For Ted Cruz, Bernie debate previewed `socialist’ strategy against Beto, and one peril lying in wait

 

Good day Austin:

Just this morning I stumbled upon a First Reading I wrote last October that I had forgotten I had written but that looks pretty good right now. Pretty, pretty good. So much so that I am going to reprise it, untouched and in its entirety. I changed the headline – For Ted Cruz, Bernie debate previews `socialist’ strategy against Beto, and one peril lying in wait – to put it in the past tense.

I will merely add a short preface and postscript.

This from a story on the debate from Todd Gillman at the Dallas Morning News under the headline, Unforced errors: ‘True to form,’ Ted Cruz slaps ‘socialist’ label on Beto O’Rourke.

(Cruz) called O’Rourke a socialist – an epithet circulated routinely among Cruz supporters, but which the senator has been careful to avoid. Before Friday night, Cruz has insinuated it. He’s linked O’Rourke to socialized medicine and Sanders and other self-proclaimed socialists. But his aides have insisted, at times forcefully, that Cruz has never directly applied the label to O’Rourke.

The pretense lifted on Friday night.

“There is a fundamental choice in this election. It’s a choice between – we’re seeing nationally, socialists – like Bernie Sanders, like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, and indeed, Congressman Beto O’Rourke, advocating for those same policies: full-on socialized medicine.”

O’Rourke loves to say the race isn’t about Republicans and Democrats, that he shuns partisan labels and wants to focus on Texans, on Americans, even on human beings. But labels do matter. They matter to voters. They can turn elections.

And this label, O’Rourke did not deny on Friday night.

His gaffe was one of omission.

OK. Here is the Oct. 23, 2017 First Reading.
Good Monday Austin:

Beto O’Rourke filled Burdine Hall, with a seating capacity of 521, at the University of Texas Sunday afternoon for a high-energy town hall meeting organized by the Indivisible group in Texas’ 25th Congressional District.

Afterward, I asked O’Rourke how he scored the Ted Cruz-Bernie Sanders debate on tax reform Wednesday night on CNN.

O’Rourke:

I’ve got to be honest, I didn’t watch much of it, kind of heard their opening arguments and listened to them answer a few questions. I don’t know if I saw enough to give a score.

Did O’Rourke think that Sanders was giving Cruz a platform and prominence that would prove unhelpful to O’Rourke’s long-shot campaign?

O’Rourke

I would much rather be on the stage and make some of the points I’m hearing at meetings like these about giving tax cuts to the very wealthiest and doing it at the expense of the middle class. I think the estimate is a third of middle class Texans will pay higher taxes. But there is some good that comes out of someone like CNN having a public policy debate. There’s not enough of that so I’m actually glad that they did that. I think Texans deserve to hear the alternative in Texas.

My view is that, overall, Sanders didn’t do O’Rourke any favors by debating Cruz, and that we can expect that, if and when Cruz and O’Rourke debate each other – which I assume they will – Cruz will cite chapter and verse from Wednesday’s debate and force O’Rourke into the no-win situation of either aligning himself with Sanders, or distancing himself.

And yet, there was one dark cloud for Cruz, and silver lining for O’Rourke, in Wednesday’s debate, as Cruz, a skilled debater since his days at Princeton University, displayed once again one of his least attractive qualities, and that is a single-minded focus on scoring debating points even when it involves saying something that is manifestly and provably not true – and saying it with straight-faced certitude.

It might be enough to tempt O”Rourke to reach deep into his  Columbia University English major soul and see if he can locate just enough of his inner Trump to give his Senate rival a withering nickname – like Two-Tongued Ted or, maybe, Prevaricatin’ Cruz.

Cruz, who debated Sanders on Obamacare on CNN in February, clearly enjoys debating Sanders, and why not?

The contrast between the two men, in style and substance, makes for great theater. Both men style themselves as fearless truth-tellers driven by ideas and purpose. Sanders enables Cruz to make his case in the clearest and least ambiguous fashion.

And they both love to talk.

As I wrote in a First Reading in April 2015, when Sanders came to Austin as he was exploring a bid for the presidency:

In 2010, Sanders, conducted an eight-and-a-half hour filibuster against President Obama’s proposed tax cut compromise (he was spelled only briefly by Louisiana Sen. Mary Landrieu) that, Sanders said, would provide “tax breaks to millionaires and billionaires who don’t need it.” Here’s the last half hour of that filibuster, which he turned into a book, The Speech.

Three years later, Sen. Ted Cruz conducted a 21-hour, 19-minute speech on the Senate floor denouncing Obamacare.

