Category Archives: Politics

Forget Debates

 

On Wednesday, POLITICO.COM was among the first news outlets to report the Trump administration ignored a “pandemic playbook” (above) created by the National Security Council in 2016 (when you-know-who was a real president).  Excerpts from the document include:

Each section of this playbook includes specific questions that should be asked and decisions that should be made at multiple levels.

The U.S. government will use all powers at its disposal to prevent, slow or mitigate the spread of an emerging infectious disease threat.

Early coordination of risk communications through a single federal spokesperson is critical.

The consequences, in terms of the nation’s health and economic well-being, of this failure to “read the manual” are already evident.  The political impact will be determined on November 3rd.  But it is not too early to learn from the experience.

In previous entries I have made the point presidential debates are a waste of time.  First of all, because debating skills are not a valid prerequisite in the job description (unlike Great Britain where the prime minister must often defend his or her actions in Parliament).  For an American president, critical thinking and problem solving are at the top of the essential abilities list.

Second, debates are hypothetical and speculative by nature.  Imagine a Trump/Biden debate during which the moderator asks, “What would you do differently in the event of the next pandemic?”  Trump, of course, would reply, “Nothing different.  Our response this last time was PERFECT!”  And what would Biden say?  “I would follow the 69 page NSC Playbook.”  Of course, Trump would interrupt and claim that is exactly what he did. [NOTE:  I understand Vegas sports books, lacking real athletic events to bet on, are establishing odds which will be higher at the end of the current administration, Trump lies or U.S. COVID-19 fatalities.  Too soon?]

Okay.  Both candidates claim they would use the playbook.  However, before I turn over the keys to the Oval Office to either candidate, I would like more evidence.  Therefore, instead of a presidential debate, I recommend the following.  Divide the stage in half with a floor to ceiling partition.  Give each candidate the same assemble-it-yourself IKEA product, e.g. an entertainment center.  The winner is the candidate who completes the task in the least amount of time with penalties for unused pieces or personal injuries.  If nothing else, from the current experience, we know we cannot afford four more years of national leadership which looks like:

9 Tips for Buying and Putting Together IKEA Furniture

For what it’s worth.
Dr. ESP

 

It’s Time

 

This morning, the Washington Post is reporting Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders plans to stay in the race for the Democratic Party nomination through the New York primary, scheduled for April 28, but likely to be postponed.  Sanders’ surrogates also say he will participate in the next debate though none is currently planned by the Democratic National Committee (DNC).

Conventional wisdom says Democrats should not be pushing Bernie to drop out of the race.  Give him time to come to his own decision.  Conventional wisdom, as we know, is not always right.  This may be one of those cases.  It is time for Joe Biden, the DNC, Democratic senators, representatives, governors and mayors to inform the INDEPENDENT senator he has a choice.  Endorse Joe Biden so the party can get on with the task of making sure Donald Trump vacates the White House.  Or you are no longer welcome to use the Democratic Party mechanism to promote your revolution.

  • It is time because there is enough empirical evidence, i.e. primary results, to know that an overwhelming majority of Democratic voters do not favor a Bernie-style revolution.
  • It is time because the more desperate his campaign becomes, the more he begins to sound like like a left-wing version of Trump, attacking the party establishment and the media for his lack of success.
  • It is time because, again like Trump, he believes the Twitter-verse and rally size are representative of the nation’s preferences.
  • It is time because, once more like Trump, he has only campaigned for Democratic congressional candidates who agree with his agenda.  To my knowledge, he has not had one joint appearance with the Democratic incumbent in a 2018 flipped district on which Nancy Pelosi’s speakership will again depend in November.
  • It is time because, need I say it again, like Trump, the only reason for staying on the stage is to stroke his ego, not to, as he says, keep alive the debate over the issues.

On this last point, Post columnist Jennifer Rubin writes:

The notion that Sanders is there to “discuss” the issues is preposterous given that the only issue right now is the coronavirus. Moreover, that was his excuse for staying in for the debate on March 15, two days before he was crushed in Illinois, Arizona and Florida. Haven’t we discussed the issues for over a year and through 11 debates.

Add inability to accept reality as one more Trump-like behavior Sanders now exhibits.

