Goodbye, Martin Tower

Today, a symbol to everything wrong with Bethlehem Steel, and our economy, came down. A building that was built to shelter the executives of that company from the thousands of people over in the mills, was finally detonated. As the workers in those factories saw their jobs lost and wages cut, the people in the tower felt none of that. It was distant. When the company totally folded, they just left the tower empty, standing there to remind everyone of the fall of the great employer of thousands of middle class homes. It just sat there off of 378, a reminder of how those folks left people high and dry from their literal tower of privilege.

Bethlehem recovered very nicely. It’s a beautiful city. I’m glad they blasted that building off the map though.

Advertisements

How I’ll Cast My Primary Ballot

Next Tuesday is primary day in Pennsylvania. While there won’t be as much on this year’s ballot as recent years past, the elections we do have will be very consequential. In fact, your vote is simply more powerful in low turnout races.

The top race on the ballot is the Superior Court of Pennsylvania. There are two open seats, and there are three candidates on the Democratic Primary ballot. My top choice is Judge Dan McCaffery. Judge McCaffery is endorsed by the Pennsylvania Democratic Party and is the only candidate who received a highly qualified rating from the Pennsylvania Bar Association. As the only candidate from Philadelphia, he also provides needed regional balance to the ticket, given the other two candidates are from Allegheny County. As for the second slot, I prefer Amanda Green-Hawkins. I believe her demonstrated progressive values will serve her well on the bench. Her securing of the endorsement of the Pennsylvania Democratic Party also shows a political acumen that is needed.

The other major race on the ballot is the race for Northampton County District Attorney. I believe both people running are competent and have good ideas. I think both are qualified to do the job. Due to my previous involvement in the race, I’ll leave my comments on the race here. I’ll cast my ballot for Terry Houck.

The rest of the ballot is basically non-competitive. There are no other state court races this year, and there are no other competitive Northampton County races. The lack of competitive races may very well harm turnout. This is why it is more imperative than usual for you to get out to vote.

36.

Saturday was my 36th birthday. The hardest question I faced was “is this where you saw yourself at 36,” to which I could say no, but the truth is I never saw myself at 36. It’s not some milestone year that I had a life plan for. What I increasingly am realizing though is that I’ve reached a bit of a lull in life where I don’t really have much of a plan for anything. That is a scary realization on some level, but also a liberating one on another.

My life plan coming out of high school was to graduate college, go to law school, and then make money. I totally abandoned that in college, and by the end of school my plan was to go to Iowa or New Hampshire and work on the 2008 Presidential campaign. I did that, and kind of became the dog that catches the car- now what? I had planned to leave political campaigns after 2016 and get a “big boy job” in Washington, but then the election happened and kind of took that option away. Fast forward to 2019 and I’m realizing that I never really re-calibrated my goals, and maybe I should. I’m no longer young enough to simply say “tomorrow.” I still kind of am though.

I’ve come to realize that while I have an impressive resume and body of experience, I’m in a much tougher world today. I’ve advanced beyond the career point where I can just interview for any old position I want. In stepping up into a more advanced job market, I’m competing with better applicants. I’m also competing in a job market that values diversity considerably more than just experience (not a bad thing). I don’t provide anything for diversity (there’s a bunch of even older, experienced white, straight guys already there). I’m facing some challenges right now. They’re not likely to get easier in the near future.

I’m also just starting to face Father Time. No, I’m not facing death soon (I don’t think?), in fact I feel better than I have in 18 years at the gym. But time is starting to matter to my future plans. If I ever plan on going into the government and working towards a pension and other retirement benefits, I have a couple of years to figure that out in order to work until I’m 65. If I want a family life, I probably need to get serious about that soon. I’ve started saving some money in anticipation of “grown up life,” but not much. I’m not one to be anxious about life, but time is beginning to be something of the essence. Being rich is not an important value to me, but dying under a bridge with nothing is something I want to avoid.

All of this leads me to an anxious point in my existence. You start wondering “is this what I want?” You know what, to be honest, I’m not sure. My current life is fine, but is it leading me towards future wants? Do I value being happy now over happy later? Do the challenges I face now lead me to change the values I’ve always held? You start questioning your bedrock values of who you are, and if you don’t address that, it leads to a dark place.

