistics, which now does business with the Postal Service. A lot of business: $57 million alone in 2017.  DeJoy remains a multi-million dollar stockholder of XPO. The USPS ethics panel didn’t seem to have a problem with his obvious conflict.

New Breed describes itself as follows:

New Breed Logistics transforms the way organizations do business by building intelligent supply chains and providing comprehensive solutions. New Breed manages millions of square feet of ISO-quality warehouse space across more than 70 distribution centers and employs more than 7,000 people worldwide. Services range from distribution center operations and transportation management to highly sophisticated, technology-enabled solutions for product assembly, reverse logistics and repair, lean manufacturing support, materials management, procurement, and aftermarket services.

It is said that DeJoy has no USPS experience, but that’s baloney.  For more than 25 years, New Breed was a contractor to the Postal Service, “supplying the organization with logistics support.” XPO succeeded New Breed in going postal.  In other words, DeJoy knows where the mail carriers are and how to bury them.

Besides, DeJoy being a Fox-in-the-Henhouse Postmaster is only part of the problem. Shortly after his appointment, DeJoy asked for $25 billion to modernize the Postal Service. What New Breed,  XPO, and now, the Postal Service call modernization mean robotics and layoffs.  DeJoy is a 21st-century version of Larry the Liquidator, the fictional corporate takeover king in “Other People’s Money,” who bought traditional companies,  then gutted them of employees and in many cases dismantled them.

Never mind that the USPS is a major employer whose workers are part of the steadily diminished working class. The Postal Service is mandated by the Constitution. This has not stopped fiscal conservatives from gaggling over the cost of operations and making previous attempts to break it. During Bush II’s Compassionate Conservativism, Congress passed the Postal Accountability Enhancement Act, requiring the Postal Service to fund 75 years of retirement benefits in a ten-year period.  The PAEA is one of the reasons that the Postal Service is always in the red.  The Postal Service is supposedly non-profit – a service – but then it is judged as if it were a business and excoriated for “losing money.”  One has to wonder how many businesses would be pushed into collapse if the same funding rules applied to them.

Enter Louis the Liquidator to downsize the post office, make it look “profitable,” and then push the government to privatize it; sell it to some appropriate company – XPO Logistics – at a bargain price. DeJoy’s removal of mail sorting machines and mailboxes meshes with Trump’s plan to make voting by mail more difficult and unreliable. Due to public outcry, DeJoy was forced to stop the dismantling until Election Day.  Now, that’s a neatly delivered package.

Trump isn’t doing this just to save the government money.  He is trying to kill postal services ahead of the 2020 election  The USPS became one of his bargaining chips in the Covid-19 relief funding battle.  He said that he will extend USPS funding (although it’s not certain that a Senate majority would) if the Democrats take some of their other relief demands off the table. Put another way, the Democrats can have mail-in voting but only on the backs of the unemployed and underemployed being deprived of needed relief during the pandemic. Put yet another way, we can choose to vote or to eat, but maybe we can’t choose to do both.

 

 

Don’t Just Mail It In

We can count on future ex-president Trump to make things up, but we can also count on him to dream things up.  Rule of thumb – what already has happened mostly is untrue, what has not yet happened – you never know. If you don’t want another four years of this administration, make up your mind to vote in-person.

Vote by Mail has been a Republican institution and for this very, unusual year, a Democratic rallying cry.   To all of those advocating a no-excuse vote by mail rule, be careful what you wish for.  Trump is predicting that vote by mail will be a disaster.  I believe he intends to make it one. The more votes that are thrown out, the better his chance to win.  His voters will go to the polls, even if they have to be delivered in hearses.

The pandemic continues to erupt in new places. Coastal states got battered on the front end. Now the Midwest, South, and Southwest can’t breathe.  It might be a health risk to stand in a line – socially distanced, I hope. Eventually, you will get to the front of the line. You will cast your ballot, and you will be heroic for doing so.

