Minnesota CD-2 Democratic Primary: Erdmann or Craig to Oust Lewis?

Craig (L) and Erdmann (R)

[Find information on how to caucus in the CD-2 primary on Tuesday, Feb. 6 here.]

There’s an important primary battle in Minnesota Congressional District 2 (CD-2) between Democrats Angie Craig and Jeff Erdmann, a place where I grew up and where most of my family still lives. Whoever wins the primary (via Minnesota’s complicated caucus system) will have an excellent chance to unseat first-term Republican incumbent Jason Lewis, who Craig narrowly lost to in 2016. Lewis has been a rubber stamp for Trump’s, Paul Ryan’s, and the Koch Brothers’ agenda. The Koch brothers gave Ryan $500,000 thirteen days after he helped pass the Republican Tax Bill that enriched them by billions of dollars, which Lewis supported. He’s also supported all of Trump’s ugly anti-immigrant policies and the “AHCA” that would have kicked millions off of health insurance and stripped protections for those with preexisting conditions.

Worse yet, Lewis is the type of libertarian so wed to his anti-government ideology he voted against providing minimal disaster relief to Puerto Rico – a measure that Trump approved and passed the House with overwhelming bipartisan support. And, as is typical among these types (political dorks like me will recognize this type immediately), he’s got some abhorrent views on slavery, “white genocide” (complaining that Latinos have higher birth rates so whites are committing “suicide”), and women, calling them “simply ignorant of the important issues in life” and calling most young women “non-thinking.”

Although voters elected Lewis, the district is very winnable for Democrats. Obama defeated Romney in CD-2 49.1-49.0, but lost by two points to McCain. The Cook Political Report calls it a “Republican Toss-Up.” In the general election, Trump barely received more votes than Clinton here (46%-45%). (CD-2 consists of the southeastern suburbs of St. Paul and rural farming communities beyond: all of Scott, Dakota, Goodhue, and Wabasha counties, plus parts of Rice and Washington County.)

As with Clinton’s loss to Trump, I think Craig’s loss to Lewis was due to a multitude of factors, some of which were not in Craig’s control – health insurance premiums spiking right before the election, running as a Democrat after a Democrat had held the presidency for eight years, and following the Democrats’ terrible national strategy to target the mythological moderate suburban Republican instead of blue-collar voters. But some of the reasons she lost were specific to her campaign. An incredibly well-reported recent article by Ryan Grim and Lee Fang at The Intercept explains how disappointing Craig’s results really were:

Despite spending $4.8 million, Craig lost by 2 points. That narrow defeat, though, belied the true failure of her campaign. She was, objectively, the least inspiring candidate up and down the ballot: Craig underperformed Clinton by 4,000 votes and even underperformed Democratic state Senate and House candidates by 13,000 and 2,000 votes, respectively. In 2012, the previous presidential cycle, congressional candidate Mike Obermueller spent $710,000 for a nearly identical level of support.

This is where Jeff Erdmann comes in. The Intercept piece explains how Erdmann, while volunteering for Craig in 2016, couldn’t get answers from Craig’s campaign on policy positions voters were asking about. The reason? The campaign didn’t want to give ammunition to Republicans, and hadn’t yet received the results of polling. In other words, Craig ran the type of cookie-cutter “vote for me because the other guy is terrible” campaign that Clinton ran against Trump, and the type of campaign promoted by the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, the corporate-funded campaign arm of House Democrats. Uffda.

Due to his frustrations with Craig’s campaign and her and Clinton’s disastrous losses in 2016, Erdmann has decided to challenge Craig in the 2018 Democratic primary. As one might expect, when it comes to the issues, he’s taking a bolder approach than Craig.