Somewhere in that speech, and I can’t remember whether it came before or after Cruz read Green Eggs and Ham, as a bedtime story to his girls back in Houston, Cruz quoted the writer Ayn Rand: “There are two sides to every issue. One side is right and the other is wrong, but the middle is always evil. The man who is wrong still retains some respect for truth, if only by accepting the responsibility of choice.”

Or, as Cruz put it: “I would far prefer a Senate with 10 Bernie Sanders and 10 Mike Lees to a Senate where the views, the actual commitments, are blurred by obfuscation.”

Lee, a Utah Republican, is Cruz’s closest ally in the Senate.

In that same First Reading I noted that Sanders is “an avowed socialist, unlike most Democrats, who are only accused socialists.”

Cruz partisans were delighted with Wednesday’s performance

From The Blaze: Ted Cruz mops the floor with Bernie Sanders at CNN town hall debate

Cruz, or rather his office, tweeted throughout the debate all the blows he landed against Sanders.

(Of, course, Bernie partisans saw it differently. From Salon8 times Bernie Sanders made a total fool of Ted Cruz during their town hall debate/The Vermont senator was in vintage form Wednesday night)

Even Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who Cruz, in the thick of his 2016 presidential campaign, called a liar on the Senate floor, cheered Cruz on.

For Cruz, this was the money moment.

Here from the debate transcript:

CRUZ: Now, one of the things I like about debating Bernie is he’s honest. When he ran in Vermont, he ran as a socialist, an unabashed socialist.

SANDERS: No, I didn’t. No, I ran as an independent. Longest serving independent in the history of the United States Congress.

CRUZ: Are you a socialist or not?

SANDERS: I am a democratic socialist…

CRUZ: OK. Good.

SANDERS: But don’t tell them — I didn’t run as a socialist. I ran as an independent.

CRUZ: You told people you were a socialist. Fine, fine.

SANDERS: You didn’t run as a right-winger. You ran as a Republican, right?

(LAUGHTER)

CRUZ: I am happily a conservative.

SANDERS: Conservative, all right.

CRUZ: I am happily conservative.

(APPLAUSE)

So Bernie ran telling the voters he was a socialist, and then in this last election he ran in the Democratic Party. He almost won the Democratic Party’s nomination. And if you didn’t have superdelegates and the corruption of the DNC, you probably would have been your party’s nominee.

SANDERS: Are you looking for a job as my campaign manager?

CRUZ: You know…

(LAUGHTER)

But I’ll say it was interesting. Right before the campaign — right before the commercial break, when I said Bernie and the Democrats want to cut defense, cut the Army and the Navy and the Air Force and Marines, Bernie reacted and said, no, no, no, the Democrats don’t, that’s just me, Bernie.

So it’s interesting. Listen, I think today — I think the lesson the Democratic Party took from this election was Hillary Clinton was too moderate, and I think the Democratic Party is the party of you and Elizabeth Warren. But let me just ask, since this is a tax debate, what is the difference between a socialist and a Democrat on taxes?

SANDERS: Well, I don’t know the answer to that, because I don’t know what every Democrat…

CRUZ: I don’t, either.

So, one can expect Cruz to confront O’Rourke at their debate with that exchange, note O’Rourke’s support  – which he expressed with great vigor in front of a friendly crowd at UT Sunday – for Sander’s Medicare-for-all plan, and ask whether, like Sanders, he is a socialist or only a political fellow traveler.

But, on the flip side, there was an exchange Wednesday which may not serve Cruz so well.

It’s better if you watch it in its entirety, because Evan Smith is scrupulous in attempting to exact an answer from Cruz – this is September 2011 and Cruz was then a candidate for the Republican nomination for Senate – and here is Cruz, in front of God and Evan Smith, saying that, yes, Social Security is a Ponzi scheme.

From Gardner Selby at PolitiFact Texas:

Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, in a CNN debate on tax policy with Cruz on Wednesday evening, said: “Sen. Cruz, I think you were quoted as saying Social Security is a Ponzi scheme.”

“I’ve never said that,” Cruz replied. “That’s false.”

Sanders initially replied that if Cruz says he didn’t make the Ponzi scheme reference, he accepts that. Later at the event, though, Sanders said: “Go to my Twitter page, and you will hear Ted Cruz say Social Security is a Ponzi scheme.”

So, what gives?

It looks to us like Cruz was comfortable with describing Social Security as a Ponzi scheme in a September 2011 public interview with Evan Smith, CEO of the Texas Tribune.

