Justifiable outrage coalesces into
Unity as we recoil from blue knee on black
Neck in this repetitive horror to which we cry
This freedom anniversary should be one of
Elation in a land revitalizing its promised
Equality despite the backward steps—
Never forgetting Tulsa or Jim Crow or
The Klansmen et al stalking among us—we’ll
Hope/march/work/vote til we’re…
After The New York Times published an Op-Ed by a woman who said she believed Tara Reade’s assertion that Joe Biden had sexually assaulted her—but she would vote for him anyway, Biden was asked in an interview what he thought about that. He responded:
“If she believes Tara Reade, she shouldn’t vote for me. If I believed Tara Reade, I wouldn’t vote for me.”
Here’s Why I Feel Compelled to Return to the Issue Now
This may well be a very close election, in which every vote counts. Thinking of Biden’s words cited above, I decided that if I can help anyone who has doubts about whether Biden committed such a crime—and those doubts might lead them either to waver or stay home—I want to offer what is to me some more convincing evidence in his favor.
I’m further motivated because The New York Times just reported on the extensive planned Republican efforts to keep as many likely Democratic voters from successfully casting their ballots as they can (using the largely discredited excuse of voter fraud).
Thus, no vote should be lost when the individual voter’s participation is so urgently important.
The disinformation campaign waged by the Trump organization is well under way. Lest you think they’ll shy away from this topic simply because of the 25 women who have charged Trump with sexual misconduct, his own videotaped bragging about having done so, and the fact that Michael Cohen, Trump’s former lawyer, remains in jail in part for paying women to silence them about those charges, think again.
Remember when Trump debated Hillary, and he invited a number of Bill Clinton’s female accusers to accompany him? The words “distraction” and “deflection” are now frequently applied to trumpian behavior.
Could be, but I was so convinced by what I’d read, and so concerned that this issue would unfairly dominate the campaign—despite Trump’s abysmal record—that I felt it was worth taking an early stand, expressing my hope that the press wouldn’t go down every rabbit hole.
For now, I believe there’s been enough follow-through that most of the media recognizes this story doesn’t have the “legs” that appeared early on.
Perhaps some wariness set in when the second woman to come forth was quickly dismissed as a phony whose story was demonstrably untrue.
Now There Are These Investigation Results
PBS Newshourpublished a lengthy, detailed article after interviewing 74 former Biden staff members, 62 of them women, about Tara Reade’s charge.
The NewsHour writers say they sought to get these individuals’ sense of how he acted toward women over all those decades, what they thought of Reade’s allegations, and whether there had been a pattern of the behavior she alleged.
Of the interviewees, more than 20 had worked in Biden’s office during the less than one year Reade was there. Many of them didn’t remember her.
According to the NewsHour reporters:
“None said they had experienced sexual harassment, assault, or misconduct by Biden. All said they never heard any rumors or allegations of Biden engaging in sexual misconduct” until Reade’s recent charge.
“Overall, the people who spoke to the NewsHour described largely positive and gratifying experiences working for Biden, painting a portrait of someone who was ahead of his time in empowering women in the workplace.”
Some Salient Points:
*Ben Savage worked directly with Reade, who had served as a junior aide in Biden’s office for about nine months. Savage said Reade had been fired for poor performance, which he had seen directly, and not in retaliation against her alleged claim of sexual harassment (which she upped to sexual assault only recently).
*Former staff members cast doubt about Reade’s assertion that Biden had asked her to serve drinks at a fundraiser (which she’d at one point implied was related to her firing) for two reasons.
—First, there was an office policy banning most of his Senate staff from doing campaign work. “Never would have happened. We all knew there was a very hard line there,” said a staff assistant, Melissa Lefko, who served when Reade was there.
—Second, two male junior staff members said Biden specifically didn’t want women to serve beverages or do similarly stereotypical tasks, and had asked the young men to do them instead.
*Those interviewed also pointed out that the area in which Reade claimed the assault took place was a heavily trafficked locale in which there would have been “a high risk of being seen.”
*Female staff members who frequently worked alone with Biden in his small office “said he never made passes at them or behaved in other ways that suggested sexual impropriety.”
Elizabeth Alexander, a former aide in both the Senate and White House, said she’d accompanied Biden all over this country and the world, traveling alone with him. ”Never, ever, ever did I feel uncomfortable.”
It was a time when some members of the Senate were known to sexually harass young women. One staffer said:
“You got to know which senators you didn’t want to be on an elevator alone with. No one ever said Joe Biden was one of them.”
Of his habit of touching women, many said they gravitated to him as a kind of “comforter-in-chief,” and wanted an arm on their shoulder or a kiss on the cheek.
“Most saw it as an endearing quality that wasn’t sexual in nature…as an expression of empathy, as opposed to flirtation.”
But some expressed regret that they probably should have said something because such actions may have made others uncomfortable.
And since Biden has apologized for that behavior, saying he now understands it was inappropriate, it’s reasonable to assume he would have learned that lesson years earlier.
Concerning His Accuser…
Politicointerviewed more than 12 people who had interactions with Reade. The picture they drew is disturbingly similar: manipulation, lying, turning against people who had helped her, including financially, as she was often in financial trouble.
According to the writer:
“Over the past decade, Reade has left a trail of aggrieved acquaintances in California’s Central Coast region who say they remember two things about her—she spoke favorably about her time working for Biden, and she left them feeling duped.”
One of the “aggrieved acquaintances” said:
“We are actually starting to find each other and put the pieces together because we saw her face on CNN. I thought to myself, ‘hey, I have a support group now. I think we are Alexandra/Tara survivors.’” (Reade has used several names atvarious times.)
She gave them all the impression that she’d spent years in Biden’s office, it was a high point in her life, and she’d helped write landmark legislation—not that she’d served for about nine months as a junior aide and had been fired for incompetence.
In my May 2 post, I referred to Lynn Summers, who was forthright in interviews that Reade had manipulated, lied, and stolen money from her. Reade’s attorney has since sent Hummer a “cease and desist” letter.
“We’ll be more than happy to provide actual physical evidence that backs up Ms. Hummer’s story. All Reade has is a lawyer trying to bully my client.”
In view of the above, I don’t expect the mainstream media to spend much more time on the Tara Reade accusation.
But that doesn’t mean the shameless Trump organization won’t keep trying to bring it up.
Trump’s younger son Eric is, right now, peddling a video of Biden with the family of a member of Congress he’s just sworn in. Biden leans over to kiss the head of the man’s young daughter, in full view of the family and cameras.
This is purportedly all the evidence you need to confirm that Joe Biden is a pedophile. Ridiculous? Of course. But we are living in surreal times.
I won’t be surprised if one or more women emerge in October with all kinds of unprovable charges. I just hope the press will do its due diligence thoroughly before even considering whether such charges merit public disclosure.
For example, automatically assuming that an old friend whom Reade called to refresh her memory years after she reportedly first told her of the event may not be worthy confirmation of her veracity.
As former prosecutor Michael Stern has observed, the corroborating friend must always rely on the accuser’s telling the truth.
Based on what we’ve learned to date, I believe a perversion of the much-needed #me-too movement has been made by a pathetic woman against an honorable man—at a time of enormous importance to our democracy.
Wow! Said she who always endeavors to be optimistic. Are we in trouble! First and foremost, of course, is this pandemic hanging over and among us. But the November election isn’t far off, and with so much uncertainty about how wide the pandemic will spread and how long it will last, the concept of voting by mail is an obvious imperative.
Yet this President, who now insists his powers are absolute, is claiming that vote-by-mail is a giant fraud that shouldn’t be allowed. Why? If we allow the Democrats to include funding in the next coronavirus relief package to expand voting opportunities and allow more widespread vote-by-mail in response to the pandemic, he said, “you’d never have a Republican elected in this country again.”
In this case, he is simply voicing publicly what Republicans have been doing quietly for years. As The New York Timesreports:
“The push to limit voting options is in keeping with Republicans’ decades-running campaign to impose restrictions that disproportionately affect people of color, the poor, and younger voters, under the banner of combating voter fraud, which is exceedingly rare.”
