Where Are the Democrats?

While Donald Trump and the Republicans struggle to pass any meaningful legislation, there is one thing they know how to do well. That is, grab the public’s attention in order to enlarge and intensify their base of support.

            Long before he declared his candidacy for president, Trump was in the spotlight claiming Barak Obama was not a legitimate president, falsely asserting Obama was a Muslim born in Kenya. At the same time, House Republicans, though they knew they didn’t have enough support in the Senate, voted again and again to repeal the Affordable Care Act, better known as Obamacare, in a very visible effort to sabotage the president’s signature piece of legislation and rally their base.

            Now the shoe is on the other foot, so to speak. Trump is in the White House and the Republicans control Congress. But where are the Democrats? Yes, they rolled out their “Better Deal” package of economic reforms back in July,1 but how many Americans even remember that three months later, let alone got excited by it then?

            Since Trump became president, there have been a multitude of speeches, tweets and decisions that the Democratic Party could have pounced on to galvanize support for its fight for everyday Americans of all races and ethnicities. Trump’s failure to unequivocally denounce the white supremacists’ march in Charlottesville is a primary example. Another is his ongoing feud with gold star families who have lost loved ones serving our country. Yet another is Trump’s use of the presidency for his personal financial gain in violation of the Constitution. And then, there’s the Republican Party’s bankruptcy of values in their continuing to back Trump, knowing he is utterly unfit to be president.2

            So, where are the Democrats, the “opposition party,” when our country desperately needs them? Why haven’t they risen to the occasion?

            The sad truth is the Democratic Party does not have the courage, boldness or vision to overcome Trump and his Republican cronies. Since Obama was elected president, the Democrats have lost over 1,000 elected positions across the country. Rather than offering Americans a visionary agenda that would inspire their base and draw in new voters, party leaders like Nancy Pelosi timidly stick to the center of the political spectrum despite polls that indicate the majority of Americans want more progressive programs like Medicare for All. In fact, Democrats have achieved their greatest political and policy successes when they have ignored the “centrists” and promoted bolder policies like the New Deal and Medicare.3

            Even worse than maintaining their middle-of-the-road positions, old guard Democrats are actively blocking the Party from moving to the left. At a recent Democratic National Committee meeting, Chairman Tom Perez, who became chair earlier this year only due to the strong backing of the Obama-Clinton wing of the Party, ousted from DNC leadership positions four long-serving officials who represented the so-called “Sanders wing” of the Democratic Party. These officials all had backed Minnesota Rep. Keith Ellison over Perez for the chairmanship. Consequently, despite it’s call for unity, “the Democratic establishment is ruthlessly tightening its grip on the party.”4

         This does not bode well for the Democrats in the 2018 mid-term elections. A divided party is a weak party. Why would Sanders supporters turn out if all they will get in return is more of the same centrist policies that don’t come close to meeting their needs or desires? Is total control of the Party more important to establishment Democrats than winning elections, stopping the Trump/Bannon takeover of our country, and improving the lives of most Americans? The Democratic Party needs to do some serious soul-searching now, before it’s too late.

1 See https://www.vanityfair.com/news/2017/08/why-the-democrats-better-deal-is-political-suicide.

2 See https://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/59e7dc46e4b0e60c4aa367cb.

3 See https://www.commondreams.org/views/2017/10/25/why-centrists-will-sink-democrats-if-they-havent-already.

4 See http://inthesetimes.com/article/20627/dnc-purge-ellison-perez-bernie-sanders-left-center/.

 

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The Shameful Republican Congress

The political pressure cooker in Washington is nearing the boiling point. Republican Senator Bob Corker’s (R-TN) recent public proclamations that “the White House has become an adult day care center” and that President Trump was risking World War III are just the tip of the iceberg. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson thinks Trump is a f—king moron. And, Chief of Staff John Kelly is continually scrambling to manage Trump’s constant outbursts. Our nation is in deep trouble.

