How to Prevent Democrats from Digging Their Own Grave in 2022

The Hill Newspaper—-8/22/2021

thehill.com/opinion/campaign/568903-how-to-prevent-democrats-from-digging-their-own-grave-in-2022?rl=1

Earlier this month a coalition of progressive groups announced they were going to spend upwards of $100 million on television and digital ads to boost President Biden and the Democrats. When in doubt, flood the airwaves. What a waste!

I have a serious confession: For decades I have specialized in doing television and radio ads for Democratic candidates and groups. From the 1980s to the early 2000s our firm’s primary method of delivering a message and communicating with voters was paid ads. In a course on campaign advertising that I taught at George Washington University’s Graduate School of Political Management for 20+ years, and in counseling candidates, I used to hold fast to the notion that 70-80 percent of most candidates’ budgets should be devoted to paid ads.

No more.ADVERTISEMENT

Is paid media important? Of course, but these ads don’t do what they used to in the era of three major networks, very limited cable and no such thing as the internet. Not to mention when Amazon and Netflix and a myriad of other ways to watch programming without advertising came on board.

Yet we are stuck in the practices of yesteryear — and instead of using our funds to enhance political organization, personal door-to-door campaigning, sophisticated targeting and communication, we throw what we have against the wall and see what sticks.

Democrats have tended more than Republicans to focus on the shiny objects of TV ads, instead of organizing and motivating our base to reach out and convince potential voters on the ground.

To be blunt: Democrats are not putting nearly enough of the billions raised into early, hard-core organization and way too much into glitzy TV ads.

How much of that $100 million goes to organizing? How much PAC money or candidate money goes to hiring staff and paying people to contact voters? How much goes to identifying voters’ interests and learning about what interests them?ADVERTISEMENT

Look what is happening to rural voters. Trump won rural voters with 59 percent of the vote in 2016; he won with 65 percent in 2020, despite losing the overall popular vote by over 7 million votes. Have you driven through rural America lately? Have you seen the signs and the barns painted “TRUMP,” the caravans during opening day of fishing season in Minnesota with flags flying and horns honking, even the t-shirts being worn at Target and Walmart?

Where are the Democrats? Where are the yard signs and supporters outside metro areas? Where are the local neighborhood headquarters in people’s living rooms? Have we given up on independent minded, less politicized citizens who may not always vote in every election? That is a big mistake.

An important recent Pew poll shows that of those who did not vote in the high-turnout election of 2020, Biden was favored over Trump by 15 points. Many of these were voters under 50 years of age and are not obviously committed voters by any means. These are critical voters for Democrats to target.

Many pundits and prognosticators have written the Democrats’ political obituary for the 2022 off-year elections. They are usually a disaster for the party in power, losing on average 26 House seats and 4 Senate seats. Their other reasons are many: the razor thin margin of less than a half dozen Democratic seats in the House and an even count of 50 in the Senate; redistricting that will cost Democrats seats, as Republicans game the system in southern and western states; a polarized nation where President Biden hovers around 50 per cent popularity.

Now, those are serious head winds. But one way to counter them is to increase our focus as Democrats on voter identification, turnout, and serious persuasion. We have the right messages for many of these voters — child care and early childhood education, expanded community college, child tax credits for struggling families, direct care worker help for seniors, expanded Medicare coverage for dental care and prescription drugs. This is a “pro-work,” “pro-families” and “pro-community” agenda. And, by the way, solve COVID, pass the infrastructure and budget legislation before Congress that truly helps people — and show ourselves to be the party “that gets the job done.”

If we organize around these messages and go after voters with sophisticated targeting, starting early, and “go back to the future” with person-to-person and door-to-door engagement, we might find ourselves maintaining the majority. This means real political money for rural areas, tracking our base, keeping a focus on less-likely voters and convincing them of what is at stake in 2022 and, yes, not wasting so much on expensive and less impactful TV ads.

Peter Fenn is a long-time Democratic political strategist who served on the Senate Intelligence Committee, was a top aide to Sen. Frank Church and was the first director of Democrats for the 80s, founded by Pamela Harriman. He also co-founded the Center for Responsive Politics/Open Secrets. Follow him on Twitter @peterhfenn.

Bye, Bye Miss American Pie….Whatever Happened to the Republican Party

https://thehill.com/opinion/campaign/557010-bye-bye-miss-american-pie-whatever-happened-to-the-republican-party-and?rl=1

A new era for America’s children?

By Peter Fenn, opinion contributor The Hill 3/20/2021

President Biden has signed into law a $1.9 trillion dollar relief plan that many had thought impossible just months ago.

Despite Republican Congressional opposition, Biden successfully ushered in the popular acceptance of a new role for government, overturning a more than 40-year trend in government bashing. The American Rescue Plan, widely supported across the country, certainly contrasts with President Reagan’s Inaugural line, “In this present crisis, government is not the solution to the problem. Government is the problem.”

