TABLE OF CONTENTS & BIOS
Ralph Nader Consumer advocate, author of 17 books – including Unsafe at Any Speed – and founder of dozens of citizen organizations around the country.
Mark Green First NYC Public Advocate (‘93-’01); author/editor of twenty-five books, including Who Runs Congress? (1972), Losing our Democracy (2004) and two volumes of Changing America, Citizen Transition books for president-elects Clinton (‘92) & Obama (‘08).
1. ECONOMY: For the Many, Not the Few
Robert Kuttner (Inflation, Growth). Co-founder of Economic Policy Institute and The American Prospect; author of numerous books on the economy, including this year, Going Big: FDR’s Legacy, Biden’s New Deal, and the Struggle to Save Democracy.
David Cay Johnston (Taxes). Pulitzer Prize-winning author of Free Lunch and The Making of Donald Trump; ex-NYTimes reporter, 13 years; founder DCReport; professor, Syracuse Univ.
Thom Hartmann (Unions, Energy). Top-rated national radio talk host and author of many books on public affairs.
2. HEALTH CARE: Coverage & Covid
Dr. Steffie Woolhandler (Medicare-For-All, ACA). Distinguished Professor of Public Health at Hunter College; co-founder of Physicians for National Health Policy; co-author of leading Medicare-for-All proposal.
Dr. Irwin Redlener (Covid). Co-founder of the Children’s Health Fund; Director of the National Center for Disaster Preparedness at the Earth Institute, Columbia University.
Richard Aborn (Crime & Guns). President of Citizens Crime Commission, ex-President of Handgun Control Inc; a principal strategist behind the Brady Law & Assault Weapons Ban.
Russell Mokhiber (Corporate Crime). Publisher of The Corporate Crime Reporter.
4. NATIONAL SECURITY: Arms & Immigration
William Hartung (Military Budget). Director of the Arms & Security Project at the Center for International Policy. Author of Prophets of War.
Col. Lawrence Wilkerson (Pentagon & Empire). Chief of Staff to Secretary of State Colin Powell; now professor at College of William and Mary.
Marielena Hincapié (Immigration). Director of the National Immigration Law Center.
Robert Fellmeth Professor of Law at San Diego School of Law. Founder and Executive Director of the Center for Public Interest Law and The Children’s Advocacy Institute.
6. Rep. Jamie Raskin: DONALD vs. DEMOCRACY Member of the House Special Committee on January 6 and author of Unthinkable.
Mark Green (War of the Words)
Jim Hightower (How to Talk Like a Populist). Syndicated columnist, national radio commentator, publisher of the monthly The Hightower Lowdown. Previously the elected Texas Agricultural Commissioner (‘83-’91).
Anat Shenker-Osorio (On Messaging & Freedom). Principal and founder of ASO Communications, a political consultancy that develops messaging for progressive campaigns.
Bill Hillsman (Memorable Advertising). Founded and runs North Hills Advertising in Minnesota. Has won 150 “Pollies” (Oscars for ads). Author of Run the Other Way. Clients included Paul Wellstone, Jesse Ventura, John Hickenlooper.
Heather McGhee (Race and Class). Past head of Demos. Author of The Sum of US: What Racism Costs Everyone. Chair, Color of Change. NBC contributor.
Rob Weissman (Whither Democracy?). President of Public Citizen.
Ruth Ben-Ghiat (The Authoritarian Template). Author, Strongmen: Mussolini to Present. Prof, NYU.
9. WINNING LANGUAGE ON CLIMATE VIOLENCE
Annie Leonard Co-director of Greenpeace, USA.
10. GOTV: Remember the 120 Million Non-Voters
Joe Madison Renowned national radio talk show host for 40 years. Went on hunger strike for several weeks in 2021 to protest voter suppression.
11. SUMMARY: After Trump, Voters Must Crush the GOP
CALL THEM OUT / VOTE THEM OUT
A Republican take-over of Congress in 2022 or Donald Trump’s election in 2024 would be a turning point in the intensifying conflict in America between Democracy and Autocracy.
With many others, we’ve been alarmed about Trump and Trumpism since his original election and then re-election loss. In our book Wrecking America in the Fall of 2020, we wrote that Trump would "likely use the 11 weeks from Election Day to the Inauguration trying to undo the results using some chaotic maneuver or unprecedented misconduct" and, along with Sen. McConnell, "hurriedly nominate and confirm a new Supreme Court Justice within days were there an opening.”
Of course, both happened—the violent Insurrection of January Six and rushed appointment of Amy Coney Barrett was followed by his in-plain-sight coup plans for 2024 and the High Court’s anti-freedom Dobbs decision. A year after Biden’s Inaugural, we urged Americans to see what was an emerging "Fascism 2.0.”
Now it’s worse. The ex-president is threatening to run again despite being the subject of five different criminal probes (including sedition and espionage!), surely a record for Western democracies. And with the Commentariet predicting that Republicans could conceivably win either or both chambers in just eight weeks, it's urgent that all progressive patriots raise their game and energy to defeat the worst GOP in history – serially corrupt, violence-prone, anti-labor as well as compulsively dishonest and authoritarian. How can a party that would’ve disgusted Ike, Taft, and Reagan still even be in the running?
WinningAmerica.net formed last March to counter the early conventional wisdom that there was no way to stop a red wave in the 2022 due to inflation and the midterms jinx for the presidential party. But, as Norman Cousins once wrote, "No one is smart enough to be a pessimist."
With that insight, this group of bullish advocates has now produced a worthy initiative on how to swamp the GOP this Fall. It’s based on four core premises:
1. The election must not ultimately be about too-high/world-wide inflation but rather about a party of dangerous extremists stealing our freedom and livelihoods.
2. Due to a stacked Supreme Court and a stymied Senate, the best bet to rescue Democracy this year is aggressive congressional Democrats knowing how to hold and expand their majorities.
3. Democrats need to hear from public advocates and civic leaders who are expert at the intersection of policy and politics yet usually ignored by busy candidates foraging for funds. So we gathered 25 of them initially in a July 23 virtual meeting and now will plug their best suggestions directly into the sockets of campaigns.
4. Our collective through-line comes from the infamous Lee Atwater’s quip, “If you're explainin’, you're losin’.” For too long—from Joe McCarthy to Newt Gingrich to Donald Trump—Democrats have failed to adequately punch back, allowing unrebutted conspiracy theories and slanderous slogans to frame campaigns.
Unless Democratic nominees tell a story about what 2023 and 2025 would look like if reactionary Republicans return to power—ending Obamacare, urging higher taxes on 75 million people, corporatizing Social Security and Medicare, shredding the social safety net/regulatory protections, jailing girls after abortions, overturning Marriage Equality, spurring more MAGA mobs threatening officials under (again) an outlaw president -- the minority party will try to coast to victories by simply blaming Biden, Blackness and Wokeness (whatever that means). Instead, Democrats need to vividly contrast mainstream and extreme to demonstrate how one party cares more about pronouns than policy while the other pursues a better America where people live, work and raise their families.
It’s not too late to recode the 2022 election. One way is to learn from experienced allies and proven communicators (see Table of Contents) about how to make winning arguments and offer memorable messages: Extremism Defeats Patriotism. Vote to Give Yourself an Overdue Pay Raise. Spend Our Taxes on Us. Parents Want Honesty in History, not Book Bans.
September 15, 2022
1. THE ECONOMY: For the Many, not the Few
INFLATION & GROWTH:
“I am running for Congress here in Middletown [yes, this is hypothetical] because our government needs to serve working families as it has in the past. Donald Trump got one thing right when he said, ‘We need to make America great again.’ But my Republican opponent has voted against every measure that might actually make America great again for regular people, or help you and your kids thrive economically. He has voted for every measure that enriches billionaires who ship jobs overseas and treats their employees like so many expendable machine parts.
When I was growing up, you could buy a house on one income. People had decent pensions. You could go to college without being burdened by debt before your economic life even began. Imagine if some politician forty years ago had said, ‘I have a plan on how to pay for college. We will end free tuition at public universities and stick kids from working families with decades of debt.’ That politician would have been laughed off stage. But that's just what both parties did.
When I was growing up, big corporations had unions and a sense of reciprocal duty to repay the loyalty of their workers. Banks and airlines and power companies were regulated in the public interest. Small business was not being gobbled up by big business. You could get medical care without paying a fortune out of pocket or being told, ‘You can't see this doctor or go to that hospital or have this procedure.’ That's not intrusive government. What’s intrusive is today’s unaccountable private ‘regulation.’
We once had a kind of compact in this country between the people and their government and between corporations and workers. That's not nostalgia. It's the way things were and could be again. Now, they weren't that way for everybody. There was a great deal of racial discrimination. Women were denied the opportunities available to men. But we were making progress. Today’s economy is so productive that there's plenty to go around—if the top doesn't take it all. If working families got the same share of the economy's productivity that they did half a century ago, if wages had risen with productivity, the typical family would be earning around $100,000 a year.
What went wrong? I'm sorry to say both parties (for the most part) got into bed with giant corporations and with Wall Street. They helped corporations and bankers move jobs overseas where labor was cheap. They cut regulations and taxes on the very rich, while working people were hit with higher payroll taxes, while private regulation by employers and insurance companies invaded our lives. Things don't have to be like this. We have a climate crisis and a crisis of collapsing roads and bridges and electricity grids that need investments that could create jobs right here in Middletown. We could end the kind of globalization that serves billionaires and instead bring jobs and economic development home.
So I hope you will give me your vote. Thank you.”
Progressives like Sherrod Brown have shown that you can get elected in unlikely places with this kind of appeal. Progressives today complain about the original gerrymander—the U.S. Senate—as if rural people were hopelessly and irrevocably conservative. When I was working for Senator Proxmire in the 1970s and the Senate was very solidly Democratic, you could literally drive from Washington State to Pennsylvania without passing through a single state that had a Republican Senator. Why? Because the Democratic Senators of that era in rural states, as well as urban states, delivered for working people. It can be that way again.
The long term problem is the capture of economic policy by neoliberalism, deregulation, privatization, globalization, the shift in who pays taxes with catastrophic results for the distribution of income and wealth and for the weakening of unions. I have a piece in the current New York Review of Books going into the details—and there are more in my own book Going Big: FDR’s Legacy, Biden’s New Deal, and the Struggle to Save Democracy—but here’s the basic story. There was a long shift away from the legacy of Roosevelt and the New Deal model, and three successive Democratic presidents who were by no means progressive: Carter, then Clinton, and then, I'm sorry to say, Obama.
Thanks to the long legacy of Roosevelt's tangible help to working people, as late as the 1996 Presidential election counties that were below the national median income and at least 85 percent white split evenly between Bill Clinton and Bob Dole. In the 2016 election, however, the same counties went 658 for Donald Trump and 2 for Hillary Clinton. That's the legacy of going Right on economics and thinking that you can come compensate by going Left on cultural issues. On the contrary, you buy the running room to make progress on divisive social issues by being the champion of all working class people.
We need to be persuasive on a long-term progressive economic vision, while having a strategy for surviving short-term. The long-term requires a lot of public investment with jobs—especially production jobs—front and center. We need to use the climate crisis as an opportunity to shift to a productive, equitable green economy rather than a command that working people tighten their belts. And we need a kind of New Deal for the young. They're in an economy where you are more likely to have gigs than payroll jobs. And Democrats need the young to turn out, because when the young turn out they vote for Democrats.
If this election is about people's frustration with the price of gas, we lose. But Biden is not on the ballot, and a lot of good people are on the ballot down-ticket. Trump and the Supreme Court have given the Democrats a kind of gift—Trump inserted himself in the process to get all kinds of unelectable Republicans nominated; he reliably keeps reminding voters how crazy he is; and of course the January Sixth Committee has done a superb job of filling in the details. The Supreme Court has given Democrats a gift by showing how at odds it is with public opinion on everything from kids being massacred in classrooms to women being criminalized for trying to pursue their reproductive rights.
Justice Thomas also handed the Democrats a political grenade to use against Republicans when he wrote in his concurring decision in the Dobbs abortion case that the Supreme Court could also reverse three earlier decisions: overturning criminalization of sodomy, allowing same-sex marriage, and even permitting contraception. So the House took the first step by passing the Respect for Marriage Act—which codifies the court’s 2015 Obergefell decision protecting same-sex marriage—and forty-seven Republicans voted for it. It split the GOP beautifully.
Bottom line, we can win back America based on pocketbook issues. The best analogy is to the 2018 election when, because Democrats and moderates got organized (they were all appalled by Trump), Democrats were able to pick up forty-one House seats.
There is a decent chance if Democrats play this right—use wedge issues against Republicans and then bring it back to the pocketbook issues where there's a 40-year frustration that we can tap into, this will not be the typical first midterm election of a new president. We have a very good chance of holding the Senate, even picking up a couple of seats, and we might even hold the House. So don't mourn. Organize.
Mark Green: Imagine in Middletown, someone on the street walks up to you and asks, “Professor Kuttner, the RNC simply says inflation is up, gas prices are up, Biden's the President, Isn't Biden responsible for that?”
Robert Kuttner: Here’s the elevator pitch: First of all, inflation is a worldwide phenomenon. It's going on in every major country. That's partly because of the Russian invasion of Ukraine that has created shortages everywhere. But it's partly chickens coming home to roost. We had this idiotic idea that all we had to do was outsource jobs, and have far-flung supply chains, and that’ll be great for corporations and very convenient. But in fact, as soon as we had a crisis like the COVID crisis, important supply chains collapsed, and on top of that we have all of this corporate price gouging where corporations are taking a free ride on the premise that this is now an inflationary economy. And corporate concentration is at least as much to blame as Russia's invasion of Ukraine.
None of this is Biden's doing. If there were a Republican President you'd see exactly the same inflation. We need to attack inflation at its roots. And in the meantime, we need to help working people earn a decent living.
TAXES: Tax the Rich, not the Poor
David Cay Johnston
It's absolutely critical in an election that you talk to people on a level that they understand and that's not the policy wonk talk that probably all of us are deeply invested in. You need to talk to people where they live. Keep in mind Upton Sinclair, when he wrote The Jungle, expected that it would lead to revulsion by people over the treatment of meatpacking workers. Instead, as he put it, “I shot an arrow at America's heart, and hit its stomach.”
Let me bring up a word that you should never, ever, ever, under any circumstances, unless you absolutely must, say again: that word is “spend.” It scares people. When Joe Biden said he wanted three and a half trillion dollars for his so-called “Build Back Better” bill, that's all you heard on Fox, “Three and a half trillion dollars!” As if it would all be spent in one year. Instead, here's the best way to make the point: “We want to invest in a wealthier future for everyone.”
And, by the way, the three and a half trillion dollars is over 10 years. That's less than $3 a day per American. "Would you be willing to invest $3 a day so that you and your children and your grandchildren will be prosperous? Well, that's what was proposed.” By the way, after I wrote a column about this, Biden used my language for one day, and then he went back to talking about spending with no context.
I'll tell you another thing I know from talk radio: no one believed or had heard that the Biden plans included tax cuts for everybody who made under $400,000 a year. Nobody. They thought, “Oh, my goodness, the Democrats are gonna raise our taxes. We’re going to have to spend three and a half trillion dollars in one year, whatever that number means.” Million? Billion? Trillion? Meaningless numbers. Scary numbers. But you can reduce things down. People get “$3 a day.” Biden’s American Families Plan: at least 4 years of college education at no cost, childcare, family leave, sick leave. The cost of that plan was less than a dollar and a half a day per American. That is, Biden wanted to invest less than a dollar and a half to make all of us better off. “$1.50 a day.”
Here's another thing to think about: what's happened to wages? I can give you numbers off the top of my head all day, none of which you'll retain, but perhaps this will be effective. In 2020, the median wage in this country went up by $26. That's 50 cents a week. Would you notice if your income went up by 50 cents a week? Would it make any difference in your life compared to the year before? So imagine $26 is one inch, or the height of the heel of a man standing outside of Trump Tower. Now look at people who make over $1 million a year, how did their wages do? If that typical increase of $26 was one inch, the increase for the 1 in 900 workers who make over $1 million a year would go all the way to the top of Trump Tower, plus another 315 feet. It would be more than 900 feet high. A skyscraper of money.
The average increase in pay for people who make over a million dollars a year from their job—only including salary and bonus—was $330,000 in 2020. Under the radical Republican Trump plans, we were accelerating the conversion of our country from one where we reward people for their work into a system to transfer that money to the richest people in this country. That's why we don't have the revenue to invest.
Also: right now the bottom 99. 9 percent of Americans are being burdened with hidden tax increases to support the super wealthy—the richest 1/1,000 families. How? The Trump tax cuts were financed with borrowed money. That is, the government is borrowing money so that the wealthiest people in this country don't have to pay as much in income taxes. And at the very same time, Republicans want to cut the programs that benefit the vast majority of us—like ending Social Security and abolishing the Affordable Care Act (or “Obamacare”).
So number one, most important: Don't talk “spend.” Talk “invest.” We want to invest in a wealthier future for all Americans. If we don't have a better educated workforce, we will get left behind by the rest of the world. We need to invest in our workforce, not in super rich people. There are people in the United States with daily incomes of over $5 million a day, and some of them pay zero income tax; all of them pay a lower income tax than someone making $100,000 a year. Why? Because they got Congress to put in provisions to benefit them.
We also need to recognize that this system is getting worse. In 2020, the average person saw their income go up by nearly nothing. But of all the pay raises handed out in America that year, 82 percent went to people who make over $1 million a year—one of 900 workers. You could point to a crowd that's gathered and say that’s just the leg of one man sitting in the front row—that man’s leg got 82 percent of all the pay increases. That's what we're doing in this country. We are creating a system in which the people at the top are taking more and more and more of the income and the productive capacity of this country for themselves, and they are holding back other people.
You will hear about the price of gasoline. There's something called the Baker-Hughes rig count. With oil prices going up to over $100 a barrel, you might think that the oil drillers would be out there [drilling] for more oil. Nope. The drill count’s hardly gone up at all, and I look at it every week. Why would you go invest and spend money to drill for more oil—which will lower the price of oil—when you can simply sit around your living room drinking your 75-year-old Scotch and collecting super premium prices for the oil you're already producing?
You're better off not producing, and that's something to hit the Republicans with. Republicans have created an economy and want to have more of this strategy of mining the interests of ordinary people, so they can move money into the pockets of people who are already so rich that they can't spend all the money that they have.
UNIONS & ENERGY:
I strongly argue that we need to be promoting unions as democracy in the workplace, and both the key to reaching the middle class and the tool that built the American middle class. All but probably the youngest people are able to remember a time—or at least know of a time—in America where dad or grandpa was able to get a good union job with a high school diploma and lift himself and his family into the middle class. But somewhere along the line, in the 1980s, when Reagan declared war on the unions and on the American working people, the focus of the GOP became the “Corrupt Union Bosses.” And, of course, Jimmy Hoffa didn't help that—we actually had some corrupt union bosses, but they're long gone. Nor did they ever dominate the union movement the way that the Republicans tried to spin it.
It's time to renew the union movement in the United States.
If you believe in democracy, you should believe in democracy in the workplace. In 1947, the Republicans rolled out this phrase: the so-called “right to work” with the Taft-Hartley Act, which was passed over the veto of Harry Truman. For years now, I’ve referred to it as the “right to work for less.” And now, after a couple of radio panels with a bunch of union leaders in Chicago over the years, I've got many of them now saying “right to work for less.” That's the winning phrase.
A lot of anti-union sentiment has to do with what lives on the Internet. If you Google “unions,” there is just a massive amount of anti-union information about “forced unionization” and “forced dues paying,” including corruption around these issues on Wikipedia. Here’s the right approach: “No, unions are a democracy within the workplace that represents you. And you have a right to work for a reasonable wage. And what the Republicans are promoting has led to wages stagnating. We've seen good jobs vanish. We need to bring strong unions back.”
So number one, there is a strong case for unions and unionization.
You can also tie these issues into energy—since we want American energy manufactured in America. Now, that is another catch phrase that the Republicans and the fossil fuel industry have been using: “All-American energy. Oil and gas.” Well, aside from volcanic activity and the heat and energy from the core of the earth, literally all energy on this planet came from the sun. Plants captured that energy. Those plants died and rotted and over millions of years became peat and then got crushed under the earth and became oil and natural gas—but that was all sunlight that was captured by plants.
I realize that's not a bumper sticker that's going to win any elections. But I think it's an important point: why are we going through this inefficient process of trying to dig 200-million-year-old sunlight out of the ground and burn it and poison our atmosphere, when we can simply catch the sunlight that's falling on the Earth right now? There's a massive amount of sunlight falling on this planet. And the Chinese are way ahead of us on this, as are most other highly-developed countries.