So with that, I’ve done thinking about my core values, as I want them to be. In considering them, I’ve come up with a few thoughts:

  1. Stand up for those who need it. In disputes between those with power and those without, do everything you can to side with the disadvantaged. Sure, there have to be laws that protect insurance companies, or a police officer deserves a fair investigation after shooting someone, and we have to have laws about immigration. Even with all of that, remember far too often that the rules are written by those in power, and the people out of power will be the victims far more often than those in power are.
  2. Be skeptical of power. Yes, we need order and laws. Yes, we need standards. Don’t assume that all of these standards are set with the best of intentions for everybody. Too often, they are not. They are written to advantage those in power, and help them maintain their power. Poor people don’t have lobbyists. The disadvantaged often do not have a seat at the table. Don’t assume anyone is looking out for them. My advisor in college tried to instill in students a natural skepticism towards the status quo. I feel like I’ve somewhat lost sight of this. It’s great to understand how things work. It’s important though to…
  3. Don’t accept things as they are. Just because things “work that way” doesn’t mean they have to. Indeed, almost every major change in human history came as a result of someone finding a better way to do things. Progress requires at least some level of questioning the existing norms accepted facts, a vision of improvement. This doesn’t mean all progress is good, or that change is always a necessity, but you should be open to it.
  4. Tell the truth, good or not. Not all truths are good. Some hurt. Some will cause pain in life. Don’t use that as an excuse to lie. As we are seeing in our world today, every lie helps those who would like to see an erosion of facts. They’re dangerous. The temporary pain of the truth may cause you embarrassment or loss, but it will allow you to fight another day. It also allows others to understand who and what you are, on a real level. That can go a long way.
  5. Be liberal with disagreement, but be frugal with making enemies. In politics, your friends today can be your adversary tomorrow, but the inverse can be true. No two people see everything alike, and you should expect to not see eye-to-eye on every question. Don’t scorch the Earth with people whom you see mostly eye-to-eye, or even just respect. They could be a valuable ally in the future. Certainly don’t make an enemy over anything you’re not absolutely passionate about. It can burn you later.
  6. Be careful with whom you align, and never become drunk off the praise of others. You may agree with me on something today. You may praise me and call me a friend today. I may love hearing how great I am. That doesn’t mean I want you as an ally. That doesn’t mean I want us to be associated. That doesn’t mean I should allow that to go to my head. All the praise in the world isn’t worth guilt by association. You can’t buy back the world’s perception from one mistake.
  7. See other perspectives. You’re always right in your view. That doesn’t make it so to others. Allow yourself to try and see their side. Try and be decent to them. Realize they may be wrong to you, but that doesn’t mean they entirely are.
  8. Understand that others may rather be happy than right. And that’s ok. We all only live once, forcing others to be unhappy in the name of being correct on everything will usually result in problems and backlash later. There are times to push people to change. There’s also times to let them be. Don’t treat every situation as “one size fits all.” That’s not life.
  9. Don’t chase money or power, or you’ll get neither. Life will always go up and down, no matter how hard you try to stop it. If you chase the highs of material things, you’ll never quite get there. Don’t worry about the opinions of others. Don’t worry about how important you appear to others. You can’t control that. If you’ve got a lot, don’t flaunt it. There’s nobody the rest of the world hates more than those flaunting it. When you go down, it will be harder. You will have a down.
  10. Live by your values. Seems simple enough, right? Be who your dog thinks you are.

Almost inevitably, I will fall short of living up to these values in the future. I will make mistakes and lose sight of them from time-to-time. I’ll try my best though. It’s all I can hold onto.

Democrats are Easy to Hate

There’s a race for Mayor of Philadelphia on May 21st. Mayor Kennedy is probably going to get re-elected, but not because he polls well- his opponents are the pro-charter school State Senator he crushed four years ago and the City Controller who lost his primary for re-election just two years ago. Kenney’s own loss of popularity is somewhat tied to his passage of “the soda tax,” a well intentioned idea to fund Philadelphia Public Schools, which of course didn’t all end up going to the schools. Kenney’s standing in his former strongholds of South and Northeast Philadelphia don’t like it. He’ll probably win a very, very low turnout race by 20% though. There’s nothing to love.

