Tag: Democratic Party

The DNC Election, and the Big Tent

Dems fear divisions will persist after DNC chair election

With Tom Perez’s narrow, second-ballot victory over progressive rival Keith Ellison for the chair of the Democratic National Committee this week, many on the left and center of American politics are revisiting last year’s primary win by Hillary Clinton over Democratic Socialist Senator Bernie Sanders.  The same hostility between certain factions of leftist and centrist politics in the United States is being repeated and expressed in similar terms as the continuing armchair quarterbacking of last year’s election.  This hostility means one thing only: a victory for the other side, for the Republicans under the guidance of Donald Trump, who want to destroy unions, fire workers, concentrate wealth, allow small businesses to be swallowed up by large corporations, and pursue an agenda of hatred and divisiveness not seen in this country since before the 1960s.

The United States is not a parliamentary democracy, but a presidential one; and while political parties are never mentioned in the Constitution, the methodologies devised for selecting national leaders, presidential and congressional, promote the existence of two large parties.  In some ways, some of the framers of the Constitution imagined not two but several or numerous “factions” (political parties); but this vision was intended to place the decision of the president’s election in the hands of the House of Representatives, rather than in the hands of the popular electorate.  And with the House controlled by a majority, that majority would be expected (the original framers imagined further) to elect a president friendly to that majority – the largest “faction,” or political party.

But the transformation of presidential elections into a popular vote at each state level, and the states’ collation into the Electoral College, puts power squarely into the hands of any political party that establishes itself as a “big tent,” as opposed to the multitude of smaller, competing parties found in modern European parliamentary democracies.  And ultimately, the only way to combat a “big tent” party is to form an opposing “big tent.” Hence the perpetuation of the domination of American politics by two parties.

Republicans and Democrats both, in order to win and to compete with each other, and especially in order specifically to get presidents elected, must be “big tents” that bring in a multitude of often disparate and competing interests.  These interests create a constant push and pull within both parties.  Both parties find themselves torn between, on the one hand, internal struggles for the helm of the “big tent,” and for the opportunity to set priorities for the rest of the occupants of the tent; and on the other hand, the external struggle with the other party and for those voters whose interests put them in the middle or are attracted by different positions to both parties simultaneously.

The Democratic Party’s “big tent” includes many gun-owners (roughly a third of self-identifying Democrats, according to a 2006 Gallup poll); the party includes religious conservatives who are opposed to abortion; the party includes fiscal conservatives unconvinced about the need to spend taxes on social supports.  A traditional demographic of the party during twentieth century was union voters; and these voters are hardly progressive in any real sense, often (even if quietly, and while denying that they do) expressing racism, sexism, homophobia, religious bigotry, and other “traditional values.”  Many of these “traditional Democrats” voted for Trump and other Republican candidates last year, and many of them had, as former Democrats, voted for Obama in 2008 and 2012.  The Democratic Party is losing elections ever more as it becomes less of a big tent, losing moderates and conservatives who have until now been suspicious of the Republicans to those very same Republicans.

During last year’s election, and again during this year’s battle for the DNC chair, the “Big Tent” saw continued struggles for partisan identity between those conservatives remaining (many frightened of the openly antidemocratic  – small “d” – promises and actions of the Trump Republicans), with the moderates and progressives wanting to push the right-centrist Democratic Party of the Obama era more to the left.  The struggle between Bernie and Hillary was one between those more hopeful of the Democratic Socialist vision, and others finding enough promise and realism for positive reform and governance from Hillary’s urge for the tent to be “Stronger Together.”  It was also a struggle between those who managed to buy from Republican detractors the message that Bernie’s promise was substantially contrary to that of Hillary’s, and those who had already followed both politicians long enough to know that there was in fact little sunlight between them – particularly when looking at their mutual voting records, in which they voted together roughly 97% of the time.  The battle for the primary ended with a newly energized Bernie “revolution,” shocked that a candidate almost identical to their own and who then embraced their very platform, had defeated their seemingly unconquerable hero – a hero who was losing the fight for the party’s popular vote long before the issue of superdelegates seemed to throw party contrivance and conspiracy into the light as the “reason” why Bernie lost.

In three key states – Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Ohio – Green Party candidate Jill Stein captured key progressive votes.  In each of these states, progressives tossed their votes out on Stein as a protest of the Hillary campaign’s win in the primary, angrily rejecting both their own platform (embraced by both the DNC and by Hillary Clinton’s campaign specifically) and their former candidate, Bernie (who also endorsed Hillary and spent the general campaign fighting for her election).  Stein votes in each of these three states were greater than the Trump campaign’s minuscule margin of victory over Hillary.  Had these progressives voted for the candidate who had embraced their very platform, and who was endorsed by their previous candidate, Clinton would have won those states, and the general election as well – and we would today be having an existentially different conversation about American politics than the one we are having now.

