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
– David Perdue, Georgia Republican candidate for U.S. Senate
Put it down to defensiveness born of desperation. David Perdue has been running marginally close to his Democratic rival, Michelle Nunn, over a string of recent polls, in a state he and the GOP thought was likely in their pocket. He has been forced to scream inside the echo chamber of his party’s conservative base, to get their attention and rile them up to go vote. That may explain why he dog-whistled his way through the pair’s last debate, Sunday night, in Atlanta.
Over and over, he reiterated his charge that Nunn was “handpicked by Obama,” and therefor would be a “rubber stamp” for his policies because “she’s not going to bite the hand that feeds her.”
He also charged that Nunn’s campaign has been funded by “liberal parties who want to come in here and steal this election,” like gun control advocate Michael Bloomberg (hardly a liberal) who recently gave over $300,000 to a PAC supporting the Democrat.
Nunn was gracious, but sharp. To the former point about the president, she simply stated that Obama was not on the ballot in Georgia, that she disagreed with him on several policies, and that “no one hand feeds me.” To the latter, she said that despite Bloomberg’s largesse, “right now” she only supports Manchin-Toomey legislation, which calls for universal background checks.
While Nunn promised to “work with whoever is the president, Democrat or Republican,” Perdue called for “a hard right hand turn” in Washington.
The real question is, is that where the voters of Georgia are? Admittedly, I tend to operate within an echo chamber with a liberal bias, but I have seen no evidence that six more years of unapologetic obstructionism by Congressional conservatives is what the American people want. Time and again, in poll after poll, voters blame the stubborn Republicans for our nation’s legislative failures. The president may be at 41% approval, but Congress remains in or near the single digits. In that type of relative atmosphere, Obama may be underwater, but at least he doesn’t have to come up as far for air.
Despite my wishes and the expressed desires of many of my friends, there is no doubt Georgia is a conservative state. Sadly, it often seems our politicians would feign ignorance unbecoming their level of education, just so they can be mouthpieces for the one-percenters who fund their campaigns, and promise continued quid pro quo support once elected. We’ll know by January just how far right we are allowing our politicians to take us.
In the summer of 2013, weeks before Michelle Nunn announced her run for the U.S. Senate, a nationally recognized Democratic VIP asked me if I thought she would fulfill the rumors and finally throw herself into the race. Referring to the extremely right wing members of Georgia’s House delegation who had joined the Republican field of candidates, he punctuated his question by saying, “With all those crazy people running, she could actually win this thing.”
By the end of the GOP primary and subsequent runoff, all the “crazy people” had fallen, leaving Romney-esque businessman David Perdue as the Republican nominee, meaning Nunn had to find something besides the sanity card to play in the lead up to November.
With all due respect to the aforementioned Democratic vizier, anyone who expects the Georgia Democratic nominee for Senator to fail because she doesn’t have a foe with “loser” tattooed on their face, doesn’t understand that Michelle Nunn will win on her own strengths and merits, not because of her family name, and not because of a lame opponent.
In the South, you don’t win elections based on who you are or what you say, as much as what you do, meaning how you show up in the community. Nunn shows up big in the wide spectrum of communities that matter to Georgians, from the needy to the corporate giants that dominate this state, like Delta Airlines, Coca Cola and Home Depot.
Her campaign has not only received donations from R.E. “Ted” Turner – who recently donated $20,000 to her Super PAC – but also from Arthur Blank (Home Depot co-founder and owner of the Falcons), real estate developers Tom Cousins (Cousins Properties), Jim Cox Kennedy (Cox Enterprises), and John Wieland (John Wieland Homes). With the exception of Turner, as Bloomberg reported last fall, they all have something else in common – they’ve given heavily to Republicans in recent cycles, including to Romney in 2012 and Georgia’s other senator, Johnny Isakson (R), in 2010.
“Michelle understands that middle ground, and that’s why we wrote the checks,” Wieland explained to Bloomberg, last year.
It’s not only the political “middle ground” that Nunn gets, but the social middle ground as well. The volunteer organization she started 25 years ago, Hands On Atlanta, works directly with United Way to provide willing hands for the charity organization’s many good works, including helping the homeless, veterans and battered women and families. That is where her heart is.
