I didn’t get last night’s post off in time, so you’re getting two.
A cursory look at national polling on FiveThirtyEight tells the story– a bunch of 8-10 point Biden leads were the weekend. A clear, resounding lead, that is remarkably steady. His average ticked up to 6.8%, which is solid, and would be higher without an outlier poll or two last week. RCP shows Biden up 6.5% on their average, a full 5% better than Hillary at this same point. Things are steady, but the swing state polls still show a fairly close race that probably is competitive still. Biden basically leads the swing states, but not by as big of leads as he has nationally.
More ink has been spilled than should have been over the “Northampton County is predictive of Pennsylvania” storyline. Even so, here’s an article to read about. My theory remains that my home county is very important, but is only one of several (Northampton, Lehigh, Monroe, Lackawanna, Carbon, and Luzerne) where Hillary lost the 2016 Election by so badly underperforming Barack Obama. If Joe Biden can improve on her performance in most of these places, he’ll win. For what it’s worth, Northampton County has gone blue since 2016 for County Executive, Congresswoman, Governor, Senator, and State Supreme and Superior Court. Of course, this is a very different kind of race.
By the way, it’s a weird Fall when the Eagles stink and Penn State hasn’t existed yet. I guess that’s better for work product though.
That’s enough for today, part I. I’ll have 43 later.
So, it’s the day after the first political earthquake of the Fall. RBG has died. Donald Trump has vowed a nominee this week. Mitch McConnell has vowed a vote. If they get their way, everything from health insurance to LGBTQ rights, immigration rights to Roe v. Wade, and so much more will simply go away. The Democrats can try to deny a quorum by not showing up, or they can pledge to put more judges on the bench if McConnell. Those are their best options. And they carry significant political risk. Otherwise they have to hope that Romney, Collins, Murkowski, and some combination of retiring Senators and endangered Senators buckle on Moscow Mitch. They didn’t in 2018, and it was rewarded. Don’t hold your breath.
The 2020 campaign remains stable with 45 days to go. If you throw out Rasmussen, Biden hasn’t lead by less than 5% in a national poll counted by RCP this month. In their average of the polls, compared to 2016, Biden is doing 5.5% better than Clinton, with less days remaining. His 6.2% lead is basically in line with 538’s 6.6%. If you remove Rasmussen, just looking at yesterday, Biden’s lead is almost 8% on 538. Removing Rasmussen from RCP shows an 8% lead the last three days, nationally. Even assuming a 6% national win at 140 million votes, Biden wins by 8.4 million votes. Hillary won by 2.9 million. No, he won’t lose the electoral college unless this race dramatically narrows.
Democrats raised between $46 and $80 million after RBG’s death, depending on what your time frame was. That was all grassroots dollars. When you hear about the enthusiasm that supposedly exists for Trump, there is often a weird acceptance that he has the advantage here. The grassroots donations say that’s not so.
Random, but when a conservative tries to argue to you that Trump’s Middle East diplomacy, consisting of giving guns to unstable autocrats in exchange for embassies in Jerusalem, is better than Obama’s Iran deal on the grounds that Iran didn’t comply, and we gave them money, remind them no, and hell no.
See you tomorrow. If you want to get involved with Biden for PA, join us to learn how. See you tomorrow.
I’m going to skip most of what I was going to write about tonight and save it for tomorrow. An absolute titan of a person died tonight. Regardless of your political leanings, it’s hard to argue the place of Ruth Bader Ginsberg, or RBG. She was the second woman to ever sit on the Supreme Court. It is important to also note her Jewish heritage, particularly as she died on Rosh Hashanah. She was an absolutely brilliant jurist, and her dissents in particular will be cited for decades to come. The Columbia law grad lived a life that beat every expectation. She will be sorely missed.
