How the Democrats blew it and how to not blow it next time

The Thinker by Rodin

I’m over the initial shock of the election, although it follows me into unwelcome places, like my dreams. The election seemed pretty easy to call in advance. Pollsters were in agreement. Everything had been sliced and diced. Although a two-term president is rarely succeeded by someone from his own party, it sure looked like with the worst Republican candidate ever things were going to break for Team Blue.

Obviously it didn’t, leaving pretty much everyone except Michael Moore and Scott Adams with egg on their faces. Heck, even the Trump campaign was planning for defeat. You could see in Trump’s “victory” speech that he was a bit shell-shocked by the whole thing; it’s almost liked he hoped to lose. Trump’s visit to the White House yesterday was also surreal. He had a stunned-bunny sort of look, like this is the last sort of job he wanted. And it’s worth noting that while Trump trounced Clinton in the Electoral College vote, Clinton still won the popular vote. She joins Al Gore and Samuel J. Tilden in the exclusive club of candidates who won the popular vote but lost the Electoral College vote (and who had not been president already.) By any standard, Trump’s election is not the will of the people.

In retrospect pollsters failed because no one had come up with a way to model the racist vote. Racists generally won’t self identify themselves but based on the results the unidentified racists were about 5% of voters, all voting for Trump. And the reason they couldn’t be identified before was that Trump was our first modern openly racist candidate, well, at least since George Wallace in 1968.

So it’s important to understand that even with the wind at their backs Democrats had the odds stacked against them. Generally presidents don’t quite deliver the change envisioned, even if they are well liked, so voters will be inclined to try the other party. And Trump was all about change. But he also had people enthusiastic about him. Enthusiastic people vote. While there certainly were Democrats enthusiastic about Hillary Clinton, most of us were half-hearted supporters. Those who show up to vote with the most passion get their candidate elected.

It’s not that Democrats didn’t have a change candidate. Bernie Sanders was that candidate. He had amazing crossover appeal. During the Democratic primaries, Sanders generally won the rust belt swing states that normally vote Democratic but were picked off by Trump. It’s impossible to know that if Bernie had been the party’s nominee whether he would have done better than Clinton, but my guess is he would have. At least some of Clinton’s firewall states would have fulfilled their function and that may have been the edge that was needed.

So it’s worth recalling just how Clinton got the nomination in the first place. It’s not that she didn’t do a lot to earn the nomination. But she was the Democratic establishment’s choice. Clinton spent years cultivating these relationships and of course she also had Bill to help her as well. It was obvious that DNC chairman Debbie Wasserman-Shultz had her finger on the scales for Hillary. But even if she hadn’t, long before Bernie had even entertained the idea of running for president, Hillary had an in with the various Democratic state party establishment. She had banked most of the party’s superdelegates. If every eight years is going to be a change election, it’s counterproductive for a party to have a system in place that discourages change candidates. The Republican Party did not, and it worked in their favor in this election.

So the lesson for Democrats should be clear: get rid of the party’s superdelegate system. To his credit Sanders brought this to the attention to the party after his nomination was out of the question, and sort of won. Superdelegates don’t go away but they will be reduced by two-thirds. This will make it easier for candidates like him to get a foothold in the future, increasing the odds that the eventual party nominee will be a rank and file pick, rather than the establishment’s. It’s a pretty good bet that rank and file will be closer to understanding who can actually win an election than the party’s elite as they won’t be living their lives in the insular political bubble that the party’s elite do.

But can real party change happen? Getting rid of most of these superdelegates helps. It would be better to get rid of all of them. What’s critical for 2018 though is to find a new party chairman that gets this. Howard Dean, who became the DNC chair after the 2004 election is willing to give it another try. His 50-state strategy was very successful. It allowed Democrats to regain control of the House and the Senate just two years later. We need Dean or someone who believes the same things. We don’t need Wasserman-Shultz or Donna Brazile again as both have proven ineffectual.