Let's go to the source and start getting our energy from sunlight. This then disconnects us from the control of people like “Mohammed bin Bonesaw” and Vladimir Putin. Fossil fuels are the essential infrastructure that are supporting these autocrats. America has absolutely no energy shortage because such a massive amount of sunlight falls on the United States, as well as in most of the country there’s fairly reliable wind. Hence, we are seeing shifts to renewables now: Utah's over 20 percent renewable-source energy, and it's nearly that in Texas. This is energy that we can collect without having to beg Saudi Arabia for anything, without having to be afraid of Putin or other despots.
I would portray the fossil fuel industry as a threat to our future and our economy. They have been lying to us since the 1970s about how they know that these fossil fuels are going to destroy our environment, and in the process also destroy our economy, our country, and the future of our children. I think that that is a very powerful selling point. You've got Republicans all across the United States who are going into school boards and going on the media talking about “The Children”—“We've got to protect The Children against feeling uncomfortable that we're going to talk about race, or having to wear a mask” for God's sake. Yet this is real and the future of our children and our grandchildren.
When you do opinion polling, you find that among people under thirty in the United States, which includes children, the number one political issue in America today is climate. Because it's their future that's being disrupted. They're very cognizant of what's going on, and how terribly it is going to hit them. So if we combine this message of “we need to protect our vulnerable young people and provide them with the kind of future that we old farts had: a stable climate,” that's a minimal obligation of citizenship, of parenthood, of being a human being.
So number one: talking about young people and their future is gonna get you a lot of attention from young people and it's gonna get you concurrence from older people. I think that there's also a message that “this will save money for the average American.” Republicans are constantly BS-ing us, telling us that gasoline is the most efficient form of fuel. No! I saw a report a couple of days ago suggesting that to recharge a car with a 200-mile range in many parts of the United States costs as little as $6. I drive an electric car, and my guess would be that it's probably closer to $8 or $10, but still— 200 miles! That's pretty damn good.
It’s appealing to talk about how this would save us money, save our planet. This will preserve the future of our young people’s health and—if we manufacture wind turbines and solar panels in the United States —will also provide us with millions of good jobs.
This message needs to be boiled down to a very simple and very straightforward statement: We need good union jobs in the United States to recreate the middle class. In the U.S., 55 to 60 percent were in the middle class when Reagan entered the White House. In 2015, NPR reported that we dropped below 50 percent and some estimates today suggest it's around 45 percent. So we need to bring back unions and provide ourselves with the energy for a twenty-first-century society and economy. And that energy can come at a low cost if we get it from that free nuclear fusion reactor 93 million miles away—the Sun.
TO THE READER: The “Notes” that follow each essay are meant to be supplemental materials— useful facts, memorable phrases, brief analyses—in effect, possible “talking points” following the prior narratives. Also, since there is an ongoing flood of news about abortion and criminal probes of Trump, notes on these topics will be cursory compared to their actual importance.
* Why inflation? Forty percent comes from higher gas prices set by the world market by giant oil and gas firms. The pandemic significantly disrupted supply chains leading to shortages, and Putin’s invasion of Ukraine reduced the oil and gas it ships to the West, plus corporate price-gouging by firms with monopoly power..
–Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell: Giant corporations are raising prices simply “because they can.”
–Data for Progress February 2022 poll: 64 percent of Americans thought that big corporations were jacking up prices and taking advantage of the pandemic. Even 51 percent of Republicans thought so.
–Gas Prices: Four oil giants on pace to earn $108.4 billion this year, on top of the $77 billion last year. Pump prices are a matter of choice for oil profiteers.
–Oil production highest under Biden in the past forty years.
* Jobs: Simon Rosenberg: sixteen years of Clinton and Obama equaled 33.8 million jobs; eighteen months of Biden equalled 9.6 million jobs; sixteen years of both Bushes and Trump equaled 1.9 million jobs. Of the 43 million jobs created since 1989, 96 percent came under Democratic presidents.
–Trump is the first president since Hoover to end his term in office with fewer people working than when he started. For a while, Trump’s economic data tracked exactly those of the strong economy in Obama’s final two years…but then economy tanked and entered deep recession. Biden’s jobless rate of 3.6 percent in July 2022 was the lowest in fifty years. That one month, he created more jobs than Trump did in all his four years combined.
* Deficits: In 2021, the deficit actually fell by $360 billion. America is now on track for the largest deficit reduction in history this year: $1.3 TRILLION.
* Spending: Biden’s Recovery Act and Infrastructure law helped the GDP avoid falling into a recession.
–The federal debt grew by $7.8 trillion in Trump’s one term in office.
–Because of the expanded Child Tax Credit, child poverty dropped by a third in 2021. It’s rare for a government policy to work so unambiguously well, yet the GOP wouldn’t continue funding it. “The oligarchy didn’t want to pay for it.”—Robert Reich
– Republicans often attack Democrats for “Socialism!”…even after Trump handed farmers $30 billion because his trade policies were bankrupting them.
– Fox reporter John Roberts to Sen. Rick Scott, “Your plan would raise taxes on half of Americans and sunset things like Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid. Why would you do that?”
* Taxation: Last year, fifty-five large corporations made $40 billion in U.S. profits and paid NO federal income tax. Other companies paid less than 10 percent. The current IRS commissioner, Charles P. Rettig, says the sum of uncollected taxes last year was a trillion dollars.
– Firefighters and teachers should not pay a higher tax than a billionaire. “The party that can appeal to a multi-ethnic working class will be the majority party for the next generation.” (Mike Madrid, New York Times, 3/23/22)
– The GOP had cut the IRS budget by 20 percent below its 2010 level, inflation-adjusted. Audits of large companies plunged by 58 percent between 2010 and 2019. Congress was turned into a recidivist enabler of massive tax evasion—which if done by ordinary people would constitute a crime.
– Trickle-down economics has never gotten billionaires to spread the wealth. That’s what unions are for.
* Michael Kazin: The following aggressive pro-worker, anti-corporate message moved voters 5 points in a poll in the Fall of 2021:
“People are living paycheck to paycheck and struggling to pay their bills and taxes. They need a government that looks out for the middle class, working families, small businesses, and the vulnerable who work hard. They don’t need a government that jumps whenever the biggest corporations send money and lobbyists. My approach is blue collar. We should bend over backwards for those who work hard so we create jobs in America and grow the middle class again.”
Dr. Steffie Woolhandler
Let’s start with Medicare for All—although that's not the issue of the day, it will be the issue going forward over the long term. While there’s a lot in health care that we can do in the short term, it’s useful to at least review the key arguments around Medicare for All since the majority of voters still endorse it…as do organizations like Physicians for a National Health Program, Public Citizen, the Nurses Union, and many other great organizations.
There’s a crisis in America's health and longevity. You probably know that Americans have higher death rates than people in other developed countries but may not know just how bad it is. We just issued a report about what we call the “missing Americans''—the number of people who die each year in this country who would still be alive at the end of the year, if we had mortality rates as low as other developed nations. Even before the COVID pandemic, 500,000 Americans went “missing'' every year, that is who died unnecessarily because of our poor mortality experience. During the COVID pandemic that number has gone up to 1 million deaths annually—1 million people going missing who would still be with us if we had the same death rates as other developed nations. And it turns out that half of all deaths below the age of sixty-five in this country are these “missing Americans.” (See Ed Young covering our work on the “missing Americans” in the Atlantic in July.)
The other price of our healthcare system is cost. Americans are paying twice as much as people in other developed countries for healthcare—20 percent of GDP—and of course the electorate is paying for that directly through their payments and indirectly through their taxes. Access and affordability are huge issues—30 million uninsured Americans, tens of millions more who have insurance that they can't afford to use because of high co-payments, deductibles, and services that aren't covered. Then there’s major problems with medical debts—more than half of all the bad things on your credit report are medical bills. And research we've done with Elizabeth Warren when she was at Harvard shows that medical illness or medical debt play a major role in personal bankruptcies, contributing to more than half of them.
How do you fund Medicare for All? We're not supposed to say “spend,” but consider taking all the money that's now being wasted on overhead and bureaucracy—which we estimated at $800 billion a year (the Rand Corporation and the Congressional Budget Office have similar estimates of the quantity of administrative waste)—and investing it in actual healthcare, such as doctors, nurses, drugs and preventive care.
Beyond Medicare for All, there’s what we in academia call “financialization.” In the electoral sphere, you may call it “the Wall Street takeover of American healthcare.” Amazon, for example, just purchased Medical One, a major provider of primary care and employer of primary care physicians. So Amazon now owns your doctor. That's what we mean by financialization, which is a problem in two ways. One is just the surveillance fears. Amazon—which already knows the books I read, the stuff I buy that’s mailed to me, and the movies I stream—will now also know my personal healthcare and those of my patients.
That’s scary. But add to that the false assumptions that greed is good, that profits are good in healthcare, that whatever is profitable is somehow acceptable. We've already seen that with the insurance companies now going feet first into providing Medicare through the privatized Medicare Advantage plans and providing managed Medicaid plans. More than half of the private insurance industry’s total revenues come from the taxpayers through the Medicare Advantage or Medicaid managed care programs, which are privatized programs.
Those insurance companies are ripping off taxpayers. According to MedPAC— Congress's oversight agency of Medicare—the price of Medicare Advantage is 104 percent of the price of traditional Medicare. So they’re raising the price to everyone by charging taxpayers for their very high overhead and profits, which is in the range of about 15 to 19 percent overhead. How do they get those profits? Well, they “upcode”—the payment to private insurance firms from the government is based on how sick the patient is. So the private insurance companies just exaggerate how sick the patient is in order to cause the government to pay them a bigger capitation or premium payment.
Well, some of you who are familiar with health policy may be saying, “But wait, isn't there a limit on how much overhead profit they can get? Didn't the ACA say only 15 percent of the premiums from the government or the premiums from anyone can go to overhead and profit?” While the ACA does say that, insurance companies have gotten to be experts in what I call “overhead laundering.” They make these giant overhead and profits, and then, rather than computing it as insurance overhead, they just push that money over to provider organizations that they own.
For instance, United Healthcare, our largest insurance company, owns 60,000 doctors; if their overhead starts to look too high, they just shift those profits over to their subsidiary that owns doctors—then it's out of their overhead and they get to hang on to the profit. Which means they’re profiteering at the expense of the taxpayers and at the expense of sick patients.
I needn’t spend a lot of time on drug company profiteering since most people understand that we're paying twice as much for the same medicines here in the US as people can buy in Canada. Physicians for a National Health Program explained all this—along with drug company profiteering —in the British Medical Journal. But I would like to conclude about the new kid on the block: private equity, or what we used to call “leveraged buyouts.” Private equity vulture capitalists go in and extract value from productive industries, like doctors offices or hospitals. Wanting to get their money out in three to seven years, they load these providers, hospitals, nursing homes with giant debt. They hive off the real estate, put that in a separate company, or sometimes sell it for money.
Consider two egregious examples. The closure of Hanuman Hospital in downtown Philadelphia, a venerable safety net hospital, actually was closed and its downtown real estate sold off because it was more valuable as condos than it was for patient care. The nursing home industry puts it in a separate subsidiary, which means that the nursing home just becomes an operating company that has to pay rent…which in turn means they have to reduce staffing. This raises the death rate. But if patients try to sue the nursing home about a loved one being harmed or dying, the nursing home is then judgment-proof since they're just an operating company that doesn’t own any property.
Mark Green: If a voter says to a candidate, “I hear that if the Republicans are back in control, they want to end Obamacare.” That true? And what would that mean for average Americans?
Dr. Steffie Woolhandler: That would mostly affect folks who are newly eligible for Medicaid since 2010, and there's a lot of those. There'd be at least 10 million people who would lose their health insurance which would harm the health of low-income people all over the country.
Dr. Irwin Redlener
First of all: the Trump Administration did have a role in stimulating the development of the COVID vaccine. But he also then undermined his own modicum of proper judgment by politicizing this situation to a point where it's become unmanageable as a public health problem.
By now, we've had multiple waves of COVID and, as most voters are aware, initially in early 2020 it was a lethal killer that was filling up hospitals with patients on ventilators in ICUs—and there were very high death rates. Then Joe Biden happens to have taken the vaccine idea and expanded it in ways that have saved—in spite of the fact that people are still dying of COVID—many millions of lives by the use and promotion of vaccines. And we would have saved more lives if, in fact, the incentives and motivations to get vaccinated hadn't been polluted by misinformation and politics.
One of the things we could say about COVID right now is that people, generally speaking, are tired of it. We've had it with COVID and we want to move on, and we want to make believe this is over. And it's not over. By the time November comes, it is likely or at least very possible that we will be seeing another surge of COVID infections occurring in all parts of the United States.
Our language in dealing with this has to be consistent and strong: “You must get vaccinated. Period.” We may have vaccines at that point that are more likely to suppress it even if you don't have the latest vaccine. So from a public health point of view, and if we had nothing else to think about other than the public health issue here, the desired message is clear.
We have 65 to 67 percent of Americans now vaccinated. “Fully vaccinated” at this point in 2022 is two shots and two boosters, and that's what we have to be pushing for. And we have to talk about this as if we understand that the science means that we're not going to be curing COVID any time soon, but we can control it. Individuals can’t stop getting infected, but they can control how likely it is that they will be admitted to hospitals or die from the disease. That's the grown-up reality of what we're talking about.
Whether we get drawn into the politics (as Republicans would like us to) about what we need to do depends on how we handle this. We need to be straightforward and clear–Get Vaccinated. Wear Masks. Are we going to mandate masks in indoor situations? We probably should, but we probably won't because it's become so politically fraught.
The misinformation that's being constantly put out—which is that we are violating people's freedom of choice by forcing them to get vaccinated or forcing them to wear a mask—requires simple language to correct. Government has a responsibility to protect lives to the extent possible, without overly interfering with individual freedoms. That's why we have clean water and clean air regulations, and OSHA in workplaces. And, similarly, this is why we ask children to be vaccinated when they go to school to prevent a host of infectious diseases to which they would otherwise be susceptible.
Democratic candidates have to be prepared to say, “We don't do more than we have to. But we do what we need to do as a government to save lives.” In other words, if you want to go skydiving, if you want to do cliff climbing, be our guest. But we cannot do something that can infect an elderly person or a person who is immunocompromised. That's one of the things about a civilized society that we have to be able to understand. We're in this together—all of us—and need to avoid risks that can harm others. It's why you can't drive drunk or without wearing seat belts.
That will likely come up in debates. “Are you trying to force me to get vaxxed?” Force you? Because I don't want you to infect my grandma—or your grandma, for that matter? The price of civilization is mutual agreement not to harm others based on rules enacted by democratic vote.
Here Democratic candidates have a strong and popular argument. Part of the deal about living free in America includes keeping each other safe and healthy as best as we can. That's why you can't drive drunk or without a license. And why your children must get the routine vaccines of childhood and why pilots and doctors must be qualified to practice their craft.
Donald Trump, however, has poisoned "the general welfare" (to quote the Constitution) with erratic, unscientific, extreme politics. But really, Democrats just want to protect grandparents, young kids and anybody who may be at great risk from getting Covid. I'm sure you must realize that a million people died from Covid in America and 500 more are lost every single day! Many older and vulnerable Americans listening to us right now want to be reassured that we'll protect them from further Covid and the next pandemic.
Candidly, here's the report card as of the Fall of 2022: The Biden administration has widely distributed vaccinations saving Republican and Democratic lives alike. The Trump administration repeatedly underplayed the danger of COVID, a deception that led to hundreds of thousands of preventable deaths, or more than World War I, Vietnam, and Iraq combined. Only the Democracy Party was pro-life, as defined by saving post-birth lives.
HEALTH CARE - COVID NOTES
* Life expectancy fell under only one president—Trump—because of the rise in “deaths of despair”—drugs, guns, suicides, COVID.
* A Health KFF survey found that 60 percent of the unvaxxed were Republicans. Democrats were 17 percent.
* It’s crazy that so many in GOP complain that it’s tyranny when the government tells people to wear masks during a once-in-a-century health emergency but ordering pregnant girls to carry their fetus to term—even if due to rape or incest—isn’t.
* Dangerous reactionaries fight pro-health measures like masks and free, miracle drugs to save lives. Yet we accept laws prohibiting drunk driving and requiring seat belts be worn without complaints about Big Brother infringements on our liberty…and, unlike COVID, neither is contagious.
* ”Excess deaths” were worst in states with low vaccination rates and Republican governors.
* When it comes to death rates, there's still a clear and dramatic correlation between how much of the population has been 2-dose vaccinated and its COVID death rate since last May. The least vaccinated decile has a death rate 3.3 times higher than the most vaccinated one.
CRIME & GUNS:
Crime obviously is an issue candidates hear a lot about.
First, approach it with balanced language so prospective voters understand that we will do everything feasible to drive it down. Indeed, the good news here is that we have reduced crime dramatically for the past eighteen years.
However, we’re now experiencing a sharp uptick in many categories of crime. One awful response is “defunding police,” a provocative phrase that most people reject since police are rightly regarded as the front line of defense when it comes to violent crime. And it obscures essential and achievable reforms that center around three urgent areas: excessive aggressiveness, implicit bias, and over-policing. If we then layer accountability on top of police conduct, we would go a long way to having the kind of police forces in America that we need.
Ultimately, all reforms and accountability requires police working hand-in-hand with the community in a partnership, since people there know what they want, often know who's driving crime, and very often understand the best ways to reduce crime. An antagonistic relationship between cops and communications communities is self-defeating.
Historically, control was prescribed with a bludgeon. “We use the same tool against all types of crime” is like using the same kind of drug against all kinds of disease. Of course, in the medical profession you have to have the right medicine for a particular disease. Well, that's true in crime, too. So I’m going to break this down into two broad categories—how we treat non-violent crime and violent crime.
Non-violent crime should not lead to prison. If we start incarcerating young non-violent criminals, we are simply going to give them a college-level education on how to commit and live a life of crime. It's the very reverse of what’s smart.
It’s best treated by the broad matrix we now call prevention, which largely operates at the intersection of mental health and criminal conduct. It’s now increasingly accepted that early mental health treatment can deter non-violent criminals from getting into a life of crime…which over time lowers crime rates. The flip side, however, is that if you don't, young people may graduate towards more violent crime.
As for violent crime, classic deterrence should not mean aggressive policing or overly intrusive policing. Instead it’s putting police where the crime is —which is called “precision policing”— so the public actually sees uniformed police officers out there, whether it's in transit systems or on the street.
Would-be criminals—like all of us in civilian life—engage in an economic theory called “behavioral risk analysis.” We gauge the risk associated with an intended course of conduct versus the benefits. And if a potential criminal sees cops, there's a decent chance he’s not going to commit the crime.
Should someone be arrested, incarcerated and convicted for a violent crime, what do we do while they're in prison?
Our prisons are too violent in this country. In my view, the greatest exercise of governmental power is when the government takes away the liberty of an individual. If we're going to exercise that power, we better do so in a responsible, humane, and safe way. That means our prisons have to engage in actions that prepare inmates for when they re-enter society…which requires that we invest heavily in re-entry in order to reduce recidivism.
Let me go on now to the next topic—excessive bail. For many years it fell disproportionately and unfairly on the backs of young men of color. This system put young men of color in jail prior to conviction, that is, preventative detention. But it’s now also being done for low-level offenses as well as high-level offenses. The former need not be sent to jail or prison (jail is less than a year, prison is more than a year) since there’s little correlation between that confinement and recidivism. Remember, the core purpose of bail is to make sure that individuals show up to court, not to punish them.
For high-level or violent offenses, the data is a little bit different. It shows that if adequate bail alternatives are not given to the court, there are many violent criminals released who may well end up reoffending. But part of that reality is that the vast number of crimes are committed by a very small number of offenders. It's the 80-20 rule of economics applied to crime—the vast number of violent crimes are committed by a small number of people. So we should focus on those individuals ideally before they commit additional violent crimes.
Finally, the thing that really drives both crime and the fear of crime is America's addiction to guns. If you look at the rates of interpersonal violence in other Western countries, you will see that it’s essentially the same, except when it comes to gun violence—and America is far and away the most gun violent country, certainly in the Western world, and perhaps in the entire world, excluding active war zones. So both to drive down the fear of crime and the reality of crime, it is very important that localities be hyper-focused on guns. That means the police working hand in hand with the district attorneys and the courts. In New York City, we did carve out resources to accelerate gun cases through the judicial system. No curtailment of rights, no curtailment of discovery, every single constitutional right honored, but done so swiftly.
What just happened in the Supreme Court is a disaster. They ruled that the Second Amendment extends to the right to carry concealed guns. The 2008 case called Heller concluded for the first time that people had a constitutional right to have a gun in the home for self-defense. The NRA will now use that case to challenge every single gun law we've passed in the last twenty years, although the Heller decision itself, written by Justice Scalia, carved out exceptions from a discretionary licensing process so we can still push assault weapon bans and large magazine bans.
