Low-Brow Moments From Democratic Women Make For This Week’s Cheapest Political Stunts

There are many ways to create a headline and push a message if you are in the political arena.  Most of the first-ranked names on both sides of the aisle have a team of media consultants who drive a theme, craft a message, and then sell it. Only the pols who have some over-driving need to roll over anything in their way take matters onto the unseemly paths.

That happened twice this week.  President Biden was the recipient of both occurrences. It looked bad because it was bad.  Both for the leader of our nation, but also for two politicos that need strong support if they are to prevail in their next elections.

In a publicity stunt of the most rank kind, ‘Democratic’ Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, took to the chamber’s floor before President Biden had the opportunity to address the caucus.  She wanted to make a fast headline of her strong desire to be a major roadblock to the national work required to address voting reforms.

It was truly ‘in your face’ politics. Sinema’s stand was not a surprise, as we knew she was very much opposed to ending the filibuster. But she delivered her ‘nothing new here but this stick in the president’s eye’ less than 45 minutes before Biden arrived at the Democratic luncheon. He wanted to prod all 50 members to support changing Senate rules, allowing for a carve-out to allow voting rights legislation to pass.

Earlier in the week many thought it most low-brow when Stacey Abrams created headlines by being a no-show when Biden traveled to Georgia for a voting-rights speech.  It was an odd spectacle of its own kind since she needs to have all hands-on deck if she is to marshal forward with a race for the statehouse.  She lost her first attempt by about 55,000 votes in 2018.

Needless to say, Abrams has a huge national base of support, a truly first-rate fundraising operation, and a message that is pointed to the needs of Georgia’s residents.  In other words, she has room for being courteous and polite when the president flies in on Air Force One.

Not for the first time do I comment on a politician asking voters to have faith in their leadership abilities but then show weakness by making a less-than-artful political move.   I admonished Wisconsin Democratic gubernatorial Mary Burke for skipping the chance to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with President Obama.  I took Senator Russ Feingold to task for not standing alongside Obama at a Labor Day rally in our state. I believe that not being on stage with your president should dismay all about the state of our politics.

I am perplexed with Democrats who cannot stand up and take credit for the good things that have been done or refuse to stand alongside those who brought them to the dance.   One of the main problems for Democrats as the mid-term elections approach is the lack of spine and verve in strutting their accomplishments.  While Democrats limp along without cheering for what was gained, Republicans will be more than happy in the midterms to spin the past two years into a frightful liberal nightmare. 

Such behavior, from Abrams to Sinema, is just not a very classy thing to witness.  Regardless of politics, you should always stand with your friends.  There comes a time when you say, whatever the impact, I will not turn my back on the leader of the free world.   The president is coming to my state, and by God, I will be there with him.  Or the president is coming to my legislative chamber and I will offer all due respect.

That may seem corny and outdated in this era of slash and burn politics, but it is a standard I still think has merit.  It is a value I think many of my fellow citizens share, even in this jaded time in which we live.

Student Loan Cancellation Needs Democratic Energy From Biden White House

This morning my newsfeed reported that now there are 26 House Democrats not seeking reelection to Congress. That is certainly a driving narrative of what the tea leaves are forecasting for the party now in power as the midterm elections approach. I feel the Senate can be held by Democrats, but the House will fall to Republicans.

Already, more Democrats have called it quits this year than in any cycle since 1996, when 29 members newly in the minority decided not to run again. The same number of Democrats, 29, retired in 1994, the year Republicans reclaimed control of Congress for the first time in four decades.

There are many issues that deserve attention in this calendar year as Congress ratchets up campaign efforts while keenly aware there is a shortening window to address national needs. One of the most pressing and also widely popular is the cancellation of a portion of the student loans.

This is not a new issue, but one that did drive much discussion in the 2020 presidential race when Joe Biden campaigned on forgiving $10,000 in federal student loans per person. That was a proper stance to take in the election, and should now be one that is addressed in the form of governing. The reason to put some energy and verve into implementing this idea is that it is smart policymaking and smart politics.