Cruz, then bidding for the U.S. Senate seat that would be vacated by Kay Bailey Hutchison, was asked if he considers Social Security a Ponzi scheme.

Cruz replied: “There is a level at which words have meaning. What does the word ‘Ponzi scheme’ mean? A Ponzi scheme is a system–if you and I cooked up a Ponzi scheme, we would have current people pay into it, we would take the money and we would pay it out to other recipients. That’s the definition of a Ponzi scheme. In the English language, that is exactly how Social Security operates.”

SMITH: “So I am going to take that as a yes, that you believe that Social Security is a Ponzi scheme.”

CRUZ: “I think there is an effort to treat that as rhetoric. But there’s no doubt that’s what it is.”

Cruz also called Social Security a “vital bulwark for our society” and “a commitment we’ve made.” He also said he favors saving the program.

See the full Smith-Cruz exchange in the video here.

In Cruz’s office, spokesman Phil Novack responded to a request for comment Thursday by sharing a transcript of the 2011 Smith-Cruz exchange about Social Security.

Novack said by email: “You will note looking at the full transcript,” Cruz “never explicitly called Social Security a ‘Ponzi Scheme’ and he also vigorously defended the importance of the program and of keeping the promises we’ve made to our seniors.”

While running for president, Cruz indicated that he favored shoring up Social Security by raising the retirement age and capping increases in the cost-of-living adjustment. He also advocated allowing workers to save up to $25,000 per year in Universal Savings Accounts (USA).

 And here from Eugene Kiely of FactCheck.org:

Later in the show, Sanders returned to the topic and said he had proof that Cruz did indeed call Social Security a Ponzi scheme, and, again, Cruz denied it.

Sanders: “You said a little while ago that you never said that Social Security was a Ponzi scheme. Go to my Twitter page, and you will hear Ted Cruz say Social Security is a Ponzi scheme. …”

Cruz: “I can’t let what Bernie said go by without responding to. He’s referring to an interview where I was asked about another Republican who made the comment about Ponzi scheme. It wasn’t my comment. It was somebody else’s.”

Sanders’ staff tweeted a clip of Cruz talking about Social Security in a Sept. 9, 2011, interview with Evan Smith of the Texas Tribune. Smith asked Cruz: “Yes or no. Is Social Security a Ponzi scheme?” In response, Cruz jokingly asked Smith if NBC’s Brian Williams had written his questions — referring to a question Rick Perry was asked during a Republican debate co-hosted by Williams two days earlier.

In that Sept. 7, 2011, debate, as we wrote at the time, Perry called Social Security a Ponzi scheme. That’s what Cruz meant when he said that Sanders was “referring to an interview where I was asked about another Republican who made the comment about Ponzi scheme. It wasn’t my comment. It was somebody else’s.”

Cruz is right that it was Perry’s comment, but the 2011 interview shows that Cruz clearly agreed with it.

Cruz, Sept. 9, 2011: There is a level at which words have meaning. What does the word Ponzi scheme mean? A Ponzi scheme is a system — if you and I cooked up a Ponzi scheme, we would have current people pay into it. We would take the money and we would pay it out to other recipients. That’s the definition of a Ponzi scheme. In the English language, that is exactly how Social Security operates.

Smith: So, I’m going to take that as a “yes.” That you believe that Social Security is a Ponzi scheme.

Cruz: I think there is an effort to treat that as rhetoric, but there’s no doubt that’s what it is.
The full video of the back-and-forth between Smith and Cruz shows that the Texas senator studiously avoided using the term “Ponzi scheme,” saying that Smith was asking a “loaded question.” Smith tried several times to get a yes or no answer, but instead got — as we show above — Cruz’s definition of a “Ponzi scheme” and his opinion that “that is exactly how Social Security operates.”

For the record, we said in 2011 that Perry’s description of Social Security as a “Ponzi scheme” is a gross exaggeration.

FactCheck.org, Sept. 8, 2011: The [Social Security] system doesn’t meet the common definition of a “Ponzi,” which is a criminal fraud, relying on deception. The Securities and Exchange Commission, for example, says a Ponzi is “an investment fraud that involves the payment of purported returns to existing investors from funds contributed by new investors.” Ponzi schemes draw their name from Charles Ponzi, who in the 1920s promised his victims that he could provide a 50 percent return in 90 days by putting their money into a speculation scheme involving postage stamps. In reality, Ponzi simply paid early “investors” big returns with the money eagerly offered by others who came later — pocketing millions for himself — until the bubble inevitably collapsed. Bernard Madoff’s more recent fraud — while much larger — was another example of a Ponzi scheme. Madoff and Ponzi lied to their victims about where their money was going, while Social Security’s finances — while troubled — are an open book.