The best way to sum up the public standing of Democratic Politics, both in Philadelphia and beyond, was the recent video of State Rep. Brian Sims having an altercation with a pro-life woman outside of a Planned Parenthood in Philadelphia. Intellectually speaking, I agree with Sims point. In fact, I usually agree with Sims, in terms of a political point. I probably agree with that woman on very little. Somehow, I watch the video though and feel like Sims was basically a dick, a liberal who wanted an altercation with a conservative, because she committed the crime of believing different stuff. It’s a bad look. This is particularly a quagmire because of the reality of the situation- lawmakers that woman votes for are passing bills like the Alabama and Georgia anti-abortion bills that will criminalize women for receiving constitutionally protected health care, and probably put the health of hundreds of thousands of women at risk. I get that. Yet, Sims makes the woman advocating for that the “victim” here, in the optics.

The Democratic Party, at it’s best, is the defender of the marginalized minority. We stand up for the rights and well-being of the disadvantaged, minorities, and those who are different than the majority of us. That would be those kids in the Philadelphia schools that Jim Kenney passed the soda tax for. That would be the women who need to have a choice, for their life and well being. It would be every African-American wrongfully shot by police officers. It would be the Asylum seekers we open our doors to, whether they be Bosnian or Guatemalan. It would be for all of us, when we fight to protect our environment. The Democratic Party that emerged from the 1960’s has been a party that fights for the marginalized, and that has been a valuable public service.

The problem has been pretty straight forward though- the other side has defined the American left as being against many of the institutions and norms that have been identified as “good” in American culture. Worse yet, they’ve done so by using the words and actions of those on the American left. Kenney’s soda tax shows he’ll “hammer the working class” to pay for the big ideas of “Center City liberals.” The Sims video reinforces that we hate religious people. Ilhan Omar’s use of traditionally anti-Semitic language to describe the Israeli lobby in the U.S. reinforces that “liberals hate Israel.” AOC’s release of a “white paper” on the Green New Deal that blames “cow farts” for climate change and calls for “economic support for people who ‘choose not to work'” was a treasure trove of reinforcement for stereotypes about Democrats. They’ve even managed to turn Black Lives Matter into Democrats hating police, only a quarter century after Joe Biden and Bill Clinton passed the COPS Act.

You can’t be against the local church, the hardworking police officers, a good steak on the grill, a bottle of “pop,” the state of Israel, the existence of national borders, and the basic existence of traditional, cultural norms, and win elections in most of America. Most Democrats aren’t, of course, but that is not the message being broadcast by Fox News, or virtually anyone shilling against justice and reform. That message worked for Nixon in ’68, Reagan in ’80, Gingrich in ’94, and Trump in ’16. It pulled people who voted for Barack Obama over to Trump, and it did so across most demographics. While it is important that we defend those who need it, it’s also important to remember that even most of our voters live fairly normal lives.

In poll after poll, Americans say they agree with Democratic positions on policy issues. That was even true in the exit polls in 2004 and 2016, the last two Republican Presidential victories. Democrats usually only lose the questions about leadership, relatability (who would you have a beer with), and honesty and conviction in our causes. Despite that, Republicans have controlled the White House for 32 of the last 50 years, the House for 20 of the last 26 years, and the Senate for almost 15 of the last 26 years. It turns out being “right” isn’t that important to winning elections and making change. Americans, despite their desire to see some changes and reforms, don’t hate their “way of life,” or view their culture as fundamentally flawed. We can argue the merits of how right or wrong they are, but that won’t change it.

My basic plea to Democrats is simple- stop sticking up for bad actions by those we deem as having good intentions or causes. It’s literally fueling the fire for the other side. As long as the voters outside of the big cities view us as dishonest brokers, who hate everything about their way of life, we’re going to continue to be electoral losers. As we saw with a disciplined message in 2018, lead by pros like Speaker Pelosi, it doesn’t have to be this way.

Phreakout City

If you want to have some fun, put on sports talk radio in Philadelphia. It doesn’t matter what’s going on, the sky is falling down. Literally falling down. They currently have a baseball team full of sluggers in first place, one of the elite football teams in the entire NFL, a basketball team anchored by two young All-Stars, and the hockey team just hired a highly accomplished coaching staff and general manager. Nope, they all suck.

