Ted Van Dyk is an author and former government official with a long history of involvement in public policy and international affairs. His career includes work as an intelligence analyst at the Pentagon; as director of the Washington, D.C., public affairs office of the European Communities (now the European Union); and as a policymaker in the Lyndon Johnson and Jimmy Carter administrations, where he coordinated U.S. foreign assistance programs. He is a lifelong Democrat currently living in his hometown of Bellingham, Washington. With his permission, I occasionally feature his Facebook posts. Scroll through and enjoy.
THE KAMALA PROBLEM
December 7, 2021
Media now focusing on recent resignations from VP Harris’ staff and speculating that President Biden may have soured on her and be looking for an alternative.
Harris, you remember, dropped out of the 2020 Dem presidential-nominating race before primary contests began. There were reports of disorganization and staff strife and she lacked any campaign themes beyond her gender and race. In one televised candidate debate, she questioned eventual nominee Biden’s credentials in race relations.
Presidential candidates usually chose a running mate either on 1) their readiness to assume the presidency on short notice, if so required, or 2) their appeal to constituencies vital to the national ticket’s election or 3) a long and trusted relationship. I was puzzled by Biden’s choice of Harris since she was neither ready for the presidency nor shown popular via polling in any constituency, including those relating to her race and gender. She was not close to Biden. You could see, going in, that Harris would fall into the Agnew, Quayle, Palin, Edwards School of VP candidates.
A year into the administration, Harris has not surprised. She has not grasped the assignments she was given—notably, cleaning up immigration problems at the southern border—and has been most adept at getting photographed over Biden’s shoulder at publicly televised events. Her public-approval ratings are well below Biden’s.
The President has enough on his plate without attempting to dump his VP. As many Democrats and citizens, I am concerned with Biden’s personal health and acuity at 79. I am wishing him good health and success and figure he’ll operate OK with Harris in a reduced position. I do not expect him at his age to seek reelection and do not consider Harris a viable successor. Those are issues Democrats can face after next year’s midterm elections.
SHAMING OF PEOPLE, PLACES
Dismayed by the current shaming of elected officials who do not fall in line with majority thinking in their parties. Also by routine disparagement of states where a majority of voters do not agree with one’s political views.
Sen. Joe Manchin, for instance, has called for reduction in the price tag of the huge omnibus spending bill passed in the House. The bill is inflationary and generally reflects priorities in the Bernie/AOC wing of the Democratic Party. It also does not reflect opinion in Manchin’s home state of West Virginia, whose voters he was elected to represent. President Biden has agreed that it needs to be pared back. Yet many Dems and in media condemn Manchin as some kind of nasty obstructionist.
Even during the time when Southern Democrats resisted civil-rights legislation, they were not subjected to this kind of political and media abuse. It was understood that they represented opinion in their states and that no amount of condemnation would change their votes. We simply worked around them and framed legislation so that moderate Republicans could sign on. (And even where Southern Dems were in opposition on civil rights, they could be persuaded to vote for progressive economic-development and anti-poverty measures). In time, landmark civil-rights and Great Society legislation was passed and opinion in Southern states changed as well. Southern and border-state legislators no longer are reflexively racist or reactionary—although some would have us believe that they are.
The same syndrome is at work in the GOP where elected officials or candidates are not deemed by party leaders to be sufficiently loyal to former President Trump. Others are shamed in media because they have not denounced Trump.
Live in NY, TX, CA, FL? Tough luck. Whatever your own political leanings, you can be characterized as either hopelessly Woke or reactionary. Group guilt.
Hey, we are all Americans in this together. We have known for a long time that we had disagreements and, also, that some locales leaned in one political direction or another. (By the way, the most avid liberals and conservatives can be found in places where they are a distinct minority). Should people and places not leaning our way be shamed and labeled as Marxists, Nazis, racists? There are such people around but fewer than depicted by their critics.
Time was when we recognized that our society—One From Many–was constituted of people from many places and outlooks and that it depended on tolerance and mutual respect to get things done. Joe Manchin is not Strom Thurmond. Present-day Texas is not pre-Civil Rights Act Mississippi. Nor is Bernie Sanders a Bolshevik.
Time to recognize reality and that not much significant has gotten done in the United States without positive cooperation across party and ideological lines. Conformist thinking, in any case, alien to our traditions and characteristic of our worst history.
STUDENT DEBT FORGIVENESS: HOW MUCH FREE STUFF?
July 9, 2021
Article in today’s WSJ (paywall) reporting that Columbia University film-school graduates, who took student loans, had median debt of $181,000. Two years after receiving their master’s degrees, the piece said, half the borrowers were making less than $30,000 per year. Poor, victimized souls.
For several years there has been organized campaigning on behalf of student-debt forgiveness. Young debtors, in particular, presumed to be in favor. Legislative proposals now to do it.
This appears to be one of those issues which separates according to generational values and experience.
Both my late wife and I got master’s degrees at Columbia. No loans, government or otherwise. Worked nights and weekends in NYC while in school. Saved our money beforehand to pay tuition. Neither from a wealthy family. Both of us getting degrees in professions notorious for low pay.
Next generation: Our two sons and their wives got graduate degrees, three of them doctorates. None in traditional high-salary professions. All took out student loans. All repaid the loans several years out of school. No help from families. Lived within budgets allowing for repayment of the debt.
Higher-education costs have since increased dramatically—partly driven by availability to schools of federal student-loan money. Those owing the loan money increasingly vocal in demanding loan forgiveness. Too much to repay, they say. Their outstanding debt should be assumed by taxpayers. Many in the current electorate appear to accept this without question. My generation financed itself. Our kids borrowed money and repaid it. Why should we now pay for those who believe they are entitled to loan forgiveness?
This about class as well as about generational values. Why should low- and middle-income wage earners see their tax dollars go to advanced-degree holders who feel they should not have to repay their debt?
Most Americans know which jobs and professions pay well and which do not. They know that in high school or earlier. As they look to careers, those seeking high income should seek degrees and enter fields leading to high income. Those not seeking high income should in turn act accordingly.