“Studies have shown that all forms of voting fraud are extremely rare in the United States. A national study in 2016 found few credible allegations of fraudulent voting. A panel that Mr. Trump charged with investigating election corruption found no real evidence of fraud before he disbanded it in 2018. “
Indeed, Charles Stewart III of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, a political science professor who studies “the machinations of voting” observed:
“What we know can be boiled down to this: Voting fraud in the United States is rare, less rare is fraud using mail ballots.”
In the face of the lack of evidence, the Republicans persist. The reason is fear of loss of power. As I’ll note below, their fears aren’t even justified.
But the operative concept is–or should be–quite simple: One Person, One Vote. You either believe that as many people should vote as possible, or you can’t claim to be representatives of our small d democratic republic. This is a huge issue.
So it’s clear to me that in response, we need a huge Democratic turnout reaching all levels of government in November—not just to save our democracy—but also, because of the mishandling of the pandemic by Trump and some Republican governors, to save our lives.
And that means every vote must be allowed to be cast and counted—no easy task. There are lots of impediments, both built-in (eg, the Electoral College), and human made (eg, gerrymandering, racial targeting, Russian interference). See this New York Timesarticle about the complexities involved.
I think it behooves us all—as concerned citizens also acting in enlightened self-interest—to demand that our electoral mechanisms are as geared up as possible to ensure the election results echo the voters’ intent.
Here’s Some Good News In That Regard
—Senators Amy Klobuchar and Ron Wyden have introduced a vote-by-mail bill that they hope to get into the next Coronavirus relief package. It’s called The Natural Disaster and Emergency Ballot Act and “would expand early in-person voting and no-excuse absentee vote-by-mail to all states and would reimburse states for additional costs in administering elections during the coronavirus pandemic.”
“And if you want to know what it’s like to vote in a healthy, safe and secure way—from the comfort of your own home—just ask President Trump. He’s been doing it for years.”
—Michelle Obama’s nonpartisan voting group, When We All Vote, has announced its support for expanding vote-by-mail, online voter registration, and early voting. Calling those efforts “critical steps for this moment,” she stated:
“There is nothing partisan about striving to live up to the promise of our country: making the democracy we all cherish more accessible, and protecting our neighbors, friends and loved ones as they participate in this cornerstone of American life.”
—The National Task Force on Election Crises, a “diverse, cross-partisan group of more than 40 experts in election law,election administration, national security, cybersecurity, voting rights, civil rights, technology, public health, and emergency response,” has set forth goals that include expanding no-excuse absentee vote-by-mail; maximizing early voting days and hours; increasing the number of polling places and other voting options; and proactive, transparent communication with voters.”
This group was founded to ensure that our elections are safe from interference by the Russians and others. It has now expanded its efforts in view of COVID-19. I listened to a very interesting podcast by several of its members on Talking Feds, chaired by law professor and political commenter Harry Litman, in which one speaker observed that Secretaries of State in states throughout the country are gearing up for this massive task.
—The brave Wisconsin voters have laser-focused our attention on the threat to our democracy.
I question whether anyone with an ounce of decency, regardless of party, could have remained unmoved by the sight of those loyal Americans standing on long lines to exercise their precious right to vote in the midst of this pandemic, forced to choose between voting and their health—and possibly lives—by outrageous and purely partisan decisions on the state and national levels by both legislators and the Courts, with the President as cheerleader.
To recap briefly:
On April 6, Governor Tony Evers, a Democrat, sought to have the primary moved to June.
The Republican-dominated state legislature challenged his decision in the Wisconsin Supreme Court, which struck down the Governor’s action.
The US Supreme Court, in a 5-4 ruling reached remotely from their own safe spots, voted to reverse a lower court’s decision to extend the deadline for receipt of absentee ballots by just six days to ensure people could vote safely.
The Republican state legislature wanted to keep the vote low, believing it would help them reelect a conservative state court judge. President Trump agreed. He lobbied hard for the guy and against vote-by-mail, saying it “doesn’t work out well for Republicans.”
It turned out that was the case in Wisconsin this year. Though both Democrats and Republicans expected a low turnout, especially in Democratic stronghold Milwaukee, where there were only 5 polling places open instead of the usual 18, Jill Karofsky, the liberal challenger, defeated Justice Daniel Kelly, the Trump-endorsed incumbent, by more than 160,000 votes. (Joe Biden also decisively defeated Bernie Sanders in what might have been bigger news under other circumstances.)
This Should Not Be a Partisan Issue
But despite President Trump’s claims—and his unjustified cries of fraud (which, as noted previously, study after study have shown is practically non-existent at this point—oh, wait, there was that North Carolina election fraud case by a Republican operative in 2019)—vote-by-mail doesn’t automatically benefit Democrats.
In fact, Florida, Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin—all of which Trump won in 2016—already allow their voters to vote by mail for any reason.
A study published April 14, 2020, by the Democracy and Polarization Lab at Stanford University examined data from 1996-2018 and found no evidence that the roll-out of vote-by-mail in California, Utah, and Washington helped either party.
Vote-by-mail is already the primary method of voting in five states: Oregon, Washington, Colorado, Hawaii, and Utah. Former Governor and current Senate candidate John Hickenlooper of Colorado said they’ve seen a handful of fraudulent attempts in the millions of votes cast since its inception.
So facilitating vote-by-mail should be a non-partisan issue, but it isn’t. And since some believe that the number of people voting by mail may double in 2020 and account for one half the voting population, the systems state-by-state are really going to need help to protect the integrity of the electoral process. And the Post Office must be ready.
“Experience and past election results show that in order to prevent vote by mail from inadvertently disenfranchising voters, states must adopt four key safeguards:
(1) Postage must be free or prepaid by the government.
(2) Ballots postmarked on or before Election Day must count.
(3) Signature-matching laws need to be reformed to protect voters.
(4) Community organizations must be permitted to help collect and deliver voted, sealed ballots.
“We know that lack of pre-paid postage is an impediment to voting for many lower-income and young voters, and experts have found that requiring voters to have mail ballots received by Election Day, rather than simply post-marked by Election Day, has a disproportionate impact on minority voters. In 2016, a determination that a voter’s vote-by-mail signature failed to match the signature on file was the most common reason for rejecting a ballot. Finally, experience shows that laws that prevent community organizations from assisting voters with the collection and delivery of voted and sealed mail ballots disadvantage minority voters.”
Regardless of Party, We Should Want to Maximize American Voter Participation
Elias adds that because some voters, especially minority voters, strongly prefer to vote in person, they must be able to do so safely, with sufficient staffing by state agencies assisted by students. He foresees government workers being given overtime pay to do this, and high school and college kids receiving both payment and credit. In part, this effort will make up for the many elderly people who formed the bulwark of poll workers in the past.
Expanded curbside voting—in which voters drive up, get their ballot, and return it—without having to leave their cars, is now available in a number of states for disabled or elderly people. Elias and others recommend expanding it for everyone.
We have seen early voting being cut back in some states in an effort to disenfranchise voters. Elias recommends expanding it to include weekends, thereby reducing long lines and enabling those who want to vote in person but can’t get to the polls on Election Day to cast their ballots.
He recommends that “vote anywhere rules” be adopted by all states, so that a voter who appears at the wrong polling place may vote for the offices for which she or he would be eligible. This move, which some states already allow, would negate the need for provisional ballots that often aren’t counted.
And here’s a very interesting idea: states should create systems that enable a voter to reserve an off-peak hours time slot when they can vote, which would also reduce lines.
“The goal should be to avoid letting the rules dictate who wins based on whose voters can participate. Only by taking these steps can we be assured that the rules of the election won’t unfairly tilt the playing field.”
