Author Archives: PB Goodfriend
If the pen is mightier than the sword, but words can never hurt you because only sticks and stones will break your bones, then the truth is that the power lies not in the weapon, but in the intentions of those who wield it.
As the late comedian, George Carlin, said in his 1972 monologue, Seven Words You Can Never Say on Television:
“I like to think that the same words that hurt can heal. It is a matter of how you pick them… [There are] no bad words, [there are] bad thoughts, bad intentions and words.”
There can be no doubt that the intention of the now infamous Charlie Hebdo caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad continue to be used to hurt, to incite a negative reaction among the billion plus Muslims around the world. The French will tell you that it is precisely because the Muslims are offended that the cartoons must continue to be published. It is, after all, their right to poke fun at others whom they see as unenlightened. It also seems very French, and smacks of the worst elements of European colonialism, the prevailing attitude that European culture is superior to the savage tribal hordes’ visceral attachment to superstition and mythology.
In the ten days since the vicious attacks in Paris, I find myself reflecting on the way we showed support for the victims. When we march holding signs that say, “Je suis Charlie,” does it mean we are supporting the offensive content of the magazine, or merely the right of a satirical newspaper to publish that material? If I am Charlie, then I bear some of the responsibility for the mass demonstrations across the Arab world, no?
On the other hand, if by claiming to be Charlie – or Ahmed or a Jew, as some signs said – we are declaring that we are all potential victims of intolerance that can result in murder, that takes us to a much deeper place. There, we are both Charlie and the Muslim demonstrators, we are Jews and anti-Semitic journalists and jesters. We are Israel and Gaza. It’s really difficult to feel superior if we see ourselves as both the victims and the perpetrators.
Indeed, it creates an opportunity to experience the true brotherhood of humanity. We can hold tightly to isolationist notions of exclusivity and superiority based on faith or culture, or we can see that what we all really fear about each other is that we know the murderous depravity people are capable of.
Despite the perennial global discord that results in murder and rape for the sake of God and/or country, we have always found our way to peace. Always. Maybe that’s harder now, in a connected world where everyone has a voice, and every voice has a following, but history tells us that it is within our ability to start a different conversation, where the intention of our words allows for rehabilitation and promotes reconciliation and healing.
Good thoughts, good intentions and words.
“He smote his hands together a number of times in an absent sort of way; seemed not to see the group of Union officers in the yard who rose respectfully at his approach, and appeared unconscious of everything about him. All appreciated the sadness that overwhelmed him, and he had the personal sympathy of every one who beheld him at this supreme moment of trial.” – General Horace Porter, describing Gen. Robert E. Lee, after the surrender at Appomattox that concluded the American Civil War
It was a protest without chants, a demonstration where the response to the call was only footfalls.
The hundreds gathered in Atlanta, Sunday, to remember the 17 murdered around Paris, this week, marched in silence.
Only the voices of the children calling for each other and their parents – “Gaspard,” “Maman” – ruffle through the crowd alone with their thoughts.
Why march in silence? “What else is there to say?” asked one marcher, rhetorically. “Everything that needs to be said has been said. Just shut the fuck up and be with the peace.”
We are all prisoners, bounded by the limits of our skin and our society. Anytime we take liberties with our self-determination, there’s always someone to say we are being reckless, stupid, naive, brave. My own mother, may her memory be blessed, who felt the cold hand of murderous oppression at the hands of the Nazis, often warned me to be careful in my criticism of government, to be wary of the direction my literary fingers pointed, lest there arose in our government an enemy of free thought.
While I’ve always been somewhat dismissive of those concerns, given our country’s promise of liberty and free expression, I respected the dire circumstances from which her fear arose. Truth be told, I’m more afraid of the unpredictability of the populace than I am of our government, and that is a direct result of her experience.
Perhaps paradoxically, another important lesson I learned from my mother, through her own behavior, is if something is bothering me about the actions of my community, I will not let it pass. With some discretion, I echo her words. “What am I supposed to do,” she would ask, rhetorically, “sit there and say nothing?”
I started this blog ten years ago, this month, in reaction to the reelection of George W. Bush. Although I did some campaign work for the Democrats in 2004, I felt that I didn’t do enough, say enough, risk enough, to have a part in changing the direction of a government lassoed by our cowboy president and his chortling arms tycoon, Cheney. I could no longer “sit there and say nothing.”