Which brings me to my last point.  If Sanders continues on his present course, it is time to tell him to take his ball and go home.  (Yes, I know this is trite, but it is all I could come up with because I know my wife would not have been pleased if I had written, “It is time to tell Bernie to go f*** himself.”)  What’s more, the Democratic leadership has an opportunity to again demonstrate the difference between themselves and the Trumpists in the Senate.  There are consequences for being a jerk. Chuck Schumer should strip Sanders of all his committee assignments.  Let him go to the leader of the Revolution Party to get his assignments.  Sanders should not be allowed to stand along side Democratic senators at press briefings.  The next time Sanders appears at a Democratic event it should be to endorse Biden and talk about how he is going to work for Biden’s election.  [NOTE:  If Mitch McConnell could get his head out of his shell, he would have done the same with Rand Paul.]

And sure, conventional wisdom suggests this approach would depress the youth vote for Biden and guarantee a Trump second term.  Right, the same youth vote that was going to carry Sanders to the nomination.  NOT!  And young Americans need a better reason to vote for Biden than “Bernie told me to.”  I trust Biden, as he did yesterday, can make his own case that the future for anyone under 45 years old will be much brighter under his stewardship than four more years of lies, slogans and gross incompetence.

Enough of the preliminaries.  It’s time for the main event.

For what it’s worth.
Dr. ESP

 

Unimaginable

 

I am a member of an organized political party.  I’m a Democrat!

~Dr. ESP

I never thought I would be saying anything like the above.  For months I have criticized, and even mocked, the leadership of the Democratic Party.  And rightfully so.  What I failed to realize, the real leadership of my party is not ensconced in chair Tom Perez or the staff of the Democratic National Committee.  Instead,  when called upon in a national crisis, the leadership resides with elected officials and the registered voters.  All one needs do is look at two events over the past 12 days during which these de facto leaders demonstrated there is a time for political fun and games and there is a time to get serious.

The first was the coalescing  around former vice-president Joe Biden as the presumptive nominee to take on Donald Trump this fall.  In just four days, multiple contenders realized there were two options. Continuing to run for the presidency would distribute votes among several alternatives.  And by doing so, they would deliver the nomination to a candidate who has the support of approximately 35 percent of primary voters.  As soon as the Super Tuesday results came in, Amy Klobuchar, Pete Buttigieg, Cory Booker, Andrew Yang and Mike Bloomberg, all of whom sought to be the leader of the free world, demonstrated why any one of them is more qualified than the incumbent to hold that title.

If the situation on the Wednesday after Super Tuesday sounds familiar, just imagine if Republican candidates in 2016 had shown half the discipline of their 2020 Democratic counterparts.  Donald Trump would be on the 26th floor of Trump Tower plotting his next scam business venture.  There is still the likelihood Hillary Clinton would not become the first female president.  However, John Kasich or even Ted Cruz would be a quantum improvement over what we have now.  Sadly, there was no adult in the room who said, “We know Donald Trump will destroy the Republican Party.  What is it going to take to make sure that does not happen?”

And once the Democratic candidates set the stage, the voters took over.  Even Bernie Sanders admitted he was losing the electability contest when he related how many potential supporters had told him, “We like your positions on the issues.  But we’re voting for Biden.”  That is a rational and disciplined decision.  The issues will be there in the days and years to come.  There is only one chance to deny Trump four more years in the White House.  Voters understand it and are sending a clear message to Sanders and others who do not.

The second example of competence is another contrast between my party and the Trumpists who dominate the former Republic Party.  Instead of labeling the current health crisis a “media hoax” or shackling experts who understood the potential disaster and what could be done to ameliorate it, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi pulled the Democratic congressional leaders together to draft the Families First Coronavirus Response Act.  Last night she unveiled the 124 page document and called for a House vote within 24 hours.

The Trumpists could not draft a coherent 11 minute address to the nation.  And the next 24 hours have been spent clarifying Trump’s words and worrying whether an expansion of Medicaid to cover treatment for poor families might be used for abortions.  I may be wrong, but I would be surprised if those senior citizens most at risk during the pandemic are worried if the government is going to pay for them to terminate a pregnancy.

Winston Churchill is credited as being the first person to declare, “Never waste a good crisis.”  Never were those words more true.  But for what purpose.  Democrats are using the coronavirus pandemic to remind Americans that governing matters.  That compassion and empathy at the highest levels of government matter.  That competence matters.  The Trumpists?  One more opportunity to dog whistle their base and bail out their donors.

Maybe that’s not as unimaginable as it seems.