There’s a lot of politics to sort through here, and rest assured Mitch McConnell already had done so when he declared tonight that Donald Trump’s third nominee “will receive a vote.” Desperate to make this election about anything but Covid, this is the shake up Moscow Mitch wanted. The Senate leader understands that the states most likely to decide the Senate, in order, are North Carolina, Montana, Iowa, and Georgia. He also knows it gives Trump something tangible to dangle out in front of the many undecideds that voted for him last time. Expect them to promise a November vote on a nominee, and expect them to deliver on it, win or lose. This is the political reality.
Here’s the other political reality- this can galvanize Democrats as well. Promising a leftist ideologue probably hurts in the swing states and Senate states. Making the case that McConnell’s hypocrisy and Trump’s ineptitude and criminalesque behavior should not be rewarded will reach people though. Making the case that a Trump appointee will literally make life and death decisions for refugees, women, the LGBTQ community, and literally anyone else living in this country, is all we can do. Do you want Joe Biden or Donald Trump deciding the future of the country? That’s the question we have to put in front of the country. This election is about that. After the last four years, that should be clear. And if it’s not, if people don’t see the difference? That should be telling. If you’re a Democrat, and you’re afraid right now, or really anybody afraid, may I offer you a solution?
Broken record alert. The polls are stable. Joe Biden leads on 538 by 6.6%. He leads by 5.8% on RCP, largely driven by Rasmussen’s outlying poll. That’s 4.8% better than Hillary at this point. The swing states are in fact closer, but that’s why they’re swing states. Trump leads in none of them. One of the amazing things though is that people still maintain the polls were wrong last time, so they are this time. First off, the polls were within 1% in 2016, which is margin of error, this time a 1% error wouldn’t save Trump. Second off, the polls this time are far more stable than 2016. The race is what it is, right now.
Well, we’re another day closer to the election. Not much changed today in the polls. FiveThirtyEight lowered Biden’s lead to 6.9%, while RCP days it’s down to 5.9%. Why? Rasmussen came out with a poll giving Trump a 1% lead. Should you take it seriously? Well, YouGov and Reuters put out polls showing Biden up 9% today. Rasmussen is showing Trump at least 5% higher than any other pollster this week. Without Rasmussen, all the other polls on RCP average out to Biden by 6.75%. On 538’s numbers, without Rasmussen, it’s Biden by roughly 7.5%. This race remains not very close.
Out in the states, the polling is remarkably stable too. Like nationally, the reality is that there are very few undecideds. Less than 10% of the electorate, both nationally and in the states, are still undecided. While Biden’s leads fluctuate in size, almost no poll puts him outside of 2% from 50%, if not higher. That’s the number to watch. These polls look a lot more like 2012 than 2016.
Ok, so the picture above… wow. 23% of Americans aged 18 to 39 think the Holocaust is a myth or exaggerated. Almost 2/3 didn’t know 6 million Jews were killed. I mean, this is beyond alarming. These very, very lost people get to vote in our country, if they want. I don’t hold my generation’s politics in super high regard, but this is totally scary. And shocking.
Quick Senate note- the Democrats need to pick up at least three seats. Assuming they are favored to lose Alabama, that makes it four. Polling in Arizona and Colorado suggests the Democrats are in good shape to make pick-ups. Polling suggests Maine is moving that way too. That puts the Senate on North Carolina, Iowa, Montana, Georgia, and South Carolina as the most likely tipping points (in order). For what it’s worth, that’s my map.
We’re one day closer to this election being over, thank goodness. Joe Biden’s 538 lead is steady at 7%. His RCP lead is also at 7% nationally today. That’s good for 5.9% better than Hillary on this same date. Stability is the name of the game this year. New polling puts Biden way up in Virginia and Wisconsin, up in North Carolina, and up in one Florida poll and tied in the other. The Wisconsin poll seems significant, but the state of the race in Florida could be decisive with Bloomberg getting ready to weigh in. This week Biden has held leads greater than 5% in polls that when combined with “safe” states, equal 257 electoral votes. I’m not counting Pennsylvania or Florida in there (Pennsylvania would count if I said last week), but either of them or North Carolina would get the job done.