That brings me to the tragic events in Paris, Wednesday, when Stéphane Charbonnier, the editor of the satirical newspaper Charlie Hedbo, and a team of committed cartoonists were murdered, just for presenting a wry view of the relationship between fundamentalism and a free society. He refused to stop, even after the paper’s offices were firebombed in 2011.
“I’d rather die standing than live on my knees,” Charbonnier famously said, a few months later, when he published another provocative issue.
They had something to say, these journalists. They could not say nothing, even though it was obvious their government could not protect them. Like abortion doctors in America, who continue doing what they believe is right, despite the threats and website “most wanted” lists, they took precautions and kept publishing. It was their nature. “You cannot say, ‘I will not fight,'” the Bhagavad Gita advises, “Your nature will compel you to.”
Being true to one’s nature is being true to one’s self, to an inescapable purpose. That is the freedom for which all who express through words and pictures strive. For ten years I’ve wanted Prose and Thorn to be “the prick that makes you think.” My pricks are bumps compared to the gang at Charlie Hedbo, where the skill of the witty provocateur is not only in holding a mirror up to the foibles of a dysfunctional society, but in the fear and the worry that runs beneath the drollness of a phrase like, “100 lashes for you if you don’t die laughing.”
Laughing is a good idea, or crying or dreaming if it helps you. Just express, and assert your true self.
“I believe that we can do more to support the Cuban people and promote our values through engagement. After all, these 50 years have shown that isolation has not worked. It’s time for a new approach.”
President Barack Obama, Wednesday, announcing his intention to reestablish diplomatic relations with Cuba
Following the release of a U.S. assistance program prisoner who has been held in a Cuban prison for five years and an unnamed agent who has been held for twenty, and a reciprocal release of three Cuban prisoners held by the United States, the president is finally moving forward in reestablishing diplomatic relations with the island nation.
Secretary of State John Kerry announced that the diplomatic agency would be sending a delegation to Havana in January to continue talks about migration between the two countries. “I look forward to being the first Secretary of State in 60 years to visit Cuba,” he said at his announcement.
Cuban-American politicians in Washington, D.C., not surprisingly, were not wholly supportive of the president’s initiative. The reaction came from both sides of the aisle. According to USA Today’s story:
“Sen. Robert Menendez, D-N.J., a Cuban-American Democrat and the outgoing chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said ‘President Obama’s actions have vindicated the brutal behavior of the Cuban government.’
“Sen. Marco Rubio, a Cuban-American Republican from Florida and a possible Republican presidential candidate in 2016, said he rejoiced at Gross’ release. But he condemned the rest of the deal as ‘the latest in a long line of failed attempts by President Obama to appease rogue regimes at all cost.'”
Really Sen. Rubio? Appeasement, as if making it easier for people with a mission to travel to Cuba were like handing Czechoslovakia to the Nazis?
But if that is the prevailing sentiment of the incoming, Republican dominated Congress, it will be exceedingly difficult to get the embargo entirely lifted, as Congress has to vote to do it.
Still, given the changing attitude most Cuban-Americans have about America’s decades long stand against the Castros, there is a good chance Republicans will find enough courage to include Democrats in their voting bloc.
“Florida International University in Miami has been polling Cuban-Americans since 1991,” NPR reported, Wednesday. “Back then, 87 percent of Cuban-Americans supported the embargo…but in the 2014 poll, conducted this summer, a [69%] majority…favored lifting [most of] the embargo.”
The numbers for those wanting to restore diplomatic relations were overwhelming: 68% of all respondents and 88% of young people, under thirty.
More importantly to the folks on Capitol Hill, the FIU poll also concluded that 55% of registered voters approve of restoring diplomatic ties. If the Republicans want to be the party of the future, they can’t ignore that FIU says it’s only the 70-plus crowd that want to maintain the status quo.
Still, the rhetoric of cautious responsibility is par on this course that crosses the Florida Straits, especially when we’re talking about swing-state politics. “I don’t think we should be negotiating with a repressive regime to make changes in our relationship,” former Florida governor and likely 2016 presidential candidate, Jeb Bush, told reporters.