We should also note that Cruz in 2011 and again this year described Social Security as an essential part of the security net for Americans. In the CNN debate with Sanders, Cruz described Social Security as a “fundamental bulwark of our society” and criticized “politicians in Washington” for “letting it careen towards insolvency.”

In a 2017 report, the Trustees of the Social Security and Medicare trust funds project that the Social Security trust funds will be depleted by 2034. Once the trust funds are gone, Social Security can still pay benefits — but not more benefits than it takes in from revenue. The trustees say tax income would be “sufficient to pay about three-quarters of scheduled benefits through the end of the projection period in 2091.”

So, Misleadin’ Ted?

But that seems to understate the audacity of Cruz saying this in 2011:

“There is a level at which words have meaning. What does the word ‘Ponzi scheme’ mean? A Ponzi scheme is a system–if you and I cooked up a Ponzi scheme, we would have current people pay into it, we would take the money and we would pay it out to other recipients. That’s the definition of a Ponzi scheme. In the English language, that is exactly how Social Security operates.”

And then, six years later, when Sanders said: “Sen. Cruz, I think you were quoted as saying Social Security is a Ponzi scheme,” responding:

I’ve never said that. That’s false.

xxxxxxx

Postscript:

From Todd Gillman’s story on Friday’s debate.

The moderators tossed the contenders a softball as the debate came to a close: “We want to end this on a positive note. … Tell us something you admire about your opponent.”

O’Rourke has spent 18 months projecting an upbeat persona. But in his first high-stakes campaign debate, he’d come off as nervous and emotional at times. Cruz needled him enough to get him flustered and put a dent in the image.

This was their first joint appearance, and these two seem to genuinely dislike each other.

But that softball question was a golden opportunity to reclaim the high ground, and O’Rourke did.

“We both have young children. I know how hard he works,” he said. “I know what a sacrifice that is to his family. … I have no question that Senator Cruz wants to do the best for America. He does so at great sacrifice to his family and his kids. I thank you, Senator Cruz, for your public service.”

Then came Cruz’s turn. He lauded O’Rourke for his own sacrifices, but couldn’t resist taking a potshot.

“I think Congressman O’Rourke is passionate, energetic.” Like Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders. “Bernie Sanders believes in what he is fighting for. He believes in socialism. Now, I think what he is fighting for doesn’t work. But I think you are absolutely sincere, like Bernie. You believe in expanding government and high taxes.”

That was Cruz’s gaffe. He couldn’t help himself, and he gave the Democrat the chance to cut him down with that withering “True to form.”

As I wrote in Sunday’s paper:

Everyone knew going in that Cruz would be the more skillful debater. He was a debate champion at Princeton University, debated his way through the 2016 Republican presidential primaries and has debated U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders on policy three times since. He misses nothing and leaves no opportunity unexploited, a tendency so irresistible to Cruz that it provided the opening for O’Rourke to deliver the line of the night.

xxxxxx

Those three words (“true to form”), just before their closing statements, did the work of Donald Trump’s repeated references to Cruz as “Lyin’ Ted” in the 2016 presidential debates, and Ronald Reagan’s “there you go again,” to Jimmy Carter in the 1980 presidential debate, which proved so effective that he redeployed it against Walter Mondale four years later.

And it wasn’t the only example of Cruz overplaying his hand Friday night, as I wrote in yesterday’s First Reading – Hubris: At the first debate, Ted Cruz plays the race card in the name of Lincoln and MLK.

 

L’affaire Fetonte: How an Austin union organizer’s work with CLEAT created a schism in America’s burgeoning socialist movement

 

Protesters of SB-4 known as the sanctuary cities bill, block the main entrances to the State Insurance Building, May 1, 2017 in Austin, TX. Pictured are, from left, Danny Fetonte, Sophia Donnelly, Ceci Mireles, and Marsha Perkes. JAMES GREGG/AMERICAN-STATESMAN.

Good morning Austin:

I did not realize when I moved from D.C. to Austin in December 2012 that I was moving closer to the center of American politics.

But I was.

Just ask Lawrence Wright, who in July wrote an epic New Yorker piece, America’s Future Is Texas: With right-wing zealots taking over the legislature even as the state’s demographics shift leftward, Texas has become the nation’s bellwether.

Or Roger Stone, who has increasingly turned his attention to Austin as the locus of the new pro-Trump media as manifested by Alex Jones and InfoWars.