If Pennsylvania goes red again, which feels unlikely but not impossible, write down my reason I believe it’s possible: the Governor’s decision to include real estate in his earlier shut down orders. Pennsylvania was the only state in the union to do so, and the decision angered a well organized, relatively bi-partisan industry, with a fairly active state level PAC and lobbying effort. Just keep this in the back of your mind.
There’s 50 days to go. National polling remains remarkably steady. RCP shows a 7.1% Biden lead, which is remarkably consistent since the conventions. FiveThirtyEight shows Biden winning 76 in 100 simulations, which is also remarkably steady. 538 also shows Biden up 7%, 50.5-43.5%. Perhaps most importantly, Biden is consistently polling at 48% (Hillary/Kerry) or higher, while Trump has not surpassed his 46% from 2016 at all in recent polling. The polling is remarkably steady. The race does not have much in common with 2016. Both averages in the polls here show undecideds as a low number, about 6-7%. Biden’s lead, in the RCP average, is 5.3% bigger than Hillary’s on this date. In short, Biden has a steady, durable, substantial lead. Right now this race looks much more like 2012 than 2016. The likely tipping point state is Pennsylvania, right now.
On a happier note, I saw an old college friend for the first time in over a decade when I dropped her a Biden-Harris sign. She’s about to be a mother, which is awesome, and she’s currently a public defender in Lehigh County. As a strange aside, she was in law school with my little sister just a couple years ago.
Tomorrow we move into the 40’s for days remaining. I’m ready for this to get to zero.
Four years ago, Donald Trump won the 2016 Election in shocking and rare fashion- losing the popular vote by nearly 3 million votes, but narrowly winning “the big six” states by roughly 450,000 votes. The pundits acted shocked, and they asked things like “how were the polls so wrong,” and “how did this happen?” I have to admit, I believed Clinton would win the election, even into election night, but I also wasn’t all that shocked. The polls were not really wrong, as her national lead averaged 2.9%, and she won by 2.1% in the popular vote, which fits pretty much exact with her less than margin of error leads in the swing states actually going to Trump by margin of error margins. That .8% shift nationally shifted the closest states red. That’s what happens in a very close race sometimes. There’s a reason polls give a margin of error, and frankly being within a point is scientifically correct.
I must admit that I pretty much predicted that exact outcome back in the Summer of 2016, before I had formally joined the Clinton campaign. That race was very volatile throughout, and there was a lot of room for error. While Trump had very high unfavorables, Clinton also had record breaking unfavorables. Even when Clinton held “big” leads of near 10%, she rarely (if ever) was brushing up against 50%, often holding leads like 45-37%, with close to a fifth of the electorate saying they were undecided. Lots of people were saying they disliked both, and that they were undecided. An unusually high 6% ended up picking third party and write-in choices, lowering the threshold for victory. While there was never much doubt that Clinton would win the popular vote, there was always at least some pathway to victory for Trump. It seemed unlikely. It was never even close to impossible though.
And so here we are in 2016, with Joe Biden holding commanding leads nationally, and significant but competitive polling leads in the swing states. Even so, a lot of folks on both sides believe it’s likely Trump will pull it out the same way again. It is true, Trump does better in the swing states than he does nationally, and it always has been. While Joe Biden isn’t likely to match Barack Obama margins with Black voters, LatinX voters, Asian Americans, or the youth, he’s still likely to win most of these groups handily. The real issue for him is what states they are most populous in. The truth is that the Democrats have won every popular vote for President since the Cold War but 2004, and probably will continue to as they continue to grow their performances in some of the largest states in the country. It’s also true that politically speaking, California and New York are just way different than most other states. Most people agree therefore that Biden will win the popular vote by at least 3-5 million votes. And yet, so many wonder about the final result.
