Democracy

I’ve just finished reading Jon Meacham’s book The Soul of America:  The Battle for Our Better Angels.  Using various periods in our history (The Civil War, the McCarthy Era, Reconstruction, etc), Meacham tries to reassure us that things have been bad in the past and we managed to survive and even move forward.  When I think about this history I am comforted until I read the news.

In today’s Daily Kos Elections email newsletter we find that the Republican Party in North Carolina has changed its mind about joining in the effort to seek a new election and that the losing candidate in a New Mexico congressional race is refusing to concede a race she lost 51-49.  Add to the mix what is happening in Wisconsin and Michigan and the only conclusion is that the Republican Party no longer believes in democracy.

From the Daily Kos:

NC-09: In a bizarre about-face, the North Carolina Republican Party is once again demanding that the state Board of Elections certify the results of the tainted race in the 9th Congressional District, less than a week after state party executive director Dallas Woodhouse all but called for a new election. Woodhouse, rather impossibly, claims that his position “has not changed”; rather, he insists, the state GOP is only objecting to the fact that the board has delayed a public hearing on the matter until Jan. 11 and has not produced “one iota of public evidence” that wrongdoing altered the outcome in the 9th.

Of course, it’s impossible to square these two things. If, as Woodhouse briefly purported to, you believe that the widespread allegations of election fraud merit a thorough investigation, then you need to allow the necessary time for that investigation to proceed. Had the board instead tried to rush matters rather than conduct a serious inquiry, then Republicans would be howling about a lack of “due process.”

And this

NM-02: Even though we’re now six weeks out from the 2018 midterms, Republican Yvette Herrell still hasn’t conceded to Democratic Rep.-elect Xochitl Torres Small, who won New Mexico’s open 2nd District 51-49 in a race that wasn’t called until the day after Election Day thanks to absentee ballots. Like many of her fellow Republicans, who’ve decided that elections aren’t legitimate when Democrats win them, Herrell has been busy sowing vague doubts about the democratic process—and, naturally, refusing to substantiate any of her claims.

While the Daily Kos makes no claims to being non partisan, the underlying facts are pretty clear:  When the Republicans lose, they no longer believe in the democratic process.

On December 11, The Guardian ran an opinion piece by Andrew Gawthorpe, a lecturer in history and international studies at Leiden University in the Netherlands, which did an excellent job of summing up what is going on.

America’s federal system of government is, in theory, key to the strength of its democracy. As opposed to citizens in the more centralized states of Europe, Americans get to vote for a huge array of local offices, policies and ballot initiatives that can influence their lives for the better. Innovation in the states can be healthy for the whole country, such as when healthcare reform in Massachusetts provided inspiration for the Affordable Care Act. The supreme court justice Louis Brandeis famously praised US states as laboratories which could “try novel social and economic experiments without risk to the rest of the country”.

In Wisconsin, where Scott Walker’s loss to the Democrat Tony Evers was a national embarrassment for Republicans, the legislature has moved to seize control of welfare policy from the incoming governor. Evers will no longer be able to overturn policies that require food stamp recipients to take drug tests, or that require Medicaid recipients to meet a work requirement. Nor will the state’s new attorney general, also a Democrat, be able to withdraw Wisconsin from a lawsuit which seeks to have the Affordable Care Act declared unconstitutional.

Given that these are all policies that the incoming Democrats fought and won their elections on, we might expect Wisconsin Republicans to show some humility. But we would expect wrong. Wisconsin speaker of the House, Robin Vos, instead warned his fellow Republicans that the power grab was necessary to stop a “very liberal governor who is going to enact policies that are in direct contrast to what many of us believe in”. Just not quite enough, that is, to actually win the election.

Gawthorpe concludes

While so much outrage is rightly directed at Donald Trump’s daily attacks on democratic norms, the growing detachment of establishment Republicans from them is arguably an even greater concern in the long run. Trump’s general incompetence and lack of focus have so far prevented him from doing serious damage to voting rights, but his administration has provoked a backlash and energized the left. This swinging of the pendulum is how democratic politics should work. But events in Wisconsin show the limits to what can be accomplished by even an energized left in the face of disciplined Republican attempts to rob them of the power that is rightfully theirs.

To see the complicity of establishment Republicans in these attempts to turn the states into laboratories of anti-democracy, look no further than Paul Ryan. Even as he leaves politics this year, the Wisconsin congressman and poster boy for a supposedly “respectable” conservatism has been silent on events in his home state and their broader implications. There is little indication that the next generation of Republican leaders will have any more scruples, and plenty of reasons to fear they will have fewer. As the incentives increase for Republicans to ignore the will of the voters, the threat to American democracy today goes much deeper than Donald Trump – and consequently will be all the harder to tackle.

