Point of View Columns

Diogenes – Meet Beto O’Rourke

It is said that in Ancient Greece the philosopher Diogenes walked the streets of Athens with a lantern during the day looking, he said, for an honest man. Well, if Diogenes were alive today he would have to look no further than El Paso, Texas, where Beto O’Rourke resides. For it appears that Beto O’Rourke is honest enough to realize that he was never going to be the Democratic presidential nominee in 2020 and that therefore, it made since to exit gracefully and find other ways to contribute something positive to the less than positive political universe in which we find ourselves today.

The hope is that at least another 8-12 current candidates will have a “Beto Moment” and realize that they are not going to be the victorious candidate. And further (and we can only hope that this was part of Beto’s thought process), we can hope that these other 8-12 candidates that every day that this latter day ideological civil war is waged in the Democratic Party, is another day that isn’t being spent in explaining why a second Trump presidential term is an existential threat to this country.

There is too much magical thinking to the effect that when the dust clears in Milwaukee on July 16, 2020, that there will be this surge of unification that will bring together the disparate factions of the Democratic Party and that the self-inflicted wounds will somehow heal overnight. And the magical thinking goes further so as to imagine that the eventual nominee, as bruised and battered as he/she might be, will be ready to take on a fat and happy Donald Trump who will be getting to attend his coronation as the nominee of a Republican Party that will be united by fear and adoration of “their President”.

If there is some mastermind in the Democratic Party hierarchy who truly believes that any candidate of this Party can beat Trump, they should seriously consider another profession – like astrology or alchemy. Because the latest polls indicate that in six so-called battleground states – North Carolina, Arizona, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan and Wisconsin – Trump is leading or is virtually tied with several of the presumptive winners of the Democratic nomination.

While in a very sad and depressing way these poll results are not surprising, it is also terrifying. Because if after all of the slime and graft and obscenity and corruption and incompetence and incoherence displayed by Trump he is still in a position to win a second, totally unfettered term, then the Democrats are playing with existential fire by continuing the travesty of this traveling circular firing squad called the Democratic Party presidential nomination process.

We can be glad that Beto O’Rourke was honest enough to realize that he was not going to be the Democratic nominee. We can guess as to what was his analysis. What we do know if that there are still too many men and women who are wannabees and are never bees still in the Democratic nomination process. And what we do know is that underestimating Donald Trump’s electability is a loser’s game.

We can continue to hope that Tom Perez and the other leaders of the Democratic Party step up and become the adults in the room. And we can continue to pray that 8-12 remaining Democratic Party candidates will have their own “Beto Moment” and be honest with themselves.

We know that it would certainly make Diogenes happy.

 

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Point of View Columns

Silence of the Donkeys – An Open Letter to the Democratic Party

As the United States begins to accommodate itself to the nightmarish catastrophe that is Trump, the Democratic Party, particularly its leaders, have been either silent or muted in their opposition to President Donald Tinyhands. The only thing more puzzling than the Silence of the Donkeys, is the thought that somewhere, somehow, Trump avoidance is a strategy for victory in 2018 and then again in 2020.

There is something about Donald Trump that has caused the so-called strategists and consultants who disserve the Democratic Party to overthink. During the 2016 presidential campaign, the prevailing wisdom was that there was No Way that Trump could win the Republican nomination so there was no need to attack him head on, the prevailing wisdom was that he would most certainly implode – and then he was the presidential nominee.

And then, during the 2016 presidential campaign the prevailing wisdom counseled moderation and restraint in retaliating against Trump even while he routinely savaged Hillary Clinton at any and every opportunity – remember “lock her up”? – Because there was simply No Way that Trump could win. So why even campaign in Wisconsin – and then Donald Tinyhands was elected President of the United States.

And now, ever since that dark and dismal day of January 20, 2017, when Trump was inaugurated as the 45th President of the United States, the Democrats have engaged in some kind of retro-Muhammad Ali rope-a-dope tactic that permits Donald Trump to run roughshod over the most fundamental concepts of good taste, wisdom or manners without anything more than a whisper of protest or discontent. There seems to be a give-him-enough-rope-and-he-will-hang-himself approach to Trump, even though he has shown quite clearly that if given enough rope he will tie up the Democrats.