But I’m here to tell you that 2020 is not 2016. Really. There are a lot of fundamental differences that make this election very, very different. The pathway for Trump is much, much more narrow, even if it looks roughly similar to 2016. Trump is a different candidate than 2016, even if he hasn’t changed a bit. Joe Biden is not Hillary Clinton. Many of the 2016 assumptions have been decimated, if not turned on their head. And of course, Covid.
Let’s start with the most basic and clear difference- Joe Biden isn’t Hillary Clinton. He has not been beat on with the most intense negative messages for 25 years coming in, even if he’s been around a while. Some polls show Joe’s approval as high as 8% to the positive, others as low as -4% to the negative, but none of them show Joe at -15% levels of approval, as Hillary was. Joe has nothing on par with Benghazi or the e-mail server for a scandal right now, nor have we seen Wikileaks dropping well timed leaks on him. By this point in 2016, she was months into investigations by the House, James Comey’s FBI, Wikileaks, and the press. They were well baked into the public’s consciousness by now, let alone Election Day. Biden has also had less issues with Bernie Sanders and the overwhelming majority of his supporters than Hillary did. There’s the reality of how hard it is to win the White House three straight times for one party as well. Then there’s the gorilla in the room- sexism. Unlike Hillary Clinton, Joe Biden is not a historic candidate trying to crash a “glass ceiling” in our society. Joe Biden is facing less political “garbage” at this point, and again, with how close 2016 was, that might be enough to flip things.
Then there is the campaign Biden has run, which has been very different. Look at Biden’s Summer ad buys- they were heavy in Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Wisconsin. There was less “expedition buying” in “emerging” swing states that are less likely to be the tipping point of reaching 270 electoral votes. Joe Biden is spending Labor Day in Harrisburg, PA, not Philadelphia, and his visits to swing states have often been to places outside the major metropolitan areas. While the Clinton campaign was completely banking on huge vote numbers from big blue, metropolitan areas, Biden has built his Summer lead on flipping senior citizens by nearly 20% from 2016’s exit polling. This is huge because seniors are highly reliable to vote, and they are plentiful in every state, let alone the swing states. Biden is largely seen as safe, reliable, and experienced by voters. He ran a whole primary campaign banking on the country wanting a mainstream moderate, and won, and that has helped inoculate him from Trump’s attempts to tie him to protestors, scandals, and the more “AOC left” that Trump wants to run against. In short, this is a different beast. Joe just raised $364.5 million in August, and seems to know how to use it.
Donald Trump is different too. Much different. He’s not the same upstart candidate as 2016. Sure, he’s still the “anti politics” crusader, complaining about everyone in DC who won’t bow to him, but that’s a lot harder to sell as President. He’s now been the President as Covid-19 took 189,000 Americans lives, and tens of millions of Americans jobs and businesses. He was now President as a laundry list of friends, staff, and supporters of his have been indicted, plead guilty, or been convicted, cutting into his anti-corruption attacks from 2016. The rioting and looting in the streets that he is trying to use as an attack on former Vice-President Biden, are happening in President Donald Trump’s America. George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and Ahmaud Arbery are happening in Trump’s America too, as he does things like order the end of race sensitivity training in federal agencies. His achievements? Let’s boil it down- a big tax cut for rich people making “passive” income, lots of conservative judges on the bench, and some executive orders that reversed Obama era orders. Gone is the booming economy that he inherited from President Obama, our standing in the world, and any sense of civility in our politics. Let’s be honest- I even hate talking politics in public now. Can his campaign overcome these things? I mean he let his former campaign manager, who was way over his head but good at fleecing him for money, drive that ship for 3.5 years. Steve Brannon and Kellyanne Conway aren’t seeming to be available to come save things this time either.