The battle for the DNC has dug up all of the hostilities from last year’s battles, as progressives fought for Rep. Keith Ellison (MN5-D) to be the new chair.  Ellison promised a progressive reshaping of the Democratic Party, attracting the praise of Bernie Sanders and his “revolutionaries” of last year.  And that promise resonated with enough of the ranking members of the DNC (the people who get to vote for chair and vice-chairs, elections closed to the general voters of the Democratic Party) that it took two votes for the chair to be decided.  Tom Perez, the Latino Secretary of Labor under President Obama, was also able to form a large base of diverse Democrats, by urging greater activism among the youth and for social and racial justice; moving donation drives to small-money donors rather than large, corporate-friendly donors; working more with state parties to  develop a 50-states strategy; forming a permanent organizing campaign; and other DNC means of supporting local and state parties’ fights for the upcoming elections of the next two years.  This powerful program, hardly an embrace of party conservatism, won over the admittedly moderate heads of the DNC, an election that nonetheless felt to many “revolutionaries” as another spit in the face by a party that they see as being insufficiently progressive and insufficiently “Democratic.”  Mutterings that, “Democrats are going to keep losing elections,” were heard across the social media as progressives felt shut out and rejected.

Those expressing such mutterings chose to ignore, or to see as a token attempt to sweeten the defeat of progressives, the election of Ellison to the Deputy Chair position.  This slate gives the highest powers of the DNC to a Latino and to a black Muslim, an indicator of the ethnic diversity around which the Democratic Party hopes to rally its forces.  Yet however much a token that Ellison’s deputy chair position seems to appear to progressives, the fact remains that the DNC has inherited from the campaigns of last year an agenda comprised of unimpeachably progressive values and goals.  Furthermore, the DNC is ultimately not a grassroots organizing agency or an ideological demagogue; but instead is a means of supporting the state Democratic parties and is a strategic planner for national resources utilization.  Individual state parties, and their committees, candidates, and elected leaders, will determine how progressive (or not) the Democrats are going into this year’s local elections and next year’s state and congressional elections.  Progressives should be encouraged by the power emanating from such mechanisms as the Indivisible movement, the Women’s March movement (which continues to organize and conduct protests, rallies, and other events), and other grassroots forces.  These forces can, if they do not give up their power, drive the state Democratic parties to retain their new-found progressivism, and put progressive issues and positions on the ballots and into public debates this year and next.  The DNC’s seemingly progressive agenda suggests that, although the DNC will also probably protect those conservative Democrats fighting to keep their seats in the many states that went for Trump, the DNC will likely empower the progressives and moderates in some local and state campaigns.

Headline image, of Rep. Keith Ellison, and Labor Secretary Tom Perez, posted in The Hill, 2/24/27.


Scenes From The #ResistanceRecess

My latest pièce de résistance against the new administration has been work with NDAPL (No Dakota Access Pipeline) on a petition drive.  The Standing Rock Sioux tribal leaders are continuing their struggle against the construction of the DAPL, especially since the Trump administration has ordered that the pipeline construction be continued.  However, the vast plethora of attacks made by the administration upon our civil liberties, upon the free press, and upon constitutional norms of government, have diverted much of what little national attention had managed to trickle over to Standing Rock.

Senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts has posted a bill (S. 65, and HR 371), “To address financial conflicts of interest of the President and Vice President.”  In concert with this bill, Roxanne Saxton of Michigan put up a petition through MoveOn.org, calling on Congress to “Require President Trump to provide the audit trail of papers proving he is no longer involved in any way, shape, or form with the Dakota Access Pipeline.”

In very little time, the petition accumulated over 230,000 signatures nation-wide.  Then volunteers and organizers like myself who signed the petition began a drive to visit every single member of Congress, Senators and Representatives alike, and present them with a full list of their constituents who signed the petition, together with the petition language and a summary of the campaign (numbers and so forth).

Michigan has 16 members of Congress (MoC’s, as they are increasingly being called, as groups like Indivisible and others make resistance plans around contacting these key elected leaders).  Our Great Lakes State has 14 US Representatives (5 Democrats, and 9 Republicans); and both of our US Senators (Debbie Stabenow and Gary Peters) are Democrats.  Recent events have put Republican MoC’s under considerable pressure to face their increasingly disgruntled consituents; and many have gone “missing,” ignoring invitations and pleas to hold town halls or public events at which they might have to explain their acquiescence to increasingly unpopular Trump administration initiatives.

This past week, (Sunday, February 19 through Sunday, February 26) was a scheduled recess for both houses, and MoC’s from both parties came home to hold public events or to visit key places in their states and districts.  Our petition campaign’s national leadership sought to exploit the opportunity, and to put copies of the petition, with constituents’ signatures and comments from the online petition, directly in the hands of all of the country’s MoC’s or their respective staffs by the end of the recess week.