The first place Philadelphia Phillies are on pace to win 92 games, despite the fact their two biggest names (Bryce Harper and Aaron Nola) had cold starts to the season. Yes, they have a couple of weak spots in bullpen, and injuries have decimated an already mediocre bench, and sure their fifth starter hasn’t been good, but!- the Phillies are in first place. The second baseman everyone wanted to bench earlier in the year is hitting .294 going into today. See why patience helps?

Yes, I know, the Sixers are down 3-2 to the Toronto Raptors. Yes, I know Jimmy Butler and Tobias Harris could leave after the season. Yes, Ben Simmons won’t shoot the basketball. Yes, Joel Embiid needs to take care of himself. Yes, J.J. Redick can’t guard anyone. Last night was an ugly game. You can doubt Brett Brown until they win a title, and sure the bench isn’t great on paper (though they’ve out played Toronto’s). With all of that negativity, if the Sixers win a must-win home game tomorrow night, they still can win this series, the Eastern Conference, and even the NBA title. Their two young superstars are 25 or under. Their #1 in attendance, so money isn’t a problem. Relax- the state of this franchise is absolutely fine.

I guess it’s just a Philly thing. The endless ink dedicated to whether or not they should sign an extension with Carson Wentz, a year after he was the best quarterback in the NFL is a first world problem, and one that won’t soon go away. Despite being one of the big power markets in all of pro sports (the biggest market with only one team in most sports), the inferiority complex runs deep for some. Sure the Phillies are in first place, but Edubray Ramos! For brief moments, like after the Phillies 2008 World Series or the Eagles 2017 Super Bowl Championship, we can be content. The rest of the time? We just hope the Cowboys and Mets continue to be more incompetent than us.

Demographics Won’t Save Us

Three facts:

  1. America is roughly a quarter century from the projected point where white people are no longer the majority.
  2. In 2040, roughly twenty years from now, half the country will live in eight states (CA, TX, FL, NY, IL, PA, NC, GA).
  3. When the country becomes majority-majority, at least 37 states will be majority white. That’s total population. Even more states will likely be majority white voters.

With those three facts, I think it is safe to say that demographics are not destiny. In 2020, demographics are a very real threat to actually doom the Democrats. Considering how far we are from reaching the point where current demographic politics tilt the other way, it’s fair to say that many of us will never see that day.

It’s also important to remember all the danger that can get done along the way. We’ve already seen the Voting Rights Act gutted of much of it’s enforcement powers, and now we’re seeing a real attempt to drive down Latino participation in the census by adding a “citizenship question.” If the Trump Administration is successful at curtailing legal immigration through draconian methods, including ending the lawful act of seeking asylum as we know it, the demographic future Democrats spoke of in the Obama years may be dramatically different. Couple all of this with Trump having won white millennials, and you can see the storm clouds.

All of this leads me to my main point here- Democrats shouldn’t rely on demographics saving them in 2020 or beyond. They need only look at their 2018 message and coalition to see their path forward to winning elections. It’s not division, but actually a broad agenda of progress. It’s not choosing who gets progress, but offering progress to the whole nation. This is hard for many activists, who deeply want to see accountability for the current disaster that is the GOP, and it’s voters. That’s a road to nowhere though. That’s not understanding why we lost in 2016. That’s believing that being right is more important than being practical. We should reject it.

Some Democrats Have No Idea Why They Lost In 2016

To hear my boss in North Carolina tell it, he actually thought we were going to win the Tar Heel state for Hillary Clinton deep into the night of November 8th, 2016. The numbers from Mecklenburg, Wake, Durham, and Orange Counties, the backbone of Democratic power in the state, were hitting voter turnout and performance targets. Turnout was high statewide, presumably a good thing for Democrats. But it wasn’t enough. Democrats lost the battleground state by slightly less than 175,000 votes in the end.