Erdmann’s policy platform has concrete proposals. Specificity is key when trying to evaluate candidates: like Craig, most candidates – Democrat or Republican – fill their websites with empty platitudes about “making healthcare more affordable” and “strengthening the economy.” At the top of Erdmann’s Issues page, though, it boldly states “Medicare-for-All,” with a link to a five-page position paper laying out the benefits of the system and how it would be paid for. He follows that with “An Equal Economy” with three subcategories with further details: “Increase Taxes on Wealthy,” “Eliminate Tax Loopholes,” and “Wall Street Reform.” Yes, please. He proposes specific political reforms to improve democracy – like a National Popular Vote – and he also has a three-page position paper on “Improving Rural Economies” (as you can tell, I’m a big fan of a campaign with position papers). His policy platform, while not containing everything on my wishlist, closely aligns with what people at the grassroots actually want.

Craig’s policy platform is okay, mostly because it’s intentionally filled with boilerplate rhetoric, making it difficult to nail her down on any specific policy. To her credit, she does propose two years of free post-high school education, whereas Erdmann talks more generally about investing in higher education and reducing student debt. Where Craig’s platform really falls short in contrast to Erdmann’s, though, is on healthcare.

Craig never mentions Medicare-for-All or single-payer, instead repeating familiar establishment bromides about fixing the ACA while “moving toward” “universal” healthcare. Progressive activists, especially those fighting for single-payer in California (like me), understand this phrasing is bullshit. We know through experience that most rhetoric about “universal healthcare” is actually a euphemism for “I’m not going to fight for Medicare-for-All or anything that will significantly challenge the private-insurance and Big PhRma-dominated status quo.”

Craig shows her hand when her website says we should move toward “making sure every family has healthcare they can afford” (emphasis added). There is no “affording” healthcare under Medicare-for-All. In a system that truly provides universal healthcare, people would get the healthcare they need regardless of wealth or income. They would pay $0.00 at the point of service. That’s it. There are no “Does your insurance cover it? Are you in network? Can you afford your $4,000 deductible?” questions in a system that actually provides “universal” healthcare. It sounds magical, but it’s not: that’s the reality in nearly every other developed country in the world. They pay less and get better healthcare to boot!

We’re spending more and dying younger.

Why doesn’t Craig support Medicare-for-All? The Intercept piece offers some clues: long story short, the DCCC backs candidates with some combination of the most money and most access to big donors who are relatively inoffensive to corporate coffers but maintain a respectable social liberalism. As you might have guessed, Craig fits that bill:

[W}hile at the medical device company St. Jude Medical, [Craig] directed the firm’s political action committee in the 2012 election cycle, after spending the previous six years on its board. The goal of the St. Jude PAC was to buy influence with Republican and Democratic leaders, as well as members of the tax-writing committees, in pursuit of repealing the medical device tax that was a key funding mechanism of the Affordable Care Act. The effort eventually met with significant success.

While she ran it, the PAC spent heavily on Republican politicians, directing funds in the 2012 cycle to Republican Sens. Mitch McConnell [and] Finance Committee Chair Orrin Hatch…

Medicare-for-All would give the federal government significantly more negotiating power against drug companies and medical device companies, and all but eliminate the concept of private health insurance. The entire purpose of a medical device PAC, like the one Craig directed, is to prevent that from happening and to maximize company profits. She’s not going to bite the hand that feeds her.

Generally, my rules of thumb for evaluating candidates are based on three factors:

1) Is the person clearly or probably a bigot?
This rule should have eliminated both Trump and Lewis in 2016; Craig and Erdmann look good here.

2) Does the person promote specific policies (so they can be held accountable) that will empower the poor, working- and middle-class people fighting for a decent life in our brutally unequal society?

To me, Erdmann has more specific and more transformative policy ideas than Craig, hands-down.

3) Who are they accountable to? Who’s paying for their campaign? In other words, can I trust they won’t sell me out once they go to Washington?

Craig’s reliance on wealthy and corporate donors, and her history of running a medical device PAC that generously donated to conservative politicians, is a serious concern. While Craig isn’t as reliant on the dark-money contributions of wealthy individuals and corporations as Jason Lewis, Erdmann has received $0 from PACs.

