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.

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For Minnesota’s Wendell Anderson — “Tryggare kan ingen vara”

“Tryggare kan ingen vara,” the classic Swedish psalm called “Children of the Heavenly Father” in English, was sung in both languages earlier this week at Mount Olivet Lutheran Church in Minneapolis, Minnesota, as the life of former Democratic Governor Wendell Anderson was celebrated. “Wendy,” as he was called, died on July 17, 83 years old. He was Sweden’s best friend in Minnesota — maybe in all of America.

Hundreds had gathered in the church, founded by Swedish immigrants, to a service dedicated to all things Swedish. Political Minnesota, both former and present leaders, Democrats as well as Republicans, filled the front pews – a former Democratic U.S. Vice President, two former Republican governors, a U.S. Senator, legislators, members of Congress, and many, many political friends.

Minnesota’s Governor Mark Dayton called “Wendy” one of the state’s “greatest governors,” someone straight out of central casting, tall and handsome, and with a last name ending in “son” – the “quintessential” Minnesota governor. “Well done, very well done, rest in peace,” Dayton concluded. Former long-term majority leader of the Minnesota Senate, Roger Moe, called “Wendy’s” years as governor, with an emphasis on education and the environment, as the “most productive” in Minnesota history. “What a legacy he leaves,” Moe said. “Thank you for all you did for all of us.”

Wendell Anderson, Minnesota’s governor from 1971 to 1977, loved Sweden. He once wrote, “I am a Swede who happens now to live in America.” Born into a working class family in St Paul, Anderson became a star hockey player, first at the University of Minnesota and then as a member of the U.S. national team that won the silver medal at the 1956 Winter Olympics. All his grandparents were Swedish Americans; three of them were born in Sweden. He had been to Sweden 40 times and, he once told me, was even thinking about getting a “stuga” so he could spend his summers there. After law school, only 37 years old, he became the state’s youngest governor ever, winning 13 of 14 Swedish counties and nine of eleven Norwegian, three of four Finnish, and both of the most Danish counties in Minnesota. In 1974, riding high, he was reelected in a landslide, capturing all of Minnesota’s 87 counties. By then, the young governor had landed in the national spotlight as he followed up on his campaign promise through the Omnibus Tax Bill that raised 588 million dollars in new taxes for increased state support for public education. The bill was a fundamental reform of school finance, equalizing school funding between rich and poor districts, and became known as the “Minnesota Miracle” – the high tide of liberalism in Minnesota – despite both the State Senate and House being controlled by the Republicans.

On August 13, 1973, Wendell Anderson landed on the cover of Time Magazine with the headline, “The Good Life in Minnesota,” and the state was described as “the state that works.” Wendell Anderson on TIME's coverBut his decision in late 1976 to resign and assume the seat in the U.S. Senate that Walter Mondale vacated upon his election as U.S. Vice President proved politically fatal. He lost the election to a full Senate term in 1978 to a Republican. A Republican also captured the second Senate seat and his successor as governor, Lieutenant Governor Rudy Perpich, lost his bid for a full term to a third Republican. The decade that had started with the “Minnesota Miracle” ended with the “Minnesota Massacre.” Wendell Anderson’s political career was over. He was never again elected to political office. He practiced law and served as a regent of the University of Minnesota. In 1975, he was selected Swedish American of the Year and he also served as Sweden’s honorary consul in Minnesota.

A Swedish flag, blue and yellow napkins, and coffee and cookies, greeted the attendants in the church basement after the memorial service. The prominent mingled with the less prominent in typical low-key Minnesota fashion before they all went their separate ways. Former Vice President Walter Mondale and his old friend and law firm colleague, former Minnesota Attorney General, Warren Spannaus, lingered, and as the two political war horses walked out of the church by themselves in the afternoon heat, Mondale took off his jacket and swung it over one shoulder. They crossed the busy street with the help of two traffic cops and walked slowly up the block as cars buzzed by. At the corner, a woman, waiting for a bus, greeted the two before they turned into a side street where they had parked, apparently unable to find parking in the church parking lot. They climbed in and Spannaus drove off, with the former Vice President of the United States as passenger in the front seat.

That’s Minnesota, too.

 

 

Uncertainty before Iowa, no matter what the polls say

Whatever the polls might say, the outcome of the Iowa caucuses next Monday is far from certain among both Republicans and Democrats.

In the Republican so-called establishment the nervousness is growing as a Trump victory or a Cruz victory seems ever more likely. But it’s too late to do anything about it now or even before the New Hampshire primary on February 9. The Republican Party is reaping what they have sown. Later, possibly, as the primary campaign goes on to bigger and ethnically more diverse states, the Republican voters might come to their senses as they realize that the course the party is taking is a suicide mission. Or at least, that is what many establishment Republicans are wishing, for a Republican Party with Trump or Cruz as its presidential nominee cannot win the general election in November.

On the Democratic side, the race is even, surprisingly so. A Town Hall last night from Iowa with the three candidates, Hillary Clinton, Bernie Sanders and Martin O’Malley and broadcast on CNN, was forceful, energetic, positive, and informative. The issues of America were discussed seriously and the negative attacks on the opponents were largely absent.

A confident, relaxed, articulate Hillary Clinton made a strong case for herself as the most knowledgeable and experienced of the three, yes, of all the candidates, including the Republicans. Her knowledge of foreign policy, in particular, impressed, and should impress the voters, in these times of upheaval and uncertainty around the world. I think this is the Hillary Clinton that the voters want, and should, see, and staying positive and upbeat. She needs to make sure the voters know of and understand what she stands for. Attacking Bernie Sanders is not what she should be doing. Sanders is running his race and he is doing it well, talking about the serious issues facing America. It might pay off handsomely in Iowa and New Hampshire. But…beyond that? He is no threat.