What You and I Can Do
In a recent visit to Twitter, where I am primarily a reader/lurker, I came across this tweet from a woman named Jo:
“Wisconsin is incredibly inspiring but no one should have to risk sickness or worse to vote. Be as patriotic as these fine folks and spend time today writing, tweeting, and calling your elected officials to support vote by mail and tell 12 of your nearest and dearest to do the same.”
I was so taken by the import of that simple tweet that I responded:
A sound and constructive plan that I should have thought of but didn’t. Thank you!
I have followed that advice, leaving messages with my senators and representative encouraging them to ensure that Congress allots the money needed by the states and the Post Office to make vote-by-mail viable in all 50 states by November. The Post Office support is an essential element. Apparently, President Trump has added the US Postal Service to his hit list.
It’s also crucial that Congress fund the other voting initiatives discussed above to secure safe in-person voting.
As I’m contacting my nearest and dearest, I’m adding you, dear readers, to my list. If at least twelve of you will deliver this message to your legislators—and, in turn, encourage twelve of your nearest/dearest to do the same—perhaps we can really make an impact.
This is the most important election of our lifetimes. We’ve got a lot of hurdles ahead of us. Now’s the time to make our voices heard.
Republican Governor Mike DeWine of Ohio defied a state Supreme Court decision and cancelled his state’s primary election on March 17, citing “health concerns.” Ohio Democratic Senator Sherrod Brown, whom I greatly respect, said he’s been working with DeWine, knows him well, and is confident that his decision was based on the right reason: the desire to protect the health and safety of the people of his state.
So although there’s plenty of political shenanigans around, the Ohio primary cancellation doesn’t seem to have been one of them. That’s the good part.
The bad part is that DeWine’s decision sets a dangerous precedent—as historian Michael Beschloss confirmed on Rachel Maddow’s MSNBC show. When we get into the business of cancelling elections, we’re entering new territory fraught with negative implications for our democracy, which has been suffering mightily in the past several years.
The coronavirus has demonstrated that we are all interconnected and interdependent: We’ll have to work together to get through this pandemic that is threatening us now—and to deal with the unprecedented dilemmas it is posing.
Based on nearly all sources, who now include a recalcitrant President Trump (!), the pandemic will surely worsen over the next several months. Louisiana and Georgia have already postponed their primaries. It seems to be time to consider how important the remaining primaries are to our democratic process.
There is only one person who should make that decision: Bernie Sanders.
As of March 18, he faces a nearly insurmountable delegate deficit. Former Vice President Joe Biden has won 1165 delegates; Sanders’ tally is 880. The odds of his success are slim to none. After losing the primaries in Illinois, Florida, and Arizona by large percentages, Bernie is now “reassessing his campaign,” according to current reports.
If he decides that it is irresponsible to continue seeking delegates through the primaries because people’s lives will be at risk going to vote in primaries that won’t change the outcome—and suspends his campaign—he will be demonstrating a degree of reality-based unselfishness that will earn him a solid place in history.
In contrast, if he continues to campaign in whatever way he can, he will divert Biden from focusing his sole attention on President Trump’s massive failures, delay whatever reconciliation is possible between his supporters and Biden, and increase the chances that the most inept and harmful president ever may somehow win another four years.
Bernie’s place in history may then be as the spoiler who increased the possibilities of our democracy failing. I’m sure that is not the legacy he wishes. He has committed to voting for and campaigning for Biden, stating that defeating President Trump is the most important issue.
He can still play an active role in pursuing his ideas and ideals; he has already moved Biden to the left on education. But I hope he realizes that the primaries—and Biden’s increasingly large victories—have demonstrated that this is a center-left country.
Based on all the votes cast in the primaries to date, it’s now time for the battle of ideas among Democrats to cease in order to form a cohesive strategy to defeat Trump, hold the House, and retake the Senate.
Biden recognizes where he must be to forge what has so far been a winning coalition. If Bernie pushes too far, he risks validating those among his supporters who will refuse to vote for Biden because they view him as too much a part of the “corrupt establishment.”
I hope, therefore, that Bernie will soon announce the suspension of his campaign and devote his energies to ensuring that the Senate passes substantive legislation that will provide immediate and ongoing assistance to Americans in need due to the impact of the coronavirus.
And I hope that along the way, he will be able to convince many (most?) of his supporters that their vote for the man he calls “my friend Joe” is right and necessary.
We have Republicans in the Senate today sounding like Socialists (shhhhhh!), saying they’re ready to send dollars to the public.
We have a public that, after decades of accepting the Republicans’ fraying of the safety net, finally realizes due to the absence of good management and wise decision-making how very important the federal government is.
(With regard to the above point, I urge you to read this extremely important article in the Washington Post by Stuart Stevens, a now contrite Republican consultant, on the damage his party has wreaked on this nation, leading inevitably to our current crisis.)
In the midst of the horror we’re experiencing, if Bernie now declares he’ll no longer participate in the primaries, he can take pride in the role he’s played in changing people’s views. He just hasn’t succeeded to the point that they’re ready for his revolution.
Candidates flailing arms in the air, bent
on talking, one over another Hapless moderators—too many, too
weak to control the mayhem Another Democratic debate, Offering less light than heat Seemingly not laser-focused on our
closeness to the abyss.
In the far too-White House, a lawless
President—unrebuked by his
tarnished party— No-nothingly claims the gathering
pandemic will soon be gone
And helter-skelterly seeks funding only
after a ka-chinging Stock Market dives into waters darkened
by viral uncertainty… Even as he tears away our protective
Intel and Rebukes/replaces experts and judicious
judges, Instead producing pattern-setting
pardons of those justly Convicted of crimes against the State… As back in Russia, Vladimir does his
happy dance with wanton abandon.
When an aroused people stands together Elevating our shared goal beyond our
Change of the most positive nature can
unfold As we become Citizen Activists as never
before: Noting the work ahead, and
enthusiastically signing on
Exercising our right to vote for whoever
we think best—but Not turning away if the nominee is other
than our choice, Determined to banish the unclothed
emperor above all.
In this nation of great promise and
hard history This is our time, finally, to get
In my previous post, I cited the free newsletter by RB Hubbell of California (email@example.com). His February 26, 2020, issue (No. 380) is a treasure trove of action steps we can take, with links to organizations focused on the important issues of voter registration, turnout, and voter protection, among others.
They include several I’d never heard of, such as Changing the Conversation Together (in which volunteers have issue-oriented discussions with people in their homes), Vote Forward (you sign your name to letters on a template sent to under-represented voters), and one I found particularly interesting: Payback Project, dedicated to defeating ten Republican Senators (including Lindsey Graham, Susan Collins, and Mitch McConnell), and thereby taking back the Senate.
And in today’s newsletter (February 27, 2020, No. 831), Hubbell adds another compelling possibility: Sister District Project, which tries to turn states blue by winning state legislatures, thereby helping to end gerrymandering. The organization says it has teams “across the country.” With the 2020 Census under way, leading to redistricting in 2021, it is vital that we have Democratic Governors and state legislators involved in this effort to ensure that representation is accurately apportioned.
After watching the pre-Nevada caucus Democratic debate, I began writing this post with feelings of frustration approaching despair. There were many things to criticize, and I was emptying my angst onto this page, and thus preparing to send it on to you.
With the latest evidence—which we already knew—from the Intelligence briefing to the House that reiterated Russian meddling in the 2020 election, which was followed by the President’s replacement of the acting intelligence chief with someone with less than zero qualifications for the job, I cannot and will not deny that we are living in increasingly perilous times. See The New York Times article here.
The question I’ve been pondering is this: as we search for someone who is best able to defeat Donald Trump, how do we handle ourselves? And that question makes me feel more closely attuned to my more optimistic, better self—the one that really believes we can find common ground.
What brought me to this more positive place? Meditation helps, but my “recovery” was nurtured by a very calming, cogent newsletter that a friend who had just subscribed to forwarded to me. Its author, RB Hubbell, is based in California. The daily newsletter is free and can be obtained by sending your email address to firstname.lastname@example.org.