Considering that 6 of Michigan’s 7 Democratic MoC’s are co-sponsors of the Warren bill, the Democrats were very friendly to this petition; while the Republicans are less comfortable with the implications of calling on investigations of their party’s president and vice-president.  Democratic officials have not been as eager to avoid public appearances during the recess as have the Republicans; and here in Michigan we were able to make direct contact with several Democratic MoC’s, such as Rep’s Sander Levin (MI09-D) and Brenda Lawrence (MI14-D), both of whom thanked our volunteers for our efforts and asked us to keep fighting.  While Republican staffers receiving the petition for their bosses have not generally been unfriendly in Michigan (and some have contacted our campaign with further questions and requesting electronic copies to back up their paper copies received in person), we were unable to make direct contact with any of the Republican Representatives of our state.


A supportive crowd at Brenda Lawrence’s Town Hall at her Detroit office, 2/24/17, listens to a panel member discussing immigration law.  Rep. Lawrence is at the podium on the right. Photo ©Sparkpolitical, 2017.

Public rallies and town halls by Levin and Lawrence (some attended by other members of the Michigan Democratic delegation, such as Rep. John Conyers (MI13-D), Dean of the House of Representatives, who attended the Lawrence town hall) were scenes of public gratitude to their Democratic officials, in open contrast to the many angry crowds haunting the Republicans around the state and the nation.  At the Lawrence town hall, which I attended, for example, only one member of the audience showed visible (and relatively well-behaved) opposition as a Trump supporter; while applause was loud and energetic from the rest of the room for Lawrence’s support for immigrants fearing the new sweeps and deportation drives of ICE and the CBP, and for her presence at Detroit Metro Airport last month during the protest of the travel ban on Muslims.

On the other hand, Michigan Republicans like David Trott have become notorious for avoiding their own constituents.  While we were (optimistically) hoping to be able to catch at least one or two of them at their offices or during some public event or other, these officials have continued to avoid the public.  However, the Jackson office of Rep. Tim Walberg (MI07-R), whose constituents have created a “Where’s Walberg?” site for their missing representative, contacted our campaign and informed us that his office was going to address the questions raised in the comments column of the signatures print-out.  Other questions were asked of our volunteers by Republican staffers seeking more information about the petition, so they were not all immediately dismissive or unfriendly.

Now that Michigan’s petition effort is virtually complete (current projections are that all packets will have been delivered by Monday, Feb. 27), the Michigan volunteers are ready to move on to our next battle of resistance, either against the state administration of Governor Snyder, or against the national administration of President Trump.

Headline image, Danee Kaplan delivering our petition to Mitzi, Kalamazoo office staffer for Rep. Fred Upton (MI06-R).  With special thanks to Danee Kaplan for authorizing use of this photo.

Using Johnson’s 1964 Ads Against Trump, Part 2

In 1964, actor William Bogert was asked by Lyndon B. Johnson’s campaign to read a script that coincided with his political views; and in filming his script he also improvised with some of his own views as a Republican about his party’s candidate Barry Goldwater, and about the coming election.  As with the “Daisy Girl” ad, the language of this ad, the frustration of a conservative with his party’s flirtation with extremism and hatred, and the comparisons between Goldwater and Trump, all present a unique opportunity to revisit history by using this ad, or one very much like it, to prove that Trump’s extremism and immaturity disqualify him completely from holding any political office, let alone the presidency.

Vote Democrat in November.  The stakes are too high for you to stay home.

Using Johnson’s 1964 Ads Against Trump

The “Daisy Girl” ad was one of numerous political ads used in 1964 by Lyndon B. Johnson’s campaign to target Barry Goldwater’s extremism, war-mongering, and xenophobia (not to mention the KKK’s love for him – any of this sound familiar?).  However, by modifying names and dates for the 2016 election, they also provide the perfect message for Hillary Clinton (or whoever will be the Democratic nominee) to use against Trump.  This ad in particular, reminding us that “we can love each other… or we can die,” fits perfectly into Clinton’s “love and kindness” response to Trump’s casualness toward using the nuclear trigger.

Vote Democrat in November.  The stakes are too high for you to stay home.

Helping Out in Flint

Helping in Flint.png

On Friday, February 5, 2016, Spark! joined with the Michigan Democratic Party and other groups in supporting the relief drive in Flint, Michigan.  The Red Cross Blood Donation Center (1401 S Grand Traverse Street) has been dispatching volunteers to various local charities, churches, and other organizations to provide water and other supports to residents affected by the water crisis.  They provide water directly to houses, and also maintain drive-through water pick-up locations, where drivers can simply pull up and have cases of water, and/or gallon jugs, packed into their car.