Meanwhile, a great number of Republicans in Congress agree with Corker’s assessment that Trump lacks the stability and competence to succeed as president. An October 12th L.A. Times editorial declared that it is “beyond question…that many Republicans in Congress and around the country and even in the president’s own Cabinet consider him a potential menace to the country: an under-qualified man of poor judgment, a bellicose hothead who returns small slights with disproportionate attacks. “1

Nevertheless, despite the mounting danger that Trump poses to the nation, Republicans are not calling for hearings to determine whether to impeach the president. It seems Republicans are more concerned with achieving tax cuts for their wealthy donors than they are with protecting the nation from an unstable, incompetent commander-in-chief. Republican sources reportedly have indicated that they want to enact tax reform before considering impeachment.2 Sadly, they are not ready to place the future of our country ahead of party politics.

Republicans are between a rock and a hard place. On the one hand, they want to achieve at least some of their legislative agenda and they need Trump’s support to do that. On the other hand, the Republican Party brand is being seriously tarnished by Trump and establishment Republicans would like nothing better than to remove him from the White House.

Unable to repeal and replace Obamacare, congressional Republicans’ main objective now is a major overhaul of the tax code. If they turn on Trump, any chance of their accomplishing this goal would disappear and their re-election prospects would diminish as well. In fact, they are afraid of Trump’s base. Steve Bannon, Trump’s former alt-right advisor, is already preparing to primary practically every sitting Republican senator running for re-election next year.

At the same time, Trump has attacked many Congressional Republicans and blames them for failing to pass his legislative priorities, even though he, himself, has done little to help them achieve his agenda. While only 29% of Americans view the Republican Party favorably, 79% of Republican voters still support Trump.3 Consequently, with few exceptions like Sen. Corker, Republicans on the Hill are unwilling to publicly express their displeasure with the president despite the fact that a great many of them would like to see the Trump administration end.4

While Corker’s comments have shed some light on congressional Republicans’ true sentiments, what will it take for those same legislators to turn on Trump? On Monday, October 16th, the president falsely asserted that former president Barack Obama and other presidents did not contact the families of American troops killed in duty.5 He made that claim despite the fact that Trump, himself, had not called to console the families, nor had he spoken publicly about the four Green Berets killed in an ambush in Niger two weeks ago. Since then, Trump chose to spend a good deal of his time playing golf, picking a fight with the NFL players over their right to protest, and mocking Sen. Corker’s height, instead of paying his respects to these fallen warriors and their families.

Trump’s failure to pay tribute to the families of these soldiers brought this response from San Antonio Spurs coach Gregg Popovich:

“This man in the Oval Office is a soulless coward who thinks that he can only become large by belittling others. This has of course been a common practice of his, but to do it in this manner – and to lie about how previous presidents responded to the deaths of soldiers – is as low as it gets.  We have a pathological liar in the White House: unfit intellectually, emotionally, and psychologically to hold this office and the whole world knows it, especially those around him every day. The people who work with this President should be ashamed because they know it better than anyone just how unfit he is, and yet they choose to do nothing about it. This is their shame most of all.”6

That congressional Republicans continue to ignore Trump’s inexcusable behavior and utter unfitness for the presidency is the greatest shame of all, and the gravest danger to our country.

1 See http://www.latimes.com/opinion/editorials/la-ed-corker-trump-20171011-story.html.

2 See http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/americas/us-politics/donald-trump-impeachment-latest-robert-reich-former-republican-senator-unhinged-tax-bill-us-a7996341.html.

3 See http://www.cnn.com/2017/09/24/politics/cnn-poll-republican-party-approval/index.html.

4 See http://www.newsweek.com/trump-impeachment-articles-republican-impeach-685831.

5 See https://www.nytimes.com/2017/10/16/us/politics/trump-obama-killed-soldiers.html.

6 See https://www.yahoo.com/sports/gregg-popovich-president-trump-soulless-coward-225829012.html.

Democracy Convention: A Call To Transform Our Political System

Four hundred political organizers and social change agents from around the country recently gathered for the third national Democracy Convention in Minneapolis from August 2 to 6. I came away from that experience energized and feeling that the progressive movement is alive and well in America.