A Voice of Reason
I don’t know how large Hubbell’s subscriber list is, but he began his discussion of the aftermath of the debate by saying his inbox had “exploded” with emails that “exhibited a level of angst, anger, and disgust I have not seen before.”
He then said he wanted to share readers’ reactions, because he’s been told that hearing from others helps his readers “ground their feelings and test their own reactions to this crazy mess in which we find ourselves.”
There’s nothing wildly original about Hubbell’s message or his readers’ reactions. Maybe I was just ready to hear his words, but they hit me exactly right. Here’s a sampling:
“Before we get to the details, let’s say the important things first: We must stick together. We are on the same side. If we do not stand together, we will fall together. Whatever passion or disappointment or anger you feel, it cannot cause you to withdraw from the process or give in to feelings of hopelessness or lash out in anger at fellow Democrats. We are facing a grave threat to democracy. Our personal preferences for president are subordinate to the need to ensure the election of the Democratic nominee—whoever he or she is.
“A secondary point is the need to focus on the long-term. Yesterday’s debate was freighted with expectations and led to disappointment. Accept that fact and move on. We can’t freak out every time something bad happens; otherwise, we won’t make it to the Democratic convention in July, much less the general election in November. If ever there was a time in our history when we needed to toughen-up, hunker-down, and keep our eyes on the horizon, now is that moment.”
It’s Okay to Withdraw, But Not for Long
Hubbell’s readers include many people who told him they’d withdrawn from the fray for the sake of their mental health. I can relate to that feeling. My last three posts were about goldfinches and squirrels; solar railways and my carbon BigFootprint, and guidance on comforting the sick and dying.
But I knew I had to return to politics because this is an “all hands on deck” moment.
Interestingly, although Hubbell probably wouldn’t reveal his preferred candidate under any circumstances, he notes that he’s mostly filled out his own ballot for the California primary but has not yet determined which candidate he’ll support.
He concludes in a way that ties in with my primary objective with this post, referencing a Twitter thread by Walter Shaub, the former Director of the Office of Government Ethics (when there was such a working institution in our government!). A “snippet”:
“ Take Action. Any action. It’s not big things that will save us. It’s persistent small actions carried out by one individual, and another, and another and another across the nation…Make a very small donation, even just a dollar, to something, sign up to volunteer for one hour, go learn how to register voters.”
I wish I could include the entire thread because there’s lots of wisdom there. If you’re on Twitter, go to @waltshaub and you can read through it.
A Valuable Way to Make a Difference
Many of us have been repeatedly sending money to the Presidential candidate(s) of our choice. That’s important. But my action at the moment is to focus our attention on the House of Representatives. We must, must, must maintain the Democratic majority in the House.
All the members of the Class of 2018, those moderates in either swing districts or districts that Trump won, have been targeted for extinction—in good measure because they flipped formerly Republican seats AND had the courage to vote for impeachment. Many won by a single vote.
They are among the more than 50 House members being targeted for defeat by the National Republican Campaign Committee. According to Roll Call, the NRCC Chairman, Tom Emmer of Minnesota, enunciated the slogan the Congressional Republicans plan to run on:
“Freedom or socialism—that’s the choice in 2020.”
These targeted Democrats need our help, as their opposition is often flooded with cash and a revved up base. I’m listing their names, districts, and web sites in the hope that if you feel strongly that it is imperative to retain a Democratic-controlled House, you’ll be able to support their reelections in whatever way you can, including volunteering and importantly by contributing, no matter how small the amount.
In addition to donating to them directly, in most cases you can also go through ActBlue. I’m planning to work my way down the list, eventually giving modest donations to all of them.
Remember: each one of these individuals did what he or she believed was right for this country and upheld that oath—knowing that vote might well end their careers.
Let’s begin with the seven brave souls—all with national security backgrounds—whose OpEd in the Washington Post was instrumental in changing Nancy Pelosi’s mind about the need for an impeachment inquiry. They are:
[update: Christy Smith is running for the seat vacated by Katie Hill. Though she wasn’t in Congress for the impeachment vote, she is being targeted–hard. This is a hard-fought effort to retain a Democratic seat that needs money and votes immediately–before May 14th!]
Note: Jared Golden (ME-02): jaredgoldenforcongress.com has also been targeted by the Republicans, but the Democrats aren’t happy with him either: He voted to impeach the President on Article 1, but not for obstruction of Congress.
Missing from my version of the list is Jeff Van Drew (NJ-02), who switched his party affiliation and is now a Republican.
On this list of valuable legislators, one who has impressed me deeply is Katie Porter of California, who asks the tough questions and seems fearless in speaking truth to power. She is under particularly strong attack. I believe it is extremely important that her voice continues to be heard in Congress; thus, I’ve highlighted her information.
I’ll conclude with RB Hubbell’s closing remarks in the newsletter issue I referred to above:
“We are in the fight of our lives, but we are in it together. That should give us all comfort.”
That fight demands that we act positively and don’t despair. And make sure you’re registered to vote!
I just can’t seem to help myself. Pretty soon I’ll get back to happiness and haiku. I’m much more comfortable seeking common ground and expressing optimism—and not preaching against a particular Democrat (or Independent running as a Democrat). After this post, I hope to leave this topic.
But for now, with the President’s awfulness mounting, and the chances of his removal from office practically nil, I feel I must use my little platform to try to help prevent a giant case of Buyer’s Remorse.
I think the evidence is strong that if the Democrats nominate Bernie Sanders, we will see him lose—big time. And with the very nature of our democracy hanging in the balance, that’s a scenario I feel compelled to address.
My overarching goal, like most Democrats and a goodly number of Independents and former or current-but-disgruntled Republicans, is to defeat Donald Trump. But I will vote for whoever wins the Democratic nomination for President—unlike some of the above. And there’s the problem.
In my previous warning about Bernie Sanders, I concluded by saying I hoped the press would do their job. Well, some of them are. You may not be seeing these stories in The New York Times, The Washington Post, or on CNN, but there are writers out there warning us quite clearly.
Here are links to a sampling of the articles, which I encourage you to read in their entirety:
These articles stress that Sanders’ past has never received the scrutiny it will get from Trump, that his present includes some questionable decisions, that most voters aren’t zeroing in on the implications of his socialist plans (as distorted by the Republicans, who call every Democrat a socialist, and now would have a real one to attack), and that the victorious 2018 women elected to Congress show where this election can be won.
In The Atlantic, Frum elaborates on a point that was the focus of the 2016 Newsweekarticle I cited previously.
“Bernie Sanders is a fragile candidate. He has never fought a race in which he had to face serious personal scrutiny. None of his Democratic rivals is subjecting him to such scrutiny in 2020. Hillary Clinton refrained from scrutinizing Sanders in 2016. It did not happen, either, in his many races in Vermont.”
Frum refers to a 2015 Politico profile by Michael Kruse, asserting that Sanders had
“benefited from ‘an unwritten compact between Sanders, his supporters, and local reporters who have steered clear’ of writing about Sanders’s personal history ‘rather than risk lectures about the twisted priorities of the press.’
(That sounds a bit Trumpian, doesn’t it?)
But there will be no such niceties from Trump and his campaign, Frum writes.
“It will hit him with everything it’s got. It will depict him as a Communist in the grip of twisted sexual fantasies, a useless career politician who oversaw a culture of sexual harassment in his 2016 campaign.
“Through 2019, Donald Trump and his proxies hailed Sanders as a true voice of the people, thwarted by the evil machinations of the Hillary Clinton machine.
“They will not pause for a minute before pivoting in 2020 to attack him as a seething stew of toxic masculinity whose vicious online followers martyred the Democratic Party’s first female presidential nominee.”
And if you think Trump won’t get away with such charges because of his own horrendous behavior, you are applying rationality and a sense of justice to a man who has successfully defied both.
That toxic masculinity charge lurks not far beneath the surface: Sanders appears at best to be indifferent to misogyny (a trait that’s fairly apparent in some of the devoted Bernie Bros).
