An affirmative case for Hillary Clinton

“It wasn’t lost on everybody—including some in the press—that her principal transgression actually seemed to be that she was a woman who said what she thought instead of quietly receding into the conventionally accepted political staging.”
– from a Politico article about how a 60 Minutes appearance in 1992 planted in the minds of Americans their relative opinions of Hillary Rodham Clinton

What a crazy, screwed up election this has turned out to be, not that that’s news to anyone.

I’ve said it here before, but in the context of this wacky, 2016 election, it bears repeating. I am a Baby Boomer, albeit a late one. Like the song goes, I was born in the fifties. I was a Bernie Sanders supporter during the primaries because I am nothing if not a political idealist; free healthcare, free education and an end to income inequality are all important to me because they’re important to building a strong middle class and to the continuing progress of our great country.

In a year like this, when Bernie Sanders’ idealistic populism clashed with not only the angry venting of Donald Trump, but also conflicted with the twenty-five year old, paranoid, must-get-elected centrism of the Clintons, the decline of options for choosing positive change leaves progressives, and especially committed liberals, in a wilderness of hopelessness.

When I was in St. Louis this summer, attending the annual Netroots Nation gathering, it was the same week that Bernie endorsed Hillary Clinton, and two weeks before the volatile Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia. The incomparable Washington Post reporter, Dave Weigel, was there, as always. He came up to me and asked if I was a Bernie supporter. I said that yes, I was.

“So who are you voting for in November?” he asked me, after we went over some of Clinton’s negatives.

“Hillary,” I said, without hesitation.

“But, why?”

“Because,” I answered, “Trump!”

Hillary Clinton, 1992, 2016
Hillary Clinton in 1992 (Public Domain) and 2016 (Gage Skidmore, via Creative Commons).
That exchange bothered me for a long time. I was uncomfortable that my main reason for voting for her was the utter unpalatability of what Trump would do to our country’s moral, ethical and political standing in the world if he were elected President of the United States. It’s a valid reason, to be sure, but it was wholly unsatisfactory, from an analytical point of view. I wasn’t looking for a more affirmative reason, but I was open to it, so when I read the Politico article cited above, it resonated, in the way that if you’re ready for the lesson, the teacher will come. What I found was the case for Hillary is more about me, who I am, than I realized.

The headline of the Politico article is, “The TV interview that haunts Hillary Clinton,” but it’s about more than just about her strong, Tammy Wynette, “Stand by Your Man” moment after the Superbowl, in defending Bill against Gennifer Flowers’ accusations. It’s an overview of the political life of someone who is, believe it or not, naively honest about what she says when she talks about being a professional woman, a mother and a public servant.

When she was first told about the country music star’s negative reaction to the future first lady asserting, “I’m not sitting here, some little woman standing by my man like Tammy Wynette,” she reportedly face-palmed, and was surprised and dismayed. “I didn’t mean to hurt Tammy Wynette as a person,” she reportedly told a small Colorado newspaper. “I happen to be a country-western fan.”

She was equally surprised by the public’s reaction after her infamous comments, six weeks later, about choosing her law career over being a woman who “stayed home and baked cookies and had teas.”

Politico quotes Democratic strategist, Paul Begala, who, in 2000, explained that he had trouble, during the 1992 campaign, convincing Hillary her comments would be a problem:

“‘I pulled her aside, and I said, ‘You know, Hillary, you’ve got to go restate this. People are going to think that’s an attack on stay-at-home moms.’ And she had the most wounded and naïve look on her face. … She had no idea that might be taken out of context. She said, ‘No one could think that.’ She said, ‘I would have given anything to be a stay-at-home mom. My mother was a stay-at-home mom. I just didn’t have a choice because Bill was making $35,000 a year and we needed to support the family.’ I said, ‘I know that.’ And she said, ‘Oh, you worry too much.’”

So what does this have to do with me being a Baby Boomer, like the Clintons? I believe there is really a kind of liberal/progressive redemption in electing her. At every step of the way, with her strong character and self-assuredness, Hillary Rodham Clinton was the strongest voice of a liberated, feminist generation. With her sharp intelligence and being a “woman who said what she thought,” Hillary was at the top of the wave. If she fell before she stood up on her groundbreaking surfboard, people would put her down for not having what it takes. If she rode through the wave successfully, people would say she’s too assertive. Ask any woman about that catch-22, where one is empowered by education but subjugated by prevailing sexism, and how difficult that reality is to navigate.

Or, as she put it to the class of 1992 when she gave the commencement address at her Alma-mater, Wellesley College:

“As women today, you face tough choices. You know the rules are basically as follows: if you don’t get married, you’re abnormal; if you get married but don’t have children, you’re a selfish yuppie; if you get married and have children, but work outside the home, you’re a bad mother; if you get married and have children, but stay home, you’ve wasted your education.

“…So you see, if you listen to all the people who make these rules, you might just conclude that the safest course of action is just to take your diploma and crawl under your bed.”

The affirmative case for Hillary Clinton is her shear incredulity that an educated woman should be stopped, could be stopped, in fulfilling her maximum potential. We wouldn’t ask that of a man. It is certainly wrong to ask it from any woman, any person, especially one as smart and experienced and, yes, humble (relative to her profession), as Hillary.

The Politico piece was written about a month ago, before the first presidential debate. Since then, Donald J. Trump has not stopped attacking her for being weak and lacking stamina (even while saying he admires that she is a fighter), has attacked the veracity of women accusing him of unwanted sexual contact by saying they weren’t attractive enough for him, and has accused Hillary of stepping out on Bill.

While that only sharpens the distinction between a blowhard misogynist and a woman more ready to be president than almost any other American, what clinches it for me is what Bill Clinton said in that 1992, 60 Minutes interview, when Steve Kroft asked if the Clintons had “an arrangement,” implying, obviously, that they allowed each other sexual indiscretions.

Bill was having none of that. “Wait a minute,” he interrupted, “You’re looking at two people who love each other. This is not an arrangement or an understanding. This is a marriage.”

Standing by each other, being committed to each other and to your common goals, is undeniably uplifting. Just because some don’t understand that kind of devotion doesn’t make it less valuable. It also implies that no matter how much garbage they throw at Hillary – and they have thrown a lot – she remains a person committed to her goals, and committed to being someone who does all she can for people as a public servant. That is why I am voting for her. It’s a much more empowering reason than my fears of seeing giant gold lettering on the White House, next year. But if that’s what you need to get your butt to the polls, by all means, it’ll do.


Activism and accountability: a conversation with Cecily McMillan

Saturday, September 17, was the fifth anniversary of the first day of Occupy Wall Street – two months of protest against economic inequality, based in a small plaza in Lower Manhattan known as Zuccotti Park. The movement spawned other Occupy protests from Seattle to Miami and launched an unstoppable revolution to stand up for the ninety-nine percent for whom the economy doesn’t work.

For the organizers in New York, as for many of us, when you are committed to social justice, you cannot help but raise your voice in the face of racism, classism, and many other institutionalized behaviors that casts one segment of society as less worthy of the respect of humanity than another.