All of this leads to something totally expected, but important- the polls are telling us this is a remarkably steady race. This, again, is not 2016. Joe Biden holds a remarkably steady lead in the 7-10% range. He is remarkably steady in the 48% (Hillary’s 2016 total) to 52% range in polls, meaning he has a larger base to work with, and he’s either at win numbers in most places, or needs less than one in five undecideds to get there. When Trump does get a close poll, Biden still is right around the 50% mark, meaning the number of real undecideds is remarkably low. Biden is doing all of this with slightly lower support numbers among Black and Latino voters than Hillary had, which also suggests some room to still grow. The gender gap in this race, particularly among women, is record breaking in Biden’s favor. Seniors and suburbanites, the most reliable voting blocks, are breaking toward Biden, in ways Hillary would have dreamed of. In short, more people have made up their minds, Biden has a stronger vote share than Clinton did, and Biden’s voters are better spread across the electoral map. And it’s been that way for months.
My basic theory about this election is that while Trump’s 2016 pathway to victory is still possible, it’s much less likely. There are less undecided voters to do it with. Trump’s standing, particularly in Michigan and Arizona, looks far worse. Biden is more competitive with white voters, mostly old white voters, than any Democrat since 1976. For Trump to win, he will need to win an extraordinary number of voters who don’t particularly love him, in an increasingly small number of states, to overcome leads that are both larger and more durable than Hillary’s were at this point. I wouldn’t bet on it.
And yet, many of you will. It has been pointed out to me that “betting markets” are moving towards Trump. I’d remind you that betting markets are very male, and men tend believe Trump has a lot more “magic” than he really has. It’s also been pointed out to me that the “law and order” argument worked in America before, but it’s worth noting those times weren’t for an unpopular incumbent. Still others base their nervousness on “swing states being closer than national polls,” which is sort of self-explanatory when you consider what defines being a “swing” state. Others yet say the “2016 polls were wrong,” which I debunked above. Some want to discuss an imaginary “enthusiasm gap,” just after Biden broke every fundraising record known to man, and Kamala Harris had higher convention ratings for her speech than Trump (Biden beat both). There are legitimate fears about cheating, whether it be with Trump’s USPS slow down or foreign interference, which I will not dismiss, but I offer but one remedy- don’t let it be close. It’s not terribly close right now, and it doesn’t have to be in November if you volunteer your time to the campaign, and vote.
In short, Joe Biden is going to win. It is possible that Trump pulls out some combination of Pennsylvania, Michigan, Wisconsin, North Carolina, Florida, Arizona, Minnesota, Nevada, New Hampshire, and Maine, all by 3% or less, and reaches 270 electoral votes again- just like it’s possible to be bit by a great white shark two separate times, and survive. Biden is well equipped to beat that plan though. His improved standing with men, white voters, independents, seniors, suburbanites, and most critically women, make him stronger in the swing states. The campaign is running precisely to deny Trump his 2016 pathway. People simply don’t believe Biden is corrupt or a socialist, despite the repeated attempts to sell that narrative by Trump. His approval is simply stronger than Hillary’s was at this point. There are far less undecideds than there were last time. Trump has a tough record to defend, and low approval to begin with. And of course, sexism is less likely to define this race than 2016.
None of this is to say anything is impossible. If you want Trump out, volunteer for the Biden campaign. If you’re a lawyer fearing shenanigans, volunteer for the Democrats voter protection team. If you’re not from a swing state, volunteer in one. Make sure three of your friends are registered and voting for Biden. Put as much effort into turning out the Biden vote as you are to that Facebook post about how awful Trump is. If you put in the effort to the things that matter, this election is a slam dunk. Trump’s only chance is your complacency. That is a chance though. It’s one you control, but it’s one we’ve dropped the ball on before.
It was an August evening 18 years ago that I came back to my dorm from cross-country practice and saw a flier on my door advertising internships with the Pennsylvania Democratic Party’s coordinated campaign for future Governor Ed Rendell and Congressional nominee Ed O’Brien. Motivated by my anti-war, pro-union, pro-environmental views of the day, I called the number the next day, and was on board within the week. I did not know at the time that my sports career, which had been ongoing since I was five, was days away from being ended by mono, or that I’d still be doing campaigns 18 years later (which was definitely not my intention at the time). In hindsight though, the transition makes sense and meant the world for me, as politics both replaced my competitive needs, and made me grow in ways I did not suspect it would at the time.