Donald Trump has demonstrated that he has a base that is virtually impregnable and resistant to any attack on its demigod-like hero. True, the base makes up “only” 38 percent of the voting population. But a bit of simple political math indicates that Trump only needs to peel off 12 percent of the voters who are undecided, confused, easily hoodwinked or susceptible to bamboozling or all of the above. And, by the way, which potential Democratic candidate for 2020 can claim even an ironclad 20 percent of the vote. Indeed, if the 2020 election were held today, who might that Democratic man or woman be? Listen carefully and you will hear the sound of crickets and not much else.

The Democratic Party and its leadership has been lifeless and virtually helpless in the face of the Trump juggernaut. Instead of going into permanent attack mode, they seem to be afraid of being labeled as obstructionists. And, by the way, the Republicans played the role of Obama-deniers for eight years and ended up electing a quasi-lunatic as President. It is hard to believe that Democrats cannot meet that very low bar.

There is a base of disaffected Americans who are looking for a more coherent message than “Anybody But Trump”. There are millions of Americans who are experiencing shock and awe as Trump and his minions run amok and take sledgehammers to the institutions and programs that have defined this nation. The environment, civil rights, rational foreign policy, women’s rights, gun control, fair employment, the dismantling of the incarceration nation – all these initiatives and more are under attack every day.

Donald Trump has provided the Democrats with enough ammunition to beat him in a dozen elections. But only if the Democrats put an end to their Silence of the Donkeys routine and become the leaders of resistance and opposition to the phenomenon called Trump…….and soon.

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Point of View Columns

Richard Nixon – Worse Than We Thought

Of the forty-four men who have been President of the United States, there have been many who have been outright hostile to the interests and well-being of Americans of African descent. But Richard M. Nixon, although known for his consideration of the policy of the “benign neglect” of black people, has not been considered to be one of the worst presidents on the issue of race. Now it is clear that we need to rethink our thinking.

It is, of course, all a matter of perspective. After all, we must consider Nixon in comparison to some of the other 43 presidents. After all, eight of the first ten presidents owned slaves and Rutherford B. Hayes stood by and let the Ku Klux Klan ravage black people in the South. And it should not be forgotten that Woodrow Wilson not only segregated the federal civil service but he also hosted the world premiere of the incredibly racist film, “Birth of a Nation”.

But now a voice from the grave of John Ehrlichman, President Nixon’s Domestic Policy Advisor, gives us a very clear picture of how vile and villainous the Nixon Administration was on the issue of race. In a 1994 interview with journalist Dan Baum that is now published in the current issue of Harper’s magazine, Ehrlichman is quoted as saying that black people were seen as enemies of the Nixon White House. He goes on to say:

“We knew we couldn’t make it illegal to be against the war or blacks, but by getting the public to associate the hippies with marijuana and blacks with heroin, and then criminalizing both heavily, we could disrupt those communities. We could arrest their leaders, raid their homes, break up their meetings, and vilify them night after night on the evening news. Did we know we were lying about the drugs? Of course we did.”

In this quote, Ehrlichman sounds like an advisor to the Third Reich instead of the President of the United States. As a result of this mindset, the Nixon Administration began the so-called War on Drugs, which has been termed by many, a War on Black America. As Professor Michelle Alexander has pointed out in “The New Jim Crow”, the War on Drugs and the commitment to racially biased massed incarceration has eviscerated black communities in this country for over forty years. Trillions of dollars have been wasted and millions of lives have been ruined in the name of a policy that was born out of racial hatred and bigotry.

The sad part of this miserable story is that Presidents Ford, Carter, Reagan, Bush, Clinton and Bush propagated and even doubled down on this dark plot to demean and diminish black America. And when black critics of the Obama Administration get ready to hurl more epithets against the first black President of the United States, they should pause and remember that he is the first and only President of the United States to initiate the process of decriminalizing federal drug laws while seriously attempting to end the scourge of mass incarceration – a Nixonian legacy that has outlived its authors as it continues to torment black men and women and children to this day.

The takeaway of this miserable story is not simply that the War on Drugs was born of malicious racial policies. The real takeaway is that five presidents, the United States Congress, the Congressional Black Caucus, the Democratic Party and the Republican Party continued and propagated this awful “War”. And even after the casualties –  black Americans and their families and their communities-  piled up in cities across this nation the entire governmental apparatus of this country supported it.