This is the story of one self-described “Occupy die hard,” Cecily McMillan. She is the young woman who, after being violently assaulted by the New York Police Department during a peaceful, Occupy Wall Street six month anniversary event in 2012, unintentionally became the face of the movement when she was arrested and went on trial for assaulting the cop who grabbed her breast and beat her until she bounced on the pavement, writhing in seizure.

It was supposed to be a quick visit, a show of support before heading out with friends to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day, but it turned into something much worse.

“The only thing I am guilty of,” she would later say, “is not going in with a partner. I should have known better.”

VIDEO: Cecily McMillan’s friends stand across the street and watch her getting attacked – 3/17/2012

VIDEO: Cecily McMillan rolling on ground before put in ambulance – 3/17/2012

VIDEO: A bruised Cecily appears on Democracy Now days after her arrest – 3/23/2012

Cecily McMillan hours after her 2012 assault (L) (Justice for Cecily)
and a more recent portrait (Steve Eberhardt)

“In encountering struggle, you realize the stuff you are made of.”

– Cecily McMillan

After a short trial with a difficult judge, a jury convicted McMillan of the assault. But there was an outpouring of support, including from three-quarters of the jury itself, pleading for leniency, and instead of the two to seven years she could have gotten, the judge sentenced her to three months in jail and five years of probation. She is now a felon. Part of the terms of her probation is that she is not allowed to participate in any protest or civil action.

This, admits Cecily, is difficult for her, as she only found her own freedom in fighting for others. She describes her passion for equality as “the accountability of activism.”

“Accountability,” she told me during a recent conversation in an Atlanta park, “that’s what I tried to foster in the cadre [of Occupy activists].” That was important in a movement that famously had no leaders precisely because they expected committed activists to step up and do what’s right.

“It’s good to do your best in your capacity, and to inspire people to be as accountable to others as you are,” she explained. “If we think of Martin Luther King [Jr.] as somebody special, nobody steps up in his place once he goes. Who could fill his shoes? If people think I’m special [for being willing to fight for justice and go to jail], then they say, ‘Well, I don’t have to do what she did.'”

Let’s be clear. Cecily is not comparing herself to MLK. She is saying that the willingness, the capacity to fight for equality and justice, is in each of us. Activists have to believe that. Otherwise, why show up? We stand neither as hero worshipers nor heroes, but ordinary people inspired by those who came before to take a public stand for social consciousness.

McMillan has a story to tell about a life that began with her fighting for herself, and evolved into a fight for the welfare of others, because, as Dr. King said, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”

Sometimes we see injustice in the ugly way we treat each other as human beings, like in an outsider who is shunned by social divisions, and only requires what all people do – love and acceptance. Sometimes injustice is what one sees in a misguided community’s visceral reaction to a cultural event or tragedy.

bookcoverWhile Cecily’s undeniable empathy brings her to the side of the former (she almost went to jail for trying help a Hispanic couple avoid it themselves), it is for her communities that her voice is loudest and her defense is strongest. It is there where she had her awakening.

It happened in the small Southeast Texas town of Beaumont, after September 11, 2001. She was days away from her thirteenth birthday, and, as she writes in her recently published autobiography, The Emancipation of Cecily McMillan: An American Memoir:

“That was the first time I’d heard the word ‘terrorist.’ …The terrorists, I learned, had been Muslim, so they believed in Islam; which, I was told, was a religious cult of brown men with towelheads and long beards who worshiped war, enslaved women and hated Christians.”

It was the prevailing perspective in a small, poor, segregated, southern town, that, to McMillan’s credit, she admitted “sounded crazy to” her. More to the point, she was aware enough to begin questioning the norms of her community:

“I was at a pep rally for an upcoming football game. The cheerleaders had just performed a routine to Lee Greenwood’s ‘God Bless the USA’ when an athlete grabbed the mic and said, ‘This one’s gonna be for the troops – tonight we’re going to go out there and kick ass like they was sandniggers!’ The gym went wild…”

It was the suffix, as it were, of the epithet that drew her attention. “I’d never heard that word used for anyone but blacks,” she wrote. “What did it mean that it was so easily transferable?”

“When I started asking questions, I realized it wasn’t enough to be white and Christian,” McMillan told me. “If you disagreed with them, then you might as well be with the n*****s and the people who weren’t Christian…

“I was white, and I was Christian, but just because I started to ask questions, then all of a sudden, I didn’t get to be part of their club anymore.”

It was shortly after that when she took her first action for social justice. As she writes in the book:

“One day, I stayed seated for the Pledge of Allegiance and stood up when everyone else sat down for the moment of prayer. When the teacher sent me to the office, the principal wanted to know why I’d done it. ‘Because,’ I explained, ‘some people aren’t Christian, but we have to say “under God” in the pledge and worship him in prayer.’ ‘Don’t you believe in God?’ he asked. ‘I do,’ I replied, ‘But that’s not the point.’ ‘Then what is?’ he asked. ‘That you make us do it…What if I wasn’t Christian?’ ‘But you are Christian.’ he replied. ‘But if I wasn’t,’ I argued, ‘it would be wrong to make me worship a different god.’ ‘Yeah, well, you’d also go to hell. Do it again,’ he challenged, ‘and you’ll get a taste of it.'”

The “taste” of hell, when she repeated her protest the next day, was a paddling. That evening, she says, she wrote in her journal:

“They think they can put me in my place, but they can’t. My place is wherever I say it is.”

Cecily posing for the New School Free Press, after St. Patrick’s Day, 2012 (NSFP)

“You know, Millennials, we were never really afforded a childhood, as a generation. Our generation did drugs to fit in, not to chill out, not to party. We did Adderall, to go to school more, to get there earlier, to stay later, to do all sorts of extracurricular activities – to be all perfect, a perfectly well rounded human being…

“We were made into neurotic little yippy dogs, all of us.”

– Cecily McMillan

It would be easy to dismiss Cecily McMillan as just another youthful radical, naive of the compromises other generations made in battles deemed too destructive to keep fighting. On the other hand, I found her to be the real deal – as authentic and caring an activist as I’ve ever met.

She describes herself as “really working class.” Sure, she cites revolutionary thinkers like Foucault, Badiou and Michelle Alexander the way Lit majors cite Shakespeare, Bronte and Huxley, but it’s not just an academic exercise for her. It’s her strong belief in the words one of her college professors told her, that “Teachers are society builders.” Her passion brought her to learn more, and her learning inflames her passion.

“The college and the prison chapters [of the memoir] are probably the two that are least defined,” she said, thoughtfully, “because I’m still working on what privilege is and how it was taken away from me.” She went on to explain that to be raised in poverty and be given an opportunity to attend college and be free to embrace activism, and to become “Activist Barbie,” as the media called her during the trial, and then to lose that and more – including the respect of her family – when she went to prison, has left her and her family more estranged than ever.

“There’s something truly painful,” she lamented, “about being in privilege, for people who were not raised with it, because in gaining privilege, you lose your family; you lose your identity; you lose your culture. It’s painful.”