To be clear, 18 years later I could (and plan to) write a book about all the ways I think our political process sucks, and is broken. I often find myself feeling contempt for every part of the system, even as I would say without a second thought that this same broken system has made me a better person, and taught me to empathize with people I would not have had much in common with them. Politics is complicated though, so it’s fitting for me that I’m standing here all these years later observing that my own relationship to it is extremely complicated too. Ultimately though, it has been rewarding.
I can’t say I’ve ever had a bigger reward than the one I’ll celebrate this week: national Delegate. Thanks to the Biden campaign selecting me, about 300 people signing my petition, Joe Biden winning PA-7, and slightly over 50,000 people voting for me, I have the honor of a lifetime this week. Yes, it’s a weird year and convention, and I would be lying if I didn’t express my disappointment with not being in Milwaukee this week, but don’t mistake that for me being disappointed in the moment. I’ve spent my entire career working with a chip on my shoulder, that I’ve been passed over or underestimated by people in this industry for varying reasons. This week I can quietly and proudly tell myself I’m good enough, and for the nominee, no less. This is first line in your obituary type of shit here.
To be honest, I kind of thought this moment in my political life would happen four years ago, for Secretary Clinton and her campaign. I was an alum of her 2008 campaign, the convention was in my adoptive city of Philadelphia, I was raising money for her campaign and “Ready for Hillary” very early on, and I had friends and allies in close enough contact to them that I was pretty sure my call was coming. I received only small offers early on though and got passed over to be any kind of delegate for Hillary. It was personally and professionally very disappointing, and left me questioning many of my decisions. I got that my fairly extreme lack of diversity (white, straight, Catholic, male, geographically outside of the big cities) was a drawback, but why did it seem like I had nothing to offer a candidate that I admired like none other? The disappointment made me look in other directions, but ultimately I did stick with Hillary, and after the 2016 convention, they suddenly needed me to parachute into Northeast North Carolina to fix a messed up region for them, for which the honor will forever be mine. I made great friends there, and our hard work as a team gave the Tar Heel State a Governor and Attorney General that have improved so many lives. Ultimately though, even that experience left me and so many others feeling empty when Hillary came up short. It was devastating.
The last three years have been a whirlwind, and the experience has changed me politically like it has for so many of you. That all came to a head just two days before Thanksgiving, when I text an old friend who was Vice-President Biden’s head guy in Iowa after reading about him in an article. It would take until nearly Christmas, and I very nearly went in another direction, but I was offered to come to Omaha, Nebraska and join the Biden team as the out-of-state organizer there, and I accepted. I left the day after Christmas, ultimately spending 40 nights in the Midwest, fighting for Joe in Iowa. My role expanded to handling paid canvassing in Southwest Iowa and working with endorsers to fill our precinct captain team out, and it’s fair to say I was kept busy. I would not change it for the world though. Friends of mine, from Senator Casey’s political director to friends from past campaigns, and even people I met on twitter or knew from back home in Easton came out to volunteer for us. The personal highlight of all highlights was when my first major political boss, Senator Chris Dodd came to campaign with us over the last weekend in Council Bluffs (and his caucus day “good luck” call was awesome too). The whole experience was amazing, and during that time period I was informed that I had been selected to be a delegate (with a gigantic assist from Senator Casey’s political director, again). Honestly, even seeing that things weren’t looking great, I had prepared myself for a tough caucus night, and likely being laid off the day after. I got the tough caucus night, and handled it as best I could. Then I got the shocking call that I was being re-assigned to Philadelphia. For the next month, I don’t know if I was only lucky, somewhat good, or some combination, but I could not miss. I woke up every morning on Broad Street of my favorite city in the world, got my Friday night cheesesteaks, got visits from old, close friends I hadn’t seen in years, and oh yeah- things got better. To be honest, I have no idea how I got assigned to digital organizing, it was literally something I had never done in my career (maybe the only thing), but the success was there. My biggest two wins were Oklahoma and Tennessee on Super Tuesday, but the wins continued to just pile up in states I was organizing in- Massachusetts, Idaho, Wyoming, Maryland, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Ohio, and Delaware- all states I either organized in on the digital team, or later on the Mid-Atlantic “Pod.” Obviously Covid-19 struck about a month after I arrived in Philadelphia, the primaries came to a conclusion earlier than expected, and I was re-assigned eventually full time to Pennsylvania, but there was so much winning- and that was a great feeling. None of that was better than being elected to the convention on June 2nd though, so here we are.