From FDR’s New Deal in the 1930s through the 1960s, there was widespread acceptance that the federal government needed to step up to the plate when the public’s health, safety and economic well-being were in peril. Now, it may be possible to create a national consensus for key priorities.

There has been a lot of talk about infrastructure for a dozen years — but no action. Same is true for Social Security and Medicare reform, overhaul of our education system, immigration reform, climate change and a host of other problems that won’t disappear with benign neglect.

Political polarization, obstructionism, failure to compromise have all been the order of the day.

There is one area, however, that may provide common ground for those of different parties and political persuasions: protecting our children. There has been widespread agreement in the need for child tax credits, and ever since the George W. Bush administration up until the Biden relief bill, we have seen Democrats and Republicans get on board. Conservatives such as Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), Mike Lee (R-Utah) and lately Mitt Romney (R-Utah) have worked on legislation.

There are a whole host of issues surrounding the welfare of children that are becoming top of mind, especially during the pandemic. In addition to temporarily cutting child poverty in half with the latest $1.9 trillion relief package, efforts to ensure affordable child care, expand Head Start and early childhood education, provide health care and expand nutrition programs should be addressed as soon as possible.

One idea to highlight the focus on children, suggested by my colleague Andrew Yarrow, is the reinstitution of the White House Conference on Children. First initiated by President Theodore Roosevelt in 1909 to promote a “high standard of child protection by the national government,” these conferences were held every ten years, often with delegations from around the world.

The last conference was held in 1971, when Richard Nixon was President, to examine health care, day care, early childhood education and attacking racism. Interesting how relevant those topics are still.

There are 74 million children in the United States today. Of those, nearly 11 million are poor, about 1 in 7.

Over the five decades since 1971, we have moved many millions of seniors out of poverty; now it is time we did the same for children and struggling families.

The American Rescue Plan is a start, but many of the parts of that bill, including tax credits, are only temporary to bridge the gap caused by the pandemic.

It is time to consider re-establishing a White House Conference on Children, with the full backing and endorsement of Republicans and Democrats alike. It could have co-chairs from both parties and an equal membership of party leaders, along with experts on the issues confronting our children. We may not be able to achieve immediate agreement on some of the other tough problems we face, but this should be something we can all agree on: the health and welfare of our kids.

Peter Fenn is a long-time Democratic political strategist who served on the Senate Intelligence Committee, was a top aide to Sen. Frank Church and was the first director of Democrats for the 80s, founded by Pamela Harriman. He also co-founded the Center for Responsive Politics/Open Secrets. Follow him on Twitter @peterhfenn.

Am I Racist? — The Hill

https://thehill.com/opinion/civil-rights/501857-am-i-racist

 

Am I racist?

Am I racist?
© Getty Images

Like many liberal white Americans — indeed, many Americans period — I’m reconsidering things. Am I racist, do I not get it as a privileged white guy?

After all, at the age of 15, I was on the mall in August of 1963 for Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream” speech at the Lincoln Memorial. I traded my “JFK in ’64” campaign button for an NAACP hat.

When we first moved to Washington in 1961, we ignored a neighbor’s advice not to go to the public pool at Glen Echo Park that had just been integrated; coming from up north, we didn’t understand what the problem was. I fought back against a junior high classmate who maintained that science showed that blacks were intellectually inferior to whites.

My father was director of personnel in the Kennedy White House and actively recruited African Americans for top-level administration jobs.  He and others, including Robert Kennedy, were offered memberships in exclusive clubs that did not admit blacks and, instead, formed the Federal City Club, which did.

When I was a student in the late 1960s and had Hubert Humphrey as a professor at Macalester College, I participated with him and many others in demonstrations for fair housing in the Twin Cities of St Paul and Minneapolis.

My eventual boss in the Senate, Frank Church (D-Idaho), had helped integrate the local Kenwood Golf Club in the 1960s by filing a lawsuit; he had helped secure passage of the 1957 Civil Rights Bill in the Senate earlier in his career. He didn’t do these things because there was a large African American constituency in Idaho to represent, but because it was the right thing to do.

As a political consultant, I worked for, and learned from, the Chair of the D.C. City Council, civil rights icon John Wilson. One of my early clients was Congressman Bobby Scott (D-VA), now the Chairman of the House Education and Labor Committee and the first African American to serve Virginia in Congress since Reconstruction.

All my life I have supported civil rights. All my life I have recognized the desperate need for equality of opportunity in education, in jobs, in housing, in access to economic success. I am a liberal Democrat, after all.