Even President Obama, in his announcement, Wednesday, warned that this was not an unfettered approval of the Cuban leadership’s practices. “I’m under no illusion about the continued barriers to freedom that remain for ordinary Cubans,” he said. “The United States believes that no Cubans should face harassment or arrest or beatings simply because they’re exercising a universal right to have their voices heard, and we will continue to support civil society there. While Cuba has made reforms to gradually open up its economy, we continue to believe that Cuban workers should be free to form unions, just as their citizens should be free to participate in the political process.”
At the same time, as Sec. Kerry said, “Today’s step…reflects our firm belief that the risk and the cost of trying to turn the tide is far lower than the risk and cost of remaining stuck in an ideological cement of our own making.” And that is what will take convincing for the conservatives in Congress, that we, and we alone, are responsible for a meaningless and unproductive embargo, not the Cuban people, and they shouldn’t be made to suffer because of our own stubborn lack of political will.
Now, if we can only get Israel to put an embassy in Tehran.
“…the way we do policing needs to change.”
New York Mayor Bill de Blasio reacting to a grand jury’s decision not to indict in the death of Eric Garner.
After September 11, 2001, there was no pedestal too high on which to place the brave members of the NYPD, and by association, those who served all other police departments. But that deification of the duty-bound washed out to sea with the ashes and dust clouds of the fallen. Respect for their bravery has turned into resentment of the gall with which too many carry out their daily chores. The veil has been lifted, and now justice is in pursuit of those for whom it has often been a shield.
Following the Staten Island, New York, grand jury decision not to indict a police officer in the death of Eric Garner, President Obama said he is “somebody who believes that law enforcement has an incredibly difficult job; that every man or woman in uniform are putting their lives at risk to protect us… but that they’re only going to be able to do their job effectively if everybody has confidence in the system.”
The lawman carries a gun, and a Taser and a nightstick. If those fail, he can always use pepper spray or even his fists. These are his crime-fighting tools. Too often, as Attorney General Eric Holder announced in Cleveland, Ohio, last week, the use of those tools can result in the loss of our Constitutional rights, because of bad training and an “us vs. them” mentality.
“We have determined,” he said, “that there is reasonable cause to believe that the Cleveland Division of Police engages in a pattern or practice of using excessive force – in violation of the Fourth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, and as a result of systemic deficiencies, including insufficient accountability, inadequate training and equipment, ineffective policies, and inadequate engagement with the community.”
It’s important to note that the Department of Justice investigation into the Cleveland police began in March, 2013, well before the recent, tragic shooting of 12-year-old Tamir Rice, who was killed by a young officer who CNN discovered had previously been cited for:
“…’a pattern of lack of maturity, indiscretion and not following instructions,’ a ‘dangerous loss of composure during live range training’ and an ‘inability to manage personal stress.'”
Although the Tamir Rice incident is not part of the events detailed in Justice’s report, it is consistent with its accusations of bad “pattern or practice,” including:
The unnecessary and excessive use of deadly force, including shootings and head strikes with impact weapons; The unnecessary, excessive or retaliatory use of less lethal force including Tasers, chemical spray and fists; Excessive force against persons who are mentally ill or in crisis, including in cases where the officers were called exclusively for a welfare check; and The employment of poor and dangerous tactics that place officers in situations where avoidable force becomes inevitable.”
What the DoJ is pointing out is the one tool that the Cleveland police consistently fail to use – good judgement and discretion. It concludes that “this pattern of excessive force has eroded public confidence in the police. The trust between the Cleveland Division of Police and many of the communities it serves is broken.” The result? It isn’t crime the Cleveland Division of Police is fighting with their often deadly implements – it’s people. Fathers and mothers, sisters and brothers. People.
And when the people he is taught to target are always targeted, always harassed, always arrested or charged, based on the melatonin in their DNA and their zip code, he has lost their respect.
“Every time you see me, you want to mess with me… every time you see me, you want to harass me,” exclaimed the late Eric Garner, before an overzealous, poorly supervised police officer choked him to death.
