Category Archives: Democrats

Precinct Power! Renewing the Democratic Party in Communities Across MoCo

By George Neighbors.

From the Commander-in-Tweet’s public policy pronouncements in Washington to blocking dissent on Facebook in Annapolis to the NRA’s endorsements of the duo, there’s a lot of unhappiness with the current US President and Maryland’s Governor.

Angry and teary eyed emojis don’t change public policy, and they sure don’t alone change who’s in power.  We need to move beyond social media rants and listserve brawls. We need to engage our neighbors. We need to build and bridge community with our neighbors to take action.

Personally, in April of last year I decided to raise my hand and step back in to the political arena. With encouragement and a little arm twisting by friends, I signed up to be a ​Precinct ​Leader​ for the Democratic Party​.  Now I’m the face and connective tissue of the Democratic Party to my neighbors.

Most Seventh State readers will know what a ​”Precinct​”​ is and what a ​”​Precinct Leader​”​ does, but I ask that you indulge me as part of what I’m trying to do to open up the opportunities and break down the barriers within the Democratic Party.

Precincts are the most local part of the Democratic Party. Each community is made up of voters in a community with a common voting location, aka polling place. These polling place communities are “Precincts.”​ In Montgomery County alone, we have 255 Precincts​!​ Each ​Precinct has a leader (or two) who is responsible for reaching out, engaging, educating and mobilizing voters and would-be voters in her​/his​ community.

Precinct officials and volunteers gather at the party’s precinct organization meeting on March 10.

Because I’m relatively new to the inner workings of the Democratic Party, and I have an  organizational development background, and I kept asking a LOT of questions, I was asked to co-chair the Precinct Organization of the Montgomery County Democratic Party in August. You know the drill… you keep asking questions, you’re put in charge.

The Co-Chairs’ role is to empower, engage, mobilize, communicate, recruit and retain across all 255 Precincts – and ​engage with our 500+ leaders!

What I’ve learned is that we have many amazing people who have been doing the ​Precinct ​work of the Democratic Party for a long time: 20+ years! And we have a lot of new people, like me, who are keen to engage, and make a difference.

I’ve been asked, “What are we doing differently with the Party?” I tell people that we’re renewing the Precinct Organization. We’re refocusing on Precinct Power.

Renewing means prioritizing resources​​,​ training, mobilization, outreach, communication, and appreciation to recruit and retain great ​Precinct Leaders. Renewing also means we have to do things a little differently.

Renewal goal number one is to be strategic and intentional about our voter turnout strategy. We aim to increase Montgomery County Democratic midterm general election voter turnout by 15 percentage points, from the 45% in 2014 to 60% in 2018. We have a plan.

Renewal goal number two is to empower Precinct Leaders. We’re gathering the Precinct Leaders from across the County together every few months to discuss the strategy of the Party, evolve their role beyond Election Day to engage with their communities throughout the year, and build the infrastructure at the State District level so that we can inspire people across the County, coordinate across the Districts, and engage in each Precinct community.

Renewal goal number three is to mobilize the Precincts. Beginning last summer and continuing through the fall and winter, we engaged Precinct Leaders in canvassing to learn what Democrats think. ​”​Canvassing​”​ means you go door-knocking  to reach and talk with​ people. ​It’s proven to be the best way to reach voters and get ​them engaged.

These canvasses were not asking the voters to donate or vote. Rather, these were “listening canvasses” to have voters share their thoughts. During these conversations ​we listened and helped connect neighbors with their elected Democratic officials to address issues ranging from a broken street light to an erroneous utility bill to navigating healthcare.

The canvasses also provided an opportunity to train our Precinct Leaders in canvassing and outreach. It was about making a personal connection with voters. Bringing the Democratic Party to them!

​Renewal goal number four is to activate each Precinct. To help grow the Precinct Organization, ​I’ve spent the past six months ​speaking to clubs and organizations across the ​County about the ​Precinct ​Organization, and how people can get involved.

Many Precincts could use new blood to assist current Precinct Leaders, and many other Precincts are in need of new leadership either because of an absence or because someone is ready to step aside.​

We also need to engage new voters and immigrants as well. Having people who look, live and speak like they do, is the beauty of the Precinct Organization, i.e., neighbors talking to neighbors.