The Columbia film-school grads obviously thought they’d be cashing in bigtime a couple years out of school. If not, my advice: Stick to it for awhile and keep plugging. If not, seek another job that will pay your bills, including those for your education. Do not ask the rest of us to do it. What are you, entitled?
JUNETEENTH AND RACE
June 16, 2021
“…People who would rather curse the darkness than light a candle”—Eleanor Roosevelt.
“Appeal always to hope, never to fear or hate”–Hubert Humphrey.
This Saturday will be the anniversary of Union General Granger’s end-of-Civil War 1865 proclamation in Texas that slavery was officially ended there. President Lincoln had signed the Emancipation Proclamation three years earlier.
Juneteenth soon will become a national holiday, as it should be. As with so many other things, you ask: Why did it take so long?
Am thinking now of race in the U.S., where we have been, and where we are going. Many Americans, especially younger Americans, believe racial discrimination remains in all parts of our national life and it was fated that way out our founding. Systemic racism. Critical race theory.
My own political generation came of age principally motived by civil-rights, social-justice issues. I recall a jr. high school history teacher in the late 1940s leading a discussion on the subject: What do African Americans want to be called? Negroes? Colored people? What? That was in the tolerant Pacific NW. There were race riots taking place then in northern U.S. cities. Later, in the mid-1950s, as a grad student in NYC, I went South for the first time and was shocked at the bald discrimination and injustice I witnessed. Black neighborhoods in dire poverty. Separate and clearly unequal school systems. Even separate, labeled restrooms and drinking fountains for black and white. Segregated restaurants and hotels.
I was inspired by and part of the exciting drive toward progress and 1964 and 1965 passage of the Civil Rights and Voting Rights Acts. The Civil Rights Act a foundational document: No discrimination for or against anyone on the basis of race, gender, ethnicity, religion or other irrelevancy. M.L. King Jr. had it right. We should be judged on “content of our character” and not on any other basis. There was the historic, peaceful March on Washington. But there also were heroic individual acts by people, black and white, in their communities. The legislation was not enacted on either a racial or partisan basis. Liberal northern Democrats led the fight but it could not have passed without important support by GOP congressional and other leaders. Great care was taken to mobilize support outside the Congress among business, labor, religious and other groups. Old South Democratic committee chairs filibustered the CRA but adherents just plain outlasted them at the podium and forced a vote. All of us in it together, black, white, rich, poor, Democrats, Republicans, from all regions and outlooks. Wanted justice done.
Simultaneously we undertook Great Society and War on Poverty programs to help minorities truly get to an equal place at the starting line. Court decisions and legislation were not enough to do that for people who had lived on the short end so long. Education, job training, public safety in minority neighborhoods, health-care and nutrition programs, initiatives to strengthen family structure. Those things happened, too, because of support outside the so-called civil-rights base.
In the 1970s, a turn came when President Nixon initiated affirmative-action programs which established de facto quotas for hiring in the discriminatory construction industry and trades but which spread in time to college admissions, awarding of government contracts, and other areas of American life.
Another change took place in that decade and the next. I went South on a pro bono basis to help the Southern Elections Fund, led by Julian Bond, which supported black candidates for local office in former Dixie states. No more hard discrimination, as in the past, but resistance nonetheless. I recall visiting Charles Evers’ gubernatorial campaign office in Jackson, MS, reinforced against possible bombing from the street. A black teacher in St. Augustine, FL, suspended because she was found to be a member of the United Nations Association. Memory also had ebbed, both North and South. I spoke to a group of Southern black elected state legislators meeting in Memphis. I mentioned Jesse Epps, who had led the Memphis sanitation workers strike which King had traveled to support when he was murdered. Blank faces in the audience. The moderator leaned over: “They don’t know about Jesse Epps.”
During the same period I participated in a panel discussion of race issues in D.C. A former senior aide to President Johnson declared that “We did all that. Time to move on.” Pat Moynihan, in the Nixon administration, called for a time of “benign neglect” of such issues.
Yet, during those years and since, the march forward has continued. We have in that time had a black President and Vice President; black elected officials at federal, state and local level, including numerous mayors and sheriffs below the Mason-Dixon; judges at all levels; CEOs and leaders in business, finance, media, labor, philanthropy, education, the arts.
By all measures the U.S., decade by decade, has come closer to living by CRA tenets than might have been thought possible back in the 1960s. Yet, today, many are calling others “racist” as a matter of routine. You see posts in Facebook, as elsewhere, referring to the pervasive racism in the country. Monuments taken down, streets renamed, street demonstrations and violence undertaken as if those actions somehow would by themselves better minority lives.
Time to get past name calling and gestures. If we truly care, and are not making self-righteous gestures, we will act on a national and local basis to reduce school dropout, incarceration, and violent crime rates in minority neighborhoods. Fight drug trafficking and use. Establish help for struggling, single-parent families. Equal law enforcement, delivered justly and protecting the law-abiding majority. Reestablish community centers offering a wide range of programs, including those enhancing health care and nutrition.
I recall a visit during the 1960s LBJ years to a community center in Atlanta, run by a middle-aged black woman. There was an old upright piano in the corner. “See that old piano,” she said, “there is lots of music in it if only it is played. We take that view toward the people who come here.” At that moment a teenage girl walked to the piano and played the heck out of it.
JOE MANCHIN AND FILIBUSTER
June 7, 2021
Am a lifelong Democrat living in a deep blue state. But understand that many officeholders live in marginal states—capable of going either red or blue—and thus weigh their votes and policy stances accordingly. Used to be recognized that this was the case and, regularly, individual Senate and House votes would be cast reflecting constituency opinion rather than that of a majority of the party caucus.
West VA Sen. Manchin now being pilloried for breaking ranks on elimination of the filibuster. Have trouble seeing him as a villain. See him, rather, as someone voting with home sentiment on a difficult issue.