In my native Pennsylvania, the story was similar. Hillary Clinton’s margin out of Philadelphia was greater than either of Bill Clinton’s, Al Gore’s, John Kerry’s or anyone else who won the state not named Barack Obama. She carried all four of Philadelphia’s “collar counties,” the former backbone of Republicans in the state, and in some cases carried them substantially. She carried Allegheny County (Pittsburgh area) by a margin exceeding President Obama’s. She carried places like Dauphin County (the state capitol) and Centre County (Penn State), something unthinkable when Gore and Kerry were carrying the state. Turnout was very high across the state. Like North Carolina, Hillary spared no efforts to win the state, visiting constantly.

The list of examples showing the same thing is fairly substantial. Hillary campaigned hard in Florida, and exceeded the early vote numbers that she was expected to need in almost every metropolitan area. She lost the state very close. Turnout was high, her margins in the cities were impressive, and yet every swing state seemed to break the same way. Yet the myth persists- Hillary’s campaign didn’t do enough to motivate the base Democrats and they didn’t do enough to spike turnout among “marginal” voters. Some Democrats insist that we must do this better to win in 2020. The facts would argue that we did this pretty well in 2016, AND that there may be only limited ability to do this better in 2020. Just about every candidate running would be lucky to match her performance among the base in 2020. I know, it’s a sobering thought, but the facts say this conventional talking point is wrong.

There’s also an equally false myth out there about Donald Trump- that he motivated tens of millions of new white “hillbilly” voters to turn out. Let me let you in on a little secret, he didn’t. Trump got a little less than two million more votes than Mitt Romney, which with the increased voter turnout, made for a 1% drop in the Republican share of the vote. Trump got the same percentage of the vote as McCain did in a blowout loss in 2008, which means he basically got the population growth difference. This may shock you, but basically if Clinton has received 49% instead of 48%, she probably would have won six more states, and an electoral blowout (provided they weren’t all in the big coastal blue states). Donald Trump actually had no special turnout machine, his margin was not a bunch of new white Republicans. His victory was actually fueled by key crossover Democrats in the swing states, and people disgusted with both that picked third party candidates.

The bitter truth is that Democrats lost the 2016 not because they didn’t do enough to motivate the base voters in Philadelphia, Cleveland or Charlotte, but because of voters they lost in Eastern North Carolina, Northeast Pennsylvania, Eastern Iowa, and suburban Milwaukee. Our ability to win them back isn’t the only factor that matters in 2020, but it is a very big one.

About Electability

We are now far enough into the 2020 Election that I can feel comfortable saying this- stop dismissing electability. To be clear here, this is not to say you should accept overly basic, thoughtless analysis that says only a white man can beat Trump, but if you’re going to make an argument that runs contrary to current head-to-head polls, it should not begin with “don’t discuss electability.” The fact is electability is literally the most important thing in the 2020 primaries, and it has to be a concern. If you’re a Democrat, and you happen to believe that representing Democratic voters is actually an important thing, then you have to win elections. Parties that lose elections don’t get the power to do anything. Period.

Polling right now suggests that Joe Biden and Beto O’Rourke are the most electable candidates. That’s powerful evidence. While I despise him, Bernie Sanders does overcome cratering personal numbers yet, when matched up with Trump (For now. Wait until the negatives start.). This isn’t the final and definitive say on electability though. You can argue, for instance, that while Amy Klobuchar is a relative unknown yet today, her winning track record in Minnesota shows an electable candidate. You could argue that Kamala Harris has a track record of winning major statewide elections, and will mobilize Democratic base voters better than anyone else. You can argue that Pete Buttigieg’s campaign has been the best run to this point, and his ascent shows a special talent that is unique. Argue whatever you want. Don’t try to skip out on an electability argument though.

Beating Donald Trump is actually, most likely going to be really hard. Elections this century suggests that a Republican nominee starts with a floor of 46%, regardless of who they are, or what they run their campaign on. Democrats start at 48%, but are totally capable of losing the electoral college to a Republican holding their base, at this level. President Obama won his elections with 53% and 51%, and still was winning most of the swing states fairly close. It’s worth noting also that while he did turn out the base, he also spent hundreds of millions of dollars appealing to blue collar white voters by beating the bejesus out of McCain and Romney on the economy in swing states. Democratic Presidents have to be able to do two things at once to win an election. If they can’t both energize Democrats and win over the bulk of the 6% of the country not in either column to begin with, they will lose the electoral college. Full stop. Losing candidates can’t protect your health care, keep children out of cages, or do anything at all about climate change.