So now comes the pi​tch… With the June primary counting down, and the general election in November, we need to organize. We need to mobilize. We need to engage. We need voters to turn out. We need voters to vote.

We also need ​Precinct ​Leaders. We need bilingual leaders. We need new leaders. We need leaders who represent their community. We need leaders up county, down county, east county, west county and mid county. Opportunities abound to do something that matters. Together we can build stronger and engaged communities.

I’m asking all Democrats reading this to do four things.

​1. Go to the ​Precinct ​Organization map on the Montgomery County Democratic Party website and look up your ​Precinct.

​2. If you have a ​Precinct Leader, reach out to say ‘thank you.’ Then offer your help to knock on doors, call, enter data, host a meet and greet, etc.​ (Please email Precinct@MCDCC.org if s/he does not get back to you.)​

​3. ​If you looked up​ your Precinct​ and you don’t have a Precinct Leader, ​YOU can apply to be a Precinct Leader​ with this application!​ You can also email my cochair Mumin Barre and me at Precinct@MCDCC.org to set a time to talk about it and answer your questions.

​4. ​Please share this story with as many people as you can ​via email, social media, ​and ​word-of-mouth. We need engaged and empowered Precinct Leaders, who are building and bridging communities, to take back the governorship.

I’m committed to making sure that no one come June or November wonders how they can get involved and engaged… how they can build stronger and engaged communities… how they can make a difference.

As we ​renew our Precinct Power, we need everyone- new and lifelong Democrats- to help build the Democratic Party, listen to residents, and reach voters to make a difference in their lives and our community.

George Neighbors is the Democratic Party Precinct Vice Chair of Precinct 13-21​, Co-Chair of the Montgomery County Democratic Party’s Precinct Organization, and the male District 20 Candidate for the Montgomery County Democratic Party’s Central Committee in the June 26 Democratic Primary.

Share

Where Are the Voters?

By Adam Pagnucco.

With six Democratic candidates for County Executive and over thirty Democrats running for Council At-Large, the hunt is on for MoCo primary voters.  Luckily for the candidates, we are here to point the way!

Let’s start by looking at population.  Residents are not distributed evenly across the county.  The neighborhoods closest to the D.C. border and close to urban centers are more dense than Upcounty areas.  Below we show population estimates by local area for the years 2012-2016 from the U.S. Census Bureau.  Local areas are grouped by zip codes.  For example, data for Rockville does not refer to the municipality itself, but to the four zip codes that comprise Rockville (20850, 20851, 20852 and 20853).  Because Silver Spring is such a large part of the county, we broke it into four pieces: Downtown (zip codes 20901 and 20910), Wheaton (20902), Glenmont/Norbeck (20906) and Silver Spring East County (20903, 20904 and 20905).

And so the population concentrations are where one might expect: Downcounty and near urban centers like Rockville and Gaithersburg.  But that’s not the end of the story.  Our elections are decided by closed Democratic primaries.  For state legislative and county offices, the general elections have not been relevant since 2006, when the last two Republican elected officials (County Council Member Howie Denis and Delegate Jean Cryor) were defeated.  And Democrats are distributed differently around the county than all residents.

Right after the last cycle ended, we obtained a January 2015 version of the voter file from the county’s Board of Elections and spliced it with Census data to model local elections.  The number of registered Democrats in MoCo has risen by 5% in the last three years so, for the purpose of looking at geographic patterns, our existing voter model is not exact but is not too far off.  Below is a comparison of population by local area from 2012-2016 and the number of registered Democrats from January 2015.

There are large differences in Democratic density (the percentage of residents who are registered Democrats) between MoCo’s local areas.  In five local areas – Cabin John, Chevy Chase, Kensington, Bethesda and Silver Spring Downtown – more than 40% of residents are registered Democrats.  And in seven local areas – Dickerson, Poolesville, Damascus, Germantown, Gaithersburg, Boyds and Clarksburg – less than 30% of residents are registered Democrats.