The substance of the filibuster issue: The most notable filibuster in my lifetime was the one launched against the Civil Rights Act of 1964. My boss, Sen. Humphrey, was principal author and sponsor of the bill, which was opposed by Southern Senators including powerful committee chairs. The filibuster was defeated because CRA proponents simply outlasted them at the podium and wore opponents down. What President Biden is now calling a “talking filibuster.” The CRA passed both houses of Congress and has been a cornerstone of policy since that time.
If filibuster rules are to be changed, would favor a return to actual extended floor debate rather than filing of intent to undertake one. But the filibuster per se remains an important protector of minority rights. Majorities and minorities change over time.
I am wary on the filibuster issue just as I am on removal of the Electoral College, enlargement of the Supreme Court, and addition of two new states with four new Dem Senators. Major institutional changes which would give Dems near-term partisan advantage but which have good historical reasons. Lots of leeway to make policy changes without changing fundamental institutions.
West Virginians no doubt understand why their Senator has his position on the filibuster and most probably support it.
TWO PARTY CONFUSION
May 15, 2021
GOP deposing of Rep. Cheney from House leadership position, as well as Israel-Gaza violence and death, have intensified the focus on the future of our two political parties, Thus far most media attention to GOP, with former Prez Trump the focal point of coverage. But am more concerned at this point with the future of my own Dem Party. Trump brought millions of Middle American voters into the GOP during his term of office. Will they stay if someone else is nominated in 2024? Trump acts as if he still is party leader but, in truth, he was neither Republican nor Democrat before his 2016 candidacy. Present GOP task, it seems to me, is to move ahead presuming another candidate but at same time taking care not to alienate Trump voters by separating from him Cheney-style. The longer he is out of office, the more his influence will wane—especially if he is tied down in legal problems.
Dems, on the other hand, face a challenge with the ascendancy of Cancel Culture/Critical Race Theory/Defund Police advocates within the party. Clearly out of tune with a majority of ordinary American voters. But having apparent influence in the Biden-Harris administration and in its policies and rhetoric. International turbulence, including in the Middle East; financial-market volatility; and rising crime rates in American cities all will drive citizens more greatly toward traditional political issues such as economic growth; employment; public school quality; international and neighborhood safety; and the presence or absence of overall societal stability. Less interested in messages portraying Americans as victims or victimizers according to their race, gender or ethnicity.
It has always been true but especially now that ultimate political power lies with moderate voters not on the fringes of either party. We’ll get an early look at their preference in the NYC mayoral campaign. Then 2022 congressional elections. The “out” party traditionally gains in such elections. Will that happen next year or will Dems emerge still holding the WH and both houses of Congress?
So far as I am concerned, GOP can and will manage its own business. Its leaders and candidates will act in what they regard as their own interests. Anxious that my own party get back on track with a positive agenda directed toward normal voter concerns.
MAY DAY THOUGHTS
May 2, 2021
A day later still considering May Day, what it was, what it is.
Of course there is the May Day featuring nymphets dancing around a may pole. But there also is the 20th century May Day in which the oppressed rallied to confront injustice. The May Day also used by Communists to rally adherents behind a cause that had begun with noble aspiration but then became a reactionary power-preserving machine. The God That Failed.
My deepest impressions are of Depression-era May Days, when I was a young boy and my Dad an unskilled mill worker on the picket line for unionization, dignity and fair wages and working conditions. (His daily pay: $1.84). There was lots of Leftist literature and talk around then but, even at my young age, it seemed distant from the real struggles of daily life I observed on the ground each day. General, often theoretical declarations as opposed to practical daily problems of those striving to rise from the bottom. The leaflet drafters, I thought, had little in common with my Dad and his pals who fought strikebreakers daily with their fists outside the mill. When they won their strike, they did not take mass subscriptions to New Masses but instead cast their lot with the mainstream American Federation of Labor.
We went through wrenching Depression, war, and social change in the 20th century. In my own lifetime I have seen racism and injustice challenged and defeated on many fronts. Talk about Socialism and Capitalism pretty much irrelevant in a society in which we have a pragmatic, mixed system combining components of capitalism and European-style social democracy. Court decisions, historic legislation, and active political movements creating a more just society than would have been thought impossible at mid-20th century.
There were some May Day marches yesterday in major cities. Yet, to me, they had an ersatz quality about them—something like similar marches in the 1960s by people looking to be on the cutting edge, to establish themselves as leaders for justice, some merely seeking attention. Many of the latter would become Boomers trying simultaneously to live rich and comfortably while assuming Virtue Signaling/Values Posturing exterior personas.
The latter types have little to do with the downtrodden and poor who took to the streets on earlier May Days. Nor do many of those shouting loudly now about racial, gender and ethnic injustice—and portraying a society of victims and victimizers—have much to do with real daily conditions on the ground. Defund police? Censor those who speak contrary words? What about jobs, job opportunity, good public schools, neighborhood safety, availability of health care, and avoidance of foolish foreign military interventions?
Americans have trod a long road, made many detours, made many sacrifices yet over time have created a prosperous and tolerant country that others envy. By all means, where injustice and unfairness reside, they must be opposed. But, on May Day or any other day, we need not invent them so as to feel better about ourselves. Enough pamphleteering and its present day media equivalents. Do real and positive things to help real people on the ground. Americans are pragmatists and, over time, separate the counterfeit from the real. May Day message: Real is Better.
FORGOTTEN VOTERS, CURRENT POLITICAL THEMES
April 22, 2021
In the midst of present political debate centering around police, race, gender, ethnicity and “process” issues such as Supreme Court packing, ending the Electoral College and legislative filibuster, adding two new states and four Democratic Senators, and federalization of state election laws, there is an overlooked constituency out there which cares more about traditional daily-life issues such as economic growth and employment, quality of public schools, neighborhood safety, and avoidance of unwise foreign military interventions. The traditional peace and prosperity agenda.
