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White Anti-Racism

Robin D’Angelo’s book, White Fragility and a recent piece in the Washington Post by Robin Givhan both gave me a taste of why I had instinctively held back from telling Black friends and co-workers over the years that, as a young white woman I had picketed Woolworths at age 16, marched on Montgomery, gotten spit on when I went out with a Black lawyer, and instinctively spoken up and caused good trouble, as John Lewis would say when I heard racist remarks. If I had not avoided talking about my own anti-racist history it would sound as if I was saying “You see, I am not a racist.”  And that is the paradox that I think Ibram X. Kendi (author of How to Be an Anti-Racist) would understand, better than anyone, should I, at age 79, tell him my small story.  Because, we all need to tell our stories, particularly those of us who are old enough to have participated in the civil rights movement and are now too old to protest during a pandemic.

That said, what is happening today with racial reckoning, discussions, and protesting is an enormously positive cultural change that has to be celebrated in the midst of the pandemic, the collapse of the economy, and the unraveling of the rule of law. I have to remind myself, and I hope others will as well, to look at the big picture and the long run. Because racism is a cancer that has undermined what is good and valuable for all of us for a very long time.

Democrats are Rhetorically Challenged

When I was a Program Officer at the Kettering Foundation, we hosted summer interns from universities and think tanks to contribute to our research on democracy. One summer, we had an intern from the Cato Institute, a libertarian think tank based in DC. I don’t recall his name, but I will never forget his comment, “Democrats are rhetorically challenged.” I paid attention, not only because he was writing his doctoral dissertation on political rhetoric, but also because his remark hit home.  

Almost twenty years have passed since then, but James Carville says Democrats are still in a “defensive crouch.” Rachel Bitecofer, my favorite new prognosticator, writes that Democratic candidates often fail to embrace their party’s positive history and imply that “I am not one of them.” The motivation behind this posture is a focus on winning a sliver of swing voters, rather than expanding turnout by giving people reasons to vote.

Is it possible to offer fearless talk about real issues and yet avoid the toxic behavior of the other side? Admittedly, it is a kind of tightrope, walked by both “moderates” and “progressives” in the Democratic Party. Moderates often fail to choose their own ground, preferring instead to respond to Republican arguments, appear more “mainstream” and accept the idea of smaller rather than better governance. Progressives often miss the complexities and serious research done on policy issues by others, such as journalists and academics, and come across as ideological and often simplistic.

What do moderates miss? The currents street protests provide a stunning example. Radical reform of police departments is essential, but “Defund the Police” is perfect for right-wing push back and leads to confusion among supporters. Another example: minimum wage referenda have been appearing on state ballots for several years. There is ample evidence they increase turnout and enjoy support among independents as well as Democrats of all kinds. A Democratic candidate who focused on this issue, avoided by Republicans, could do well. Early childhood education is another widely popular issue that could attract new voters, especially young parents.

Progressives, for their part, could focus very specifically on the huge economic potential of alternative energy. Somehow, the “Green New Deal” as a virtuous slogan, has not done that. 

But there is more to this rhetorical challenge than finding your own policy ground. Even in an era of polarized, rigid political division, the massive failure of the Trump Administration to confront the coronavirus has affected ordinary voters of all kinds. Some of them are persuadable if Democrats can make the case and get them to vote.

Ironically, it is a group of Never Trump Republicans who have made this case most forcefully. “Mourning in America” is brilliant rhetoric. Democrats, please watch!  https://lincolnproject.us/news/mourning-america/

What are Democrats afraid of? Nothing they can imagine could be worse than what we now confront.

Bloomberg, Steyer, Generation Z And Yes, Sanders

Last night David #Plouffe, Obama’s 2008 campaign manager, called the task of #registeringyoungvoters a “Manhattan Project” for the Democrats, despite overall increases in #turnout in the primaries. His comment really hit me between the eyes, since my father worked for Robert Oppenheimer on the original Manhattan Project, and nothing anyone has said has so dramatically illuminated the magnitude and specificity of the challenge.

#NextGenAmerica was founded by #TomSteyer in 2013, long before he ran for president.

#MichaelBloomberg is purportedly searching for ways to ensure that Trump is not re-elected. By partnering with NextGen America, which has already registered 1.3 million young people, he could accelerate their impact, just in time.

As someone previously focused on campaign finance reform (see my last blog), I think there is a major difference between corporate or billionaire funding for a candidate and big money supporting voter turnout. After all, no new young voter is going to be influenced by the big bucks used to bring them into the political system.

Also, there is considerable research showing that voting for the first time leads people to become regular voters. It’s true that young people tend to vote for the Democratic Party, but wouldn’t it be interesting if some of those young people started to reform and revitalize the Republicans? I am a life-long Democrat. But as a political scientist, I believe in the two-party system, and I can’t help but want the Republicans to wake up and smell, if not the coffee, at least lunch and dinner later on.

Today, in his not-yet-concession speech, Senator #BernieSanders focused on his platform and urged #JoeBiden to adopt it. To his credit, Senator Sanders has always understood that major progressive change depends on young people. If he really wants to ensure that the Democratic Party and then the country focus on major changes, even if he loses, he could do worse than verbally support massive voter registration targeted at young people. I understand that this goes against his “Billionaire” rhetoric, but what if NextGen America, with Bloomberg’s financial support, was able to register 10 million young people in six battleground states before the election?

So What is Wrong with Steyer and Bloomberg Massively Funding Their Own Campaigns?

Not so terrible, unless we want the best to become the enemy of the good.

First- full disclosure. I am a retired political scientist who, in my salad days, back in the 80s and 90s, was a member and then Chair of the Connecticut State Ethics Commission. When my term ended I was appointed to a temporary state task force on #campaignfinancereform.