We are no longer talking about police committed to public safety, but to a methodology that supports a community corroding agenda. Whether it be filling privately run prisons or the county coffers or their own incentivized arrest performance, it seems that cops are expected to be, and are rewarded for being, more Dirty Harry and less Andy Taylor. Maybe part of it is a holdover of swollen post-9/11 pride, where no wrong can be done in pursuit of justice. Maybe it is the recent wars, where we give no quarter to disruption, giving undue attention to the benign in pursuit of the horrid.
The head of the NYPD Police Benevolent Association issued a statement, last week, blaming the victim in the Garner case, in the same way many blamed Michael Brown for the tragedy in Ferguson. “Mr. Garner made a choice that day to resist arrest,” PBA president Patrick Lynch said, adding, “You cannot resist arrest. Because resisting arrest leads to confrontation. Confrontation leads to tragedy.”
But unless the suspect draws a weapon, resisting arrest shouldn’t result in tragedy. Never, ever. A cop yelling, “Stop, or I’ll shoot,” at a fleeing suspect, and following through on that threat, was ruled a civil rights violation by the United States Supreme Court in 1985 (Tennessee v. Garner, 471 U.S. 1):
“The Tennessee statute is unconstitutional insofar as it authorizes the use of deadly force against, as in this case, an apparently unarmed, nondangerous (emph. mine) fleeing suspect…”
In the case of Eric Garner (no relation to the Tennessee victim), not only was he “unarmed” and “nondangerous,” he wasn’t even fleeing. The officers had many alternatives, but the choice was theirs to gang tackle and choke Eric Garner to death – not the victim’s. Resisting arrest, if that is what he was doing, is not a capital offense.
The police in all these cases have lost their perspective. Like a soldier who has been deployed too many times for too long, the method has replaced the mission. That is what Mayor de Blasio meant when he said, “…policing needs to change.”
Stop-and-frisk was bad policing because, like an antibiotic, it affects good cells as well as bad. The good cell doesn’t care that you think this is all for the betterment of the community. It only knows it’s under attack. Likewise, busting drug users on a possession charge doesn’t get rid of drug dealers. It treats a symptom of the crime and not the reason for it.
“Stop because I told you to,” is the language parents use with unruly children because they have the authority. It cannot be the language we use with self-determined, adult human beings. The authority of police is delusional when it is based on power – having carte blanche to hassle and bully, and the means to beat, maim and kill – instead of on the law they are supposed to represent, and their respect for the community they are sworn to serve.
The skin remains thin where old wounds receive no healing salve and are not allowed to mend. The scar is prodded by forces seeking control and picked at when it tingles in a sadly familiar way.
There is little sympathy for those robbed of justice when their justification for anger crosses over into mob hysteria. Moreover, it harms the community in which they live and, more importantly, the cause for which they were marching in the first place. On the other hand, it’s important to remember that police aren’t always the “good guys” and their claims are never unassailable.People in Ferguson, Missouri, and around the country marched this week for a cause deeply rooted in the story of America – the fight for equal treatment under the law, and a fair shot at justice. Through the smoke of burning businesses and lost jobs and racial epithets and Klan threats it may be hard to discern the silhouettes of purposeful people looking to wrest reconciliation from the restless mobs. Attacking the status quo with bricks, bats and bottle glass only maintains it, while power’s grip hides behind riot shields and rolling clouds of teargas.
Yet we cannot walk away from this fight, and while changing it from the outside is tantamount to attacking a retracting tortoise, the old reptile understands that in order to breathe free, he must acknowledge the threat that looms outside his shell. When the rabble rouses to anger, only real change appeases. It then falls to the earnest and purposeful to calm both sides and find a way to mediate peace through mutual respect.
Our racial dysfunction “has led – for whites, blacks and Hispanics as well – to a widening sense of disrespect,” conservative New York Times columnist David Brooks opined on the PBS Newshour, Friday, “that not only is there no opportunity, but they’re being disrespected by the people with authority, and that’s especially true with African-Americans because of the historical legacy of racism in this country.”
Respect is not born from threats of violence, neither from a hysterical mob nor a policeman’s gun. Some suggests body cameras to protect officers’ reputations and the rights of civilians, and though recent studies have proven the devices to be an effective bulwark against use-of-force excesses by police in some communities, it is like attaching training wheels to a bicycle even though the rider should be expert without them. The problem is with the bicycle, not the rider.