But after the recent events in Minnesota and around the country, and what I have seen over many decades, I know that is not enough. I have not done enough, felt enough, confronted enough the advantages that I enjoyed from having been born white and in more privileged, better-connected circumstances than most Americans.

Yes, so-called good, decent, educated white people like me know the history of slavery, of the Civil War, the rise of the KKK, separate but equal, the Tulsa riots, the Brown decision, racist covenants, voter suppression, and discrimination that has kept blacks out of the economy, as well as police brutality. We know that DWB, driving while black, is really LWB, living while black. We know. Our brains know. Our hearts know, too.

But does this absolve us of our racism? The noted young author of the best-selling book, “How to Be an Antiracist,” Ibram X. Kendi, maintains that just saying you are “not racist” doesn’t cut it. He holds that this is an in between, safe space that does not confront the issue positions you take, your activism (or lack of it) and your overall attitudes.

“The heartbeat of racism is denial,” he writes. “The heartbeat of antiracist is confession… Only racists shy away from the R-word.”

Here is what we also don’t get. We don’t get outside our bubble. We don’t deal with our fear when we are the only white person on the subway, on the street late at night, being watched by someone who is not “one of us.”

We also don’t get, as James Baldwin put it, that “white is a metaphor for power.” We are very happy to keep the power, to raise our children in privilege and to live in our neighborhoods with black friends and work alongside “minority” co-workers. We are comfortable. Comfortable with our whiteness and our situation. Because, ultimately, we feel we have the power. We may feel that pang of fear when we are outside our bubble, but we are the ones who are still in control.

If you are black or Hispanic or Asian, you feel that loss of power every day. In a pandemic, as you lose your job and income and can’t pay the rent, and when you watch once again a victim like George Floyd murdered, you can’t breathe either. You are sick and tired of being sick and tired.

Over my lifetime I have not done enough to change that long arc of history that is supposed to bend toward justice. This is not liberal guilt talking; this is a reality that defines white America of all political stripes.

Raul Peck, the filmmaker who created the documentary “I Am Not Your Negro” about James Baldwin, said “We don’t have two different histories; they’re the same. Each of us, each nation, each individual, each race and each gender has a role in this history and we need to confront it.”

Baldwin himself wrote: “Not everything that is faced can be changed. But nothing can be changed until it is faced.” It is long past time for all of us to confront the racism that engulfs us, that defines some of us and misguides some others, but deeply affects us all, to greater or lesser degrees. It is long past time to change who we are and to act on it.

Peter Fenn is a long-time Democratic political strategist who served on the Senate Intelligence Committee, was a top aide to Sen. Frank Church and was the first director of Democrats for the 80s, founded by Pamela Harriman. He also co-founded the Center for Responsive Politics/Open Secrets. Follow him on Twitter @peterhfenn.

Donald Trump: The TV Boomer President. The Hill Newspaper. 5/2/20

Donald Trump: The Boomer TV president

Shortly after he was reelected president in 2012, Barack Obama had a small group of Democratic operatives in to the Roosevelt Room to thank us. We had provided some counsel and had appeared regularly on cable TV news to boost his campaign. After he expressed his appreciation, he admitted that he didn’t watch that much of the “talking head” shows and might not be seeing us on TV in the future. I replied: “Not unless we are on ESPN,” which drew a laugh from the president, who was known to check in on sports reports at the end of a long day.

What a change to Donald Trump. With him, it is all about TV.

By all accounts since the start of his presidency Trump has spent most of his mornings watching TV news and later into the evening. This, according to the New York Times, is especially true during the pandemic. Trump awakes early and watches cable news (usually a heavy dose of FOX) until coming down to work around noon. Previous reports from The Hill and other sources indicate Trump consumes up to eight hours of TV a day, and his leaked schedules show that 60 percent of his time is devoted to “executive time” — read: no meetings or briefings or scheduled calls.

Even Trump’s former Press Secretary Sarah Sanders responded that Trump “has a different leadership style than his predecessors.” That is putting it mildly. Of course, many of his tweets are blasted out during his “executive time,” responding to what he has seen on television. As many have said, that seems to be his governing style.

Most presidents read briefing memos, read intelligence reports, read history, heck, even read books. But Donald Trump likes his TV time. There is little indication that he reads much at all and certainly doesn’t seem to take a daily briefing book of the next day’s activities home to the executive mansion at night after work as most modern presidents have done.

I have had a theory for some time that baby boomers, as the first generation to grow up with television in the ‘50s and ‘60s, have a peculiar approach to politics. We consumed a rather large amount of traditional half-hour and some hour-long shows. No cable. No internet. No social media. Just ABC, CBS and NBC.