We also need to say goodbye to the Clintons. Both came with baggage and it dragged down the ticket, even if some of their issues were more smoke than fire. (Hillary’s emails, for example, was mostly a big nothing burger.) They represent the “new Democrat” that Bill Clinton invented in 1992. That business-friendly, Republican-lite branding no longer works and does not distinguish the Democratic Party. Both Bill and Hillary need to exit stage right. The party needs to hear from a variety of voices, hopefully mostly new voices to see what resonates within the party of today. The party is morphing too, but feels moribund. It’s a party that is increasingly diverse and multicultural. But it should not be the party of non-whites. It should appeal to those Trump voters who were sucked in by Trump’s popular and economic message. Whites still form the majority of voters in this country. Elections cannot be won without significant number of crossover white voters. For whatever reason, except for younger white voters, whites and white women in particular failed to deliver for Democrats in this election.

If you want people to vote for you, give them some compelling reasons to vote for you. Democrats failed here, choosing an establishment candidate with baggage and high unfavorables over a change candidate. Voters need to feel like the candidate is someone that gets their concerns, and has a track record of fighting for their issues. It’s hard to relate to a candidate who is a millionaire and gives $250,000 speeches to Wall Street firms. You need someone authentic with fire in their belly instead, someone a lot like Bernie Sanders or Elizabeth Warren.

The only good news for Democrats is that Trump is likely to quickly implode. He brings a lot of baggage to his presidency including a lot of civil suits and possible criminal charges for having sex with a minor. If he chooses to do those things he says he will do, he will piss off his voters who buy his brand but not most of his policies, like throwing undocumented immigrants out of the country. The Democratic Party need not be down for long. But if it is to recover quickly, it must do so with agility and intelligence. It needs to morph into a populist party again.

Raising my glass to Al and Tipper

The Thinker by Rodin

So Al and Tipper Gore are heading for separate residences. Forty years of a storybook marriage appear to be over. Many of us who have followed the Gores all these years are just shocked by this turn of events. If marriages are to break up, most will break up within the first seven years. It makes no sense for a couple to break up after forty years of marriage, particularly a publicly affectionate couple like the Gores who in 2003 wrote the book Joined at the Heart about the changing American family. Who would have thunk their marriage would now be disjoined at the heart?

Gosh darn it Al and Tipper, even if you were having marital problems, you were supposed to keep them in the closet and carry on. America needed to believe that both of you were committed to each other for life and that your marital bond was unbreakable. While a lifelong, happy marriage is apparently not possible for most of us, at least yours would be. With your separation, you have gone all human like the rest of us.

The good news is that according to the couple no infidelity was involved. At least that is what we are hearing now. Who knows what news reports we may read about in the next few weeks or months? How long before Al has some younger piece of arm candy, and the rumors start to fly? Rest assured if there were any dirt on their marriage, it would come out soon. For the moment, their marital breakup suddenly out shadows the doings of Sarah Palin and her extended family.

Still, if one were looking for signs of marital stress in Al and Tipper’s marriage, there were some tealeaves to read. For one, after Al Gore lost his presidential bid and took up the environment as his new passion, he was suddenly gone from home a lot. He was jetting here, jetting there, jetting anywhere and not coming home much. Could much of that time away from home, most of it apparently without Tipper, been his way of coping with a bad marital situation? A physical separation even if it was not a legal separation? Then there was his sudden weight gain. For most of his life, Al had been at normal weight, and suddenly he got all Warren Harding on us. Maybe he got so myopic about saving the planet that he forgot about eating healthy and exercise. On the other hand, since he spent so much time in airports maybe he had no choice but to dine on their greasy junk. Or perhaps there was a lot of marital stress at home and he compensated by overeating. Fortunately, he managed to take off most of the weight. However, a sudden and large weight gain in anyone is usually a sign that someone is under unusual stress. I know in my case I tended to weigh the most when I felt under the most stress. There were no such clues from Tipper, but then again we were not paying attention to her, as she prefers to spend most of her life offstage.