Now let’s fine-tune this even further.  The chart below compares population by local area from 2012-2016 to the number of Super Democrats, whom we define as having voted in all three of the 2006, 2010 and 2014 primaries, in January 2015.  This Super Dem number has probably fallen slightly as a few folks who voted in those primaries have left the county or passed away, but the broad pattern will still hold.

Again, there are large differences in Super Democrat density (the percentage of residents who are Super Dems) between local areas.  In six areas – Cabin John, Chevy Chase, Kensington, Bethesda, Silver Spring Downtown and Takoma Park – at least 5% of residents are Super Dems.  In seven areas – Poolesville, Montgomery Village, Gaithersburg, Damascus, Germantown, Boyds and Clarksburg – less than 3% of residents are Super Dems.

Here’s the bottom line – countywide elections are decided in large part by voters in a Democratic Crescent stretching from Takoma Park in the east through Downtown Silver Spring, Kensington and Chevy Chase to Bethesda and Cabin John in the west.  These areas roughly trace the neighborhoods around the Beltway and between the Beltway and D.C.  They are the parts of the county that sent Jamie Raskin to Congress.  Together, the six areas in the Democratic Crescent have 23% of the county’s population, 29% of the registered Democrats and 37% of the Super Dems.  Every countywide candidate is going to want to play there.

Does that mean that a candidate whose chief appeal is outside the Democratic Crescent is doomed to fail?  Not necessarily.  Crescent voters have MANY suitors as most of the Executive and Council At-Large candidates come from those areas and will be aggressively pursuing votes there.  Council Member Nancy Floreen, who is a former Mayor and current resident of Garrett Park, won four straight at-large elections by combining women, moderates and Upcounty voters and her 2014 second-place finish was her best ever.  This model is no doubt being studied by County Executive candidate and former Mayor of Rockville Rose Krasnow and Council At-Large candidate and Germantown resident Marilyn Balcombe, both of whom Floreen has endorsed.

One more thing.  Some Upcounty activists have long complained of the influence of Downcounty on county government decision making.  Your author did not witness geographic parochialism on the part of any At-Large Council Members, all of whom come from Downcounty, during the time I was employed at the council.  But to the extent that Downcounty does exercise disproportionate influence, it’s because those residents turn out in Democratic primaries to a much greater extent than people who live Upcounty.  As long as primaries remain closed to party members, that will continue to be the case in any countywide elections regardless of structural changes in county government.  If you are an Upcounty resident and you don’t like that, the best remedy is to get your neighbors to vote in the primary.

Downcounty’s influence is only likely to grow because of one new factor in county politics: the implementation of public financing.  As we shall see, a large percentage of contributions to publicly financed candidates is coming from localities in the Democratic Crescent we described above.  That information will be published in the near future.  Stay tuned to Seventh State!

Share

Democratic Party Chair Kathleen Matthews Defends New Gender Balance Rules

I am pleased to publish this response to earlier post by Maryland Democratic Party Chair Kathleen Matthews:

I wanted to respond thoughtfully to Ed Kimmel’s Seventh State blog about the Maryland State Democratic Central Committee’s recent decision to adopt new rules to achieve gender balance by popular election on our county and state central committees.

These rules were debated over the past year, to be ready by last week’s filing deadline for the 2018 primary election. The policy was vetted for sex discrimination and other concerns by members of each county’s Democratic Central Committee.  While it was initiated by women in the state party — including Montgomery County’s gender balance member, Jennifer Hosey—it was supported by men and women in a unanimous voice vote at the November 4, 2017 Maryland Democratic Party statewide meeting.

Women have had the vote for nearly 100 years, but we have a long way to go to achieve gender parity in our American politics. Women represent more than half our population, an even greater percentage of voters, and yet they are 20 percent of our Congress, about one-third of our Maryland Legislature, and we have yet to elect a woman President or woman governor of Maryland. At the current rate, we are centuries away from true parity.

But I’m excited about the progress this year as more women are stepping into the political arena. We just reviewed the candidate filing data on the Democratic side, and compared to 2014, we have three times as many Democratic women running for county executive, double the number of women running for state senate, and a 60 percent increase in the number of women running for House of Delegates. This is the result of women who are saying “Me Too,” especially after the 2016 Presidential election, but also the hard work of our state party and organizations like RepresentWomen and Emerge Maryland, on whose board I am honored to serve.

