America is still not ready for a woman President

It is now, officially, a two-man race for the Democratic Party’s presidential candidate, and it is clear that America is still not ready for a woman president.

As Massachusetts Senator, Elizabeth Warren, today dropped out of the presidential race, she joined her Senate colleagues, New York’s Kirsten Gillibrand, California’s Kamala Harris, and Minnesota’s Amy Klobuchar, who all had bowed out earlier. They were white, black; experienced; well-qualified; progressive; moderate; articulate, tough, energetic.

It did not help.

Four years after Hillary Clinton came so close to victory and lost in spite of getting almost three million more votes than Trump, writes Paul Waldman in the Washington Post, “we had a presidential field full of talented and accomplished women, and surely, so many of us thought, one of them might prevail. Yet they fell, one after another, until only the most talented and accomplished (Warren) among them was left. And in the end, she too was judged inadequate.  So, our more than 200-year-long streak of electing only men to the presidency will continue. Perhaps we shouldn’t have expected anything different.”

Left now are Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders, two white men, one of whom will face Donald Trump, another white man, in November. What does that say about gender equality in America? Well, that it is still a much more conservative country than the democracies of Europe and that gender equality lags far behind those European allies, where women for years have served as their countries’ political leaders.

Back in 1984, and way ahead of his time, Minnesota’s Walter Mondale became the Democratic party’s presidential nominee and chose a woman, Geraldine Ferraro, as his vice-presidential running mate. They lost, and lost big, to Ronald Reagan, who was reelected by winning every state except Minnesota and the District of Columbia. It took until 2016 for another woman, Hillary Clinton, to once again be part of presidential ticket, and that did not end well, either, which Washington Post’s columnist, Jennifer Rubin, touches upon when she writes how  “commentary posited from the get-go that Hillary Clinton lost; ergo, women are too risky. The country is not ready. The race is too important to risk the nomination on a woman. There was zero evidence for the proposition that gender alone explained Clinton’s loss…To the contrary, women had won in overwhelming numbers in 2018, in large part by attracting female voters. Nevertheless, the narrative persisted, fueled by the mainstream media insistence that the failure to win white, working-class men in 2016 meant Democrats needed a white man to attract those voters this time around.”

Still, many believe that whoever finally wins the nomination – Biden or Sanders – there has to be a woman on the ticket. Biden is now the overwhelming favorite to win and Minnesota’s Klobuchar is politically closest to Biden. She is also from the Midwest, an important part of the country to capture for the Democrats. But Biden could also choose Warren to build the important bridge to the party’s progressive wing and keep the party united, or Harris, thereby having both a woman and an African American on the ticket.

So, November’s election could still be historic, although not quite to the degree it would have been with a woman at the top of the ticket. And that still seems a long way off.

 

It’s Trump, stupid!

To defeat Donald Trump is the primary, no, the only, goal of the Democrats come November.  They forgot that at last Wednesday’s debate in Las Vegas.

“If you’re someone who thinks Donald Trump needs to be sent packing, watching the Democrats attack one another like 14-year-olds fighting over the remote was depressing indeed, wrote Boston Globe columnist Kevin Cullen, who came away from the evening liking all the candidates less.

I, sadly, agree.

The six up on the debate stage lost their focus, they turned inwards, and the whole event turned into a vicious food fight, between…everybody! There was no serious policy debate, on any of the major issues, and foreign policy, the one area where the President truly has power, was completely absent.

Elizabeth Warren came to play a central role by fiercely attacking former New York mayor, billionaire Michael Bloomberg, and discarding her earlier calls for unity in the party. Her attacks seemed to equate Bloomberg with Trump – just another awful billionaire –  without a word about Bloomberg’s solid political experience after twelve years as New York City’s mayor and his many years of political and financial support for Democratic, and liberal, causes like gun control and climate change.

It was a harsh and negative message. I have admired Warren for her policy focus, for her ideas and plans on a number of important issues: Medicare for All, wealth tax, childcare, college costs, consumer protection. All that was lost in Las Vegas. It reminded me of another debate, earlier in the campaign, when Kamala Harris harshly attacked Joe Biden. Afterwards, Harris also profited, both in the polls and in campaign funds, but the gains turned out to be short-lived. It remains to be seen if Elizabeth Warren now meets the same destiny.