There is also a relatively new concept of “Red Flag” laws, which allow police to go into somebody's home in response to a call from the community, and—if there's a sufficient showing of imminent harm—take guns out of the home. We have one in New York and they're very effective. They can help stop mass shootings by keeping guns out of homes with disturbed youths, like the one who killed twenty-six in Newtown, Connecticut.
Nothing we have ever proposed interferes with a law-abiding citizen's ability to get firearms. The NRA talking-point that “the gun safety movement is out to ban all guns, and it's just a slippery slope,” is just nonsense. The Second Amendment as interpreted by the Supreme Court establishes a constitutional right to have a gun at your home. Federal and state gun safety laws are not about law-abiding citizens but rather about stopping criminals from getting guns that lead to some $280 billion in costs annually—and over 40,000 gun related deaths (homicides and suicides).
Last, I helped write and enact the 1994 congressional ban on assault weapons through the Congress. We were forced to take a ten-year sunset, and here's the data: in the ten years before the ban on assault weapons and large magazines went into effect, there were 25 percent more mass shootings than during the ten years the ban was in effect. In the ten to twenty years since the ban lapsed—and the Republican Congress chose to put those guns back on the street—mass shootings have gone up 400 percent.
CORPORATE CRIME: What About Crime in the Suites?
For the past thirty-six years I've been editing The Corporate Crime Reporter newsletter from our office in the National Press Building. But during COVID, I've been working mostly from home here in West Virginia, a 70/30 Trump state.
People around here have a keen understanding of street crime, from family members and the media. But pretty much they don't have an understanding of law and order for corporations, even though they are often victims of corporate crime and violence. So let's go back to Election Day—November 3, 2020. Our family votes at a local state park two miles away. I went and voted there, and then went fishing at the lake right next to the polling booth. And next to me also was a man fishing whom I'd never met, who had just voted for Trump. He spent about a half hour telling me about his troubles during COVID, how his dad died from working at a brake lining facility in nearby Maryland, how his nephew was hooked on opioids, how his cousin died from a cancer he believes he got from being sprayed with chemicals in Vietnam, and how he was trying to get his aunt out of a local nursing home due to, in his view, elder abuse in the nursing home.
I told him about my work on corporate crime, and that pretty much everything he just described were corporate crimes that I’ve written about over the years, beginning with my 1988 book Corporate Crime and Violence. We both sat quietly and resumed fishing. I guess we both understood that no matter who we just voted for, no one was going to take the corporate crime epidemic seriously. No matter the administration, corporate crime continues undeterred.
For example, some nursing home deaths are criminally prosecuted as reckless homicides, but very few. There never was a criminal prosecution of the chemical companies for dropping the toxic herbicide Agent Orange on Vietnam and exposing more than 4 million Vietnamese and tens of thousands of American soldiers, causing cancers, diabetes, and birth defects. Nor has an asbestos company ever been criminally prosecuted for the tens of thousands of workers exposed and sickened with the deadly asbestosis.
The opioid epidemic could have been slowed if the Justice Department had listened to its own prosecutors in 2006 and brought criminal charges against Purdue Pharma and top company executives—those federal prosecutors, working in the heart of Appalachia in West Virginia, saw the devastation that opioid addiction was having on their own community sixteen years ago, and wrote out a 100-page memo to their supervisors at the Justice Department calling for strong criminal response to the damage.
Had they been listened to, tens of thousands of American lives could have been saved. But high-powered corporate criminal defense attorneys went over their heads and limited the range and scope of the prosecution. And if you want a nice summary of this, the New York Times put up a mini-documentary entitled “A Secret Memo that Could Have Slowed the Epidemic.”
My friends and neighbors here in West Virginia are for the most part decent, hardworking, religious people who strongly favor law and order, family, and country. A “law and order'' message, “Fund the police. Crack down on crime,” resonates with them…whether the message is directed at street criminals or corporate criminals. But the criminal justice discussion in this country has been focused almost exclusively on street crime.
Here's two examples taken from podcasts by the New York Times. Jane Kosten has one called The Argument, and she puts on these public intellectuals to discuss issues of the day. Last month she put on one titled, “Is Crime that Bad? Or Are the Vibes Just Off?” and she opened with “Republicans say Democrats are soft on crime. Democrats say Republicans are over-policing with no accountability. And what do voters think? What's clear is that crime—or the perception of crime—is driving our political conversations.” Yet the conversation is focused almost exclusively on street crime.
There was a throwaway line by one of the panelists about “white collar crime,” which usually refers to individuals committing crimes like insider trading, often against the market or against the corporate state. But “corporate crime” should include illegality by powerful institutions themselves, committing crimes against human beings. Another example is from Ezra Klein at the New York Times, who put up a podcast recently called “Violent Crime is Spiking. Do Liberals Have an Answer?” Again, no discussion of corporate crime, even though corporate crime and violence inflicts far more damage on society than all street crime combined.
So, for example, the FBI tells us that 24,000 Americans are murdered every year. Compare that to 54,000 Americans who die every year from on-the-job occupational diseases like black lung and asbestosis, and the other tens of thousands who fall victim every year to pollution, contaminated foods, hazardous consumer products, and hospital malpractice. The FBI puts out its yearly "Crime in the United States” report—no talk about corporate crime. We've been calling for years for a “Corporate Crime in the United States” report, to no avail.
The problem is that the mainstream media and political elite focus on street crime and violence. There's an exception from this year's election cycle in Missouri that may show a path forward—a Democratic Senate candidate named Lucas Kunce. He's a Democrat and 13-year veteran of Iraq and Afghanistan who’s running for the U.S. Senate. In May he wrote an opinion piece in the Joplin Globe entitled “They Are Guilty of Corporate Manslaughter. Prosecute Them.” He addressed the corporate crimes committed by the baby formula companies. In a nutshell, a whistleblower from Abbott's Michigan plant sent the FDA a 34-page document outlining contamination and sanitary issues at the plant. The FDA sat on it for three months. By then it was too late—two babies who drank the contaminated formula had already died, and more were hospitalized.
Kunce called for breaking up the baby formula cartel, but added "we prosecute everyone at Abbott who helped hide the unsanitary plant conditions from the FDA. They killed two babies."
STREET CRIME & SUITE CRIME NOTES
* Do NOT “Defund the Police.” Instead, FUND the police and reform bad practices (choke holds, don’t shoot misdemeanants running away). According to a 2021 analysis of police budgets in the nation’s fifty largest cities by Bloomberg CityLab, law enforcement spending as a share of general expenditures rose slightly, from 13.6 percent in 2020 to 13.7 percent in 2021, even as many cities cut spending in other areas as a result of the COVID pandemic.
* Despite stereotypes, eight of the ten states with the highest murder rates voted for Trump in 2020. The Third Way compared murder rates in Trump and Biden states and found that they were 40 percent higher in red than blue states. Red states on average had lower education levels, higher rates of poverty, worse health care, and less economic opportunity.
* Gun-related deaths cost the U.S. $280 billion a year. The greatest cause of death of children under sixteen is not cars or drugs but guns.
–Former Chief Justice Warren Burger: “There is absolutely no reason why a civilian on the street should be carrying a loaded weapon.”
–Governor Abbott said, after 21 children were killed at the Uvalde massacre: “It could have been worse.”
–If a “good guy with a gun” is the answer to “a bad guy with a gun,” how come 400 armed cops couldn’t stop one person killing so many children in Uvalde, Texas?
–If laws can’t stop criminals with guns, why did the two 18-year-old murderers—in Buffalo and Uvalde—wait until exactly their eighteenth birthdays to buy their AR-15s?
* Glenn Beck claims America has more gun violence today because of “Wokeness,” “CRT,” and bathroom access for transgender individuals. More American schoolchildren have been killed by guns than by learning about gay people.
* Politico-Morning Consult poll: Requiring background checks on all gun sales: 88 percent strongly or somewhat support. Creating a national database with info about each gun sale: 75 percent support. Banning assault-style weapons: 67 percent support
* The NRA says that more guns will make us safer. We now have more than one gun per American—do we feel safer? Criminologist Emma Fridel found that mass shootings are 53 percent higher in states with more gun ownership.
* CDC estimated 45,000 gun-related deaths in 2020, a surge of 35 percent from prior year, a historical increase.
* The issue with guns is not the much-disputed Second Amendment but rather the public health of millions of Americans per decade.
4. NATIONAL SECURITY: Arms & Immigration
As most Americans know, we're at a critical moment for the future of our country and the world. And we need to devote time and resources to the most urgent challenges—that especially includes the huge and ever-growing Pentagon spending that takes away from other needs. Unfortunately, at the moment, we're going in the wrong direction.
The House this year voted to add $37 million to the Pentagon's request—more than the Pentagon even asked for—and that'll push the budget for the Pentagon and nuclear warheads at the Department of Energy together to $850 billion. Now that's far more than we spent at the height of the Korean or Vietnam wars, more than a $100 billion more than at the height of the Cold War. This kind of spending can't continue.
It's hard to adequately describe what enormous sum that is compared to competing problems—more than a million Americans have died from COVID, we've been inundated with fires, floods, droughts related to climate change, and Americans are struggling just to put enough food on the table to live an active, healthy life. So put simply, we need to set our priorities straight if we want to make America safer, fair, more prosperous.
Here are some other few comparisons to show us just how huge the Pentagon budget is. In a time when we need creative diplomacy more than ever, the Pentagon gets fourteen times more money than the State Department and the Agency for International Development combined, and our $850 billion annual military budget is seven times the annual cost of the [renamed] “Inflation Reduction Act,” which Republicans previously blocked because they said it was too expensive.
Consider the proposed annual budget for just one item: we have thirty-five combat aircraft larger than the annual budget for the Centers for Disease Control. The cost of one new aircraft carrier—$15 billion—is more than we spend on the Environmental Protection Agency. The $20 trillion we spent on the Pentagon since 2001...just a quarter of that would be needed to decarbonize our electrical grid—i.e., no dependence on fossil fuels for electricity anywhere in America.
So unless something changes, we're poised to spend a good $8 - 10 trillion on the Pentagon over the next decade yet we can't afford to do that given all our other problems.
Now, a lot of Americans might say, “Well, we need to spend this to defend the country, and also most importantly to support the troops,” but unfortunately that’s not the case. More than half of the Pentagon budget goes to corporations. Just the top five: Lockheed Martin, Boeing, General Dynamics, Raytheon, Northrop Grumman split over $150 billion a year. That’s almost 20 percent of the Pentagon budget going just to those five companies. And Lockheed Martin itself gets $75 billion a year, which is larger for that one company than the State Department and USAID combined. I can't think of a more dramatic example of misplaced priorities than lining the pockets of that one contractor when our diplomacy is suffering.
Overall the Pentagon employs more than half a million private service contract employees. If you cap that and cut it by 15 percent you'd save $26 billion a year—over a quarter of a trillion over the next decade. And that can easily be done. They cost more than government employees; they often do redundant tasks; and they're much harder to control and supervise. To make matters worse, we can't really calculate how much money the Pentagon is wasting because they've never had or passed an audit— the only Federal agency for which that's the case.
It's not as if this money showered on the contractors is giving us value for the money. These big companies run tens of billions of dollars and cost overruns to deliver weapons that are years behind schedule and often don't perform as advertised. Sometimes they even put our troops at risk because they're so shoddily put together. And then you've got companies that gouge the government for spare parts—charging 10, 100, in one case 38,000 percent more than the thing actually should have cost. People like Senator Warren and others are trying to crack that problem.
Of course we need a strong national defense. But that’s not what our current strategy is providing. For example, the focus on China involves a huge amount of threat of inflation. The United States spends 2.5 times what China spends on its military; we have 13 times as many nuclear weapons; we have a more capable Navy and more capable Air Force. And unlike China, we have strong allies in East Asia: Australia, Japan, Korea, Taiwan, and we're building relations with India. So the idea that the United States has to carry some huge military burden to “win a war with China” (which is not possible in a war between nuclear powers) should not be a goal of our policy. Our goal should be to defend our allies in the region, and for them to participate heavily in that undertaking.
On the other side, we need to cooperate with China to deal with climate change, pandemics, and the global economy. These problems cannot be solved without some sort of U.S.-China cooperation.
Also, we shouldn't overplay the capabilities of drone systems and certainly don't need thousands and thousands of tanks… don't need thirteen aircraft carriers …and don't need intercontinental ballistic missiles which are redundant and put us at risk of an accidental nuclear war. In fact, the Pentagon, the Air Force, the Navy are trying to retire some old systems that aren't relevant to dealing with China, or much of anything else. And members of Congress from the districts where those things are built are pushing back, saying, “No, we need this ship that's got a cracked hull, that can't defend itself in combat. We need an airplane that's less capable than the prior generation of planes and costs dramatically more.”
Something like the military reform movement that Senator Gary Hart pursued would have a lot of promise because it asks the right question: what's the most effective way to defend the country? Even people who view themselves as somewhat hawkish could be open to that kind of approach as long as we don't put all our faith in technology.
PENTAGON & EMPIRE:
Col. Lawrence Wilkerson
Bill’s already told you about the disaster that is the defense budget. The related disaster I want to tell you about is the disaster of empire.
That is what America is today. In fact, I would assert that we are not the “new Rome.” We are the new empire in the world that history has never seen. We are not merely the “new Rome” but outdo Rome in historical-relative terms by a large magnitude. We have 750 and counting outposts in the world. The rest of the world—to give you some comparison, including Russia and China—has less than ninety.
In addition, we maintain some 150 “installations” and “bases.” Take Norway, for example, where the people are basically opposed to having U.S. military bases in their country. But given situations like the present crisis in Ukraine, the Pentagon simply builds the bases on existing Norwegian bases…and then doesn't categorize them as military installations or bases. They will be “military facilities” that the U. S. maintains on Norwegian bases.
As a military professional for thirty-one years—and having served at the top of the military structure, if you will, with Chairman Powell for four years—I can tell you we could cut that entire overseas base budget by 75 percent tomorrow and not reduce our ability to project power or to maintain the security of the United States in any serious way.
Another emerging problem is something that the Pentagon is only now recognizing and something I’ve been working on, so far to no avail—that is the dissolution of the all-volunteer force, by which I mean the way we populate our military is falling apart. Recently, the Pentagon has acknowledged that recruiting shortfalls are so dramatic that they currently lack plans for how to find service people in the near future. For now, it's paying bonuses up to $50,000 in order to sign up an instrument or a mortarman; the Air Force is paying $25-$30,000 in order to get people. As for the Navy, the idea that we could have a 355 ship fleet is ludicrous. We could build the ships, but we wouldn't have the men and women to people them, to command them, to sail them.
Here’s some simple arithmetic: every year the Pentagon must recruit approximately 150,000 new service members in order to stay viable in its armed forces. Every year, approximately 4 million Americans turn eighteen years of age, 23 percent of whom can meet the minimum standards for military service (taking into account obesity, intellectual incapacity, criminal records, and so forth). That's about 920,000 people.
This deficiency has only gotten worse with these endless, stupid wars we've been prosecuting. One major negative impact is on military families themselves, who previously have been the richest environment from which to recruit. They are now increasingly recommending that their children not serve—do not enlist, do not take that bonus. That's really hurting recruitment. Of those 920,000 then, only 9 percent are motivated to serve, leaving approximately 83,000 both able and willing to serve. That's a shortfall of 67,000 troops a year. This is a catastrophe.
At the same time that the all-volunteer force is becoming unsustainable, no one appears to be confronting this situation and foreign policy has become increasingly militarized. In fact, along with sanctions, military force is about all the United States has offered the world in the past twenty-plus years. But a new emerging threat might ironically energize recruitment to combat what is coming at us like a freight train—the climate crisis. We're going to need recruits for all manner of missions from fighting forest fires that have dramatically increased, to dealing with inundated coastlines, including military installations, and to delivering medical care across our own country and the globe. We're the only country in the world that can project that sort of power to move medical care, whether it's a hospital ship or a disaster relief operation by the Marine Corps.
We're also going to need them for refugee control—some of the simulations we've run have shown 500-600 million-plus refugees in the world by mid-century or earlier; we already have 175 million refugees in the world right now, so a half-billion refugees is not improbable. So we're either going to have to have a Civilian Conservation Corps like the one set up by Roosevelt, or we're going to need to have the military vastly increase but with a totally different mission: not killing people on behalf of the state but ensuring our own survival, perhaps our own existence.
To put the current need for some 12 million recruits over ten years in context: in 1944-45 we had 12 million men under arms from a population of 140 million Americans. We have 330 million Americans now so 12 million might sound plausible. But it’s probably just a starting figure in order to deal with the crisis. I'm a member of the Climate and Security Working Group, which is retired DOD, DHS, and NASA professionals, and we all see this as a very serious issue that we’re going to have to deal with urgently. Do we have the courage, plans, concepts, or even the stamina to figure this out for a military that is falling apart?
First, I'm going to share some framing thoughts about where we are on immigration. Second, I'll share what our polling shows that voters want from Democrats in terms of solutions. And third, I'll focus specifically on the border and the urgent need to protect immigrant youth with DACA—so-called “Dreamers”—so that Democrats can be on the offense on this issue.
To begin with, immigrants and immigration have been essential to who we are as a nation and a source of strength for our future. I was just listening to Colonel Wilkerson and there's a lot of what he is saying which is critical for the solutions on immigration. Immigration is a global phenomenon. And we're experiencing record numbers of people moving across the globe due to climate crisis, a rise of authoritarianism, xenophobia, and war—as we've seen most recently with Ukraine, for example.
At the U.S.-Mexico border, we're experiencing the crisis and chaos that was left behind by Trump's cruel policies, including family separation and weaponizing public health policies, like Title 42, that were created back during the Second World War to essentially block black and brown immigrants from legally seeking safety and freedom through our asylum system. So we need to understand Republicans' anti-immigrant agenda, as actually being an anti-democratic agenda that is dangerous, and that the attempt is really to block future voters from becoming citizens.
We need a paradigm shift that sees immigration not only through a domestic-policy lens, but actually through a national security lens, an economic and foreign policy lens…and also the lens of climate justice, racial justice, and economic justice.
We are expecting record numbers of refugees around the world and we don't have laws to handle that. What’s needed is a regional approach—as well as global and Western-hemispheric approaches. Title 42 focuses on people's freedom to stay in their home country, so they are not forced to migrate. And for those who arrive at our borders and at our airports—or those who are citizens-in-waiting (like immigrant youth who are popularly known as Dreamers), or the essential workers who have kept our country running—we need to ensure that we have a humane immigration system that provides legal pathways for people to become full participants in our democracy.
Republicans are convinced that immigration politics are in their favor, and the media at times echoes that by amplifying false narratives. But Democrats, even in frontline swing districts, should know that they should confront Republicans about their dangerous extremism on immigration and border issues. In poll after poll, a strong majority of Americans agree that the nation's immigration system is in desperate need of reform since we have not had a comprehensive reform since 1986 under Ronald Reagan. What voters want is a fair and equitable immigration policy and candidates who defend those policies.
The National Immigration Law Center and the Milk Immigrant Justice Fund have spent a considerable amount of time and resources to better understand the best way to engage swing voters on these issues. Last year we conducted voting research in Arizona, Wisconsin, North Carolina, and Georgia, and found four core messages. They want:
* messages that are anchored in shared values;
* information about the harms of the complex immigration system;
* candidates to lift up the contributions and amplify the contributions that immigrants; and
* an aspirational vision of what our candidates are in favor of, not simply against.
These top-line frames will appeal both to base voters and persuadable voters across a range of states and districts. They should enable Democrats to feel comfortable speaking from a position of strength.
To focus on the border to begin with, several developments over the past year have thrust border politics to the forefront. And Republicans are certainly trying to weaponize that into a political game. Contrary to conventional rhetoric about “open borders,” remember the Department of Homeland Security was just created in 2013, after 9/11; since then the United States has spent over $381 billion on border and interior enforcement—more than all federal law enforcement agencies combined. So the border actually has been secure.
What's happened, though, is that the Trump administration decimated our refugee-resettlement system and asylum system. In a survey this past May that we conducted of six battleground states—Arizona, Colorado, Georgia, Nevada, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin—we found that 58 percent of likely midterm voters would prefer a candidate who favors allowing people to legally request asylum at the southern border over a candidate that opposes that. Separately, two-thirds of those surveyed believe that people fleeing violence and oppression should have an opportunity to have their asylum cases heard and fairly considered. That is central to our tenet of being a nation of laws and the rule of law.
Just like the Trump Supreme Court began rolling back fundamental rights like abortion, it's poised to strike down DACA in its next term. But again as with Choice, 60-75 percent of voters support Congress protecting Dreamers. taking action on this.