Michelle’s other connection to corporate Georgia comes directly through the organization’s corporate partners. These are not just blind dollars going into a charity’s coffer. United Way of Metropolitan Atlanta creates a community for its friends, including regular breakfast meetings where volunteer community leaders mix with the corporate community. Besides Cox, Delta and Coke, other million dollar United Way of Atlanta supporters include AT&T, Wells Fargo and UPS.
The other positive her work with Hands On has brought her is the outcome of the group’s merger with the Points of Light Foundation, where she was CEO. It has brought her into the room with presidents, including President George H.W. Bush whose words inspired the founding of the organization.
Recently, Nunn has been under fire from Perdue’s supporters because of her insistence on using photos of her with the elder Bush in ads, as a demonstration of her bipartisanship. Bush 41’s camp has repeatedly requested her not to use the photo, as the former president has publicly thrown his support to fellow Republican Perdue. But it’s likely that endorsement was out of party unity, and not because of any animus toward Nunn.
When the GOP started accusing her of running an organization that “gave money to organizations linked to terrorists,” current Points of Light CEO and son of G.H.W. Bush, Neil Bush, reacted angrily.
“It really makes my blood boil to think that someone would make that kind of an allegation,” he told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution in September, “whether it’s an independent political group or a candidate for office.” He added:
“Neither Points of Light nor Michelle Nunn have had anything to do with funneling money from our organization to terrorists organizations. Anyone who makes that claim needs to understand the facts and then they need to denounce those claims. To attack an organization founded by my father, whose integrity is unimpeachable, to smear our organization for political gain, is in my opinion shameful.”
The Democratic nominee is out with a new ad that again shows a photo of her with Bush 41, but also one with her standing near the last President Bush, and one with President Obama, to bolster her claim that she can “work with Republicans and Democrats.”
The Nunn ad is a counter to a commercial for Perdue featuring a photo of Obama’s arm around Nunn, implying she’ll be a “rubber stamp” for his policies. In her spot, Nunn says the photo of her and Obama was taken at the same event as the photos of her and the elder Bush, so instead of showing her allegiance to our president, it demonstrates her bipartisan approach.
Indeed, in his earlier defense of Michelle Nunn, Neil Bush went on to praise Nunn for demonstrating “the right kind of visionary leadership – a non-partisan or bipartisan approach to our service world.”
It is precisely that approach to serving the public at all levels that makes her such an appealing candidate, and why she has been leading in the most recent three polls, albeit within the margin-of-error. Her work demonstrates she is authentically engaged in making the world a better place for everyone, rich or poor, Republican or Democrat.
Perdue’s outsourcing debacle and his stated pride in that activity points to the real problem with the Republican playbook in Georgia – an awareness by the rank and file that the economy may be doing well for the wealthy, but remains stagnant for everyone else. As reports surfaced recently of a secretive Swiss investment fund for multimillionaires being part of his portfolio, it threatens to expose him as an elitist fat cat who doesn’t think blue collar jobs matter.
Politico posted a report from Georgia, Thursday, where they examined why the outsourcing attacks are taking a toll on Perude’s campaign:
“Nunn, in an interview after an event in Decatur[, Georgia,] this week, called Perdue ‘out of touch’ with Georgia citizens. ‘I was surprised at his response, and I think most Georgians have been whether by starting out by saying he was proud of his career in outsourcing or then moving forward and saying that Georgians didn’t understand business.'”
“Republicans are supposed to be the party of American business and the economy and all that,” Augusta resident Elizabeth Grubbs told Politico, “but [Perdue]’s moving jobs overseas. It isn’t right.”
The 30 year old Waffle House waitress, who leans Republican, is unsure about Nunn, too, but recognizes the economy isn’t getting better. “It’s still crap,” she said.
The numbers bear that out, for Georgia. For the second month in a row, the state has been dead last, with the worst unemployment in the country, at least two points higher than the national numbers. The Wall Street Journal points out that the decline in manufacturing jobs in the Peach State in the last ten years is largely responsible for that.