Maybe that electability thing actually does matter, doesn’t it?

Where There Aren’t Good Guys

I made the newspaper this weekend- the Saturday front page. Before any of you congratulate me, don’t. A candidate I was doing social media for politically got hit with a rocket, and her campaign is a mess. Basically, she probably supported Donald Trump. That’s not a good idea when you want the Democratic Nomination for District Attorney.

Without boring you with the details too much, the candidate is currently the Chief Public Defender of Northampton County, appointed by the Democratic County Executive. She’s been a significant donor to Democrats such as our Congresswoman, State Senator, current District Attorney, County Executive, and Mayor of the County’s largest city. I had served with on the transition team that built the current county government. She switched parties in November to make this run, which really wasn’t the best thing politically, but I took her at her word that she wasn’t a Trump supporter in 2016. There were rumors during the race of her support and having aTrump sign in her yard, but those were denied too. Then the picture above surfaced, suggesting strong reason to doubt those denials. I resigned last week, quietly. I felt it was the appropriate thing to do.

That’s all context, not really the point of why I’m writing this. In so far as I can tell it, that race is over- Trump is a non-negotiable in a Democratic Primary. I don’t have much more to say about the race. Since I’m involved though, I have a few thoughts:

  1. When neighbors are in conflict over a political race, our politics are dangerously toxic. This whole story happened because the candidate’s neighbor took pictures of the sign on her door. She did that because they had altercations during and about the 2016 Election. I’ll be charitable here- it’s weird to take pictures of your neighbor’s political signs to use against them later. Like, that’s the kind of thing that makes me want lots of space and no neighbors. Yes, this person supported Hillary (like I did, as an employee of her), but I still find this concerning. You know what concerns me more though? Neighbors being in conflict over an election. This isn’t healthy. Most of you will never spend two minutes in conversation with a Presidential candidate. You shouldn’t be so emotionally invested in them that you’re ready to drop the gloves with your neighbors over them, or in this case, fight over yard signs. Trust me, I have spent time with candidates.
  2. Candidates, please don’t omit things when talking to your team, just because you don’t want them to get out. Yes, you did something bad before. Maybe you slept around, or you were a big partied when you were young, or you fell behind financially (I know nothing about these sins). If you have no past, particularly no negative past, voters should seriously doubt you and examine you. Obviously if you’re a convict, it might disqualify you (I’m not sure anymore). Here’s the reality though- whatever it is, it’s coming out in your campaign. Assume it. Own it. Put your spin, your story on it first. We all make mistakes. You voted for Trump? That was your choice. Tell us that, and why you changed, before someone else tells us about it. They don’t have the context you have. They won’t be nearly as kind to you as you will be.
  3. If you want to have a political “change of heart,” actually have it and present it to the public. The problem with switching political sides is that it’s usually one of two reasons- either your party has changed to the point you can no longer support it, or you’re an opportunist. Sometimes, it can even be both. The problem is, to claim it’s something actually changing and not naked opportunism, you need to get out ahead and explain it. You need to explain the catalysts for your move. You also need to stay consistent then. You also need to not get caught in any lies. Basically, be honest and transparent.
  4. It’s amazing what decides elections. A three year old yard sign trumps (pun intended) the policy positions, debates, qualifications, and speeches. Our politics are so tribal, so toxic, that anything that casts doubt on you personally matters more than what you’re running for. I’m not saying personal failings shouldn’t be a consideration, but I’m also saying we all have a lot of them. Whether they’re personal, financial, or past associations, we all have things we shouldn’t be proud of, or we haven’t lived. In this case, it’s a yard sign. Should it have mattered? Actually, probably, yes. But we should be generally more measured in reacting to these things.
  5. Operatives should never consider it a good day when they’re in the press doing anything but representing their candidate. I saw my name in the paper and cringed, and that was in spite of the fact the writer was really nice to me. She quoted me properly and presented me evenly. The point is that I’m not the candidate. Not the star. Not the story. And I don’t really want to be. I want to go to work, do my job, and be done. There’s no score worth settling, publicly, nor should anyone want to read me trashing a former client. And I didn’t. But I still didn’t want to be a story.

God speed, America. God speed.