Many of us, myself included, spend a good deal of energy wallowing in the latest chapter of the Trump soap opera.  Perhaps we need to spend more on saving our democracy.  But is will be difficult when on political party appears to no longer believe in our basic democratic values.  Jon Meacham tells us that things have been bad before, but we have survived.  I hope he’s right this time.

Left behind

Demographers tell us that those who identify as white will be in the minority in a few years.  If you were a political party trying to maintain power and relevance wouldn’t you be trying to court members of the future majority?  I guess not.

Frank Bruni wrote in his recent column

From proud Republican harbinger to sad Republican castaway — that’s the story of Representative Mia Love, who finally conceded her extraordinarily close House race on Monday.

It’s the story of her party, really. Of what it once realized about the future and how it slouched backward into the past. Of trading the elixir of hope for the toxin of fear.

It charts Republicans’ ugly drift under Donald Trump, who rooted for her defeat not only as the votes in Utah’s Fourth Congressional District were still being counted (“Mia Love gave me no love,” the president pouted) but with all that he said on the campaign trail and has done in the White House. Tacitly and explicitly, he has sown disdain for the likes of Love, a daughter of Haitian immigrants who, in 2014, became the first black Republican woman ever elected to either chamber of Congress.

She remains the only one. When she leaves at the end of this congressional session, there will be just two black Republican men — one in the House and one in the Senate.

And then you have Cindy Hyde-Smith winning in Mississippi.  Jelani Cobb writes in the New Yorker

A series of outrageous statements, regardless of whether they were calculated or clueless, was not sufficient to alienate enough white Republicans from Hyde-Smith. She blithely stated that she would be willing to sit in the front row of a public hanging, in a state whose history is marred by the spectacle murders of black people at the hands of racist white mobs. She “joked” that she was in favor of making it more difficult for certain people to vote in the state where, in 1966, the N.A.A.C.P. activist Vernon Dahmer was killed—his home was firebombed—for the crime of registering black people to vote. Earlier, she had praised Beauvoir, the home of Jefferson Davis, as “Mississippi history at its best!” (It was also reported last week that she had graduated from a “segregation academy,” created to sidestep the Supreme Court’s Brown v. Board of Education decision, and sent her daughter to a school that had had the same origins.)

Mike Espy was always a long shot to win the elections, but the margin, 54 to 46, surprised me; I thought it would be closer.  And Hyde-Smith is not the only Republican to win this fall despite their racist statements.  Think of Governor-elect DeSantis in Florida and Governor-elect Kemp of Georgia.  Cobb writes

Hyde-Smith’s victory means that, this month, three Southern white Republicans used cavalierly racist rhetoric in successful attempts to defeat three black Democrats in statewide races. In Florida, Ron DeSantis warned Floridians not to “monkey this up” by electing his rival. In Georgia, Brian Kemp billed himself as a Trump-like conservativewho drove a large pickup truck so as to have room for the “criminal illegals” he might round up as he went about his day.

Trump with his implicit and explicit racism has created the atmosphere that gives other candidates cover.  On the Democratic side as Bruni points out, there is a new diversity.

Everything you heard about the exciting diversification of midterm races? About the significantly increased numbers of women running for office, of people of color, of L.G.B.T. candidates?

That was on the Democratic side. The Republicans either couldn’t be bothered, couldn’t find any takers or — my guess — both. Love called that out in a remarkable concession speech on Monday. To the victor go the spoils, but from the vanquished comes the candor.

“Because Republicans never take minority communities into their home and citizens into their homes and into their hearts, they stay with Democrats,” Love said. Democrats “do take them home — or at least make them feel like they have a home.”

Mia Love has put her finger on the Republican problem.  After Mitt Romney lost in 2008, the Republicans talked a lot about a reset to become more diverse and attract more diverse voters.  It obviously has not happened.  In fact, the Republicans have gone far in the opposite direction.  Meanwhile, the Democrats have made, in Love’s words, a diverse group feel like they have a home.  Just take a look at this New York Times piece on the new Freshmen in Congress.  The contrast is striking.  The Republican Party is being left behind.