Yet incumbent Gov. Nathan Deal (R), in a tight reelection race with State Sen. Jason Carter (D), has been running around touting Georgia’s number one status as a “place to do business.” So yes, given the tax breaks he has offered companies to relocate to Georgia, companies are coming here, but jobs are not. A good environment for business does not directly correlate to a good environment for jobs.
With low paying retail and service sector jobs filling the void, “don’t expect Ms. Nunn to stop her attacks any time soon,” warns the Wall Street Journal. “Outsourcing attacks may have become common among Democrats, but they seem to have particularly fertile ground in which to take root in Georgia.”
To be clear, there’s no Romney class jealousy, here. No one begrudges Perdue his millions, but in what way does his ability to make money for himself and his clients help most Georgians, other than the fat cats in this state whose own purses are sure to be padded if he wins? He will make a couple of hundred investors happy, but there are more than 6 million of us who have a stake in Georgia. Both David Perdue and Nathan Deal ignore us at their own peril, and to the detriment of their party, which is due to flame out in Georgia in the next few years, anyway. They’re just the ones driving the train as it derails.
After mere days of Republican mouthpieces like the volatile Sen. John McCain (R-Arizona) calling for the president to anoint an “Ebola Czar” to give an appearance of executive oversight on the health crisis, Obama decided Friday, to name Ron Klain, a “savvy politician” to the position.
It was only a matter of time until the GOP realized that they would have been better off approving Obama’s nominee for Surgeon General of the United States, than deal with their misgivings about a Democratic worker bee whose appointment requires no check and balance from Congress.
Indeed, less than 24 hours after the announcement, Republicans assailed Klain as a politician, not a medical professional. Rep. Michael McCaul (R-Texas) told CNN, “While the President’s pick may have the ear of the White House and experience from the campaign trail, I am concerned he doesn’t have significant relationships in the medical community that are imperative during this current biological emergency.”
McCaul, who is chair of the House Homeland Security Committee went on to call for the president to “create a permanent position within the government to coordinate the response,” CNN said.
But again, there already is a permanent position to coordinate a medical response – the Surgeon General. McCaul’s colleagues on the Hill won’t let it through because the nominee, Dr. Vivek Murthy, once called guns a public health crisis, so the pistol packers at the National Rifle Association warned lawmakers they would score the confirmation vote.
Politico reports that 29 House Democrats, who don’t get a vote in the confirmation process on the other side of the Capitol, wrote a letter to both Senate party leaders, Sen. Harry Reid (D-Nevada) and Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Kentucky), urging Dr. Murthy’s nomination forward. “Given the public’s increasing fears regarding the spread of the disease,” the letter says, “it is imperative that we confirm a Surgeon General who will play a significant role in educating the American public about the disease.”
President Obama echoed that concern in his Saturday weekly radio address. “This is a serious disease,” he said, “but we can’t give in to hysteria or fear-because that only makes it harder to get people the accurate information they need. We have to be guided by the science.”
Ahh, science – the process that comforts the rational and confounds the fearful. But comfort doesn’t excite voters nearly as effectively as fear.
That may be why even some Democrats are now calling for travel restrictions from the West African countries where the virus is prevalent. Georgia Democratic Senate candidate Michelle Nunn, Thursday, called for at least a “temporary travel ban to affected countries in West Africa with an exception for military and health workers,” but went on to admit that “Scientists and public health experts at the CDC are in the best position to guide our response to this crisis.”
The president, Saturday, said he does not agree with taking that drastic step:
“Trying to seal off an entire region of the world-if that were even possible-could actually make the situation worse. It would make it harder to move health workers and supplies back and forth. Experience shows that it could also cause people in the affected region to change their travel, to evade screening, and make the disease even harder to track.”
Fear is not the appropriate response, but it is very American, in the sense that nothing happening in the world seems to matter until it happens to us. This is a classic American pitfall, where we reach for a mask of ugly paranoia because of our own self importance.
To borrow a slogan from McCain’s ill fated 2008 presidential campaign, “America First” is where we always get tangled up. If we are first, who is second? Third? More importantly, which population is the last we consider worthy of attention and concern until the desperation and disease imbued in their toxic poverty creeps onto our shores? They’ve been slammed by a sledgehammer and we turn away, but cry at our own pin prick.
