Nancy Pelosi

The false dichotomy between progressive & moderate Democrats

Much of the argument following Jon Ossoff’s loss in the Georgia 6th district Congressional race suggests that Democrats need to be more progressive to win. Being a Bernie wannabe seems to be the prescription for firing up the bases to win such elections in an era when the GOP’s leader is an orange-hair baboon.

Others think it’s enough to be simply anti-baboon but that we need to ramp up get out the vote efforts, especially in off year elections when Dems don’t show up.

Others think we need to remove Nancy Pelosi who regularly appears in GOP ads against whatever Democrat is running.

Certainly, we need candidates with passion, but not the foaming at the mouth type we got from Bernie. We need to get progressives and the disenfranchised out to vote, but that’s not a matter of more phone calls. And getting rid of Pelosi, alas, is an idea whose time has come. She simply is too great a symbol for Democrats to overcome. But more important, her strategies are not working. She’s a lightning rod, but also an ineffective strategist.

But missing most is a reason to vote for Democrats.

Here’s where I think we are as a country, politically:

  • Everyone hates the others side, i.e., hyper-partisanship
  • The GOP holds one clear advantage: They appeal to people’s greed. “Cut taxes” has been a winning argument for 35 years.
  • Yet, progressive ideas are actually shared by a majority of Americans. People want government to spend more money on a host of broad budget areas.
  • The GOP holds significant structure advantages in gerrymandering districts to ensure that though they get fewer votes than Democrats for Congress, they elect more members.
  • Everyone seems to agree that government doesn’t work anymore. That meme seems to be a given, and there is no solution. Government is riddled with waste, fraud and abuse and nothing can change it.

Matthew Yglesias comes closest to a sound prescription for Democrats: Stand for something. This makes sense for one compelling reason: Americans want vision. They want to know you stand for something, even if it is anti-immigrants, poor-people bashing racism. Tell us what you think. Be bold. This is where the GOP has always held an advantage. You know what guides their thinking. They’re not afraid of their beliefs. They make no excuses for them.

Who knows what Democrats envision for Americans, other than whatever you’re identity, we’re with you? Bernie tried to lay down some markers with free college, healthcare for all and bashing “millionaires and billionaires.” But it wasn’t grounded in any philosophy, no foundation of what he wanted for America, other than free stuff. People think Democrats want to please everyone and thus have no core principles other than to spend more money.

So what to do? Not that anyone has asked me or that I have a pedigree in political campaigns. I’ve been in a few, though, and spent a career trying to impact narratives. So why not take a crack at it.

Leading Democrats in the House and Senate need to sit down and hammer out a vision of only a page or two and then figure how to reduce it to a 30-second elevator speech. I’d suggest they bring in not only politicians and political activists but also experts in communications and cognitive behavior—people who understand how people think. If I were among them, here’s what I’d suggest.

First, adhere to the Constitution’s mandate to “promote the General Welfare.” Talk about how we see Americans as “being in this together.” Americans love our Founding Fathers. Ground our principles in theirs—why they got us rolling as a nation.

Second, admit that government isn’t perfect, but talk about making government more efficient to better “protect” (not regulate) Americans. (Already we’re seeing that framing among progressives.) Be an agent of change. Part of the problem is that law making is now done hand in hand with lobbyists with so much detail in our laws that the bureaucrats tasked with implementing them have so many rules they must adhere to the process becomes tedious and inefficient.

Cite how politicians have made government less effective in order to prove their view that it doesn’t work. For example, if you cut the IRS staff to the bare bones, you can’t then complain that it doesn’t do its job of catching tax scofflaws.

Talk about making the economy work for people without a college education and making a college education affordable for more people. Talk about vocational education, teaching the trades where there are a lack of skilled workers. Embrace “free enterprise,” but point out that we don’t have free enterprise anymore. We have corporations that have successfully written the laws that give them all the advantages that protect their profits and hurt consumers and workers. It’s no longer a level playing field. Today, corporations cop out by saying they must provide “shareholder value.” That’s not the only goal they should have, just as a father’s role is not simply to bring home the bacon. They have a responsibility to their workers, the communities they operate in, and the taxpayers who provide the infrastructure they use to move their goods and services. As a simple example, if a businessman takes a prospect to lunch, he gets to claim part of the expense as a tax deduction. Why should taxpayers subsidize his marketing efforts? If it’s a good idea to have lunch, let the shareholders pay for it.