What we saw when we watched Lassie, Father Knows Best, Leave It to Beaver, Gunsmoke, I Love Lucy, Perry Mason, Bonanza etc., was a very simple formula: The main characters were introduced in the first 5-10 minutes, the problem/dilemma was laid out, and the main characters set out to solve the problem and tidy everything up before the hour or half hour was done. Actually, with advertising, it took 24 minutes, or 48 minutes for an hour-long program, to make everything right.

The effect of this early period of television on most of us growing up in post-World War II America was to convince us that problems were easy to solve, that our lives were pretty simple, and that life really was Ozzie and Harriet.

Politicians began to fit in to that television modus operandi and make promises that emphasized how they could easily and simply solve our problems. Pass some laws, and the problem of civil rights would be solved; take on the Communists in Vietnam, and the dominoes would not fall in Southeast Asia; declare a War on Poverty, and it would end.

Donald Trump seems to buy into the simplicity of what he sees on television, just as he probably did growing up in the ‘50s and ‘60s. He is now an addict to the cable news shows and their short sound bites — and he refuses to consider nuance and complexity and fact-based analysis. Why else would he suggest magic cures like hydroxychloroquine, injecting or ingesting disinfectant or that Covid-19 would just miraculously go away? Why would he say after one meeting that he had fallen in love with Kim Jung Un? Why would he agree with Vladimir Putin that Russia didn’t interfere in our elections when his entire intelligence community said otherwise?

For Donald Trump it has always been about television — from his days as a New York celebrity to his 14 seasons on The Apprentice to the daily briefings on the coronavirus and the attack game he plays with the press. It is all about the cameras and the rallies and the insatiable appetite he has for being a TV personality. He learned it as a boomer consumer of television growing up, and sadly, it is all he knows.

Many of us who hardly watched an episode of The Apprentice over all those years didn’t comprehend the impact of television on Trump’s rise. Our mistake. Now many realize that what was a big part of his political persona is coming back to haunt him.

At the end of the day, the emperor has no clothes. P. T. Barnum has nothing to sell.

It is not all about TV. It is about substance. It is about governing. It is about empathy for others. It is about more than manufactured enemies and casting blame and baseless attacks. At the end of the day, it is about choosing a leader who truly leads rather than just playing one on TV.

Peter Fenn is a long-time Democratic political strategist who served on the Senate Intelligence Committee, was a top aide to Sen. Frank Church and was the first director of Democrats for the 80s, founded by Pamela Harriman. He also co-founded the Center for Responsive Politics/Open Secrets. Follow him on Twitter @peterhfenn.

Note to Candidates(especially Donald Trump): Cancel your Rallies!

Note to candidates (especially Donald Trump): Cancel your rallies!

NOTE—-THIS IS A COLUMN I WROTE FOR THE HILL THE WEEKEND BEFORE THE MARCH 10TH PRIMARIES WHEN THE CAMPAIGNS WERE IN FULL SWING.  THINGS CHANGED RADICALLY IN 48 HOURS AND HAVE CHANGED EVEN MORE RADICALLY FOR OUR COUNTRY SINCE THEN. NEEDLESS TO SAY, WE ARE IN A TIME OF GREAT UNCERTAINTY, POLITICALLY AND OTHERWISE.  IT IS TIME TO SAY A PRAYER FOR OUR COUNTRY, OUR PEOPLE AND THE CITIZENS OF THE WORLD WHO DESPERATELY NEED GOVERNMENTS THAT CAN HELP PULL US THROUGH THIS CRISIS.
PETER FENN 4/1/2020

Hello? Earth calling Donald TrumpBernie Sanders and Joe Biden. It is time to cancel your political rallies for the foreseeable future. Especially you, Mr. Trump.

After playing golf this past Saturday and Sunday and going to political rallies and fundraisers, have you considered that might not exactly sit well with a worried nation? You are the President of the United States — You should act like it.

And about wearing that red Keep America Great hat on your visit to the Center for Disease Control, rethink that. This is not a PR crisis, it’s a health crisis. It’s simply not a campaign event.

As for the general optics of large public rallies with thousands of people crammed into stadiums and standing cheek to jowl behind the candidates —  regardless of party, it’s not good. I know political candidates love that visual of the cheering throng all lined up with their signs and colorful tee shirts, inches from each other, but really… Think about it. Meetings large and small — gatherings like South by Southwest and large trade shows — all have been canceled. People are scared to travel or go to church or to the mall. It seems tone deaf for candidates to continue to invite people into situations that could prove physically dangerous, even fatal.

Both former Vice President Joe Biden and Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) canceled their election night rallies on Tuesday, after Ohio’s Republican Governor Mike DeWine declared a state of emergency and urged people not to hold large events. Biden announced that a rally scheduled for Thursday in Tampa would also be canceled and that he would give a speech on the coronavirus crisis.

But not Donald Trump. Instead, he announced — just hours after Biden and Sanders canceled their rallies — a “Catholics for Trump” rally in Milwaukee, Wis., on March 19.