Contrary to their sometime characterization, these voters are not white supremacists or religious extremists. Pretty much live-and-let-live when it comes to cultural and social issues. They once formed the core of the Democratic Party. Work for wages, own or work in small businesses, may attend church, family members in the military, police, firefighting, nursing, EMT and related occupations, in recent years not disposed to follow political or cultural elites. Some defected to Nixon and George Wallace in the 1968 national election, defected in larger numbers four years later, by 1980 identified as Reagan Democrats. Millions of labor-union members among them. (AFL-CIO president Lane Kirkland told me in 1981 that he doubted the federation’s span of control went much beyond its D.C. headquarters).Fed up with establishmentarians, many of these voters went for Sanders in the 2016 Dem nominating race, for Trump in the general election. Trump not the cause of his own victory but the result of this populist tide. Some stayed with Trump in 2020. President Biden knows and grew up with these voters and has an opportunity to reclaim them before 2022 midterm elections. But the present Dem narrative continues recent themes of White Privilege, Critical Race Theory, police defunding, and characterizations of racial and ethnic groups as victims or victimizers, exploited and exploiters.
To earlier Dems this all seems off-base. We fought and won big legal and legislative battles to overcome discrimination and racism. The Civil Rights Act was the defining document: No treatment favoring or disfavoring anyone on the basis of race, ethnicity, gender, religion or other irrelevancy. What counted, in the words of M.L. King Jr., was the content of one’s character. Since that time literally thousands of those previously on the short end have risen to powerful positions: A President and Vice President; federal, state and local officials, including in Old Dixie; judges; leaders in business, labor, finance, media, philanthropy and the arts. Yet current political messaging would have us believe that the America of 60-70 years ago remains an unreconstructed America today. To those with memory, this all seems phony and manipulative. When race hustler Al Sharpton becomes a regular TV figure, you know things are out of whack.
President Biden properly declared “unity” a primary objective in campaigning for and gaining his office. His administration is still young. Time remaining to reboot and think of those middle-American former Dems and work outward in both directions. Administrations have changed but millions of voters still doubt them, whatever their partisan label.
April 19, 2021
So the Chauvin jury now deliberates in Minneapolis. Watched much of the trial and expect that Chauvin will be found guilty on one or more counts. But “you never know what a jury will do,” as often has been said and demonstrated. It is possible that defense witnesses or presented evidence will influence one or more jurors’ decisions. The way due process works.
If Chauvin is acquitted, or believed to be getting off easy, there will be demonstrations, possible violence, and renewed claims that this is a racist country and a racist verdict was inevitable. No. Just the way our justice system works. We are in the midst of a murder epidemic in this country. High violent crime and murder rates in most big cities. Mass shootings. Some African Americans shot by white police. Far more by other African Americans. Most victims shot by people they knew. More than 100 police were reported killed in the line of duty last year.
Police reforms? Sure. But not defunding or huge cuts in force numbers. Police protection needed, particularly, in minority neighborhoods with high crime and violence rates. Equal law enforcement means equal enforcement, without regard to race, ethnicity or other factor, and equal citizen protection in all neighborhoods rich, poor and otherwise.
Put me down as pro justice, pro minority, pro police and pro due process. Still possible in this country.
PEACE, PROSPERITY AND PROCESS
April 11, 2021.
President Biden may have miscalculated when he strongly endorsed the attempted unionization of the Amazon facility in Alabama. As it turned out, both the place and strategy of the effort were poorly chosen (see post of yesterday). May have miscalculated as well in characterizing Georgia election law as Jim Crow. The law resembles those in many states, north and south.
History tells us that voters do not respond to “process” issues as they do to traditional gut issues such as peace and prosperity. This fits with the accompanying evolution-not-revolution rule about appeals to voters.
Biden and Dems are taking risks now with proposals to federalize state election laws and to change the Supreme Court. Same with campaigns to give statehood (and four new Democratic Senators) to Puerto Rico and D.C. and to eliminate the Electoral College.
Members named to a new commission by Biden would appear to constitute a likely majority in favor of Supreme Court packing—that is, increasing the number of Justices, as attempted unsuccessfully by FDR during Depression years—and/or limiting the tenures of individual Justices. The net effect of the changes, today though not indefinitely, would be to weight the court more greatly to the Democratic and liberal side. Just as the statehood, voting-law changes, and Electoral College proposals also would do.
We are coming out of a stressful COVID time. Citizens are mainly concerned with a return to normality. Want employment, schools, daily life to become what they were before the pandemic. In such a period they are more likely to respond to conventional taxing, spending, public policy reform proposals than they are to those for fundamental institutional changes. By all means repair the shingles and give the place a paint job and fixup. But think twice before messing with the foundation.
April 7, 2021
President Biden has put his stamp of approval on legislation which would, in effect, nationalize state election laws. Just as importantly, he has made huge taxing/spending proposals which would be ambitious at any time and place.I wish him well. I think of two Marxist questions: What are the objective conditions? What is the work to be done?
The continuing and most apparent objective condition is the deep political polarization which stands in the way of the “unity” Biden says he wants to restore. The work to be done, therefore, is healing work which puts the Trump years in the past and proceeds from the here and now.
Democrats hold razor-thin majorities in both House and Senate. That means some bipartisanship must be pursued lest every important vote become a straight party-line brawl, with party leaders attempting to exert strict party discipline on their flocks lest one or more defections make a daily difference between success and failure.
Had a long phone interview yesterday with an author doing a book about the evolution of liberalism. Made me think of the tactical differences between yesteryear and today.
The Johnson-Humphrey ticket in 1964 had a huge national electoral victory which also created huge Democratic majorities in both houses of Congress. But President Johnson, an experienced and skilled legislator, refused to proceed on a one-party basis with his ambitious Great Society/civil rights legislative program. He and VP Humphrey intensely pursued GOP and independent support in the Congress and enlisted private-sector support as well in daily meetings with business, labor, agricultural, religious, and other leaders. It worked. The Civil Rights Act, Voting Rights Act, Medicare, Medicaid, federal aid to education, and components of the War on Poverty all had support beyond the Democratic base when final votes were taken.