Fourth, be honest in saying that many jobs are not coming back unless Americans are willing to pay far higher prices for popular necessary goods such as clothing, autos, technology. We need to work together on making the future better for everyone. There will be upheavals as there were during industrialization at the end of the 19th century. People moved from the farm to the cities. They learned new skills. It was hard. It was a change of life style, but in the end it brought financial rewards. People who’ve lost their jobs to globalization need to make a sacrifice to adapt.

And yes, talk about taxes. Say exactly who will pay more in taxes, about how much and what benefits they will get for their higher taxes. As an example, if I said you could reduce your health care costs by $2000 if we raised your taxes by $1,000 is that a deal you’d consider? The conversation doesn’t start with taxes; it’s starts with envisioning what we want as a society and then figuring out a way to pay for it. That’s the way families work. Parents want a better future for their children and try to figure out how to get it by not only watching their spending but  looking for ways to increase their incomes and invest smartly in their children’s future.

When we talk about taxes we need to put it in terms of what will people pay, not the aggregate costs. Years ago, I tried to convince Virginia Democrats who wanted to raise the gas tax that instead of talking about the dollars they needed to raise, talk about how much the tax would increase the average car owner. It was about $126 a year. That’s a number people can understand. $1.5 billion is not.

George Lakoff has long had the right approach. Progressives spend too much time appealing to people’s reason. People don’t vote for reasoned arguments. They vote their values, which is why, for example, a Congressional district in Kentucky where a majority of the people receive food stamps, Medicaid and other benefits of the social safety net continually vote for a Congressman who wants to cut those programs.

Lakoff believes the fundamental difference between Democrats and Republicans is that the latter are paternalistic and the former maternalistic. Republicans believe in a strong father who lays down the law, expects obedience and believes in pulling yourself up the bootstraps. Democrats are more nurturing, want to see all boats lifted and empathize with those struggling.

The message of inclusion, both socially and economically, needs to reach not only rural whites, but the top 20 percent of income earners (those making more than $120,000 annually), according to the author of “Dream Hoarders.” The 20 percenters think they’ve got where they are solely through hard work without a bit of privilege, mostly the white kind. Moreover, they don’t think of themselves as rich because they compare themselves to others living in their sequestered neighborhoods. Many really have no idea how the other 80 percent live, where something as simple as a set of new tires can mean they can’t pay their rent.

What are Democratic values? Can we articulate them without worrying about offending someone? Can we say that, yes, many people have succeeded due to hard work (but with good luck, too), but not everyone can find that good luck that allows them to work hard to succeed? Can we return to those days when we saw all ourselves as being Americans who were “in this together?”

Why Pelosi Should Relinquish Leadership

I admire Nancy Pelosi.  When we needed someone to find the votes and stiffen the resolve, she managed to “get ‘ur done.”  That’s no mean feat.

Yes, she helped the Dems accomplish a lot. But at what price?  I just wished the pressure on her would come from the left. 

While she won a lot of battles, she lost ground in the larger war.  (The irony here is, of course, that the GOP won the election because of its accusation that the Dems weren’t focused enough on creating jobs; and now we’re focused on the deficit?!)

Yesterday’s come-to-Jesus (in Dem parlance, that’s “approach the altar of vague spirituality, careful not to offend”) caucus meeting was, as Rep. Brian Higgins, D-N.Y., dutifully called it—I think they nominate someone each time they have a meeting like this to say this: “cathartic.”

"It’s what the Democratic Party’s about," he said. "There are ideological differences, there are regional differences, and it was a good thing for people to be able to talk through that."

But the Dems, as usual, can’t even articulate what it is they don’t like about her.

[A] number of rank-and-file Democrats, including some left of center, are dismayed. They note that dozens of Republican House candidates ran campaigns linking their Democratic opponents to Pelosi, who was portrayed as a hardcore liberal hopelessly out of touch with middle American values.