For what it’s worth.
Dr. ESP

 

Legacy, Legacy, Legacy

 

NOTE:  I am writing this post as I await Bernie Sanders’ statement on the state of the campaign for the Democratic nomination scheduled for 1:00 pm this afternoon.

As an empirical pragmatist, I cannot believe in heaven or any other place in which we supposedly live after our time as a living, breathing human being is over. However, as an empirical pragmatist, I do believe in eternal life.  It is called legacy.  Jesus, George Washington, Gandi, Martin Luther King live on because of their values and the lives they led.  And it also applies to less virtuous people.  Adolf Hitler will be part of our discourse for decades if not centuries to come.

So how does this apply to Bernie Sanders?  Today, the Vermont senator has one of those rare opportunities to seal his legacy for better or worse.  If I were a Sanders’ advisor, this is what I would say to him.  “Senator, do you really want to go down in history as the person who was responsible for four more years of Donald Trump in the White House?” I am not suggesting if Sanders stays in the race, Trump will win in November.  But it is more possible.  And the “Bernie factor” will be a topic of discussion for years to come.

So Bernie, consider that scenario compared to the following remarks I have prepared for your 1:00 pm announcement.

Today America is at a crossroads.  And each of us must decide what matters most.  Our own ambitions or the general welfare.  We now know what it looks like and how it feels when our leaders put their own interests above the nation’s interest.

That is the decision I face today.  And as much as I think we could still win the nomination and the presidency, at what cost?  Politics becomes an afterthought in light of the crises we face.  A health crisis.  An economic crisis.  And most important, the existential threat of a president who is unwilling to tell us the truth and is unprepared to deal with a potential nationwide disaster.

We have accomplished a lot in this campaign.  We have raised issues that needed to be part of the national debate.  And I will continue to press these issues with the next president of the United States.  And today I am announcing I am endorsing Joe Biden to be that person.  Joe is a friend and a good, decent person who wants many of the same things I and my supporters want for the American people.

I have talked with  vice-president Biden and we have agreed to curtail all future political activities and focus on helping Americans deal with the current health crisis, which the World Health Organization just said is now a global pandemic.

To all of you who have been part of this campaign, I urge you remain part of our movement.  We are not done.  But for now, we have a more urgent calling.

Much has been said recently about how some aspects of the Sanders campaign mirrors Trump’s.  The rabid loyalty of  some of his supporters.  Verbal attacks against the media and the “establishment.”  If Sanders wants to demonstrate this is an unfair comparison, today is his opportunity.

In 10 minutes we will learn a lot about Sanders’ legacy.  Will it be as the person who put aside personal ambition to ensure Donald Trump spends the next four years anywhere but 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue or the individual who made his own goal of “defeating Trump” just that much harder.

For what it’s worth.
Dr.. ESP

 

The First Woman President

 

Image result for elizabeth warren suspends campaignI know many of you are disappointed the race for the Democratic nomination has come down to a choice between two white males, especially when the original field included so many exceptional women of varied experience and vision.  So am I.  As I listened to Elizabeth Warren announce the suspension of her campaign, I could sense her deep disappointment and pain.  The realization she would not be “the one,” as Barack Obama became for African Americans, weighed heavily on her and must have been personally devastating.

And I asked the same question many of her supporters must have pondered.  What does it take for a woman to rise to the highest office in the United States? Especially when 29 other countries currently have a female head of state and 75 countries have previously had the same distinction dating back to Yevgenia Bosch, who, in 1917, became chairwoman of the People’s Secretariat of Ukraine.

What is even more tiring is the plethora of excuses why clearly qualified women who throw their hats in the ring have fallen short.  Some are specific to a candidate, e.g. Hillary was a victim of Clinton fatigue or she had too much baggage.  Others are more general including media bias, holding female candidates to a different standard and, of course, good old fashioned American misogyny.  But instead of focusing on the candidate, what if the problem is a structural problem with the way we choose our national leadership or a failure by the party to establish and support a career ladder designed specifically to prepare women to demonstrate their bona fides to sit behind the Resolute Desk.

I will start with the structural issue. Of those 29 current female heads of state, an overwhelming majority serve as prime minister instead of being a popularly elected president.  Just imagine.  If we also had a parliamentary system of government, Nancy Pelosi would be prime minister!  When the decision who leads the country is made by one’s peers, a lot of the noise associated with plebiscites disappears.  Appearance is just not that important.  Ask Golda Meir.  Or likability in the case of Margaret Thatcher, the Iron Lady. Even in Pakistan, where Islam with its laws restricting women’s rights is the official state religion, Benazir Bhutto was chosen prime minister by parliamentary members of the ruling party.