We don’t have to teach the police they have to be watched to be effective. We have to teach them that proper policing is being civil, especially in the face of communities that have an existential fear of their relationship with the cops. The onus is, and has always been, on the police, here.
Regardless of whether Michael Brown is responsible for the interaction with Officer Darren Wilson that precipitated the tragic events of August 9, as the grand jury seemed to believe, a policeman chose to use deadly force because he could, not because he had to. In that context, “good guys” with guns shooting “bad guys” without guns means, to me, that the so-called “good guys” should not have a gun, at least not until they receive more complete training.
When a police officer, who is sworn to protect a community, pulls a weapon and fires, he must have an understanding of the impact of his actions. He is shooting not only at an individual who may or may not be armed; he is aiming to kill a member of his community, even if they have nothing in common other than a similar zip code. The shooting will have an impact. The policeman must comprehend that, just as he must have an understanding of why he takes any punitive action.
Even if a police officer is just pulling someone over for a traffic violation, is he doing it because they were being careless and dangerous on the road, or because he has a mandate to raise revenue for his municipality? Is his performance evaluation based on how many tickets he writes and arrests he has made, or is he judged on how well he gets along with not just his fellow officers, but with the community he serves?
The system is broken, if a police officer’s job is to help keep the court dockets and jails full and the pockets of the county’s general fund overflowing. His job is, and should always be, policing first, arresting second, shooting last. That is his link in the chain of justice. There is no room in a civil society for anything else.
“Our immigration system has been broken for a very long time — and everybody knows it.”
-President Barack Obama, addressing Las Vegas high school students whose families are affected by his use, this week, of executive authority on immigration reform
The Republicans know it. The conservative cabal that pulls the party’s purse strings knows it. They would have you believe that getting in the “back of the line” is the only fair way to handle immigration reform. The problem is, some people are doomed to wait in line for almost 25 years, and the more people we put in the line, the longer that line gets.
Maybe that’s what the far right wants, a broken system where, as the president said, Friday, families are “stuck in line for years.” After all, it fits in with their narrative of a broken and incompetent government.
The State Department has three major categories of visas it considers: family members of U.S. citizens, employment based visas (for which there is a relatively short waiting period) and diversity visas (a quota system for global regions that is only good for the fiscal year in which the application is filed).
“There are so many different lines. It’s very hard for people to understand that there are so many different categories and that each wait time is different,” Mary Giovagnoli, of the solutions oriented Immigration Policy Council, told the Washington Post in January.
A year ago, according to the State Department, there were 4.3 million people with family sponsored visa requests. The latest bulletin from Foggy Bottom says that the last family visas for siblings from Mexico it was considering were applied for in February, 1997. For married children of U.S. citizens, the last visas approved for Mexicans were applied for in November, 1993. If you are a citizen and want a visa for your sister in the Philippines, the last visas granted were for people who applied in May, 1991!
And just because someone applied for a visa back then doesn’t mean they are next on the list, because only a limited number of employment based and family requested papers are available every year to applicants from each country.
“The idea that the people can simply get in the back of the line is a little bit simplistic in practice,” Madeleine Sumption, a senior policy analyst at the Migration Policy Institute, a non-partisan immigration policy think tank supported by philanthropic and government policy advocacy groups, told the Fiscal Times, this past spring.
At least one Republican considering a 2016 presidential run seems to understand the difficulties of the “wait in line” concept. At a panel of GOP governors who are seen as contenders for the nomination, Ohio Gov. John Kasich went counter to the crowd and the rigid stance of his on-stage colleagues in Boca Raton, Florida, when he admitted:
“My sense is I don’t like the idea of citizenship when people jump the line, [but] we may have to do it. It may be a laborious and tough process. I would never say we would never do it. … At the end of the day it may be necessary.”
President Obama’s executive action acknowledges that reality, and he admits he can’t do anything about the wait, right now. His order, though, is neither amnesty nor a path to citizenship. That, he admits, requires Congressional action. The only thing it does is keep law abiding, tax paying folks who have children who are citizens or are otherwise here legally, from being deported. As he said on Friday:
“If you’ve been in America for more than five years; if you have children who are American citizens or legal residents; if you register, you pass a background check, you are willing to pay your fair share of taxes –- then you’re going to be able to apply to stay in this country temporarily without fear of deportation. You can come out of the shadows, get right with the law.”