I'll close by saying that voters want solutions. They want to hear that Democrats will ensure that people have the freedom to stay in their home country; that a fair and functioning immigration system processes migrants at the border, that it creates legal pathways for people, and that people can be processed in their home country throughout the Americas. And finally, that it provides Dreamers with permanent protection, so they can continue contributing to their families, communities, and our country.
NATIONAL SECURITY NOTES
* “When Trump exited the Iran deal, Iran's “breakout time” to build a nuke was over a year. Now it's a few weeks. Its enrichment has gone from 3.67 percent to 60 percent and its stockpile is 18 times greater. Within six months, it could produce five bombs. Good going, Trump.
* Sixty-three House Republicans—nearly one-third of the entire GOP caucus—voted in the summer of 2022 against support for NATO “as an alliance founded on democratic principles.” The GOP is “Soft on Putin.”
* Of course, Trump is now saying that Putin would never have invaded if he had been president in 2022. John Bolton, instead, suggests that Putin was waiting for a second Trump term, when the U.S. president—who never liked NATO—would have looked the other way. “If Trump had been re-elected, Putin would be in Kyiv already,” Bolton said.
* Trump described the Ukraine invasion at first as “genius” and “savvy.” Imagine him taking that view as president. The West would never have united as it has against Putin and wouldn’t have provided a significant level of military assistance to Ukraine.
* The danger is that escalating western support for Ukraine—fueled by Putin’s barbarism, Ukrainian success, and western optimism—can create the conditions for Russian miscalculation born of desperation. Yet Russia's aggression cannot be allowed to succeed without empowering other totalitarian countries with territorial ambition. In this extremely fraught and dangerous situation, America needs—and has—steady leadership in Joe Biden.
* Putin’s greatest fear is not NATO but Democracy.
Children of course are our legacy. They're what we leave behind and what should be a leading frame in this year’s campaigns.
They lack political power. They don't vote. They don't contribute to campaigns. Lobbyists for children are 1 percent of the lobbyists for other interests. Even AARP spends ten times more than all children's advocacy lobbyists.
We prize our forebears who risked everything for us in the eighteenth century. How are people 200 years from now going to view us? That's what all candidates should be talking about. “We've got the future of our children and country at stake here.”
First of all, we want to have children be properly intended by their parents. If children get that, a lot of other problems will go away.
Second, you've got to reduce child poverty—the rate in the United States is now 18 percent. That’s one of the highest of all developed countries. If we have a child tax credit, we could cut that by 30 percent. We had a child tax credit in force for a while, but it was sunsetted by congressional Republicans.—it should be restored.
Third, we should make sure we have coverage for childcare, as well as tax benefits for childcare expenses. We’ve got to have parenting education in schools—I took trigonometry in high school and I've never used it, but almost every student is going to have some parental role, or uncle, or aunt, and we ought to provide that education. (We got a bill passed in California to do that and the Governor vetoed it).
Fourth, we've got serious problems with foster kids and with child abuse in this country. We've got a system of foster care—and representation of these children—which is inadequate and defective. There are asset caps for foster children’s benefits, so these children cannot receive any benefits if they have assets of $2,000 or more, which is ridiculous. This “lookback policy” means that any child coming from a family earning more than the poverty line cannot get federal assistance for their foster care costs. Keep in mind that it's even worse than that because the poverty line of 1996 hasn't compensated for inflation—so now over half the kids were taken into custody, and who are removed from their home for their own protection, cannot receive federal funding.
Children in foster care do not have counsel—the court judge in the Dependency Court is their legal parent, and they decide everything about those children: where they'll live, what school they’ll go to, who can visit them, everything about them—and yet they don't have attorneys in many states,
Of course, we've got programs like social security, SSI for disability, SSDI survivor benefits that are supposed to go to children. But these benefits are often stolen, embezzled by the states and the counties. We’ve issued a report on this issue and are now trying to litigate the issue.
Every child who is in foster care should have a trust created to help them when they hit eighteen years of age, because when foster kids hit eighteen they fall off a cliff. These protections need to go to up twenty-one, and then you need to have a trust fund to sustain them up to twenty-five.
And as all young parents know, social media is a serious problem for children. The corporations running these platforms are trying to addict our teens and our children… and they're succeeding. We've got a bill right now in California—A.B. 2408—will allow district attorneys and the attorney general to bring actions to stop purposeful addiction of children. These teens who are being addicted are committing suicide at unprecedented rates.
Mark Green: Bob, for a while under Biden, we had a children's tax credit that alone reduced children's poverty in America by a third to a half. Why don’t Democratic candidates say, “Oh, don't you want to vote for halving child poverty?”
Robert Fellmeth: Absolutely. “Don't you think we ought to have a better child-poverty rate than Australia or Canada?” Finally, children should also have complete medical coverage. We have to campaign on funding IDEA (Individuals with Disabilities Education Act) and CAPTA (Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act) systems. They’ve got to be fully funded— they're not. Last, states ought to be providing community college education at age eighteen so that our youth can obtain jobs that are significant and important. California did that years ago, and it has a major positive impact.
* Frederick Douglas: “It is easier to build strong children than repair broken men.”
* Only 23 percent of American workers have access to paid parental leave.
* America needs a coordinated family policy—childcare, universal pre-K, expanded child tax credit. Only thing holding us back is a reactionary, anti-government party insistent on keeping taxes low to the wealthiest which robs children of what they need.
* 2021 UNICEF Report reported that the U. S. ranked fortieth of rich nations in providing child care to young parents.
6. Q & A with Rep. Jamie Raskin – DONALD vs. DEMOCRACY:
When we're talking about defending democratic institutions and the democratic process, make sure that people understand that the heart of authoritarianism and autocracy is corruption. Which brings me to Donald Trump who got into politics purely as a money-making and business-promotion opportunity. He was probably as shocked as anybody else when he actually won. Then he became the first president in our history to reject the idea of giving up more than 150 businesses around the world and several trademarks.
It is the fault of Democrats that we did not more aggressively pursue the Emoluments Clause violations. That was the source of his determination to stay in office at all costs, which led both to the Ukraine shakedown and then also to his attempts at a political coup and a violent insurrection against the Union. I mean, why was he so eager to stay in office? Was it because he had such important public service he wanted to render to the American people? I don't think so. Nor is it true of other autocrats, kleptocrats, and tyrants like Putin in Russia, Orban in Hungary, and al-Sisi in Egypt.
They’re money-making operations that convert government into an instrument of self-enrichment. So make sure that voters understand that, whatever our flaws as a party, we are the party of democracy and the one that uses the government as an instrument of the common good, and not of private self-enrichment.
Mark Green: If a candidate merely says “our democracy is failing,” I find voters don't connect to that. That's a word that's highfalutin’ and abstract. Talk about how you can connect that issue to the personal needs of voters—e.g., if you don't have democracy then the oligarchs will cut their own taxes even more and big “fossil fool” donors will make sure that the air is more polluted.
Jamie Raskin: I think in precisely the way you just described it. There’s a clear economic cost to society when you allow a billionaire like Trump, his family, and his corporations to dictate economic policy. If Trump justices have their way, they’d overturn the constitutional right to privacy— at least as it relates to abortion— and are aiming to create a corporate state without basic public regulation. The Supreme Court that dismantled Roe v Wade in the Dobbs decision also tried to sabotage the ability of the EPA to regulate greenhouse gas emissions.
Mark Green: A lot of smart people—Jeff Greenfield, David Brooks, and David Axelrod—all initially opined that the January Sixth Committee has already failed, they won’t reach a lot of people, and Trump voters won't change their mind. What do you think of those predictions months later
Jamie Raskin: Yeah, there was this rather obnoxious reception to us, saying that it’s already failed, it’s “too partisan.” But that’s just Beltway harping and sniping. We’re beyond that— we're literally in a struggle for the survival of not just our democracy and our people but also our planet given the rising cost of climate violence. At the same time, we have to fight right-wing authoritarianism… Proud Boys, Oathkeepers, and local imitators. So, now is the time for every self-respecting pundit to get off the couch and to get into the struggle to defend democratic institutions.
I have found it very convenient to keep going back to the phrase “dangerous extremists,” because it unifies what Alito and the gang have done on the Supreme Court with what the cowboys in the Oathkeepers have done, with what Roger Stone and Michael Flynn (we call them the Flynnstones) have done on the ground, and with Donald Trump's whole governing model. “Dangerous extremists” puts us where we need to be, which is in the moral center and the political center
Mark Green: We’re told that Trumpsters never change their minds. That’s certainly true for most of them, but obviously we don’t expect most Trump voters to vote for Democrats. But if only 5 percent of soft Trump voters and independent voters shift from their 2020 vote then a Democrat can win the Presidency by 14 million votes, rather than 7 million. So, after your January Sixth hearings and the Trump Court’s radical rulings, can you yet detect any movement against his party? Or is it too early to tell?
Jamie Raskin: Well, we know that about 66 percent of the independents now reject the Big Lie and hold Trump accountable for what happened on January Sixth, which, of course, he is. I mean, imagine if Donald Trump had said, “You know what, I'm tired of all this. I'm just gonna retire to Mar-a-Lago and play golf,” none of it would have happened. There was nobody else pushing it.
Many of those Trump voters were like Obama voters—we don't live in a society with a well-developed political and constitutional and moral ideology, so people float around and almost everybody is vulnerable to anti-status quo, anti-establishment appeals—so Obama gets in, and he got in on voters’ reform impulse. But if you don't quickly crystallize that impulse into a hardcore policy program, then you're going to be the victim of that same reform impulse. Voters will turn and go, “Let’s get rid of Obama he's been in for too long,” and so on.
Those are voters that we have to get to, and we need a strong, fighting Democratic party that will engage with people. The little part I've done to try to help on this has been with my Democracy Summer Project—which is getting college and high school kids to come out and learn about the history of social and political change in the country, to understand the history of the civilizing movements and where they fit in, and then give them some concrete political skills in terms of voter registration and conducting canvases and online organizing. That's what we need to do—the opposite of a political party based on lies, propaganda, and disinformation is a political party based on education, and that's a much harder thing to accomplish. When people say, “You guys suck at messaging,” I’d say “Okay, we can do better at messaging. We need more Mark Greens to help and more help like the speakers today.” But it's a much tougher project to get people on the side of enlightenment and progress than on the side of hatred and scapegoating. You need to educate them.
Mark Green: Finally, you have a choice of answering either of two questions. First: What question would you like to ask you? And second: Why do Democrats have such good policies—provably—but are so awful at punching back hard at Republican slogans? I won't name senators, but I can't remember one thing many have said in ten or twenty years. What are they doing?. Why do so many Democrats appear to be weak tea, unlike say you or Elizabeth Warren? Where are the rest of them
Jamie Raskin: I'll turn it around, and I'll collapse those two questions. You're absolutely right that most of us are not taking political rhetoric seriously, which is a huge mistake. So when people say to you: “How come the Democrats can't get their messaging together? What's the message?” What is your answer to that? I would agree that many of them are just trying to survive, instead of trying to build a winning program that will sweep the country.
DONALD vs. DEMOCRACY NOTES
45 Is On The Ballot—All GOP Candidates Should Be Tainted By Their Corrupt Ex-President
* Trump’s lava of lies keep coming—one supporter said, “I can't say that a word he says is true but I trust him”—either because Trumpers a) like his middle-finger personality (30,000 reportedly turned out for Bonnie and Clyde’s funeral) or b) are credulous dupes who root for him like Philly fans for their home team. Also, “Human are hard-wired to believe what they are told by other humans, who they perceive to be like themselves.” (Katherine Dykstra in NYYBR.) Hence the success of Ponzi schemes and street corner three-card-monte.
* For one 24 hour period—January 6th to 7th, 2021—Senator McConnell thought that Trump would and should be held accountable for the crimes and violence on that day. “We have a criminal justice system in this country. President Trump is still liable for everything he did while in office.” Then McConnell fell silent for eighteen months about Trump’s culpability.
* Federal District Court Judge David Carter in a civil suit involving Trump: “Dr. Eastman and President Trump launched a campaign to overturn a democratic election. An action unprecedented in American history….it was a coup in search of a legal theory.”
* Dick Cheney on Donald Trump: “In our nation’s 246-year history there has never been an individual who is a greater threat to our Republic than Donald Trump. He is a coward. A real man wouldn't lie to his supporters. He lost his election. And he lost big. I know it, he knows it, and deep down, I think most Republicans know it."
* Trump’s natural autocratic impulses only hardened when he was not held accountable for his actions a) in the first impeachment trial concerning his “perfect” phone call trying to extort Zelensky into investigating the Bidens (thanks to a smoke machine named Bill Barr) and b) in his second impeachment trial for his role in inspiring the attack by his supporters on the Capitol seeking to stop Vice President Pence’s certification of the 2020 electoral count.
* Later came the Department of Justice’s raid of his country club estate for possession of classified materials endangering National Security. The question now hovers around the 2022 midterm elections
—Is only Donald Trump above-the-law? “What will it take to charge this dude?” asked writer Elie Mystal. After all, France and Israel, among other western democracies, have indicted past national leaders. Do we believe in the Rule of Law or the Law of Rule?
* Books by former allies nearly uniformly belittle Trump (okay, not counting Jared, at least so far). Appointees such as Esper, Barr, Omarosa, Bolton, Michael Cohen, Fiona Hill, Col.Vindman. Deborah Birx condemned him in their memoirs -- also, Mattis, Mulvaney, Tillerson, Mulvaney & Barr are now openly hostile. Most recently, his own ex-counsel, Ty Cobb, called him a “deeply wounded narcissist [who] acted in a criminal manner” and who should be “barred from future office.” His own lawyer.
Were there any similar tell-alls by those around Obama or Clinton? No. Why not?
Trump’s Lifetime Of Lawlessness & Scandal:
–HUD won cases against him in 1973 for racist policies excluding Black tenants in his company’s rental housing. In civil cases brought by the NY AG years later, he was personally fined $25 million for fraud against students in Trump``University” and another $25 million for violating the NY Philanthropies Law with his Trump Foundation – leading the AG to conclude that the latter was “little more than a checkbook to serve Mr. Trump’s political and business interests [in a] shocking pattern of illegality.” The incorrigible Trump is again currently being investigated for fraud by the AG and Manhattan DA for raising $250 million from supporters based on false statements.
– Trump team lost sixty of sixty-one cases arguing the 2020 election was stolen from him. Wrote one judge, “A president is not a king” (Appeals Court Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson!). shocking pattern of illegality.” As his former NSA John Bolton has said, “for Donald Trump, obstruction of justice was a way of life.”
– Spurred a violent attempt to overthrow the U. S. government.
– His misinformation and incompetence about COVID cost several hundred thousands of lives, according to Dr. Deborah Birx.
– CREW (Committee for Responsibility in Washington) has identified forty-eight likely crimes he committed as president (“he’s a walking crime scene”).
–-Was “Individual--1” in payoffs porn starStormy Daniels (he wrote $130,000 in checks for her while in his White House office) that sent his lawyer Michael Cohen to jail.
– He used his pardon power repeatedly not for mercy but for donors and cronies.
– Told generals he wanted them to be as loyal to him as Hitler’s generals were.
– The first and so far only time that Trump was deposed under oath as president, he pleaded the Fifth 440 times; Hillary testified before a House Committee under oath in public for eleven hours on Benghazi…and answered every question.
– Told 34,000 plus lies or falsehoods—or twenty-two a day by his last year in office, according to the Washington Post fact-checker. That’s a lot, right? Is there another human being in the world who’s lied an average of twenty-two times a day for a year?
– When asked about possible Hatch Act violations by his White House staff, he said, “And who decides on Hatch Act penalties—me. Do what you want.”
– When informed that his suggestion to border patrol agents was illegal, Trump told them not to worry because he’d “pardon them.”
– There is the emolumental scandal of America’s first for-profit presidency. CREW has listed over 3000 conflicts of interests in his term in office, including his middle finger to the Hatch Act prohibition on using government resources for political purposes, as when he commandeered the White House lawn for his RNC Convention speech.
– His stolen confidential files from the Whie House are currently being criminally investigated, including ones with nuclear secrets (according to the Washington Post).
– Ex-US Attorney Geoffrey Berman reports in his new book, Hold the Line, that AG Barr “”put in people to do his bidding by targeting Trump’s enemies [Clinton, Kerry, Craig] and helping Trump’s pals [Flynn, Stone, Manafort]. It was a disgrace.”...in what will likely go down as the greatest scandal in the Department’s history, a multiple of what Mitchell and Kleindienst did.
–CREW has listed 48 crimes that Trump likely engaged in during his sole term as president.
– After some 60 women accused him of abusive conduct – one alleging rape – he simply called them “all horrible, horrible liars.”
George Conway: “Sooner or later if you’re behaving illegally, it catches up to you.”
— Trump incited and later defended a violent mob that attacked the Capitol which led to five deaths and 139 injuries to Capitol Police.
— When Bill O’Reilly asked whether Putin was “a killer,” Trump replied, “We got a lot of killers—what, you think our country’s so innocent?”
-– During the George Floyd protests in the summer of 2021, he said “when the looting starts, the shooting starts.” After suggesting the imposition of martial law, he seriously asked Defense Secretary Esper, “well, can you at least shoot them in the legs?”
– Whenever someone criticizes or questions Trump publicly—like Cassidy Hutchinson before the January Six Committee or the judge who issued the warrant for the FBI search at Mar-a-Lago—they're inundated with threats of violence by the MAGA Mob.
– Greg Sargent: “In late August, 2022, Trump shared an article comparing the FBI to the ‘gestapo’ while citing the shootout at Ruby Ridge. That was a key radicalizing event for Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh. Worse, Trump propagandists are now using similar martyrdom tropes.”
– Trump’s silence over nearly six years on hate speech is taken as a permission slip for violence, anti-semitism, and racism.
– Atlantic Magazine: “The new era of political violence is here. The danger is not a Civil War but individual Americans of deep resentments and delusion” who believe in what they call “our Second Amendment rights.”
* President Biden, on the other hand, repeatedly condemns violence and hate speech. His “United We Stand” summit against political violence planned for this fall is an excellent way to try to un-normalize threats, which FBI officials worry is reaching a level of chatter preceding the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing.
* Six years ago, Lindsey Graham talked about then-Vice President Biden: "If you can’t admire Joe Biden as a person, you’ve got a problem. You need to do some self-evaluation, because what’s not to like?... He's as good a man as God ever created.”
RHETORIC MATTERS: "DANGEROUS EXTREMISTS WANT TO DESTROY OUR DEMOCRACY & FREEDOMS."
If you believe that rhetoric and slogans are superficial, you've forgotten "The Rail Splitter," Lenin's "Land, Bread, Peace," "Blood and Soil" in 1920s Germany, "I Like Ike," Reagan's "Morning in America," and of course MAKE AMERICA GREAT AGAIN – all provided strategic frames for their target audiences.
In America now, our politics are shaped by Democratic policies for average families versus GOP slogans-without-substance. Leading Republicans essentially rotate loaded culture-war words – Woke, Cancel, Fake News, Socialist, Trans, Open Borders, Critical Race Theory – in order to slyly scratch the itch of anxious white voters and demonize Democrats.
This rhetoric of smear-and-fear has steered the national political conversation for years because of an old-school Bothsidesism by most of the Mainstream Media, the smash mouths at FOX and Talk Radio, and many above-the-fray Democrats unwilling to return fire.
For example, if someone asks what Democrats have said in reply to the catch-phrases above, anything come to mind? Not much really, at least in the years before Biden's "Democracy" Speech in Philadelphia last month did start a welcomed counter-offensive. Previously, "Democrats Deliver...For the People...BBB" were nice homilies drowned out by ferocious attacks in this Age of Rage.
Robert Frost once wrote that a liberal is someone so open-minded that he won't take his own side in a debate. But squishy words won't suffice given how Republican militants are as subtle as Russian foot soldiers.
To win, Democrats need sharper language that draws clearer contrasts between the values, policies and integrity of the two major parties. The party of Donald Trump needs to be called out in order to be voted out. Here are nine ways.
*Contrast I: "Mainstream, Not Extreme." Most voters know at some inchoate level that a party now dominated by theocrats, corportists and white nationalists is fundamentally different from one led by Joe Biden and Nancy Pelosi.
But to sway swing voters, this difference requires blunt and repeated language. And not simply by tossing around the word "extremists' ' since the Republican playbook will simply find some solo example as a sufficient rebuttal – what about AOC! how about that guy who considered killing Justice Kavanaugh! Or they will pout that calling them "extremists" is like calling all Republicans "deplorable." That's wrong – it's just saying that far too many are.
Here are the receipts: their titular leader and disciples tried to violently overthrow our constitutional democracy (and endanger the life of their vice-president); promised to pardon those convicted of Insurrection-connected crimes; are openly conspiring to rig the next election (see the "Independent State Legislatures" doctrine); want to ban all abortions and many books but not assault weapons; enact state laws making it harder for minorities to vote; and lnflame MAGA mobs who then threaten to harm or kill local officials.