Let me give Cobb the last word

The pre-Trump Republican Party certainly relied on the support of whites who held racially bigoted views, but it struggled for plausible deniability in such matters. With Trump, the racism is out in the open, and so, in some cases, is the willingness of the electorate to tolerate it. The Mississippi race reinforced something that has been impossible to avoid but difficult to accept: Trump’s imprimatur actually helped some Republicans win elections. Nina Simone titled her racial-justice protest song “Mississippi Goddam.” The shame isn’t just that the song remains resonant fifty-four years after it was released but that, looking at the landscape of 2018, there are still so many other places she could sing about.

Tempered Optimism

I  was seriously contemplating not renewing my subscription to WordPress.  I hadn’t written a word in months mostly because of a combination of writer’s block and not wanting to endlessly complain about the current occupant of the Oval Office.  I buried myself in binging West Wing,  posting on Facebook, and giving money to candidates.

But after the election, I feel a bit more optimistic about the future.  Plus the Boston Red Sox won the World Series!

Democratic women are the primary reason for my cautious optimism.  If there was a “Blue Wave”, it was women.  Meredith Conroy wrote in FiveThirtyEight a week or so after the election:

Democratic women did really well last Tuesday. And many broke new ground: Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who won a New York U.S. House seat, is the youngest woman ever elected to Congress. Rashida Tlaib, who won in Michigan’s 13th Congressional District, and Ilhan Omar, of the Minnesota 5th, will be the first Muslim women to serve in Congress. Women also flipped districts blue in competitive races — Navy veteran Elaine Luria won in the Virginia 2nd, and former CIA analyst Elissa Slotkin, who served in the Obama administration, won in the Michigan 8th.

What cheers me is the diversity of the women elected.  Young, not so young; white, black, Latino, and Asian; Lesbian, Trans, and straight; liberal and moderate.  In short, a mix that comes closer to representing American women than ever before.  I’m waiting for the stories about conflict among them, but I firmly believe that they will find a way to work together.  And work with their male colleagues.

Yes, the House needs to resume oversight of both agencies and the White House, but to continue success in 2020, legislation must be passed.  We know almost none of it will pass the Senate or be signed by the President to become law, but Democrats must have a track record of doing positive things for future success.  One thing that struck me in the fall election was the failure of the Republicans to talk about anything much except for the so-called Caravan of migrants coming to invade us.

So I am cautiously optimistic that the new House led by women will start leading us out of our dark times and back toward democracy.

 

 

The future of American democracy

I’m married to a pessimist.  He’s been reading Gibbon’s The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire and is convinced we are now well into the decline.  While I’m not quite so pessimistic, I admit I have my own moments of despair.  Sometimes it feels as though we have no control over the future.  Almost certainly, the Republican party has already caved in.  But events like the recent election in Alabama and the  generic polling that consistently shows a preference for electing Democrats to Congress this year give me a ray of hope.  If Virginia can almost completely flip the state legislature, why can’t we do the same for Congress?

I can think of at least three roadblocks:  Money (think the Koch’s), voter suppression (gerrymandered districts and new voter rules), and, last but not least, the age of the Democratic leadership.

A lot has been written about the first two roadblocks on my list but not so much about the third.  I love the members of the Vermont delegation but, let’s face it, the youngest is Representative Peter Welch who is exactly my age – 70.  I’m pretty sure that I am will vote for his reelection – and for Bernie’s – but there are a number of younger folks who will be ready to take their places next time around.  For right now, we need their seniority.

Moving from Vermont to national politics we have Nancy Pelosi (77) and Chuck Schumer (67).  If the Democrats retake the House, and even if they don’t, it is time for Nancy to retire gracefully.  She has served us well as both majority and minority leader, but it is time for the next generation.

Howard Dean, another Vermont politician I supported for President, is one of the few of my generation speaking out about this.  In a recent NPR interview with Rachel Martin, Dean said

The most important age group for us is people under 35. They elected Barack Obama in 2008. But now it’s time to let them take over. And they’re going to have to take over on their own terms. We have tons of talent in our party. We do not need to rely on my generation anymore. And these kids think differently. They’re more respectful of each other. They’re willing to listen to each other’s ideas and work things out. They’re entrepreneurial. They’re more conservative than we are economically than the left wing of the Democratic Party. They’re mostly libertarian.

I just think this is the future of America. They are diverse. They value immigration. They value different kinds of people. They believe that gay rights is the civil rights issue of their time. They care deeply about the environment. We need a real change in this country and the only way to do it is for us to get out.

Dean goes on to say that the party has to change because the world is changing and is no longer so dependent on institutions.  There are all sorts of interesting people running for Congress this year filed as Democrats.  I believe I read that most of the House seats in red districts have a Democratic challenger.  At this point, I think the most important role the Democratic Party as an institution can play is to help raise money as the elections will be won by grassroots workers who will not necessarily be Democrats.