The rest? Bernie Sanders yelled, as usual, but he largely got a free ride, in spite of being the front runner in the polls. Joe Biden did ok, but, as one commentator accurately described it, every time he opens his mouth, “you hold your breath.” This time, he avoided any major gaffe. That left Pete Buttigieg and Amy Klobuchar, who obviously do not like each other, free to go at each other, with abandon. They both lost.

And Bloomberg? Cool, but lame, and strangely unprepared. He failed in his first debate appearance — bombed, said many. But he is not on the ballot in Nevada today nor in South Carolina on February 29. His moment of truth comes on Super Tuesday, March 3, when he is on the ballot for the first time. Prior to that, in next week’s debate, he needs to step up his  game considerably to have a chance.  If he fails, he will not be saved by his billions.

A tragedy, and an uncertain future, but not the end

Well, I tried, as did over 59 million American voters, but Donald Trump was not to be stopped.

The New Yorker’s editor, David Remnick, one of my favorite American journalists, called the election, “An American tragedy” — a triumph for “nativism, authoritarianism, misogyny, and racism.”

Trump’s victory is a victory for the old America and a rejection of the past eight years under Barack Obama. It’s a big step backwards, away from the America of freedom, openness, and multiculturalism that had brought millions of immigrants, like me, to its shores.

Not only did Trump improbably win the White House, but the Republican Party held on to its majorities in the Senate and the House. The political results will come swiftly: Merrick Garland, nominated many months ago by Obama to the Supreme Court will never become a member of the Court, whose conservative majority is now guaranteed for years to come. The Affordable Care Act could be abolished and the fate of those twenty million with new health insurance is unknown. The future of the nuclear deal with Iran is highly uncertain. “Get ready for a rough ride,” writes Los Angeles Times’ Doyle McManus.

Still, this is not the end of America. The political forces, from Trump himself and other Republicans to President Obama and Hillary Clinton, have all quickly urged the coming together to ensure the peaceful transition of power. We are Americans first, patriots first, said Obama. “We all want what’s best for the country.” Tomorrow, he will receive Trump in the White House.

For the anti-Trump forces, for the losing side, there are some silver linings in the dark clouds. Hillary Clinton won the plurality of the vote, 59,679 million to 59,472 million for Trump. But she lost the all-important Electoral College vote, failing to reach the magical number of 270. And that’s really all that counts. That’s happened before, most recently in 2000, when Al Gore won the plurality of votes but still lost the election to George W. Bush. It’s time to do away with this antiquate election system and elect America’s president on the basis of how many votes he/she gets.

California, Hawaii, Maryland, Massachusetts, and Vermont belong to the group of states where Clinton captured over 60 percent of the vote, followed by New York State with 59 percent, Washington State 56, and Illinois, New Jersey, and Rhode Island 55. In Washington, DC, almost 93 percent of the voters supported Clinton. For Trump, Wyoming gave him his largest victory margin with 70 percent of the vote, followed by West Virginia 69, Oklahoma, 65, North Dakota, 64, Alabama and Kentucky 63, and Tennessee 61 percent.

It was urban vs. rural, the two coasts vs. the heartland. The election shows a country split down the middle, more divided than anyone had realized.

The Democrats failed to capture the majority in the U.S. Senate but they had some success by electing three new, female, senators: Kamala Harris, California, Catherine Cortez Masto, Nevada, and Tammy Duckworth, Illinois, an Indian/African-American, a Latina, and a Thai-American. Maryland has a new U.S. Senator, Democrat Chris Van Hollen — my former Congressman — who, in turn, was succeeded by Jamie Raskin, also a progressive Democrat.

In Minnesota, which I have followed closely a few years, Clinton squeaked through with 46.8 percent of the vote, or 43,000 votes, but the Republicans increased their majority in the State House and captured the majority in the State Senate. Democratic governor Mark Dayton’s two remaining years in office will not be easy. Minnesota also elected the first Somali American to the State Legislature. 34-year-old Ilhan Omar, who came to America as a child after years in a refugee camp, captured 81 percent of the vote in her Minneapolis district and became not only the first Somali-American legislator in Minnesota, but in all of America. That’s not Trump’s America, but it is my America.