Cecily’s family has names for her, she says, like “pretentious, highfalutin,” and what is perhaps most hurtful, “not a McMillan.”

The confusion, for her, was escaping the fate of many raised in poverty in America. “What,” she asked me, rhetorically, “so I gained the privilege to not become a heroine addict? I gained the privilege to not starve to death?

“I gained privilege, but I worked myself out of [the] family, out of roots, out of soul.” For her, not being able to return to the culture in which she was raised has left her with what she now sees as two unpleasant choices: privilege or prison. In her mind, she either violates her principles of equality and pursues money, or goes back to a life of protest and civil action, and loses her freedom. Either way, her family resents her.

Still, she believes, prison is the key to “breaking” our society – not in the anarchistic sense, but in the sense of breaking a dysfunctional addiction to institutionalized thinking. “Anybody who’s in college or a PhD program right now ought to be in jail,” she argued, “and I think everybody that’s in jail ought to be in college.” Later, she clarified, “Let’s leave college alone. Let’s say anybody who’s in a masters or PhD program, their time would be better spent in jail.”

This will, McMillan claims, allow those in higher education to have practical experience, to learn and to write about what they’ve only studied in their “ivory tower” of theory. “They [already] know how to study that. They don’t need a guide.” They need the experience.

On the outside, she says, even if you’re involved in an action as bold as Occupy Wall Street, “You are the privileged allied with the oppressed.” But in jail, she went on, “You are the oppressed allied with the oppressed. You are the oppressed and the activist.”

If you’re young, living with you parents and not making any money, “What have you got to lose?” she asked. “Go to jail [for what you believe]. How much can you do on the inside? Guys, you’ll be fine.”

Cecily says flipping the script is something Millennials are poised to do. The economy and our social structure demand it, because the class entitlement they grew up with – money, segregation and/or education – is no longer relegated to provincial America.

“I love my generation,” she told me, hopefully. “We’re really entitled, but that entitlement is going to be this world’s saving grace. When we’re the poorest people [living in neighborhoods] alongside those that are currently ‘othered,’ right now, with the education that we have and the entitlement we have, we are going to put upon the world entitlement for all, and that’s going to be huge.”

For McMillan, the opportunity for the entitled to learn about what it’s like to be without food, housing or a job, “or a good life,” will necessarily bring those universal requirements to all. “‘Entitlement for all,’” she reflected, adding, “I love that.”

Cecily on trial, flanked by her attorneys, Rebecca Heinegg (L) and Martin Stolar (R)
(Kevin Zeese)

“I came up with this idea in prison that I still believe in. I don’t believe any of us are any freer on the outside than those on the inside. We just have more distractions.”

-Cecily McMillan

That brings us to the question just about anybody might ask her. (I did.)  Why does someone in their mid-twenties need to write a memoir? After all, it wasn’t as if she were some kind of radical wunderkind.

“Oh my God, I would have slapped the shit out of myself in the sixth grade,” she told me she realized after consulting some of her old journals for her story.

But the message of the book, she says, isn’t the narrative of her perseverance throughout her challenged childhood, or her ordeal at Occupy Wall Street, or at the hospital, or in court, or even in jail.

Cecily told me many times how uncomfortable she was that the redemption in the story was about her. “People are still just really into me, in the most delegitimizing way,” she lamented. “People want to talk about me. People want to spectacle-ize me. They think, ‘Oh well, you wrote a book. How bad could your life be?’ Really bad,” she concluded, emphatically.

The message she wants to get out is that it is precisely because of her challenges growing up poor, in a broken home with parents always screaming at each other and crying, a suicidal, depressed mother and a severely ADHD brother who was later diagnosed as bipolar, that she was able to put up with her ordeal both before and after the events of March 17, 2012, in New York.

“This book was the first time I realized how much of my life was not accessible to the people [at Occupy] that I had wanted to be – previously – a part of,” she admitted.

Given that version of privilege, the privilege of conditioning, we could call it, Cecily claims it was easier for her to understand the plight of the women with whom she was incarcerated in the jail complex at Rikers. She called it a shared “generational history” of those most challenged by the classism in our society.

“I wrote this book for the women at Rikers,” she said. “I promised them that I would do everything in my power to make sure their demands were heard and their lives were, to the best of my ability, protected. Not just the women I served time with – the women of Rikers generally.

“The only goal I have with this book was to get people to see prisoners as people.”

In the book, McMillan describes the facility and its location starkly:

“The East River is a salt-water tidal strait that flows northward along the eastern shore of Manhattan Island, then bends due east between the Bronx and Queens before returning to the Atlantic. Just past that eastward bend, with Queens to the south and the Bronx to the north, lies Rikers Island, a hard to get to (and harder to get out of) outpost of cruelty and misery, just across the water from LaGuardia Airport. The island is flat and treeless and surrounded by razor-sharp barbed wire fences; its only link to the mainland, the Elmhurst neighborhood of Queens, is a narrow causeway.”

At intake, she describes the beginning of the metamorphosis from celebrity defendant to convict:

“When I went in, Activist Barbie [in the form of the fashionable dress worn at sentencing] (still entombed in the plastic Nordstrom bag) was taken from me and disposed of ‘in the back,’ where she was then exhumed and dismembered, according to the property receipt I received in exchange…the only remaining records that she’d ever existed – that I’d ever been a person worth defending. Now, I was just a prisoner.”

The other prisoners, McMillan said, wondered why she was in there. They never expected a white girl to be sentenced to Rikers, but they didn’t know her mother was Mexican until she spoke to them in broken Spanish, when they asked if she was loca, a familiar term from her abuela. “No siempre (not always),” she told them.

“I was one of five white women in Rikers,” she said, “and all of us were half-Latina. There are not white people in Rikers. There’s not even white corrections officers.” One of the other Latina prisoners took Cecily under her wing, and became her “jailhouse godmother.”

“I was totally happy there amongst those women,” she told me. “They are the best human beings I have ever met in my life.”

Then she added, “Prison, in a way, is the great equalizer. Being in there, you’re all just fucking prisoners, man. You have a single enemy. You have a single structure that you’re all against. And it’s not the COs [corrections officers]. It’s the captains. It’s the doctors.”

In the book, she describes how prison psychiatrists refused to give her a new prescription for Adderall to treat her ADHD. Then, in terribly disturbing detail, she tells us about trying to get her Depo-Provera shot for birth control, and that the gynecologist insisted on a needless vaginal exam – twice – for a pap smear and a scrape. She left in tears, and without the shot.

Her prison sisters told her to leave it alone, that in Rikers, “you don’t ask, ‘Why?'” But being the accountable activist, she wrote her lawyers about the incidents with the doctor, and finally got her birth control and her Adderall.

“See,” she told her friends, “this is what happens when you ask, ‘Why?'”

They looked at her and said, “No. This is what happens when you ask, ‘Why?'” Their experience of questioning the system never turned out as well.

To be sure, McMillan experienced hardships in prison, but there was something about being in Rikers that, she admits, made her wonder whether she would be better there than on the outside.