From an identity standpoint, obviously Joe Biden is the best fit to me politically that I’ve probably ever had. It’s a lot more complicated than that though. In 2007 I passed on an interview with his campaign, which was offered to me just two days after I had accepted an offer from Senator Dodd. In 2015, I had the contract in hand to go to New Hampshire for the Draft Biden movement, and ultimately life events gave me second thoughts that kept me with Hillary. Even now, I can’t say this campaign has gone according to script. I also can’t say the similarities I share with Biden are what actually even draws me to him either- his Pennsylvania roots, his Catholicism, his “working class” politics- none of that gets me. I think it’s just how real of a person Joe is. He’s achieved great things, but his life has been far from perfect. He’s suffered personal loss. He’s made damaging gaffes. The “smart” people have consistently dismissed his politics and some even have called him dumb. This is part of what I love about Joe- he’s smarter than the “know it all” types, because he can relate to normal people, he keeps a broad, open tent, and he lets his opponents keep their dignity (which is why they’re opponents and not enemies). When this is over, and it’s 1/20/21 and I’m telling you “I told you so,” remember this is why- the country desperately wants to have a normal human being be it’s leader, someone that can wind down the permanent culture wars we’ve been fighting since Newt Gingrich decided to make all politics as nasty and personal as he could. Joe Biden is genuine, he is decent, and he is a bigger man than the rest of Washington, and I’m only so thrilled that he and I both hung around the business long enough that I could say yes to his campaign, finally.
Tomorrow will begin my third convention I have attended, my first as a delegate. My father and I drove up to Boston for the first two days of the 2004 Convention, and met this former State Senator from Illinois that you may have heard of named Barack Obama on Boston Harbor, speaking at a League of Conservation voters event the morning of his far more famous convention speech. In 2016 I spent the Philadelphia Convention outside of the hall as well, instead attending the parties and happy hours where you meet everyone. I would be an unequivocal liar if I said I’m not disappointed that I’m in Easton and not Milwaukee right now. There is zero doubt that I would have done anything possible to have the full delegate experience. Unfortunately life dictated otherwise though, so we’re going to do our best to enjoy the moment. I’ll attend the Pennsylvania delegation’s events, watch all the speeches, and attend the Labor caucus meetings (and any other caucus meetings I belong at). I voted for Joe Biden, our platform, and to continue under the post 2016 unity rules. Hopefully we delegates will get to register our support for Senator Harris with some form of vote, for history’s sake. I’m going to treat this convention seriously, because I waited a long f**king time for this. 18 years to be exact. And while no one is owed the opportunity to do what I get to do here, I earned it as much as anyone. I survived all that time, and the 9th position on the ballot in a low information race, for this. So yeah, I’m spiking the football just a bit.
Like our nominee I’ve got plenty of flaws, but also like him I’ve tried to not forget where I came from. I’m really proud to take part in this process and nominate a President we can really be proud of as a person again. I’m fortunate to be here, and fortunate to work for this man, and be a delegate. I remind myself that my immigrant great-grandfather walked across a railroad bridge from New Jersey to Pennsylvania to work in a cement factory with a bunch of other immigrants, then did it again the next day. I get to work for the 46th President of the United States, and represent the Democratic voters of Pennsylvania’s 7th Congressional District to vote for him at the Democratic National Convention. I’m thankful for the moment.