The only line that may be getting shorter is the one for employment based visas.
Both the memoranda the president signed are geared to spur the executive branch to find means and methods, with the help of immigration advocacy groups and technology companies, to expedite repairing the broken process for everyone. That is well within his authority. It is unrealistic to expect the Republicans in the upcoming Congress to have the political courage to do any meaningful immigration reform, that takes into account the affect our inaction has on millions of families.
“The U.S. is kind of torn between wanting to be generous, yet not wanting to be too generous,” Sumption said in May, “And that means that on paper U.S. laws pretend to give people the right to come to the country, but in practice they have to wait so long that many of them may as well not have that right.”
For more information:
“There is much that is going right in this country, and there is still time for Democrats to say so.”
– New York Times Editorial Board, October 21, 2014
If President Obama would not have delayed acting on immigration until after the election, he may have saved the seats Democrats lost in the Senate, that he was trying to protect by not acting. That wasn’t his idea. It was the idea of the Democratic Senate candidates.
If the Democrats running statewide in North Carolina, Georgia, Arkansas, Louisiana and Kentucky had not tried so hard to distance themselves from Obama, by not meeting with him, not having him campaign for them, touting his economic record and and his call for a raise in the minimum wage, the successes of Obamacare and the efforts at fair pay and immigration reform, they might have won.
They disavowed the leader of their party by refusing to say if they voted for him, by stammering through questions about his policies and even by omitting their party affiliation from their campaign ads. They could not run away fast enough.
When the president said at an economic speech at Northwestern University in early October, “But make no mistake: These policies are on the ballot — every single one of them,” Democrats groaned.
Then he told Rev. Al Sharpton, at the end of the same month:
“The bottom line is though, these are all folks who vote with me; they have supported my agenda in Congress; they are on the right side of minimum wage; they are on the right side of fair pay; they are on the right side of rebuilding our infrastructure; they’re on the right side of early childhood education.”
And in an effort to get the Democratic base fired up in Georgia, he called an Atlanta radio station two days later and gave the Republicans this little morsel for an attack ad:
“If Michelle Nunn wins, that means that Democrats keep control of the Senate. And that means that we can keep on doing some good work.”
The problem with all of these assertions that the president made isn’t that they weren’t true. They were. The problem for the Democrats in states the president recognized he lost in 2012, was that they became blatheringly and disingenuously defensive. Rather than assert, “Yes, I support these policies. They are good for the middle class and for the American people,” they sought to distinguish themselves from President Obama with ineffective TV ads.
“I’ve always believed that it’s not an effective strategy to run against a president of your own party, unless you’ve been actively opposed to that president,” Obama political strategist David Axelrod told the Washington Post, a week before the election. “You’re going to get tagged with it anyway.”
They could have danced with the president. Instead, they left him by the punch bowl to talk about his agenda and accomplishments to anyone who would listen.
The New York Times editorial board urged the Obama deniers to change their ways. “By not standing firmly for their own policies,” they advised, “Democrats send a message to voters that the unending Republican criticism of the president is legitimate.”
In Georgia, in a rebuttal to charges that he was slow to help his fellow Democrats and was cozying up to Republicans to aid his future plans, Atlanta mayor and sometimes Obama surrogate Kasim Reed retorted, in a Tweet, “When the President landed to visit the CDC. I was there to greet him. That’s what a ‘true Democrat’ would do.”
And, he went on:
“I never saw any of them. When I was running for re-election, I proudly accepted President Obama’s endorsement and support… a ‘true Demcrat (sic)’ would not lead their party to failure and then get on Fox5 [local news] & blame ‘Obama, Obama, Obama…'”
“Wow,” he concluded.
There is no telling how Grimes, Pryor, Nunn or Hagan would have fared had they been more welcoming of the president. It’s all hindsight. The only thing for sure is that even good candidates with the best campaign volunteers in the country are unable to bring out the base better than he can. By definition, the base is the most committed to party principles. If you voice it, authentically, they will turn out for you. A “D” after your name doesn’t get you votes. Being what your party stands for does. Being “Republican Light” does not.
