Sunday, March 22, 2020

Catching Up

Another day in the Idea Lab, the basement office where I find myself “Ridin’ the Storm Out” as REO did so many years ago.

For those with an interest in left politics, I have some additional reading recommendations.

A Party With Socialists In It: A History of the Labor Left by Simon Hannah with a foreword by John McDonnell(!). This book offers an engaging exploration of the Labour Party, from its founding to the Corbyn era, and how the “Broad Church” has navigated the tension between its various factions and tendencies while both in and out of government.   The inclusion of Jeremy Corbyn’s quotation of Shelley’s “The Masque of Anarchy” was pleasing grace note near the conclusion of this accessible work. 

Coming in the mail:  Ralph Miliband’s Parliamentary Socialism. This classic examines the challenges and opportunities facing socialists within the Labour Party.  As the Party is currently winding its way through a leadership election (and thus the fundamental question of, which way forward?), this is an opportune moment for a review of the Labour Party and how it has dealt with more radical ideas and policy proposals.

Turning stateside, I am very much looking forward to the April 28 release of Meagan Day’s and Micah Uetricht’s Bigger Than Bernie:  How We Go from the Sanders Campaign to Democratic Socialism. Day is a staff writer at Jacobin and Uetricht is an assistant editor at Jacobin and an In These Times contributing editor.  Regardless of how the contest for the Democratic Party’s 2020 presidential nomination turns out, there is a movement out there that is larger than any single person.  This work promises to offer a “road map” forward.  Seems like a must-read for those interested in alternatives to barbarism.   

In solidarity.

Wednesday, March 11, 2020

A marathon, not a sprint

When considering the quest to secure the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination, it is important to bear in mind the historical record.

In 1980, after losing several early states, Senator Teddy Kennedy’s campaign rallied to pull off wins in a number of late March, April, and June primaries and caucuses.  President Jimmy Carter achieved victories in 36 states compared to 12 for the Senator from Massachusetts.  Going into the convention, Carter led Kennedy by a delegate count of 2,129.02 to 1,150.48.  Carter went on to be re-nominated before losing the general election. Kennedy’s efforts, although unsuccessful, served as a reminder that the progressive flame had not been vanquished in an era when the New Deal coalition was stumbling towards its full collapse.

In 1984, Senator Gary Hart captured a few early states before former Vice President Walter Mondale rattled off a string of victories in March and April.  Hart mounted a comeback, with wins in several Midwestern and western states in May and June. Hart ended up winning 26 states compared to 22 for Mondale. While securing 35.9% of the popular vote, slightly behind Mondale’s 38.3%, Hart (like Kennedy) stayed in the fight through the last primaries and caucuses although he trailed Mondale in the pre-convention delegate tally (1,929 to 1,164).

In 1988, after 13 wins and garnering more than 6.9 million votes in the primaries and caucuses (compared to slightly over 10 million for the eventual nominee, Governor Mike Dukakis) the Reverend Jesse Jackson took his campaign to the convention – where he claimed 1,023 delegates (whereas Dukakis went in with 1,792 delegates).

And in 1992, despite winning only 6 states, 596 delegates, and 20.2% of the popular vote, Governor Jerry Brown did not end his campaign until the convention, where Governor Bill Clinton (37 states, 3,372 delegates, and 52.0% of the popular vote) obtained the Democratic Party’s nomination.

In short, with Senator Bernie Sanders currently trailing former Vice President Joe Biden in the popular vote by a 30.7% - 37.7% margin, and an estimated delegate deficit of only roughly 140, with many contests and delegates up for grabs in the weeks and months ahead, there is no need at all for anyone in Senator Sanders’ position to end their campaign at this juncture.

The March 15th debate should be one for the ages.

In solidarity.

Monday, March 9, 2020

A Predictable Calamity

None of us are getting out of this decade alive…would have been the lead sentence of this post.  But I thought I would put on what you would call a happy face (in your mind, you should hear these words as if read aloud by Adam Driver as Kylo Ren from the SNL Undercover Boss sketch).

Coronavirus, a plunging stock market, que sera sera.

On a more life-affirming note, I was, as no one says, punch-pleased at how well the Candidate Meet and Greet turned out at the Alphabets Montessori School in Elkridge on Saturday.  The event was co-hosted by several sponsors, including Forward Maryland.  Thirteen Board of Education candidates along with various well-wishers, hangers-on, groupies, entourages and, most importantly, voters attended this Very Special Event.