So what about 2020.  The word here is that Bernie is gearing up for another run.  Yes, I know that Bernie’s base was young people in 2016, but by 2020 he and they will be four years older.  And even though there is likely nothing there, the Jane Sanders financial stuff is going to haunt any campaign.

My pessimistic husband sees no one who can run, but remember in 2007 no one thought that Barak Obama known only to Democratic activists for his speech at the 2004 Convention, could run, much less win. So let’s look at some new faces:  Seth Moulton (age 40, ex-Marine Congressman from Massachusetts); Cory Booker (Senator from New Jersey, age 49); Kamala Harris (Senator from California, age 55); Kirsten Gillibrand (Senator from New York, age 55); Amy Klobuchar (Senator from Minnesota, age 58); and Chris Murphy (Senator from Connecticut, age 45).  Look them up.  And I’m sure that there are some Mayors out there who would be interesting candidates.

I still think our democracy can be saved, but we each have to play the proper role and for Democrats of my generation, that means following Howard Dean’s example and moving ourselves to a supporting role.

 

Senate in a hurry

The Senate, that body that couldn’t seem to muster enough energy to do very much since 2010 except hold endless hearings about Hillary Clinton, has suddenly gotten busy.  Last night – or rather early this morning – they took the first steps toward repealing the Affordable Care Act.  The New York Times reporters wrote

The approval of the budget blueprint, coming even before President-elect Donald J. Trump is inaugurated, shows the speed with which Republican leaders are moving to fulfill their promise to repeal President Obama’s signature domestic policy achievement — a goal they believe can now be accomplished after Mr. Trump’s election.

The action by the Senate is essentially procedural, setting the stage for a special kind of legislation called a reconciliation bill. Such a bill can be used to repeal significant parts of the health law and, critically, is immune from being filibustered. Congress appears to be at least weeks away from voting on legislation repealing the law.

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Senate Minority Leader Sen. Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) is leading the charge to make Hill Republicans own the Obamacare repeal process.

The Democrats staged a protest on the floor, taking turns speaking even while being ruled out of order.  The vote was 51 to 48.  So, what can someone who is opposed to repeal do at this point?  I found a New York Times Op-Ed Seven Questions About Health Reform to be a useful guide to the questions we should be asking any Senator or Congressperson who supports repeal.  The piece by Harold Pollack and Timothy S. Jost should be read in full, but here are what I think are the most important of the seven questions. (The numbering is mine not theirs. And they are not in the order of importance.}

First, “How many millions of Americans will lose coverage?”  Among the issues pointed out is

Proposals by Tom Price, Mr. Trump’s choice to run Health and Human Services, and by the House speaker, Paul D. Ryan, would repeal the expansion of Medicaid and replace the A.C.A.’s income-based subsidies with less generous tax credits. Another plan from the House Republican Study Committee would offer deductions. We particularly need to know how this would affect low-income Americans, to whom tax deductions are nearly worthless, and who would generally not be able to afford coverage under these plans.

Second, “Will people over 55 pay higher health premiums for the same coverage?”  If the repeal is paired with cuts to Medicare, all of us over 55 will be in trouble.  And younger folks who may not have saved much for retirement yet will find it impossible to save enough.

Third, “… how much more will those with costly illnesses or injuries have to pay in out-of-pocket costs?”

Critics of the A.C.A. often argue that the law has made health care unaffordable. But many Americans would pay much more without it. The A.C.A. capped out-of-pocket spending at $7,150 for individuals and $14,300 for families for 2017. Republican proposals appear to offer no protection from high deductibles and other cost-sharing.

This could be devastating to millions, including older Americans who often develop chronic illnesses.

Fourth on my list. “Will the new plan let insurers charge women higher premiums than men while offering them less coverage?”

Before the A.C.A. banned gender-based premiums, insurers in many states charged women more than men of the same age — some as much as 50 percent more. The A.C.A. also required all insurers to cover preventive health services without co-payments; for women, this includes birth control, Pap smears, mammograms and a host of other crucial services. Maternity care is fully covered as well. Republican replacement plans offer no such protection. And many Republicans want to defund Planned Parenthood, too, which would deprive women not just of coverage but also of care.

And, as we have learned, many men, particularly Republican men, have no idea of how a woman’s anatomy works.  For those opposed to choice on abortion, this could have the effect of increasing the number of abortions – legal and illegal.

