Bring On The Squad

Cori Bush shares picture of expanded 'Squad'
From left: Rashida Tlaib (Detroit), Ilhan Omar (Minneapolis) Jamaal Bowman (NYC) Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (NYC) Ayanna Pressley (Boston) Picture from @Cori Bush

I copied this @AOC statement from a twitter thread by Magdi Semrau (@magi_jay) where she argues that the Democrats need to make better use of AOC and other members of The Squad during political campaigns. Ocasio-Cortez complains about her and members of The Squad being completely shut out by Democratic campaigns “as just a uniform liability” rather than being a resource of any kind. Ocasio-Cortez herself was so marginalized that she wasn’t even asked to send an email to her own list.


Magdi Semrau suggests there are circumstances under which Ocasio-Cortez and other members of the Squad could be usefully deployed to promote the Democratic Party among college students and young constituencies.

I do think [AOC] has a skill set & an ideology that appeals to a very specific set of people: namely, non-voting/sporadic-voting progressive college students. If she’s up for it, I think there are ways to utilize that skill set.

Agreed! And I especially agree with the idea of the Democrats having Ocasio-Cortez and other members of the Squad visit college campuses on a regular basis and “encourage voting.”

But I think there’s more justification than Semrau indicates on twitter. Several points.

  1. AOC is Very Good. Ocasio-Cortez is grounded in her positions, sharp, funny, and willing to engage across the political spectrum. She has first hand experience of GOP bigotry and violence and is an ideal person for communicating Democratic perspectives.
  2. Other Squad members. Rashida Tlaib, Cori Bush, Jamaal Bowman, Ilhan Omar, and Ayanna Pressley are all very good as well. They’re all tv regulars and have had to handle criticism. Given her drive and spirited personality, I think Tlaib has the most potential but they’re all good and would stand up well to debate and disagreement in campus settings.
  3. All Dems Now. Despite voting against the Bipartisan Infrastructure Plan, the Squad is operating within a Democratic Party framework and were much better Party citizens during the House infrastructure debates than the moderates. The Squad deferred to Pramila Jayapal as the head of the Progressive Caucus and Nancy Pelosi as Speaker and refused to undercut the legislation despite voting “no.”
  4. It’s Needed: AOC and others emphasize the problems posed by low youth turnout, but there’s also a big opportunity. 65% of 18-24’s and 54% of 25-29’s voted for Joe Biden in 2020 with a 50% overall youth turnout. Raising turnout numbers among among the 18-29 group to the 66% level of the population as a whole is one of the easier paths the Democrats have to improving their electoral position. Having AOC, the Squad and other Democratic figures circulating among young voters on a regular basis can be a a big electoral help and the Democrats need to put real resources into the effort.
  5. The GOP. Conservatives are already doing this. Well-funded groups like Turning Point USA, Young Americans for Freedom, Campus Crusade for Christ are active on college campuses. Conservative megachurches have full-time youth outreach operations that target kids at early ages. The right believes in full-time, multipronged outreach and much of it is billionaire funded. Democrats need to step up with something like equivalent funding for their own outreach.

In my recent “Do More With Rural Dems” post, I discussed some of the things the Democratic Party could do to scratch for votes in rural areas like my region of Eastern Kentucky. It would also help the Democrats to send people out to colleges like Morehead State University on a regular basis.

Appealing to the Political Homeless

Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema: the centrists blocking Biden's agenda |  Democrats | The Guardian

We’ll get to Kyrsten Sinema and Joe Manchin in a second.

The City has an interesting article on New York City Council becoming majority women for the first time and the replacement of three more conservative Council members from the Bronx with progressive Latina women.  Men rooted in the Bronx “borough’s evangelical Christian or business communities . . . , Fernando Cabrera, Ruben Díaz Sr. and Mark Gjonaj” either retired or were term-limited out of office and replaced by Democrats Pierina Sánchez, Amanda Farías and Marjorie Velázquez.

That’s “replacement theory” in action.

At the same time, Eli Valentín of Union Theological Seminary had an interesting and important observation about the change. “More than an ideological shift, it’s a generational shift,” Valentín said, noting that the “55 and over” crowd no longer has a political home.”

Back to Sinema and Manchin.

Between March and August, Senators Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona and Joe Manchin of West Virginia, both Democrats, embarked on a campaign to subvert, obstruct, and altogether scuttle President Biden’s “Build Back Better” legislation “that funds universal pre-K, Medicare expansion, renewable energy credits, affordable housing, a year of expanded Child Tax Credits and major Obamacare subsidies.” A version of President Biden’s bill passed the House of Representatives this morning and moves to the Senate. Whether Sinema and Manchin decide some version of Build Back Better or not, they’re uncomfortable being in a multicultural, socially liberal Democratic Party with an expansive domestic agenda but can’t imagine switching to a white nationalist and insurrectionist Republican Party.

In other words, Both Sinema and Manchin are politically homeless while holding office as Democratic senators.