We are now witness to fresh thinking finally beginning to take hold as the “War” threatens to bankrupt states and cities financially. But even now, it seems that we are decades away from the stench of Nixon’s War on Black America being cleansed from this country.

And is not Watergate or Cointelpro or the “Enemies Lists” that are the worst part of that stained and battered Richard Milhous Nixon legacy, it is the systematic and systemic War on Black America.

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Be My Guest

Warning: A Republican Pledge to Do It Again – A Guest Column by Congressman Gregory W. Meeks

Candidates, activists, party operatives, and especially the so-called independent expenditure committees, are locked in a fierce struggle to define the 2010 midterm election: Democrats say it is about a choice between going forward with the rescue, recovery and reform policies of President Obama and Congressional Democrats that broke the back of the worst recession in 80 years.

They maintain that these policies are pulling America out of the ditch into which the Bush Administration drove the country assisted by Congressional Republicans who were then in the majority of both the House and Senate. Republicans want to make the election a referendum on what they contend is the failure of President Obama and Congressional Democrats to right in just 20 months the disasters accumulated during the eight years Republicans controlled the White House and the Congress.

Conservative and rightwing independent expenditure committees, set loose by a recent 5 to 4 Supreme Court decision that accords to corporations the same free speech rights the Constitution guarantees to individual citizens, are spending tens of millions of dollars accusing Democrats of implanting socialism, restoring “big government,” looking out for “their own,” imposing a stimulus package that “hasn’t created one job,” being “Washington insiders,” bailing out Wall Street, taking over the health system, and so on. Financed by some of the wealthiest individuals and corporations in America, these outfits are outspending Democrats 9 to 1 apparently based on the belief that voters will believe lies told often enough.
Democrats are supposed to be super-vulnerable.

In part because young people, African Americans, Latinos, union members, and suburban women are said to be disinterested or disaffected, predictions have Republicans blowing out Democrats and regaining control of the House and maybe the Senate. So, why the hysterical rhetoric and record rate of spending?

Many of the races on which Republicans staked their return to power are tightening. A number of Democratic incumbents thought to be sure losers have pulled even or gone ahead. Signs abound that Democratic constituencies are interested in the midterm election and intend to vote. Moderates and independents may be having second thoughts about Republican candidates. More and more voters seem to be asking themselves whether they really want Tea Party Republican who want to abolish the U.S. Education Department, repeal health care reform and the 14th Amendment, think unemployment benefits are unconstitutional, question the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and would require teaching creationism, to be in a position to cast the decisive vote on Supreme Court nominees, science funding, aid to education, or nuclear arms reduction treaties.

The fact is the 435 members of the House of Representatives and the 37 senators to be elected on November 2 will decide whether policies are adopted that help the recovery or hurt it; restore tax equity or widen it; protect Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security or jeopardize them; address climate change or ignore it; end our involvement in two wars or extend it.

Democrats have been upfront about their commitment to continue moving the country in the new direction they articulated to voters in 2006 and 2008. Republicans have been less candid, preferring instead to defeat or obstruct Democratic efforts for electoral gain.

Early on, Republicans staked their electoral hopes on fanning the flames of division. They opened the doors of their party to extremist Tea Party candidates (The New York Times reports that 138 Tea Party activists are Republican nominees for House or Senate seats).

Everything was going fine until Republican leaders began to be asked about what they would do if they regained the majority. Thinking it unwise to run as the “party of no,” House Republican leaders apparently decided they needed to issue a manifesto of intent.

So, they issued “A Pledge to America.” Rarely have so many pages been devoted to saying so little or to repackaging so many recently failed policies. At the rollout, Minority Leader John Boehner said, “The point we make in this preamble to our pledge is that we are not going to be any different from what we’ve been.”

Republicans controlled the House and the Senate during six of the eight years of George W. Bush’s presidency. They controlled the House all eight years.

What did that get us? A $2.3 trillion tax cut that went overwhelmingly to the rich and turned a record surplus into a record deficit; two unfunded wars that added at least a trillion dollars to the deficit; an unpaid Medicare prescription benefit that added another half-trillion bucks to the deficit; non-enforcement of environmental, workplace, and consumer protection laws; and de facto deregulation of the energy and financial services sectors that resulted in the near-collapse of the global financial system and the worst recession in generations.