Or Danny Fetonte, an Austin union and political organizer who more than any single individual was responsible for the vitality of Bernie Sanders’ campaign in Texas in 2016, and who, in ways I would have found hard to imagine, has become the source and subject of a national schism in a democratic socialist movement that has exploded with members and energy in the aftermath of Sanders’ campaign for the Democratic nomination for president as an avowed socialist.

In early August, at a high-spirited national convention of the Democratic Socialists of America in Chicago, Fetonte was elected to the DSA’s National Policy Committee. Barely a month later, on Sept. 8, Fetonte quit not just the NPC but the DSA altogether, after a vitriolic campaign to remove him from the NPC because of his role as a union organizer  and negotiator working with CLEAT – the Combined Law Enforcement Associations of Texas, a police union – and his failure to make that association clear in his campaign materials.

I have met Danny Fetonte and his wife, Barbara, a few times since I’ve been here, mostly connected to their role in igniting the Sanders campaign in Austin even before he was a candidate.

Left to right, Chau Ngo, Daniel Fetonte, Barbara Fetonte, Liliana Mendoza-Pierce, at Sholz Garten

In August 2016, I talked with them as part of a First Reading on the disposition of Sanders supporters after the nominating conventions.

There is an argument among some Sanders supporters that they only need to vote for Clinton in swing states. Elsewhere, they have the luxury of voting for someone else, like Green Party candidate Jill Stein.

“That’s a mistake,” said Daniel Fetonte, a retired labor organizer for the steel workers, the communications workers and CLEAT, the police officers’ union in Texas, who with his wife, Barbara, are the godfather and godmother of the Sanders campaign in Austin.

He said Sanders supporters need to back the ticket, “because of the program we fought for at the Democratic Convention. If  we walk away we won’t be fighting for that program. Also, it’s going to be a wave election so while we might not win the state we’ll pull in a whole lot of state representatives and state senators and that will help protect the state employees union, the teachers’ union.”

“To vote for a purer candidate who might be better on some issues is a serious mistake,” Fetonte said. “We have tremendous standing in the Democratic Party and we should work with the coordinated campaign. That means voting for an imperfect candidate for president.”

He thinks most Sanders supporters will vote for Clinton.

“If you want to vote for perfection, go live on a commune.”

Which I suppose would make you a commune-ist, not a socialist.

You will note that Fetonte’s CLEAT association was hardly a secret. He brought it up and I used it as one of the ways of identifying him. I thought it was noteworthy for a couple of reasons.

First, I figured he must be pretty good at what he does or a police union wouldn’t get involved with someone with such an obvious reputation for left-wing politics. Second, I figured it meant that he viewed his mission as moving toward a worker solidarity that included law enforcement officers and, in that, he too was willing to go outside his political comfort zone.

Even though I know him and a couple of the other people involved, what follows is not based on interviews with anyone. Rather it is a recapitulation of just some of the enormous output of on-line statements and commentary that have poured forth in that month’s time.

It is long, and most readers may want to skim through it if they have any interest at all.

But I thought it was worth laying out here at some length because Austin is smack dab in the middle of it, because it offers a remarkable microcosm of the powerful tug toward sectarianism in a growing movement, and because it displays just how social media can accelerate and intensify the ugliest tendencies of that kind of struggle.

There also may be an important national story here with some bearing on the future course of Democratic Party and left politics.

The lesson of l’affaire Fetonte is that Bernie Sanders unleashed a revived socialist movement that will not long tolerate his mainstream political tendencies.

In a variation on the Groucho Marx line that he would not join any club that would him as a member, Sanders has rebooted a socialist movement that will almost inevitably end up giving him the boot as insufficiently serious/radical in his socialism. Indeed, if he survives in good standing with DSA, it will be because he was literally grandfathered in as a beloved figure who out of sentiment and gratitude should be spared the guillotine.

In other words, if Sanders’ candidacy served to mainstream socialist ideas in unexpected ways, the harder-edged radicalism of DSA will, for better or worse, move socialism outside that mainstream in ways that will make it more difficult for future candidates like Sanders to square the circle.

As outwrangle, a commenter on a Reddit message thread on Fetonte, commented when he resigned:

I can’t tell you how happy this makes me. This was the exact kind of internal conflict I was waiting for, because it would be when the DSA shows its true character. Is it is a socialist organization, or a socialist club. Is it a revolutionary party, or the left-wing of the Democratic party? Are they democratic socialists, or just social democrats? I’ve been watching this unfold closely, and when the NPC decided to retain him I was disappointed but not surprised. And yet, the membership defied my expectations and were able to chase him out anyway!