On the other hand, if you rely on the mail, it could take up to 2 weeks to get your ballot and two weeks to have it returned by the Post Office, currently under the control of a Trump appointee, whose mission will be to slow down the vote.  No ballots, no votes.  It’s like no tests, no infection, but a delayed test result still counts.

You don’t need to be a conspiracy theorist to dream up the ways for Trump to trash the election, just to wind up in court, now packed with his appointees. His numbers are sinking, and his prospects are dismal.  Why not roll the dice?

Democrats can encourage vote-by-mail for the old and disabled, but the dominant message should be, “Drag Your Sorry Ass to the Polls!”  Think about Wisconsin. The voters showed up, waited, and voted, and their candidate was elected.  Then think about New York, where the voting was delayed to June 23, and voting by mail was fully available.  The results are still being counted. Over a month later.

Imagine the Trump campaign filing a lawsuit in every battleground state. It isn’t hard to do. The litigation will be ongoing until the 2022 midterms. Even if Joe Biden is seated, the losing force will proclaim the election illegitimate. There will be no unity or healing, just a continuation of the rancor and divide of the last twenty-eight years.

I wouldn’t give my life for the “economy,” like the Texas Lt. Gov. pledged to do.  But I would stand in line to save democracy. It will take that and more to derail a corrupted, manipulated election process run by and for someone who feels he has to win whatever the cost.

Voters have to put on their masks and face shields,  and get to the polls, perhaps with a folding chair and a copy of the Mueller Report.  If this is your sole outing between now and November 3rd, it will be worth it.

 

The Brown Shirts are Leaving Portland

Trump’s troops will be removing their tear gas, batons, stun grenades, and themselves from Oregon. Their next stop is anybody’s guess.  It probably not Chicago,  Albuquerque, or any of Trump’s Indigo Blue election targets.

Oregon authorities have pledged to safeguard the federal courthouse, whose security was cited by A.G.  Bill “Dis” Barr as the reason Trump federales were sent to Portland. Contra Trump, who announced that he was sending troops because Black Lives Matter had gone too far and to “quell anarchy.”

In the future, protesters would be wise to pick non-federal venues for demonstrations. After all, racism is not exclusively a federal horror. Thoughtful protesters can find more apt state and municipal targets.  Legend has it that at one time, federal justice was a force against hatred. There is no reason to give an increasingly desperate incumbent the chance to lay waste cities that are proclaiming outrage over governmental malfeasance.

Removing the camouflaged paramilitary from the board deprives Trump of a weapon in his fascist arsenal. State sovereignty survives for now, and for now, it is a good thing. The Oregon governor has pushed back against an authoritarian trying to consolidate power by enfeebling the state government. Voting is a state function. Know what I’m saying?

This pushback may prevent Trump from using a similar pretext to go into swing districts of other cities in November. It may prevent him from seizing control of the election process, which is the ultimate danger. For now, the illegitimacy of the troops — anonymous troops — has been beaten back by an outraged citizenry.

The true identity of the troops in Portland remains a mystery. Administration officials, including Barr,  have said that they are compliance officers with ICE, DHS, and the Bureau of Prisons. Why would they not wear uniforms and badges then? After all,  they are supposedly acting as Special US Marshals.

 

 

 

 

Joe Biden’s Midterm Exam

Joe Biden beat Bernie Sanders on a sub-super Tuesday, winning Michigan and three other primaries out of the six held. The day after, in a scheduled statement to the media, Sanders offered his candid view of the contest. Many expected a concession speech or campaign defiance. Instead, Sanders announced that this Sunday’s debate ahead of the Arizona primary actually would be a midterm exam on Biden’s progressive credentials. Biden’s grade will have an impact on whether Bernie’s brigade will follow him.

Sanders’ body language and subdued tone suggest that he is ready to retreat as a candidate but not as an advocate. Sanders conceded he has lost the electability argument but insists, with justification, that Democratic voters favor the many points of the progressive agenda. He announced his plan to confront Biden at the debate with questions about what a President Biden would do about climate change, renewable energy, universal healthcare, income inequality, and an incarceration policy rife with profiteering and systematic racism. Sanders will be testing Biden on his willingness to carry Sanders’ causes into the general election.