While I have urged for a portion of loans to be canceled, I still hold very much to the realization that incentivizing education by having students pay a share of the burden makes sense. When personal effort is required to gain an education a more strict adherence to the books results.

So why then do I support President Biden making a move to end at least $10,000 of loans per person? At a time when our economy is weakened by an ongoing pandemic, there is a need to find whatever juice is available and inject it so to stimulate job growth and GDP. By freeing up money that would be paid to some student loans it would instead be invested in everything from homes to cars to perhaps even starting a new small business.

The second reason I urge action is due to strongly and continually advocating for education. It is not always possible or easy for young people to take the classes they want or need, but we know the power of skills attained and the revenue it produces in taxes and investments. This underscores why the federal action of loan cancellation would make long-term sense. We need to let young minds constantly know we value their interest in education.

I am confident that the majority of rank-and-file citizens well understand the benefit the country receives from educated young people moving into a wide array of jobs. A December poll released by the Morning Consult/Politico found over 60% of voters surveyed support student debt forgiveness. Polling research up and down the line point to national public approval for assisting people burdened with educational loans.

It has been strongly advocated, so to make this policy happen, that Biden uses his authority under the Higher Education Act of 1964 to enact wide-scale student loan cancellation through an executive order. The other option, of course, is for Congress to act legislatively and do the work. One way, or the other, this policy move needs to take place.

Intellectual strength is not something we talk openly about in this nation. But we should.

When some voters feel a resume is to be snickered at and expertise is not something to be valued we need to be reminded of what took Americans to the moon. It was not just rocket thrust, but the science and technology that allowed our flag to be placed on the moon. That effort was made possible by students first sitting in a classroom and learning.

Late last year a shocking amount of money was spent on our national defense. The House passed an authorization bill costing $768 billion. Certainly then, a person in middle America should feel the federal government can lessen the student loan burden by $10,000.

And it can be correctly argued that a keen mind and skills learned are as valuable to a democracy as a missile.

And so it goes.

When A President Walks About (Like You And Me) While Continuing A Holiday Tradition

Something played out on Friday that made for a bit of national news, but which I found to be utterly fascinating. Even uplifting. President Biden took to foot on the streets of Nantucket. It is not often we see the leader of the nation just being himself.

On a day when many people across the country went shopping as the stores attempted to lure them in with sales, Biden was casually strolling the cobblestone streets of the small town. Along the way surprising small business owners by darting into a shop to say hello and making a purchase or two.

This was not some staged photo opportunity, but rather a holiday tradition for the Biden family. For the past 40 years, the Thanksgiving weekend has been spent on the island.

It was raining off and on as he strolled about, carrying his own umbrella as he looked into windows and talked with random folks on the street.

The optics are gold, I readily admit that. There is certainly a political plus to the images and video of someone who we have known for a long time as Joe, being the same person now even though he has the title of President. The point is that the day was not a political spin effort, but rather the President doing that same thing he and his family have done for decades on this holiday weekend.

To me, that is most refreshing.

When Saturday started to wind down with shopping the Biden family did what they have always done on the day after Thanksgiving. They all attending Nantucket’s annual Christmas tree lighting ceremony.

Modern presidents are often cocooned and shut off from such experiences. So to see Biden stroll about the streets that he and his family have long known, and participate in the weekend like millions of his fellow citizens were doing, was restorative to a nation that has felt the harshness of a pandemic. And too much raw politics.

We all have those mental images of what constitutes normalcy and stability when it comes to national leadership. We all have those flashbacks to President Ford making breakfast or the Carter family attending church. Such moments caught in time are important as we know our democracy is made up ‘of the people’.

Over the past presidency, we lost that touchstone to real America. So it does matter now that the average person can identify with the one who sits in the Oval Office. A man who can even carry his own umbrella.

And so it goes.

Compromise In Washington Makes Stronger Bridges, Better Roads, Ports Near You

We know what happens when partisan gridlock ties up the governing process making Washington mostly useful as the tool for nighttime comedy writers.

But what happened when 19 Republican Senators joined the majority, or when 13 House Republicans linked votes with their Democratic colleagues on the same congressional bill?