I participated in one such activity for several hours at one of Flint’s Center of Hope locations (at 517 E 5th Avenue), along with various people volunteering from other organizations (in the picture above, for example, a couple of the volunteers are US Navy recruiters).  We unloaded pallets of water from a truck brought to the site; and packed cases into cars, vans, and trucks as they rolled up (four cases per adult in each vehicle).  We also received a large number of water donations (sort of a “take some water, leave some water” activity).  Many of the volunteers (myself included) also brought some of their own water donations as well.

The Red Cross in Flint can be reached at (810) 232-1401.  They operate volunteer support teams seven days a week, mostly from 9:00am – 4:00pm.  Please come and help them.

You can read more about how this crisis occurred in Part I of my “Special Report: Flint in Crisis”; and about what Flint needs (and how to help) in Part II.  You can also read a touching story about the human impact of these events that I re-blogged from another writer.

Headline image © 2016, Sparkpolitical.  All rights reserved.

2016’s First Tracking Poll: Voters Expect a Clinton-Trump Race, and a Democratic Win

Less than a month away from the opening of the primaries and caucus season (beginning with the Iowa caucus on February 1, and the New Hampshire primary on February 9), NBC News partnered with Survey Monkey to release their first tracking poll of 2016.  The raw data of the tracking poll reveals a predictable separation of poll respondents from political reality within the Republican camp, and a far more sobering touch of realism from potential Democrats.

Despite Ted Cruz‘s recent surge in Iowa, and Donald Trump‘s continuing inability to get any Republican establishment endorsements (historically a key indicator of success in winning the party nomination), poll respondents leaning towards the Republicans still doled out more support for Trump than for any other candidate (with 33.7%; 39% among men and 29% among women).  Cruz and Marco Rubio were Trump’s principal challengers (with 16.8% and 13.5% respectively).  Those describing themselves as Trump supporters were also largely “absolutely certain” that they would vote for that candidate (51%); whereas Cruz and Rubio’s supporters are less committed, with a “large chance” that they would vote for their candidate (49% of both candidates’ supporters answering so).  Interestingly, despite largely avoiding traditional conservative platform issues and promising substantial increases in government spending, Trump also polled the highest among those considering themselves “very conservative,” with 33% of that group (the far more conservative Cruz got 30%; and all other Republicans polled in the single digits).  As a second choice candidate, Cruz gained the largest share of other candidates’ supporters (with 22%).  Trump and Rubio finished neck and neck as a second choice (with 14% and 13% respectively), while Ben Carson tied at 11% with that old Republican favorite, “Don’t Know.”

The Republican results in the poll clash dramatically with the picture from within the party machinery, where the actual nomination process will largely take place.  While the bulk of the decision will be made through the primary and caucus process, a reliable indicator of nomination potential is endorsement by the “superdelegates” (major Republican leaders in the party, state governments, and Congress).  Trump has yet to gain a single endorsement (out of the sum total of over 180 committed thus far).  Bush, faring meagerly in the polls, is still at the top of the machine’s food chain, with 46 endorsements; Rubio is running second with 38, and Cruz is down in seventh place with 12.  If either Cruz or Rubio pulls out of Iowa in strength, they can leave with both state party delegates and further superdelegate endorsements in their pockets.  Ultimately, tracking polls show who is winning the struggle for the American sitting at home.  The primaries will determine the victor in the struggle for the American going out to vote.

Meanwhile, back in the Democracy, Clinton got 53% of her party’s supporters; with Sanders running at 36% and Martin O’Malley running a consistent 2%.  While overall Republican “certainty” about their candidate for the primary ran 38% (with “large chance” respondents at 40%), Democrats were somewhat more stalwart about their chosen favorite; with 48% “absolutely certain,” and 33% in the “large chance” group.  While Sanders supporters largely looked to Clinton as their second choice (30% of the party seeing her as such), Sanders’s result at 31% (barely beating “Don’t Know,” who so far seems to be running a strong campaign in both parties) indicates that many Clinton supporters are looking to O’Malley as the horse to back at the convention if Clinton flames out.

As with the Republicans, the endorsements picture shows an even simpler reality.  With almost 460 party “superdelegates” having endorsed a candidate, Clinton has a virtual monopoly on the party machine, with 456 endorsements.  Sanders has only two; and O’Malley has but one.