 

A happy Labor Day, after all…

As an immigrant and a recent citizen, I will cast my first presidential vote in November. I have looked forward to this for quite a while although this sad, even depressing, campaign hasn’t been the kind of campaign that I had hoped for. And my choice is clear: Hillary Clinton — Trump’s America is not my America.

Today, on Labor Day, I realized that all is not doom and gloom. At the traditional Labor Day Parade in Kensington, the next town over from my home town of Silver Spring in the Maryland suburbs just north of Washington, DC, thousands had come out in the beautiful weather. There was excitement and optimism in the air; good people are running for office, among them my Congressman, Chris Van Hollen, a Democrat who is running for the U.S. Senate to succeed retiring Barbara Mikulski, and State Senator Jamie Raskin, also a Democrat, who is trying to succeed Van Hollen in the U.S. House of Representatives. Their campaigns are important parts of this year’s overall political campaign and their outcomes are almost as important as the race for the White House in determining what kind of America we will have after November.

Van Hollen and Raskin

Van Hollen and Raskin both handily won their respective Democratic primaries in April and their victories in November, although not guaranteed, of course, are highly likely in this Democratic state. Van Hollen, the son of a foreign service officer, was born in Karachi, Pakistan. A progressive with lots of foreign policy experience and knowledge, he has been in Congress since 2003 — the top Democrat on the House Budget Committee, and part of the Democratic leadership team. Raskin, a law professor at the local American University, has been in the State Senate since 2006, where he has been a leading voice on many liberal issues: marriage equality, repeal of the death penalty, gun control, climate change, medical marijuana, campaign finance reform.

They are smart and hard-working and their hearts are in the right place. They will be great additions to the U.S. Congress, which, god knows, needs all the help it can get.

Why didn’t I know about The Tragically Hip?

Sometimes I wonder what I have done and where I have been. It struck me again this morning, as I read articles in the New York Times and the Washington Post about the last concert in the farewell tour of The Tragically Hip, Canada’s premier band, led by the country’s “unofficial poet laureate,” Gord Downie.

Downie is dying of incurable brain cancer, and this was his and his band’s last concert, in their home town of Kingston, Ontario. “Dear World,” the Toronto police tweeted just before the last concert, “Please be advised that Canada will be closed tonight at 8:30 pm. Have a #Tragically Hip day.” Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was there, because the band is “an inevitable and essential part of what we are and who we are as a country.”

The Tragically Hip has been around for 30 years and has come to define our northern neighbor’s cultural identity, but they never became big in the United States, and I had never heard of them until this morning. Although I consider myself well-informed and well-read, I am sure this says a lot about me, but it also says something about America, “one of the loudest neighbors in the world,” as one Canadian told the NYT, “the elephant in your bed,” as Justin Trudeau’s predecessor and father, Pierre Trudeau, once said about his big neighbor to the south.

America sucks you in, takes over, dominates, and although the leading newspapers are not without coverage of the rest of the world, including Canada, it all somehow becomes secondary in this often introvert super power. This seems particularly true during this year’s presidential election campaign. I am following it closely, although it has gone on too long and its end cannot come soon enough, and the choice is clear.  More later.

Meanwhile, I will dig into The Tragically Hip. I want to know more. I think I will like them.

Scalia’s death raises the stakes but also the question of reforms

The presidential election campaign all of a sudden got more contentious, more exciting, and more important with the death of Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, the leading conservative on the Court.

The voters on November 8 will now decide not only who occupies the White House after President Obama, and who controls the U.S. Congress, but also who, conservatives or liberals, will control the third branch of the American political system, the Supreme Court.

With Scalia gone, the Court is tied, 4 – 4, between conservative and liberal justices. An Obama appointment would almost certainly swing the Court to a liberal majority and, for the first time since 1972, the justices appointed by Democratic presidents would outnumber those appointed by Republican presidents. The change would be monumental.