On Monday President Joe Biden signed a truly impressive legislative measure to address infrastructure concerns in the nation. The $1 trillion bipartisan infrastructure bill matters for more than just needed physical improvements. Let me explain.

As a result of Congress earlier this year, and correctly so, pumping over a trillion dollars into the economy due to the pandemic, it might seem massive funding amounts are commonplace in headlines. While that is true, the significance of the new legislation and the dollars pumped into states and communities should not be overlooked. The infrastructure projects will impact each and every American.

There is the essential $110 billion to be spent on roads, bridges, and other major transportation projects. With the President’s signature, $66 billion in freight and passenger rail will be updated. It will direct $39 billion into public transit systems, which will assist local urban centers, such as Madison and Sun Prairie.

This blog has commented on the absolute need for expanding broadband, especially following the educational debacle in some parts of the nation that occurred with long-distance education due to COVID. So I am very pleased with the $65 billion into expanding broadband.

The reason we can applaud these items listed here, and a plethora of others in the measure, is due to the ability of members from both parties to move forward with the primary reason they were sent to Washington. To do the work of the public.

Over the many years when voters were asked what angers them about government, the primary reason can be summed up that the failure to compromise and get bills passed that impacts ‘the folks back home’ is the one that most rankles. 

The all-out ultra-partisanship has been building for decades, and this one glimmer of bipartisanship being sealed into a final package will not allow for everyone to see the light. To feel the art of the possible.

But to not stop and recognize the positive impact of working together on this measure will only allow the continuing rancor that consumes Washington to have won another day.

I can just see some conservative candidates challenge Republican incumbents who stood up and decided that government should act for better roads and bridges. How dare a member of the GOP work with the majority party! We have come to a place in our tribal politics when infrastructure is now viewed, by some, as Red or Blue. It was not so long ago that infrastructure bills were just common-sense measures where every state and congressional district proved to be lifted up and improved.

Every district will win with this funding measure too, but many of the Congressional Republicans will carp for their partisan ends. That is a sad place where our nation has landed.

For the rest of us, therefore, it is important to grasp the value of compromise and bipartisanship. We can see the fruit of such work.

And in the future, we will feel it too as we ride on smoother roads and walk through improved airports.

And so it goes.

One More Time: Compromise And Bipartisanship Are Essential To Governing

At some point, Congressional Democrats will need to join hands, focus on what can be achieved in the major Build Back Better legislation, pass the bill, and rejoice in the signing at the White House. The various factions and the competing ideas of what programming to push for and how to fund it will need to give way to governing.

Part of the problem at achieving that end can be seen in the way too close polling in the upcoming Virginia governor race.

While crafting legislation is certainly a part of the governing process it can also be viewed by the public, with the past month in Washington as evidence, as to why there is a strong perception that the dysfunctional nature of our politics has the upper hand.

One of the hurdles that continue to be a major stumbling block among Democrats is the need for compromise. In large funding packages, such as this bill, no one is going to get everything desired. All have to give up something to gain something. That is a political fact.

It does not take long to scan this blog and know I have some core ideas and strong convictions about policy concerning a raft of issues in the country. I would love to have everyone see the landscape from my perspective. But in a two-party system, and with varying degrees of factions within each party, it becomes essential to broker consensus and commit one’s self to govern as effectively as possible.

That does not mean one ever needs to fall for extreme positions, but does mean that when it comes to items like Medicare expansion or climate change proposals, or child leave there can, and should be, ways to trim here, add there, and walk away with a deal.

In line with the need for better working at the art of compromise, there must also be a better attempt at bipartisanship. Granted, that is more difficult with a Republican Party that has drifted so far that it has, at times, hit the fascist wall. There are some progressives in the Democratic Party who also make it most challenging to find a reasonable path forward with the goal to work together.

Last night Senator Joe Manchin waxed about the way Washington once worked.