And the leader of House Republicans, who would become Speaker of the House of Representatives if they retake the House majority, pledges “we are not going to be any different from what we’ve been.”

Voters should take him – and them – at their word. Want proof? They would make the Bush tax cuts for the top 2 percent of Americans permanent, adding $700 billion to the deficit – almost $4 trillion over ten years.

Voters shouldn’t let disinterest or disappointment to induce them into staying home and helping give the reigns of congressional power back a party that pledges to repeat the disasters it inflicted on our country just a few years ago.

Congressman Gregory W. Meeks represents the Sixth Congressional District in Queens, New York

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Point of View Columns

Silence of the Lambs and the Donkeys and the Elephants

I thought that a mildly interesting research project might entail finding the origins of using animals as the symbols for political parties in the United States. It turns out that the Democratic donkey and the Republican elephant as party symbols can be traced to the work of the 19th century cartoonist Thomas Nast.

There were no focus groups, no branding sessions, and no strategic plan. Nast thought it was amusing to cast the Democrats and Republicans in this anthropomorphic light and the labels stuck.

These days we refer to “Red” states and “Blue” states and the right wing of the right wing conservatives and liberals. But sometimes it’s a good idea to go back to the zoo and the barnyard, and this just may be one of those times.

Sound bites and megabytes have been consumed by the billions in the commentary over the proposed construction of an Islamic cultural center in Lower Manhattan. It is not a mosque even though CNN, the New York Times and many other mainstream outlets refer to it in such an erroneous fashion. Which begs the question, so what if it were a mosque? But I digress.

Although this center has been in the planning for over a year, during the past month the attacks against its construction have gone from nattering and chattering to white hot incendiary rhetoric. Battle lines have been drawn although it is not clear who is the enemy.

To listen to Newt Gingrich, The Man Who Would Be President proclaiming that the Islamic center being built near the site of the World Trade Center is akin to building a Nazi memorial near a Jewish concentration camp. It should be noted that such foul and hateful language by the pseudo-intellectual Gingrich is permitted by the First Amendment to the Constitution, the same First Amendment that grants freedom of religion.

However, although one can freely speak, the First Amendment does not confer immunity from criticism. So I wonder at the relative silence of the Republican elephants as they listen to one of their leaders invoke such hateful imagery, stoking the already smoldering fires of prejudice and discrimination with barely disguised glowing embers of rage already in every corner and every precinct of this country.

Where are the Republican elephants with a voice of reason? Where are the Republicans with a sense of decency and respect for this country who are willing to tell Newt Gingrich to stop surfing in the sewers of indecent and disgusting public discourse?

And rather than demonstrating the leadership that ostensibly is a part of the job description of Democratic Majority Leader, Senator Harry Reid proclaimed that he would prefer that the “mosque” be built somewhere other than in such proximity to the World Trade Center because its presence offends the sensibilities of some.

Aside from the fact that there are already two mosques near the World Trade Center site, mosques that have been in continuous operation since 9/11, one has to wonder about these mysterious “sensibilities” that must be protected at all costs, even at the cost of denying Constitutional rights to some American citizens.

After all, the screeching, braying and caterwauling crowds that cursed and spat at the black school children who integrated a high school in Little Rock, Arkansas were clearly expressing their offended “sensibilities” to the nearness of black people. While the black students had a “right” to attend that school, one can imagine that it certainly would have been more convenient to observe and respect those “sensibilities”.

And so, rather than demonstrate leadership, the Democratic donkeys have largely been silent or have brayed in favor of the perceived majority. We have heard too many shameful statements affirming the right of Muslims to build the center but questioning the “wisdom” of building the Islamic center at the lawfully selected location of their choice.

Of course, if rights are to be doled out based upon the will of the majority, there will be few of us with many rights at the end of the day. The right of an arrested person to remain silent would never pass a national majority vote today. I don’t think that the Civil Rights Act of 1964 would either. One wonders what the Democratic donkeys might bray if these items came to a vote this very day.

Today it is the construction of an Islamic cultural center that is the target of hate and senseless prejudice. Tomorrow it might be gay men and women who wish to marry. And next week it might be you or me. It is axiomatic that hate is insatiable and the more that it consumes the more it will consume.

These days it is not only the lambs that are silent.

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