This already startling list only grows as the news and new books invariably further incriminate – never exonerate – the ex-president and as GOP presidential contenders can't stop their race-to-the-bottom to see who can out-incite the Far Fright.
The numerical reality, according to multiple surveys, is that some half of registered Republicans doubt Obama is an American, associate pedophilia with the Demoratic Party, and believe that white people suffer more discrimination than Black people...while nearly 70 percent are certain that Biden stole the 2020 election (which includes over one-third of all GOP candidates now running state-wide). This Q-Anon-like insanity has afflicted Republicans before – see the John Birch Society in the '50s and '60s. Then they were a small fraction of the GOP and later effectively cashiered out of the party of Eisenhower and Taft.
Today's equivalent, however, is a larger faction of the party both calling the shots and more easily spreading their demagoguery due to social media. The result is that Republicans are this year politically vulnerable in general elections to be called Dangerous Extremists Out to Destroy Our Democracy & Freedom.
*Contrast II: 50% more Economic Growth. World-wide inflation is "too damn high" (due largely to the pandemic, Putin's war and market power). Yet Democrats also deserve polemical blame for allowing Republicans to be seen as better on the economy by 14 points in a recent NYTimes/Siena poll.
Yet if you add up economic growth for every President since 1961, it grew 50 percent faster under Democratic administrations. Trump was the first president since Hoover to end his term in office with fewer jobs than when he was sworn in. He and George W. Bush each saddled Americans with deep recessions that cost trillions of dollars and millions of jobs; according to analyst Simon Rosenberg, ninety-six percent of all the jobs created since 1989 occurred during the 18 years of Democratic presidents (Clinton, Obama, Biden) rather than the 16 years of the Bushes and Trump. Biden's economy has returned to pre-pandemic employment levels.
We're reminded of John Lovitz on SNL in the role of Michael Dukasis listening to George H. W. Bush stumble through a debate and say to himself, "How am I losing to this guy?"
* CONTRAST III: Disorganized Crime. Despite a long run as the party of "law and order," today's GOP is compromised by violent militants and lawless leaders.
When the majority of a party consider those at the Capitol on January 6 "Patriots" rather than Insurrectionists and its leaders warn of "riots in the streets" if a civilian named Donald Trump is charged for serious crimes, they show more respect for the Law of Rule than the Rule of Law.
Indeed, edgy conservatives so often talk up a "coming Civil War" while discussing their "Second Amendment Rights" that they appear indifferent to the impact their incendiary words have on millions of angry and armed radicals, such as the gunman who attacked an FBI office in Cincinnati after Trump called them "thugs." And the inability of Trumpers to ever condemn those who engage in or advocate lawlessness – like Proud Boys who Trump urged to "stand by" – can only interpret such silence as tacit approval for further violence.
Indeed, there's so much actual political crime in TrumpLand that perpetrators benefit from scandal fatigue as frequency ironically normalizes corruption. When some law or norm appears to be broken, Trumpers can usually conjure up some excuse for that ("hoax, witch hunt, 'but Hillary,' Fake News, only joking...whatever").
But since MAGA's whole-is-greater- than-the-sum-of-their-parts, it's more convincing to instead emphasize their long rap sheet – Trump himself is now the subject of at least five grand juries, which is probably a record for an ex-leader in a Western Democracy (and which doesn't even include a civil trial scheduled for early 2023 involving defamation concerning an alleged rape); in Trump's four years, there were over 3400 conflicts-of-interest according to the Center for Responsibility in Ethics in Washington. According to Politifact, there were 142 people indicted over eighteen years in the Nixon, Reagan and Trump administrations; in the twenty years under Carter, Clinton and Obama, there were only 3. 142 vs. 3.
Recall when a few "influence peddlers" and Sherman Adams' vicuna coat made corruption THE big issue in '48 and '56? To quote Dustin Hoffman in Wag the Dog, "that was nothing."
*Contrast IV: Whose side are you on? Since at least the Robber Baron era, Republicans have been periodically successful running on patriotic poetry before election day ("the Exceptional Country") and then delivering legislative language once in office to their wealthy donor class (lower taxes and reduced health/safety protections).
Republican candidates still play the patriotism and plutocracy card to imply that being a Democrat in 2022 is sinful. But it should not be all that hard for Democrats to raise and win the age-old election question – Whose Side Are You On?
Let's look at the history of social progress from FDR to Biden, all of which were opposed by most Republicans: Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, Labor Laws, Affordable Care Act, Americans with Disabilities Act, all Civil Rights laws, environmental and consumer protections and agencies, the new Infrastructure law and Inflation Reduction Act. Imagine an America without those?
To the contrary is the 2022 plan of Sen. Rick Scott, the head of the Republican Senate Campaign Committee, to sunset many of the laws above within five years so that – in a Congress where it's easy to stop bills – there'd be a real risk of repealing, say, Social Security, air and water pollution laws and disability rights. Scott is inviting Democrats to name and then run against his program, "Let's Make America 1922 Again."
*Contrast V: Freedom or Fascism? Anat Shenker-Osario of ASO Communications has attracted positive attention for showing how the GOP embraces the language of freedom while undermining it repeatedly by trying to ban abortions, books and Marriage Equality, doubting science and weakening voting rights – as the Supreme Court plummets in popularity by nearly always siding with corporations over consumers and workers and overturning precedents on individual freedoms. Democrats like Speaker Pelosi, Governor Gavin Newsom and Pat Ryan, the newly elected representative from upstate New York, have all embraced this approach as a winning formula.
It used to be regarded as gauche to call GOP "fascists" (or "semi-fascists" in Biden's telling). But if election-denying, repeated obstructions of justice, voter suppression and incitement to sedition are not an American version of fascism – by a party forever calling Democrats "communists" and "socialists" – what would be?
* Big Lies: Whenever a Democrat says "Trump lies," skeptical voters respond, "well, they all lie." Which is true for almost everyone at some point in their lives and also for most presidents. What's a unicorn, however, is a president who nearly always lies, as Steve Bannon has privately marveled.
So quantity counts. There really is a difference between an elephant and a flea on an elephant, although technically they are both in the animal kingdom. Never before in our history has a president made 34,000 plus lies/falsehoods in one term (or 22 times A DAY in 2020), as the Washington Post has documented...or claimed they won an election that they lost by seven million votes and seventy-four electors. Or pretend that "Voter Fraud" cost Trump key states when eighty judges (some appointed by him) in sixty separate cases – and his own Attorney General – concluded otherwise.
This is a habit that most "MAGA Republicans" will not break since they cannot explain their policies without relying on "alternate facts." Rudy Giuilani, for example, attacked Democrat "fraud" in the 2020 election twenty-seven times in his infamous Four Seasons Total Landscaping press conference]...but when he later appeared under oath in a related case, he said that "I'm not alleging fraud here." And whatever became of all those Antifa radicals who were supposedly false flags planted throughout the thousands of ⅙ insurrectionists?
Scholar Sissela Bok. in her classic Lying: Moral Choice in Public and Private Life, explained, "Imagine a society where word and gesture could never be counted on. Answers given, information exchanged – all would be worthless." A Democracy presuming a certain minimum of mutual trust cannot survive a Pinocchio Party.
* Adamant Assertions. Closely related to "Big Lies" are assertions without evidence since there are none. This probably started in the fevered Adams-Jefferson contest but the modern iteration was Speaker Newt Gingrich who urged his House Caucus to attack all Democrats with words like "weak, pathetic, treasonous, stupid, communist, leftist, abomination, treachery"...again and again and again.
Fact-based arguments require effort. But indignantly and declaratively saying something stupid – like Trump calling FBI agents "vicious monsters"
or Rick Scott claiming that "liberals are the book-burners" – isn't very hard to shout at a rally full of credulous followers.
* Rhetorical Questions: Tucker Carlson asks, "Why should I hate Putin?" and "why do we allow foreign born billionaires to control America?" – as he flashes a picture on screen of George Soros.
This device nearly always works on low-education/five second voters who lazily embrace the premise ("yeah, why?") when the best answer in any debate is either to a) quickly explain how nearly all rhetorical questions
are built on a hidden falsehood or b) decode the trick with a blunt truth – e.g., Putin? – "because he's a fascist murderer who invaded a sovereign nation"; Soros? – "how come you only mention a Jewish billionaire but not Murdoch?"
Since both retorts in this example require Buttigieg-level quickness, candidates should also be prepared to flick the diversionary question away with a brief reply on the merits – anything longer than a sentence or two will seem defensive – and then hit him/her with a real question: "Do you agree with Trump and a majority of your party who think that those who attacked the Capitol on January 6 were 'patriots,' not 'insurrectionists'? "Do you think women and doctors should be prosecuted for murder after an abortion, as many states do?"
* Trump is a poisoned chalice: At every opportunity, Democratic candidates ought to hang Trump around the neck of all GOP opponents. They'll try to squirm away since "he's not on the ballot," except he is the top dog insisting on fealty in a party they chose to run in. Didn't Democrats associate the disgraced Nixon with all Republicans on the 1974 ballot, winning forty-nine House seats?
Already some GOP state-wide nominees are starting to disappear Trump on their websites. It would be political malpractice if Democrats don't make them pay for their vocal or silent embrace of this unstable solipsist. One way is to ask them – "might you endorse Trump if he runs in 2024?" Any response other than the one word "no" means "yes."
"The Party of Lincoln," said Rep. Jamie Raskin, "has become the Cult of Trump." It turns out that being a nasty serial crook is not a good look for a political figure like Trump who fell to 34 percent favorable in last week's NBC poll, ten percentage points lower than Biden who is perennially called "unpopular."
In the past six months, the Conventional Wisdom has dramatically lurched from the assumption of a Red Wave to the possibility of Blue gains. Yes it'd be unusual for an incumbent party to net seats despite high inflation in the first off-year election but it appears that a lying, bullying, sleazy party leader may prove to be even more unusual.
HOW TO TALK LIKE A POPULIST:
My overall suggestion for Democrats, rhetorically speaking, is that you not try to memorize the phrases and the language and the stories you're hearing today. Instead, take the essence of them, then make the words your own. Oscar Wilde said, “Be yourself—everyone else is already taken.”
It's you that the voters want to hear from, and it's only you that will create the legitimacy behind the message you're trying to deliver to folks. With that core premise, here are a couple of pointers to help you deliver a strong democratic message.
First of all, humor is the politician's very best friend—especially self-deprecating humor—it's the key to unlocking the audience’s mind. Use whatever humor you have—it can be huge humor, it can be very subtle humor, it doesn't matter. Whatever kind of humor, you’ve got to turn that little sucker loose every time that you speak. And I'm not talking about telling jokes, but adding memorable punctuation points to the message that you're delivering.
For example, if you're talking about inequality, you can say a briefcase full of statistics— and too often Democrats do—and/or use all sorts of experts But that can be overdone. You could use some of that—Bernie Sanders, for example, did it well for the most part. Sanders pointed out that there are three American billionaires who have more wealth than half of all Americans combined—that's a powerful point. Then you can add that Republicans promised that Trump’s trillion dollar tax cut would benefit everybody—in effect, “Everybody was gonna get a seven-course meal.” Well yours and mine turned out to be a possum and a six-pack. That says it about as well as it's gonna be said, and more memorable than any number of statistics we could cite.
Humor lets us say strong things that sting better than vitriol can. My friend Molly Ivins once described a member of Congress from Fort Worth, who was particularly stupid, and she could have gone on about that. But instead, she said, “If he gets one digit dumber we're gonna have to start watering him twice a day.” Nice. Mark Twain once referred to a fella who he had no appreciation for at all who had died. Said Twain, “I was not able to go to the funeral, but I did approve of it.” That nailed the guy about as well as it possibly could.
Now, my second point is to be Democrats. Not pusillanimous Democrats. Don't hold back—if you believe in the Democratic message then, by God, speak it! That's what people wanna hear. They're not gonna agree with every one of your points, but they’ll at least figure, “Well, the guy or woman has got some integrity to be able to say what it is that they are thinking.”
People are ready for genuine Democrats… and don't assume that rural and Red State voters are all just a bunch of rubes and right-wing nut balls. In my first campaign for office here in the State of Texas, I was campaigning over in Tyler, an old bastion of the Southern Confederacy period in our state. I went to a very ornate courthouse to visit a judge who I was told was “very very conservative, so don't dump your whole load on him.” Well, I go in, and sure enough, I try to pull back a little bit of my message. But I say for example “George, I'm running on an issue about gas utilities, and how they're very high and they're really squeezing consumers and squeezing businesses, etc.” And then, in a compromise conclusion, I said, “Judge I really just think that they're not quite being fair with us.”
The judge then suddenly lunges forward at me right in my face. and he said, ‘Hightower, in your private moments wouldn't you say they're fucking us.’ ‘Well, yes, sir, I would.’” And I did, and I will do it some more, because people who might be called conservative are not conservative when we talk about justice, when we talk about equality and when we talk about power in our society.
The polls show this. Celinda Lake and Mike Lux with the Consortium recently did an important survey of rural voters, and George Goehl with People's Action, too, talked to them about what they thought really mattered. And the most common response they all get from voters who have switched from Obama to Trump is: “Where are the Democrats? Why aren't they on our side? Why aren't they standing with us against these monopolies? Why didn't Joe Biden go to one of those meatpacking factories in the crisis that they were facing during the COVID period. Where the hell are the Democrats?”
And you can also see it from the initiatives that are passed in our country. That's as big a symbol of what voters are really thinking as we can have—better than polls, because initiative after initiative on minimum wage, on monopoly power, on Mother Nature itself, overwhelmingly favor the Democratic position. Big time. I've been a supporter of the rights of nature—that nature itself should have a right, the lake, the river, the trees, the forest, ought to have a right to legal action, to live and to sustain.
People may say, “Now that seems like a kind of environmentalist concept, isn't it, Hightower?” Well, the people of Orlando, Florida, put it up to a vote. They had an initiative there to give the rights of nature to water systems in their area, and even the supporters didn't think that it would carry and it was going to just be an educational sort of process But in fact, 87 percent of the people of that county including Disney World voted for this rights of nature initiative, and that includes beaucoup Republicans and independents.
We don't have to fear the people—we have to get with the people. And, in fact, if possible, get out in front of them. But at least follow them when they're taking these powerful positions. People are looking for FDR-style Democrats to stand up to the corporate elites and the CEOs, the powers that be who are knocking down the middle class, who are holding down the poor, who are tearing down our democratic rights in this society.
And when I say “the powers that be,” here's something to consider in your messaging: say who they are. I'm talking about what I call the 6 Bs: the bosses, the bankers, the billionaires, the big shots, bastards, and bullshitters who are running roughshod over us. These are people who have no concept and they're as confused as goats on astro-turf when it comes to actually standing for the principles of America, including that notion that we're all in this together.
When I say all the people, I mean all. We should always have a message of unity. You don't have to draw out every ethnic group in society, but just make the point that we're all in this together. Jesse Jackson was powerful on this. I was with him in Wisconsin in his 1988 presidential race when he talked to 2,000 farmers on a farm in the northern part of Wisconsin. Jesse made the point that the Wisconsin farmers who were fighting monopoly power squeezing them have the same interests as the poor people across the country who are trying to be able to afford the food.
Here’s how he put it: “We might not have all come over on the same boat, but we're in the same boat now.” That was a powerful political reality, and that is a Democratic powerful political reality. They're many more of these phrases and stories. But remember the stories. Don't forget your Bible and don’t forget your Woody Guthrie. Don't forget the cultural icons that spoke with stories that related to people. The stories you tell are the message itself.
ON MESSAGING & FREEDOM:
This will be midterm messaging guidance based upon reams and reams of different studies, with all sorts of different folks that I will highlight in my slide deck.
When debating messaging, and in particular electoral messaging, we get told that there is this perennial debate between persuasion and mobilization—are you focusing on the swing voter or are you focusing on the base? This is a false binary. If your words don't spread, they don't work. And so by definition, if the middle does not hear your message, it does not persuade them—something no one heard couldn't possibly persuade them.
We need to remember that a message is like a baton that needs to be passed from person to person to person, and if it gets dropped anywhere along the way it is by definition not persuasive. That is why effective messaging is built out of a credible theory of change, and a recognition that it's really hard to break a signal through the noise. And to get people to actually listen to what you're saying.
Our messages must first engage our base. You need to make sure that the choir wants to sing from the songbook you're handing them, and if you speak the language of milquetoast, then your base won’t carry your message and then the middle isn't even gonna hear it. Of course there's not enough of our base to win—we need to also persuade the conflicted, To do that, you need to actually stand for something, have something to say, and create a polarity.
That's why effective messages are actually gonna turn some people off, because there are people who fundamentally disagree with us. Happily, they are the minority. If the opposition likes what you're saying, what are you saying? You're either producing blandly ineffective milquetoast, or you are accidentally parroting the tropes of your opposition, which we do all the time.
The first rule of messaging is: say what you're for, say what you're for, say what you're for. I like to joke that if the Left had written the story of David, it would be a biography of Goliath because we like to talk about our opposition all the time, or send a message that’s essentially some permutation of “We’re the losing team. We lose a lot. We've lost recently. You should join us.” Or, “Boy have I got a problem for you.” Well, it turns out that the average voter does not want your problem.
At the same time, we need to remember that politics isn't a game of solitaire. Our voters don't just hear from us, unfortunately, they hear from the unrelenting scapegoating and race-baiting wedge issues of the other side. Race-neutral isn't a thing—if you choose to be silent about race, the debate about race does not go away because the other side is pumping it out twenty-four hours a day.
The same is true of attacks on trans youth, as with other kinds of attacks on gender. They will always sing from the same song book—because they only have one thing to say which is to make voters blame some imagined “other” for their ills—to escape from the fact that they are taking out of our pockets and making life difficult for all of us. This is simple divide-and-conquer, the oldest trick in the book. And so when we try to counter that by saying nothing at all, what our voters still hear is this unrelenting race-baiting with no rejoinder.
Over years of testing, we’ve found that messages that work have a particular architecture. They begin with saying what we're for. Then they get into the problem, not as the opening salvo but rather as the second point. And they talk about those villains who deliberately divide us in order to rule for the wealthiest few. That ties together specific racialized harms with the class-economic argument that many people are feeling. They then emphasize unity and collective action to solve the problem with some sort of call-to-action—a vision that people want to get behind.
I'll finish up by describing what moves people both on vote choice and on various mobilization metrics. The first is that we have to tell a story and cast this election as a clear crossroads between two opposing forces. On the one hand you have either MAGA Republicans or Trump Republicans—there are advantages and disadvantages to using each term—who want to take us backwards by overturning the will of the people, controlling our lives, and ruling for the wealthy few. And on the other side you have the protagonist: the voters. Remember that voting isn't a belief, it's a behavior. It's a thing that we need people to do.
And because of the despair and the despondency of our voters—and the dangers that they will defect, not to the other side but rather to the couch—we need to make them the heroes of our story and remind them how, through collective action of voting in 2018 and 2020, we were able to defeat Trump, and how we will do the same with Trumpism in this election.
What we're seeing right now is that among all the ads we tested, ads that either are about or reference Roe are the most persuasive, hands down. We are in a persuasion window around Roe, so tying it to other issues is activating to our voters and is also persuasive. Freedom is another incredibly effective frame to connect across issues. It's a way both to make our demands and to call out the opposition…because freedom is a core American value. This is true in the American Values Survey, it’s true from Gallup and Pew. Across time, when Americans are asked what value you most closely associate with this country, “freedom” is number one across races, ages, geographies, etc.
We cannot afford to let the right wing pretend that they can claim freedom as their idea. Freedom has been integral to our progressive narrative and to our victories—from the Freedom Rides to the Freedom Summer to FDR’S Four Freedoms to the freedom to marry—that rhetorical shift from the “right to marry” to the “freedom to marry” was a very deliberate choice. In particular, we see in testing that using “freedoms” in the plural is more progressive than the singular “freedom.”
So how do you do this? It opens with the shared value: “Americans value our freedoms,” then names the villains second: “But Trump Republicans want to take away freedom and rule only for the wealthy few, from freedom to decide if and when we grow our families”—that incorporates abortion, Roe, references to freedom to vote, to freedom from gun violence—“Trump Republicans want to overturn the will of the people and block the policies we favor, just as we turned out record numbers.” This is reminding voters of their agency, “Americans must join together across race, place, and party to remove them from power, or to vote for us.” Obviously you make this modular to your own purpose.
Contrasting voters’ concerns, our underlying values, and just our basic needs—kitchen table stuff—demonstrates to our voters what's at stake in a way that's both persuasive and mobilizing. We made an ad that does that: “What side are you on? Americans who believe liberty and justice are for all? Or traitors inciting violence against our country and trying to take away our freedoms? Which side are you on? We work for a living and care for our families, while the Trump Republicans would block everything our families need. This November, it’s time to show which side you’re on. Vote for Democrats.”