Craig does have a compelling personal story. She was raised by a single mother in a trailer park in Arkansas, and she’s a lesbian mother of four who was part of a groundbreaking legal battle that paved the way for same-sex couples to adopt children. Erdmann was born in Lewiston, Minnesota, is a two-time state champion football coach and has taught high school government classes for 27 years. All else being equal, it would be important to put a woman and member of the LGBTQ community in office. To me, though, Erdmann is the superior candidate because he’s better on the issues and more accountable to ordinary people, and Craig’s identity and representation don’t overcome the difference.

Moreover, in a district like CD-2 that Bernie Sanders won decisively over Hillary Clinton (58.2-41.8%), as he did state-wide in Minnesota, a candidate running on Medicare-for-All makes the most sense. As former Timberwolves GM David Kahn notoriously said about Darko Milicic, Erdmann is like manna from heaven for anyone hoping to flip the power dynamics in Congress in 2018. (Let’s just hope I don’t turn out to be David Kahn in this analogy.)

Polling and recent special election results seem to foreshadow a Democratic Party wave in 2018, and it’s possible both Craig and Erdmann would beat Lewis should they advance past the primary. Disappointingly (but unsurprisingly), Craig seems to be winning the endorsements race from the major Democratic Party players. But Erdmann is the one representing the grassroots with the better policies, and I think he would have the better chance of beating Lewis in the general election.

If you’ve been looking for something to do to, you could do worse than caucusing for Erdmann Tuesday, Feb. 6. Find more information on how to do so here.

We’re in a Class War and We’re Losing. Badly.

(I have not written for a long time because I’ve been busy organizing in real life with DSA. Turns out that being “extremely online,” as the kids like to say, isn’t very effective in challenging the rich and powerful, but the DSA gives me hope that together, we could be).

Income and Wealth Inequality are at levels not seen since the Gilded Age, but this is what the Republican tax bill is set to do:

“By 2027, people making $40,000 to $50,000 would pay a combined $5.3 billion more in taxes, while the group earning $1 million or more would get a $5.8 billion cut.”

Steven Mnuchin, U.S. Treasury secretary, right, and his wife Louise Linton. The spitting image of greed.

This bill is deeply unpopular because most people seem to understand it’s a giveaway to the already-wealthy, and it’s no secret that the motivation behind ramming this monstrous piece of legislation through Congress is to richly reward Republican owners/donors. Lindsay Graham, among others, has openly said they have to pass this bill or their wealthy and corporate donors will stop giving them money. (Disclaimer: this is not an endorsement of the Democratic Party, which has its own problems with wealthy and corporate donors).

This is far more than a “tax bill.” It’s a bomb dropped in a class war, with the monied masters directing their puppets to do their bidding, popular democracy be damned. And it’s just the opening salvo, as Marco Rubio has already confirmed speculation that their next attack will be to claim that budget deficits – which their bill will increase – justify cuts to Medicare/Medicaid/Social Security, programs that are both popular and crucial to the health, welfare, and survival of tens of millions of people.

The masks are off. There is no limit to the greed of the monied ruling class, or the cruelty they’re willing to inflict on ordinary people to expand their wealth and power. And especially in this era of Wild West-levels-of-lawlessness when it comes to campaign finance, the more money the wealthy have, the more political power and control they possess. They then use the levers of political power not to “shrink government,” which they and their political puppets love to claim as their end goal, but rather, to use the government to further enrich themselves through policy changes, thus giving themselves more money, and thus, more political power, which they then wield to further enrich themselves and . . . you get the picture. It’s a vicious cycle, which is why many have long recognized that inequality is a threat to democracy.

The solution to our powerlessness is not to buy into the ruling class’s false narrative that the government is inherently bad and is responsible for our immiseration. Our government isn’t terrible because it’s too big. It’s terrible because it’s not accountable to ordinary people. So the solution is for us, the people, to hold our representatives accountable, reclaim the government and pass public policy that is for the many, not the few.

Extreme Inequality in USA

The rich are richer than ever, corporations are stashing their profits in tax havens, while the income and wealth of ordinary Americans are stagnant or in decline. If you’re not angry, you’re not paying attention. And if you’re not politically active, it’s not too late to get involved.