What went wrong? I frankly hope we don’t find out, but I suspect we will at some point. There must be enough cash some publisher will throw at them for one of them to write a tell-all book. I hope that neither succumbs. For the moment, close friends express bafflement. Whatever marital woes beset their relationship, they kept them far from public view.

What the Gore separation represents then has more to do with spoiling our illusions than the end of their long-standing marriage. With blood relations, you have little choice but to hang in there for life. I am fortunate to love and respect my siblings as well as my father (my mother died in 2005), but even in families where there is a lot of hurt feelings and rivalries, rarely will relations separate for life by choice.

Despite all the sober words at the start of a marriage, marriages are ultimately optional relationships. It is true that for much of human history marriages were for truly for life. This did not necessarily make them happier, but they did endure. Today, if you cannot work it out, you divorce and move on. If, as I suspect, your next relationship means you are largely revisiting the same issues you had in your marriage, then perhaps divorce is pointless. Any divorce is a gamble that your future you will be happier than you were in your marriage.

I also strongly suspect that marriages are not naturally meant to endure for life. Some do, and some percent of those that do are perhaps overall generally healthy and happy marriages. Marriages lasting forty or more years, like the Gores, are a fairly recent phenomenon. The primary purpose of marriage these days is to provide a stable and healthy environment to raise a family. Until recently, you often did not get a chance to see your grandchildren. Those that did were lucky to have their spouse alive after twenty or twenty five years. If, as it appears, the Gores had thirty-five years or so of a happy and healthy marriage, then they were probably extremely fortunate. Most of us will not be so fortunate.

I hate to characterize my own marriage for public consumption, but I suspect it is typical of most marriages nearly a quarter century in length. My wife and I love each other, but like all marriages, ours too has its issues. Neither of us is anxious to head for the exit, but neither are we the enchanted young adults that we were when we married in 1985. We do grate on each other, some days more than other, but apparently not to the extent that we want to live lives apart from one another. In any event, neither of us particularly embraces change, which helps keep us as a “still married” statistic. At the same time, neither of us are naïve enough to think that divorce could not happen to us. All marriages are consensual. For most of us old married people, success in marriage is about succeeding in scaling back expectations of what marriage should be.

So rather than get too upset about the Gores breaking up, why not raise a glass to what appears to be a really good and long run? It appears they had thirty-five years or so of a really good marriage. Most of us would be thrilled to have ten years of excellent marriage, let alone thirty-five. Divorce is not always a bad thing. It can also be liberating. It may be that at this stage in their lives it is the best thing for both Al and Tipper. If so, I’ll raise my glass for both of them having the good sense and the courage to move on.

Review: An Inconvenient Truth

The Thinker by Rodin

Is global warming happening? If it is happening, is it part of a natural trend? Or is it being caused by human activity? If so, can we really do anything to stop it? Or should be just shrug it off and consider the upsides: more time in bathing suits and less time shoveling snow.

Those who keep up on my blog know I do not need convincing. Global warming is undoubtedly happening. Even our president admits it is happening. In addition, human activity is contributing to global warming. President Bush admits that too. He only disagrees on how much we humans contributing to the problem and the methods that should be employed to address it.

Al Gore begs to differ. You remember Al. In the film An Inconvenient Truth, he introduces himself as the man who used to be the next president of the United States. It gets a laugh at every seminar he gives on global warming. The documentary An Inconvenient Truth is largely a filmed version of Al’s global warming seminar. It is his traveling road show. Armed with a Macintosh computer with a very big screen, Al is now traveling the world doing his best to convince anyone who will listen that the global warming phenomenon is real and action must be taken now. His slide show is very impressive. It would take a very cynical person to come away from the movie not realizing that human activity is the major cause of global warming.