I’ve decided to officially join. The question isn’t resolved and there is still work to be done, but this result has left me optimistic and hopeful about the future of the DSA. Like Fetonte said, this is no longer the organization of Michael Harrington or Bernie Sanders. And that makes me so happy and excited.

Bernie Sanders supporters, at left, Danny Fetonte, Jacob Limon, and at far right, Barbara Fetonte listen to Jim Boynton, center, and Glen Maxey, both Primary Directors at the Texas Democratic Party Headquarters on Friday, December 4, 2015, after turning in collected petition signatures asking for the inclusion of Presidential candidate Bernie Sanders on the Texas Democratic primary ballot. Over 12,000 signatures were gathered to get Sanders on the ballot.
DEBORAH CANNON / AMERICAN-STATESMAN
Here is how Fetonte presented himself in Chicago.

Bio

Democratic Socialism is a goal we have to work at to win.  We have to stand for immigrant rights and against climate change.  We have to work both at the ballot box and with our feet in the streets.  We have to work in the movements of Muslims, Latinos, Blacks, Women, Queer Liberation, Disabled Activism, and Labor Unions.  I was active in High School SNCC and the anti-Vietnam War movement.  In our fight against attacks on immigrant rights in Texas, I was one of five DSA members arrested sitting in at the Governor’s Office.  I worked for 34 years as a union organizer.  I taught organizing at CWA’s week long leadership school for 13 years and have taught 8 DSA organizing schools in Texas.  I taught organizing schools for CWA in Virginia, Tennessee, Missouri, Oklahoma, Mississippi, Arizona, Utah, and in nine Texas cities.  The skills and insights I have learned can help build a large broad-based DSA. I was active in building the Bernie Campaign across Texas.  In Texas we put Bernie on the ballot by gathering over 12,000 petition signatures.  37 out of the 75 Bernie delegates to the Democratic National Convention from Texas were DSA members.  We have an active organizing program in Texas, where we sign up members face to face as well as on-line.  In March 2014 we had 17 DSA members in Austin; today we have 704 members in Austin and close to 1,400 members across Texas.

Why I’m Running

I am running to build a broad-based activist organization that works in the streets and at the ballot box to support folks who are standing up for their rights. I am running to bring a deeper understanding to the NPC about the labor movement. I have the most experience in the labor movement of any candidate. I am also running to bring an understanding of the challenges we face in the South having organized throughout the Southeast and Southwest for 37 years. I am running to help understand how working in electoral politics like Bernie Sanders can strengthen our organization.

My Previous Political Work

I have been active in DSA Labor and DSA Disabled organizing. I have actively supported our Chapter’s Queer Coalition and Feminist Action Committee. I have worked with 350.org and the Texas Drought Coalition on the environment. I have worked on Immigrant Rights and was active in standing up for Muslim rights in Texas. I have worked with other groups on Healthcare and our fight for $15/hour. I reached out to many of the groups in the Bernie campaign bringing them into a group we founded Texans for Bernie.

My Vision for DSA

My vision is to do activism education and organizing. I have a strong history in this. You can learn more about my vision by talking to the folks that have endorsed me and shared my vision. The following are the folks from around the country that have endorsed me and shared my vision:

But the #yalldarity didn’t last forever, or even a few days, and on Sept. 8, Fetonte left DSA in disgust.

As Fetonte wrote in resigning:

Over the last three years Austin DSA has outpaced DSA groups across the country. All groups gained members due to Bernie/Trump but Austin DSA outgrew all these groups because we were supportive of fights for social justice in Austin. We asked folks to join and we supported other groups’ progressive actions. We spent a minimum amount of time on our bureaucracy and a maximum number effort on involving folks in activism.

We spent little time grabbing the limelight and a lot of time building the progressive movement as we grew locally and nationally. Other organizations and individual opportunists watched as we grew. Many extremist groups sent folks into DSA to recruit and spread their ideas. They built divisions and spread lies in our ranks. They looked for folks to turn to easy solutions. Real organizing builds organization.

At the national, DSA extremists with less than one year in DSA dominate the leadership. Many of the long-time leaders have been intimidated. The extremists and factionalists have been calling and emailing Austin to pick up supporters for their factions; secretly taping meetings and posting edited versions online. The lack of ethics and simply not knowing right from wrong dominate at the national level and has now crept into Austin.

The opportunists and extremists could not allow democratic socialists to build a movement. Many of these folks do not consider themselves democratic socialists.