Frum cites the Sanders’ campaign’s video celebrating the endorsement of “the mega-podcaster Joe Rogan,” apparently an icon among white men who are pretty sensitive about their status these days.
The Sanders’ embrace came despite Rogan’s mocking of many of the causes dear to the left, as well as “dancing around conspiratorial thinking of the left and right fringes: 9/11 denialism, Obama birtherism, and speculation about dark deeds concerning Hillary Clinton and the Clinton Foundation.” (emphases mine throughout)
Is this Sanders’ idea of how to reach the Trump voters? If any of his fellow candidates had embraced such an endorsement, would he have simply shrugged and said, “OK, ya gotta do what ya gotta do”? I think not.
And how will that play with the angry white suburban and African-American women who were such an important part of the 2018 Democratic House victory? They won’t vote for Trump, but will they stay home in disgust?
Jonathan Chait notes in New York Magazine,
“the totality of the evidence suggests Sanders is an extremely, perhaps uniquely, risky nominee. His vulnerabilities are enormous and untested. No party nomination, with the possible exception of Barry Goldwater in 1964, has put forth a presidential nominee with the level of downside risk exposure as a Sanders-led ticket would bring.
“To nominate Sanders would be insane.”
He notes that because the socialist label isn’t as unpopular as it had been [especially among young people], “many people have gotten the impression ‘socialism’ is actually popular, which is absolutely not the case.”
Saletan, writing in Slate, makes the same observation, noting that Trump uses the word socialism at every rally to make the Democrats look “radical and scary.” As an avowed Socialist, Sanders is the opponent of Trump’s dreams.
Saletan cites poll after poll in which voters as a whole state their opposition to socialism. In a HarrisX survey asking “Would you ever vote for a Socialist for elected office?,” liberals said they would, but 72 percent of registered voters, including 64 percent of Democrats, said they would not.
The term “Democratic Socialism,” which Bernie espouses, draws fewer negatives (52 percent) but they include 25 percent of Democrats and 29 percent of voters who “lean liberal.”
[I stress here that I personally see the urgent need for greater government intervention to redress our current shameful economic disparities, which are the worst they’ve been since the 1930s.
There were compelling reasons for the New Deal, and too many Americans are hurting today. I do not regard socialism as the incarnation of evil. But I’m looking at the larger picture here, and I strongly believe Trump will persuade enough Americans of that supposed evil to defeat Bernie.]
Chait discusses Sanders’ “web of creepy associations” that will make it easy to depict him as a dangerous radical, reinforcing “attack narratives” that will stick in portraying his world view just as surely as pictures of Dukakis in a tank or Romney’s dismissal of the 47% did for theirs.
“Sanders has never faced an electorate where these vulnerabilities could be used against him. Nor, for that matter, has he had to defend some of his bizarre youthful musings (such as his theory that sexual repression causes breast cancer) or the suspicious finances surrounding his wife’s college.
“Democrats are rightfully concerned about attacks on Hunter Biden’s nepotistic role at Burisma, but Sanders is going to have to defend equally questionable deals, like the $500,000 his wife’s university paid for a woodworking program run by his stepdaughter.”
Interestingly, after my previous Bernie post, a Vermont friend (a progressive who said no one she knows supports Bernie), wondered why there hadn’t been discussion by the media of Jane Sanders’ financial fiasco, which some in Vermont regard as mere stupidity, but others view as fraud.
Most important to me is Chait’s exploration of the 2018 winning of the House. Citing various progressive voices claiming how wrong the Dems were to run the kinds of candidates they did, he notes the following:
“As we now know, it was a good strategy to win the House. Democrats flipped 40 seats. Tellingly, while progressives managed to nominate several candidates in red districts…any one of whose victory they would have cited as proof that left-wing candidates can win Trump districts, not a single one of them prevailed in November.
“Our Revolution went 0–22, Justice Democrats went 0–16, and Brand New Congress went 0–6.* The failed technocratic 26-year-old bourgeoise shills who were doing it wrong somehow accounted for 100 percent of the party’s House gains.”
And here I think Chait makes an interesting observation. If the Democrats hadn’t won the House, their critics on the left would have said they’d been vindicated.
But instead of considering their broad losses in various geographical areas, they focused on the left-wing candidates like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, “who defeated center-left Democrats in deep-blue districts.”
In this effort, they were helped by the conservative media, seeking to make AOC and her small band the face of the Democratic party.
“The fact that the party had just run a field experiment between two factions, and the moderate faction prevailed conclusively, was forgotten.”
Chait emphasizes that:
“Trump has serious weaknesses on issues like health care, corruption, taxes, and the environment, and a majority of the public disapproves of Trump’s performance, but he does enjoy broad approval of his economic management.
“Therefore, his reelection strategy revolves around painting his opponents as radical and dangerous. You may not like me, he will argue, but my opponents are going to turn over the apple cart. A Sanders campaign seems almost designed to play directly into Trump’s message.”
How do we address the electorate, then? Are there lessons we can learn from Bernie that will help elect a more broadly acceptable nominee?
Frum has some important points for the Democrats to consider. The issues that matter most to “highly online and very well-informed anti-Trump voters”—such as preserving our democracy, cleaning out corruption, applying the law to those in power—are easier to focus on when you have good health insurance, a solid middle class job, and the potential that your kids will get a college education.
But millions of Americans lack those things, and they may well decide the election. That’s something that Sanders has recognized and to which he’s given voice. Thus, says Frum:
“If the Oval Office is to be cleansed of Donald Trump, it will not suffice to defeat Sanders’s candidacy.
“The ultimate winner will have to plagiarize from his campaign, copying not Sanders’s literal ideas, but his themes: the practical over the theoretical, the universal over the particular.”
In a nutshell, I think that means stop fighting over whether the key health care issue is improving Obamacare or Medicare for All. Focus instead on how many people who had health insurance have lost it under Trump, and that he wants to take away your protection for pre-existing conditions.
Emphasize that his promises not to cut Medicare and Social Security are now being revealed as questionable. Stress that he never built those roads and improved those bridges. The needs are great; the list is long.
So maybe this time around the operative slogan is not “It’s the economy, stupid.” Rather, it’s “How well are YOU doing, you who are not among the 1 Percent?”
I really, really, wanted to take a break from politics this week. I’d rather be writing about flowers and butterflies and HeroRATs and inspirational people. But I’m writing with a sense of urgency.
After watching the Democrats, led by the brilliant Adam Schiff, weave a compelling case for the President’s guilt—and knowing the impeachment trial will probably result in acquittal—I feel even more strongly that the Democrats must present a unified front if they have any chance of defeating Trump and saving our democracy.
In that regard, Bernie is really, really getting on my nerves and making me worry that he’s increasing the likelihood of a Trump victory. And I hope that the press, which did a poor job of focusing on Hillary’s “damn emails” while giving Trump and his background a pass, will start looking into Bernie’s past.
A lot of it ain’t pretty. In fact, I fear that if he’s the nominee, we’re in for a disaster that could even help the Republicans retake the House.
As I try to practice lovingkindness, I don’t wish Bernie ill. I wish him a long, healthy, productive life—back in Vermont. To me, he has forfeited his right to be the Democratic nominee by once again slashing and burning his competition.
I acknowledge that he’s attracted young people to politics with the Democratic Socialist ideas he has consistently espoused. He probably has the most devoted core of followers of any of the Democratic nominees.
Unfortunately, a portion of the “Bernie Bros” are vindictive, misogynistic young men with so much anger that they have been compared to Trump’s adoring fans.
And though they seem willing to follow Bernie anywhere, they didn’t listen to him when he called for them to vote for Hillary in 2016 (after he did what may have been permanent damage to her electability during the primaries). Instead, many of them voted for the totally unqualified Jill Stein, thereby helping Trump win.
Why am I so upset with Bernie? Because at a time when we need all the Democratic nominees united against Trump, he’s attacking them one by one. While the kerfuffle over whether he told Elizabeth Warren that a woman couldn’t be elected got a lot of play, the fact that his canvassers were badmouthing her door-to-door as an “elitist” received little attention.