The film is marketed as the scariest movie you will ever see. What could be scarier than real life? In fact, I did not find the film that scary. I certainly learned some new things from the movie. However, I understood before coming into the theater that global warming was real and that its consequences were catastrophic. I do hope that the film will bring in average Americans who maybe are not totally convinced. I suspect though that the film will largely preach to the choir.

I hope that it will not dissuade you from seeing the movie, for even those who agree with Al should still see this film. Do the earth a favor though, and bring someone with you who are a skeptic or are still on the fence. Ideally take a whole bunch of friends. Not only will they be uncomfortably awake after the movie, but also by just attending, they will help address global warming. Five percent of the ticket price goes to support advocacy. I can write off 5% of the $19.50 I paid for two tickets on my income tax!

No question about it though. Al has a terrific yet sobering slide show. Whatever presentation software he is using, PowerPoint was not up to the job. The movie is 90% filmed lecture, and 10% background. We learn that Al was first exposed to global warming research in college. For whatever reason, it became a cause he passionately latched onto. As you may know, in 1992 he wrote a book on global warming, Earth in Balance. Here he is fourteen years later, the almost president of the United States, yet we see him going through metal detectors at airports just like the rest of us. He is now Citizen Gore. He seems to have put his defeat behind him and is doing the best he can to shake us up on this issue before it is too late. In the movie he says that he has given his lecture thousands of times. We even see him giving the lecture in China. Al really believes that if he works hard enough the message will get through and real policy change will happen.

Gone is Wooden Al. In the movie, we find the authentic Al Gore. While he may not be wooden, his passion is still somewhat restrained. We see a rather low-key Al Gore who is introspective, sobering and full of gravitas. No theatrics are necessary. This is one time when the facts speak far more convincingly. Instead, you are left wondering: are we doomed? Is there any hope left for our planet and our species?

Thankfully, the answer is yes. Stemming global warming is quite doable. It is not some sort of pie in the sky notion that must wreck world economies. All it takes is will. In fact, Al makes a convincing case that companies that work to stem global warming will be the economic winners. Perhaps that is why General Electric is working on products that will help stem global warming. Al shows us that it is possible because we have already demonstrated that will. International efforts have stemmed the manufacture of chlorofluorocarbons. That once gaping ozone hole in the Southern Hemisphere has closed up. It is one first and modest success in the climate change challenge for which humanity can take credit.

Usually when the movie credits start, you head for the exit. During the credits in this film, we also see suggestions on how each of us can help stem global warming. The Bethesda Row Cinema, where I saw the film with my father, also had a stack of flyers with suggestions on how to help stem global warming. I took one home. I was glad to see I am already doing certain things right (I own a hybrid and bike to work frequently). Others will take more convincing. I am not sure my wife will let me set up the thermostat two degrees during the summer.

In a world of self-serving politicians, it is such a pleasure to see an ex-politician not squander the rest of their life, but work to do something meaningful for humanity and the planet. Jimmy Carter works hard to bring democracy to the rest of the world. Al Gore is working hard to wake us up to the reality of climate change. It will be the rare person who comes away from this movie without a renewed respect for Al Gore. I for one wish he would run for president again.

Run, Al!

The Thinker by Rodin

Back in 2000, I voted for Al Gore, but not enthusiastically. His campaign was ineptly run, and he seemed wholly insincere even to those of us who voted for him. He was the victim of putting too much faith in media consultants. Love or hate George W. Bush (and clearly, I am in the latter camp) you had a good idea of what he stood for. He was not going to be appointing any namby pamby liberal judges, that was for sure. In addition, there were going to be tax cuts forever. Most importantly to many Americans, he represented a clean break from Bill Clinton’s well documented (though in retrospect, largely irrelevant) deficiencies.

Despite all the hoopla about how that election finally turned out, I didn’t shed too many tears for Al Gore. Granted, I shed a lot more a few years later when it became clear of the magnitude of our (or should I say our Supreme Court’s) mistake. The United States will be paying the karmic debt for the Bush Presidency for decades. It is not as if 9/11 would have been a cakewalk for any president. One thing is clear in retrospect: Al has the brains and common sense that all but the most diehard Republican fools now admit that Bush lacks. You know that had the CIA presented its information on Iraqi intelligence to President Gore, rather than going to war, Al would have told the CIA, “This is crap. Get me something that is better sourced.” The Iraq debacle simply would not have happened in a Gore Administration.