Looking overall at both parties, poll respondents generally favored the Democratic Party over the Republican Party, despite a marginally conservative-leaning respondents pool.  Asked to identify as either “very” conservative or liberal, or conservative or liberal, or moderate, the mean response put the audience at just over the conservative side of the moderate range.  Nonetheless, asked to rate the parties from 0 (worst) to 10 (best), the respondents gave the Democrats an edge with 4.26 over the Republicans’ 3.71.  The Democrats showed further strength in that of the 3,700 respondents, Clinton supporters were the largest group (830, or 22.4%), and Sanders ran a strong second place (558, or 15.1%).  Trump was obviously the top-scoring Republican, with 497 (13.4% of respondents), while Cruz and Rubio together had slightly more (13.6%, with 282 and 221 supporters respectively).  The two main Democratic candidates got 37.5%, to the top three Republicans’ 27%.  This, of course, leaves out the 35.5% who either supported other Republican candidates (and O’Malley’s roughly 2%), or favored the always popular “not sure.”

Ultimately what this poll shows is that, without any endorsements, primaries, or caucus votes being considered (the actual mechanism by which candidates will use to win – or lose – the nomination), the poll respondents at least expect a Clinton-Trump race; with Clinton holding a strong edge over the erstwhile Republican front-runner.

Headline image via Google Image Search

Why the Democrats are the New National Security Party


Following a series of terrorist attacks in the Middle East and France, national security has become a vital issue in the continuing contest between the Democratic and Republican parties for the hearts and minds of the American voters.  Americans were particularly shocked by the Paris attacks, in a city seemingly far removed from the conflict zone of the Middle East, and especially considering the long and close relationship between the US and France.  Reacting with an almost post-911 frenzy, American pundits and social media commentators ratcheted up the panic level to maximum.  Seemingly reading the temperature of frightened Americans, the US House of Representatives pushed through House bill 4038, restricting the entry of Syrian and Iraqi refugees to the US.  Numerous state governments also issued arguably illegal restrictions of refugees to their own states as well, ignoring increasing evidence that refugees in France were not involved in the attacks (perpetrated by French and Belgian nationals), and contradicting France’s own immediate response of welcoming even more refugees.  As the election year draws ever closer, American voters will consider the two major parties’ (and their candidates’) responses to terror and their positions on national security policy.

First on the radar screen at the moment is Daesh (or the Islamic State; the author prefers the former term particularly as the group finds that term to be offensive to their image), the group behind last week’s terror.  Sadly, neither party has a cohesive plan (let alone an exit strategy) for pursuing war, with both parties apparently employing a “one-piece-at-a-time” chess-game strategy.  Candidates from both parties are reluctant to engage in another seemingly indefinite ground war, and the complexities of the Syrian civil war perplex the candidates on all sides.  Trump, Cruz, Bush and Christie (and Clinton on the Democratic stage) all urge a greater use of US airpower (most unrealistic is Trump’s focus on destroying oil facilities, which are of only minimal value in petroleum-poor Syria).  Trump and Carson both urge a greater ground effort in Iraq (containing Daesh to Syria, though neither candidate is willing to use the term “containment” to describe their strategy).  Bush has, since the latest wave of attacks, begun to favor the use of ground forces, but has not specified where or how, or how many, or with what objectives.  Paul wavers indecisively between calling the use of ground forces “unconstitutional,” and stating that he would use “…overwhelming force.  I wouldn’t mess around.”  He is as devoid of details as Bush, however.  Kasich favors invoking Article V of the NATO agreement, to “take care of business and come home,” but also has not said how either the deployment or the coming home would actually work.  Finally, Sanders, still trying to maintain relevance against Clinton’s rising popularity among Democrats, calls for a new, greater coalition (including Russia as well as the Muslim states of the Middle East).  Sanders, however, has not been able to explain how to defuse the increasing hostility and suspicion between the US and Russia.  With Russia bombing anti-Assad groups who have been aided by the US, there is much to do if Russia and the US are to work together instead of seeing the war as a zero-sum conflict between themselves.  No one on either side of the partisan divide has successfully addressed that issue.

Another issue of the Syrian war is the status of refugees seeking to escape the war zone.  On this issue, the parties have spelt out their differences far more prominently.  Republicans pushed through the House bill, and most of the state efforts to restrict refugees have come from Republican governors.  Republican candidates have said little to oppose restrictions, and have even called for “religious tests” denying Muslims refuge in favor of Christians.  Trump has even echoed Nazi racial programs by calling for the “registration” of Muslim refugees.  Sanders and Clinton have both (in league with President Obama) attacked such as un-American and un-Christian; and that argument has resonated with the evangelical community (normally a Republican stronghold).  Various commentators have linked Republican language of restrictions to Daesh’s specific goal of dividing America from the Muslim community, calling the Republicans out for surrendering in one fell swoop the terrorists’ most immediate political objective.