At a moment in our political life when the old norms are changing, it is appropriate to ensure that women have an equal ELECTORAL chance to be represented in the party’s governing bodies, and this gender balance rule helps move us in that direction.

The changes we adopted have created a uniform process for gender balance across all 24 county and city jurisdictions of the state; they align with the national Democratic Party rules; provide women and men an equal opportunity to gain experience in a grassroots elected position; most importantly, they put power back in the hands of the voters who get to decide who will represent them. This is inherently more democratic and preferable to appointment, and adds greater legitimacy to the party governing bodies who claim to truly represent its members.

For those who care to read on, it’s interesting to note that the history on this issue goes back to women’s suffrage when the 19th Amendment, ratified in 1920, granted women full voting rights.  Soon after, political parties began wooing women in earnest, seeking to double their constituencies. “Fifty-fifty” rules were soon adopted to attract female voters at both the national and state levels.

In the 1930s, the Democratic Party took a more active role in the fight for gender equity. Molly Dewson, the head of the Democratic National Committee’s Women’s Division, argued that gender-balance requirements were the most effective way to increase women’s participation and leadership in political parties. She wisely framed the issue as providing women with opportunities, rather than limiting those of men. (In fact today, when county parties appoint members to achieve gender balance, often it is to add men to their membership.)

Fast forward to today, when the Charter and Bylaws of the Democratic Party of the United States (Article Nine, Section 16) requires all party governing bodies, including state central committees, to be “as equally divided as practicable according to gender” for the purpose of conducting their affairs and selecting delegates for the Party’s quadrennial National Convention. Subsequent court review has found the Democratic Party’s “Equal Division Rule: to be constitutionally sound and an effective way of enhancing the diversity of members and perspectives among Party leadership.

In Maryland, we have had a system to achieve this 50-50 gender equity but it varied widely by jurisdiction. Cecil County adopted gender balance at the ballot for its central committee back in 1920, with Allegany, Carroll, Fredrick, Harford, and Washington Counties following suit. 7 counties, including Montgomery County, passed laws requiring gender balance by appointment after voters made their selection. The remaining counties had provisions in their central committee bylaws requiring gender balance by appointment. As a result, the size of central committees would expand and contract depending on the balancing requirements.

Most concerning, in some counties, members who had been appointed for gender balance did not have full voting rights. This was particularly problematic, we felt, when central committees had the responsibility to fill vacancies in the state legislature.

Many of these concerns have been addressed in our state party’s new gender balance rules, and for Maryland Democrats they are are another step forward in a long journey. Other countries — Norway, Rwanda, for example — have achieved diversity more quickly through gender quotas, but thus far, the American electoral system has resisted this approach, looking for other ways to achieve gender equity. I am proud to be involved with other Marylanders, like Cynthia Terrell at RepresentWomen and Martha McKenna and Diane Fink at Emerge Maryland, who are working hard on structural reforms and practical solutions to bring more women’s voices into our political process. Women’s voices are vital to strengthen the democratic process, represent women’s perspectives on policy, and build collaborative solutions to our nation’s most pressing problems. In the end, I firmly believe this progress towards a more diverse and inclusive Democratic Party is in everyone’s best interest.

Share

Jordan Cooper: Local Democratic Party Corrupts Democracy

Last night, the Montgomery County Democratic Central Committee considered several rules changes, including provisions involving conflicts of interest and the “Cooper amendment,” designed to prohibit candidates from running for office and MCDCC simultaneously. Today, I am pleased to present this response by Jordan Cooper.

On Tuesday February 13, 2018 the Montgomery County Democratic Central Committee (MCDCC) voted to prohibit candidates from seeking election to the MCDCC, a partisan political body, while seeking elected office in government. The practice of simultaneously holding a seat in the Maryland General Assembly while sitting as a member of a Democratic Party Central Committee is long established in Maryland and is currently the practice with numerous members of the state legislature from other jurisdictions outside of Montgomery County. The vote of the three dozen individuals who sit on the MCDCC drowned out the voices of the one million people who populate Montgomery County.