Fruit or Chocolate? Ranking the Best Lexvold Family Bars

For Christmas, my mom asked me what I wanted from Minnesota that I can’t get in California. Turns out the one thing I really wanted, the thing that symbolizes holidays with the Lexvold clan, was already part of her annual care package:



Bars are such a staple at Lexvold get-togethers that they serve as appetizer, snack, dessert, and post-dessert snack. Every half-hour, when another inch of space opens up in the belly, you get another bar. It’s just how it works.

Considering how versatile and utterly delicious they are, it’s bizarre that bars haven’t yet become a fixture in our prestige-food society. I am convinced that if my mom had Jedi-mind-tricked my dad to give up on dairy farming and instead opened up “Barb’s Bars and Pies,” I’d currently be an heir to a company more valuable than Cinnabon and Auntie Anne’s Pretzels combined. I might weigh 500 pounds, though, so thank you Mom & Dad for deciding that picking rocks in the field in the sweltering summer humidity was a better life than money, butter, and sugar.

So what’s a bar? According to the dictionary, it’s “an amount of food or another substance formed into a regular narrow block.” Could you be any more vague? If we’re going to Power-Rank these things for reasons that remain unclear and under rules subjectively enforced by me, let’s establish a real definition.

I think a key to qualifying as a Bar is that you need layers. There has to be a base, crust-type layer, with either a topping for a 2-layer bar or a “filling” for the 3-layer bar (generally fruit, caramel, and/or chocolate), with some type of top crust, even if it’s just a crumble. Surely there are exceptions to this rule, but that’s the basic idea. This may be easier to understand through the process of elimination.

In case you missed it in the previous paragraph, Cake is not a bar – there’s no bottom crust! Grandma Lexvold may be the original sinner on this front, as her famous “Pumpkin Bars” are really a delicious pumpkin cake covered with cream cheese frosting in a 9×13 pan cut into single-serve squares. I’m sorry, Grandma, your pumpkin cake is fantastic, but without rules, what will separate us from the animals?


The same can be said for any other type of cake masquerading as a bar. Brownies are a tougher call since that’s really the only shape they come in, but they’re a bit too commercial. Plus, since I can make a brownie out of a Betty Crocker box, it can’t be a bar.

Pizza is not a bar. Like Grandma’s Pumpkin “Bars,” my Aunt LaVonne’s Fruit and Vegetable Pizzas are legendary. Cut into nice little rectangles, they’re trying to shoehorn their way into this competition, but c’mon, these things are named “pizza.” My hands are tied.

If you’re crying foul at what seems like a completely arbitrary and capricious ruling, let me tell you a story.

Many years back when I still played beer-league softball, we were playing in a notoriously-intoxicated tournament in the tiny town of Bellechester, Minnesota. A player on the opposing team was too drunk to play, so his team benched him. Slumped on the bench, shirtless and in jeans, cigarette dangling from his lip, he cried out, “Why’d you kick me out the game?!?”

His friend, similarly shirtless but mildly less drunk, placed his hand on the man’s shoulder, looked him in the eyes, and with the tenderness of my 115-year-old kindergarten teacher Mrs. Johnston, said: “You kicked yourself out.” Shakespeare was never more poignant.

Sorry, Fruit Pizza. You kicked yourself out.

Alright, so now that I have sufficiently muddled the definition of a bar, let’s get down to business.


Didn’t make the cut:

Rice Krispie bars. Similar to the Brownie Rule: if I can easily make these things, they can’t own a spot in these prestigious Power Rankings. I love Krispie bars, but they’re like a child’s finger painting going up against Monet.


Chocolate-chip bars. The bane of every true bar’s existence, the Chocolate-chip bar is a cookie impersonating a bar. Why have a thick, bread-y bar that’s always too dry when you can have a much better version in cookie form? The chocolate-chip bar can have better variations, where there’s a solid layer of chocolate in the middle or maybe even some caramel, but the basic point remains: if you’re better as a cookie, you don’t make the cut.