While the conference had numerous themes, its overriding mission was: To bring people together to build a strong Democracy Movement for transforming of our political system into one that truly represents and serves the working people of our country.Sponsored by Liberty Tree Foundation for the Democratic Revolution, the convention clearly made major strides towards its goal.

The convention addressed the full gamut of people’s concerns, including racial justice and immigration, health and education, money in politics, environmental protection, peace and economic equity. One convention thread emphasized the need to strengthen the rights of people over corporations in the U.S. Constitution. Richard Monje, Vice President of Workers United/SEIU (Service Employees International Union), pointed out that the Constitution actually protects private property at the expense of We the people. He advocated for including workers’ and economic rights in the Constitution.

Kaitlin Sopoci-Belknap, National Director of Move To Amend, one of the main convention sponsors, proclaimed that the moral argument for overturning the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision is what will bring people together to demand a 28th Amendment. Move To Amend supports the We the People Amendment that states money is not speech and corporations are not people.

Congressman Mark Pocan (D-WI), the First Vice Chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, kicked off the Saturday morning program. He declared that we need to “fix our democracy” by: (1) enacting a Constitutional Right to Vote Amendment and related laws to protect the integrity of our elections; and (2) eliminating Big Money from the election process. Rep. Pocan also called for a People’s Budget that would prioritize the needs of the American people and cut out corporate handouts and tax loopholes.

 

While I found that the Convention presented many stimulating solutions to the critical issues facing our nation, a central question still had to be addressed: how to move these ideas into actual policy? Nick Brana, former National Political Outreach Coordinator for the Sanders for President campaign, had one answer that attracted many convention attendees. A founding member of Our Revolution, Brana called for a new progressive party. He noted that Americans are disillusioned and deserting the two major parties. Brana asserted that almost half the country now identifies as Independents. He believes that a viable, progressive third party could be formed by bringing together half of the Independents, half of the Democrats, some Republicans and many Americans who previously have refused to participate in our elections.

Brana argued that progressives must institutionalize their message by forming a third party. He likened progressives’ involvement in the Democratic Party to an abusive relationship. The Party keeps promising to change, but it continually goes back to the same old abusive behavior of favoring Corporate America and Wall Street over the people. According to Brana, breaking this destructive pattern requires that progressives form their own party. Then the Democratic Party will be forced to change to avoid mass defections, or it will continue to shrink and finally collapse. If the Party does not return to its FDR roots, Brana argued, this new third party will become a major people’s party.

The premise of Brana’s thesis is that the Democratic Party has no incentive to change without the challenge of a third party. With the help of Harvard Professor Cornel West, he is putting his theory to the test. Together they are convening the People’s Convergence Conference (convergence2017.org) in Washington on September 8th to 10th. The conference will examine the way forward for the progressive movement. They have invited Sen. Sanders to attend a “Draft Bernie Town Hall” at the conference.

Whether Sanders will accept the invitation and agree to lead a new third party is doubtful. Nevertheless, we are living in very dangerous times. Our democracy is being threatened by authoritarian leaders both at home and abroad. The American people have lost faith in the ability of our Establishment institutions to work for them. The Democracy Convention provided hope that together we can transform our political system and save our democracy.

Can the Democrats Come Together in 2018?

            The Democrats came close in two special elections in Georgia and South Carolina this week. While they didn’t win either race, they did significantly narrow the gap between the parties in both contests. Given that both districts were Republican strongholds, the Democrats can look forward to the 2018 mid-term election with the knowledge that they are gaining ground. But what could turn these ‘almost victories’ into decisive wins next year?

            The winning formula, I believe, consists of three important factors. First, the Democratic Party has to unite. Second, it needs to embrace a strong, populist message. And, third, it must greatly enlarge the normal mid-term, voter turnout.