It is worthwhile noting that the MCDCC subsequently voted to prohibit its own members from seeking other elected offices but that this provision would not apply to the current election cycle, unlike the first decision that is effective immediately, thus annulling the candidacies of all persons running for both public and partisan office simultaneously. The MCDCC elected to inequitably apply the implementation of the new rules so as to benefit those among them who are currently seeking a seat in the Maryland General Assembly.

More than half of the MCDCC’s current membership has been appointed to the body including all of its officers. None of these individuals have been elected into their current office and yet they are responsible for having effectively appointed one in three members of the Montgomery Delegation to either the Maryland House of Delegates or the State Senate. That’s right; individuals who were appointed to the MCDCC in turn appoint themselves to the state legislature. The MCDCC has effectively become a de-facto channel for bypassing popular election into the Maryland General Assembly.

One would be excused from concluding that the MCDCC is a self-serving body of individuals that seeks to control our government by eluding the direct election of our representatives. Their aforementioned votes indicate their contempt for Democratic voters in Montgomery County who are now being denied the opportunity to determine who, among the willing candidates, will represent them in their local Democratic Party.

This perversion of democracy is indicative of a deeply corrupt Democratic Party that undermines popular participation in our elections. This is the same Democratic Party that created some of the most gerrymandered congressional districts in the nation based upon the presumption that having more Democrats elected to Congress is more important than providing Marylanders with free and fair elections.

One can only conclude that it has been in the interests of the MCDCC and of the incumbents in the Maryland General Assembly to depress voter turnout so as to ensure that those favored by the Democratic Establishment prevail on Election Day. Incumbents in Montgomery County are re-elected at a nearly absolute rate and they are elected in off-year gubernatorial Democratic Primary Elections in which only 1 out of every 6 registered Democrats participates, in which participation is closed to all voters who are not registered Democrats, and which are scheduled in the middle of the summer while families are away on vacation. During the last election cycle in 2014 less than ten percent of the population of District 16, where I ran and where I am once again a candidate, elected the Democratic Party nominees who inevitably went on to win the General Election.

Low voter participation favors incumbents who have name recognition among “super voters” and candidates tend to target these individuals on the campaign trail, effectively relegating the remainder of the population to electoral oblivion. As an Area Coordinator for the past few years I organized phone banks and canvasses with elected officials that specifically targeted Democrats who had not participated in every election for the past few cycles. The MCDCC had pledged support but that support never materialized.

I stood up at the MCDCC event to articulate my interest in reaching out to disengaged and disenchanted Democrats while also seeking to drive down healthcare premiums and to reduce the teacher to student ratio as a means of addressing overcrowding in our schools. I explained my steadfast support of the Democratic Party and its candidates in Maryland since I first worked for the Maryland House of Delegates in 2003. And the MCDCC voted to prevent my name from appearing on the ballot this June in a manner that has been permissible for decades.

The only rational conclusion that one can draw from the behavior of the Democratic Party in Maryland is that it is corrupt and that it is in need of a desperate overhaul of its leadership, its objectives, and its platform. The Democratic Party should be one of inclusion that facilitates participation in our democracy. It has shown itself to be decidedly against popular participation in our electoral process and has consistently demonstrated its interest in anti-democratic and collusive measures that undermine our democracy.

Jordan Cooper is a Democratic Candidate for Delegate in District 16 and up until this vote was a Democratic Candidate for the Montgomery County Democratic Central Committee in District 16

Share

BREAKING: Prince George’s Teachers Walk Out on Rushern Baker at MSEA

At the Maryland State Education Association (MSEA) Convention, Rushern Baker’s camp teachers from Prince George’s County, Rushern Baker’s home county, walked out when he was called to the podium. According to its website, MSEA is the largest union in the state and represents over 75,000 public school employees.

That’s all the information I have for now.

Share

How Not to Alienate White Voters

Trump loves to invoke white identity politics to rally his base. In recent days, we’ve seen him triple down on this approach to distract from the scandals and fecklessness of his administration. He began this most recent cycle with an attack on transgender people who serve honorably in our military.