“Almost all absurdity of conduct arises from the imitation of those whom we cannot resemble.” – Samuel Johnson
“It stung like hell.”
– Georgia Democratic Party Chair, DuBose Porter, in a conciliatory email to party activists
If a dramatic election happens and no one votes, does it still mean the electorate changes to purple?
The finger pointing over who was to blame for Tuesday’s devastating losses started as soon as the polls closed – maybe even before in places like Colorado and Kentucky, where flawed campaigns and unforced errors by candidates killed off an incumbent and skewered a rising star.
In Georgia, the senate campaign of Democrat Michelle Nunn was shaking its heads in near disbelief. As the Atlanta Journal Constitution reported it:
“As soon as the GOP nomination was settled, the names ‘Harry Reid’ and ‘Barack Obama’ were hung around Nunn’s neck like a two-headed albatross. She couldn’t get out from under it, her team said.”
But Democrats and political analysts all realize that, for the most part, it wasn’t the candidates. It wasn’t the message. It wasn’t the low approval numbers for President Obama in states that could have been in play, or the billions spent by outside groups to link Democratic candidates to him and the majority leader.
It was the voters – those who chose to show up and those who stayed home.
“So, to everyone who voted, I want you to know that I hear you,” President Obama acknowledged at a post-election briefing, Wednesday afternoon, adding, “To the two-thirds of voters who chose not to participate in the process yesterday, I hear you, too.”
As Politico rightly points out, the president’s choice of words indicate he doesn’t see the Republicans’ big night as any kind of mandate from the people, since it’s only a third that chose to have their voices heard. A lopsided third, but a third nonetheless.
Who showed up? In Georgia, even with a turnout that was better than the national average, at just under 50 percent, neither young folks nor minorities voted in sufficient numbers to achieve the results Democrats were looking for. It was older white people who did their civic duty. According to exit polling reported by ABC News, only 13 percent of those under 30 voted nationally, down six points from the way they turned out in 2012. Yet in the Peach State, 59 percent of that demographic went for Michelle Nunn.
But the real damage to the Nunn and Jason Carter campaigns came from a lack of African American voters both registered and at the polls. While African Americans accounted for nearly 30 percent of the Democrats’ tally in Georgia, it was only about the same as the numbers who voted in 2012. In order to win, there had to be an increase in voter registration of a half-a-million voters. Voter registration groups were only able to garner 85,000.
Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed, who was slow to show his enthusiasm for Carter’s campaign, pointed out the shortfall to the New York Times:
“‘We needed to change the electorate,’ Mr. Reed said. He faulted the campaigns of Michelle Nunn, who was following in her father’s footsteps in running for the Senate, and Jason Carter, a grandson of Jimmy Carter who was running for governor, for not spending more time and resources to register and turn out what he said were roughly 600,000 unregistered black voters in Georgia, and 200,000 unregistered Latinos.”
Why were so many needed? “The pros estimated they needed 500,000 new black voters in order to get 200,000 to the polls,” reports Walter Jones of Insider Advantage.
William Boone, a poli-sci professor at Clark University, told Jones that:
“…blacks tend to think of the president as the most significant office and figure other posts are not important enough to bother voting over. In a sense, that makes Democrats victims of their own presidential campaigning where they overpromise what control of the White House means without explaining the role of Congress, governors and legislators.”
Jones goes on to point out:
“Consider that black males typically have a 66 percent turnout in presidential elections but just a 44 percent rate in non-presidential years. Compare that to white males’ 75 in presidential years and 58 percent in off years, a 22-percent[age point] falloff versus a 17.”
While volunteers were using Obama-proven targeting methods to make phone calls and knock on doors to motivate people to vote, it just wasn’t enough. “Some of my biggest, hottest precincts, there was no activity, no street corner activity, no poll activity,” lamented State Sen. Vincent Fort (D-Atlanta) to the AJC. “They were running an Obama-style campaign without Obama. It’s like doing ‘Othello’ without Othello.” Or an audience.
In the end, Michelle Nunn was only able to capture 23 percent of the white vote. Their estimates said they needed to capture at least 30 percent. Republican David Perdue took 70 percent. Seventy.