By comparison, in 2016, Sanders fought hard to get his policy positions on the DNC platform. He and Clinton never had a rapprochement. For that reason and several others, many Sanders voters stayed home, a critical constituency failing Clinton against Trump. The Democrats’ 2016 political blunders helped throw the election to Trump.

Sanders’ ploy is not for himself. Sanders won’t serve in a Biden cabinet unless America establishes an embassy in Havana, and he’s unlikely to be a Biden confidante. If Biden performs well enough, Sanders will have a much easier time moving his supporters to get out the vote in 2020 instead of sitting out another one. Sanders all but said that he would defer to the more electable Biden if Biden embraces some of the ideas Sanders has addressed:
• Income inequality
• Universal healthcare
• Access to education
• A boost for the working class
• Support for the impoverished and homeless

Bernie is serving up meatballs. He wants Biden to pass; he gave him all the questions in advance. Biden is taking an open-book exam on a pass/fail basis.  All he has to do is sign his name and fill in the blanks.  Biden doesn’t need an Elizabeth Warren-type plan to pass the test. He needs a few bullet points on each issue. Taking a cue from Obama and the Oval Office’s current squatter, Biden can suggest a few measures a president can undertake by executive order on Day One and vouch for undoing a lot of what Trump has done without overpromising or relying on an uncertain  Congress. He can offer administrative changes to manufacturing policy, healthcare regulation, and job training/retraining, without being drawn into legislative quicksand.

The only way Biden can fail this test is by not cramming. He can figure out a few anodyne responses, write them on his shirt cuff, and deliver them on cue.  Sanders can claim a triumph for the movement, and Biden will declare himself presumptive nominee. This will free the Democratic machinery to grind on to the general election.

Where’s My Andrew Yang?

Nearly 12 years ago, the housing bubble burst, taking the economy down with it. Bear Stearns was out, and the Bear Market was in. Lehman Brothers shattered, and Treasury Secretary Henry Poulson told Americans that our spacious skies were falling.

The presidential election campaign was in its autumnal swing, and the nominees were scheduled to hold their first debate.   John McCain, the self-qualified mathphobe, suspended his campaign. Barack Obama followed suit, and both Senators returned to Washington.

What they did when they got there sealed the election. Obama sat in on meetings with various groups trying to manage the Economic Meltdown.  He listened and took notes. The optics suggested that he knew what was needed. His campaign released statements saying that he had been in contact with the top economic policymakers throughout the spring and summer. McCain, on the other hand, ghosted. He turned up a day or two later, saying he was ready to resume his campaign. It was over, and he had to know it.

If there was any doubt before the seismic campaign occurrence, none remained. Obama appeared to be fit to lead in the financial debacle. More to the point, McCain seemed utterly lost.  It was this appearance of performance that swung the election, even more than McCain’s unfathomable choice of Sarah Palin as his running mate.

Gosh, it seems so long ago and such simpler times. Obama and his administration were ready on Day One to present a stimulus package and to negotiate deals to prop up the faltering auto industry. Congress didn’t give him everything he wanted, but it gave him enough to plug the drain and stop the national death spiral.  The auto manufacturers survived, more or less, living to fail another day.

The global economy is in free fall again. World markets have crashed. Businesses, schools, cities, even countries are shutting down because of Covid-19, the spreading and dangerous coronavirus.   The Trump White House was not ready on Day One, when intelligence became aware of the catastrophe taking shape in Wuhan, China.  It wasn’t ready a month ago when public knowledge of this plague surfaced. Trump is still not prepared on Day 120, having fired and defunded America’s top scientific experts and diverted funds to his sandbox along the southern border.

The only thing Trump has offered so far on the economy is a decrease in payroll taxes.  He’s offering to put a Band-Aid on a hemorrhage.  People are going to need payroll relief, not payroll tax relief. There’s no payroll tax if there’s no payroll.

Trump’s in Florida, cheating on the golf course and holding a fundraiser. He’s anti-science and anti-learning. The only thing he can think to do is to cut a business tax. Trump is Calvin Coolidge without the 30th president’s laconic charm.