Trump continued with his embrace of efforts to cut even legal immigration and the recent deportation of a Latino kid from Gaithersburg who won a college scholarship. Now, Trump and Sessions plan to fight affirmative action as an effort to end discrimination against whites.

Earlier installments in this series were called “Playing Trump’s Game” because Democrats unwittingly aid Trump’s efforts to rally white voters on racial lines when they play into his frames by portraying whites in negative terms as a group. (See Part I: Are Democrats Buying into Trump’s Narrative, Part II: White Privilege, Part III: Old, White Men, Part IV: Denigrating People’s Jobs, and Part V: Denigrating American History.)

Today’s final installment encourages Democrats to avoid “heads you win, tails I lose” narratives about whites that just communicate whites are bad in a way that plays straight into Trump’s efforts to consolidate white voters.

Gentrification

Much ink is spilled today expressing concern about the impact of whites moving into neighborhoods that are predominantly black or Latino. No doubt there are real effects as occurs whenever there is economic or racial change in neighborhood composition. On the other hand, when I was younger, whites were repeatedly chastised for leaving cities. People cannot help but notice that whites are excoriated for moving in and out of cities.

In contrast, progressives have nothing negative to say about similar movements by black or Latino populations. Just as whites fled DC, much of the African-American middle class decamped to Prince George’s. Now, many black families are moving into Charles or back into DC. Most people have nothing negative to say about either, which is of course as it should be, with criticism perceived (rightly) as racist.

Cultural Appropriation

To the extent people want to condemn the appropriation of intellectual property, as often occurred to black musicians in the 1960s, the idea of cultural appropriation is fine. However, stretching the concept to attack when people from one culture use or mix in something from another culture makes little sense, as cultures are not hothouses but constantly incorporate outside ideas.

The widely-lauded musical Hamilton seems a great example with Puerto Rican Lin-Manuel Miranda taking the history of the proverbial “dead white man” and mixing it with styles of music developed by blacks and Latinos to create an exciting, multiracial, and rich contribution to our common culture. And utterly appropriate, as we all get to claim the history of this country whether our ancestors were among the Founders or even here at the time.

No, not all experiments work out so well. I have serious reservations about the peanut butter chocolate chip bagel. But I’m not offended by it.

Finally, to the extent that claims of cultural appropriation demand that whites remain strictly outside observers of black, Latino, Asian etc. cultures, it flies in the face of simultaneous demands that whites need to learn much more about them. Regardless, separating cultures into neat racial boxes is an impossible task in our increasingly diverse society.

In The Atlantic, Jenni Avins provided a sensible guide to “The Dos and Dont’s of Cultural Appropriation” that applies the idea in a rational way. Her headline points are: 1. Blackface is Never Okay, 2. It’s Important to Pay Homage to Artistry and Ideas, and Acknowledge Their Origins, 3. Don’t Adopt Sacred Artifacts as Accessories, 4. Remember That Culture is Fluid, 5. Don’t Forget That Appropriation Is No Substitute for Diversity, 6. Engage with Other Cultures on More Than an Aesthetic Level, and 7. Treat a Cultural Exchange Like Any Other Creative Collaboration—Give Credit, and Consider Royalties.

Her approach makes cultural appropriation about mutual respect and appreciation rather than a means to catch white people out, which can only alienate people who actually have an interest in cultures other than their own—something to be encouraged and seen as natural in our highly diverse country rather than policed.

Returning to Why This Matters

As I explained in first post in this series:

Democrats don’t need to win back most white voters in order to win—even small gains among whites would have been enough to deprive Trump of his electoral college victory. Giving up on white voters is political folly. Increases in the rising black, Latino and Asian vote won’t be enough alone to win many of the states moving in the Democratic direction, at least in the medium term.

Additionally, geographic distribution renders capturing more white votes key to Democratic control of federal and state legislatures as well as the presidency. In Maryland, white votes will determine the outcome of legislative elections in most seats targeted by Republicans, such as those held by Sens. Kathy Klausmeier and Jim Mathias, and whether Democrats retain their ability to overturn gubernatorial vetoes in both houses  of the legislature.