I had the opportunity to speak with every candidate, including one who seemingly forgot how to make eye contact when I greeted them by name at their table.  Interestingly, I spent the most time chatting with D5 office-seekers. I will likely be writing a separate piece on District 5, but that will follow later in March.

I met for the first time Antonia Barkley Watts, a very strong candidate for D2, and I had a good conversation with Jolene Mosley from D3.

Let’s turn to D4.

This blog is not doing formal endorsements anymore. I thought the trope was a little tired, so it has been re-tired, at least through the April primary.

That said, as a District 4 resident, I am voting for Jen Mallo.  While toughness, historically, has generally not been perceived to be an essential candidate attribute for BoE races…it is clear that the upcoming Board of Education will need folks who can step up and make difficult decisions. When Superintendent Martirano’s original proposal segued from formal recommendation to non-starter, Mallo (and Chao Wu separately) developed their own alternatives in an effort to find a solution to the redistricting impasse. While it should not have been the role of the Board to come up with such options, this is where the Board found itself.  I appreciate the courage of those who were willing to stake out a position, knowing they would face opposition, and attempt to find the most equitable solution for all of Howard County’s public school students.  While not perfect, but then, who among us are, it is my devastatingly accurate and humble opinion that Mallo’s voice is the one most needed for the Howard County Board of Education from District 4.

If you need me today, I will spreading sunshine all over the mf’ing place.

In solidarity.

Sunday, February 16, 2020

What good is a Democratic Party…?

Jules Witcover, journalist and author of several works on presidential campaigns and political figures, wrote a book about the Democratic Party titled “Party of the People: A History of the Democrats.”  Published in 2003, shortly post-9/11 yet before the Great Recession, his closing chapters reflect a Democratic Party heading into uncertain times without a consensus on the best way to move forward.  The party’s left, which had undergone its “wilderness years” since the 1980s, was just beginning to show signs of a resurgence…unfortunately, without one of its leading lights as Senator Paul Wellstone perished in an airplane crash shortly before Election Day 2002.  

The Democratic Leadership Council/New Democratic Network-style Ds held a tenuous grip on the leadership of the party, albeit one weakened by the not-unrelated failures of the Clinton Administration and the Gore campaign.  Even the “insurgent” voice of 2004, Howard Dean, wasn’t particularly progressive; and the eventual nominee of that cycle, John Kerry, was largely viewed as an Establishment figure.  Neoliberalism, the idea that “swallowed the world” according to Stephen Metcalf, remained the dominant worldview, with President Barack Obama winning election and re-election in the midst of what was fundamentally a relatively conservative regime sequence, with a somewhat greater warrant of authority for bold(er) government action following the financial crisis of 2007 – 2008.  Unfortunately, in yet another close and bitterly fought election similar to 2000,  the Democratic presidential nominee of 2016 was unable to succeed a then-relatively popular Democratic incumbent.

So here we stand in 2020 with an impeached, highly polarizing, and dangerous Republican incumbent.  Yet there are elements within the Party who have decided that the best alternative for the Democratic Party is the nomination of a billionaire former Republican with a history of racist rhetoric and policies.  If Mayor Bloomberg were to be the standard-bearer of our party, are we not yielding the moral high ground?  How can we effectively contrast our party’s values by running an oligarch against theirs?  How can we defeat not only Trump but Trump-ism with a Democratic nominee who is running as a technocrat who would merely govern better than the current Administration (a low threshold by any account)?  Bloomberg’s campaign is not values-driven, it does not offer up a competing vision as much as it is seeks to accommodate the political environment fostered by Trump and his ilk.

What good is a Democratic Party that it sets its sights so low as to consider the nomination of Mike Bloomberg as a rational, much less a winning response to the continuing threat posed by the Trump Administration?

Suffice to say, I am disappointed by the thought process (??) of certain current and former local Democratic “leaders” who have chosen, for whatever reason, to stand with the Bloomberg campaign.  Lest I be accused of vague-ness by 1,000 cuts, let me be clear:  I am referring to former Howard County Executive Ken Ulman and current State Senator Katie Fry Hester. 

I don’t know what they think they are getting out of their support for such a figure.  I do know that if they wanted a Republican-Light, someone who would be unable to run a strong differentiating campaign against Trump, they could not have made a better choice than backing the former NYC Mayor.

Which gets us back to first principles and the original question, what good is a Democratic Party?  What is the public good we hope to advance…at the national, state, and local levels?  And what are the obligations of our leaders within the “party of the people?”  Whose interests must they serve? 