“While the news media has been focused on the ‘spat’ between Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders, something much more serious has been taking place between the Sanders campaign and Joe Biden.
“Not to sugarcoat it: The Sanders campaign has flat-out lied about things Biden said in 2018 about Social Security, and it has refused to admit the falsehood.
“This is bad; it is, indeed, almost Trumpian. The last thing we need is another president who demonizes and lies about anyone who disagrees with him, and can’t admit ever being wrong. Biden deserves an apology, now, and Sanders probably needs to find better aides.” (Emphases mine throughout.)
He’s also attacking Biden on his racial record, telling South Carolina voters, where Biden has a strong lead among African-Americans, that Biden has betrayed them.
I know, I know. Politics ain’t beanbag. And before I go more deeply into Bernie’s past, I agree that we have to give people credit for changing their positions.
Bernie has changed some of his, but he doesn’t give such leeway to others; he’s still castigating those who voted for the Iraq War, insisting his opposition alone makes him the candidate with the best judgment.
As I note subsequently, he’s taken some highly questionable positions on international affairs in the past.
And when Trump has the megaphone, Bernie’s record, I believe, would make him more vulnerable than any other nominee. That’s a risk I don’t think our country can bear.
Writing in The Guardian, Geoffrey Kabaservice begins by saying that although his own politics are center-right, he has a “strange liking” for Bernie—for his authenticity, among other things.
Kabaservice points out that the Democratic Socialism that would have been unthinkable not long ago is now as popular as capitalism among those ages 18-39, which explains Bernie’s popularity with young people. (If you’re struggling financially, free college tuition and college loan forgiveness sound quite attractive.)
But, the author also points out about Sanders:
“The gentle treatment he received in 2016 from the media and the Hillary Clinton campaign (which ran few negative television or media ads against him) means that many Democratic voters haven’t yet learned about the distinctly non-progressive positions he has taken on certain issues throughout his senatorial career.”
What are some of those positions? To appeal to the social conservatives in his home state of Vermont, a largely white, older, pro-hunting population, Bernie has…
—Long opposed gun safety legislation, voting against the Brady bill and legislation to make gun manufacturers accountable for their products’ destructiveness;
—Voted for the “Charleston loophole” by which the killer of nine African Americans in a South Carolina church obtained his weapon;
—Opposed gay marriage until at least 2006;
—Supported the 1994 crime bill that led to mass incarcerations of African Americans;
—Opposed various reforms to assist immigrants on the grounds that they would negatively affect American workers.
And his legislative accomplishments are thin at best, in large part because of his “go-it-alone approach.” In 2018, he got the least number of bills out of committee and to the floor (1 bill).
Similarly, only 1 of his 31 bills and resolutions had a cosponsor from a different party. The Lugar Center’s Bipartisanship Index placed him last among all Senators for the past two Congresses.
So the man sets forth an incredibly ambitious agenda, and tells us that he’ll be able to pass it because of the “political revolution” he’s inspiring.
But his track record doesn’t indicate he’s got the temperament or relationships to do the hard work of enacting such transformative legislation.
Kabaservice calls Bernie’s chances of actually becoming President “close to nil.” He elaborates:
“I say this because in 2016 I got a glimpse of the Republican party’s opposition research book on Sanders, which was so massive it had to be transported on a cart. The Newsweek reporter Kurt Eichenwald, who got to see some of its contents, declared that ‘it was brutal…’”
Of course, I had to check Eichenwald’s 2016 article to see what was so damning.
Myth 1 is that the Democratic National Committee was all-powerful and engineered Hillary’s nomination by being unfair to Bernie. Eichenwald factually demolishes this premise and its implications.
Myth 2: That Sanders Would Have Won Against Trump
“I have seen the opposition book assembled by Republicans [against Sanders] and it was brutal. The Republicans would have torn him apart. And while Sanders supporters might delude themselves into believing that they could have defended him against all of this, there is a name for politicians who play defense all the time: losers.”
That comment hit me hard, as we know that one thing Trump and his minions are very good at is going on the attack. I could just picture him at his rallies, dropping one after another of the morsels that Eichenwald described.
“Here are a few tastes of what was in store for Sanders, straight out of the Republican playbook: He thinks rape is A-OK. In 1972, when he was 31, Sanders wrote a fictitious essay in which he described a woman enjoying being raped by three men.
“Yes, there is an explanation for it—a long, complicated one, just like the one that would make clear why the Clinton emails story was nonsense. And we all know how well that worked out.
“Then there’s the fact that Sanders was on unemployment until his mid-30s, and that he stole electricity from a neighbor after failing to pay his bills, and that he co-sponsored a bill to ship Vermont’s nuclear waste to a poor Hispanic community in Texas, where it could be dumped.
“You can just see the words ‘environmental racist’ on Republican billboards. And if you can’t, I already did. They were in the Republican opposition research book as a proposal on how to frame the nuclear waste issue.
“Also on the list: Sanders violated campaign finance laws, criticized Clinton for supporting the 1994 crime bill that he voted for, and he voted against the Amber Alert system” [to alert the public to help when a child has been abducted].
Eichenwald states that Sanders is also vulnerable for his advocacy of universal health care (now “Medicare for All”) because it was tried in Vermont and failed due to excessive costs.
“Worst of all, the Republicans also had video of Sanders at a 1985 rally thrown by the leftist Sandinista government in Nicaragua where half a million people chanted, ‘Here, there, everywhere/the Yankee will die,’ while President Daniel Ortega condemned ‘state terrorism’ by America. Sanders said, on camera, supporting the Sandinistas was ‘patriotic.’
Eichenwald reported that he knew there were at least four other “damning” videos but didn’t know their content. The folder holding the “oppo“ research was nearly two feet thick.
One piece called Bernie a communist who had ties to Castro, which Eichenwald says would automatically have resulted in the loss of Florida if he were the nominee.
“In other words, the belief that Sanders would have walked into the White House based on polls taken before anyone really attacked him is a delusion built on a scaffolding of political ignorance.”
And this stuff doesn’t even take into account all that the Trump crowd will make up about Bernie out of whole cloth. Fake news, doctored videos. None of it’s fair, none of it’s the way we want our politics to work, but we know it will happen.
Sure, the Republicans will dig up dirt and make up stories about whoever is the Democratic nominee. I have my worries that if it’s Biden, the fake corruption involving Ukraine and his son will dominate the campaign.
But I find it telling that even as Trump is pushing those Biden conspiracy theories, he’s also encouraging the “Bernie as victim of the Democratic establishment” motif. He’d love to run against Bernie. If Bernie isn’t the nominee, Trump’s faux sympathy may win points, and votes, from disgruntled Bernie Bros in 2020, just as it did in 2016.
In the meantime, I think every thoughtful person trying to decide who can best beat Trump—and be as effective a President as anyone can be in these polarized times—needs to consider what we really know about these candidates.
I’ll acknowledge at the outset: I know, understand, and accept all of the criticisms of the Iowa caucus.
But I still have a romantic fascination with this singular demonstration of grassroots participation in the electoral process. It seems to me the closest we get to ancient Athens, where the polis, or people, practiced unfettered democracy.
And the fact that Iowans take their role so seriously inspires me, as so many Americans either fail to vote or cast their ballots with indifference or cynicism—even spite. (“If my guy isn’t the nominee, I don’t care what happens; I’ll just vote for some third party candidate who can’t win but can sure gum up the works.”)
Spite—as in voting for Jill Stein in 2016—helped deliver Donald Trump to the White House.I fervently hope those inclined can forgo that negativity this year. (There will be a Republican caucus in Iowa, but the results are preordained.)
Iowans listen, read, think, examine, and weigh carefully before making their decision. Their experiences have made them unlike any other Americans.
One reporter said nowhere else can you go up to an ordinary citizen on the street, ask her a political question, and be told: “Well, speaking off the record…”
Polling in Iowa is all over the place because many Iowans still haven’t made up their minds.