The “Good But Ultimately Forgettable” Tier


10. Rice Krispies Bars with peanut butter and chocolate. I know I ruled out Krispie Bars for being too easy to make. Well, I’ve never made Krispie Bars with peanut butter and a melted chocolate layered over the top, and they’re awesomely addicting, so boom. Top 10. These are like the Ford F150 of bars, so points lost for high commercial availability.

9. Lemon Bars. The first of the fruit bars, the Lemon Bar tastes light and refreshing, even if it still adds a spare tire to your waist. Tart, sweet, and tangy with a delicate crust and powdered sugar sprinkled on top, it’s the Ricky Rubio of bars: flashy and initially exciting, but ultimately you could take it or leave it. Loses points for lack of addictiveness and being somewhat commercial.

The “You Will Gain Weight if you Make These” Tier

8. Twix Bars. A simple yet genius bar made with clearly-defined layers of Club cracker, caramel, and chocolate. Since it’s thin, you can eat five of these before you feel like you’ve over-indulged. The potato chip of bars.

7. Oatmeal Caramel Chocolate Bars. The first bar on the list that uses oatmeal to build a sturdier bottom crust with an additional top oatmeal layer sandwiching chocolate and caramel. Scrumptious and highly underrated, like the value of a great offensive line.

6. Pecan Pie / Baked Nut Bars. Sugar/Butter/Flour crust with a topping of nuts crystallized in a delicious caramel sauce. You could replace the nuts with crickets and it would still be delicious.


5. Special K Bars. I have no idea how my mom makes the peanut butter-caramel(?) ooey gooey bottom of these that is simultaneously it’s greatest feature and biggest weakness, as it’s mouth-watering but tends to harden within a day or two, making it a dental hazard with a short shelf-life. The Randy Moss of bars.

Blue-Ribbon Tier


4. Apple Bars. The perfect hand-held apple pie with icing acting as the whipped cream, the sheer lunacy of this bar’s flavor can best be explained by a story about a judge I clerked for.

After passing the bar exam, my first job as a “real” lawyer was clerking for a state court judge in the rural town of Glencoe, 60 miles west of Minneapolis. My mom moved me out to Glencoe, and, as she does, made me a pan of Apple Bars to take to work on my first day. Was it slightly embarrassing as a 25-year old supposed professional to be bringing Mom’s bars to work? Sure, but think of it this way: in fourth grade, if you were one of the kids lucky enough to have a Super Nintendo and Street Fighter and Mortal Kombat, did you keep that a secret or invite people to come over and play after school? You weren’t stupid. Mortal Kombat meant popularity.

So I take the massive pan of Apple Bars to the judge’s chambers first thing. I figured I’d get my working orders, give him a bar, and take the rest to the employee break room. We sat down and each had a bar, and then he had another, then another. He leaned forward, re-wrapped the aluminum foil over the pan, and with a sly smile, whispered, “I think we’ll just keep these bars between you and me.”

The next day, the bars were gone.


3. Salted Nut Rolls a/k/a Sharmin Bars. The top Bar in the salty-sweet category, the Salted Nut Roll is a play on Minnesota’s own Pearson Salted Nut Roll (which you may have bought in a hardware store or at Fleet Farm), except it’s far superior to the candy bar. Instead of that weird artificial-tasting white filling in the candy bar, the Sharmin Bar has a thin marshmallow center sandwiched between a buttery-crumb base crust and a thicker, caramel-peanut top crust. My wife loves these so much my mom honorarily named them after her.

The “When In-Season, You Would Kill For These” Tier

What sets the top two bars apart is not just their paralyzing deliciousness, but their seasonal rarity.