Manchin also reminisced at the dinner about the good ol’ days of bipartisanship — “wining and dining” Republicans and Democrats on his houseboat — and evenings full of singing and good cheer. He told a story about bringing together two senators in particular: The first time he had Tom Harkin on the boat, Harkin, ecstatic to be there, told him he’d never been on the Potomac at night. Then, as Manchin told the room, “here comes Ted Cruz and [Harkin] said, ‘I’m getting off this damn boat!’ And I said, ‘Come on Tom, it’s going to be fun! You’ll be fine!’ He said, ‘Get me another glass of wine!’ … Before the night was over I couldn’t separate them.” And then they introduced legislation together a few days later.

“We just don’t know each other,” Manchin complained of the current Washington climate.

I do not just post that portion of Manchin’s words to fill space. I actually believe what he says about bipartisanship.

I have long suggested that one of the problems with modern-day Washington is the lack of friendships among members. Not casual encounters on the capitol subway system, but real friendships. Since there is a need for continual fund-raising, and then the constant back-and-forth every weekend to the congressional district, there is no time to build the needed bonds that would well-serve our nation at times of high political tension.

The types of friendships I speak about are spelled out in the writings of such books as Katharine Graham’s Washington. Over the years I have likened the lack of connectedness among members of Congress to satellites floating about, all serving a purpose but not being linked in a meaningful way.

Friendship is lacking in Washington.

Now it seems that more people are noticing what I have argued for years.

Back in the golden days of Washington entertaining, hostess-with-the-mostest Perle Mesta was said to have remarked on the ease with which she was able to draw guests to her parties: “Just hang a pork chop in the window and they’ll come.” I’d like to see what Perle would have to hang in her window now to get a government official to one of her storied dinners — a minor rock star? A major PAC check? Washington doesn’t go to dinner much anymore, and it’s bad for the country.

I wish to conclude this post with another slice of the past. Politics and governing are never easy. But as the short story below underscores it also need not stop our progress as a nation.

Support Is Strong For Robust Spending Plans Of President Biden And Democrats

Watching the legislative process play out in the halls of Congress can be vexing for many Americans. This summer the much-needed infrastructure bill, and the meaty Build Back Better bill, aimed at addressing a plethora of national concerns, have made headlines.

And angst.

The political rhetoric has been heavy and the headlines at times can make it seem the bill is too massive to make it over the line so as to have a presidential signature. While it was inevitable the original $3.5 trillion proposal was to be trimmed in the budgeting process doesn’t mean the goals outlined by this White House misalign with the desires of the public.

I have been following the polling data from West Virginia where Democratic Senator Joe Manchin, who enjoys being a power player rather than a policy wonk, seems not to be squared with his own constituents. It is clear that when one starts to look at the various components of the large spending proposal put forth by President Biden there is strong support.

When the nonpartisan nonprofit WorkMoney surveyed more than 50,000 of its 2 million members nationwide, it found 81% of respondents said they supported this plan. That includes 90% of liberals who took the survey, 81% of moderates and 66% of conservatives.

Conservative backing appears even more robust in West Virginia, home of Manchin, a moderate Democrat who is one of the critical holdouts on the budget bill and whose efforts could derail the entire plan – or see large chunks of it scrapped as he balks at the budget’s price tag.

But according to the survey, 80% of more than 800 people surveyed in his home state believe he should vote to pass the bill. That includes 77% of conservatives who responded to the survey.

The colossal spin machine from right wing-media, which starts with Fox and Friends in the morning, continues on angry conservative talk radio all day, and then veers into the absurd with the Fox News’ talking heads at night would make it seem no one wants the spending for Biden’s programs.

But that is not true, as outlined in a Wall Street Journal story.

Several recent polls, bolstered by interviews with more than 50 Democratic voters across six swing states in recent weeks, indicate broad party support for legislation to expand social safety net programs and pass measures aimed at mitigating the effects of climate change.

Democratic leaders have proposed paying for well over a trillion dollars in expanded government services, in part, by higher taxes. Top Democrats acknowledge that would have been considered too liberal a few years ago but say that it now has broad party support. At least one Democrat in the Senate has voiced opposition to the idea.