At that time (and this is still true) I favored public financing of political campaigns. But after extensive research, admittedly in those pre-internet days, I came to the conclusion that even that didn’t work so well, because money, like water, tends to seep around and under any barriers designed to curtail it. In the end, we all agreed that only direct media subsidies (without money flowing into the campaign) would work— a conclusion now probably out of date.

We could not have anticipated online fundraising- an amazingly positive contribution to American politics, even though we may not always like the results. On the other hand, the influence of #bigmoney remains pernicious- witness candidates who continue to deny that the climate is in crisis, almost certainly because they receive big donations from oil companies.

More controversial is the #self-funding of political campaigns. Yes, it is probably “unfair.” But short of massive campaign finance reforms that might or might not work, we should probably accept it. Tom #Steyer was funding Next-Gen America to register 18-year-olds across the country months before he announced he was a candidate for President. And he has pledged to continue his efforts even if he is not the candidate. #Bloomberg supported groups combating gerrymandering, and, as with Steyer, has pledged to continue funding the presidential campaign against Trump no matter whether or not he is the Democratic candidate.  

Let’s be honest, neither candidate is now at the top of the Democratic pack, although that could change. So, if Bloomberg’s money were to flow into registering young Hispanics in Texas, as my favorite new political prognosticator @RachelBitecofer would recommend, that would be amazing. Or if Tom Steyer used not only his money but also his considerable knowledge and 10 years of experience concerning the #ClimateCrisis to make the issue front and center in the elections it could force the eventual nominee to go way beyond just rejoining the #ParisTreaty and reducing emissions by 2050. But more on that later.

Does the Two-Party System Have a Future?


I am not a member of any organized political party. I am a Democrat.” – Will Rogers

As a registered Democrat, I am deeply troubled by recent discussions in the media about so-called “progressives” vs. “moderates.” The worst aspect of this is that we seem to be focused on labels, not policies.

The great strength of the Democratic Party today is that it is a “big tent.” The 2018 midterms showed that, depending on the district, different kinds of Democratic candidates can win. As a party, we celebrate diversity of all kinds. Why can’t we celebrate political diversity rather than mirroring the narrow negativism of the current Republican Party? How can policy discussions and deliberations maintain the big tent and heal some of the rips in its canvas? 

Indivisible has shown that we can, by asking all of the presidential candidates to support the eventual nominee. So far, 17 have agreed. Here are some other suggestions:

  1. Use social media to propose policy ideas, including those that cross the partisan divide. A small bore but potentially high impact example from the Spring legislative session in New Mexico: Passage of the “Healthy Soils Act” with overwhelming bipartisan support. It would encourage and train ranchers to move cattle around in groups so that the soil is enriched without grazing down to the stubble. The result is enriched soil with bacteria that eat more methane than the cows produce. And methane is 85 times more damaging than CO2 as a greenhouse gas.  
  2. Don’t make the best the enemy of the good. Who in the Democratic Party, for example, would oppose allowing people just above the income level for Medicaid to buy into it? (a short-term plus) Would this really lessen the longer-run possibility of Universal Healthcare? 
  3. Policy alternatives should be developed that combine the profit motive with social benefits by linking nonprofits, small businesses, and social enterprises. Borders cities are working with nonprofit organizations to process the hundreds of migrants crossing the border legally each day. Nonprofits in cities often promote entrepreneurial activity.
  4. Focus on overlaps and spinoffs between environmental and socio-economic investments. For example, retrofitting millions of houses for energy efficiency could also create millions of jobs that cannot be exported. 


“Well, we might have enough people in the Never-Trump camp to have a dinner party.” – Max Boot, on CNN.

I am not a Republican, but, as a political scientist and scholar of democracy, I care deeply about the future of the two-party system. It worries me that Republicans have placed their bets on aging Whites, gerrymandering and voter suppression. I have been encouraged by the independence of the Never Trump Republicans, and the candidacy of former Massachusetts Governor Bill Weld, but discouraged about the prospects for reviving a functioning Republican Party, based on constitutional and free market principles. In the interests of supporting this nascent movement, I offer the following policy ideas, some of which overlap with the policy proposals for the Democrats. And that’s a good thing for potential bipartisan legislation.

  1. Focus on the economic advantages of free trade and ending the Trump tariffs.
  2. Advance policies that support small businesses, social enterprises and the non-profit sector. (For ideas, look back at your own Jack Kemp.)
  3. Stop denying climate change and explore market solutions, including temporary support, maybe at the state level, for small businesses engaged in retrofitting houses, and yes, even the dreaded carbon tax, which began as a free market solution. Celebrate and publicize the emerging consensus that alternative energy costs are plummeting, without government subsidies.
  4. Conservation (as in National Parks or threats to biological diversity) is historically related to conservatism. Look back at Teddy Roosevelt!
  5. Pass tax legislation that closes loopholes and provides tax cuts for the middle class, not the wealthy.
  6. Revive the anti-trust movement started by one of your own-President Theodore Roosevelt.
  7. Support resilient infrastructure investment that will withstand climate change. Democrats will support you.

Political rhetoric should be based on sound policy ideas. Republicans have historically outclassed Democrats in rhetoric if not truth, but what if both parties did their policy homework before crafting slogans? As Senator Elizabeth Warren says, “I have a plan for that,” and she does, because of policy research. At other times, slogans can emerge from deep thought. An example is Pete Buttigieg’s “Freedom is not just ‘freedom from’ but ‘freedom to.’

Trump traffics in and is addicted to, soundbites, often false. Democrats and Republicans need to stop focusing on and mirroring him. They need to start talking about policy and that will lead to more truthful rhetoric. And that will not only strengthen the two-party system but also our #democracy.