Make no mistake. “Ebola is truly scary,” as University of Chicago social services professor, Harold Pollack, wrote in Politico, Sunday. But he urged us to keep the situation in perspective:
“It has so far killed nearly 4,500 people, overwhelmingly in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone—societies that had already experienced more than their fill of sorrow. There are only three confirmed cases in the United States: Two American nurses were infected in Dallas after they cared for a severely ill Ebola patient who had contracted the disease in Liberia. In Africa, it’s a disaster; within the United States, however, Ebola is a tragic, but eminently containable public health threat that requires a calm, methodical response.”
Pollack goes on to say that given the facts about the disease, and the infinitesimally small rate of infection in the United States, we should be more concerned about how alarmist our media is making the situation. “If you’re just tuning in,” he added, “you might believe that America has lost its mind.”
The phrase “abundance of caution” has been prevalent in stories about Ebola. People vomit on airplanes all the time, but now, we lock them in bathrooms. We close schools and bridal stores for a disease that is not communicable except through direct contact with bodily fluids. That’s not “caution;” it’s rationalized paranoia.
The good news for Dr. Murthy and his supporters is his nomination vote may be scheduled after election day, when the NRA’s scoring threat has less immediate impact. Still, if control of the Senate is not settled until runoffs complete in January, it is less likely Reid will bring it to the floor with all the other items of business the Congress must get done before the new year.
Meanwhile, the “calm, methodical response” that Pollack calls for is expected in the person of Mr. Klain, which is why an administrator rather than a scientist is what is required, here. Inasmuch as we now have an Ebola czar, he has our blessings. Those who are still railing against him do so only to fill the echo chamber of paranoia and hate.
Expectations always lead to attachment, and attachment, the Buddha tells us, leads to suffering. So it is with the faith we put in the man who we expected to be a new kind of president, one who was deliberative and thoughtful, who we thought was compassionate and fair. Indeed, he often exhibits those qualities, personally.
However, his inability to implement them into a Great Society or New Deal kind of policy, which is what, I think, most of us hoped for when we rallied to him in 2008, means we are left with squandered opportunity. I don’t know if I’ll ever be as excited about another presidential candidate in my lifetime as I was about Barack Obama.
The good news is, we can do something about our collective disappointment, but I’ll get to that a little later.
Granted, it hasn’t all been his fault. For most of his presidency, he has had a recalcitrant congress, and even meaningful bills that made it through the House, like the DREAM Act, died in filibusters on the Senate floor.
He has been more political in his calculus than I believe most of us thought he would be, especially since he lost the House and a filibuster-proof Senate in 2010. That loss is directly attributable to the agonizing effort it took to pass the Affordable Care Act, and the unwillingness of congressional Democrats to do anything too risky before Obama’s first midterm, even though they could have easily passed it. Issues like gun control, minimum wage, raising revenue, marriage equality and immigration reform sat on the back burner because Harry Reid and Nancy Pelosi were afraid of the electoral consequences if they took them up.
Even passing Obama’s stimulus package, to help us out of the Great Recession, which should have been a no-brainer for Democrats, was like pulling teeth, and ended up being hamstrung because of Obama’s compulsion to make it more bipartisan.
It reminds me of a key strategy of backgammon that someone once imparted: if you are in a position to bear off your pieces, don’t fuck around incrementally moving them into better position; just move them off. Why? Because you never know how good your opponent’s next roll will be. You know, like the Republicans did under George W. Bush, when they had the White House and both Houses of Congress, they passed huge tax cuts. Twice.
So here we sit, with immigration reform punted, an unsympathetic farm bill that cut billions from nutritional assistance programs, no cost-of-living adjustment to the minimum wage, and on the eve of another round of prolonged military action in the Middle East and the Persian Gulf.
I firmly believe that if the president had gotten more done to help people in the first two years of his administration, he wouldn’t be so far underwater in his latest poll numbers, at real risk of losing Democratic control in Congress, and making it impossible to accomplish anything in his last two years.