2. Rhubarb Bars. If you are tempted to throw your phone at the wall in anger at this ranking, you’ve never had Barb Lexvold’s rhubarb bars. Trust me, I’ve had the variety that has a booger-green stringy filling. That’s rubbish, I agree. But my mom’s rhubarb bars are a revelation. The rhubarb middle layer is a gorgeous cranberry-pomegranate pink-red, has the smooth-yet-sticky consistency of a mixed jam and jelly, and pops with an addictive tartness and sweetness that leaves you scraping the bottom of the scratched-up thirty-year old aluminum pan (the signature of any great bar-maker) they were made in. The key is my mom loads up the rhubarb on the relatively thin oatmeal base, with a light oatmeal crumble on top for texture.

Like a Phoenix, the Rhubarb Bar is spectacular and rarely ripe. The Bo Jackson of bars.


1. Strawberry Bars. There’s really no comparison. Ripe, sweet-and-sour sliced strawberries in a strawberry gelatin on top of a barely-there-but-welcome crust. You will eat half the pan and not blink an eye. The Michael Jordan of bars.

I hope you have the pleasure of sharing delicious bars (or your family’s signature tradition) with family and friends this holiday season. Merry Christmas, and Happy New Year!

Trump Appoints Oligarch and Citizens United Funder Betsy DeVos as Education Secretary

Updated: Feb. 7, 2017

DeVos was confirmed as Secretary of Education after Vice President Mike Pence broke the Senate’s 50-50 tie vote. How did a completely unqualified billionaire and enemy of public schools get this job? Easy: she bought it.

DeVos campaign contributions to Republican Senators (the amounts we know about, anyway)

From Politico: “Over the past two and half decades, the couple donated more than $7.7 million to Republican candidates and parties across the country, the analysis found. The center also examined donations by DeVos’ entire extended family, and found more than $20 million in contributions to Republican candidates, party committees, PACs and super PACs since 1989.”

These are just the donations we know about. There are plenty of other ways to make “dark money” donations, so DeVos and her family have almost certainly contributed more than this.

[Original Post]

Today, Trump picked Republican megadonor Betsy DeVos as his education secretary. DeVos, daughter of a billionaire and wife of another billionaire, is an avid proponent of charter schools, and will likely “funnel public education dollars to places like charter and private schools, including religious schools.” Based on education policy alone, I oppose everything DeVos stands for.

What’s so striking about this appointment, however, is how clearly it illustrates that we are living in an oligarchy. To get the full picture of who DeVos is and what she stands for, read Jane Mayer’s full article on her. Some quick excerpts:

DeVos, whose father-in-law is a co-founder of Amway, the multi-level marketing empire, comes from the very heart of the small circle of conservative billionaires who have long funded the Republican Party.

Betsy, her husband Richard, Jr. (Dick), and her father-in-law, Richard, Sr., whose fortune was estimated by Forbes to be worth $5.1 billion, have turned up repeatedly on lists of attendees at the Kochs’ donor summits, and as contributors to the brothers’ political ventures.

Starting in 1970, the DeVos family, which is based in Grand Rapids, Michigan, began directing at least two hundred million dollars into funding what was then called “The New Right.” The family supported conservative think tanks such as the Heritage Foundation; academic organizations such as the Collegiate Studies Institute, which funded conservative publications on college campuses; and the secretive Council on National Policy, which the Times called “a little-known club of a few hundred of the most powerful conservatives in the country.”

Her brother Erik founded Blackwater, the private military company that the government infamously contracted to work in Afghanistan and Iraq, where its mercenaries killed more than a dozen civilians in 2007.

The DeVos family belongs to the deeply conservative Dutch Reformed Church, and has pushed for years to breach the wall between church and state on education, among other issues.

Betsy DeVos . . . brashly explained her opposition to campaign-finance-reform measures . . . “My family is the biggest contributor of soft money to the Republican National Committee,” she wrote in the Capitol Hill newspaper Roll Call. “I have decided to stop taking offense,” she wrote, “at the suggestion that we are buying influence. Now I simply concede the point. They are right. We do expect something in return.”