Share

Playing Trump’s Game V: Denigrating American History

Notwithstanding Hillary Clinton’s ultimate loss, the Democratic Convention was very successful. One of its most heartening and effective aspects was its embrace of the country, the flag, and our progress as a people. As envious Republican commentators noted, President Obama’s speech and the audience reaction had the optimism previously associated with Reagan.

Since the election, too many active in progressive politics denigrate American history and America more broadly. This has always been a trope of the extreme Left but it is in danger of becoming far more widespread. When one reads these posts, it sounds like America has never done right, never can do right, and never will do right.

Like many countries, America has deeply unpleasant aspects of its history. Europeans arrived not just fleeing persecution but also as part of a colonial enterprise that exterminated almost all Native Americans. Slavery was the original sin at the country’s founding and the maintenance of Jim Crow after its end continued it. One could also mention the Chinese exclusion acts and the internment of Japanese Americans.

But fear of the future as “American carnage” is Trump’s market. Democrats won’t win by hectoring the country on its sins. Few will vote for someone who comes across as thinking that the only proper way to observe Thanksgiving is a vegan apology dinner. Yes, George Washington and Thomas Jefferson were slaveholders and (gasp) white men but they also played critical roles in crafting the country’s democratic institutions and the ideals that many have invoked so effectively to bend the arc of history.

No immigrant comes to America because they hate the country—they usually have reason to be grateful for the opportunities and freedom it offers—so the negative approach also has little appeal to the rising Latino and Asian American electorate.

We should acknowledge the past but the emphasis needs to be more squarely on our progress and celebrating the great wonder that is America. No need to celebrate historical figures whose essential contribution was primarily negative, like John Calhoun or George Wallace.  We want to move to the future to continue our amazing progress, which allows us to acknowledge darker moments in our past but as part of a tapestry in which we continue to move forward hopefully and confidently by holding on to our best ideals.

Share

Playing Trump’s Game IV: Denigrating People’s Jobs

Traditionally, Americans are big believers in the dignity of work. Being unemployed is felt to be shameful while anyone who works for a living, no matter how humble the job, can feel proud.

Republicans have corroded this view with an endless focus on the rich. People who work hard but don’t earn much are losers. Instead, we need to focus on the “job creators,” which seems to mean giving wealthy people ever more tax breaks and cutting basic services for average Americans in the manner of Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback.

Democrats have tried to take advantage of this with attacks on the rich but have often gone about it in ways that unthinkingly alienate the very people that they’re trying to attract. Many Democrats routinely describe all sorts of jobs as lousy for their low pay and status, or failure to allow much in the way of advancement.

Using McDonald’s employees or fast-food workers as bywords for jobs that stink unintentionally insults thousands and doesn’t acknowledge that these jobs actually require skills and ability to work under pressure. Calls for retraining workers and making it easier to obtain more education are laudable ideas. However, telling people that they need to do it so they can obtain “better” jobs comes across as patronizing at an incredibly stressful time, especially since many of the new jobs pay less than the lost jobs.

Parking attendants know that they work for low pay in a dark environment with too much pollution. For many in their situation, however, this may be as far as they end up going for a variety of reasons—not all related to lack of opportunity. They do these jobs year in and year out because it puts bread on the table and in the hope that their kids can do better. Even if they could use a helping hand, they want to retain their dignity and their respect.

There is a fine line between helping people improve their lives and denigrating the jobs they take to support their families. People who work in “lousy” jobs already know about the low pay and status. Just as they don’t need Republicans to tell them they’re chumps, they also don’t need Democrats saying their jobs are bad or somehow not good enough, which quickly gets read that they are not good enough.

A great part of Trump’s success was making whites who work these jobs feel respected in execrable identity terms that communicate that they are the “real” Americans and should come ahead of “those” people and snooty elites of both parties. Obviously, Democrats shouldn’t emulate this approach. A core Democratic belief is that we’re all real Americans.

But at the same time, Democrats have to find a way to communicate more respect for these jobs and the people who hold them. Democratic presidents from Clinton to Obama have heralded the many Americans who work two jobs to support their families, which is a good start though not a solution to this knotty problem.