And then, finally, when you are talking about abortion, you want to engender empathy and create agency. It is a useful tool to activate loss aversion in people—that's why we talk about how “They are taking away our freedoms. They are taking away this and taking away that.” Loss aversion is very motivating for people, but you need to be careful that you don't go all the way into “it's over. You're going to be bleeding out on a table,” or, “They've done it. They've taken it away,” because remember there are three people running in every race: you, your opposition, and “stay at home,” which has the home team advantage because people are already home.
You need to actually motivate people toward feeling like their participation could create change. And what we find is that airing personal stories and raising up the scepter of this projected future loss is effective. We’ve made one more ad that does that, and we call it “Someone You Love”: “Someone you love may struggle with a pregnancy. A pregnancy they longed for that couldn't survive. That would endanger providing for the children they already have. That comes too soon after giving birth. That they were too sick to carry. That wasn't right for them. Someone you love might need an abortion. Someday you can help ensure that when the day comes, they can get the care they need. Support someone you love.”
I'm going to talk first about how you actually craft a good ad or evaluate whether the ad is any good, then I'll talk about how to make media plans, and maybe save money on them.
When you really think about it, any political communication needs to do three things. First: it's got to get the attention of the audience. Second: you have to provide the information they need to persuade them. And third: you want to produce some type of an emotional response so they'll be motivated to go vote. If there's one thing I've been convinced of in all these years in politics, it's that most political communications people think voting is a logical act. It's not. You don't really reason somebody into voting the way you want. Voting is an emotional act, which is something that Republicans understand much better than Democrats do. That's why they've been able to sell this big lie to enough people to put Democrats on the defensive and make Democrats respond to Republican framing of the issues rather than set their own agenda.
It's very important in the 2022 elections for Democrats to confront their opponents. Make them uncomfortable. Put them on the defensive. Every Republican candidate should have to answer whether or not Joe Biden is the duly-elected president of the United States. Every Republican candidate should have to answer for the thousands of MAGA people who stormed the capital. Don't miss an opportunity to remind voters that, in fact, Joe Biden won the election by seven million votes—that's pretty much a landslide.
When it comes to targeting your audience, remember that there’s more of us than there are of MAGA Republicans—quite a lot more as a matter of fact. And especially if you're involved in a close election, remember that most swing voters, especially self-identified independent voters, are the people that decide every close election. They deserted Donald Trump and the Republicans in droves in 2020. So the more you can tie your Republican opponent to Donald Trump and the attack on the capital, the more these swing voters are going to come your way.
Republicans are going to want to talk about inflation and crime in this fall’s election. The truth is that both of these are after-effects of a worldwide disease. Pandemic inflation is a function of supply and demand, and when supply chains are disrupted, there's a shortage of goods. Then combine that with immense worker shortages and absenteeism caused by COVID, and you get major price hikes for less-available goods and services. This is not brain surgery.
Worker shortages result in more criminal behavior as well, because there are fewer patrols on the street, and there's a criminal justice system that's delayed by or shut down by COVID. So the Democrats kind of blew their chance in late 2021 and early 2022 to anticipate these attacks and frame that message that you can't control inflation or crime until you control COVID. Doing this successfully would have really altered public perception going into this fall’s elections. But this is where we are.
So what are we going to do? I agree with previous speakers who said that Democrats should talk about their accomplishments, especially the ones that affect people's day-to-day costs of living. Hopefully, there'll be a prescription drug plan passed before the November elections [a month later, there was] that Democrats can merchandise. Remember, one of the reasons that Obama won reelection in 2012 was that Americans, regardless of their party identification, really liked his healthcare plan—that alone was able to overcome many other issues and problems they might have had with a potential Obama second term.
Republicans understand that fear can be a powerful emotional motivator, and we shouldn't be afraid to use it either. And it needs to be aimed at the swing voter audiences: independent voters, moderate Republicans, suburban women and older lapsed Democratic voters, especially union members, who voted for Trump at least once, if not twice. The message has to be couched in what's traditionally seen as a Republican value: personal freedom.
So the fear that we want to talk about is not somebody breaking into your home, but rather the fear of these government intrusions into personal liberties—your right to take care of your own body, your right to vote, your right to marry and raise a family as you see fit, your right for your kids to have quality public education. When you really expose what Republicans are up to, swing voters who don't pay that much attention to politics are really shocked.
Here are some good guideposts to follow whether creating communications for yourself or evaluating the work of consultants. Number one is: be direct. Number two is: know what the one point (and I do want to emphasize one point) that you want the audience to remember. Too many political ads and communications try to make five or ten different points in a limited time and space, and consequently they fail to make any of them.
Number three: use conversational language. A good political ad is not a speech and it's not a treatise, it should sound like a conversation. Know your audience. Think of one person in the particular group of voters that you're trying to persuade, think of what that person's daily life is like and what's important to them, and then write your communication directly to that one person.
Think about benefits, not features. Political ads are full of facts and figures and positions on issues and attacks on opponents, and these are all what we call an “advertising feature.” None of them have very much to do with the voter’s daily life. So make your communication about benefits—how is this person's life going to be improved by voting you or your candidate into office?
Then try to use something out of the ordinary to grab attention. It could be humor, it could be an emotional appeal, it could be a shocking statistic or a fact, and it should be aimed at swing voter audiences: independent voters, moderate Republicans, suburban women, and these older lapsed Democratic voters. You could also use a production effect—a sound effect, or a video effect—to grab people's attention. But remember, if you don't grab their attention right away, your message is due to failure from the start.
The final guideline is: argue from the specific to the general. We worked with Ralph Nader when he ran for president in 2000, and I couldn't believe every time I saw him speak in a local area—he started with some problem that was unique to that particular constituency of voters. So you want to talk about something specific that's going on in a voter's actual life, and then work your way out to how your election or your candidate’s election can help solve that problem and make life better.
Here's a quick word about media plans and media buying. Everybody thinks media plans are science and math problems, but they're not. They're kind of an art. If you've done these things as long as I have, you realize that if you have experienced media buyers doing these things rather than just computers, they can overlay information about the audiences that you're trying to reach that computers just aren't really capable of. And when this is done effectively it saves you money, and then you can use that money to do other things in the campaign like voter identification programs or get out the vote programs.
Nearly every mass media plan that we've analyzed of late is spending much more than would be necessary if the media buy was worked harder by experts. Most of them are called programmatic buys, so consultants put a few basic spending goals into the computer and ideally the computer spits out what it determines to be the most cost-effective media plan. Yet we're seeing that these plans have ridiculous frequency levels that are ineffective, and show commercials far, far more times than voters can stand. That makes the overall buy incredibly cost-ineffective, but highly lucrative for the consultants—so that's why people are seeing ads repeated with frequency levels of twenty or twenty-five, or something like that which to me is just nonsense. If you've got a commercial that works, it shouldn't take that many repetitions of the ad to get the point across.
I do have a specific example of a media plan that we looked at recently in Pennsylvania. There's a new communications company in Washington, D.C., called Victory Margins that I've been working with for the past couple of years. It focuses solely on reaching the swing voters in any given election. They brought me an analysis that they’d done on all the pro-Biden spending done in Pennsylvania in 2020.
The pro-Biden forces spent approximately double what Trump was spending in Pennsylvania in 2020. So if the ads and the media planning and buying had been effective, Biden should have beaten Trump by a lot, not by a little. As we looked at the data, it became clear to me that the most important imperative in the plan was to amass a common amount of gross rating points—or GRPs—which is just the shorthand term for media buyers. What this plan did in essence was very little skewing or balancing based on audience data intangibles among the various media markets. It had all the refinement of a meat cleaver when using a scalpel would have saved the campaigns and the donors tens of thousands, if not hundreds of thousands, of dollars.
Last, I like to make a strategic pitch for target audiences. The current fascination for the party and Democratic donors with only funding communications designed to expand and turn out the Democratic vote could turn into a long-term disaster. As mentioned, every close election is decided by swing voters, not base voters. Mainly, these are self-identified independent voters, but four years of President Donald Trump and its immediate aftermath have brought in this audience considerably. So in 2022, women voters, lapsed Democratic voters, suburban voters, moderate Republican voters are looking to go someplace else, and Democrats would make a serious mistake if they don't make a concerted effort in 2022 to win them over—if they're lost in 2022, I think they're going to be lost for the next two to four election cycles.
RHETORIC & DEBATE NOTES
* Never use “Climate Change” (a pablum phrase invented by Frank Luntz) but rather “Climate Violence.” Never use “Extremists” when you can say “Dangerous Extremists” ...which is far more evocative of abortion bans, gun massacres, and insurrection denialism.
* A Republican will oppose everything Biden proposes and then call him a “failed president” when many of his proposals are blocked by unanimous opposition from GOP members. “Don’t confuse the victim for the culprit—the GOP is the ‘Party of No’.”
* Presentation can be as or more important as content, especially given the default monotone when a candidate repeats a talking point the fiftieth time. Using genuinely emotive language or evocative imagery can make even standard talking points inspiring.
* Don’t repeat a smear or falsehood in a response (“I don’t want to defund the police” – unhelpfully spreads it).
* It’s best in a debate to remain calm and confident. So avoid sophomoric eye-rolling or jaw-clenching. BUT if your opponent says something really really wrong/nutty, then be ready to pounce not more than one or two times in a debate and say a version of, “Are you kidding me? Seriously? You think voters are fools?” This will get viewers’ attention and help drive the issue under discussion to become the news story post-debate. the story out of debate.
* If a rival overuses “Woke,” call it out rather than be bludgeoned by it. “You invoke ‘woke’ like Joe McCarthy sneering about ‘Communists’ – you use it as a smear against anyone urging fair treatment for all by assuming the speaker’s insincerity. I think that insulting people because of their race, orientation, or gender is wrong. You don’t?”
* If you’re repeatedly hectored or interrupted during a debate, one good response: “Sorry to speak while you’re interrupting me. May I finish?” Also: Call your party the “Democracy Party” – which is better than “Democrat Party” and at the same time highlights the GOP’s assault on our freedoms.
* ”Stop Stealing Our Freedoms and Rights.” The GOP is coming for your Social Security, your Medicare, your right to marry who you choose, your right to use contraceptives, your right to control your body (if you're a woman), and your right to participate in free and fair elections.
* Why be subtle if trying to make the GOP pay a price for Trump? “He’s the worst traitor U.S. history since Benedict Arnold.” His campaign DID coordinate with Russia in 2016 (according to a 1000 page bi-partisan report by the Senate Intelligence Committee); never criticized Putin in his term as president; stole classified documents when he left office; spurred the only assault on the U.S. Capitol to steal an election based on the Big Lie that he had won…and, in a first, put the life of his vice-president in jeopardy. Need more evidence?”
RACE & CLASS:
I’ve spent twenty years working to address inequality in our economy and in our democracy, first from the think tank world, then advising campaigns and candidates, and then, about four years ago, I decided to leave what was in many ways my dream job—running Demos, an amazing think tank—in order to go out in the country. I spent three years on the road traveling from California to Mississippi to Maine and back again, multiple times, talking to ordinary people, talking to organizers, talking to people who had lost faith in politics.
What I came back with was the basis for my book The Sum of Us: What Racism Costs Everyone and How We Can Prosper Together. My goal was to understand why it seems like we can't have nice things in America—I'll save you the 400 pages, the answer is racism.
Racism in our politics and in our policymaking is so pervasive and so undermines our sense of being in it together, that it imposes a cost for everyone. Now, this is a pretty radical idea to put forward—it runs contrary to the liberal orthodoxy to hear from a black woman, who descends from enslaved people on both sides of my family, to say that racism isn't just a great thing for the people at the top of the racial hierarchy, but ultimately it is the weapon that the plutocrats use to divide and to conquer. For if we ever were to have a broad multiracial working- and middle-class solidarity in this country, the billionaires would be on the run. And they know that. Which is why they have pumped an incredible amount of money into us-versus-them, zero-sum politics, the demonization of people of color for an economically anxious white audience, a 24/7 social media and cable news white nationalist ecosystem.
At its worst, it leads to things like January Sixth, the massacre in Buffalo, both of which were animated by the so-called Great Replacement Theory—the existential fear that people of color are replacing white Americans, and that America is for white people to begin with. So at worst it risks the entire project of democracy and becomes a trigger for political violence.
We all know that this country has had a civil war in its short life. But since then, it should be clear how racism is used in our politics and policymaking to undermine our ability to come together to win public justice and public goods. The kinds of racist stereotypes that, for example, would persuade a senator to refuse to renew the child tax credit because he's heard that people use it for drugs…which effectively killed the renewal. It’s the racism that produces the demonization and stereotypes and biases that make us punch down in our society, and that cut the chord of empathy.
So what does that mean for candidates who are trying—by necessity and hopefully by their inclination—to create a multi-racial, winning coalition? That means that we've got to speak about race and class not only in the same speech, not only in the same ad, but as inextricably connected. I want to give you a few examples.
There's a man now running for the Senate who is a former state legislator in Kentucky, named Charles Booker. He is, of course, an authentic son of the working class—that authenticity matters. But he also developed a message and a story that is explicitly trying to connect what he calls “the hood”—black disinvested neighborhoods—to “the holler''—white disinvested neighborhoods. And by explicitly making the connections between the ills that face “the hood” and “the holler,” he is calling for a bigger Us—an Us that includes everyone who struggles.
In his telling, the term Them in white audiences doesn't become people of color and immigrants, Them becomes the corrupt politicians and the billionaires who pay for them who are trying to pit us against one another. This is a turn that is frankly not always comfortable for white progressive politicians to take – i.e., to say that racism is bad for white people, too. What’s interesting is that it's been people like Jesse Jackson in the Rainbow Coalition and Charles Booker who are really able to make that connection so clear. But I want to invite all of us who are trying to build a multi-racial coalition to attack inequality, to release the stranglehold that the corporate power and the billionaires’ greed have on our people and our planet.
We need to get smarter. There is no option to avoid talking about race, even if we do and have the most populist economic message we possibly can (as Warren and Sanders and, of course, Ralph Nader did). In this day and age, when race is the ecosystem, it's the oxygen of politics, of people's neighborhoods, of people's anxieties, black, white, and brown, we have to have a story that includes how race fits into the country we are in and the one we want to be. Who's on your side? Who is the enemy? Who do we need to organize against? Who do we need to organize with? Who is to blame?
If we're not answering those questions in our political storytelling, then we're not actually telling stories. Anybody who has a child knows there's always a good guy there's always a bad guy—and we need to not be afraid to fill in the answer of who that is. Because if we don't, a much louder and more coordinated right wing will make each other the answer to that question.
What does that mean in the context of some of our current political debates? I want to raise what I— if I were a candidate—would do if attacked on the idea that my book is critical race theory. If I were running for Congress right now, the RNC would be thrilled to be able to throw the critical race theory ad hominem at me. And here's how I would respond: first, we're a great country, and we are great enough to not be afraid of our own truth and our own history. Second of all, this is not black history— this is all of our histories. Both the good and the bad. And over 80 percent of Americans believe that we need to teach the best parts of our history and the parts we never ever ever want to repeat.
Ultimately, we are a country that has, from the beginning of our history, had an organized force of concentrated money and concentrated power that has been willing to exploit human beings, to rip apart families, to pit us against one another for their own greed. That force was alive in the days of plantations, and it's alive today, and we need to be united against it.
Politicians are worried about what our children are learning at school but they should also learn how to spot those people who want to pit us against each other today. Our children need to learn empathy and civics to be great citizens. Yet most Republicans want to defund public schools in order to scare parents away from them.
Democrats should contrast that with our goal of equipping our children to live in the multiracial 21st century and in a global economy, and to understand that the most important things that matter in life are those things that we have to do together. And in the country that we're becoming, that includes what we must do across lines of race…which is nothing to be afraid of but rather something to cheer.
So what I just did briefly was to make sure that candidates explain that the enemy is not teachers trying to teach Beloved in high school but rather a right-wing cabal that wants to keep us divided from one another. That the enemy has always been afraid of integrated education. The enemy has always been afraid of public goods. Why? Because a government that's strong enough to help us meet our basic needs and have a shot of fulfilling our dreams is also a government that's strong enough to stop them from cheating on their taxes, poisoning our air and water, and destroying small businesses and small farms.
Usually left out of the talk about schools being “woke” but instead about politicians who should be making an economic argument and a public goods argument simultaneously, as we are making an argument about racism and depression of people of color. Answers need to always include “Each Other” — about “turning to one another.” Paint a picture of an America where we solve big problems together, feel strong and courageous because we have each other's backs and can defeat the forces that want to keep us afraid of one another.
Since it's impossible in my limited time to fully explain today’s “War Against Democracy, let me stipulate this: Donald Trump and his allies have unleashed neo-fascist forces that are aiming to sabotage the very functioning of our electoral system, introducing electoral and political violence in ways that we really haven't previously seen in American history (excepting the Civil War). The core of the Republican party (not just the Trumpers) have embraced a policy of voter suppression designed to exclude people of color—young people, in particular—and they have adopted an extremist gerrymandering agenda that is designed to rig districts to give them control of the Congress as well as state legislatures. Let's also stipulate that big money dominates elections among both parties, often determining who wins primaries, what candidates feel comfortable saying, and ultimately what they do as candidates.
To begin with, democracy is actually popular. Americans believe that we should have a democratic system, but there's one huge caveat: people like democracy and accountability, but they're not passionate about it as an abstract concept. Democracy reform lacks emotional appeal. But if you tie it to policies that people do care about, you can bridge that divide because people fundamentally understand that the whole system is broken due mostly to big-money dominance and political corruption. Now, if you tie that to issues they do care about – like drug price reform, education, expanding health care, raising the minimum wage – you have a winning package.
Foundationally, polling shows public sympathy for democratic norms. By large margins, people do oppose the Insurrection. In even greater numbers, they oppose the use of political violence. The work of the January Sixth Commission is extremely popular. There is pretty strong political support across the country for prosecuting Trump. Safe and accessible elections is a winning theme and phrase— the idea we want to ensure that every voice is heard. That speaks to a wide array of issues, but particularly the idea that state legislatures should not have the power to overturn election results, or have the final say in determining who won a contested election.
Assuring voting rights and prohibiting extreme gerrymandering are essential. They are included in the Freedom to Vote Act and John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement, both of which were put on hold when Manchin and Sinema refused to fix the filibuster. All that changes if Democrats hold or even expand their House and Senate majorities this fall.
Due to the Trump Court’s evisceration of voting rights (see its judicial activism in Shelby County), essential reforms include imposing penalties for voter intimidation, providing funding for election administration, and shifting toward affirmatively making it easier to vote in the ways that were so successful in the context of the pandemic— with more early voting, more voting by mail, and the use of dropboxes.
On gerrymandering, the key is to move away from partisan control over redistricting and toward lodging redistricting authority in independent redistricting commissions. That's something you need federal legislation to do, since some states have reformed their redistricting procedures on their own, but at least half have not.
While those policies are all well liked by the American people, there is one counter-narrative that works well for the Republicans, which is the idea of voter fraud. Voter fraud is a total fiction. Letting yourself get drawn into the argument over whether it's fiction or real is probably not a winner. You’re better off affirmatively making the case for stopping states’ anti-voter legislation— here you can see strong support in swing states for Congress to act and prevent states from making it more difficult to vote. There is comparable support in swing states for Congress to act to ensure that eligible voters are able to cast their ballots.
You can be very confident in talking about these popular policies—stopping voter intimidation, protecting local officials, supporting election audits, and so on. Some caveats: the traditional term of “voting rights” doesn't do as well across the political spectrum— the “Freedom to Vote Act” was named that way for a reason. In terms of “addressing voter suppression,” we find that “voter suppression” is not the right term—“stopping anti-voter bills” is a winning formulation. You want to talk about “voters getting to choose their leaders, not leaders choosing their voters.
Let’s conclude with the issue of money and politics. Here the core reform is to replace the big-money funding of elections with small-donor funding and public-matching money; then comes the disclosure of all outside money— ending dark money is super popular; overturning Citizens United, which is resonant and popular now. There's a lot of recent success with candidates running on the idea of rejecting corporate PAC contributions. According to a poll from Pew, nearly everybody thinks the system is corrupt, everybody thinks that big money dominates, everybody thinks corporations and the superrich have too much sway over elections and politics.
There’s also overwhelming support on whether there should be limits on the amount that individuals or groups can spend on campaigns; unfortunately for now, however, the Supreme Court has ruled that to be flatly unconstitutional. As a workaround, the Freedom to Vote Act, which advocates small donors and public funding to help assure more competitive elections, is actually much more modest than what the American public wants—the public is willing to go far when it comes to clamping down on big money dominance of our politics.