I can no longer urge Austin DSA members to stay in DSA and I can no longer ask folks to join DSA. DSA has many good folks, but it is no longer the organization of Eugene Debs, Michael Harrington, or Bernie Sanders.

 Many of the new leadership do not think Bernie is a real socialist. In the last weeks rocks have been overturned and snakes have wiggled out. I urge everyone to take a look at what DSA is becoming nationally and what some want DSA to turn into locally. Each Austin member should decide for themselves how to relate to DSA. I have decided to leave DSA.

— Danny Fetonte

(Note, Fetonte in the foreground of the photo.)

From David Wiegel:

DSA, founded in 1982 to create a political foothold for Marxists, has transformed into an ambitious left-wing force. Membership grew during Sanders’s presidential campaign, and then started surging the day after Donald Trump was elected president in what some DSA members jokingly call the “socialist baby boom.”

The DSA went from 8,000 members in 2015, the year its delegates endorsed Sanders for president, to about 25,000 in 2017, with chapters or branches in 49 states. Its platform calls for a worker-owned economy and the end of traditional capitalism.

xxxxxxx

The average age of DSA members has since 2015 dropped from 64 to about 30, according to an organizer. A May 2016 Gallup poll, conducted after most of the Democratic primaries, found just that 35 percent of Americans viewed socialism favorably. Among voters under 30, that number rose to 55 percent.

I’m with Itch on this. I can’t take comrade seriously, not since 1939 when Ninotchka came out, and the character, played by Greta Garbo, comes to check on some undependable comrades who have fallen under the spell of Paris.

“The last mass trials were a great success,” reports Ninotchka.”There will be fewer but better Russians.”

Almost as soon as he was elected, Fetonte was engulfed in controversy.

Here from Knock in Los Angeles, is a report from Steve Ducey, one of 34 delegates to the Chicago DSA Convention, about the convention and its aftermath:

But despite all the enthusiasm the convention left us with, the DSA is already faced with it’s first big post convention challenge, one that started brewing before we even checked our bags and that if not handled properly could threaten the newfound vitality of our movement.

On the final day of the convention, the results of our National Political Committee election were announced. There were two competing slates of organizers that had much of DSA’s attention: were you Team Momentum or Team Praxis? EVERYONE wanted to know and DSA-LA alone fielded several calls from both groups ahead of the convention, seeking feedback and hoping for our support. With so much vying for our attention, individual candidates running apart from the ballyhooed slates flew under the radar. But that doesn’t mean they weren’t doing their part to win over delegates for a seat on our national leadership.

One such candidate was Danny Fetonte, co-chair of Austin DSA. His literature was all over the convention floor and I was personally approached by two different people asking me to consider Fetonte for NPC. One in particular spoke highly of his dedication to their chapter, its growth, and that they couldn’t imagine where they would be if not for his leadership. His bonafides looked legit to me: years of union organizing and a recent arrest for protesting the racist Texas Senate Bill 4. With his stated commitment to local autonomy, I pencilled him in as one of my votes for NPC.

I showed my ballot to fellow comrade from LA.

“Don’t vote for him. He’s a cop”.

Turns out, comrade Danny’s claim to have “organized state workers in Texas” left out a crucial bit of information: some of those state workers were police officers during his time organizing with CLEAT.

I quickly changed my ballot.

Nevertheless, Fetonte was elected to one of the 16 seats thanks to an organized vote whipping effort. Many who supported him are furious that his work with police unions was not disclosed prior to the election and there are now numerous calls for Fetonte to step down, including statements from the DSA Veterans Working Group, the brand new Libertarian Socialist Caucus, the Queer Socialists Working Group, Greater Baltimore DSA Executive Committee, DSA Boston’s Police Abolition Working Group, DSA-LA’s steering committee and others.

How Fetonte and our newly elected NPC and Steering Committee handle this situation will be every bit as important as the convention itself. One misstep and all the solidarity we’ve built could be in jeopardy. We’ve worked too hard to build this movement to see it derailed just as it is gaining steam.

A Texas Department of Public Safety trooper cuts the zip-tie off of Ann Glenn (second from right) after she, Danny Fetonte (right), and other protesters were released following their arrest for refusing to leave the lobby of the State Insurance Building where they had staged an all-day sit-in to protest Senate Bill 4 on May 1, 2017. (TAMIR KALIFA/ AMERICAN-STATESMAN)

Fetonte fought back.

The Fetontes at the Austin DSA August 2017 meeting at Scholz Garten.