What is it that Trump doesn’t understand? He apparently is planning to attend the Republican Jewish Congress in Las Vegas on Friday to speak at a political rally. Instead of working on the coronavirus crisis?

CNN reports that Rush Limbaugh has accused Democrats of wanting Trump to stop holding rallies “not because of public safety, not because of public health” but to hurt the president. And this guy was given the Medal of Freedom.

Democrats should take the lead in canceling big rallies and structuring different events that show their concern for the issues confronting the country. Putting together more controlled discussions with smaller groups, people who are not sick, who are not jammed together, would be smart.

This is now a matter of leadership and common sense.

Big boisterous rallies with cheering crowds aren’t conveying a helpful message. Candidates should carefully consider whether viewers and voters think such rallies at this point are smart or whether — as is more likely — that they reveal candidates and their advisors to be woefully out of touch.

Trump can’t seem to get out of the box that “everything is about him,” and he loves his rallies. But this one isn’t about him. It’s about the country, its safety and its future.

So, let’s get with the program and cease and desist.

Stop organizing huge public events that may prove dangerous to the lives of those who attend. Let’s show that this is about the people of this country, not about some political visual.

Peter Fenn is a long-time Democratic political strategist who served on the Senate Intelligence Committee, was a top aide to Sen. Frank Church and was the first director of Democrats for the 80s, founded by Pamela Harriman. He also co-founded the Center for Responsive Politics/Open Secrets. Follow him on Twitter @peterhfenn.

Are The Democrats Jumping Off The Cliff? — The Hill Newspaper 8/8/2019

Are the Democrats jumping off the cliff?

The Democratic debates have been the political version of “The Bachelorette” — and just as painful to watch.

Put aside the World Wrestling Federation (WWF) format CNN in particular adopted of sensational voiceovers, over-the-top music, videos and treating it all like a caged match, the gotcha-questioning is designed not to truly explore issues but to drive a wedge between the candidates in the most trivial of ways.

Even more disturbing is how the candidates have taken the bait and gone so far as to criticize and condemn President Barack Obama, a man with a popularity rating greater than 90 per cent among Democrats in virtually all polls. Why in God’s name would these candidates, no matter how liberal, decide it was wise to rip into the former president?

It also surprises me that the DNC would structure these debates to ensure that internecine warfare comes to the forefront, starting in July and lasting all the way until the Iowa caucuses.  Sure, the networks want gladiator TV and the ratings that go along with it so they can sell advertising. After all, Trump made millions for them in the last election with his rantings and ravings and ratings. But for the DNC to structure so many debates, with so many candidates, guaranteeing so much infighting, was a mistake.

Democrats have taken their focus off the devastating possibility that Donald Trump could win the next election. They have failed to make the concrete arguments about his policies, his performance and his outright destruction of American values and ideals. Instead, they have set their sights on each other. Establishing differences, yes, but creating made-for-TV ads for the opposition, not a good idea!

Plus, setting up the possibility of an easy message comparison is not smart. I’ve been doing political consulting for over 30 years, and I can tell you that if the 2020 campaign is viewed as Freedom vs Socialism, we Democrats are in deep trouble. Furthermore, giveaways vs personal responsibility is not a winning argument either.

We are in danger of falling into the following traps, snatching defeat from the jaws of victory:

  1. Health Care, prescription drugs, the Affordable Care Act and the public option are winners for Democrats — but abolishing private insurance plans is NOT.
  2. The Trump-McConnell Tax Bill giving 83 percent of the benefits to the top 1 percent is a loser for Republicans; a fair tax system that changes that and makes the very wealthy pay more is a winner for Democrats — but raising taxes on the middle class to pay for a myriad of programs is NOT.
  3. College loan reform is a winner for Democrats — but forgiving $1.5 trillion in debt, particularly for the wealthy, is NOT.
  4. Support for funding for college and trade school, like the Obama plan, is a winner for Democrats — but free college for all is NOT.
  5. Better pay for teachers and more support for public schools is a winner for Democrats — but a federal raise of $13,500 for every teacher, costing $315 billion (the Kamala Harris plan) is NOT.
  6. Comprehensive immigration reform, stopping the separation of families at the border, and expanding asylum programs is a winner for Democrats — but decriminalizing immigration and promising free health care is NOT.

It is so important for Democrats to focus on pragmatic, rational solutions that resonate with the American people, not box ourselves in to proposals that we know will be rejected in November of 2020. We cannot play into Donald Trump’s hands.

Democrats must be the party of the $15 an hour minimum wage, the party that protects Social Security and Medicare, the party that ensures civil rights for all Americans and that invests in 21st century infrastructure.