            The Clinton establishment wing and the Sanders progressive arm of the Democratic Party are still at odds. A great number of people on the left are fed up with corporate Democrats siding with Big Money interests over those of the middle class and the working poor. Since the 2016 election, more and more Americans are becoming actively involved in the progressive movement. Our Revolution, Indivisible, Democracy for America and Brand New Congress are just a few of the organizations leading the way. Earlier this month, four thousand activists from various groups attended the People’s Summit in Chicago. They created a bold progressive message that speaks to the real needs of average Americans. Their platform may well be the stimulus for bringing into the process a great number of people who have never before been politically active, which will, in turn, enlarge the Democratic electorate.

            If millions of new voters do engage in this progressive effort, the Democrats just might regain control of one or both houses of Congress in 2018. In addition, this expanding grassroots movement could force the Democratic Party to unite and accept their demands. Establishment Democrats need to understand that many on the left are ready to abandon the Party and form a third party, which would likely be disastrous for the Democrats’ election prospects. In fact, attendees at the People’s Summit were urging Sen. Bernie Sanders to join them in creating a new progressive party. The 2018 election may be the last chance for the Democrats to come together under a truly progressive banner.

            Other significant obstacles could derail the Democrats’ election hopes as well. A good many establishment Democrats will likely want to diminish any strong populist vision in order to appeal to Independents and moderate Republicans. Additionally, some people may feel so disillusioned by the current state of our nation’s politics that they are unable to generate either the desire or the energy to get on board. Again, it will take the enthusiastic power of a massive grassroots movement to overcome these impediments.

            While Trump’s misconduct and recent Congressional election defeats are difficult for many to swallow, Democrats cannot allow that to deter them from the critical work at hand. Moreover, they must not ignore the role that voter obstruction has played in our recent elections. In the Georgia special election, for example, the Republican candidate, Karen Handel, oversaw massive voter roll purges as Georgia’s Secretary of State. Such wrongdoing is extremely disheartening. Rather than being overtaken by despair, however, Democrats need to use Republican misdeeds as motivation to take action, and help restore our democracy.

            In truth, this is not really a partisan matter. It is about whether Big Money, both Democratic and Republican moneyed interests, the one percent, will control our nation. We are at a critical time in our history. Trump and his allies are threatening the very survival of our democratic way of life. If we, the people, do not stand up and resist them, we all may be complicit in the collapse of American democracy.

            We each must do some serious soul-searching. In many cases, we will have to stretch ourselves and go beyond our comfort zones to engage in this struggle, as well as reach out and inspire others to do the same. Do we really have any other choice? Our country is calling!

 

 

We Are the Ones We’ve Been Waiting For

It’s been way too long since I’ve written here. Now, however, I’m setting the intention to blog twice a week, if not more. So, here goes….

While the 2016 election cycle is about to end, our work as engaged citizens is just beginning. I believe this election, regardless of who wins, has finally awakened the American people to the fact that we are responsible for the state of our union.

Whether our government functions in the best interests of the people is up to us. Too often we have allowed the politicians and special interests to determine policy without regard for the public interest. For example, when President Bill Clinton negotiated NAFTA, the North American Trade Agreement, was he looking out for American workers or big business? And, whose concerns guided our government’s decision to repeal the Glass-Steagall Act that separated commercial banking from investment banks? Wall Street or Main Street?

In 2003 when the Bush Administration promoted and initiated a war against Iraq, was that in the best interests of the American people? With then Vice President Cheney leading the way, Halliburton, Cheney’s former company, and other Big Oil corporations sought to profit from the needless killing of hundreds of thousands of Iraqis and the wasteful expenditure of trillions of U.S. taxpayers’ dollars.

More recently, when the 2008 Great Recession crippled the country, President Obama used our money to bail out Wall Street while doing little to help millions of his fellow citizens save their homes from foreclosure. In all these and other similar situations, the vast majority of Americans felt helpless, watched their government act against their best interests and did nothing.

