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.

Monday, February 3, 2020

MD CD #7 Final Special Primary Election Predictions

But first: Bernie Sanders will win Iowa.  The second-place finisher will fare quite well and claim some form of "victory."  The campaign that winds up in fifth will be hurting, but how badly?  If Warren or Buttigieg, second degree burns but survivable and a greater need for a quick bounce-back in an early primary state. If Klobuchar, her campaign would be teetering on the precipice.

Back to the 7th.  Rain in the forecast for Tuesday morning does not bode well for more casual voters, meaning high-propensity and ideologically-driven voters will make up an even larger-than-usual share of the electorate tomorrow. 

Note again: these prognostications are not based on poll-data. If you want the latter, pay me.

1. Carter: 22%  Remains my pick to win the Special Primary Election. 
2. Hill:  17%.  Up from 4th place in my earlier predictions piece.  From all accounts, she has been running an active campaign throughout the district. Will finish just ahead of...
3. Mfume: 17%.  Sartorial observation: why wear the same jacket and turtleneck (?) in every direct mail piece?  Nice Movado though.  Same thoughts as before, his time has passed.
4. Rockeymoore Cummings: 15%.  Down from 2nd.  Running the wrong kind of campaign for a Feb. special election.
5. Jalisi: 7%. Up one spot from my November picks.  Insert Pelosi-clap here.
6. Branch: 7%.  Down one spot,  if Jalisi clocks in at 7.2%, Branch will be around 6.8%
7. Higginbotham: 3%. Nice direct mail.  Up from 11th in my last predictions article. 
8. Rabb:  2%. Good candidate but a tough, crowded field.  Hard to break-through as a non-elected. 
9. Spikes: 2%.  I have seen very little about his candidacy.
10 Gosnell.  1% Either Grant or Gosnell will finish 10%, ahead of the other "also rans"

In solidarity!