The elements in that bill that push transparency (ending dark money) poll at between 90-94 percent support— you're talking really really high numbers when you're over 90 percent. One of my favorite counter statistics is that only 80 percent of people believe that the earth revolves around the sun. So when you get to 90 percent and higher, you have something that's really extraordinary.
Anything about stopping big money dominance of our elections resonates with people. There are conflicting views about whether “political corruption” is the right way to talk about this stuff, but there is no conflict in the polling on this. Surprisingly, just a basic simple formulation of preventing billionaires from buying our elections—people go for that, too.
But to close the deal electorally and substantively requires linking the democracy discussion to substantive comments—persuadables are more favorable to pro- democracy reforms that are tied directly to underlying policies that people care about. You talk about democracy and the need to address political corruption. You establish your bonafides with people as someone who gets it—that’s actually one of the things that Trump was able to do in the “Through the Looking Glass” world in which we live. You talk about political corruption. You say you want to take it on. You offer meaningful solutions for doing it. You're establishing your credibility as someone who's on the side of people, and you're talking to them in ways that they care about. If you talk about taking on corporate power that blocks essential reforms at this nexus of big money dominance of our politics, you are reaching people in both their minds and their hearts.
THE AUTHORITARIAN TEMPLATE:
I'm an historian of fascism and right-wing authoritarianism all the way up to Putin. When Trump came on the scene, I started looking at my country with great alarm, watching the same stuff happening that I studied abroad. And so I wrote Strongmen: Mussolini to the Present to warn Americans. I kind of predicted that Trump would not leave quietly, because authoritarian-minded people don't believe in the transfer of power, and leaving office is like psychological death for them. They're also afraid, of course, of prosecution.
Think about what Trump has managed to do as somebody coming from outside— he domesticated a major party and made it his own personal tool. January Sixth was like a kind of leader-cult rescue operation and why the Congressional hearings are so very important.
The Republican Party has really become a kind of extremist entity. The Washington Post had a study showing that one in five GOP lawmakers at the state and local level have sympathy or affiliations with some kind of extremist beliefs or organizations. Some Proud Boys and Oath Keepers are running for office at the local level.
Unfortunately for us, Trump has the same personality as Mussolini and a lot of the other guys I study. The outcome is different at different periods, so it’d be silly for anyone to say Trump is Hitler. Yet at the same time, it’s very important to recognize that authoritarians like Trump only have allegiance to themselves, and they use and discard everybody in their pursuit of Me, Myself and I. So while it's unbelievable that Trump risked having his own vice president killed, it's totally normal in the history of coups and inherent in the logic of coups.
In my political newsletter, Lucid on Substack, I interviewed Representative Swalwell—he emphasized that the essential question is, do you believe in violence or do you believe in the rule of law? The Insurrection showed that the party has embraced violence as a way of doing politics and as a way of solving problems. January Sixth was an attempt both to keep Trump and his people in power and to keep the “wrong people” like Kamala Harris out.
Trump has been able to bring the authoritarian playbook to our country—polarization, hatred, civic strife, of course building on existing racism, radicalization, the Tea Party, creating a crisis, and then saying, “I alone can fix it.” There's a myth that the strongman leader is “good for business.” So, it's very important to talk about the way that it's not good for business and not good for society.
This extends to guns, and I wrote a Washington Post op-ed in 2021 saying gun violence primes us for authoritarianism by creating a culture of fear and suspicion. But talking about guns can be difficult topic because people start with this: “You want to take our guns away.'' So It's important instead to talk about outcomes, very calmly: “is $280 billion a year, which is the cost annually of gun violence, is that good for society?” No, it's not. Recent polls show that there's an uptick in low-level violence since January Sixth, there's an uptick in every single group that suffers hate crimes. Is civil strife good for society? Is this good for the economy?” No, it's not.
Democracy is also about accepting differences in society, including different opinions, which goes with the principle of mutual tolerance. So far better than “I alone can fix it” is: “We fix it together.” We can do that in town councils and school boards, the sites of everyday governance. Here it’s also important to talk about the denigration of previously respected and beloved figures in our communities like librarians and teachers—this is not the American way.
And it's been very effectively done, starting with anti-mask and anti-vax crusades as part of the larger picture of trying to ruin public schools. Consider the current Anti-LGBTQ phase where teachers and librarians are being attacked as “groomers.” This is how the GOP is transforming its political culture to prepare for autocracy.
The next point I’ll discuss is freedom. Something that isn't stressed enough about authoritarianism (or anti-democratic behaviors and policies) is that it's not just about restricting the rights of people or taking people's rights away—voting rights, abortion rights, marriage equality. While some people lose rights, other people have their rights expanded, which removes checks on abusive and corrupt behavior—the plunderers win, the exploiters win.
So if you look broadly at what Trump did, he did a hell of a lot in his four years. It’s wrong when people say that he's incompetent. He was incredibly competent at the things he cared about. His administration, for example, eroded professional ethics in civil service, rolled back environmental regulations so that natural resources could be plundered. Authoritarianism tries to immunize crime. Historically, we’ve had a regional form of authoritarianism with Jim Crow in the South. Now there’s another stage on the national level. The issue of giving shooters, people who run over protesters, and rapists forms of immunity is why accountability must be stressed.
Today, elections are not actually the measure of the difference between democracy and dictatorship, since rulers like Orban in Hungary and Putin in Russia do have elections. They’re just fixed. So it’s important to stress accountability and transparency. Related is the issue of indecency. When you discard the rule of law, it has a ripple effect into workplaces, into schools, into all the places where there are these little Trumps. This imitative bullying and harassing is not good for profit, and it's not good for the soul. Decency might sound old fashioned, but I still stress it.
The final point is that it's important to not allow Far Right Republicans to claim patriotism. One of the most disturbing things that Trump did was a kind of emotional retraining of people so that they saw violence as having a positive value and even being patriotic—“saving the nation.” And that's a continuity with all these strongmen—any violence, whether it's a coup or fascist takeover, it's always to save the nation. It's always patriotic.
Infinitely better is to celebrate the American dream in terms of celebrating the successes as a multiracial democracy, as a society that has allowed immigrants like my dad to prosper. Candidates can cite all the businesses and products that Republicans and swing voters also use every day and that are helmed by immigrants. That celebration of possibility should also include people who were born here but lived in poverty and who in the space of one or two generations enjoyed huge gains in the standard of living for their whole family.
I think stories like that, whether they're immigrant stories or class-uplift stories, are very important. They require a different kind of narrative to reclaim the concept of patriotism from the right.
Mark Green: Talk about the different kind of language a Democrat can use in the pursuit of votes. Earlier we discussed the phrase “dangerous extremists,” but your analysis includes other phrases that might work to attract the swing voters and Independents who decide elections.
Ruth Ben-Ghiat: I've written three books on fascism, yet I don't use the word “fascist” very often in describing domestic affairs. I don't actually call Trump a fascist, even though he's got tons of fascist things. The reason: it turns off the people you need to reach, and it conjures up an older style of one-party states which doesn’t describe how it works today. “Extremist,” however, is very important, because the January Sixth Insurrection showed everyone what “dangerous extremism” looks like.
RACE, & CLASS NOTES
[Of course, our racial history makes political discussion of it fraught – and something each candidate must navigate in her/his particular district. But appreciate that not calling out racial fear mongering only makes it normal if not expected. And silence can be seen as weakness if not consent.]
* Donna Brazile - “Racism is the flame that doesn’t go out”: Sen. Tom Cotton last year referred to Slavery as “a necessary evil.” Ex-Senator Sonny Perdue said of Stacey Abrams during his GOP gubernatorial Primary in Georgia, ”Shes not from here. My inclination is to say, if you don’t like it here, go back where you came from…she’s embarrassing her race.” Asked why gun violence is so high, Arizona GOP Senate nominee Blake Masters said, “black people frankly.”
* Before 1948, no Democrat became president without winning a majority of the white vote. But after 1964 and the Civil Rights Acts, no Democratic president won the white vote.
* Instead of explicit bigotry, white-wing Republicans often resort to dog whistles to signal who’s ‘for us or them.” For examples, in our past: slaves were “property”, States Rights, Black Codes during Reconstruction, Separate but Equal, Segregation, Great White Replacement Theory, Legacy Americans, CRT, WOKE. All were euphemisms or legalisms to justify discrimination in their era. “But those who don’t embrace the Rule of Law and Equal Justice are the real anti-Americans. Welcome to the 21st Century.”
* When it comes to racial signaling, Tucker Carlson is an artist: He said on Fox, “I don’t want to live in a country that looks nothing like the one I grew up in. Is that bigoted?” Yup. If a viewer was still confused, he also said of BLM, “they’re definitely not about Black Lives and remember that when they come for you.”
* Not to be out-done, Ron DeSantis complained about “indoctrination and discrimination” in Florida public schools when he got a law enacted to make Critical Race Theory illegal. But banning materials that could “cause discomfort or guilt to particular groups” is obviously unconstitutionally vague and permits government censorship based on someone’s psychology. Presumably the governor, a lawyer,] has read the First Amendment prohibiting the government “from abridging the freedom of speech.”
* Several possible rejoinders to the #MiamiMussolini [quotable though controversial]: “We’re a great, imperfect country—and should not be afraid of all the historical truths that got us here.” “Learning from the past is not indoctrination but education. It should be teachers—not politicians—who assign books to students.” “Best way to understand our country is to learn its history and not leave out the bad parts. MLK said, in a 1967 Speech“Where Do We Go from Here?”: “The doctrine of white supremacy was embedded in every textbook and preached in every pulpit [as] a structural part of the culture.”
* CRT opponents deny there’s “systemic racism” in America. Yet: Blacks are 12 percent of the population but 35 percent of Americans with kidney failure…have 1/10th the wealth of average white families….POC suffer 6 times more punishment when convicted of the same offense…live on average six years less …and are hospitalized twice as often as whites for COVID. “How does my opponent explain all these differences if not for race?”
* 160 years after the Union defeated the Confederacy, race is still a taboo topic in many places. It’s as if calling someone a racist is worse than being one. So if an opponent takes umbrage and says,”Are you calling me a racist?”, a near perfect answer is: “I’m not calling you a racist since I can’t know what’s in your head. But can you explain why so many racists do support Trump’s GOP?” True, no one alive today is responsible for Slavery and few for official Segregation. But we are all responsible to help the next generation avoid the curse of racism that hurts Americans of all races, as Heather McGhee explained in her book The Sum of Us. America needs a cross-racial coalition—of minorities and lower-income whites—to help protect all families from disease, poverty, lack of a good education.
* Be very careful of proposals for “Reparations” that Republicans will eagerly misconstrue into meaning writing checks to all black people today. Using term “intergenerational discrimination” is accurate and ties remedies back to a previous discrimination: e.g., loan subsidies where there had been redlining; education grants from schools that benefitted from slavery; funds to black farming families whose land was stolen over past century. Best to avoid the freighted phrase altogether.
* Asked about David Duke’s endorsement of him in 2016, Trump said, “Just so you understand. I don’t know anything about David Duke. Okay?...I know nothing about white supremacists.”
*GOP Extremism: American Democracy is “hanging by a thread,” according to the New Yorker's Jane Mayer. An original hatred of monarchy has somehow evolved 246 years later into a reactionary hatred of democratic government itself. Bill Clinton had a useful phrase here: “In a democracy, you can’t hate your government and love your country.” We Democrats have to defeat this anti-democratic minority to save Democracy in order to stop climate violence, gun massacres, attacks on women’s health, and gross inequality.
* Tom Friedman column in New York Times, 4/18: “As long as we can still vote out incompetent leaders and maintain information ecosystems that will expose systemic lying and defy censorship, we can adapt in an age of rapid change—and that is the single most important competitive advantage a country can have today.”
* It took 100 years from the end of the Civil War to enact the1965 Voting Rights Act. Then in 2013 the Roberts Court in the 5-4 Shelby County v. Holder stripped away key sections, notwithstanding a 98-0 vote in the Senate reauthorizing it in 2006. Why? Because, asserted Roberts—who frowns on “judicial activism“—“things have changed in the South.” Within the month, however, several southern states began enacting voter suppression laws. (Has Roberts apologized?)
* Voting rights essential to secure all other rights. GOP claims that new state laws that make it harder to vote—e.g., not allowing mailing out absentee ballots to all eligible voters, fewer drop boxes—are “voter integrity” laws responding to “voter fraud.” But all studies show that that’s less likely to occur than being hit by lightning. Attorney General Bill Barr concluded in December 2020 that “there was no significant fraud” that changed the result in any state. The fraudsters are those who cite “voter fraud” to claim that Trump won and who then openly try to steal the next election.
The Associated Press studied 25.5 million votes in six swing states and found a negligible number suspicious. The reason is clear if you think about it—why would any person risk fines and jail time to cast one vote when it can only make a conceivable difference if part of a larger conspiracy, which itself would risk easy exposure? So-called “voter fraud” rarely occurs since it’s already a crime and a staggeringly inefficient way to rig elections.
* And like Elmer Gantry denouncing sin, voting fraud is not only minuscule but usually employed by Republicans to help win elections despite their unpopular positions:
– Mark Meadows registered to vote in 2020 using the address of a mobile home that he never lived in;
– a Trump supporter in Arizona who voted in her dead mother's name during the 2020 election— Tracey Kay McKee—was sentenced to two years of probation;
– Matt Mowers, a former Trump aide running for the House from New Hampshire, voted twice in two different states;
– a 2016 House race in North Carolina was actually re-run because of massive GOP political fraud;
– two Trump supporters in The Villages in Florida cast multiple ballots for Trump; and
– the Michigan attorney general urged a special prosecutor to investigate how the state GOP got election officials to take and rewire voting machines.
* Since the last election, GOP legislatures passed thirt-four laws in nine states that limited access to voting and put partisan operatives in charge of running elections.
* How can a GOP losing the popular vote in seven of the past eight presidential elections still win elections with unpopular views? Here are six ways they sabotage democracy in America: reducing access to voting in blue areas; an electoral college tilting to low-population/rural interests; a severely malapportioned Senate; Dark Money and Citizens United; extreme gerrymandering; the Senate filibuster.
Possible remedies: matching public funds for small donations; ranked choice voting…national popular vote to replace the electoral college; restore key elements of the Voting Rights Act (by Congress or the next SCOTUS); ban extreme gerrymandering and establish national standards for independent state redistricting commissions; add new “states” to the Senate (D.C., Puerto Rico); require large federal contractors to disclose their large political contribution annually; and establish term-limits and age-limits for justices and perhaps expand the Supreme Court to rectify McConnell’s court packing.
* Right-wing Big Brotherism: “They want freedom of speech but only if it’s their speech. They want freedom of religion but only if it’s their religion. They want government out of their lives but want to govern women’s bodies. They want law and order, but they think they’re above it. They want families first but only their families. All that has been gained over so many years is being chipped away. Margaret Atwood was prophetic back in 1985. Yes, it could happen here and now.” Susan Pfaff in the New York Times.
* 5 of 9 SCOTUS justices were appointed by presidents who lost the popular vote (Bush 43 and Trump). Three were appointed by a corrupt president who lost the popular vote and were confirmed by a bloc of senators who represent less than half the country.”
* The Court in Roe v. Wade in 1973 voted 7-2—the majority included five Republicans—to make abortion legal. Fifty years later, the Alito Six reversed, saying it was “egregiously wrong” because a) abortion is not in the Constitution (neither are “corporations”) and b) abortion “is not deeply rooted in our traditions and customs.” Which means laws in 2022 should be constitutionally evaluated based on guessing what was in the minds of the fifty-eight (all male, all white) authors at the Constitutional Convention of 1787.
* Also, the First Amendment’s prohibition of “the establishment of religion” could in a future case make it unconstitutional for government to allow one religion’s definition of when life begins to prevail over others (all six justices in the majority were raised Catholic)
* The Supreme Court has no soldiers to enforce its rulings, depending instead on public trust in the Rule of Law. Instead, McConnell has packed the Court with right-wing justices when it comes to our freedoms and our rights—which has led to a stunning decline in public esteem for the Court from 44%-19% favorable in January 2021 (+25) to 35%- 42% in August 2022 (–7), according to an NBC poll. An astonishing 32 point collapse. And the 60 percent Kansas vote for reproductive rights after the Dobbs decision was a clear rebuke.
* SCOTUS let stand a Texas Law (call it “The Snitch Law” or “Bounty Law”) that permitted people— neighbors, co-workers, family—to inform on women seeking abortions and be paid $10,000 by the woman or her doctor. This radical law was allowed to take effect by the Court on its “Shadow Docket”—previously reserved for small, procedural disputes—which does not require full argument or briefs
*Professor Laurence Tribe: The Alito Six are “seizing power for themselves against everyone else in the game of life and law. When enough people see what’s going on, SCOTUS will lose its unique power.”
* Bill Kristol: “Self-government requires a minimum amount of social trust to succeed. With every tweet that spreads cynicism and lies, and with every call to arms that welcomes civil conflict, Trump Republicans are poisoning the Nation they ostentatiously claim to love.”
–Abortion: “The 24 states that banned abortion tend to have the weakest social services and the worst results in several categories of health and well-being, such as child and maternal mortality and teen birthrates,” a New York Times analysis found.
–Abortion: The Republican Party wants to force girls to give birth who are not even old enough to baby-sit for other children. They value an embryo in a girl over the girl.
–Abortion: We need to talk about what overturning Roe and Casey means for women who are in abusive relationships. Men will be able to hold abortions over a partner's head or threaten to report them for reproductive health care or miscarriages. Which makes the state a party to domestic violence.
–Abortion: Columnist E. J. Dionne in the Washington Post: “The best path toward reducing the incidence of abortion is to offer far more support to women, both during pregnancy and as they raise their children. By walking away from child credit, expanded child care and paid parental leave, our nation has signaled its indifference to their struggles.”
WINNING LANGUAGE ON CLIMATE
I actually have some really good news about climate: it’s not too late and leadership on climate—if it is done well—can be an electoral winner.
We are in a very different place than we were even five years ago on climate—both in terms of the physical reality and in terms of public opinion. On the physical reality front, in terms of the actual world, we are dangerously close to tipping points where we will cross limits that are going to be impossible to recover from. We are entering a period in which humans have no experience and are poorly equipped for the extreme impacts that are already descending upon us—impacts on health, on the economy, on security. It’s truly an emergency.
It is important to not just tell people about your problem, because everyone has their own problems. But climate change is more and more becoming everyone's problem. Last year, one in three people experienced an extreme weather event, and we're on track for it to be much higher this year. Last week, I was visiting a friend in Sonoma, and I parked and went inside, and he actually came outside and turned my car around so it was facing out. And I asked him, “What are you doing?” And he just said casually, “Oh, we always park facing out now, in case we have to flee.”
Our reality now in California is that we are constantly ready to flee. And it's comparable everywhere in different forms, and getting worse. That's why we are seeing huge change in the public perception—viz., a majority of people in the U.S. are concerned about climate change and want action from elected leaders. The gap now is between where the science is, where the public is, and where the elected leaders ar
Based on our research, here is the best clear language on climate violence to close the gap. “Ninety-nine percent of climate scientists are convinced that carbon pollution is heating our planet, threatening our health, safety, economy and security...Industry has created a blanket of pollution around the earth that traps heat and is dangerously heating the planet. The good news is we know how to solve this—by switching to cleaner and cheaper energy.”
Best words to use: ”pollution” or “carbon pollution” (not “emissions”), “heating” (not “warming”), “industrial activity” (more so than “we” or “humans”).
And here are the strongest three "messages" to shift the debate.
Message 1: Investing in a clean economy creates jobs now.
The counterargument that fighting climate change will cost jobs is wrong and needs to be repositioned as both holding back innovation and growth, and threatening the health and safety of all Americans. But we shouldn’t say “fighting climate change doesn’t kill jobs,” which subconsciously puts the false argument in people’s heads. Rather, we should say this assertion is the key to America’s future and an opportunity we can’t miss. We should name specific new jobs and who will get them. For example:
* “There are millions of EVs to be built. I want to build them in Ohio.”
* “American workers should be building the industries of the future, owning the clean, renewable energy and car markets. Why let China get an insurmountable lead?”
* “Inaction on climate change is damaging the economy with extreme weather.”
Best words to use: “good jobs” (name them), “innovation,” “prosperity,” “American manufacturing.”
Message 2: Investing in a clean economy saves families money.
Americans are being told that clean energy is expensive. In reality, it has become significantly cheaper in the last decade (solar prices are down 90 percent), yet fewer than one in five people know this. Clean energy is now often cheaper than fossil fuels. This is the most persuasive argument for building clean infrastructure because it affects every family. Hence: "Clean, renewable energy is not only healthier, it is now cheaper than fossil fuels like coal, oil, and gas. Solar and wind are now the cheapest sources of energy. They will never run out and will only get cheaper. This switch saves everyone money, forever.”