"She definitely hurts," said Rep. Gene Taylor, D-Miss., who lost his re-election bid this month. Citing former Republican House leader Tom DeLay, Taylor said in an interview: "When he realized he was a drag on leadership, he went away. Somehow the Democratic leadership didn’t learn that lesson."

She “hurts” because the GOP said so.  Of course, who among them defended her during their campaigns?  At least, some Dems recognize the problem.

"One thing the Republicans are very good at: They set goals, they set objectives and they set a way to get there," Rep. Luis Gutierrez, D-Ill., told reporters.

And that’s why Pelosi must go.  What she did was get through a series of bills, but with apparently little thought to an overall strategy to leverage that success at the polls. Now you might argue that that’s not her chief responsibility.  Yes, much of this should come from Obama himself.  But she, being much more experienced at the job of legislating and politicking than the president, should have recognized the vacuum at the top and filled it.  And she may not be capable of that.

Let’s face it (and I’ll be accused of sexism here) even if she could develop a strategy, she would not be the one to give voice to it.  Being the leader of her party in the House, she is the one called upon by reporters.  She is not a good speaker,  She halting. She’s harsh.

(Yes, she looks harsh, too. But Boehner suffers from his orange look, and I think Eric Cantor does, too.  He looks like a cross between Buddy Holly and that dorky geography whiz in middle school whose voice always sounds like he’s saying, “I’m smarter than everyone else.”)

But most importantly she can’t be the spokesperson for progressive causes.  She lacks humor. She doesn’t handle herself well in interviews. In a word, she’s just like the president.  They both sound hesitant, as if they’re trying very hard to make you believe what they’re saying…because they’re not sure they do.

The problem is, who on the Democratic side is?  I open the floor for nominations because I can’t think of an articulate progressive voice in Congress who could lead the party.

Well, at least all was not lost for the Dems in their hour of angst.

Pelosi pronounced Tuesday’s long session "wonderful," then hurried past reporters.

Bulletin! Bulletin! Nobody Likes Congress!

Pelosi’s Numbers in the Toilet!

The Field Research Corporation has a new poll out that has some shocking numbers.  Congress is not popular and Pelosi couldn’t even win a “Best Grandma With Too Much Make-Up” award.  Truly shocking!

The perception that California voters have of the job that the U.S. Congress is doing now matches its lowest approval levels of the past two decades.

Voters in this state also now view Democrat Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi more negatively than positively, but not to the same extent as the overall Congress.

So what does that tell you?:  That Republicans don’t like her for what she is doing and Democrats don’t like her because she isn’t doing it fast enough.  For policy guidance these kind of “how is Congress doing?” polls are useless, except as catnip for third-party activists.  Somewhere a George Wallace-Ross Perot-Jesse Ventura wannabe is taking heart.  Now if he only had some money.

During the 1990s California voters had a largely dim view of the job that Congress was doing. For the most part sizeable pluralities or majorities disapproved of the performance by the nation’s lawmakers.

This long standing negative perception of the Congress became more favorable during the early part of this decade, with more voters offering a positive than negative assessment on the order of five to four or five to three.

However, more recently voter perceptions of the Congress have turned downward to a point where those holding an unfavorable view of the Congress has included sizeable majorities in most Field Poll surveys conducted over the past three years.

The latest Field Poll completed earlier this month produced a measurement on par with its lowest rating in thirty separate measurements conducted over the past two decades. At present, just 23% approve while 66% disapprove of the job the Congress is doing.

Democrats and non-partisans hold the Congress in disfavor by roughly two to one margins, while a huge 83% of Republicans disapprove and just 9% approve.

All this tells me is that there are some California Democrats who have low standards.

Pelosi does a little better.

Voter assessments of her were initially much more positive than negative when she became Speaker, but became more divided in subsequent surveys conducted in mid-2007 and 2008. Earlier this year, following the election of Barack Obama as President, 48% viewed her favorably and 35% unfavorably.

The current poll finds that more Californians are now rating Pelosi more negatively than positively, with 34% approving and 44% disapproving of the job she is doing. The Speaker is still viewed positively by Democrats, 51% to 23%. However, California Republicans overwhelmingly see her in a negative light – 79% disapprove and 7% approve. Non-partisans are about evenly split.

So everyone is dissatisfied with Congress and its leader.  Shocking!