But Trump is not the main point here.  Where are the Democrats? The two remaining viable candidates are in Michigan campaigning for today’s crucial primary. Biden and Sanders have announced that they are “heeding the advice of public officials.” In essence, handwashing instead of handshaking.

That’s it? Is nobody going to Washington?  Is nobody sitting down with top medical and economic experts, setting up meetings with teams from other countries? In essence, these two old white guys are sparring with each other. They should step out of campaign mode and go into governance mode.

Sanders especially. He is now trailing Biden and needs a game-changer to persuade voters to trust him with the government, particularly on economic policy.  Sanders could show everybody what democratic socialism looks like in crisis mode. He is not even talking about the disproportionate impact a crash will have on his followers, many of whom already are in financial jeopardy.

Nobody will care about the label of democratic socialist if Sanders actually can step into crisis and show that he can take control of a government in disarray. At least he should suggest the possibility that he can.  More than Biden and even more than Trump, Sanders is making a tactical error by failing to address the Virus Crisis.

If either one of these two hopefuls approached this crisis the way Obama did in 2008, he would take a decisive step toward the nomination and, at the same time,  get a leg up in the general election.

We didn’t know in 2008 if Barack Obama understood what he was hearing or could do anything about it. What we did know was that he was trying to wrap his arms around the worst economic downturn in the United States since 1929, and to learn what he needed to know to respond to it.

If the Democrats want to retake control of the government, they have to start looking like they know how to do it. Biden and Sanders should have teams of advisers holding meetings, and more importantly, they should let the public know that they’re doing it. The house is on fire, so too should be the House.  Senate Democrats should be in high gear. If nothing else, someone should enlist Andrew Yang.

We don’t know if Bernie Sanders would get any of his progressive agenda through Congress, and we don’t know if Joe Biden can handle the daily rigors of the presidency.  We need to know that they and their teams are on top of the Crash of 2020.

Front and Center

When was the last time Chris Christie and Rahm Emanuel agreed on anything? On Sunday,  they each told George Stephanopoulos that the Democratic Party establishment is in panic mode over Bernie Sanders‘ ascendance to front-runner status for the 2020 nomination. For those of us who were around in 2016, it’s déjà vu all over again.

Christie gleefully explained how all of his Republican colleagues, including  Vladimir Putin, are licking their chops at the chance to run Trump against Sanders. Almost all: Trump feels hurt that BFF Putin has taken such a shine to the Vermont independent. Also, we have received scattered reports that, on learning of the Nevada returns, the corners of Mitch McConnell‘s mouth briefly turned upward.

Democrats worry about Sanders’ ability to bring the mainstream of the party along with him.   What does it profit a man to gain the White House but lose Congress? The 2018 House majority was built on mostly middle-of-the-road candidates, like Mikie Sherrill and Abigail Spanberger, who are not particularly comfortable with the Sanders paradigm shift. The Senate, needing to pick up four seats, may have to do it without the benefit of the candidates’ coattails, a tough act. There is a growing contingent in the progressive wing as well.

While the establishment knives are out to stop Sanders, no other aspirant has shown the ability to galvanize a broad swath of voters or, more critically, to get out the vote,  and none of them is ready to step aside for a single moderate to square off against him.   The Sanders victory in Nevada, followed by a rousing reception in Texas, is striking for the breadth of support. In Nevada, the Latinx community backed him. He also polled better with African-Americans than expected. He hasn’t found resonance with the OK Boomer crowd yet, but younger Americans must like his plans for their future.

Since the emergence of the Tea Party in 2010, the realignment of the major political parties has seemed inevitable. It looked like the Republicans were being ripped apart with its Freedom Caucus.  That all changed with Trump taking over the national party. The brutal divide between Sanders and Clinton in 2016 foreshadowed a divided Democratic Party, and to some extent, that is what we see.