LBJ preached to his staff that such broad support was necessary. We have big congressional majorities now, he would say, but in the future political winds could change. When they do, he said, we do not want important policies reversed because they were undertaken on a one-party basis. Get some GOP buy-in at the outset, he said, to make sure that does not happen.
President Clinton began his term in 1993 not heeding that counsel. When Hillarycare ran aground, and had to be abandoned, Dems lost 54 House seats in the 1994 midterm. Clinton adjusted, however, in 1995 and began consensus-driven policies. Especially in economic policy, they succeeded. President Obama in 2009 pursued a Democrats-only strategy to narrowly enact Obamacare. But in 2010 Dems lost 63 House seats and Obama his ability to control the agenda for the remaining six years of his presidency.
The majority party historically has suffered losses in the first midterms following presidential elections. With present Dem congressional margins so thin, it is reasonable to expect GOP gains in 2022. Yet, it seems to me, Pelosi and Schumer, and many around Biden, appear to be proceeding as if Trump remains in office and highly partisan rhetoric and tactics are to be pursued. “You just can’t deal with Republicans,” the party line goes. “Got to stay on the attack and not give an inch.” In recent days I have gotten communications from Democratic-associated groups and committees. They have featured ending the Electoral College and packing the Supreme Court as primary objectives. Then they have listed various issues and asked which should be pursued in 2021. Lots of Cancel Culture/Woke issues but none listed dealing with national security, foreign policy, public safety, or issues traditionally of concern to millions of voters.
I have known and observed Biden since he first came to the Senate. He has always been a moderate/liberal mainstream Democrat accustomed to working across party and ideological lines to get business done. Time for him, it seems to me, to assert himself and assure that his party’s legislative proposals match his own longstanding habits and instincts. Otherwise angry polarization likely to continue and Dems in for a hard time with present sweeping proposals and at the polls next year.
CAN IT BE OVER?
February 13, 2021
“With malice toward none, with charity for all”—Abraham Lincoln.
“Appeal always to hope, never to fear or hate”—Hubert Humphrey.
So former President Trump was not convicted of impeachment charges in the Senate. Prior presidents have been impeached but never convicted. President Nixon, of course, would have been both impeached and convicted had he not resigned. Dems could probably have gotten a bipartisan Senate censure of Trump but did not choose that route.
History will examine Trump. Many Facebook and other friends have not understood why I did not share their outrage at Trump and desire to see him impeached and convicted—even after leaving office. But, I must confess, he was exactly as I thought he would be as President and entirely consistent with his prior life as a Queens real-estate dealmaker, TV personality, and tabloid-culture guy. You needed only regard the Trump Tower, I thought, to know Trump.
I have never regarded Trump as a threat to the constitution or our institutions but as the result—not the cause—-of an anti-establishmentarian wave in 2016 which almost nominated Sen. Sanders as well. Historical precedents: Maybe Andrew Jackson, scourge of the eastern establishment, who rode his horse into the White House lobby after his inaugural and was responsible for the Trail of Tears. Or more closely, Ross Perot, another businessman without experience in public office, who led both President Bush and Governor Clinton in 1992 pre-election polling before he self destructed during the campaign season. As it was, he made all the mistakes in the political book but still got 19 percent of the popular vote. Suspension of habeas corpus (no, Lincoln); deportation without due process of citizens suspected of radicalism (Wilson); captivity during wartime for a whole group because of its ethnicity (FDR)? No. Nor did he wreck the economy or undertake mistaken new foreign interventions. He was, as it turned out, ultimately rejected because of an unexpected pandemic over which he had limited control.
I was especially disappointed to see the reaction of my Democratic Party after Trump’s 2016 election. I had expected that, as after President Reagan’s election in 1980, it would turn to the serious business of developing an alternative agenda. But, instead, so-called Resistance demonstrations began in the streets, even before his inaugural, and the focus became from the beginning of his term the ways and means of discrediting him and driving him from office. Russian collusion accusations; alleged mistreatment of illegal immigrants; charges that he somehow was allied with white supremacists and right-wing extremists .”Racist”…”corrupt”…”totalitarian”…”Hitler” some of the labels attached to him. All this justifying, apparently, barbaric treatment of his Supreme Court nominees in the Senate Judiciary Committee. derisive personal attacks on his appointees and GOP congressional leaders, a first impeachment a year ago lacking due process or a credible basis. Active in my party over a lifetime, and especially during its civil rights/Great Society days of the 1960s, I had never seen such tactics by its leaders. We did not employ them even against Nixon. Trump was and is nothing more than he appeared to be when voters, knowing who he was, duly elected him president. I would not want to share a coffee with Trump, much less serve in his administration. He is a fulltime narcissist and, through his four-year term, has never fully understand how government and our electoral processes work. I have regretted his environmental and public-lands policies and his ignorance of multilateral institutions and proper relations with allies. But I can think of many Republicans who might have instituted similar policies once in office. No, Trump in the end was brought down—as Presidents Johnson and Carter before him—because his personal style and overexposure simply exhausted the electorate. And by the pandemic.
I thought the second impeachment, just concluded, lacked the solid basis needed to prove that Trump had incited a Ft. Sumter-like sedition at the Jan. 6 event at the Capitol. He had challenged election results in several marginal states, with accompanying sworn statements and documentation by election workers and others, but the courts had mainly refused to hear them—as they have refused in the past to hear such cases. The Trump assertions were not “lies,” as many in media and his opposition have alleged, but assertions which courts predictably refused to hear. But Trump simply blustered on, thinking mass rallies and public pressure could somehow cause a reversal of the electoral vote. His remarks at the Jan. 6 rally, as well as those of his son and former Gov. Giuliani, were rabble rousing but did not incite a destructive invasion of the Capitol building. Evidence gathered since has led to a conclusion that the invasion was planned long before by groups intending to exploit the rally—much as destructive protesters piggy-backed last summer on BLM and other rallies in major American cities.