Instead, Gore withdrew from public life, did some adjunct teaching and tried to figure out what to do with the rest of his life. He got in some trouble for asking Democrats to endorse Howard Dean for president in 2004. (In retrospect, his endorsement was probably smart, because Dean is authentic, whereas Kerry was not.) After the 2004 elections, Gore zeroed in as the most public and passionate advocate for his most important issue: global warming. As you may have read in the news, his film An Inconvenient Truth is now in theaters. It has been well received and has shaken up even many of the most diehard global warming skeptics. By communicating on a subject that he is passionate about, Al seems to have found is mojo at last. Although I have yet to see the film, I have seen the previews. At least in the previews, his performance is stunning. Gone is the Wooden Al that made us cringe in 2000. Finally, we have the real and authentic Al, and I love what I see.

Al says he is not running for president in 2008. However, he does often sound like a candidate. Most noticeably, he has been the major speaker at a number of lectures sponsored in Washington by MoveOn.org. In his speeches, he has delivered devastating critiques of the Bush Administration that were not just coherent, but delivered passionately and convincingly.

Richard Nixon lost the 1960 election to John F. Kennedy. For a while, it appeared that he had gone out to graze permanently in a different pasture. Of course, he reemerged and managed to win the 1968 election. Ironically, he won that election because the Johnson Administration could not find a way out of Vietnam. Nearly forty years later we find ourselves in a similar situation in Iraq. Al is too smart to have a “secret plan” to end this war. Yet one thing is now clear: America needs effective leadership in the war on terrorism. We need someone with a realistic and nuanced plan, not someone whose strategy amounts to slavishly following an ideology.

When I survey the likely 2008 presidential candidates, I am largely uninspired. Howard Dean has ruled out running so that he can tackle the arguably larger problem of bringing Democrats back into the majority. There are likely candidates like Russ Feingold whom I feel passionate about, but who I also know probably leans too far to the left to be elected. Hillary Clinton is the early favorite, yet she claims she is concentrating on her own senatorial reelection this year, not a White House bid. (However, she is raising boatloads of money, far more than she will need to win reelection, which is in the bag anyhow.) I have heard Hillary speak. When her husband was running for president, I even had the opportunity to shake her hand. There is no question that she is an excellent speaker. However, she has a huge percentage of people who will not vote for her under any circumstances. In fact, most of these people totally loathe her. Kerry clearly is positioning himself to run again, but as a well-understood candidate now, he is unlikely to generate new enthusiasm. Of course, others want to try or try again. They include John Edwards, Joe Biden, and even Christopher Dodd (who most Americans do not know). Wesley Clark is my current favorite among these potential candidates, although he too has some passionate enemies.

Clark is no longer my top choice. I want Al. (However, Clark could make an excellent vice president.) I want the Al that I see in An Inconvenient Truth. I want him passionately. This Al Gore is the real deal that he withheld from us in the 2000 campaign. This is the authentic Al, stripped of his masks. He no longer has to worry about triangulating, his poll numbers or following the dubious wisdom of the Beltway insiders. It should feel creepy that old Wooden Al has metamorphosized at last into the Authentic Al. His sincerity, genuineness and passion is now plain for all to see.

It is time to draft Al Gore in 2008. Yeah, I know he says he is not a candidate. I think that he can be persuaded to change his mind if we keep speaking up. Because not only would he be the best Democrat to run for the presidency, I think he is by far the best person to lead our nation at this crucial time in our history. As he goes across the nation speaking and listening, we need to speak to him. We may need to shout. Al, the country needs you. You are being called to service your country. Do not let your country down at this critical time in history.