But, the times they are a changing. A great number of Americans from all political persuasions are fed up with government as usual. They are giving notice that they will no longer stand by and allow Big Money and special interests to run the show. Whether they support Donald Trump, Bernie Sanders or Hillary Clinton, voters are angry and ready to fight for what they believe in.

When President Obama was elected, people thought he would deliver the”change you can believe in” that he had promised. They did not hold his feet to the fire to assure he would make good on his promises. While one can argue that Obama faced much opposition which obstructed his performance, we, the people, were not organizing the mass movement that would have provided the necessary support and force to overcome some of the obstacles he faced.

This time is different. We are under no illusions that either Clinton or Trump will produce the change most Americans desire. This time we know that it is up to us to battle for the kind of country we want. We must make our voices heard and demand real change for the public good, not the special interests. We are the ones we’ve been waiting for.

Time for a Progressive Third Party

Millions of Americans are unhappy with their choices for president in this year’s election. According to Real Clear Politics’ average of all the latest polls, Donald Trump has an unfavorable rating of just over 60%, with 33.8% favorable. Hillary Clinton doesn’t fair that much better with an unfavorable rating of 53.1% and 43% favorable.

While those numbers will likely change before November, the fact that the country’s election process could result in such unpopular candidates receiving the nominations of our two major parties is a sad statement on the health of our democracy. Meanwhile, the candidate with the highest favorable ratings, Bernie Sanders (50% positive and only 36.8% unfavorable), has been eliminated from the race. One could reasonably expect that in a democracy with an open and fair electoral process the candidate with the highest favorable rating would still be running with a good chance of winning. Then again, many have questioned the fairness of the Democratic primary process which awarded the nomination to Sec. Clinton.

Nevertheless, despite being the most popular candidate, Sanders has endorsed Clinton rather than run on a third party ticket. His primary reason is his belief that we must do everything we can to defeat the very dangerous Trump candidacy. A third-party run by Sanders could result in a Trump presidency. Understandably, Sanders is not willing to take that chance.

But what if there were an already viable third party with an established structure in every state? Would a Sanders run make more sense then? Aren’t there more than two major political viewpoints in this country that deserve the voters’ consideration on election day?

After all, who do Trump and Clinton really represent? Trump’s supporters are the base of the Republican Party, mostly male, white working class, social conservatives. Some of the Establishment Republican businesspeople, on the other hand, have deserted Trump for Clinton or Libertarian Gary Johnson.

Clinton’s support comes mainly from the Establishment wing of the Democratic Party along with minority voters and some aforementioned professional Republicans who cannot stomach Trump. Meanwhile, progressives and many younger voters believe they have been robbed of any real choice since their candidate, Sanders, has left the race.

At the same time, many Independents, a great number of whom supported Sanders in the primaries, also feel they have no viable choice. When Independents could vote in this year’s Democratic primaries and caucuses, Sanders beat Clinton, often by large margins. Therefore, it is a reasonable possibility that Sanders could beat Clinton and Trump in a three-way race. The combination of progressives, the youth, new voters, a sizable portion of the Democratic base and many Independents could put Sanders over the top, assuming the elections were run fairly.

As Clinton solicits Big Money donations and disaffected Republicans’ votes, it seems highly unlikely that her policies, assuming she wins the presidency, will meet the progressive standards set forth by the Sanders campaign. Consequently, Sanders is preparing to launch Our Revolution to advance his proposals for a better future for all Americans. To create that future, a broad-based movement to establish a viable third party must begin now.

Bruce Berlin is the author of Breaking Big Money’s Grip on America: Working Together To Revive Our Democracy. For more information, go to breakingbigmoneysgrip.com.