Well folks, I would not hold my breath waiting for a revision of Articles I and II of the Constitution.  Which makes the second option, examining the career path by which a woman can more easily overcome the roadblocks, real and perceived, to win the Democratic Party nomination and a majority of the electoral college the only alternative.  (WARNING: In the interest of truth in advertising, please note that my own government experience consists of working for three governors and six years as a policy director at the National Governors Association (NGA).  My opinions may be influenced by that exposure to executive versus legislative branch elected officials.)

In 2003, a friend and colleague asked me if I would have lunch with one of his friends, a cattle rancher and Democratic party leader in Nebraska, who was contemplating a run for governor in the upcoming election.  Before offering any insights or advice, I asked, “Why are you running and what makes you think you can win in a state that is trending Republican?”  His reply made sense.  His rural values were more akin to those of the average Cornhusker than the typical Democratic candidate who hailed from Omaha or Lincoln.  And he favored conservative positions on many of the issues (e.g. pro-life, gun rights) which set him apart from Democrats who lost statewide races.  Right, it made sense if you were running for Congress in Nebraska, but not governor.  I told him, “You are not running for legislator-in-chief.  You’re running for chief executive of a large enterprise.  Focus on your executive credentials.  Talk about what is not working and how you are better prepared to fix it.”

Want a definition of irony?  The potential candidate’s wife joined us for lunch.  When he pushed back, she was the one who urged him to pay attention.  I wondered who in this family was responsible for the success of their cattle ranch or whether she would have made a better candidate for governor.

Why do I share this story?  Because I believe the first woman president of the United States will be a former governor, not a senator.  The Republicans get it.  If she had not been so batsh** crazy, Sarah Palin was on the path to the White House.  And what are the rumors circulating in Washington today?  Trump will scapegoat Mike Pence if the coronavirus reaches catastrophic proportions and will replace him with Nikki Haley.  Not Senator Joni Ernst (Iowa), Susan Collins (Maine), Marsha Blackburn (Tennessee) or Shelley Moore Capito (West Virginia).  NO!  Nikki Haley, the former GOVERNOR of South Carolina.

Mark Twain once said, “I was never able to see an opportunity until it had ceased to be one.”  To this day, I believe Dianne Feinstein should have been the first presidential nominee of a major party and would have had a better than even chance of winning the general election.  Why?  On November 27, 1978, Feinstein proved she was up to the task when she became mayor of San Francisco following the assassinations of mayor George Moscone and councilman Harvey Milk.  It’s easy to be president when everything is fairly calm and routine.  The true test is crisis management, and no one did it better than Feinstein.  She then went on to win re-election twice despite her moderate positions on many issues, contrary to the more liberal preferences of Bay City voters.

Imagine if Walter Mondale, in 1984, wanting to make history, had chosen Feinstein as his running mate instead of congresswoman Geraldine Ferraro.  Feinstein would have had both the executive experience and national recognition to be a contender for the 1988 Democratic nomination.  That’s what I call a career ladder designed to shatter the glass ceiling.

This was not the only lost opportunity.  In 2002, three Democratic women were elected governor.  Jennifer Granholm (Michigan).  Janet Napolitano (Arizona).  Kathleen Sebelius (Kansas).  Notice anything their respective states have in common?  None are solid blue.  And all three won re-election four years later.  Someone must have thought they had proved their executive skills.  And as I think about about a different scenario in 1984, I wonder if the 2008 nomination contest would have been fundamentally different if one of these three woman had been in the mix.

When I chose political science as my major in college, my dream job was to work on Capitol Hill as personal staff to a representative or senator or as committee staff.  But fate, as she does, took me in a different direction.  Though I did eventually end up with an office across the street from the Capitol, it was in the Hall of the States with NGA.  Just as I posted a few days ago (You Say You Want a Revolution), great ideas are tested at the state and local level.  So are great people.  If the Democratic Party could think about the long game, they would create a counterpart to Emily’s List with the sole focus on grooming women to compete for governor in all 50 states.  Maybe they could call it Nellie’s List, in honor of Nellie Ross, the first female governor,  a Democrat in 1925 from (drum roll) Wyoming.

For what it’s worth.
Dr. ESP