It’s helpful to think about a part of the white working class population as politically homeless as well. In a recent (but undated as far as I can tell), Andrew Levison of The Democratic Strategist follows up on some research by unions to divide WWC voters into categories of Democrats, Extremists, and Cultural Traditionalists with the “Cultural Traditionalist” category being the group to whom Democrat direct their political messaging. What makes men and women in the cultural traditionalist camp “gettable” for Democrats is that they agree with ideas of diversity, pluralism, and tolerance even as they have a herrenvolk orientation toward the flag, patriotism, and religion that I would think also makes them open to appeals from the extreme right. Levinson also argues that “traditionalists” have a strong commitment to the local community which Levinson views as something in common with the extremists but which I believe could cut both ways given the decline of rural communities here in KY and across the country.

Given that Levinson only hopes to get the Democratic share of the WWC vote back up to the 2008 level of 40%, he appears to (realistically) assume that Democrats could not appeal to a majority of Cultural Traditionalists. But he sees Democrats as potentially appealing to some Cultural Traditionalists among the WWC because that constituency doesn’t identify with Republican Party extremists and only reluctantly or unenthusiastically voted for Trump. In other words, there is a segment of the WWC “Cultural Traditionalist” vote that is uncomfortable with both parties, politically homeless, and therefore could potentially vote Democratic in local, state, and national elections.

I grew up in small town Upstate NY (Waverly in the Southern Tier) and have been living in rural Kentucky for the last 30+ years. From my perspective, Levinson’s own recommendations for themes seem awkward and ineffective:

1. The America that the extremists are fighting for is not the America I grew up in.”
“2. I love the American flag as much as any American but I would never use a flagpole
flying our flag as a club to assault other Americans that I call my “enemies.” That is not the
American way.”
“3. The values I grew up with are good values and I want them to endure. But the values
of the people who want to turn Americans against each other and divide our country are
not my values.”
“4. Decent people can stand up for traditional American values without turning America into
something that is deeply un-American.”

That’s all defensive and unappealing. I can’t imagine anyone in KY changing their vote on the basis of those arguments. Let me suggest some alternative themes that have a better chance of working.

  1. Effective and active government. Effective government was stressed by Bronx Latina progressives, but I heard the same at a Democratic rally here in Rowan County, KY. The local county Judge-Executive and Morehead City mayor both talked of effective government getting things done in their remarks. It’s a strong theme that can work. Given the American rescue plan and the Infrastructure, the Biden administration has already shown that it can do the same.
  2. Rebuilding Communities: Rural communities and small cities have been declining for decades and need to be rebuilt. On the positive side that includes jobs, education, medical services, and access to transportation and broadband. But rebuilding also involves the long-term work of drug rehab, adult education, and family courts. The Democrats need to be able to make this a plus as the Infrastructure and Build Back Better bills are implemented.
  3. Choices for Young People: It’s been known for a long time that the best, brightest, and most ambitious young people leave their towns. One thing the Democrats could do is pose their community building efforts in terms of giving young people a real option of staying in their home towns if they want. That’s something that speaks to the community attachment element of “Cultural Traditionalism.”

Political homelessness is a structural element in a political system in which the two major political parties are rapidly becoming more polarized. One thing the Democrats need to do is to pose themselves as the better option for people who are open to their message.

Biden, Normalcy, Competence

Ford F-150: Why is Joe Biden driving a battery-powered Ford F-150? - ​Avid  car enthusiast Joe Biden | The Economic Times

President Joe Biden is going through tough times and its showing up in public opinion polls. The surge in the Delta variant, withdrawal from Afghanistan, Haitian refugee situation, and problems in passing an infrastructure bill have all had a negative impact on public opinion with Biden approval sinking from 52.4% two months ago to 45.4 in the latest poll index.

According to Amy Walter, who has taken over as the head of the Cooke Political Report, Biden’s problems come down to questions of “normality” and “competence.” According to Walter:

When Biden was running for president, his message was pretty straightforward: I’m the guy who will bring normal back to Washington. Where President Trump was unorthodox and chaotic, Biden would be conventional and organized. Trump ran the White House like a reality show, Biden stocked his cabinet and high-level staff with Washington insiders with establishment credentials. He was going to usher in an era of boring, but predictable

Biden was able to create an appearance of normality by rolling out COVID vaccines quickly and effectively. But that was all a mirage. “Normality” went out the window with the Jan. 6 Insurrection, the continued promotion of the Big Lie by the right-wing media, and then vaccine refusal among white conservatives. A majority of Republicans believe Trump is the “true U.S. president while the same survey found that 2/3rds of Republicans believe Biden won the election through fraud. Likewise, a “majority (56 percent) of Republicans support the use of force as a way to arrest the decline of the traditional American way of life.” Vaccine rejection has gone down from 32% to 16%, but that 16% is still almost 35 million people and they’ve maintained their hard core stance in the face of the current Covid surge associated with the Delta variant.

In the United States, “normality” is no longer a settled thing and hasn’t really been settled since Obama’s election as the first black president in 2008. What will sooner or later become the “normal” for a Democratic administration is pursuing a radical reformist combination of a civil rights agenda, infrastructure spending, climate legislation, and lowering the wealth gap while also managing the on-going Republican refusal to engage with policy issues, the proliferation of conspiracy theories, and the right-wing refusal to cooperate and violent resistance to the operations of federal and state government. That’s not to mention militia and paramilitary violence.