Think about it: Trump and the Republicans’ radical, unreasonable and venomous policies on a woman’s right to choose, stronger gun laws, global warming, income inequality, and race and hate and division and fear — that is not where the American people are — Democrats offer a clear alternative. These provide a progressive path to victory.

And how about foreign affairs: coddling tyrants and dictators while dissing our allies, a truly harmful trade policy, chaos abroad and chaos in our defense and foreign policy establishment at home — Trump has no clue what he is doing.

So, why should Democrats nominate a candidate who offers proposals that are anathema to the majority of American voters? Why propose an agenda that has no chance of passing and will not lead to Democrats expanding their majority in the House and, hopefully, taking back the Senate, and sending Mitch McConnell packing?

From now on, these debates had better highlight the differences and the stakes with Trump, not become a circular firing squad that nominates the candidate least likely to win a general election. Democrats have a real chance to turn America around. Let’s not blow it.

Peter Fenn is a long-time Democratic political strategist who served on the Senate Intelligence Committee, was a top aide to Sen. Frank Church and was the first director of Democrats for the 80s, founded by Pamela Harriman. He also co-founded the Center for Responsive Politics/Open Secrets. Follow him on Twitter @peterhfenn.

It Just May be Joe Biden’s Time–10 Reasons . The Hill Newspaper

https://thehill.com/opinion/campaign/433594-it-is-joe-bidens-time-10-reasons

 

It is Joe Biden’s time — 10 reasons

It is Joe Biden's time — 10 reasons
© Getty Images

I will never forget, as a young man in my early 20s, having a conversation with my mentor and later boss, Sen. Frank Church (D-Idaho) after his campaign visit to Delaware to campaign for a 29-year-old Senate candidate named Joe Biden. Few gave Biden a chance to win against a seasoned and respected senior senator, J. Caleb Boggs.

The polls had Biden way behind, and 1972 was anything but a good year for Democrats. But Frank Church saw something very special in Joe Biden and he said to me: “I think that kid Biden can do it, he is an amazing candidate and he’s connecting with voters.” When the votes were counted, Joe Biden won with just over 3,000 votes.

As most Americans know, Biden and his family were preparing to come to Washington when his wife and young daughter were killed in a tragic car accident, that also left his other two sons injured and in the hospital. Biden seriously considered not taking his seat, but Senate Majority Leader Mike Mansfield (D-Mont.) and others consoled him and urged him to be sworn in and take the office.

Frank Church helped Biden through his grief and provided his experienced Chief of Staff and Press Secretary to help the new senator. Public service has been Joe Biden’s life ever since. When I worked for Church, I became close to Biden’s top aide Ted Kaufman (later Senator), who helped guide us through the hard election of 1980, and even Church’s run for President in 1976.

All this to say, there is a lot of history over many decades.

In my view, Joe Biden’s time is now. Here are the reasons:

  1. He speaks the common language of what Senator Sherrod Brown calls “the dignity of work.” With Brown not running, Joe Biden talks the talk of the scrappy, Catholic kid from Scranton, Pa. He learned the ups and downs of an American family in the 20th century and his working-class roots are ingrained in him.
  2. Biden is genuine, he speaks his mind, what you see is what you get. He may go on a little long, he may misspeak, he may occasionally go over the top… but any criticism of Uncle Joe for that pales in comparison to what we have in the White House now. Hard to imagine over 6,000 lies from Joe Biden in just two years!
  3. Biden is a steady hand on the tiller when we need a captain who can navigate the foreign policy seas that are guaranteed to get much choppier with Trump on top. He is trusted abroad, respected by our allies and enemies alike, and knows the lay of the land and the history behind it. Again, a clear contrast not only with Trump but also the group of other Democrats seeking the nomination.
  4. He is a solid progressive, but his issue positions won’t alienate large sections of the American electorate. The “socialist” label will never stick to him. He has a record of over 40 years in office that can be nitpicked, but Joe Biden is mainstream in the best sense of the word — middle America mainstream.
  5. Democrats want to win the presidency more than all else. They understand that another four years of Trump isn’t just another term, it’s exponential in its harm to the country. Just as the election of 2018 showed what Democrats could do, even when the economy was relatively stable, 2020 is the ultimate battle. Even if some of the more liberal elements of our party would rather Biden adopt more radical policy positions, nothing is more important than nominating a ticket than can, and will, win in November.
  6. The states that Democrats lost, or nearly lost, in 2016 — Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Michigan, Florida, Minnesota, New Hampshire — are states where Biden will be strong and do well as the Democratic nominee. He will play much better, to be honest, than Hillary did in 2016 or other “coastal” candidates will in 2020.
  7. The fact that Biden knows how to negotiate with the other side is a plus, not a minus. The fact that he was able to prevent a government shutdown by negotiating with Republicans illustrates that Biden is trusted by his former colleagues on the Hill and has earned their respect. He has been there, he has sat across the table from strong personalities. He knows how to do it. He is competent and with an incompetent P. T. Barnum in the White House the contrast could not be more clear.
  8. He may be older than others running, and he may not be a new face, but he is in better shape than Trump, and he knows how to campaign. He will be out there as a Happy Warrior, as they used to describe Hubert Humphrey — a candidate who dives into the crowd.
  9. The role of the vice president doesn’t hurt, it helps. Not only has he been there in the White House, but when you consider that we have had six vice presidents as nominees for president in the last 60 years, that is impressive. (Lyndon Johnson, Richard Nixon, Hubert Humphrey, Walter Mondale, George H.W. Bush. and Al Gore).
  10. Joe Biden is a fighter. He is passionate and strong and skilled. And, more important, he knows how to wage a political fight without going over the top, without making rookie mistakes, without taking the bait. He may very well be the most experienced and deft opponent that Trump could face. He has been through it all and his political instincts are well honed.