Taking the bipartisan confusion about the Syrian war together with the clear partisan divergence on the greater philosophy of conflict and engagement, we can define a reluctant tendency of a few Republican hotheads to push for a greater “imperial overreach,” while most candidates agree that a new war may simply not be in our national interest.  The Democrats, while being only slightly more (but questionably) reasoned and willing to lean on allies and other powers, see a clear link between the pursuit of war policy in the Middle East and maintaining our “shining City on a Hill” through one of our most American and liberal values, the compassion for refugees seeking a better life in a civil society.  Republicans are more willing to sink to the lowest common denominator of popular suspicion and resentment of the “Other,” and choose to empower themselves in a confusing conflict by taking power from those seeking asylum.  As with so many other issues, the Democrats’ approach seeks to build the City on a Hill; whereas the Republicans want only to wave the flag while denying its true meaning and value.  The Democrats’ approach also de-emphasizes the military aspect of the conflict in favor of the greater political conflict, while the Republicans confusedly wallow in the mud over tactical military problems without a greater appreciation of the politics driving the issue.

Iran is another issue more cohesively dividing the parties, both as an actor in the Syrian war, and as a power seeking a greater role in regional affairs.  All candidates recognize that Iran and Daesh are inherently opposed to each other, but they also fear what an increased role for Iran in Syria would mean for Israel, Lebanon, Iraq, and other regional states and issues.  Clearly as the US looks to regional states to step up and defeat Daesh, Iran’s massive and well-equipped military poses as a major potential ally; but a sudden US-Iran relationship could not be formed from that foundation alone, particularly as long as Iran and Israel both remain inherently hostile to each other.  As with Russia, Iran shows something of a zero-sum game approach to the conflict, with an Iranian defeat of Daesh as not necessarily in the strategic interest of the US (and with Iran viewing a potential US defeat of Daesh through a similar lens).  Neither US political party has developed a viable pathway to a US-Iran partnership on Syria.

Iran’s search for greater regional power and relevance further conflicts with American security policy on the nuclear weapons issue.  Flanked by  a hostile, nuclear-armed Israel to one side, and a hostile, nuclear-armed Pakistan to the other, and faced continuously by US naval forces in the Persian Gulf (themselves obviously backed by a massive nuclear deterrent), Iran has obvious motivations for acquiring a nuclear weapon.  Such a capability would force the US to use greater reflection before employing its military forces against Iran, and could theoretically increase Iranian prestige in the region (albeit also triggering a regional arms race, as Iran’s other regional rivals would seek to acquire their own nuclear deterrents).  The US, wishing to keep its military options on the table (and also fearing a potential Israeli-Iranian nuclear exchange), wishes also to keep Iran from getting a nuclear weapon.  This issue has driven the past year’s antagonistic partisan debate over the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) and related agreements, by which Iran has agreed to surrender the vast majority of its nuclear weapons production potential (in both its on-hand materials and its processing capacity).  Republicans responded to their growing irrelevance in international politics with alarmist misrepresentations of the agreement (relying on their supporters’ reluctance to read 160-page technical agreements).  The Democrats, on the other hand, were able to brush aside Republican arguments, although they did face some difficulties over Republican accusations regarding “secret language” in the Additional Protocols.  Nevertheless, the Democrats secured a victory both internationally as well as domestically, in first pushing Iran to the peace table (through Clinton’s construction, as Secretary of State, of a rigid international sanctions environment), and second in getting the agreement approved over the opposition of the conservatives of both nations.

Another major security problem for the US is Russian expansionism.  Republicans have scored points by recalling Obama’s 2012 criticism of Mitt Romney, telling the governor that US-Russian conflict was a thing of the past.  Sanders hopes in effect to prove Obama right by developing a more productive relationship with Russia; but has not indicated how he would make that happen.  The Republicans dither between Trump and Fiorina imagining themselves using their corporate boardroom experience to build a better relationship (disregarding the historic lack of success that American business leaders have had in using business strategy in international politics), and Carson’s details-free “position of strength” exhortations.  Clinton is the only candidate with actual experience in negotiating with Russia and Putin; although her track record there is a combination of both successes and failures.  Otherwise, Republicans do not actually say what they would do differently from each other, or from Obama.  They attack Obama as somehow impotent in the face of Russian expansion into the Ukraine and Syria; but they ignore their own party’s failure in preventing or halting an actual outbreak of war between Russia and Georgia in 2008.  They have offered no actual solutions not already explored or implemented, only insisting that their sheer Republicanness would somehow force Putin to back down (despite the fact that that did not work the last time they tried it).  The Democrats, with Sanders’ vague intent to partner with Russia, and Clinton’s actual experience in doing so, therefore show a modest superiority over the Republicans, who seem more confused and torn over what to do (and over how to frame a campaign statement about it).