What Mayer’s article leaves out is something she addressed in her indispensable book about the Koch brothers and other billionaire political donors, Dark Money. And what Mayer exposes about Betsy DeVos, in particular, is that DeVos was a major financial backer of the legal efforts that eventually led to the disastrous Citizens United Supreme Court decision that said corporations have the same free speech rights as people, and ultimately eradicated all meaningful limits on campaign spending. From Mayer’s book:

[F]ew issues were more central to the DeVos family’s mission than eradicating restraints on political spending . . . Ground zero in this fight was the James Madison Center for Free Speech, of which Betsy DeVos became a founding board member in 1997. The nonprofit organization’s sole goal was to end all legal restrictions on money in politics . . . the driving force behind the organization was a single-minded lawyer from Terre Haute, Indiana, James Bopp Jr.

“We had a 10-year plan to take all this down,” [Bopp] told the Times. “And if we do it right, I think we can pretty well dismantle the entire regulatory regime that is called campaign finance law.”

Bopp, and DeVos, succeeded.

On the campaign trail, Trump consistently lied about how he was self-funding his campaign so he could claim that no billionaires would have sway with him, and how he was going to “drain the swamp” when he won. Unsurprisingly, though, his donors are already reaping their rewards. Betsy DeVos’s brother, Erik Prince, gave $100,000 to the super PAC supporting Trump during his campaign, and now his sister is in Trump’s cabinet. Erik himself will almost certainly see a huge return on his investment, as well: he is under investigation for money laundering (among other things), and, for the cherry on top, security firm TigerSwan (an iteration of Prince’s Blackwater operation) is coordinating intel on the water protectors at the Dakota Access Pipeline.

It’s not surprising Trump campaigned on the “self-funding” lie: a large majority of Americans, regardless of political affiliation, hate how big money has infiltrated our government. However, appointing an oligarch like DeVos, one of the billionaires most responsible for our broken democracy, exposes Trump for the true fraud that he is. Trump himself, after all, is an oligarch.

Wake Up, Liberals (Part II)

(For Part I, click here).

After the 2008 elections, Republicans were devastated. Democrats had won the Presidency, held a 57-41 edge in the Senate, and a 257-178 majority in the House. Their control, at the federal level, was actually more commanding than what Republicans have right now, and they had the advantage in a majority of state legislatures.

So what did Republicans do? They regrouped and they organized. They spawned the Tea Party, which, even if it was secretly funded by the Koch brothers and other self-interested billionaires, had real grassroots power. Activists went to town halls, held rallies, and opposed every single thing Democrats tried to do. Republicans also came up with their “REDMAP” plan to win strategic state legislature seats so they could gerrymander the hell out of voting districts after the 2010 elections (voting districts are redrawn every 10 years). And it worked.

As far as the upcoming election is concerned, a redmap victory seems almost guaranteed. In House races in 2012, 1.7 million more votes were cast for Democrats than for Republicans. And still, thanks to the way those votes were packed and cracked, Republicans came away with thirty-three more congressional seats.

2018, and especially 2020, are massively important, at the local, state, and federal level. Not only will we have new state and federal house and senate elections, and another presidential election, but after 2020, the voting districts will again be redrawn, and it’s our chance to fight back against the extreme gerrymandering the Republicans engineered after 2010. This issue is reportedly one of Obama’s major initiatives post-presidency.


Liberals have been bringing a butter knife to a gunfight for far too long. So where do we start?

First and foremost, support the transformation of the Democratic Party back to its roots: a party that represents the working class and labor unions in every county and every city across the country. Support Keith Ellison’s candidacy for chair of the DNC, and support the truly progressive wing of the party: your Bernies, Elizabeth Warrens, Jeff Merkleys, Pramila Jayapals, etc. And actively show your support: instead of sharing Samantha Bee and John Oliver videos on Facebook (guilty as charged), call your representatives, join a political organization (Democratic Socialists of America is my choice), and/or donate to worthy causes (ACLU, Planned Parenthood, and environmental groups, to name a few). It’s fine and good to argue online and point out the hypocrisy of Trump and the Republican Party and fight bigotry of all forms, but if we want to enact better policies and fight off fascism, we need to get organized and win elections.