They’re not being wishy-washy; they’re demonstrating their understanding of how high the stakes are in this election and how important the Iowa caucus winners may be in the 2020 election results. (I’ll explain that plural “winners” shortly.)
Because opposition to Iowa’s position as first on the calendar has been growing over the years, there may not be too many more election cycles in which the state plays such a pivotal role.
So I decided to interview (via email) two highly intelligent, involved Democratic caucus attendees.
I had the good fortune of meeting one of them, R., years ago, through my daughter’s excellent choice of a marriage partner—R. is his mother. R. was gracious enough to enlist her friend, J.
Both women were so efficient in responding to my questions that I’ve been able to write this post earlier than intended.
FIRST, SOME BACKGROUND
How did a small rural state achieve such prominence? Although Iowa had always had caucuses (except for one primary), they were held mid-season and controlled by the state party leaders, attracting little attention.
Significant changes began following the 1968 Democratic Convention in Chicago, which was marked by fighting about the Vietnam War both inside and outside the Convention hall.
Furious delegates and others throughout the country demanded that the party adopt national reforms so that voters, rather than party leaders, determined the winning candidate.
By 1972, Iowa had reforms in place: “Winner-take-all” had been changed to proportional representation. As an Iowa PBS program noted:
“That may have been more fair. Equally important, it gave the press the kind of numbers it needs to call a horse race.”
The new process took time, as the results were transferred from precinct to county to congressional district to state. That meant moving the caucuses further and further back—first to March, then to February. Chris Larsen, then party chairman, observed:
“We knew that we were going to be first or one of the first after we thought about it. As I always say, we had a slow mimeograph machine, but we weren’t stupid. We thought [being early in the process] was all right, but when…the national press showed up, we were totally amazed.”
Gary Hart, who managed George McGovern’s Presidential campaign, observed recently that caucuses reward little-known candidates at the grassroots, while primaries reward those who are well known.
Caucuses also give “real people a chance to get close up and personal.” (Hart was interviewed in the five-part Pod Save America podcast on the Iowa caucuses.)
In 1976, someone pointed out, the result was that “Jimmy Who?” became President Jimmy Carter.
New Rules With Uncertain Implications
This year, new rules will make it possible for multiple candidates to “win,” according to the Des Moines Register. Previously, Iowa never released its total popular support numbers.
But in 2016, the close vote between Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders led to demands for greater transparency.
The new methodology is complicated and confusing. If you want a preview about how and why several candidates may claim victory by emphasizing how well they did according to one or more of the three different metrics that will be reported, I recommend this article.
Adding to the confusion, there will now be 99 satellite caucuses held throughout the world, thereby complicating the vote tally.
The process had once been referred to as “like trying to plan a wedding reception at 86 locations.” It’s more like 1,678 locations; that’s how many precincts there are.
So the momentum, press coverage, and dollars that normally flow to the winner are going to be part of a considerably more complex picture in 2020.
THE LONG-TIME CAUCUS PARTICIPANTS SHARE THEIR VIEWS
This is a condensed, lightly edited version of my exchanges with R. and J., covering what I felt were the most important points. Both women have been caucusing since 2008.
What is your primary motivation? Is this year any different?
R.: A sense of responsibility to engage in the political process. With all the attention focused on the first-in-the-nation caucuses, it would feel unpatriotic not to take advantage of theopportunity to have an impact.
There is a sense that this is a particularly critical year to caucus and to choose anominee that can defeat Trump.
J.: I feel that as an Iowan, it’s my responsibility to attend the caucus–it’s a part of the democratic process, it matters, and we make history.
This year I am motivated by finding the right candidate who can beat Trump–we must get him out of the White House before he causes even more damage.
Is it fun? Exciting? If so, in what way(s)?
R.: It can be fun, especially after the first vote when people from various camps are trying to woo people from the camps of the unviable candidates (those that didn’t get 15% of the total number in attendance).
Also, it can sometimes be long and boring as well as pretty chaotic. You are usuallypacked in a school gym with a lot of people milling around not quite knowing what to do.
There are multiple votes to make sure of an accurate count. You can be there for hours.
J.: It is fun! I see many of my friends and neighbors, and although we may be supporting different candidates, there is good discussion of why we support our candidate.
And in the end, we are all looking for the Democrat who can win.
How many candidates have you met one-on-one? Under what circumstances?
R.: I can’t say that I have met any of them one-on-one. I think that happens more in smaller communities. I have seen Klobuchar, Warren, and Buttigieg at rallies here…
I could have stayed around last week when Warren was doing her “selfies” but the line was so long and I had already been standing two and a half hours.
The rallies can beexhausting. It makes you wonder how the candidates do it.
J.: I have never met a candidate one-on-one.
How do you respond to those who say it isn’t fair for a small state like Iowa to have so much political clout?
R.: They are right.I think the process would be better if the order in which the statescaucus/vote were rotated among the states. Just because it has been this way for 50years doesn’t mean it always has to be this way.
There needs to be discussion of a better way to start the candidate selection process. The tradition of Iowa going firstevolved accidentally, and I don’t see that there is any good rationale for it.
J.: I’ve been doing some reading about the Iowa caucus and its place as first. I’m inclined to agree that it might be time to change things.
Do you think the up-close, retail nature of Iowa’s caucuses contributes something thatwould be missing if you switched to a traditional primary?
R.: Seeing the candidates up close and personal is definitely an advantage.You can gauge their level of enthusiasm as well as have the opportunity to ask them questions.
Somehow seeing them in person gives you a connection you don’t get watching themon a debate stage.
Certainly, we Iowans would miss our opportunity to get a close-up look at the candidates. But we would then be in the same situation as most of the rest of the nation!
The undue influence of the Iowa caucuses frankly makes me uncomfortable. A primarywould be a fairer and more straightforward process.
J.: I think I get the chance to see many candidates in person because they understand the importance of the Iowa caucus and spend a lot of time in Iowa.
It’s always good to see them in person–they can’t edit their remarks or photo shop their looks.
So many Iowans are still undecided, and they come to the caucus partly to get help making up their minds! The conversations are important, and the caucus is great for that.
Are you concerned about a potential split between the “moderate” and “left” wings of the party—or do you think people will rally around whoever becomes the nominee?
R.: In the end I think most people will rally around whoever is the eventual nominee. IowaDemocrats are as determined to get rid of Trump as the rest of the nation.
I’m not sure about the Independents. Will Independents and moderate Republicans vote for a more “progressive” candidate?I think that is a real concern.
J.: People will rally around the nominee. As I knock on doors and have conversations with people, everyone has said they will support whoever is the nominee, whether it’s who they are supporting now or not.
Do you have any revealing anecdotes/stories about any particular candidate(s)?
R.: No, nothing revealing as I have not met with any of the candidates one-on-one.
I was amazed at how much Elizabeth Warren seemed to relish campaigning when I saw her last weekend. She was so passionate and engaged with what she was saying and looked like she was having great fun.
She was very respectful of the people asking questions, called them by name, and didn’t fudge her answers but got directly to the point.
Amy Klobuchar’s warmth really came through when I saw her in person. She talked a lot about her family and her midwestern roots.
Her emphasis on health care and climate change got big reactions from the crowd.
J.: Just the one [anecdote] that everyone knows, that Elizabeth Warren really will stick around and take a selfie with everyone in line, and she is just so nice and gracious.
To what extent does the President’s handling of the Iranian crisis—and national security issues generally—figure in your thinking re: candidate selection? In your neighbors’ thinking?
R.: The incoherent rationale for the assassination of Suleimani is frightening. It makes it even more evident that we need someone who has some experience at the national level. And someone we can trust to tell the truth and be open and honest with the American people. I’ve ruled out Buttigieg because of his lack of experience even though I find him very bright and like many of his policies.