Best words: Couple “cleaner” with “cheaper” every time.
Message 3: Big polluters are the enemy, not climate change.
We need to move from “fighting climate change” to “fighting the polluters who are causing climate change.” This is consistently the most effective message in our research. We need to create sides: you are either anti-pollution or pro-pollution. Nine out of ten Americans agree that polluters should pay for their pollution. Dirty industries are un-American and unjust, and frontline communities and people of color and rural communities are the ones who suffer the most.
We should frame those standing in the way as “pro-pollution” candidates, politicians, and organizations. Best words: “Climate change is caused by pollution, plain and simple. Big polluters hurt our economy, health, and communities. They need to be held accountable for this damage. Big polluters are the elite few protecting their profits over the health and safety of all American families.”
Best words: the “pro-pollution lobby,” “big pollution,” “make polluters pay.”
Here’s our strongest sequence of thoughts and words: Burning fossil fuels is creating a pollution blanket around the earth that is trapping heat in our atmosphere that would otherwise go back to space. That trapped heat causes stronger storms and downpours that wipe out farmers' crops and lead to food shortages. It means hotter temperatures that fuel wildfires and cause crippling heat waves, where our kids can't play outside. It causes Arctic ice to melt, raising the sea level and causing millions of American homes to flood every year.
So in sum: This tested, simple language and imagery should be repeated, repeated, repeated every time climate is discussed with the public. Doing so will change the opinion playing field to win. With the bully pulpit, the issue can be simplified and explained in a way that significantly grows support.
* Columnist Greg Sargent: Now that Dems have enacted its big climate bill, “they have unilaterally launched the biggest response to our planetary emergency in U.S. history, without the participation of a single Republican.”
* The SEC in March required public companies to disclose climate related risks. And those that have made public pledges to reduce their carbon footprint will need to detail how they will do that. (The U.K. and Japan are also doing it.)
* Bill McKibben: “Reducing reliance on fossil fuels helps clean the planet, adds to our wallets, and undermines the power of dictators and thugs.”
* When discussing climate violence, federal spending or tax credits should be described as investments that create the opportunity for millions of new jobs while protecting our health. If you care about justice, our children’s future or the stock market – whether you live in a big city or a rural area—you should demand renewable energy NOW…at speed and scale. Demand an end to coal-fired power. Demand an end to all fossil-fuel subsidies.
* Most of the obstacles to decarbonization are not technological but political.
Remember 120 Million Non-Voters:
One of the lessons that I've learned from my good friend and mentor Dick Gregory is that there's always a difference between a moment and a movement.
All movements require sacrifice. And one of the things that motivated me to go on my hunger strike was that there were demonstrations—most of which weren't effective—and I just felt that I had to bring it up a notch. And although my hunger strike too wasn't successful, one thing it did was to wake up a sleeping giant and mobilize young people. When you sacrifice, the first thing most people ask is “Why?” And this is when you have the opportunity to explain the issue and to educate people.
When I used to participate in civil disobedience, one of the things people didn't realize is that when you go into a lockup many of the young people there—if they recognize you—one of the things they'll do is to ask you, “What are you doing in here?” That’s both personal and educational.
Now, in terms of getting out the vote, I'm going to go back to when I was the political director for the NAACP, and there was a fascist mayor in Philadelphia by the name of Frank Rizzo. He was dealing with term limits as mayor and wanted to change the city charter so that he could run for consecutive terms. I was sent in by Benjamin Hooks to do a major get-out-the-vote and voter registration effort.
Since I thought that Democrats weren’t doing enough face-to-face advocacy, first thing we did was to identify the low voter turnout areas and then did some old fashioned recruiting. We recruited one person a block, or one person in an apartment building or a condo building, who would volunteer to go door-to-door to find out who's registered to vote. That’s what Democrats should be massively doing right now, not in late September or October. Then if they're not registered, leave them a voter registration form or information where they can get registered to vote.
Once we registered them, they became part of what I refer to in military terms as our infantry. Now, today everything is virtual, but you use the virtual as backup. You don't stop doing the virtual piece, but this face-to-face work is extremely important. Then, three to five days out, we started putting up door hangers and pamphleting information saying, “This is where you go to vote.” And then on election day, that same block captain is knocking on doors. Now, this may sound old-fashioned in this virtual environment we live in, but nothing beats this shoe-leather, face-to-face approach. And then you use texting and phone banks to back up what you're doing.
One other thing that few people now discuss: we should be hitting the campuses in August and September with voter registration. My alma mater, Washington University in St. Louis, was one of the universities in 2020 that had a record voter registration and turn out, and that should start when students arrive on campus. Make sure that they are registered to vote, and then you also have to start deciding on what is the best time to distribute absentee ballots on campus. Now that's what I came to this Winning America effort to tell you. Keep in mind that in 2018, 120 million eligible Americans did not vote. That's the target group. And we've got the technology to identify them.
For more, see next essay by Ralph Nader
11. SUMMARY: After Trump's Fascism, Voters Must Crush the GOP
The Democratic Party must make it vibrantly clear that they own the answer to the perennial voters’ question – “Whose Side Are They On?” Here are some substantive and tactical ways to do that:
1. Democratic candidates need to turn the tables on the GOP and sharply describe how Republicans refuse to protect the safety and lives of the American people.
The GOP, for example, says NO to expanding the tiny budget and authority of OSHA (60,000 work-related deaths from trauma and diseases a year). The GOP says NO to expanding the budget and regulations of EPA against lethal toxics (cancer, respiratory illness, 65,000 air pollution deaths a year). The GOP says NO similarly to stronger auto safety, food safety, water pollution prevention and drug standards, aviation and chemical plant safety, protection of children from pesticides. And, despite nightly news of wildfires, droughts, floods, hurricanes, and rising sea level risings, not one GOP senator supported the climate mitigation efforts within President Biden's "Inflation Reduction Act." Under Trump, even the phrase “Climate Change” was banned at the CDC. "Don't Look Up" was both a movie and the reality.
More. The GOP blocks full health insurance that would save over 100,000 lives per year, is against elevating Medicaid in Republican states even when paid for by the federal government, and denied the seriousness of the COVID Pandemic in early 2021 causing a huge number of preventable deaths. What do you call a political party so dangerously extreme to all the people? A Death Cult? At the least, this is a brutish party which despoils “patriotism” while trying to repeal the enlightenment of the American Revolution.
2. Corruption is in the news and on the minds of many voters, which is why some 80 percent of Republican voters oppose the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision on unlimited campaign contributions by corporations. The Obama Administration over eight years hardly had any public political corruption scandals. Yet for the four years of the Trump regime, corruption was a regular occurrence, with a record number of resignations and regulatory violations, all with the concurrence of the White House and Justice Department.
Trump's obsession with self-enrichment, along with those of his nominees, set historical records. Serial law violations, such as constantly using federal property to promote his reelection violated the Hatch Act, a federal criminal statute. The GOP generally has no problem with disobeying laws, whether they are regulatory laws, civil service laws, or election laws. Trump's 2019 monarchical declaration – “With Article I I can do whatever I want as President” – would have disgusted our Founding Fathers.
3. Displaying a morbid consistency, the GOP also wants to destroy the social safety net. The party has blocked the Democrats’ legislation to upgrade Social Security and expand benefits frozen for over forty years, to expand Medicare and neonatal care, and renew the $300 a month support for 60 million children in poverty that expired in January 2022…despite having reduced childhood poverty by one-third! The GOP cruelly opposed paid child care, paid family leave (accorded by just about every country in the world), paid maternity leave, and just about everything else now provided people in other western democracies.
But then, this GOP historically has been the bastion for the super-rich and corporate powers – virulently opposing FDR's social security, unemployment compensation, consumer and labor protections, minimum wage and crucial public works programs in the 1930s Depression.
Senator Rick Scott (R-Fla.), a former corporate felon, heads the Senate Re-election Campaign Committee this year. He issued a 50-page report so vicious that his boss Senator Mitch McConnell backed away from it. Scott refused to withdraw it. The Democrats every day should use Scott’s repulsively cruel positions – including five-year time limits on Medicare and Social Security as Exhibit One.
4. The GOP has never been so anti-labor. They oppose any increase in the federal minimum wage, now at $7.25 an hour – the same as 2009; some GOP politicians want to repeal the minimum wage entirely, as they block the $15 minimum wage earlier passed by the Democrats in the House. This overdue bill would raise the wages of over 25 million workers and should be daily discussed on the hustings. That’s why Democrats should exhort them, “Vote Yourself a Raise – You’ve Earned it.”
When Trump Republicans took power, they turned the National Labor Relations Board into a pro-corporate shill. The party backs the notorious Taft-Hartley Act of 1947 – the most anti-worker law in the western world – and is today blocking House-passed legislation to give workers a decent chance to organize unions and protect their workplace rights. They are blocking pay equity for women and the ERA. Their overall war on women is not surprising since most GOPers still pay tribute to the worst serial sexual predator and disrespector of women ever to reside in the White House, and have refused to call him out on these crimes.
The GOP has no problem giving huge tax breaks to CEOs who make anywhere from $12,000 an hour (on a forty-hour week) to over $833 a MINUTE (Tim Cook of Apple), while the party makes sure that these corporations’ capitalist owners – the shareholders – continue to be stripped of their authority to hold accountable their out-of-control hired bosses.
5. Whose values? Unable to run on their record, the GOP runs on “Texas values” or “Kentucky values” or “Missouri values.” Democrats should take this manipulative phoniness head on! In my article in the Louisville Courier Journal on October 24, 2014, I showed how Senator Mitch McConnell's positions were directly contrary to ten Kentucky values – “Rewarding Hard Work, Honoring Your Elders, Practicality Addressing Problems, Respecting Women, Being Forthright, Responsibility, Love Thy Neighbor, No One is Above the Law, Defending the Constitution and Patriotism.”
This approach of politically flipping the power of values can be applied in essentially any Red or Blue state.
6. Do not buy into the polarized voters’ trap.
Strongly emphasize that many reforms are favored by both conservative and liberal voters – reaching over 70 percent in the polls. They include raising minimum wage; finally enacting universal health insurance; upgrading public facilities – roads, schools, public transit, drinking water safety, community health clinics; cracking down on business crooks; reducing corporate welfare – subsidies, handouts, giveaways and bailouts; expanding the right of taxpayers to sue the government for corruption with their corporate buddies; legislating pro-democracy clean elections; protecting consumers; children from commercial exploitation via direct marketing and the Internet Gulag; revising trade agreements bad for American workers; protecting pension rights; extending civil liberties; and – when explained – ending corporate personhood and having the people actually control more of what they own – the Commons (public lands, public airwaves, pension and mutual funds, etc.) (See, Unstoppable: The Emerging Left-Right Alliance To Dismantle the Corporate State by Ralph Nader).
While the GOP gears toward its extreme “base,” it’s essential that Democrats come across as working for all the people under the motto “We all bleed the same color.” These policies can be assembled under umbrella names such as Freedom for Women, Platform to Protect Our Children, etc.
As mentioned above by Mark Green, for too long the GOP has won the war of words. They took away from liberals – regardless of their unctuous hypocrisy – the Bible, the Flag, blue-collar workers, the trade issue, the very words “populism,” “freedom,” and “liberty.” They haven't managed to take away the word “justice” – yet. (Nor do they appear to want to.)
The GOP has been better at slogans, nicknames, lawn sign placements, and labeling (remember the Party of “Acid, Abortion and Amnesty”). They prevail in part because Democrats have hardly contended – a big mistake. Indeed, when Trump had fun with his sticky pejorative nicknames repeated everyday verbatim by the mainstream media without even allowing rebuttals, they created a one man mass media machine without having to take his own medicine, despite the many openings for such.
7. Democrats have to make the GOP voting record and proposals in Congress front and center. Representative Jamie Raskin issued a “Roundup of 20 Outrageous Things the GOP House Majority did in My First Term” (before the November 2018 election). The House and Senate Democratic party structures need to immediately compile these terrible GOP votes and proposals right after Labor Day and end a drought on conveying such an obviously powerful campaign message to the people affected.
8. Democrats must confront the mass production lying machine that has overtaken most Republicans as a daily practice. The GOP lies about election fraud as it seeks to win elections by fraud. It lies about history, lies about the natural world, lies about the laws of the land and, of course, lies about the Democrats. Voters must understand that they would not tolerate their co-workers or neighbors lying daily and still associate with them. It would be too unstable. The GOP has far more power over their lives.
This is what fascism is built on: perilous scapegoating, racism, bigotry…and then to reliance on masters of the “Big Lies” to impose their own supremacy over their indentured followers. Ignoring these “believers,” or dismissing them as “ignorant” only intensifies the liars’ takeover of these voters, driving them into ever more extreme beliefs and behavior.
This is just what has been happening in recent years. Remember that fascist regimes often start with elections, with minority footholds overtaking the naive majority. The GOP extremists have far more messianic energy than their Democratic opponents of all stripes. Derision and haughty aspersions are traps to be assiduously avoided by the Democrats.
9. Democrats could use more ground troops and less air power. Given the record of avoidable election losses and close calls (less than 100,000 votes in 2020 in several swing states would have given Trump four more years, and not many more would have lost the Congress to the GOP), candidates and their staff have to think more independently of their present outsourcing to political and media consultants. This “permanent government” is conflicted with corporate clients and a 15 percent commission of electronic media ads.
Such Beltway consultants are often inexperienced or averse to installing a decisive ground plan for GOTV since resources will have to be redirected away from consultants’ sweet spots – expensive TV ads. Budgets have to be shifted to GOTV in neighborhoods, projects and other distinct low turnout communities through highly personal gatherings, motivational mobilizations, and respected “influencers” in these locales. Consulting with and understanding voters and non-voters in specific self-explanatory ways will also tether regular political advertising to be more memorable and less repetitiously irritating to targeted audiences. Here are just a few specifics:
* Produce in volume a simple two-sided Voters Guide Card, with one side polling the voter with six issues “yes or no,” and on the other side place the “yes or no” positions of the candidate and your opponent. The voter first registers his/her position by checking the box yes or no and then turns the card to find out on whose side the candidates are on.
* Make transporting voters to polls a festive occasion by having lunch or dinner afterward and nearby, as they do in Australia. Food trucks are perfectly legal. Indeed, corporate lawyer Lloyd N. Cutler, who was White House counsel to Presidents Carter and Clinton, said lottery tickets handed out to exiting voters as an inducement to vote is perfectly legal as well. A supportive car dealer or popular restaurant can issue these lotteries.
* Be attentive to the many workers on the midnight shift who almost never receive contact from candidates. As workers in hospitals, nursing homes, hotels, all-night drugstores, eateries, factories, police, fire, etc., they keep the country going while we are asleep. Announcing several “midnight campaigns” in front of the midnight shift change of a large hospital can reap good word of mouth and elicit respect by these stalwart staffers.
* Convert Labor Day and beyond into gatherings of workers to unite them as a working class with similar interests for their families, their economic security, health and safety, regardless of their political labels. Abstract ideologies and their word games fade when you get down to where workers live, work and raise their families, take care of their elders, and want less GOP inspired anxiety, dread, and fear in their lives. These meetings can find volunteers and enhance voter registration.
* How do you show that you identify with ethnic and racial groups who feel they are being taken for granted by the Democrats? Announce, with their representatives, Ethnic Days where you get to know each other more personally and they display their traditions in music, food, customs, and achievements for a more tolerant society. It is an important way to listen to and consult with people of different identities and learn about their common necessities and aspirations.
* Pay rigorous attention to language – words and phrases. Look what Trump did with his mouth – what else did he have? The GOP paid Frank Luntz – their wordsmith – to come up with “death tax” to better excite anti-tax sentiment and with “climate change” to replace the more alarming “global warming” or “climate crisis.”
* Inject some new words and issues to avoid the rut of repetition. For examples, embrace words that the GOP almost never uses such as “justice,” “fair play,” or “billing theft” – at least $1 billion a day just in the healthcare industry – or “wage theft” estimated at $60 billion a year, or “harmful junk food/drink and other dangerous products” pitched directly to our children radically bypassing parental control and guidance.
* Some other suggestions – don't use “white collar crime” when you are referring to “prosecuting corporate crooks” (poll ratings very high). Don't use the word “provider” when you're referring to gouging drug companies and hospital chains. They are “vendors” or “sellers.” “Providers” sounds philanthropic. Never use “entitlements” to describe Medicare and Social Security which are paid into by the people. “Entitlements” should replace “incentives,” which is used to describe corporate bailouts, subsidies, and handouts into which the companies have paid nothing.
* The driving force in all societies is unbridled profiteering greed seeking maximum power over the people. Every major religion warned its adherents not to give much power to the merchant class because its driving commercial motive destroys other crucial values.
10. Finally, some suggested rebuttals to GOP accusations:
* “Socialists!” – All your political career you've been pushing socialism for the rich and unregulated capitalism for the poor. Didn't the GOP always bail out Wall Street crooks? The GOP supported many billions of dollars down the U.S.’s biggest corporate rat hole for the unfinished nuclear power plants whose reckless owners are demanding more taxpayer dollars. “Socialism?” Maybe that is why you have Social Security, Medicare, the Postal Service, public drinking water systems, the VA, all of which you want to have corporations control.
* “Defund the Police” – Name one Democratic candidate in a serious contest who has supported that. You're defunding the federal cops on the corporate crime and violence beat. Since 2011, your GOP has starved the IRS budget, aiding and abetting tax evasion by your tax super-rich buddies and giant corporations. Some of these big tax evading profitable corporations pay zero federal income tax, which means just one of their workers sends more dollars to support our public services and infrastructure than the entire company does.
* “Critical Race Theory” – Name me any school that teaches that. Another GOP lie. Why do you repeat this falsehood? Because you want to cover-up parts of American history just as you are covering up your own party’s crimes and wrongdoing right up to Generalissimo Trump. Republicans always push corporate control theory to indoctrinate these youngsters.
* “Open Borders” – Only Wall Streeters want open borders for holding down wages. We want borders that stop smuggling, pollution, gun trafficking, child trafficking, yet allow longtime U.S. laws of asylum and legal immigration to continue. Perhaps If the U.S. had stopped backing dictatorship and oligarchs in these countries, impoverished and oppressed people would not have had to flee their native lands.
Last, in a not dissimilar situation in 1948, nearly all commentators were sure that president Harry Truman would lose. Then he began his “Do-Nothing-Congress' ' whistle-stop train tour, telling one audience of 90,000 Iowa farmers that Republicans are “gluttons of privilege, cold men who want a return of the Wall Street dictatorship. How many times do you have to be hit over the head before finding out who’s hitting you?”
Remember: winning elections is about authenticity, empathy, and deep energy levels to get people’s attention, excite them to register to vote and actually vote for their own legitimate interests and for the country and world that their descendants will inherit.
1. Wrecking America: How Trump's Lawbreaking and Lies Betray All by Mark Green and Ralph Nader. https://winningamerica.net/wreckingamerica/
2. Kentucky Values vs. McConnell by Ralph Nader, Louisville Courier-Journal, October 24, 2014, (These can be values in every state). https://winningamerica.net/kentuckyvalues/
3. For policies and messages that resonate with both liberal and conservative voters, see my book Unstoppable: The Emerging Left-Right Alliance to Dismantle the Corporate State (2014), especially pp.65-66 for many examples to which you can add. nader.org/2014/04/27/unstoppable-25-proposals/
4. Excerpts from a January 2018 memorandum, which I wrote titled “An Invitation to a Conversation” about neighborhood-by-neighborhood socializing, registering, transporting to get non-voters out to vote. You can pick and choose what seems reasonable for your campaign requirements for 2022.https://winningamerica.net/an-invitation-to-a-conversation/
5. Rep. Jamie Raskin’s Roundup of 20 “Outrageous Things the GOP House Majority Did in My First Term.” Such a list must promptly be compiled by the House Democratic Caucus, as it did in 2014, together with a comparative side-by-side list of what the Democrats Did Do. https://winningamerica.net/raskinsroundup/
6. Rebuttal to the on-going use of “socialists” to describe all Democrats by the GOP. This attack is ludicrous when the Democrats present the vast “Corporate Socialism” giveaways and bailouts supported by the GOP. https://winningamerica.net/democraticsocialism/
7. One-page Candidate News Release on Midnight Campaigning. https://winningamerica.net/midnightcampaigning/
8. For state elective office, an excellent timely refund owed most owners of motor vehicles is described by actuary and former Texas Insurance Commissioner, Robert Hunter. Injecting a fresh issue like this into campaigns is a good idea. Hunter also explains how California reformed its auto insurance laws (Prop 103) and saved consumers $154 billion since 1988. This is a model for other states.https://winningamerica.net/autoinsurance/
9. Suggestions for Successful Elections in 2020 at All Levels. https://winningamerica.net/suggestions-for-successful-elections-in-2020-at-all-levels/