Being able to deal with both sides of the “new normal” will also be the measure for Biden administration competence. Needless to say, the short and medium term future in the United States is civil and political unrest at best and fascist takeover at worse. If Biden and the Democrats want to be seen as competent, they’ll have to deal with this situation in at least a somewhat satisfactory way.

Evangelicals and White Conservative Identity

Joel Osteen's Lakewood Church in Houston, shown during service on Feb. 27, 2011, seats 17,000. Its church service is broadcast to more than 7 million weekly.
Robert Seale/USA Today Network

Sobering facts. For the United States, Vox finds that a large majority of the population is still white (Non-Hispanic). According to Pew, the percentage of Protestant evangelical white voters has bumped up from 25 to 29 and Trump’s vote among white evangelicals bumped up significantly from 77% to 84%. Among more mainstream Americans, there was some expectation that the evangelical population would either decrease or become less committed to Trump once they realized how “vile” or “disgusting” he was. But the opposite occurred. Although 2% of evangelical voters did defect from that type of Christianity but more than enough 2016 Trump voters became evangelicals to more than make up for the defections.

Basic implications. Trumpism coalesced around white evangelicals and evangelicals further coalesced around Trump. Given that the proportion of the white evangelical population is declining slowly and white evangelicals are about 20% of the whole (according to these Pew numbers), there’s going to be no dramatic demographic shift allowing the Democrats to count on a stable majority. If the Democrats want to win elections, expand their House and Senate majorities, and turn the five big purple states of Arizona, Florida, Georgia, North Carolina, and Texas blue, they have to fight and scrap at every turn.

More Positive Indications. But Biden did win the election and increased his vote shares in the suburbs, among white non-college voters, and white college voters. Black primary voters defined the basic Democratic strategy of securing the urban multicultural center-left base while appealing to white suburban voters by avoiding positions that could be smeared by Republicans. That’s a strategy that has a great deal of power in a large nation that’s still urbanizing and the Democrats should build from there.

Manchin as Lone Conduit

Like so many political discussions since Biden’s inauguration in January, this one starts with Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia. Whether it’s Manchin’s testimonials to bipartisanship, protection of the filibuster, insistence on addressing Republican ideas in the Covid Relief Bill, or conference calls with corporate Democratic groups like Third Way and No Labels, Joe Manchin’s name is on the tip of every writer’s typing fingers and the top of every call list from Joe Biden’s and Chuck Schumer’s to the humble but well-heeled lobbyists for coal and chemical companies in West Virginia.

Despite Afghanistan withdrawal, the Covid surge among the unvaccinated, and Hurricane Ida scoring a daily double of flooding both New Orleans and New York, Manchin still drew attention with a Susan Collins-like op-ed expressing what The Hill calls “concerns” about the impact of the Democratic leadership’s $3.5 trillion reconciliation package on inflation and the federal debt. Key passages read like lobbyist boilerplate and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez quickly called attention to Manchin’s meeting with energy lobbyists once a week and history of being “one of many senators who gives lobbyists their pen to write so-called ‘bipartisan’ fossil fuel bills.” It’s not just energy lobbyists either. Manchin has been taped doing a call with No Labels, one the main representative of corporate interests in the Democratic Party and was involved with the amateur hour, abortive moderate rebellion against Nancy Pelosi.

Since January, Manchin has become the main conduit for Republican, corporate, and Lieberman-style, GOP leaning, moderation in the Democratic caucus. Manchin’s opposition to removing the filibuster and suspicion of all the Democratic proposals he ends up supporting makes him the best available perfect foil for many of the most important interests opposed to the Biden administration. But Manchin’s importance is a real curiosity. Why does Joe Manchin represent GOP interests as he did with the Covid Relief Bill? Why couldn’t Mitch McConnell or GOP Senate whip John Thune? Why not Ted Cruz? Why is Manchin such a focus of lobbying efforts? Are there any Scoop Jacksons to be the Senator from Boeing? Why isn’t Connecticut’s Richard Blumenthal up to his eyeballs in corruption like former Connecticut Senator Chris Dodd or his father and yet another Connecticut Senator Thomas Dodd? Why doesn’t Chuck Schumer find someone to rid him of the meddlesome Bernie Sanders as Budget Chair? Joe Manchin is an important man but outside Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (to whom Manchin doesn’t seem much allied), Manchin is also isolated within the Democratic caucus with his colleagues talking to him more because they have to than anything else.

Ironically, Joe Manchin is at the center of the budget debate because the Senate GOP, corporate lobbying interests, and Democrat moderate groups have so little impact on either Biden administration proposals or Democratic legislation as it moves through Congress. Conservative and corporate interests have surprisingly leverage in relation to the Democratic Party and Joe Manchin is pretty much the only vehicle they have for influence. Manchin and Sinema themselves only have leverage because the Democrats have such a small margin in the Senate. Otherwise, the Democrats are a highly unified political party with skilled leadership and a radical reform agenda.