These are important questions for 2020 and beyond.

In solidarity.

Saturday, February 8, 2020

A Weekend Reading List

What is socialism?  This is very much an “in the news” question and, if Facebook comments mean anything, clearly an area where a great deal of misinformation exists.

I have my own definition that focuses on the expansion of the sphere of liberty through more political and workplace democracy; greater common (re: public) ownership in, for example, the transportation and energy sectors; health care coverage and cost solutions such as Medicare-for-All; and the disaggregation of powerful corporate forces through good old-fashioned trust busting and regulations that place the well-being of the people ahead of those of well-heeled special interests.     

But, alas, I have not yet written a book on this topic.

So, I asked my good friend and erstwhile political science professor, Ferguson Driwahl, for his recommendations on educational, yet accessible, works on the subject.  Here is what he suggested:

The Socialist Manifesto by Bhaskar Sunkara.  The editor of Jacobin and the publisher of Tribune, delivers a page-turner that explores “a primer on socialism for the twenty-first century.”  I very much enjoyed his discussion of “class struggle social democracy.”

Socialism, Past and Future by Michael Harrington.  Along with Bayard Rustin, one of the heaviest hitters in the democratic socialism space between the passing of Norman Thomas and the rise of Bernie Sanders.  An older work, published in 1989, it remains an excellent treatise on socialism up to that pivotal year…and a look at what might follow.  Harrington himself wrote that “socialism, I want to propose, is the hope for human freedom and justice under the unprecedented conditions of life that humanity will face in the twenty-first century.”  How is his prediction holding up thus far?

Why You Should be a Socialist by Nathan Robinson, editor of Current Affairs. In this highly readable opus, Mr. Robinson explores what he perceives to be the troubles of neoliberalism along with the benefits of a better alternative path forward: socialism.  Sometimes quirky yet consistently scholarly, it’s an engaging read.

And two books with more of an historical focus:

The “S” Word, A Short History of An American Tradition…Socialism by John Nicholas.  His work (I recognize that all of the authors I have mentioned thus far are men…so also allow me to suggest the writings of Rosa Luxemburg, although to be candid, I have not read her work since college).  Where was I?  Oh yes, Nichols offers thrills, chills, and spills…if by those one means a through exploration of socialism, American style, in the 19th, 20th, and early 21st centuries.

Finally, The Long Detour: The History and Future of the American Left by James Weinstein.  The founding editor and publisher of In These Times, Weinstein examines both the salient principles of socialism as well as the rise, the fall, and the rise again (!?) of socialism as a political force in American politics.


In Solidarity.

Wednesday, February 5, 2020

Quick Takes on the 7th CD Special Primary Election

So...what happened?

-          Turnout was lower than anticipated on the D side, with 67,880 voters casting their ballots in the D primary.  Granted, we don’t have the AVs and Provisionals in yet, but I was expecting something closer to 75,000 Election Day ballots to be cast.

-          I believe favorable weather helped bring out some medium-propensity voters, which boosted the tally to north of 67K, otherwise, we would have witnessed even lower turnout.

-          This is why I don’t do predictions pieces (I have written on this subject previously).  While “fun,” they aren’t based on sound science. 

-          While I got the top 10 right (which wasn’t that difficult a challenge) and I was within 2% of the final numbers for five of the top 10 candidates, I missed Mfume’s numbers by a wide margin.  Why?  A few reasons leap out:
o   Frankly, I expected older voters (who make up a disproportionate percentage of special election electorates) to split between Mfume, Branch, and Jalisi.  The campaigns of the latter two, combined, accounted for not even 3% of the vote (combined, my last predictions piece had them at 14%).  So that is 11% right there.
o   I thought the “Change” vote would lead to stronger performances by relatively newer faces, such as Terri Hill.  While her campaign was solid in Howard County (placing first), she was crushed in Baltimore and also trailed by a wide margin in Baltimore County.  She needed to run up big numbers in HoCo and be competitive in Baltimore (City and County) and that just didn’t happen this time around.
o   While the Carter campaign did well (a familiar name in a sizable percentage of the district), I believe some of her vote went to Mfume (despite the distinct insurgent/establishment positionings) while Rockeymoore Cummings also slightly over-performed by a couple of percentage points over my final projections.  I think some of that vote went from Carter to MRC.

Those are my initial thoughts on this most special of primaries.

In solidarity.