That brings us to the reason attachment is suffering. By attaching our emotions to other people and circumstances, we come to depend on their power for our happiness. You don’t have to be a Wayne Dyer fan to get that in a relatively free society like ours, the only person in control of your happiness is the one you see in the mirror every morning. (I’ve gotten flack for statements like that before. I realize that real, daily subjugation and control by an authoritarian figure or a tragic circumstance of life is impossible for many to overcome. That isn’t the kind of suppressed determination I mean.)
I, for one, am not resigned to the inevitability of a failed presidency from the man who promised hope. I am not resigned that the best I can say about President Obama’s tenure is he obviously tried. As Yoda said, “Try not. Do or do not. There is no ‘try.'”
I may be detaching from my expectations of Obama, but I am far from disengaged from the possibility of a government committed to the progressive values I believe in. The government’s gridlock has no chain around my legs, no muzzle on my mouth. I remain committed to getting voters registered and getting them to the polls for the upcoming midterm elections. It’s something I can do for my state and my country.
If you think about it, that is what President Obama has been asking us to do all along: be engaged. His numerous policy tours – over jobs, minimum wage and pay equity, to name a few – were meant to rally the troops, get us to create a critical mass by contacting our representatives in Congress, to get them to do the right thing.
I don’t think we need the president to tell us once again, “Don’t boo. Vote!” Even if it is he who is being jeered, I think Obama would say the same thing. “Don’t boo. Vote!”
Your vote is your voice, louder than all the special interest money in the world, and together we can reach a conventional wisdom shattering crescendo, but we have to show up.
“I’m so proud,” Georgia Democratic gubernatorial candidate and State Sen. Jason Carter told a voter registration rally in Atlanta, Monday, “to be on the side that says, ‘If more people vote, we win.'”
Register. Vote. Win. It’s something you can do, without waiting for Washington. Besides, it’s your duty as an American.
It is now becoming apparent that Senator Thad Cochran and his supporters used political savvy to rally some Democratic voters to come out and vote for him, last Tuesday. We like to think our politics are pure, that any movement for a candidate is grassroots, driven by a concerned citizenry wanting to ensure they are represented by someone who will listen to their requests and act, someone who will take care of their needs.
We know the reality is more complex, that the most successful campaigns employ algorithm-driven get-out-the-vote tools and techniques (Obama), that they use reverse psychology to face a beatable candidate (McCaskill), and now, that they use direct appeal through operatives with whom they may have nothing in common to save them from certain defeat (Cochran).
According to Jim Galloway, a political columnist for the Atlanta Journal Constitution:
“Late campaign disclosure documents filed in the race show that Mississippi Conservatives, a political action committee run by the son of that state’s former governor, Haley Barbour, paid tens of thousands of dollars to get-out-the-vote artist Mitzi Bickers, an African-American pastor and former president of the Atlanta school board.”
Because it was a PAC that hired Bickers’ consulting firm, the Bickers Group, there is no direct connection to the Cochran campaign, so if her actions, which are believed to be two robo-calls, are the “irregularities” Cochran’s opponent, Chris McDaniel, was referring to in his defiant, non-concession speech, then he has no case against the six-term incumbent.
What the Barbours did, in support of Cochran, was recognize that Republican idealists would vote for McDaniel, but pragmatists would vote for Cochran, and Haley, Henry, et al., are nothing if not political pragmatists.
That hyper-awareness of the facts on the ground is also something red state Democrats might want to consider in particularly tight races, where they actually stand a chance. Tacking to the political center might help you get votes from the center, but it will not help with siphoning votes from the right. You may not necessarily want to be their voice, but you probably need their vote. This opens the campaign on three fronts: assure the partisans that you are with them; assure the middle that you are not an extremist, and; inform the right that it’s better for them and their community if they vote for you. Of course getting all your targeted voters to actually vote is the biggest stumbling block, one that researchers say, if successful, would have resulted in a very different political dynamic in red states, and in Washington, DC.
If Republicans and Democrats have no problem reaching across party lines to campaign, perhaps, then, they would be willing to reach across the aisle more in Congress. Thad Cochran is as socially conservative a senator as they come, but if he gives back to the Mississippi Democrats who helped him hold his seat, by helping where the people in the poorest state in the country need it most, then we may have a new recipe for leadership, from a very old politician.