“Things are just a lot more real in there,” Cecily explained. “I’m not somebody who likes grays. I like black & whites. I like to know who the enemy is. I like to know what the obstacle is. At least in there, you know. You can see it. Here it’s just a series of delusions. I can drink [a beer] and feel a little bit better, but I think we see freedom when more people like me go to jail. It’s clarity. It’s really realizing that the only freedom you have is the dignity to choose your outcome, the dignity to go about life that you can look in the mirror every day and say, ‘I’m doing my best.’ That’s the only freedom. When the only thing staring back at you is hate and you choose to love, that’s freedom.”

READ: Cecily McMillan gives a disturbing narrative of the “horrific conditions” for the women at Rikers to journalist Callie Beusman, in 2014, for Jezebel.

“I am literally the least likely at Occupy Wall Street to write a book.”
-Cecily McMillan

Since her beating at the hands of police, Cecily suffers from PTSD, including symptoms like blackouts, breaks in memory and night terrors that leave her “petrified, like breathing is hard,” and “scared – really, really scared.”

Despite that – or, she might argue, because of it – she remains an inspiring example of what it means to be an activist.

“When you think you are better than people, morally or whatever, it’s no better than the Trump people who think they’re better than the Mexicans,” Cecily reflected. “You can’t inspire anybody when you think you’re better than them, and I did not inspire my comrades at the New School [graduate school in New York, during Occupy] to get involved with Occupy Wall Street because I thought I was better than them. And you know what? That’s shirking my fucking duties. That shut down conversation, when your only job as an activist is to foster conversation.

“You are an activist. You are actively affecting the world. And when you call yourself that, you are taking a-count-a-bi-li-ty,” she enunciated, “for how you actively impact the world. That’s what [being] an activist means. And then, people can call you out on your shit, people can judge you and people can critique you and you can judge and critique yourself.

“You have to be responsible for that. You are no longer reactive. You are no longer unconscious. You are responsive, you are engaging and you are accountable. And if you are not doing that, then you are a bad activist. Period.”

That’s a high bar, for most, but the example of Cecily McMillan’s commitment is as much aspirational as it is inspirational. If you’re going to put yourself out there, then do it. Notice when you’re not doing it and “judge and critique yourself.” Acknowledge your humanity, give yourself permission to fail, and find a different way. But don’t lose your inspiration and don’t lose your determination because fixing the world is everybody’s obligation.


PS. Cecily also had something to say about Atlanta and its Occupy event, as well as the city’s role in the revolution. Check it out on my Daily Kos diary.

Alienation, silence and revolution at the DNC

2016 DNC
Bernie Sanders delegate Scott Brown, from Georgia, sits in silent protest at the 2016 Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia. (Photo courtesy Paula Olivares. Used with permission.)

I don’t know if party politics is supposed to be a zero sum game, where each side gets something it wants and reaches a consensus to ignore the rest, but I have seen that in the hearts of many Bernie Sanders delegates at the Democratic National Convention, last week, there was a feeling of being ignored by the Democratic Party.

In following friends of mine on Facebook®* who were in Philadelphia as Bernie delegates from Georgia, it seems they felt alienated and silenced by the process, despite the Clinton/Kaine campaign slogan of “Stronger Together.”

Lisa Ring at the 2016 DNC in Philadelphia

“[T]he party has tried to, at first, kill me with kindness, and when I did not comply, tried to silence me…make me disappear,” according to Lisa Ring, a Sanders delegate from southeast Georgia. “The party does not value honesty. Nor does it value integrity. It values money and power.”

The entire convention experience was an “inspiring and depressing festival of corruption and rebellion,” said Atlanta Bernie delegate, Scott Brown.

Ring, whose comments came in the form of a lengthy post, wrote how many Sanders delegates felt excluded. “If the party had allowed us to speak, disagree, criticize,” she said, “and in general, be the diverse crowd we are supposed to represent, this would be a unified party now.”

Angie NE DNC
Angela Eells walking the walk at the 2016 DNC in Philadelphia

“We represent millions of votes/voices that you clearly don’t want to listen to,” said Angela Eells, a Sanders delegate from Walton County, Georgia, in admonishing the DNC for its muzzling of Sanders supporters. “Once we realized they were silencing us,” she said, “we went and let the world know that democracy does not exist in the [D]emocratic party.”

She called the convention “the biggest farce production I’ve ever witnessed,” and an “orchestrated…’Illusion of Unity.'”

“I think there was a disconnect in people who have never been involved in party politics before,” explained Ted Terry, Bernie delegate and mayor of Clarkston, Georgia. In a separate interview with P&T, Terry, who is also the state director of the Sierra Club, urged “the newly initiated” to be patient and work within the political process of the Democratic Party. “It makes more tactical sense,” he said.

Mayor Ted Terry feelin’ the Berne at the DNC

“We will eventually have more power and take more control over this process,” Terry added.

But for many of the newcomers, the process of the convention, at least, left a bad taste of disaffection and disenfranchisement. Even during the final night, Thursday, they felt embattled.

“We were determined to represent our constituents and not be run off by our own party,” describes Ring in her post. “Unfortunately, since our own state party created a system of stifling us by over-chanting us and physically blocking us, they have permanently lost some hard working Democrats.”

The “stifling” Ring is referring to is that while some Bernie delegates were protesting by holding up signs and chanting things like “Ban fracking,” and, “No more war,” Hillary delegates and supporters – including Democratic Party of Georgia chairman Dubose Porter – blocked them from cameras and shouted them down with positive chants.

“The convention was one big orgy of ‘USA!’ chanting party unity,” complained Brown.

“It was like a battle of passive aggressive protests,” according to Terry. “Just like the ‘Bernie or Bust’ people were making noise and holding up signs that were kind of derogatory, the people who were trying to support Hillary and listen to the speeches were like, ‘Well, we’re not going to shut them up. We’re just going to stand in front of them because we have a right to stand here just like they have a right to stand here.'”

While Terry said he was sympathetic to the Bernie supporters’ passion – he was a Sanders delegate, after all – he said he thought they had carried on for too long. “There’s a point,” he said, “where persistence becomes petulance, and I think some people crossed that line… You don’t win by burning bridges; you don’t win by excessive petulance. You win by building bridges.”

His reaction was doing what he came to Philadelphia to do. “I cast my vote for Bernie. At that point, it was just like, ‘Alright. What’s next?’ Next is defeating Donald Trump.”

Eells, who is still not sure who will get her vote in November, said despite “feelings of deep sadness, defeat, anger,” the entire experience also left her feeling “determination, joy and vindication and above all PRIDE [emphasis hers].”

“There will never be a way for us to communicate to anyone outside that room how difficult it was for us but our ability to overcome, rise above, do our elected job and propel this movement,” she said.

And the activism will go on in spite of the imperfect choices come Election Day. “For me,” Terry said, the takeaway is “the fact that Bernie was saying we’re going to continue this movement, we’re going to continue this progressive revolution, but we’re not going to do it at the expense of allowing Donald Trump to win the presidency – the stakes are just too high.”