Finally, the Democrats claim a right to a major national security interest that the Republicans have traditionally denied en masse: the threat posed by climate change.  A few of the current flock of “clown car” candidates, however, see the issue as an arena in which to grab moderate American voters, and so the GOP’s diversity on that issue has grown.  Trump, Huckabee, Cruz, and Carson are still flatly in denial; while Fiorina, Rubio, and Paul are willing to concede that something freaky is happening, but all demonstrably oppose any  government action to limit or reverse the process.  Kasich, Christie, and Bush all recognize climate change as the real result of human actions; but they only see the need for the most limited of government action to curtail the problem.  Clinton can also be shown as having only limited commitment, having (while serving as Secretary of State) pushed fossil-fuels development as a key to foreign states’ overall energy independence; but her language is far more hawkish and she supports the president’s Clean Power Plan.  She may well have been steered to the left by Sanders’ more inflammatory language (describing climate change, at least before the recent wave of attacks, as the greatest threat to the US).  Martin O’Malley has fought for relevance from his single-digit approval ratings by in part pushing a far more detailed and comprehensive Clean Energy plan than have either of his Democratic rivals.  Both parties have therefore used the issue not merely to hammer the other party, but as an in-party arena to attract different political constituencies.  However, across the board, the Democrats have called unapologetically for greater action, while the Republicans’ most “radical” elements call simply for limited action at best, preferring to rely on private corporations’ good will to accomplish energy transformation and ecological protections.  The most popular Republican candidates fall on the flat denial side (although collectively those “most popular candidates” still poll at less than half among total Republican supporters).  Overall, the Democrats continue to be the party most willing to pursue actual reform on environmental and energy policy.

The Democrats can lay claim, therefore to being the US’s “National Security Party,” having by far the more coherent view of American security interests, as well as potential solutions to current problems.  Neither party really has much of a vision for Syria; but the Republican “fire and forget” military strategy applied in Iraq (and which created the Daesh problem in the first place) still remains their preferred alternative.  The Democrats see the need for a more philosophically consistent political conflict, between the American City on a Hill and an extremist, deliberately antidemocratic way of life, using our nation’s greatest assets and the power of modern information systems to push Daesh into irrelevance while using limited military efforts to neutralize physical targets as they manifest themselves.  The Democrats also have a far better plan (and history) of dealing with Iran, although there, too, both parties suffer from strategic myopia.  Even more short-sightedness is evident on the Russian front; but the Democrats have the greater experience and willingness not just to talk but also to listen, a fundamental step to repairing relationships.  Finally, on climate change, the Democrats have a much clearer vision of both the scope of the problem and the venue for solutions, a vision far more consistent with the actual data acquired by climate scientists.  As we near the start of the election year, the Democrats have demonstrated themselves as the party most capable of facing and solving our most vital national security problems.

While the Parties Continue to Fight, MSNBC’s “First in the South” Forum Beats Out CNBC’s Debate By a Wide Margin

Dem Forum

On Friday, November 6, 2015, MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow moderated the latest installment of the presidential candidates’ debates, the First in the South” Democratic Forum, hosted by Winthrop University, in Rock Hill, South Carolina. The forum was not a debate, Maddow told viewers, but was a series of one-on-one interviews of the candidates by Maddow, who generated many of the questions herself. The candidates did not, therefore, engage in any direct conversation or exchange, and the forum differed sharply from the most recent Republican installment, the CNBC debate at the University of Colorado. Maddow’s questioning concentrated on serious questions, but also included some lighter questioning to create a friendly atmosphere (including a “meet the young candidate” segment for each candidate, giving them a chance to talk about their youth and their career). The bulk of the interviews, however, saw Maddow pushing the candidates to justify both their views and their candidacy.

Former Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley was up first. After evading a question about the Democratic Party’s traditional weakness in the South (since the 1970s), the conversation turned to climate change. O’Malley noted that, “We’re the party that believes in science…,” and he talked about the problem as more of a “challenge and opportunity,” denying the traditional view of environmental reform as potentially job-killing. Instead, O’Malley articulated a vision of energy reform as a job creation opportunity, talked about his Clean Energy Jobs Corps proposal, and advocated cities as the best area in which to pursue green energy. O’Malley shrugged aside Maddow’s suggestion that at least some states might lose both jobs and money were his proposal to turn the energy grid completely green by 2050 to be enacted.

Discussing the Black Lives Matter movement, O’Malley asserted that his governorship reduced incarceration and recidivism rates, cleaned the streets of Maryland of drugs, and reduced crime rates, all effects beneficial to African Americans. O’Malley sees the elimination of for-profit prisons as the next step to reduce both prison populations and the legal system’s incarceration mentality.

On foreign affairs, O’Malley sees both the continuing use of the Guantanamo detention facility and the “American boots on the ground” approach to the Middle East as the best “recruiting tools” for ISIL and Al Qaeda, generating by their very existence entire new ranks of extremist, anti-American fighters. The detention of people without due process, O’Malley asserted, was simply “contrary to our principles as a people.”