The Republicans in the Senate led by majority leader Mitch McConnell have instantly made it clear that they have no intention to consider an Obama nominee, no what who that is. The decision to appoint Scalia’s replacement should be made by the next president. But Obama is not elected to a three-year but to a four-year term. He has almost a year left in office and he has, rightly, declared that he intends to nominate a new justice. So we are in for a big fight, a complicating, new factor in an election campaign already fraught with uncertainty and tension.

McConnell, who famously said during Obama’s first term that his primary political goal was to make sure that Obama was not reelected now wants to deny the president, who has already appointed two new high court justices, the chance to appoint a third. McConnell’s stern “no” could have serious election implications for the Republicans and their goal to keep their Senate majority, as NYT’s Nate Cohn outlines. We’ll see how this plays out.

The death of Scalia is also an important reminder of how totally unpredictable the system of appointing Supreme Court justices is. It’s time to change what’s been, rightly, called an undemocratic system by doing away with life time appointments and create more orderly nomination procedures with term limits and a retirement age. In Minnesota, to which I presently spend a lot of attention, the retirement age for the state’s highest court is 70. That’s a bit young, maybe, but why not 75? And why not a 20-year term limit? Or both?

Sadly, such reforms are seldom part of the American political dialogue. They should be, particularly as the politicization of the Supreme Court shows no signs of abating.

Few bright spots for the Democrats as America voted Republican

Well, that was really depressing.

Only in Minnesota, and a few other bright spots around the country, did the Democrats win, or even put up a good fight in yesterday’s Republican landslide. Even in Democratic strongholds, like Massachusetts and Maryland, the voters elected new Republican governors. Southern Democratic Senators trying to get reelected failed, like Mark Pryor in Arkansas and Kay Hagan in North Carolina. Only Mark Warner in Virginia held on, barely…

The next US Senate will have a comfortable Republican majority, and the least sympathetic of all American politicians, Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, will be the new majority leader. He was the one — remember ? — who set as his primary goal at the start of the first Obama Administration to make sure that America’s first African American president would only serve one term. Well, Obama was reelected in 2012 and McConnell remained minority leader. Now, McConnell plus House Speaker John Boehner in charge of an even larger Republican majority in the House of Representatives, will have to work with President Obama if anything is to get done in the new Congress.

Don’t hold your breath! The Republican majorities in Congress contain more conservatives and more Tea party sympathizers, who now see even less reason to work with the President. If they turn cooperative, it will be a first after years of Republican obstruction, including a government shutdown, for which, apparently, and remarkably, the American voters have rewarded them while at the same time — and completely illogically — bitterly complaining about the gridlock in Washington.

They give Congress embarrassingly low approval ratings — even lower than the President — and then vote them back in power, stronger than before. Figure that one out!

Actually, and once again, the American voters have shown how negative they are towards the government, not only this government but government in general. They want a weak government and with yesterday’s outcome they have assured themselves of that.

I mentioned Minnesota in the beginning, where I have recently spent quite a bit of time, and although Minnesota’s voters reelected all the top Democratic candidates, Governor Mark Dayton, Senator Al Franken, the State Auditor, the Attorney General, as well as all five Democratic members of the US Congress, and elected a new Democratic Secretary of State, the voters turned their back on the Democratic Farmer Labor Party’s (DFL) candidates for the State House of Representatives. The Democrats’ majority of 73 to 61 for the last two years will switch to a solid Republican majority, 72 to 62,  in the next House, while the Democrats keep their majority in the Senate, which is not up for reelection until 2016.

So, also in Minnesota, the voters chose change, to end, as they put it, the “single-party DFL rule.” It’s the fourth time in ten years that the majority in the House has changed hands. And, just like in Washington, the ability to govern, to get results, to move the country forward, has been weakened. In that sense, the voters in Minnesota were no different than the voters in the rest of America.

The outcome does not bode well for America in the next two years.

Somalis showed their strength at DFL Convention in Minneapolis

The “new Americans” spoke today in Minnesota Democratic politics, and although the Somali American challenger Mohamud Noor did not win the endorsement of the delegates to House District 60B in Minneapolis, he prevented veteran liberal lawmaker, 77-year-old Phyllis Kahn, from winning, thereby forcing a primary runoff in August.DFlNoorSupporters

Kahn, who has represented the district in the State Legislature for 42 years, failed in five rounds of voting to capture the necessary 60 percent of the vote for the endorsement. She came close in the first round – 58.1 percent against Noor’s 41.5 percent. But in the end, in the fifth round, Khan’s support was 56.3 percent against Noor’s 43.3 percent.