Let’s talk about statues. We tend to use them to mark a historical figure or event. Most of them are meant to signify something we view positively. Great former leaders, victory in battle, human achievements that marked milestones. That’s not to say there’s no statues to mark low points (I mean most cemeteries kind of do), but there’s a lot more Winston Churchill statues than Neville Chamberlain.
Lately, we’ve been debating statues that were erected to a lot of Confederate leaders in the rebellion against the United States. For me, this is an easy one. They were wrong, they lost, and they opposed the United States. People use the example of a Hitler statue, or the lack thereof in Germany or here, as some sort of evidence to remove these statues, but I think that’s going beyond scale to prove the point. We don’t generally name American bases after British Generals from the Revolution, so why do we do so with Confederates from the Civil War? Further to the point though, the Confederates fought to preserve their “peculiar institution,” and “state rights,” both of which in the 1860’s context were very bad things. We have no good reason to celebrate the folks who fought on the wrong side of both history and morality. Let’s tear down their statues and remove their names from our bases. Their history can be preserved fine, like Hitler’s, without statues, and in a history book.
Over the past few days though, we’ve entered more difficult waters. Francis Scott Key wrote our national anthem, but his statue was recently defaced. George Washington’s Portland statue was torn down. Ulysses S. Grant, who has a legacy both as a General and President of destroying the Confederacy and Ku Klux Klan, had his statue pulled down because he was gifted a slave once, which he freed within a year. Now, the Teddy Roosevelt statue in front of the Museum of Natural History in New York is coming down, mostly because of the slave and Native American next to him. With such national icons now suddenly in question for removal, we’ve moved well beyond the point of easy calls.
I guess at the point we’re tearing down Grant and Roosevelt, my initial reaction is we’ve left rational debate (though Roosevelt is less about him and more so the statue). If Washington is too terrible to have a statue, why have any statues? Many imperfect people did great things. JFK and RFK were womanizers, FDR refused to address segregation, and Jefferson not only owned slaves, he forced them to bare his children. Some extraordinary people in American history also did some awful things, both by the standards of their time, and today. Does that outweigh the great things they did? On the one hand, if we’re viewing them in full, and allowing their greatness to outweigh their sins, it’s crazy to be tearing down the statues of some of them. I mean Ulysses Grant? C’mon, these youths tearing him down deserve to be mocked.
I’m coming down to a different view though- that maybe nobody should have statues, at least if we can’t put them into context as a society. Sure, Christopher Columbus, George Washington, Ulysses Grant, or Woodrow Wilson might have done some things in our history that are worth commemorating, they may have even done more positive than harm, but none of them are the kinds of saints they have been held up as at times in our history. Perhaps anyone that practices politics, simply by the nature of seeking public support, at times falls short of being exceptionally moral. Julius Caesar is incredibly important in western history, but is he worth holding up as an idol? Even more to the point, in a society where our values change quite literally decade to decade, is it even possible for hero worship to keep up with evolving and advancing values? What was acceptable social views in 2005 is not today, so how can any 19th century leader meet the bar of today’s social morality? Perhaps if we’re going to meet values-based teachings of history, it’s important to not hold people up as more than they actually were. By that standard, literally no one meets the bar.
This is not to say I’ve accepted “cancel culture,” something I abhor to the core. If anything in some ways I’m cheapening the value of historic critiques of the social values of leaders by simply saying absolutely no one is worth being held up as an idol. The imperfections of quite literally every national leader we’ve ever had force us to reckon with the deep flaws and sins of our history. If this standard is too high of a bar, we can either recalibrate why exactly we build statues to anyone- or we can accept a certain amount of stain on our heroes and leave their statues up. Either way, I think the reckoning with our sins and imperfections is a worthy national conversation.