Trump Rage has continued since the Senate vote. But Trump is now past tense. He does not have a political future unless his core supporters conclude that he is some kind of martyr/hero being pursued by vengeance-seeking media and political opponents. When Nixon left, he had unnecessarily extended a mistaken VN War for several years (to serve his 1968 electoral purposes) and had misused federal-government power against political opponents (including myself). Yet, when he left, we were pleased to see him leave and could not have cared less about what he said and did thereafter. The Nixon departure a good model for future conduct regarding Trump, who faces legal and other problems out of office which will keep him occupied. Republican Senators felt obligated to defend him during his impeachment trial and also had their own constituencies in their minds when they cast their votes.
I am hoping my fellow Democrats do not make the fatal mistake of thinking that all 2020 Trump voters were racist, white supremacist, nativist, or extremist. A good share of them were former Democrats—middle- and lower-middle-income families worrying about safety in their neighborhoods, the quality of their kids’ schools, the cost of living, employment, and the undertaking of new foreign adventures costing American lives and resources. With or without Trump, they are still there and disinclined to buy into establishment proposals and policies they feel unrelated to them. They began their exodus from the Democratic Party in 1968, speeded it in 1980 as Reagan Democrats, went for Trump in 2016, and will continue their exodus if they feel Democrats represent Cancel Culture/Critical Race Theory beliefs which they reject.
President Biden is a mainstream liberal/moderate Democrat from blue-collar roots who understands these latter voters. His normal instincts would lead him to reach across partisan/ideological lines to address practical problems relating to mainstream voters. Not a Cancel Culture/Critical Race Theory guy unless he unknowingly is pushed that way by those around him.
Bottom line: Time for media and Democrats to get over Trump, truly get over him. He never was that significant but merely a vessel for the discontent of many voters. Forget Trump; pay attention to the voters.
BIDEN THE LOAN ARRANGER?
February 9, 2021
Today’s Wall Street Journal (paywall) has an editorial regarding the proposal of Sens. Schumer and Warren, and many Dem House members, to forgive huge amounts of student-loan debt to borrowers of all income levels. The proposal was prominent on the agenda of some Dem candidates for the 2020 presidential nomination and has been around, in varying form, for a number of years.
Some proposals are problematic because of their effect on taxpayers or on federal red ink. This one is for that reason. But it also is problematic because it is at variance with the values of most Americans.
Back in pre-history, when I and others went to college, you worked in the summer and part-time otherwise to pay for it. Depending on your family’s financial status, you got help from parents as well. That is how I paid for my undergrad years at the University of Washington until I received a scholarship my senior year. My parents, working people, lent me most of the money for my year of grad school at Columbia. I repaid them.
A huge percentage in present day have been largely financed through government-backed student loans. My two sons and their wives paid for much of their grad school that way and it took many years for them to pay off the loans. Schools, in turn, have come to count on student-loan money; tuitions and fees have risen rapidly beyond the inflation rate during the years of the program.
The major objection to the current proposals, however, lies in the generally held belief that, if you borrow money, you pay it back. You do not neglect to make payments and/or count on forgiveness which will leave your neighbors footing the balance. Especially if your family is in upper-income levels.
The proposal was one of many for More Free Stuff floated by Democrats in 2020. There are many good reasons for fresh federal investments in parts of our lives. But this is not one. President Biden must make his call.
January 29, 2021
Often used in the past when Presidents could not get legislative majorities for desired policies. For instance, when Obama used them periodically over six years after losing a House majority in the 2010 midterms.
During his campaign, President Biden said often that he intended to govern “by getting the votes”—that is, by working across party and ideological lines to get congressional majorities behind his proposals.
Now, only a few days since his Inaugural, Biden has signed 25 executive orders, some relating to contentious issues. Turns out that is five times the number signed by any recent President.
This is lawful. And I have no objection to Presidents using executive orders, especially in emergency or wartime situations. Yet I wonder if Biden advisors have given sufficient thought to the pattern being established—that is, acting unilaterally without making prior effort to use the usual legislative route. These remain polarized times and it can be difficult to get legislation passed within them. But do the many executive orders reduce or add to polarization? Four years of governance lying ahead.
VOTING: GETTING IT RIGHT
January 27, 2021
Remember how we used to do it back in the day? On election day, you and your neighbors went to the local polling place, showed ID, were checked for presence on registered-voter rolls, marked your ballot, then turned it over to poll watchers from both parties who reviewed and tallied it. Results posted shortly after poll closings that evening. If you were going to be out of the city, you got an absentee ballot and mailed it in. Overseas military and other voters voted similarly. All ballots to be received by election day.
Occasional disputes and recounts but, by and large, everyone understood the system and had confidence in its fairness.
Voting rules in each of the 50 states are established by state legislatures, which have jurisdiction. In November elections, we became painfully aware that those rules vary, state to state, The Trump campaign, after the fact, asked courts to rule on procedures in several marginal states where it believed legislative rules were disregarded or bypassed. Courts, always shying away from such political cases, for the most part refused to hear the complaints. Supreme Court included.
In months leading up to the election, changes in state voting procedures were in fact implemented by state and local officials outside the legislative process. As a practical matter, the time for GOP interventions would have been then rather than after the election. (I can imagine a Dem president, on learning of such changes favoring the GOP, telling his political staff to “haul ass” to the states in question and get Den state legislators on the case pronto and well in advance of election day).It used to be said that Democrats loved politics while Republicans tolerated it. Maybe that was the case with election procedures in 2020, In any case President Trump, previously inexperienced in electoral politics, went bonkers when courts refused to intervene and thought he could mobilize popular support to challenge the overall outcome. A dumb idea which culminated in the huge rally, addressed by Trump, his son, and Rudy Giuliani, which led to the Capitol invasion by some in the crowd. Now a Trump impeachment flowing from it. It will be weeks before that process ends and the country’s attention can again focus on normal public business. In meantime, many millions of Americans continue to believe the election somehow was “stolen” by President Biden and Democrats. Mainstream media generally have labeled as “lies” the Trump allegations of irregularities. Some Dems allege voter suppression in GOP constituencies. Now both Dems and Republicans are focusing on the issue and preparing national-level legislation or actions which could pre-empt present state legislative authority over elections. Anger and more polarization likely to result.