I think there is time while President Trump argues with Congress and Congress argues with itself about what should be in any new law.  If your Senator and/or Congressperson favors repeal, call or write or visit and ask some of the seven questions.  And express your support for those that oppose wholesale repeal.  Should you agree with what is happening, leave me a message explaining why you think this is OK.

Photograph:  Alex Wong/Getty Images

Repealing the Affordable Care Act

The Republicans have made a mantra out of repealing the ACA aka Obamacare.  I’ve lost track of how many times they have voted to repeal it, but close to 60, I think.  The surprising thing is how unprepared they really are to “repeal and replace”.  They seem to have the repeal part down, but in all the years it has been since the law was enacted, they haven’t come up with a replacement plan.  I think that even supporters of the ACA know that some things need fixing but no Republicans were willing to work with Democrats and President Obama to do so.

They could just repeal it.  This would create chaos in the health care system and upset millions.  I don’t think they want to deal with loss of support right away.  I’m not sure that voters who say they don’t like the ACA understand that things like free vaccinations, physical exams, and mammograms are part of the Act.  On the other hand, Republicans cannot seem to agree on a plan to replace the ACA.  There are a lot of ideas, but no plan and not even a framework for a plan as far as I can tell.

In the January 4 edition of the New York Times, Robert Pear had an interesting and informative article, Republicans’ 4-Step Plan to Repeal the Affordable Care Act.  In it he outlines the things that have to happen before Repeal.

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Vice President-elect Mike Pence, second from right, listened as the Senate majority leader, Mitch McConnell, spoke after a Republican luncheon on Wednesday.

Step One is to pass a budget resolution that is filibuster proof in the Senate.

The Senate intends to pass a budget resolution next week that would shield repeal legislation from a Democratic filibuster. If the Senate completes its action, House Republican leaders hope that they, too, can approve a version of the budget resolution next week. Whether they can meet that goal is unclear.

Step Two would add details.

Republicans say they will delay the effective date of their repeal bill to avoid disrupting coverage and to provide time for them to develop alternatives to Mr. Obama’s law. They disagree over how long the delay should last, with two to four years being mentioned as possibilities.

Step Three adds in ideas from President Trump.

Within days of taking office, President-elect Donald J. Trump plans to announce executive actions on health care. Some may undo Obama administration policies. Others will be meant to stabilize health insurance markets and prevent them from collapsing in a vast sea of uncertainty.

“We are working on a series of executive orders that the president-elect will put into effect to ensure that there is an orderly transition, during the period after we repeal Obamacare, to a market-based health care economy,” Mr. Pence said at the Capitol on Wednesday.

Step Four is replacement.  For which there is no consensus.

Meanwhile Democrats are also taking action.

In the Senate next week, Democrats will demand votes intended to put Republicans on record against proposals that could protect consumers. Defenders of the law also hope to mobilize groups like the American Cancer Society and the American Heart Association to speak up for patients.

This process is far from over.  Even Republicans put implementation of a new health care law a minimum of 2 years out – just in time for mid-terms- and more likely, 4 years away – just in time for the next Presidential election.

Photograph:  Doug Mills/The New York Times

So what the hell happened?

Everyone was wrong except Donald Trump.  How could that have happened?  I didn’t blog at all during the campaign season because everyone seemed to be writing what I would write, but this post is meant to be therapeutic.

First, let me make it clear that my heart was with Bernie Sanders.  He is my Senator; I like his politics.  But when I voted yesterday I thought it was a vote for the first woman president, Hillary Clinton and that was exciting, but I did wear my pin that said “My heart’s with Bernie, but I’m voting for Hillary”.  So what happened?

I haven’t read any of the papers or clicked on any email or looked at my Facebook feed this morning so this is all my own take:  The Democrats screwed up.  We all knew the country was divided and the election would hinge on turnout, but the Democratic party, as it turns out, did not have a deep bench.  I believe that in nominating a candidate with a lot of baggage, (most of which was not true, but no one could ever convince people of that) we set ourselves up for what happened.  She just couldn’t excite enough people.  Yes, she had a ground game and, yes, she got people out to vote but she lost too many people who got discouraged by various voter suppression rumors and didn’t vote, decided they didn’t like Trump, but didn’t like her either, as well as a fair chunk of Bernie supporters.

Bernie did his best for her, but it just wasn’t enough.  I await the analysis, but based on what I saw last night around midnight, Johnson and Stein took just enough votes for Trump to win in some close races.

I have many friends who were Trump voters, some reluctantly, and to them I say, “have fun trying to actually govern.”  To those who voted third party:  This is why Bernie told you not to do it.

It should be an interesting next few years and I’m back to blogging.