“We are now all a united front against Trump,” Brown said, in what appears to be angry sarcasm. “We have all accepted the fact that we must take millions of corrupting dollars from any corporation, billionaire, lobbyist, bundler, or sleazebag we can in that effort.”

“The lesser of two evils gives us a lot of room to be evil,” he warned. “And the (Anti-)Democratic Party will not disappoint.”

Brown is encouraging people to vote for Jill Stein, the Green Party nominee, because “All the Clinton supporters, delegates, super-delegates, and supporting party insiders I’ve talked to, before, after and during the DNC, all are supremely confident that Hillary will beat Trump in November. So that means she doesn’t need my vote. Or yours.”

But Ted Terry offered some consolation to those who fear the Democratic Party has left them behind. “Once the hurt feelings kind of subside,” he opined, “and some of the people are a little more clear-eyed, they’ll hopefully realize it’s not, like, hopeless.”

Terry went on to explain that his support for the  nominee notwithstanding, the Sanders revolution isn’t over. He went on to list several issues yet to be resolved. Among them, “We need to stop the TPP (Trans Pacific Partnership trade deal) from passing in the lame duck.”

Eells, in a separate interview with a local paper, said she won’t stop fighting. “I am fighting against fracking because I believe that we have a right to have clean drinking water,” she said. “I am fighting to overturn Citizens United because corporations should not be able to buy elections.”

Lisa Ring is also moving on, promising to continue to work for progressive change in Georgia in standing up for causes and candidates. But she has one request. “All that I fight for is the opportunity to participate in democracy. Let us all work together, let each voice be heard, and may we achieve a more just, honest, and compassionate nation. Please join us in any way you are able.”

I’m raising my hand. Are you?

*With the exception of the interview with Ted Terry, all quotes are from Facebook® posts from during and after the DNC in Philadelphia. Some editing has been done to correct spelling, grammar and punctuation. Used with the generous permission of the subjects.

PS. This is an amusing video about moving on from Bernie. Ted Terry is in it. If you’re still stuck, you may want to wait to watch it. Or, maybe it will help.

Vote your blue heart out, even in a red state

BernieBusVoteI live in Georgia, a red state that has had Democrats wringing their hands for almost twenty years. The state legislature has been under Republican control since 2003. There hasn’t been a Democrat elected to statewide office since 2008. Yes, there’s always talk of the state being in play in a national election, and we can barely maintain our patience with constant claims of our impending purpleness.

Heck, the Democratic Party of Georgia has yet to field a candidate to go against incumbent Republican Sen. Johnny Isakson. And yet…

With the GOP on the verge of nominating a largely despised buffoon, a flim-flammer, to run for president, there actually is a chance that even Georgia could go blue, if Democratic voters go down-ballot after voting for president.

We are in primary season, a time in every presidential cycle where you don’t have to vote with your head as much as you have the luxury of voting with your heart. As former Bill Clinton Labor Secretary Robert Reich, who just came out in support of Sen. Bernie Sanders in the primary, told CNN’s Erin Burnett, Monday, “If you don’t vote your conscience in a primary, when are you going to vote your conscience?” It is a called a presidential preference primary, after all.

There’s also this, from political analyst Charles Blow, who appeared on CNN with Reich. He made the point that while Hillary Clinton is polling high against Sanders in red states, including Saturday’s blowout in South Carolina, the odds are those states won’t go for the Democrat in November, so a lopsided win in March may give her more delegates, but won’t make a difference in the general election.

“The biggest plus for Bernie to stay in the race is this,” Blow offered, “he is more likely to win states that a Democrat will carry in the fall. Hillary Clinton is going to rack up delegates in states that she will not be able to carry in November.”

Finally, have you seen the shit show happening on the other side? Of course you have. So has everyone else in the country, and they’re completely mesmerized by it. Like the dearth of Democratic debates early on ceded media attention to the Republicans, so too would a Clinton coronation give the GOP the license to monopolize the news cycle while we watch Trump and Rubio trade insults all the way to the convention.

Voting for Bernie is not pointless, even now. It not only keeps progressive supporters engaged in the process, but also keeps the Democrats’ rivalry in front of all the voters in the country. So GO VOTE!!!


Hillary’s establishment pragmatic idealisim vs. Bernie’s political revolution

Bernie Sanders in Phoenix, AZ, July, 2015, by Prose and Thorn. Hillary Clinton photo by Gage Skidmore via Creative Commons

Let’s call this fight over now, before we go any farther than we already have. Being a liberal progressive and being an establishment candidate or cause are not mutually exclusive.

There is little doubt that groups like Planned Parenthood and the Human Rights Campaign are on the front lines, fighting for progressive causes everyday. There’s little doubt that the Congressional Black Caucus PAC is committed to fighting the Right Wing for basic civil rights, voting rights and giving those in need a hand up.

But, inasmuch as they are all successful institutions, they rely on the Democratic establishment to preserve the gains they’ve already made and be ready for fights to come. Any disruption to the power of the establishment, they feel, risks it all.

So when an icon like Rep. John Lewis comes out and speaks on behalf of Hillary, as he did during the CBC PAC’s announcement, he’s not turning his back on liberals and progressives. I know him. It takes more than an intra-party skirmish to shake his idealism. It’s not in his nature.

In the Democratic race for President of the United States, Hillary is the pragmatists’ choice and Bernie is the idealists’ choice.

What John Lewis and Planned Parenthood head Cecile Richards and others are doing is being politically pragmatic. Call it “pragmatic idealism,” if you will. They will not make what they perceive to be a risky move with an unknown quantity like Bernie, when they know Hillary, and they’re much more certain that she will win than they are of Sanders success in November.

They likely all believe in what Bernie Sanders is talking about – single payer healthcare, free college tuition, raising the minimum wage, expanding Social Security and fighting income inequality – but they are using their heads, not their hearts, because they feel they have to be pragmatic.

More than once I heard the term “politically naive,” in the early days of this election year, regarding Sen. Bernie Sanders and his motivated supporters. The first one came from a conservative friend on my Facebook feed, who was reacting to a post about Bernie’s viability and his principled stand.

In that context, he was saying that Sandernistas are mistaken because, he believes, all they want is free stuff, and they’re too naive to realize there’s no such thing as a free lunch.

The second was from a Hillary Clinton surrogate on TV, who said that it was politically naive to think a self described Socialist could win a general election.

In a January New York Times op-ed, economist Paul Krugman insisted that Bernie’s supporters “preferred happy dreams to hard thinking,” and warned about allowing “idealism [to] veer into destructive self-indulgence.”

But Bernie’s “political revolution” is born of idealism. The heart wants what the heart wants, and the heart wants Bernie Sanders. To call his millions of younger supporters politically naive is to ignore the energy required for social change and how it is shaped by the young.

Martin Luther King, Jr., was in his twenties and thirties when he took on the establishment, and there were plenty, including President Kennedy, who said he was asking for too much at once.