 

 

 

Democratic Party Not Worthy of its Name

The Democratic Party is a disgrace and not worthy of its name. It is not democratic and has used its great influence to assist Hillary Clinton’s campaign and produce a very biased primary election process. The Party needs to be rebuilt by honest Americans, or we should create a new progressive party in 2017. See http://observer.com/2016/03/the-countless-failings-of-the-dnc/.

The Bottom Line in the Democratic Primary Race

The bottom line in the Democratic primary race is: Do the American people want to continue to have a government run by the Establishment. Or, is it time we actually had a government of, by and for the people? That is really what Democratic primary voters will decide in the next few months. Who controls our government and who should be calling the shots?

Yes, there are real differences between Clinton and Sanders on policy issues. But, the big question is whether the Democratic Party will continue to be dominated by Big Money and centrist Establishment thinking, or will the rank and file members who know the system is rigged against them stand up and demand fundamental changes that will level the playing field and give regular people real political power.

In the recent New Hampshire Democratic debate Hillary Clinton claimed that big donors have never influenced her votes. While that may be true, big donors clearly have a lot more access to lobby her to adopt their positions on specific issues than average voters do. There’s no question that money buys access. You can bet that Goldman Sachs did not pay Clinton over $200,000 per speech just to hear her talk about her experience as Secretary of State. So, it’s not hard to imagine how Wall Street’s access to Clinton impacts her decisions; for instance, that a new Glass Steagall Act to rein in the big banks is not needed.

If the American people continue to allow this kind of high donor influence to control our government, then we will be complicit in the establishment of a government of, by and for Big Money and corporate America that will never meet the real needs and desires of the American people. Bernie Sanders is offering us the opportunity to end our corrupt campaign finance system and make our country a more equitable society. Call it revolution or call it democratic socialism. Whatever you call it, we’ll all be a lot better off if we actively work with him to revive our democracy.

 

Where has the incrementalism that Establishment Democrats support gotten most Americans?

Before I try to answer this question, I apologize for my absence from this blog for the last few weeks. My father was in the hospital which required that my attention be directed first and foremost toward him. Now that he is back home and improving, I can deal with other issues like the one in the title of this piece.

The short answer to the question in the title is that the Democratic establishment’s support of incremental change has maintained the status quo and done very little for most Americans over the last 30 or more years. According to Slate.com, income for the top 20 percent of Americans has increased since the 1970s while income for the bottom 80 percent declined. In the 1970s the top 1 percent received 8 percent of total income while by 2007 they were receiving 18 percent. Now it’s an even greater amount. During the same period income for the bottom 20 percent had decreased 30 percent.

As I point out in my book, Breaking Big Money’s Grip on America, “between 2009 and 2012 the incomes of top 1 percent of citizens climbed 31.4 percent — or 95 percent of the total gain –while incomes of the other 99 percent grew only .4 percent.”

Since members of the Democratic establishment, for the most part, are in the top 20 percent which have seen their incomes increase over these last 30 years, they don’t feel an urgency for bold initiatives like Sen. Sanders proposes to reorder a system that has served them well. Like Secretary Clinton, they are fine with incrementalism. While many of them recognize various degrees of unfairness in the status quo, they don’t want to rock the boat too much for fear it might spring a leak or even capsize, causing significant harm to their relatively safe positions.

As Brent Budowsky writes for The Hill, it is Sanders’ growing popularity that seems to have ignited the establishment’s backlash against him: “Virtually the entire Washington and Wall Street establishments are now in a state of panic about the possibility of a [Sanders] victory in the Iowa Democratic caucus next Monday,” Budowsky writes. “What the insider Washington Democratic establishment fails to understand is that the issues Sanders raises have great appeal to the broad nation.” Moreover, the establishment’s pushback exposes their lack of conviction for a truly fair and just society.

The great majority of Americans who represent “the broad nation” and are on the lower decks of our economic ship feel they are in danger of drowning as their financial boat takes on more water. Incrementalism will not save them or their children. Sen. Sanders’s calls for strong measures to redirect America’s economic and social policies gives them hope that they can yet land on solid ground.