I am a lifelong Democrat but, above that, am an American. As a citizen, I deplore anything which casts doubt on the integrity of our precious votes. I recognize that vote-by-mail systems can be manipulated as old-fashioned, in-person voting cannot. (In my own WA state, a notable clean-politics state, we have voted solely by mail through several electoral cycles but, at the start of the vote-by-mail system, there were disputes and recounts). I also am disturbed by rules in some states which begin the vote weeks before election day. President Biden has said he wants to create unity in the country after a period of partisan and ideological rage. He could help do that by creating a bipartisan commission, constituted of Democrats, Republicans and Independents of recognized integrity, to study current voting procedures and make recommendations for consideration by the 50 state legislatures. The legislatures, in my judgment, should continue to have authority. But the appointment of the commission would help ease continuing acrimony over 2020 procedures. And its recommendations, once publicized, would highlight any obvious state-level abuses that needed correction.
Hey, this is fundamental to the functioning of our system, We must have confidence in the integrity of our voting processes. If we lack that, everything following is in question.
ML KING DAY
January 16, 2021
Coming up on ML King Jr. day. Time for consideration of justice yesterday and today, especially in our politics.
I met King but did not know him well, although I knew well many of his associates and those in the civil-rights movement of the time. But, among those working for civil-rights and Great Society legislation, he was a constant presence in everyone’s mind. His most memorable statement, at the 1963 March on Washington, that we should be judged on “content of our character” rather than skin color or other irrelevancy. He also preached non-violence. His content-of-character statement also was reflected in the cornerstone Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibited any action favoring or disfavoring any person based on race, gender, religion or ethnicity. The pro-justice strategy at the time, by the way, was not to waste time denouncing people as racist or reactionary but to make the strong case for justice. You could get consensus there.
When King was murdered in 1968 I was in Memphis several days thereafter and met with Jesse Epps and other leaders of the garbage workers whose cause King had gone to Memphis to support. They believed James Earl Ray had not acted alone but with complicity of Memphis police. They had information to that effect. But the Justice Department could never get sufficient supporting evidence.In subsequent decades this country has become more tolerant and open than we might have imagined at that time. There are hundreds of black federal, state and local elected officials in Dixie states. We have had a two-term black President and innumerable black senior officials in our judicial, legislative and executive branches. Black leaders on Wall Street, in the corporate world, in academia, in non-profits, in the arts—and, increasingly, women, Latino, Asian American, gay, and other minority citizens rising to the top. Our 1960s strategies, by the way, included not only breakthrough legislation but complementary programs which would help people in practical ways to get their equal chance at the starting line: In elementary, secondary and higher education; job training and apprenticeship programs; health care; nutrition; and to preserve positive family structures. Equal law enforcement was part of it. Not just equal application of the law to all citizens but programs, in particular, to provide public safety in neighborhoods where violent and other crime rates were high.
We took a turn in the Nixon years with establishment of affirmative action as a policy. It began in the notoriously discriminatory construction trades and unions. A Philadelphia Plan was instituted whereby a certain percentage of minority jobs were guaranteed in the industry. The concept spread in time to higher education, college admissions, and hiring practices in many industries. In meantime, President Nixon disestablished the Office of Economic Opportunity and War on Poverty and scattered the programs to other agencies, where they withered and died.
I find myself frustrated and even angry now to see the turn that a justice agenda has taken in my own Democratic Party: A Cancel Culture/identity politics turn that sometimes abandons non-violence for violence but also defines Americans according to their race, gender, religion or ethnicity—in direct contradiction of the Civil Rights Act precepts—and demands that these factors should determine status or opportunity in our society. Political opponents are routinely labeled racist, sexist, anti-Latino, anti-gay, anti-Muslim, anti-immigrant, etc. simply because they are political opponents. The opposite, too, of the “content of character” criterion set forth by King.
Beginning a new period, it seems to me, it is imperative that we all return to the CRA spirit and letter and the “liberty and justice for all” concept that a vast majority of Americans accept and support. We cannot define ourselves as oppressors and oppressed, villain and victim and have much chance to address problems common to all of us.
IMPEACHMENT: POLITICS BY IMPULSE RATHER THAN FORETHOUGHT
January 10, 2021
House Dems appear headed for a fresh impeachment of President Trump. It could make it through the House but not the Senate, where a 2/3rds majority would be necessary for conviction. A rerun of the first impeachment’s path.The invasion of the U.S. Capitol last week clearly was incited by their rhetoric to a mass rally by Trump, Rudy Giuliani, and Trump’s son. Trump has paid the price. Already defeated at the polls, he leaves the White House disgraced and finished as a national voice—unless Democrats and media remain fixated on him even as a new President Biden attempts to govern.In a few days Trump will be past tense. The time belongs to Biden. The inaugural, his inaugural speech, and his agenda for the future should not be overshadowed by continuing focus on Trump.Moreover, partisans should consider past political history. The first midterm elections after presidential elections historically have resulted in losses for the “in” party. Democrats lost 63 House seats and their majority in the first midterm of President Obama’s presidency. Democratic majorities in the upcoming Congress will be razor thin and subject to reversal in two years if normal trends obtain. Millions of voters still believe Trump was cheated out of an election victory in November and will cast ballots accordingly in 2022 if they believe their guy continues to be dogged by Democrats and media. Forget impeachment. Wave Trump goodbye. He is done. Time to turn to Biden and an agenda for the future.
December 15, 2020
The AL baseball Cleveland franchise has announced it will change its name in 2021, following the example of the former Washington Redskins and other professional, college and high school teams which have dropped Native American identifications in recent years. The Atlanta Braves, Kansas City Chiefs, and Chicago Black Hawks no doubt will be next on the list.