From the anti-war movements of the 1960s to Occupy Wall Street, those to whom the future belongs are the ones fighting to save it. There’s a reason the Baby Boomers’ anti-establishment battle cry was, “Don’t trust anyone over 30.” [See Jack Weinberg.] It’s because their elders were already part of a broken system that did not work for everybody.

Breaking news: it still doesn’t.

The revolution never ends. There can be no resolution to end the revolution without a concerted effort at evolution; we cannot revolve until we are resolved to evolve. That takes all of us – the pragmatist and the idealist, the prosaic and the poet – working together. And while we appreciate that sometimes it requires electing an older leader to get these things done, neither Bernie nor Hillary (nor President Obama, for that matter) can move the needle in any significant way unless they know we all have their back.

So don’t give up if the choice is Hillary. Act up. Don’t lay up if the choice is Bernie. Act up. With that much energy we can restart the revolution now and make it last forever.


When it comes to voting, it’s not all about that base

By Tony Webster from Portland, Oregon, United States (Voting Day (phone) // Day -056) [CC BY 2.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons
By Tony Webster from Portland, Oregon, via Wikimedia Commons

Senior citizens and college students, Wall Street bankers and the religious right, Southerners and African Americans, industrial magnates and union workers: if you’re in one of those groups, and a handful of others, chances are either Republicans or Democrats think they can already count on your vote on election day. They call those monoliths the base, the reliable support upon which the party can build their outreach during any given election. They count on their respective bases not just for their principled, philosophical allegiance, but also for their vote.

There is an often repeated meme in American politics, and that is the more people who show up at the polls, the greater the chances that Democrats will win. The past two elections – the 2014 midterms and the 2015 so-called “off year” elections, last Tuesday – bare that out, if only . In both cases, only about thirty percent of registered voters bothered to show up and cast a ballot. In both cases, the Republicans scored major victories at the state and national level.

Some blame the low turnout on voter apathy. That’s a chickenshit way to look at it, don’t you think? It’s like the Democrats are saying, “Hey it’s not our fault. It’s our lazy ass base.” But it’s not just apathy. Apathetics know there’s an election, but don’t care. This is a case of voter ignorance, where American citizens are blissfully unaware of both the fact there was an election and the stakes in that election.

“Democrats are looking for voters,” MSNBC’s Alex Wagner, said last week, during her intro as guest host on The Last Word, after the party of FDR, JFK and LBJ had a disastrous election day for the second straight year. Presumably, she was referring to the Dems frustration at getting out the vote for their slate of candidates, and when politicians talk about getting out the vote, these days, they’re almost always referring to the base. After all, it’s cheaper and easier to knock on the same doors every couple of years, where previously reliable voters live, than to launch an uncertain campaign for new voters.

But Wagner’s brief analysis speaks more truthfully the latter. “Democrats are looking for voters.”

It could be argued that President Obama won in 2008 primarily because his campaign motivated more voters. He didn’t really expand the base; he got people who don’t usually vote, in any election, excited to vote.

In a season where politics as usual seems to be anything but, it would be good if Debbie Wasserman Schultz and the party she directs figured out how to reach voters who will likely sit out this election, unless significant changes are made. As I mentioned in an earlier post, political psychologist, Dr. Drew Westen, says the two most important questions a voter asks about a given candidate, in descending order, are: “How do I feel about a candidate’s party and its principles?” and “How does this candidate make me feel?”

Issues questions are the last on thing on most voters minds. That’s why for all of Hillary Clinton’s political experience and gravitas, she fails where Bernie Sanders succeeds – getting voters excited and keeping them excited.

Columnist H. A. Goodman wrote, Monday, that only Bernie can get him to vote, next year. Citing polls that show “Sanders defeats Trump by a wider margin than Clinton in a general election,” and “the same people who say they’d vote for Clinton if the election were today are also the same people who state they don’t trust Clinton,” and noting that Hillary has “evolved towards Republican viewpoints on war, foreign policy, Wall Street, and other issues,” Goodman concludes, “I’m only voting for Bernie Sanders in 2016, and will not vote for Hillary Clinton or Trump.” He then goes on to list his reasons.

The point is, he’s not alone, and it goes right to Dr. Westen’s analysis of a successful candidate.

Frankly, I understand Goodman’s stance. As a Bernie Sanders supporter, I am enrolled by his passion and authenticity. But, I’m afraid if we abandon the vote because our guy isn’t part of it, we will end up with Nixon, at best, G.W. Bush, at worst.

You don’t want to vote? Tough. Vote anyway. Of course she’s not progressive enough, but dance with the one who has the best chance of at least aiming toward sharing your goals, if you can’t take a turn with the one that brought you. Bill Maher described it on his show, Real Time, a few weeks ago, this way. After polling his audience and finding out they were overwhelmingly for Sanders over Clinton, he asked, “If Bernie doesn’t get the nomination, who will stay home and not vote for Hillary?” Nothing but coughs from the audience. “Exactly,” he responded, “it’s like the airlines. We have two good candidates. Sometimes, you don’t get the fish, you have the chicken.”


DNC rules change leaves Lessig out of 2016 Democrat debates, forced to leave the race

Harvard professor Lawrence Lessig has ended his nascent bid to become the Democrats’ nominee for president, despite some remarkable fundraising and outreach. Citing the Democratic National Committee’s last minute rules change for qualifying to get into the party’s next debate, Dr. Lessig says he is at a distinct disadvantage, one he sees no way of overcoming.

It seems Lessig realized that his anti-corruption, get money out of politics theme could not catch on with voters if he couldn’t get his time along side the other candidates.

“I may be known in tiny corners of tubes of the Internets,” he admitted in a video released Monday, “but I am not well known to the American public, generally. Our only chance to make this issue central to the 2016 presidential election, was to be in those debates.”

Lessig blames the DNC because they changed how far back the polling had to go to be included in the show. After originally saying they would go back to polling in the six weeks leading up to the debate, which would be October 10th, they decided last week to modify the criterion as at least six weeks before the debate.

“Under this new rule, I am just shut out,” he said

People who have been paying attention to Democratic polls will note that even though Vice President Joe Biden, who never announced he would run, was included in those polls, Dr. Lessig was left out.

“Unless we can time travel,” he says, “there is no way that I can qualify.”

Lessig’s endeavor began with a bang, promising to run only if his crowdfunding website could raise a million dollars by Labor Day, which it did, with no problem. But, arguably, it was the nature of his original campaign that doomed it from the start.

When he first announced his run, Lessig promised he would stay in office only long enough to get his pet issue, getting money out of the political process, passed into law. Once that was done, he said, he would resign. He called it “A Referendum to Restore Democracy.”

“The candidate is the referendum,” he explained in his August announcement. “The campaign is for that referendum.”

Not surprisingly, there were more than a few who found the strategy doubtful. He finally realized that himself, telling Bill Maher, last month, on his HBO series, Real Time, “Yeah, that was stupid. That was totally stupid,” and, he added, in obeisance to the party, “Like my daughter would say, ‘Fine. You win. I withdraw that promise.'”