Her failure is a victory for what Noor in his speech to the delegates before the vote, called “the new Americans,” like himself, who had fled their bleeding home country and settled in Minnesota in larger numbers than anywhere else in the United States. A victory, he said before the vote, would demonstrate that the Democratic Farmer Labor Party (DFL) in Minnesota is “serious about inclusion.” He did not quite make it, but he has another chance to win, in August.

DFLNoorSpeakingNoor, a recent new member of the Minneapolis school board, said that he and his family had “achieved the American dream,” and he stressed the importance of education and pre-kindergarten for all. He was ready to fight for everyone in the district, which includes Somali immigrants in the classic Scandinavian immigrant neighborhood of Cedar-Riverside, students from the University of Minnesota, and scores of progressive activists.

Should Noor win the DFL primary in August, he is practically guaranteed a victory in November in this solidly liberal House district. And if so, he will be the first Somali American in the State Legislature and the highest elected Somali American official in Minnesota. Today, Abdi Warsame, who was elected to the Minneapolis city council last November with overwhelming support from the Somali residents of Cedar –Riverside, holds that title. Warsame also had the support of Phyllis Kahn and today he backed her, splitting the Somali vote in the packed auditorium in DeLaSalle High School on Nicollet Island in the middle of the Mississippi River, just underneath the towers in downtown Minneapolis.

Today’s convention took all day, with breaks for lunch and prayer. The delegates showed remarkable stamina and few left between the five rounds of voting. Still, the 277 total votes cast are only a fraction of the eligible voters in District 60B. The August primary will all be about turnout, and it would be unwise to count out a veteran like Phyllis Kahn.

For the Somali immigrant community seeking political clout just like other immigrant groups have sought before them, it is yet another big challenge.

Grassroots DFL politics on a long Sunday in St Paul

I witnessed grassroots Minnesota politics today, and I was impressed.

On a glorious, sunny but cold Winter Sunday in the capital St Paul , 430 voting delegates and  hundreds of  supporters and activists in the St Paul Central High School  spent over seven hours of their Sunday eagerly debating the day’s issues and voting who would represent them in the state’s House of Representatives next session. They were all Democrats, members of Minnesota’s Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party (DFL), and in this solidly liberal Democratic district, 64B, they were sure to keep their representative in the House.

So when they chose Dave Pinto in the fourth and decisive round of voting, he will be their next representative. Pinto, a prosecutor with the Ramsey County attorney’s office and once a member of the Clinton White House, beat Greta Bergstrom (how Swedish can you get!) and winning over 60 percent of the vote against Bergstrom’s 38 percent, thereby officially securing the convention’s endorsement for the November election. In the first round,

435 delegates cast their ballots in the first round, and by the fourth round, almost all of them were still there, patiently making sure their vote was counted and showing their appreciation in standing ovations for the candidates as they conceded, one after the other in round after round.  Matt Freeman St Paul

Bergstrom, communications director for the progressive advocacy group TakeAction Minnesota, did surprisingly well. She handily beat the more famous Swedish American among the six candidates, young Matt Freeman, grandson of Orville Freeman, Minnesota’s governor between 1955 and 1961 and then Secretary of Agriculture in the Kenney and Johnson Administrations.  He died in 2003.

Matt Freeman, a graduate of Georgetown University, had recently managed St Paul mayor Chris Coleman’s victorious re-election campaign, He had lots of supporters in the packed gymnasium, among them his family, including his mother, grandmother, and father, Michael Freeman, who had been State Senator and who had twice run, unsuccessfully, for governor and who is now attorney in Hennepin County, the state’s most populous county.

Yes, tough loss today, admitted the father, after consoling his misty-eyed son. But there seemed to be a general sense in the gymnasium this long Sunday that young Matt has the future in front of him. There will be many more election campaigns, some, surely, victorious.

