The political class just doesn't get it. Over the last few weeks, I've realized that the political grounds are fundamentally shifting in a manner that embraces a progressive political agenda like we haven't seen since the days of Franklin Roosevelt. I want to take this in two parts: 1) A few indicators that the political class doesn't get it. 2) Reasons why the ground is shifting so rapidly.
Indicators That The Political Class Isn't Getting It
- Howard Schultz's campaign - The Republican never-Trumpers like Steve Schmidt and David Frum are jumping on the possibility of a third party candidate that could hand the 2020 Election to Trump. Over the last couple of years, we took pleasure in cheering on these voices as they challenged Trump and his supporters from within the conservative tent. We forgot though, that these folks are very much of the pro-business, pro-gross inequality camp that used to be the base of the Republican party before it went full Trump xenophobe. Any billionaire candidate inevitably holds these same values as the primary beneficiaries of the inequality of the system. Schultz's running as a "centrist" who takes conservative economic policy positions that interestingly don't enjoy the support of the majority of Americans like many progressive positions (including universal health care, climate action, and raising taxes on the wealthy). If this futile effort keeps up, I hope we all decide to stop giving Starbuck $6 per day and redirect that spend to the local coffee shop selling fair trade goods. Schultz and his ilk are tone-deaf as to where the country is politically, so we may need to speak to him in a language he will understand. Hit him in his very large pocketbook to say, No More Billionaire Presidents.
- Nancy Pelosi poo-poos the Green New Deal, not even able to say it by name. Speaker Pelosi did a great job asserting herself with body language and her clapping during the State of the Union this week, but she was also dismissive of the Green New Deal, even as momentum and support builds. I have not heard an agenda from Congressional Democrats other than the solid anti-corruption, pro-democracy bill as their first legislation. It is not just the base that is looking for inspired, principled leadership on issues. Why is Pelosi being so dismissive out the outset? What else does she think Democrats are bringing to the table in terms of ideas and legislation? I'm worried that she is misreading the political moment in which we find ourselves. Most Americans, and certainly most Democrats, get the urgency for climate action. We want to move past Obamacare to universal health insurance. We tire of the gross inequality of our system and demand a set of macro-economic policies that ensure a more economically just system. The Green New Deal addresses all of these concerns and Speak Pelosi needs to take these ideas a lot more seriously.
- Everyone Thinks They Can Run for President Ignoring the Significant Blemishes on Their Record. Almost every announced candidate has taken actions completely counter to where progressives have stood. Sen. Kamala Harris time as a DA and Attorney General supporting mass incarceration policies is out of step in a time where even some Republican voices are calling for an end to mass incarceration. Sen. Gillibrand took absolutely ridiculous positions on immigration and guns to placate her upstate NY constituents. To her credit, she admitted embarrassment on her past positions, but they are so out of line and speak to her willingness to put opportunism ahead of values. Sen. Booker is getting hit for support of charter schools and privatization of public education. Vice-President Biden thought it was good idea to support Republicans in Michigan ahead of the 2018 election. The list goes on...While we should not expect perfect candidates that agree with all our positions, the fact that so many folks think they can run with past positions so far outside the progressive mainstream without taking accountability and rectifying their past is troubling indeed. It indicates an arrogance or at least a misperception of what the electorate will demand of them.
- Black-faced Politicians Think They Can Hang On Governor Ralph Northam really thinks he can and should hang onto his governorship after pictures reveal he thought being racist while wearing blackface was entertaining in college. While this may have worked in previous generations, this is not the case now. While there is an openly racist President, there is zero tolerance in blue states for racist public officials. Governor Northam's suggestion that he would focus on racial reconciliation projects an arrogance that he is well-positioned to lead such an effort, when in fact, he's lost all moral authority on this issue and to lead his commonwealth.
Clearly, the political class is having difficulty keeping up with the political moment. A rising tide of a woke generation is creating expectations of meaningful policy change that hearkens back to the economic policies of the Democratic Party of the New Deal and Great Society while demanding true inclusivity that dismantles systems of oppression such as white supremacy. The ground is shifting and the political class needs to keep up.