It took a few more days for his name to show up in the polling. By then, under the DNC rule change, it was too late.

Still, Lessig insists he will continue the fight to fix our democracy. “We can’t solve any of the problems that this nation must address,” he said, like climate change and Wall Street reform, “until we fix the crippled and corrupted institution of Congress first.”

The fight’s not over. As usual, the people must lead.


Ghosts in the machine – the GOP enters the spectrum of invisible light

The House Freedom Caucus is suddenly not far right enough for the extremists in the base of the Republican Party. Less than two weeks ago, it was their stubbornness that drove the House Republican Conference into disarray over the establishment leadership’s inability to garner enough support to get Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-California) elected as Speaker of the House.

Now, the spectrum of how far right the GOP can move has entered the invisible realm of far infrared. Right wing bloggers like, commentators like Erick Erickson and darkside personalities like Ann Coulter, along with a bevy of Super PAC profit takers, have trapped themselves into fighting the establishment at so many turns, that they have started to eat their own. The latest target is Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wisconsin), whom a majority of HFC members voted, last week, to support as Speaker of the House.

Arch-conservative Rep. Raul Labrador (R-Idaho) is suddenly “a RINO establishment lapdog” and a “phony,” according to a story in the Washington Post. Critics are even taking on Rep. Mark Meadows (R-NC), the Freedom Caucus stalwart who put a motion on the floor of the House of Representatives for Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) to step down over the summer, writing things on his Facebook page like, “You should be ashamed,” and threatening other HFC members that they “should all be replaced.”

Spectrum element by D-Kuru/Wikimedia CommonsJust in time for Halloween, they are the ghosts in the Republican machine. You can never be sure what number is going to come up on Majority Whip Steve Scalise’s (R-Louisiana) calculator. “The House Ways and Means chairman [Ryan] is set to be elected the 54th speaker of the House this week,” notes Politico’s Bernie Becker, “unless the House GOP finds yet another way to surprise us.”

The pressure is not just coming in the form of social media comments from ugly internet trolls. It’s also coming from Super PACs, those Citizens United enabled juggernauts that can raise tons of money for a cause and keep as much as they want. The New York Times reported on one such organization, the Tea Party Leadership Fund, which, it says, has raised millions, including in a recent “Boot Boehner” campaign:

“‘Your immediate contribution could be the most important financial investment you will make to help return America to greatness,’ the Tea Party Leadership Fund website said, although it gave no indication of how donations would be spent.

“The answer can be found in campaign finance records, which show that of the $6.7 million the Tea Party Leadership Fund has raised since 2013, only about $910,000 has been spent on conservative Republican candidates it supports — either in direct contributions or independent expenditures on the candidates’ behalf — as an alternative to Mr. Boehner and his supporters.

“Almost all of the rest of the money it has raised since 2013 has been spent on consulting firms involved in helping collect the donations.”

And that’s only one example of, as the old idiom puts it, a fool and his money parting. The group that advises the Tea Party Leadership Fund and tracks its fundraising, DB Capitol Strategies, has its hands in many right wing pies, and they make money from them in other ways, too. According to the Times’ story:

“[DB Capitol Strategies’ Dan] Backer and his various businesses run out of his office in Alexandria, Va., are another major beneficiary. His law firm provides legal and campaign advice to the Tea Party Leadership Fund. He also has an ownership stake in a campaign fund-raising company called SCM Enterprises that the Tea Party Leadership Fund relies on. And he helped create a conservative website, American Action News, where the Tea Party Leadership Fund routinely places advertisements. Collectively, the corporate entities Mr. Backer owns or has financial ties to have been paid at least $1.1 million in fees since 2013 by the Tea Party Leadership Fund and other PACs he helps run, federal records show.”

Considering how groups like Backer’s have sabotaged GOP leadership, it should come as no surprise that the Republican establishment views them as troublemakers who “stir people up on issues that don’t exist or solutions that can’t be achieved,” according to the chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee, Rep. Greg Walden (R-Oregon).

Frankly, this is just as disconcerting for liberals, too. Just as we get over our shock at how far right the nut job rubber band can be stretched, they blow us all away by stretching it even further. Soon, though, it may break, sending the entire Republican Party into a centrist wall with a force consistent with Newton’s third law. But then, according to Newton, at least it will also fling the last hangers-on of the infinitely far right into the political abyss.

A new Gallup poll show’s the Tea Party movement with its lowest percentage of adherents ever. It’s at just 17 points among all voters, down from 32% in its 2010 hay day. While it still enjoys favor among many Republicans, at 42%, that’s way down from the 63% that ushered in their revolution.

What’s worse for the GOP, according to the poll, is they are losing independent R leaners who supported the Tea Party in 2010. That number is down 29 points, from 52% to 23%. That number could prove costly in 2016, barring any major implosion by the Democrats.

Some people like to classify the Tea Party remnants as Frankenstein’s monster, a creature that rises up to threaten its maker, but it looks like they are really zombies, the political walking dead, driven to eat anything establishment, even if it kills the entire country. They still eat brains, of course, because their backers want a dumbed down electorate. Unfortunately, it seems that despite Gallup’s assertion that smart people don’t support the Tea Party, the zombies will always have an endless food supply.


Love and electability – the candidates come a-courting

2016dancecompYou know you’ve felt it, the glaring double-take from friends who can’t believe you are pulling for Bernie Sanders. “You know he’s unelectable,” they say, referring to his independent affiliation in Congress and his longstanding identification as a Democratic Socialist.

Eight years ago, those were the people saying the same thing about Barack Obama.

And like 2008, they are pulling for Hillary, of course, because she is a conventional candidate. But you’re a rebel, and you and others like you are pulling for Bernie for the exact opposite reason. He’s not only unconventional, he’s calling for a “political revolution.” Plus, his populist policies are great for the middle class, great for America.

I watched the first Democratic debate of the 2016 cycle on CNN, Tuesday night, in a tavern full of party supporters and activists. Most already had expressed a preference from among the list of candidates, and it’s safe to say that the debate really changed no one’s mind, except the occasional surprise by those who found themselves agreeing with Bernie Sanders more than they thought they would.

In fact, Google’s analysis of searches done during the debate showed that “From start to finish, it was Sanders” who people were interested in finding out more about.

We have heard from most of the Republicans and Democrats who say they want to be president, as they embellish their accomplishments and wax about the policies they would present to Congress. We’ve had our first virtual socials with the viable and the unviable, so now it’s time to let our friends in on our candidate crushes.

On the right, they have the brash one, the quiet one, the cute one and the legacy, along with the mean one and the leader in search of a group that would have her, plus the religious ones. There is no tolerant one.

On the left stand the pragmatic one, the passionate revolutionary one, and the earnest one, along with the disciplinarian and the over-eager one (bless his heart).