Most of the Democratic voters interviewed said they believed that if their elected leaders didn’t act on the most ambitious legislation possible, the party risked losing congressional seats in next year’s midterm elections and the White House in 2024.

A CNN poll released last week found that 75% of Democrats preferred a bill that included all of the social safety net and climate-change provisions proposed by Mr. Biden. Another 20% of respondents backed a scaled-back bill that costs less. A Pew Research Center poll released in late September similarly found that among those who identify as Democrats or lean Democratic, 75% said they favored Mr. Biden’s initial $3.5 trillion package.

I will be the first to admit that messaging has been the weak link when it comes to the Biden White House and the needs that are addressed in this large budget bill. The public knows, however, there needs to be a transformational way we address climate change, pay for education, and update our transit systems.

The public may not speak about these matters in the phrasing found here but they are most aware of failing bridges, not enough cash to send their kids to college, and way too few daycare options for working mothers. This all may seem like a large partisan game to Republicans but to the people who deal with these and other problems each day around the nation, this bill is a hope for their future.

I support the bill and I will gladly pay for the means of making sure the nation can be lifted up with the programs which are contained in the final draft. A large portion of my fellow citizens agree. Polls underscore that fact.

We have put off for far too long the policy moves that must occur now.

And so it goes.


No Black And White About Exit Strategy In Afghanistan

If you listen to the angry politicians who take to the airwaves and pontificate over Afghanistan a listener might be falsely led to believe that there are absolutes at play in the end to the nation’s 20-year war in that nation. Nothing, however, could be further from the truth.

Over the past weeks, I have very much limited my intake of the reactionary Republicans on Capitol Hill who consider a dialogue on par with a fourth grader to be the extent needed when conversing on this topic. Making only inflammatory remarks when an international crisis flares are not my definition of leadership.

In addition, it is not possible to have the sureness the Republicans are pushing without the context of how we arrived at this point in time. That of course does not stop them from talking, nor those who listen from gobbling up the pablum.

I have found the best path to facts and analysis about Afghanistan are the same sources I use continuously. The Economist, Foreign Affairs, The New Yorker, NPR, and BBC.

And of course, The New York Times.

I want a broad-based and intelligent perspective on what is taking place.

Sunday the NYT ran a superb news analysis article written by Peter Baker. If Baker writes it there is no way one should miss it. He is one of our essential reporters in America today.

Baker certainty questions the approach taken by President Biden, but also places the exit from Afghanistan in the larger arena of events.

Under the four-page deal signed in February 2020, Mr. Trump agreed to withdraw all American troops by May 1, 2021, lift sanctions and compel the release of 5,000 prisoners held by the Afghan government, which was cut out of the negotiations. The Taliban committed to not attacking American troops on the way out or letting terrorist groups use Afghanistan as a base to attack the United States.

While the Taliban agreed to talk with the Afghan government, nothing in the publicly released part of the deal prevented it from taking over the country by force as it ultimately did and reimposing its repressive regime of torture, murder and subjugation of women. It was such a one-sided bargain that even Mr. Trump’s former national security adviser H.R. McMaster called it a “surrender agreement.”

Following the deal, Mr. Trump reduced American forces in Afghanistan to 4,500 from 13,000. Eager to be the president to end the warhe signed a memo to the Pentagon instructing it to pull out all remaining forces by Jan. 15 before leaving office, but was talked out of it by advisers. Instead, he ordered the force drawn down to 2,500 troops in his final days, although about 3,500 actually remained.

For Mr. Biden, inheriting such a small force in Afghanistan meant that commanders were already left with too few troops to respond to a renewed Taliban offensive against American forces, which he deemed certain to come if he jettisoned Mr. Trump’s agreement, requiring him to send thousands more troops back in, officials said.

The Biden team considered other options, including keeping a small presence of troops for counterterrorism operations or to support Afghan security forces, but reasoned that was just “magical thinking” and would take more troops than was sustainable. They discussed whether to renegotiate the Trump agreement to extract more concessions but the Taliban made clear it would not return to the bargaining table and considered the Trump deal binding.