What makes the non-Democrat Sanders campaign so interesting is that he doesn’t dwell on party labels. After his triumph in Nevada was announced, Sanders made a point of saying that he would not be derailed by the establishment of either party. Similar to the way he came to power in Burlington,  Vermont, Sanders has been going over, under and around party organizations to reach voters on a gut level.

More than anything, the withering of the Party has been Sanders’ central organizing principle of political success since his beginnings as the mayor of Burlington. For decades, we’ve asked why voters, especially working-class voters, align themselves with the Republican Party, which did almost nothing to promote their economic interests. Sanders confronts the question without attaching a party label to it. Assuming that Sanders continues to lead, the party elders will face the same choice imposed on Republicans in 2016: Follow or get out of the way.

Sanders is pulling from the disaffected left and Trump from the disaffected right. A head-to-head contest between two extremes. That is unless some spoiler decides to jump in and make it a three-way race.

 

Red Moon over Las Vegas

In the 1950s, Jewish-American Communists who grew up in 1930s New York sent their kids away for the summer. The kids were called Red Diaper Babies, and their vacays were called Socialist Summer Camps.

Bernie Sanders grew up in Brooklyn in the 1950s but his family was not part of the activist community. He was not a Red Diaper Baby, and he did not spend his summers singing the Internationale. For Bernie, Brooklyn Dodgers owner Walter O’Malley, who in 1957 decamped with the team to Los Angeles, was the Enemy of the People. Sanders found his activist voice in the civil rights movement of the 1960s while moonlighting as a student at the University of Chicago.

This past Wednesday night, Sanders had a “gambling in Casablanca” moment when he savaged electoral upstart and multi-billionaire Michael Bloomberg for introducing money into politics. The former mayor of New York reportedly has spent close to half a billion dollars of his own money thrusting himself into the race with the single-minded goal of removing Trump from office. His exchanges with current front-runner Sanders were illuminating and relevant.

Sanders said that a billionaire has no place in government. He considers the very idea of a billionaire immoral and should not exist. When Bloomberg was asked if he did have the right to exist, he returned fire, asking why Bernie as “America’s leading socialist” owns three homes. Somewhat abashed, Sanders explained that he had one in Washington, “where he works,” another in Burlington, Vermont, his home state, and a vacation home, which in Vermont is called a summer camp. Socialist Bernie Sanders got his  Summer Camp after all.

Sanders was not chastened by the exchange, but it did slow him down momentarily. He could not dismiss that he had amassed considerable wealth; sufficient to own, rather than rent, three substantial residences. It’s unseemly when the working class, the object of the Sanders movement, includes, “more than a half a million people sleeping out on the streets,” to quote the senator. The Summer Camp — on the banks of Lake Champlain — demonstrates that wealth is incidental to American political power even for Bernie, a millionaire who scorns it. Although a million bucks are not what they used to be, it’s a lot more than most Americans will ever have.

Undaunted, Sanders continued to pound away at the evil of corporate wealth. He scolded Bloomberg for failing to recognize the employees who helped him build his business empire. He even championed the idea of workers serving on corporate boards such as Bloomberg’s.

The plutocrat’s reaction was priceless. His facial expression registered that Sanders’ position was more lamentable than loathsome; that Sanders was so out of touch with the American mainstream, that he did not realize the implication of his proposal. With a look of frustration and sadness, Bloomberg responded. “I can’t think of a ways (sic) that we make it easier for Donald Trump to get re-elected than to listen to this conversation. This is ridiculous,”

In fact, Sanders had reached beyond FDR’s social safety net.  Sanders was breaking new ground in expressing his bolder vision for the future, one that moves into the more disputed arena of shared power between equity holders and workers.

“We’re not going to throw out capitalism,” Bloomberg continued. “We tried that. Other countries tried that. It was called communism, and it just didn’t work.”

This was a moment worth preserving in amber. The debate audience gasped, and Sanders accused Bloomberg of a low blow.  In fact, it was a fair shot. Bernie’s proposal pushes out past the Socialist Lite that Americans unwittingly have come to cherish. Bloomberg correctly observed that Sanders had hit the Third Rail of American politics, and if he pursues that agenda his candidacy is doomed.

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