There is no question that Joe Biden has been a fixture in American politics for a very long time. He is a known quantity — maybe just what America needs right now. That’s why it may just be Joe Biden’s time.

 

Crisis at the Border…..due to Donald Trump

As Donald Trump was putting the final touches on his State of the Union speech last week, a group of us were at the Arizona/Mexican border in Nogales.  What we saw and heard was disturbing.

 

Not only did we witness a large wall of steel slats but, as The Washington Post reported, (https://www.washingtonpost.com/nation/2019/02/07/trumps-troop-deployment-strung-lethal-razor-wire-border-this-city-has-had-enough/?utm_term=.ecc0f371e76f).  a string of concertina wire designed to intimidate and maim those who came close. This lethal razor wire was at the top of the 18-foot fence when we visited, by the time of Trump’s speech U.S. troops had deployed up to six rows of the wire from street level all the way up.

 

Mayor Arturo Garino told the Post that “they can’t say they are putting something up to protect us, they’re putting up something that’s lethal all the way to the ground.”  There wasn’t any discussion with the City Council, the Mayor, the police chief, the fire chief or any local officials before the troops’ action.

 

When we arrived at the border, as members of the Board of the Unitarian Universalist Service Committee, we were prepared to see the spot were a 16 year old boy, Jose Antonio Elena Rodriguez, was shot 10 times by a border agent for throwing rocks up a steep embankment, separated by the steel wall. When we saw the scene it was clear that the agent was not seriously threatened, large rocks could hardly make it up the hill, plus the steel slats separated the two.

 

Tensions are high now with the over 6,500 newly deployed troops and National Guard Forces stationed along the border, in addition to the over 70 miles of concertina wire put up, with another 160 miles slated to be erected, according to the Defense Department. (https://www.washingtonpost.com/nation/2019/02/07/trumps-troop-deployment-strung-lethal-razor-wire-border-this-city-has-had-enough/?utm_term=.ecc0f371e76f

 

When I was last in Nogales in the 1980s the border was full of activity between the U.S. and Mexico.  The two cities with the same name were known for a border crossing that encouraged commerce and mutual respect.  Now, all that has changed.  As Mayor Garino puts it, first we have 400,000 people divided by a wall and now we have concertina wire, intimidating and deadly.

 

The crisis in Nogales, and along the border, is a result of President Trump’s actions and rhetoric.  He fans the flames of distrust and prejudice and creates fear and loathing and division.

 

The result is that the border agent who killed 16 year old Antonio was acquitted of manslaughter while four young people with No More Deaths were convicted of leaving water and food in the desert for migrants.  For over a decade the humanitarian organization No More Deaths has been active and only recently, since 2017 they told us, have the arrests and harassment escalated to an unbearable level.  https://www.cbsnews.com/news/lonnie-swartz-border-patrol-agent-acquitted-in-death-of-mexican-teen-jose-antonio-elena-rodriguez/

 

According to the Washington Post, there have been over 3,000 deaths in the last 20 years in the Cabeza Prieta National Wildlife Refuge on the Arizona border.  https://www.washingtonpost.com/nation/2019/01/20/they-left-food-water-migrants-desert-now-they-might-go-prison/?utm_term=.b15bb6347f95)  These are people and families looking for a better life, fleeing gangs and violence, not, as President Trump often states, drug dealers and criminals.  Smuggling of drugs goes mainly through points of entry, as the arrest in Nogales last week of 254 pounds of fentanyl and 395 pounds of meth on a truck clearly shows.  Instead of stringing concertina wire from the ground up threatening animals and children maybe we ought to continue to focus on the border crossings and the real smugglers.