Sanders, the senator from Vermont and the self-proclaimed democratic socialist, whose campaign has developed into a popular movement that no one predicted, including Sanders himself. He, also, did well, as he continued to hammer forcefully on his main themes of economic inequality, healthcare for all Americans, and reigning in Wall Street’s excesses. As a progressive, born and raised in Europe, I agree with much of what he says. The political revolution that Sanders urges might be a revolution for America, but not in my old home country of Sweden, or in Europe as a whole. It is far out to the left for America, and although Sanders certainly has many Americans supporting him, they are not enough for him to win in November. America is not ready for a political revolution.

Martin O’Malley, finally, the former governor of my home state of Maryland, has strong progressive credentials, and in another year, without Sanders, he might have had a chance. Not this year.

In all, the Democrats are in better shape than the Republicans, keeping the big picture in mind — the general election in November — regardless of what happens in Iowa and New Hampshire. Hillary Clinton will be the nominee, and whoever the Republicans choose, they will have a formidable opponent.

“Please don’t go quietly into the night”

Today, on the same day, two of America’s leading Republican columnists, New York Times’ David Brooks and Washington Post’s Michael Gerson, plead for their party to take a different route, away from Donald Trump and Ted Cruz.

In his rally cry, Brooks writes that it’s time to get together and for a new coalition of the forces of the “hopeful, practical, programmatic Republicans.” “Please,” he ends, “don’t go quietly and pathetically into the night.” For Gerson, the only good outcome for the Republicans of Trump vs. Cruz is “for both to lose.” And he ends, that “for the future of the party as the carrier of a humane, inclusive conservatism now depends on some viable choice beyond them.”

Neither Brooks nor Gerson recognize their party today. Gerson describes it under Trump and Cruz as a party that undermines religious liberty and encourages an ethnic basis for American identity that, in turn, strengthens prejudice. And for Brooks, alienating every person of color in the 21st Century is “borderline insane.”

As the showdown in Iowa and New Hampshire quickly approaches, Brooks and Gerson have grown visibly more frustrated and nervous. They fear not only for the future of their party but also for the outcome in the November elections. It’s a nervousness and fear they share with many in the Republican Party establishment, or governing Republicans, as Brooks calls them. The reality is that they are facing a new party, a party full of anger, as David Leonhardt writes in today’s New York Times. This unhappiness among Republican Party members and voters is unprecedented in the last two decades. Its reasons are both economic and cultural, and, in addition, racial.

We’ll soon know if the Republicans primary voters will diverge from the polls and turn their backs on the demagogic messages of Trump and Cruz.

It’s more than uncertainty, it’s chaos

Actually, the list of possible Republican presidential candidates is even longer than I indicated previously. The total number is eighteen — 18!  But the ones I left out are even more of “come-on, why are you running?”

So, why waste our time?  Still, here they are, for the record:

Former New York governor George Pataki — out of the blue; retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson — no political experience; former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee — Fox News host too long; former business executive Carly Fiorina — forced out at Hewlett Packard; real estate developer Donald Trump — mad man; former senator Rick Santorum — already ran and lost; former UN ambassador John Bolton — foreign policy hardliner; former Texas governor Rick Perry — already ran and failed spectacularly; and, finally, Senator Marco Rubio, Florida, squeezed out by Jeb Bush, also from Florida.

This is more than Republican “uncertainty,” it’s actually chaos.

Nordic pragmatism as a recipe for success

The Nordic countries, those up there at the top of Europe often called Scandinavia — Finland, Sweden, Denmark, and Norway — came out on top of all the countries in the world in the Fragile States Index for 2014 published the other day.

Finland came out at the very top, the only country described as “very sustainable,” with Sweden, Denmark and Norway as the top three “sustainable” countries of the world, with Iceland, the fifth Nordic, in eighth place, and with the United States on twentieth place, part of a lower group of “stable” nations.

What do these five nations in northern Europe have in common? They are democracies with clean governments and a highly educated population. They value stability, common sense and results.

Maybe this can explain, at least in part, the unusual “December Accord” — even for Scandinavia — last Saturday, when six of the eight political parties in the Swedish parliament came together and cancelled a snap election scheduled for March and instead worked out a deal under which the minority government of Social Democrats and Greens, only three months old, will be able to govern, albeit on the basis of a budget hammered out by the four opposition parties.

The accord has not been well received by a number of different reasons, both on the left and on the right. But it did avoid a dreaded snap election, a seldom used ingredient in Swedish politics — 1958 was the last time that happened. The next Parliamentary election will now be the ordinary election in 2018.

The “December Accord” also served to continue to hold the anti-immigration Sweden Democrats on the far right at arms length, not including them in any deal, keeping them out of any government, and preventing them from dictating the composition and policies of the Swedish government.

As so many times before in the modern era, the Swedish politicians came together in a serious political crisis, “came to their senses,” as the leading newspaper Dagens Nyheter put it the other day. It was pragmatism for the good of the country, to achieve stability, get results, avoid chaos.  Here is the latest main editorial for those who can read Swedish!

Maybe this overarching pragmatism is the secret behind the success of those small Nordic countries, and a recipe for success for others? Maybe there is even something that those fighting forces in the U.S. Congress can learn from all this? Maybe, as I said.

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.