Mr. Biden’s advisers also considered extending the withdrawal deadline until the winter, after the traditional fighting season was over, to make the transition less dangerous for the Afghan government. The Afghanistan Study Group, a bipartisan congressionally chartered panel that was led by Gen. Joseph F. Dunford Jr., a retired Joint Chiefs chairman and that included Ms. O’Sullivan, in February recommended extending the May 1 deadline and seeking better conditions before pulling out.

But Mr. Biden was warned by security specialists that the longer it took to withdraw after a decision was announced, the more dangerous it would become, aides said, so he extended it only until Aug. 31.

Particularly influential on Mr. Biden, aides said, were a series of intelligence assessments he requested about Afghanistan’s neighbors and near neighbors, which found that Russia and China wanted the United States to remain bogged down in Afghanistan.

“Biden basically faced the same issue that Trump faced,” said Vali Nasr, who was a senior adviser to Richard C. Holbrooke, Mr. Obama’s special representative on Afghanistan and Pakistan, “and his answer was the same — we’re not going to go back in, we have to get out.”

Republican criticism now, he added, was brazenly hypocritical. “They’re the ones who released all these Taliban commanders, they’re the ones who signed this deal,” he said.

Mark T. Esper, a defense secretary under Mr. Trump, agreed that the deal was flawed and in fact argued against drawing down further in the final months of the last administration before being fired in November. In recent days, he said, “there were more options available to President Biden” than simply continuing Mr. Trump’s withdrawal.

“He could have tried to go back to the table with the Taliban and renegotiate,” Mr. Esper said on CNN. “He could have demanded, as I argued, that they agree to the conditions they established or they agreed to in the agreement and that we use military power to compel them to do that.”

How we arrived at this stage of the Afghanistan war must be viewed from the start of the mission. Republicans will not tell their constituents that , but Foreign Affairs presses the point continuously.

‘’In the aftermath of 9/11, intervention in Afghanistan took on enormous importance for the Bush administration, which was determined to prevent another catastrophic attack on American soil. But the administration had no desire to garrison Afghanistan indefinitely, so it chose to help build a successor regime to the Taliban that could presumably govern the country on its own one day—and ensure that it didn’t again become a safe haven for terrorists. The invasion of Afghanistan and the ousting of the Taliban went surprisingly smoothly, producing a quick, low-cost victory. In the flush of this initial success, the Bush administration was led to believe that the follow-up nation-building mission could be similarly easy.

The Bush administration’s first mistake was a failure to fully appreciate the geographic obstacles in the way of an Afghan reconstruction effort. Afghanistan is on the other side of the world from the United States, and in addition to being landlocked and inaccessible, it is surrounded by several powerful and predatory neighbors, including Iran, Pakistan, and nearby Russia. The only way the United States could get most of its forces and their supplies into or out of Afghanistan was through or over Pakistan—a country that did not share American objectives there and actively sought to subvert them.

Moreover, the population of Afghanistan was considerably larger than that of any other country involved in a post–World War II U.S. intervention: in 2001, Afghanistan had almost twice as many people as wartime South Vietnam. Typically, the troop-to-population ratio is an important determinant of the success of a stabilization operation. Two years before the invasion of Afghanistan, in 1999, the United States and its NATO allies had deployed 50,000 troops to stabilize Kosovo, a country of 1.9 million. Afghanistan’s population in 2001 was 21.6 million—yet by the end of 2002, there were only around 8,000 U.S. troops in a country that was more than ten times Kosovo’s size and had no army or police force of its own. There simply weren’t enough U.S. boots on the ground to secure the country the United States had captured.

One reason for the relatively small deployment was that the Bush administration did not intend for U.S. forces to assume peacekeeping or public security responsibilities—rather, they focused exclusively on tracking down residual al Qaeda elements, at the expense of the foundational security required to build a functioning state. The Bush administration also neglected to commit the necessary financial resources to the Afghan stabilization effort. In Bosnia, the United States and other donors had provided economic assistance amounting to $1,600 per inhabitant per year for the first several years after that war. The comparable figure in Afghanistan amounted to $50 per person—a paltry sum.’’