 

Never mind that Donald Trump spent nearly fifteen minutes of his State of the Union speech on the border, while his intelligence chiefs spent exactly none while discussing national security threats in a Hill briefing.  The real take away from the past two years is that President Trump has done nothing to attempt to solve the problem of immigration. One could argue that from the moment he got off that golden escalator to announce for President he has done everything in his power to demagogue the issue and demonize people.

 

It is time for Congress, Democrats and Republicans, and the Administration to once again search for solutions, not sow discord.

 

The basic concern now should revolve around comprehensive immigration reform:  providing a path to citizenship that is earned, taking care of the dreamers who were brought here when they were young, reforming and revitalizing our asylum process so those fleeing can be vetted and their cases heard expeditiously.   Border security must be dealt with, but Congress and the Administration must have the courage and the conviction to seek long term solutions to the problem.

 

In concert with Central American countries, the United States should be creating a Marshall-type Plan similar to what we had for Europe after World War II.  By focusing on the critical need to stabilize these countries politically and economically — creating jobs, expanding education, reducing corruption — we should provide proposals and funding with a consortium of nations including especially Mexico, El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua, Costa Rica and Guatemala that will help solve the problem. After all, shouldn’t we be leading this cooperative effort, not forging division and distrust with our southern neighbors? Isn’t it time to focus on the notion of a multinational, cooperative approach? America needs to show these nations that they matter, they are our allies and we are all in this together.

 

From all we saw in our visit to Nogales it is clear that the “crisis at the border” is a humanitarian one that can only be solved with compassion and cooperation, not declaring war on others or having troops erect concertina wire and walls as the Soviets did across Eastern Europe.   Sadly, Donald Trump seems intent on exploiting immigration for his own political gain.

 

Two Very Different Green Books

The very impressive and moving film, “Green Book”, has won the Golden Globe Award for Best Picture, Movie or Comedy, and just won the Producers Guild of America Award for Best Picture.  It is nominated for Best Picture again at the Academy Awards.

 

It is the story of a tough-talking Italian bouncer from the Bronx who joins a sophisticated, world-class, African-American pianist on a concert tour, far from their native New York in 1962.  They head to the Deep South during the height of the civil rights struggle.

 

But the title, “Green Book”, refers to what began as a 15-page pamphlet in 1936 and grew to a comprehensive volume by the 1960s.  It contained critical information for Blacks travelling throughout the country, but especially in the South —  what restaurants they could eat in, what hotels and motels they could stay in, what gas stations were welcoming, what jazz clubs to go to and what towns to avoid, what curfews were in place, and what roads were safe to take.  It was invaluable as Americans hit the road for vacations and many Blacks traveled back and forth between the South and their new homes in the Midwest and Northeast.

 

Last spring, even before we knew of the movie, my wife and I went to the exhibit at the New York Museum of Art and Design entitled “Unpacking the Green Book: Travel and Segregation in Jim Crow America.”

 

As someone who has spent decades in politics in Washington, the only Green Book I was vaguely familiar with was the book with the felt, emerald cover —  The Social List of Washington, D.C.  As a Senate aide I noticed it back in the 1970s as a resource for offices to contact members of the diplomatic corps, other members of congress, the administration, the wealthy and the socially prominent.  In short, something way different from the “other” Green Book.

 

What we learned from the exhibit in New York was that the Green Book was published by a local postal worker, Victor Hugo Green.  It began with a guide to the local metro area, New York, New Jersey, Connecticut and expanded across the country and even abroad. In its 30 years, (1936-1967), it became indispensable and was called “The Negro Travelers’ Green Book.”  It is featured in the film and used by Don Shirley, the musician, and Tony Vallelonga, the driver and bodyguard.

 

Ann Hornaday, the film critic for the Washington Post, wrote: “The great success of ‘Green Book’ lies in its modesty and the straightforward way it recognizes seismic change in the incremental turning of a human heart.”

 

The emerald, felt-covered Washington Green Book is anything but modest.

 

This Green Book, or social register, has been published by the same family since 1930.  It is a highly secretive process to be admitted to the Green Book. Very exclusive, I guess.  Who is in and who is out used to be a source of speculation.  When former Washington Post great Ben Bradlee was dropped, he sarcastically replied, “what a cruel, cruel blow.”  When former White House Chief of Staff Hamilton Jordan was told he was left out he replied something to the effect he would have to pick up the pieces of his shattered life and move on.

 

The web site says: “The Green Book remains the preeminent list of Washington’s society and arbiter of social precedence in the Metropolitan Area.  Selection to the book is by invitation only.”

 

By the way, according to the Washington Times (10/15/2005), it was not until 1971, forty years after it started publishing, that the first African American couple was included in the D.C. Green Book., Mr. and Mrs. Churchill Willoughby.

 

A tale of two Green Books  —  I think I prefer the Victor Hugo Green version.