Shocked Republicans face a new political reality

The air during the walks in the woods outside Washington, DC a few days after Barack Obama’s convincing victory is somehow easier to breathe under the clear, blue November sky.  It’s been a long, an awfully long, campaign, emotionally draining. Most are just happy that it’s over, and at least 61 million voters are happy about the outcome.

The American voters chose the man they trusted to continue to lead them in these difficult economic times, while Mitt Romney, his challenger, beckoned to an old America as he asked the voters to trust a man they really did not know, a man who would not release his tax returns, who never explained why he invested money in tax havens in the Cayman Islands or in Switzerland, who denied his own moderate political record as a governor of Massachusetts, supportive of a woman’s right to choose, implementer of universal healthcare in his home state.

The bruising Republican primary campaign forced him steadily further to the right, and by the time he won and became the party’s presidential nominee, it was too late change in a credible way. 

As conservative columnist Kathleen Parker writes in the Washington Post today:

“The truth is, Romney was better than the GOP deserved. Party nitwits undermined him, and the self-righteous tried to bring him down. The nitwits are well-enough known at this point — those farthest-right social conservatives who couldn’t find it in their hearts to keep their traps shut. No abortion for rape or incest? Sit down. Legitimate rape? Put on your clown suit and go play in the street.  Equally damaging were the primary leeches, who embarrassed the party and wouldn’t leave the stage. Nine-nine-nine, we’re talking about you, Herman Cain. And Gov. Oops?  You, too. And then there were Rick Santorum and Michele Bachmann, who never had a real shot at the nomination and certainly could never win a national election, yet they refused to surrender to the certain nominee.”

The name of Newt Gingrich should be added to these names.   

The result was that the “Etch-a-Sketch” in the last month of the election campaign, when “severely conservative” Romney suddenly turned moderate, never worked. By then, the Obama campaign had already defined him for the voters and they did not trust him, he did not care about the ordinary voter.

The end result was an Obama victory by 332 electoral votes to Romney’s 206 – way more than the necessary 270 to win.  Of the nine battleground states, Obama only lost North Carolina. That means that Obama captured 61,7 million votes compared to Romney’s 58,5 million, or 50,6 percent compared to 47,9 percent.

The Romney campaign, which up to the last moments really believed they would win, never knew what hit them according to John Dickerson in a fascinating piece in Slate Magazine.

“Mitt Romney says he is a numbers guy, but in the end he got the numbers wrong. Even on the morning of the election, Romney’s senior advisers weren’t close to hedging. They said he was going to win decisively…How did the Romney team get it so wrong? According to those involved, it was a mix of believing anecdotes about party enthusiasm and an underestimation of their opponents’ talents.”

Instead, Barack Obama won among Blacks (93 percent), Hispanics (71 percent), and Asians (73 percent), among women (53 percent) and among working women with children under 18 (62 percent), among gays and lesbians (76 percent), among those between 18 and 29 (60 percent) and those between 30 and 44 (52 percent), among those in big cities (69 percent) and those in cities up to 500 000 people (58 percent), among Jewish voters (69 percent) and Catholics (52 percent,)  among those without a high school diploma (64 percent) and among those with a post-graduate degree (62 percent,)  and among those earning less than 50,000 dollars (56 percent).

Romney won among men (52 percent), among those above 45 years of age, among white voters (59 percent) among those with incomes above 50,000 dollars per year, among Independents (50 percent), and among those in the suburbs (50 percent), the small towns (56 percent) and in rural America  (61 percent). And he won the protestant votes, including the white born-again or evangelical Christians (78 percent).

His support was white, old, and rural, when all demographic trends point to a younger, multi-ethnic, and more urban America.  That’s a losing proposition. It’s the old America vs. the new America, and the Republicans, in a state of shock, have suddenly come face to face with this political reality. A long and fierce internal debate is expected whose outcome is far from certain. 

That debate is taking place as America faces a fiscal cliff by year’s end, when almost one trillion dollars in automatic budget cuts will be implemented at the same time as taxes are raised for everyone, if a new budget deal is not struck before that.  The cliff is of Congress’s own making when it failed last year to reach a budget deal.  The question is: are the players more ready now? We will soon know.