Let’s start with Donald J. Trump, who many Republicans, and even a few independents, fawn over and adore. He is the brash, bad boy. He’s unwilling to bend to conventions like political correctness, for example, because it “takes a lot of time. It takes a lot of effort,” as he told NBC News, Wednesday morning. But if he chose to acquiesce to political correctness, he said, he would be “more politically correct than anybody you’ve ever interviewed.” Of course he would say that. It’s very Trump-ian.

Ben Carson is a Christian Right darling. Smart enough to be a brain surgeon, but dumb enough to believe in fairy tales, like Noah’s Ark, or if my grandparents had guns, maybe they would have outlived Hitler. Trump says he’s “nice.” I don’t think so.

Below those two on the GOP side, it’s a statistical mashup of the boyish Marco Rubio, the confused Jeb Bush who is having trouble loving his brother while trying to distance himself from his legacy, and Carly Fiorina, who will just get more and more stern until her authority is respected. Then, of course, there’s the intolerable Dominionist, Ted Cruz, the bully, Chris Christie, and the also-Rands.

Maybe your darling, the one you’re ready to fall in love with, if you haven’t already, is in the class that presented itself in Las Vegas, Tuesday night.

Will Saletan, posting at Salon, believes the populism voiced in Vegas is where most Americans are:

“Democrats are putting together a case for jerking the leash on capitalism. It’s moral, pragmatic, and smart. It fits the spirit of the times. Republicans had better come up with an answer.”

The pundits say that Hillary crushed it, but maybe you don’t concede to their consensus. Maybe her promise to “rein in the excesses of capitalism so that it doesn’t run amok” misses the point of the social contract of the type Bernie is pushing or Martin O’Malley endorsed. Or, despite Sanders magnanimously sidestepping the topic of Clinton’s “damn emails,” you believe it is a legitimate issue.

There is nothing wrong with swooning with anticipation over who you want on your arm when you come to the Great American Homecoming Dance, next November. Committing to Bernie, say, is great. Give him money. Work on the campaign. But don’t be disillusioned when your traditional parents put the kibosh on your crush because they are looking out for what, or who, they think is better for you in the long run.

And please don’t let the dreadful experience of attachment and disappointment keep you from being enthused about the dance, even if you’re not dancing with the one that brought you. We still need you to show up and actually dance, because democracy abhors wallflowers.


The dismantling of the House GOP is constructive for all of us

U.S. Capitol undergoing its first full restoration in 150 years. (From the Architect of the U.S. Capitol)
U.S. Capitol undergoing its first full restoration in 150 years. (From the Architect of the U.S. Capitol)
The dome of the U.S. Capitol is surrounded by scaffolding, these days. They’re calling it a restoration of a symbol of government. What’s going on under the dome, though, is more a dismantling of a symbol of governing.

The House Republican Conference is wringing their hands down to the metacarpals, and the enemy within, the House Freedom Caucus, is taking credit for sinking the leadership establishment – a very conservative leadership – for not being conservative enough. They see themselves as having won a victory of some kind, and are reveling in their take-no-prisoners approach.

“The establishment has lost two speakers in two weeks,” exclaimed Kansas Rep. Tim Huelskamp (R) after Rep. Kevin McCarthy’s withdrawal in the race for Speaker of the House. “K Street [lobbyists] must be shaking in their boots. Mitch McConnell must be shaking in his boots, too,” he added, in a thinly veiled threat to the Republicans’ senate majority leader.

They’re being called anything from anarchists to purists, and indeed their uncompromising method of governing – or not governing – smacks of the puritanical extremism of a Salem tribunal.

The HFC, after McCarthy’s sudden decision, Thursday, sent a questionnaire to those who said they were interested in the speakership. It is, essentially, a twenty-one question litmus test, covering everything from impeaching the IRS commissioner, to committing, either through repeal or defunding, to stopping all the Obama related policies they hate, even if the Senate won’t take it up.

This is how Politico summed it up:

  • “The group of conservative hardliners wants to ‘decentralize’ the Steering Committee, the panel that decides committee assignments. The HFC wanted to strip the speaker and majority leader of their outsized influence on the panel.
  • “The HFC wanted to know if the new speaker would agree to only pass a debt limit increase if it included entitlement reform.
  • “They asked if the candidates would commit to impeaching IRS Commissioner John Koskinen.
  • “The HFC asked if the new speaker would commit to passing all 12 spending bills, and ‘not acquiesce to a continuing resolution in the event Senate Democrats try to block the appropriations process.'”
  • And this brings us to how this revolt of about forty Republican representatives against the rest of the House Conference, while embarrassing for the GOP, is great for those of us who want Congress to actually govern, and send stuff to the president’s desk that they know he will sign.

    In the aforementioned questionnaire, the HFC wonders if throwing in with Democrats to get something done is worse than voting against a rule that everyone else in the Republican conference supports. They point to the Export-Import Bank reauthorization as an example:

    “In the light of recent news that some of our Republican colleagues have started a discharge petition to ally with the Democrats and force the House to take up an Ex-Im reauthorization bill, do you believe signing discharge petitions or voting for discharge motions with Democrats is worse than voting against rules?”

    And they finish that question with this admonition:

    “Note that voting with Democrats for a discharge motion actually does take control of the House floor from the majority party, unlike opposing a rule.”

    So that’s it then. By going along with Democrats, they believe, they have ceded the House of Representatives to the minority party. They call it surrender. Other, more pragmatic members of the Republican majority call it governing.

    “In order to pass any bill around this place, everybody knows we need to assemble a bipartisan coalition,” Rep. Charlie Dent (R-Pennsylvania) told reporters, Thursday afternoon. And he’s not talking about Obama agenda kind of legislation – just passing ordinary bills that, until the last couple of Congresses, weren’t controversial.

    That echoes former Majority Leader Eric Cantor’s explanation, in an op-ed published a couple of days after John Boehner announced his pending resignation, of how the extremists have wrecked the legislative process. “[S]omewhere along the road,” he wrote in the New York Times, “a number of voices on the right began demanding that the Republican Congress not only block Mr. Obama’s agenda but enact a reversal of his policies… with him still in office, mind you — and enact into law a conservative vision for government, without compromise.”

    What makes this good for the rest of us are two main things. As long as Boehner is forced to remain as Speaker, he will have to reach across the aisle and follow Dent’s advice in getting critical, operational legislation done. The other thing this does is expose the extreme right as nothing but uncompromising zealots, unwilling to do their job. The people who elected them might be happy that they are behaving this way, but they have as poor an understanding of civics as their representatives. We can’t do anything about their gerrymandered districts, but we can hope this draws more reasonable Republicans, and perhaps more Democrats, to the polls.

    Sadly, because they were elected, I do not believe a mechanism exists to purge these obstructionists from the House of Representatives, but we can do with them what Congress used to do to extremists. Marginalize them. Let them have their three minutes on the floor, and ignore them. Then, we can get back to the business of governing.

    “The only way to get anything done in this House,” former DNC Chair and New Hampshire Gov. Howard Dean told MSNBC’s Chris Hayes, Friday, “is to get 150 Democrats and 150 Republicans to vote together, and throw those guys over the side.”

    Then, finally, maybe we can start to rebuild trust in Congress.