Second, broadly speaking, there was a pretty clear disparity between city voters and more rural voters, with city voters voting heavily in favor of Clinton and more rural voters going to Trump. There are multiple reasons for this, but the Democratic Party needs to oppose the increasing concentration of corporate monopolies, which leads to all kinds of bad stuff, but some of which should speak directly to rural voters: regional wealth and income inequality as corporate profits are concentrated in larger metropolitan areas, usually on the coasts; plus the outsourcing of jobs overseas. I cannot do this issue justice within this post, but for a more in-depth discussion, read these pieces, both of which do a phenomenal job of tracing both Democrats’ and Libertarian anti-monopoly (pro-antitrust) roots (think trust-busting Teddy Roosevelt and FDR), and then the advent of “neoliberalism” in the latter half of the twentieth century that led us to this crisis we’re currently in.

From Matt Stoller, How Democrats Killed Their Populist Soul

From Philip Longman, Bloom and Bust: Regional inequality is out of control. Here’s how to reverse it.

Third, while we will oppose and fight the coming destruction of decent, vital, and popular policies, since we don’t have the numbers to fully stop Republicans, we need to recognize their destructive plans for what they are: political opportunities. Here are a few:

1) Healthcare. As part of the Obamacare repeal, Paul Ryan is going to try to gut Medicare, one of the most popular government programs there is. Tell every single person you know that Republicans are trying to destroy our parents’ and grandparents’ healthcare. Because it’s true.

Overall, Republicans have no healthcare plan besides “repeal Obamacare.” In his 60 Minutes interview, Trump said he won’t eliminate coverage for pre-existing conditions, but he’ll still somehow bring costs down. This is literally impossible unless they provide a massive amount of government subsidies or go full single-payer, which they’ll never do, of course. So they’ll probably have to remove coverage for pre-existing conditions, gut/privatize Medicare and Medicaid (also a popular program), etc., or costs will continue to spiral upwards. Regardless, we will have a huge opportunity when their plans either fail miserably or drastically reduce coverage for working class and poor people in service of corporate profits. We have to be ready. Single-payer is the solution, and it happens to be supported by the majority of Americans.

2) Taxes. Tax breaks are coming that will disproportionately benefit the wealthiest Americans. Around 60% of Americans support higher taxes on the wealthy. Also, the Right will continue to try to eliminate the estate tax, which affects only the very wealthy with more than $5.45 million in assets at death. Needless to say, more tax cuts for the extremely wealthy just means a higher burden for working class Americans. And at a time of massive wealth and income inequality, this is simply insane, and goes directly against Trump’s claim that he’s a champion for the working class.

3) Social Security. Similar to Medicare, Trump promised to protect Social Security during his campaign, yet all signs, from his appointment of Michael Korbey, a former lobbyist who has spent much of his career advocating for cutting and privatizing the program, to Paul Ryan’s plan and rhetoric, suggest an attempt at privatizing/cutting benefits. Again, the people are on our side: majorities across every age generation oppose cuts to Social Security.

4) Environment. Environmental regulations are about to be destroyed as the Earth continues to shatter heat records, year-after-year and month-after-month. It’s sad and disheartening that a science-denying party holds all the levers of power, but again, it will also present opportunities to connect with people who care about the planet’s future for themselves and their children.


In sum, a party that cuts taxes for the rich, guts popular healthcare and other programs vital to 99% of Americans, and doesn’t believe in science because it’s funded by Big Oil is not the party of the working class. But, as we learned this year, it’s not enough to simply oppose Republicans and offer minor improvements to a byzantine economic and healthcare system. It’s not enough to say vapid crap like “America is great because America is good.” It’s our job to transform the party and credibly reclaim the mantle of the party for working class America. We stand for economic justice, environmental justice, and racial justice. We serve the People, not the Plutocrats. We can’t keep sitting on the sidelines and hope Barack Obama’s magnificent speeches will thwart Trump’s coming fascism and Paul Ryan’s gutting of Medicare. They didn’t, and they won’t.

Let’s get to work.