Maddow’s interview with O’Malley finished with a question about his campaign, still polling in the low single-digits, and a very distant third of the three remaining “viable” Democratic candidates. O’Malley took the moment to attack Sanders as a socialist (unlike himself as a “lifelong Democrat”), and Clinton for being late to the game on numerous issues such as Keystone and gay marriage. O’Malley noted that in races to the governorship, he had also suffered from low polling early on, and that he liked a “tough fight.”

Next up was Bernie Sanders, the formerly independent Senator from Vermont, arguing that his message resonates for all poor and working people, and that despite representing a state that’s 95% white, his civil rights record is unimpeachably progressive. While idealistic, his responses to Maddow’s questions on marketing his Democratic candidacy to southern and black voters spoke less to the realities of lower-class suspicions toward the Democratic Party in the South. Similarly, his responses to her questions about involving the corporations in the reform of the economy and tax structure (especially by moving corporate investment into actual job creation rather than pure wealth concentration) were vague, and centered simply around taxes, suggesting that a Sanders administration might be dangerously confrontational to those powers capable of generating new jobs.

Sanders continued to answer vaguely on other issues, such as Middle East policy. He insisted that the “boots on the ground” needed to be regional rather than American, or that American involvement could take place through a venue of greater international involvement, especially by European powers such as Great Britain, France, and Germany. Sanders refused to consider a unilateral American effort, and seemed to falter at Maddow’s questioning about European and regional reluctance to engage. To be fair, O’Malley’s answers were similarly idealistic and vague, and yet Maddow had not pinned O’Malley into a corner on the issue to the same degree that she did with Sanders.

Sanders pushed his self-image as a candidate for reasonable gun control, arguing that his representation of a rural state gave him a special appreciation of second amendment rights, but that (despite voting against legislation such as the Brady Bill) he also had worked to improve and increase background checks, and to ban assault weapons.

Finally, on the subject of voting rights, Sanders became heated, calling the Republicans “…political cowards, and if they can’t face a free election, then they should get another job.” Sanders saw the loss of Democratic vitality in the South as largely due to defeats on the issue in those states. He saw greater and effective political change as achievable through a renewed fight on that front. “We need to greatly expand voter turnout… We need a political revolution.”

Hillary Rodham Clinton completed the evening, coming out on stage to an explosion of applause. However, the many African American members of the audience looked less than convinced. Maddow’s first serious question asked Clinton about African American reactions to a Democratic stage with only white players, and whether African Americans should feel “left behind” by that reality. Clinton bypassed the question to argue for a “New New Deal,” which would help not only African Americans, but middle-class white voters as well (clearly an answer to speak more to that latter, larger demographic, but which for that very reason cannot be encouraging to the former). Clinton also answered weakly to Maddow’s questioning about Wall Street, repeating her mantra of telling Wall Street to “stop it,” and arguing merely that she is on record as fighting to level the playing field, and that the economy works too much for those at the very top, and too little for everyone else.

Clinton redirected a question about having police in school classrooms (referencing the recent ugly incident in Richland County, South Carolina), to the larger issue of economic change, with over half of students now on lunch programs, a key metric for gauging childhood and family poverty rates. Clinton condemned the school system’s vastly greater expulsion and suspension rates for African-American students in particular.

On foreign affairs, Clinton waved off Maddow’s suggestion that she is more “hawkish” and aggressive than her Democratic competitors. She argued that as Secretary of State, she had pursued diplomatic solutions and saw diplomacy succeed in creating international progress, especially with respect to Iran (with Clinton citing her work in creating a sanction environment that pushed Iran into a peaceful agreement with the West).

Maddow asked few specific questions of any candidate on economic policy and jobs creation, although the candidates were able to get in some vague ideas on the subject. Similarly the three Democratic candidates are all reluctant to use force in the Middle East, and yet they see the area as a key political arena; the forum demonstrated little in the way of clear thinking about alternatives. Another problem area for both parties, the demographics of their own base constituencies, shows an ironic contrast between the Republican Party, fronting both black and Hispanic candidates, and the all-white Democratic candidate pool. With both parties fighting for minority votes, such voters will have to decide whether they are better served by white candidates with more inclusive policies, or by minority candidates breaking key racial barriers but offering little else in the way of overall social inclusion.

In any case, the Forum provided the audience with a stark contrast to the CNBC debate, being more substantial (but still with glaring weaknesses on the issues), less inherently confrontational, less dramatic, and more didactic. The Democratic Party’s candidates therefore are better served by this environment than by the more confrontational atmosphere at Denver, and those viewers considering the Democratic candidates now have better information with which to consider their options as the political fight moves on to the next round.