It’s also not a quick fix for the bigger problem that many Americans feel that they are falling behind no matter how hard they work. The Republican approach now centers on gutting health care, tax cuts, and making Archie Bunker look tolerant, so Democrats have a real opening if they don’t unintentionally denigrate the voters.

Share

Playing Trump’s Game III: Old, White Men

About the worst epithet among Democrats as of late is “old, white men.” At best, this approach demonstrates a total lack of self-awareness in a party that adores Bernie Sanders. More to the point, it is oblivious engagement in exactly the sort of ageist, racist, and sexist behavior that Democrats claim to hate fervently.

It’s also a lousy way to attract voters. As it turns out, old, white men don’t like being stereotyped negatively any more than, say, young, black men. Needless to say, the right-wing media will be sure to highlight every single incident and even invent a few more. This thoughtless throwaway dig is a cheap and effective way to kiss goodbye to nice slices of the electorate by all but gift wrapping them for the Republicans.

White women, who often patiently work their way up the ladder to find themselves shunted aside once they reach a certain age, may also not appreciate the total celebration of youth over experience. This doesn’t mean ignoring the interests of younger voters on such issues as education affordability. It simply requires not denigrating older voters or experience.

It should be obvious but Democrats should stay out of the business of negatively stereotyping anyone for their identity characteristics. Advocacy on issues of particular interest to specific communities doesn’t require putting other people down based on their age, race, or gender.

In the last gubernatorial election, now-Rep. Anthony Brown hemorrhaged white support. If Maryland Democrats want to win back the Governor’s office, they shouldn’t insult big chunks of the largest group of voters in the state. Gov. Larry Hogan is not making this mistake with nonwhite constituencies.

Share

Playing Trump’s Game II: White Privilege

(See the introduction of this series in Part I: Are Democrats Buying into Trumps’s Narrative?)

There is a reason that Democratic congressional candidates who have made striking gains from Kansas to Montana to Georgia haven’t included “check your privilege” in their stump speeches.

Democratic appeals to working-class whites as screwed by the system and middle-class whites as under enormous pressure don’t even get a chance to work when the party simultaneously says they’re privileged. It’s easy to understand why people living paycheck to paycheck who feel bad they can’t get their kid something nice for Christmas resent being called privileged.

The privilege narrative communicates that Democrats think whites have everything handed to them. Most people, even if they acknowledge the advantages that gave them a leg up, think their talents and striving played a critical role in their achievements. Moreover, parents of all races hope to help their kids get ahead.

As a result, focus on racial advantage comes across to individual white voters as a dismissal of their problems and a denigration of their success. Exhorting whites to “check their privilege” is heard as telling them to shut up and that their interests should go to the back of the line. Not a winning appeal to any group.

Some argue that one only needs to explain white privilege properly to white people. But when a party’s message requires defensive explanation—and not one amenable to a sound bite—it is already losing. In any case, once you’ve told voters that their concerns should count less, they’re not even interested in listening.

It’s easy to deride white voters as “snowflakes” if they don’t cotton to white privilege narratives. Of course, this approach just adds to the perceived insult. Said snowflakes will continue melting away if they sense Democrats disrespect them. In other words, there is a real cost when privileged progressive whites say “check your privilege” to show (off) their cultural sensitivity.

My point is not to debate the veracity of white privilege but to argue that it is a political loser. As a message, it sets one group against another, which is exactly the game that Trump likes to play. Losing elections, of course, prevents Democrats from enacting meaningful measures like those taken by Maryland Democrats on issues from policing and sentencing reform to the DREAM Act.

Making one’s case in the context of a unifying American narrative has broader appeal. One reason the DREAM Act had so much support was that it appealed directly to a thread running through American history. Descendants of immigrants can understand well the desire of people to come here to work hard for a better life.

Of course, the bill’s title echoed Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. “I Have a Dream” speech in which he warned America of the dire consequences of ignoring black demands for justice but also inspired by calling for America live up to the best of its ideals in the shadow of the Lincoln Memorial.

Share