The stark contrast was evident by the actual impact in two of the least racially diverse counties in the state. The AJC reported Wednesday:
“In his march to victory, Senator-elect Perdue, had his best showing (84 percent of the vote) in Pierce County, which has a white voting population of 83 percent. He did worst (15 percent) in Clayton County, which has a white voting population of 14 percent.”
How did they manage to grab such a large chunk of the electorate? During the last week of the campaign, Louisiana’s incumbent Sen. Mary Landrieu told NBC’s Chuck Todd it was something insidious in our social and political DNA. “I’ll be very, very honest with you,” she said, “The South has not always been the friendliest place for African-Americans. It’s been a difficult time for the president to present himself in a very positive light as a leader.”
Former evangelist and author Frank Schaeffer says it comes down to two things – lies and racism:
“Since the economy has rebounded, health care reform has worked, all that remained for the GOP was to lie. And since the base of the GOP is white aging southern evangelicals the GOP was in luck. These are easy folks to lie to. That’s because they already accept an alternative version of reality. Also, of course since the lies are about a black man, that doesn’t hurt. Yes, race is ‘still’ an issue.”
“This is about race,” a particularly nasty viewer told a C-Span host on a call-in show, Thursday. “The Republicans hate that n—– Obama.”
While that may be at least partly true, it’s important to keep in mind no group is politically monolithic (Georgia Republican Gov. Nathan Deal received 10 percent of the black vote in his reelection, after all), and there is definitely work to do for the Democrats to reach out to white Americans. “Republicans know they have to expand their base to include minority voters,” state Rep. Scott Holcomb (D) told the AJC, “and we need to do a better job expanding ours to include white voters.”
Despite the Republican slate’s unexpected margin of victory, Georgia’s Democratic Party chair, DuBose Porter, was optimistic.”Make no mistake about it ya’ll,” he wrote to supporters, “Georgia was, and is, in play.”
The goal remains to expanded the voter rolls for 2016, so the state can make a tectonic shift and awaken from this apathetic slumber.
“I understand taking a bit of time to lick these wounds. But not too much time. We have work to do. We will continue to build. We will continue to raise hope. We will continue to believe in Democrats.”
Two years is not a lot of time. Before the next state legislature convenes and tries to limit voter registration, we need to go back out there and get more than 500,000 new voters registered. Two years, starting last week. Go.
PS: Click here for a full list of states with on-line voter registration. If you live in Georgia, you can register anytime through the Secretary of State’s website: https://registertovote.sos.ga.gov/GAOLVR/
Time, money and faith – this is the most I have given of all three to Democrats in Georgia. I’ve written posts. I’ve knocked on nearly 400 doors. I’ve opened my wallet to attend and host fundraisers.
I do this not only to return Democrats to power in statewide and national offices, but also because I believe that this state cannot succeed, this country cannot turn the corner economically and socially, with Republicans steering policy in a hard right direction. In this part of of the country, when it comes to Republican politics, there is no soft right, no simple fork. Every right turn the Georgia GOP makes is 90 degrees from center.
In the phone calls and the canvassing, I have met a handful of folks who do not see the point in voting. I can tell them, as Michelle Obama did on a visit in support of our candidates in September, that if we can just get 50 more votes in each precinct, we can turn Georgia blue. I can tell them that Michelle Nunn will work for all Georgians, bringing her skills in philanthropic activism, getting those with means to have a social conscience and help those in need. I can tell them that Jason Carter should be our next governor because he believes in strengthening education, understands that Medicaid expansion would return federal money to our state that we’ve already paid, and could help 650,000 Georgians, and will do everything he can to restore integrity to the ethically challenged office of the state’s chief executive.
I can tell them that, but the most important thing to remember, is that even though we have been disappointed by Democrats as well as Republicans, and the Democratic Party in the South has a long way to go to be the party of FDR, getting Southern Democrats elected now, prepares the soil for the acceptance of the kind of liberal, progressive Democrat we really want. It is much easier to plant a seed in accepting ground than to keep trying to force a plant to root in frozen, unyielding soil.
The time is now. Vote Tuesday. The future of a progressive South is in your hands.