Teams can call themselves whatever they want. The Cleveland AL team originally was known as the Spiders. Many teams began with names other than those they bear now. Thinking seems to be that Native American names somehow are an insult to Native Americans.
My old h.s. teams were known as the Red Raiders. A noble chieftain’s head appeared on banners and game programs. Maybe 30 years ago, the Red Raiders name was kept but the chieftain’s head was replaced by a picture of a hawk. Local tribal leaders protested the change but it nonetheless took place; the Native American identification was deemed politically incorrect.
In recent years, during multiple-class reunions, banners portraying both the chieftain’s head and hawk have been displayed behind the podium. When my class meets alone, we display only the chieftain’s head. We will do it again next year in what will be our final class reunion.
All part of the Cancel Culture/identity politics of today. We always thought the Red Raiders name and chieftain’s head represented bravery, fighting spirit, and nobility.
The former Washington Redskins have gone all season without a new name. Think it unlikely the present Cleveland Indians will revert to their original Spiders name.
There are other name categories which might deserve examination. How about the San Diego Padres, denoting religious affiliation? Or the Notre Dame Fighting Irish, with clear ethnic implications.? The possibilities for categories of change seem endless. When it comes to justice in our country, the project clearly warrants attention over such homely matters as public education, job creation, legal reform, and public safety. Got to put first things first.
DEMS GETTING STARTED IN THE FIRST 100 DAYS
Nov 14, 2020
President-elect Biden will need to get his “first hundred days” agenda ready for presentation quickly—-the first 100, you recall, being the time usually granted a new president in which his initiatives can succeed before his wave of initial approval recedes.
Deciding on first steps, he no doubt will assess the current political mood nationally.
Biden won by successfully making the campaign a referendum on a generally disliked Trump. But, at congressional and state-legislative levels, Dem candidates fared less well although having big campaign-spending advantages–mainly by leaving a perception that they were drifting ever further away from the party’s former Middle American base. Two words exemplify the drift: Defund Police.
Bernie Sanders a couple days ago said he fully expected Biden to follow through on pledges to support a joint agenda he endorsed at the end of the nominating season. He may be disappointed.
The coronavirus is foremost right now in the minds of most citizens. They will respond to any Biden proposals to get ahead of it. When he takes office, the first vaccines will be on the verge of public release. Then, as always, citizens will be concerned with the health of the economy. Biden will need to reassure that the virus can be contained while at the same time economic normalization can be achieved. Tightenings and shutdowns taking place now could make that difficult. Fresh stimulus spending—even in the face of rising deficits and debt—-no doubt would be accepted.
Where else might bipartisan consensus be possible after the inaugural? Immigration reform came close to passage during the Twig Bush years and could pass now: Border security along with a path to citizenship for illegals already here. GOP is striking out in attempts to repeal Obamacare. But cost and coverage fixes nonetheless are necessary and could get bipartisan congressional support. Biden could return to the Paris Climate Accords and get broad support for it—even though the action would be largely symbolic (the Accords have no enforcement mechanism). New investments in urban employment, job training, and economic renewal, public schools and infrastructure modernization also would draw broad support.
To be avoided in the first 100 days: Forgiveness of student loan debt; racial, gender, ethnic quotas in employment or public contracting; initiatives to end the filibuster and Electoral College and to add two new states (and four new Democratic Senators); proposals to pack the Supreme Court; abrupt actions to reduce domestic energy production. Voters’ rejection of Trump should not be read as approval of these initiatives.
Biden properly has spoken of reconciliation and his intention to work across partisan and ideological lines. Coming up in Delaware and the Senate, those were his instincts as a mainstream liberal/moderate Democrat. His first task will be to stick with his instincts and reject demands from his party’s present activist wing. He should start with seeking action where it can be supported within his own party and by a respectable number of congressional Republicans. The latter, freed of Trump, are likely to respond in January as they would not now.
AFTER THE STORM: WHAT KIND Of AMERICA?
by Ted Van Dyk
Nov 7, 2020
Attention understandably is focused now on the Trump challenges in several closely contested states. But, if history holds, few will be upheld and Biden will indeed be inaugurated in January. What will the situation be in January and in the year ahead?
First, and perhaps most importantly, if current Senate, House, and state legislative outcomes are confirmed, we will find that—after four turbulent Trump years and polarizing actions in both political parties—our political culture has taken neither hard Left nor Rightward turns. Voters as always want strong national and neighborhood security, good public schools, a solid domestic economy, public policies supporting the elderly and vulnerable, and leadership not veering too far on either side of the center line.
No street disorders, no police defunding, no racial quotas, no militias, no changes in basic institutions such as the Electoral College, Supreme Court, Senate. Positive environmental policies but not through immediate and wrenching changes in the energy economy. Immigration policies providing border security but also
a path to citizenship for non-citizens already here. Necessary stimulus spending to keep the pandemic-damaged economy afloat but, afterward, attention to the huge long-term public debt burden which will cripple us if unchecked. America’s basic ideology remains pragmatism and practical, non-ideological problem-solving measures remain what most Americans want.
Elected officials and candidates must recognize, however, that the public skepticism and impatience which led to Trump’s 2016 nomination and election—and to Sanders’ near nomination in the Democratic Party—will still be there. Voters impatient with interest-group politics, polling organizations, both traditional and new media, institutions they see as having too much financial and economic power, and leaders they see as primarily self serving. A shorter public fuse when it comes to performance in office. Sensitized BS detectors in the electorate. A quick hook for politicians who disappoint.
Despite all the drama of the past four years, the basic America still exists out there. Millions of honest people slugging it out day by day, trying to provide for their families, basically tolerant and bearing no ill will toward others, wanting government to provide safety-net measures but otherwise to give them leeway. Still pursuing the American Dream and seeking opportunity in a free and open country. They refuse to be conned and have more common sense than many of their would-be political and opinion leaders. As Twain put it, “You can fool some of the people…” etc.