J.: I want a candidate who will be more level-headed and think about consequences, so I have been following candidates’ responses to the Iranian crisis and what the US is doing in the world. It’s not something I have talked to my neighbors about.
Have you made up your mind whom you’ll vote for? What about most of the people you know?
R.: I plan to caucus for Klobuchar. If she does not get 15% of the vote in my precinct, I don’t know for sure who I will move to.
My heart says Warren but my head says Biden. I hope it doesn’t come to that. I say Biden because I view him as the most electable of the other candidates.
Many of my friends and people I have talked with at candidate events are still mulling over their decision. Everyone agrees it is a talented field and it is difficult to settle on a final choice.
Caucus night could bring some surprises as I don’t think the polls are really telling us everything. Like many people, I have my cell phone set to “do-not-disturb” and never pick up the seven or eight calls from random numbers I get every day. I am in no one’s poll!
People are so undecided I think some of them will pick a candidate that night after listening to pitches from their friends and neighbors.
I was encouraged that one of my book club friends, who I had assumed would caucus for Warren, says she will go with Klobuchar.
Two of [my husband’s] golfing buddies from Iowa City also said they plan to caucus for Klobuchar. A small sampling but encouraging!
J.: Yes, I’ll be caucusing for Elizabeth Warren. Many people that I know are still undecided, but I do have some friends who are solidly for Pete, and a few who are liking Amy.
How would you, personally, sum up the pros and cons of the Iowa caucus?
We in Iowa love getting up close and personal with the candidates, so it is good for us!
It probably helps the candidates hone their message and become better on the stump, so that is an advantage for them.
As has been discussed everywhere, Iowa is a small, predominantly white state that is not representative of the nation as a whole.
The candidates spend a ton of money here. Could that be put to better use elsewhere?
The caucuses are chaotic. They are led by local volunteers who may or may not know what they are doing.
It is difficult to get that final count correct, especially with a large crowd, and I think the numbers this year will be huge. A primary would be more straightforward and democratic.
As first in the nation, it can be sort of a measure of what people are thinking and feeling. It’s an interesting process, and there’s no anonymous vote–your neighbors know where you stand.
Iowa is such a white state; that lack of diversity is not representative of the US.
Like both my interviewees, I think the end of the Iowa caucuses’ outsized role in our election cycle is appropriate and inevitable.
But I wish there were some way that our political process could capture the grass roots enthusiasm and up-close-and-personal nature of the caucuses—allowing voters to see the candidates when, as J. said, “they can’t edit their remarks or photoshop their looks.”
More frequent, widely televised town meetings throughout the country may help. Does anyone have any other ideas? Uses of technology?
How about if we request that every Iowa caucus participant serve as a roving ambassador throughout the US—to show us how and why we must carefully focus on our Presidential candidates—no, make that all our candidates—and must take our roles as informed voters very, very seriously?
UPDATE: On February 19, 2020, The New York Times Editorial Board did a precedent-shattering thing: they endorsed two people for the Democratic nomination. And both of them are women–Amy Klobuchar and Elizabeth Warren.
To me, this is a highly significant development, as I’ve long felt that Klobuchar has a great deal of support among people who thought her the strongest candidate but simply believed she was too far behind to be viable.
But Iowans are independent folk, so we’ll see what happens. As you read in this post, R., who plans to caucus for Amy on February 3, knows several people who share her views. J., her friend, who supports Warren, also knows people who like Amy. R. also suggested that polls are unreliable.
Significantly, Klobuchar also just received the endorsement of The Quad City Times, which covers large sections of eastern Iowa and western Illinois.
What will the Des Moines Register do? That will be extremely interesting. (And will newspaper endorsements matter? Another crucial question…)
Here’s part of what the Times wrote after describing Warren’s strengths and drawbacks:
“Good news, then, that Amy Klobuchar has emerged as a standard-bearer for the Democratic center. Her vision goes beyond the incremental.
“Given the polarization in Washington and beyond, the best chance to enact many progressive plans could be under a Klobuchar administration.
“The senator from Minnesota is the very definition of Midwestern charisma, grit and sticktoitiveness.
“Her lengthy tenure in the Senate and bipartisan credentials would make her a deal maker (a real one) and uniter for the wings of the party — and perhaps the nation.
The Times explained its unusual move, which I found fair and thoughtful, though it’s obviously arousing controversy.
“There will be those dissatisfied that this page is not throwing its weight behind a single candidate, favoring centrists or progressives.
“But it’s a fight the party itself has been itching to have since Mrs. Clinton’s defeat in 2016, and one that should be played out in the public arena and in the privacy of the voting booth. That’s the very purpose of primaries, to test-market strategies and ideas that can galvanize and inspire the country.
“Ms. Klobuchar and Ms. Warren right now are the Democrats best equipped to lead that debate.
In April I cited Barr’s antics
The AG was quietly frantic
The Mueller Report Was a strong retort
To the “Trump did no wrong” semantics.
But Bill-Barr knew why he’d been hired
And sensing the public was tired:
“There’s nothing,” said he—
So the Truth into muck became mired.
Yet ONE DAY after Mueller appeared
The President moved into high gear
With an unbowed head
To Ukraine’s Prez said: If you want all that aid to be cleared…
…There’s a favor I’d like you to do
Some people you gotta look into
And all will be great—
Maybe a White House visit for you.
Zelensky had quite the dilemma
With Putin evoking some tremors
He’d sought to be straight
’Twas his winning mandate
But U.S. demands were bad karma.
So why should Ukraine cause our fussin’?
Our ally’s a bulwark v. Russians
We gave them our word
Worldwide it was heard
It’s their safety and ours we’re discussin’.
Just in time someone blows a whistle
And justice’s wheels start to sizzle
The hearings begin
The experts weigh in
And Light shone on lies makes them fizzle.
But here come the intractable foes
Who back Trump from his head to his toes
They can’t argue facts
So they take a worse tack
And pretend that the Emperor has clothes.
Now we’ve entered the land of impeach
With the Dems set to not overreach
Two articles cite
The President’s blight
And his large Constitutional breach.
The facts tell a quite simple story:
Abused power for his own glory
For Congress contempt
No defense will attempt
To challenge except with lies hoary…
…Or red herring complaints like this call: “Why the rush when we’ve not heard from all?” With subpoenas defied, Delays far and wide,
These “bad processes” tales are quite tall.
There is reason to move with dispatch
The President’s acts must be watched
His lawyer’s abroad
To promote more fraud,
Our election’s integrity they’ll snatch.
But the country’s sadly divided With false stories, hard truth’s derided We’ve so much at stake
We must stay awake
And try to engage those misguided.
I shall now add a Bill-Barr return
He’s in mischief I can’t quite discern
He’ll make a report
Next spring—of some sort
That is likely to cause great concern.
Keep your eyes and ears peeled for this move
‘Cause its purpose will clearly behoove
Us to promptly react
And to counter with facts
So the falsities don’t gain a groove.
It’s a time our decisions must fit
With the words of Ben Franklin—to wit:
When asked what we’ve got
Republic or Monarchy, he shot:
“A Republic—if you can keep it!”
Note: I leave my rhyme to turn to the prescient words of Alexander Hamilton, which my blogging colleague Brookingslib used to conclude a terrific post on the topic:
“When a man unprincipled in private life desperate in his fortune, bold in his temper, possessed of considerable talents, having the advantage of military habits—despotic in his ordinary demeanour—known to have scoffed in private at the principles of liberty—when such a man is seen to mount the hobby horse of popularity—to join in the cry of danger to liberty—to take every opportunity of embarrassing the General Government & bringing it under suspicion—to flatter and fall in with all the nonsense of the zealots of the day—It may justly be suspected that his object is to throw things into confusion that he may ‘ride the storm and direct the whirlwind.”’
Finally, as stated by Acting Ambassador to Ukraine William B. Taylor Jr. in his testimony before Congress, by Constitutional law experts Michael Gerhardt and Lawrence Tribe, and by others:
“If this [the Ukraine scandal] isn’t impeachable, nothing is.”