From Medium, here is Fetonte’s Aug. 17 reply: The NPC Steering Committee Shows no Moral Courage:

After being attacked with wide distortions, half-truths, and made up web information, the [Democratic Socialists of America] Steering Committee attacked me. The committee attacked my supposed work history and then they reinforced the lie that I mislead delegates.

The Internet does not know my work history or my views. There was zero deception. All of my work is well known. Labor union members in many of the chapters know everything about me. One local president who claimed they knew nothing about my work with CLEAT had dinner with me and one of my sons. My son remembered the dinner and the extensive conversation we had about CLEAT. People can forget things. But my activities are widely known and the people who know me the best support me the strongest.

 My relations with CLEAT started with me being asked by CWA to negotiate an affiliation agreement for CLEAT to become CWA Local 6911/CLEAT. My assignment with CWA at the time was Area Director for Organizing with District 6. The National Executive Board of CWA asked me to take on as one of my many tasks to be the liaison between the police locals in CWA across the U.S. and the CWA National Executive Board. I was liaison for two years. As the liaison most of my time was spent organizing wireless workers and directing public sector organizing in three states. A law enforcement CWA member was then promoted to be the Director of Public Safety for CWA. I continued to deal with issues that arose with the police sector in my own district.

I helped get anti-union cops removed from a picket line and replaced with pro-union police. I got three young people released from charges in a rough county. I got a Labor Notes activist free from a Mexican jail with the help of CLEAT. I helped a CLEAT local in one city win their contract by getting three other unions to threaten to relocate their conventions. These activities I did while still directing organizing throughout District 6. During this period, I recruited 15 salts to go into a 1,000-person AT&T wireless call center, where we built an underground union organization. After 5 years, the call center became union.

My activities in solving problems never changed my opposition to white supremacy or homophobia. I supported the proposal abolishing prisons and police at the convention. Both systems are thoroughly broken and we have to take a new approach to working out those problems in society. I was well-known as a radical and socialist during all my years as a union organizer.

I was first promoted to national staff of CWA in 1986. I became the Director of the State Workers campaign in Texas. Correctional officers were one of the many groups we as TSEU organized. We had 18 organizers reporting to me on the work with mental health workers, social workers, highway department workers, unemployment workers, as well as correction officers. I took on an issue of AIDS in the prisons, where neo-Nazis were asking for inmates with AIDS to be tattooed with an X on their foreheads. I put together a training by an AIDS counselor for our staff and executive board. The 30 activists who went through the training learned about AIDS, ARC, and HIV and how to deal with it in the workplace. I was accused of organizing trainings on how to become a homosexual. I went to a 300-person meeting in Huntsville Texas organized by neo-Nazis where one was shouting “barbecue fat boy Fetonte.” I left the meeting with 150 correctional officers who stood with our union in opposition to the Nazis.

I retired in 2008 from CWA and volunteered for the Obama campaign. I was known to have contacts in labor and law enforcement and was asked to solve a problem. There was a dispute between the Obama campaign and a large police group that I helped get resolved. It was common knowledge among the labor movement and activists about my background. After the Obama campaign I was asked by a friend — who had just become Executive Director of CLEAT — to help him. I told him I was a socialist and had a long arrest record. He said CLEAT knew about my politics, views, and arrest record but that he needed my help.

I worked directly for CLEAT training law enforcement officers into becoming organizers. One of my assignments was to help an Association that was almost all-white organize people of color, woman, and LGBT officers into the Association and into the leadership of the Association. I helped organize a law enforcement officers for immigrant rights contingent in the Saint Guadalupe march. We marched for six miles through Brownsville Texas. I worked on a collective bargaining campaign for a large EMS group. We did a petition drive and the EMS workers won a good contract. I also worked on a collective bargaining campaign in Cameron County Texas where we got to an election. The voters turned down the Sheriff’s Department having the right to collectively bargain. I worked extensively on this campaign including involving other unions in the Rio Grande Valley on this campaign.

Everything I put out at the convention about myself was true and well known. Of the 41 candidates of the NPC, I was one of the few that actually talked about my own work history. I have asked the present NPC to write up their work history. It is unfortunate that a number of the working groups and even chapters made statements without ever talking to me. I have offered to talk to any chapter to talk about this situation. My initial reaction was not to respond to the vicious attacks which I thought were coming from a few uninformed DSA members. I was then encouraged by both staff and NPC members to continue to encourage my supporters and myself to not engage on social media. The NPC statement was never shared with me prior to its release. I found out about the statement when I was meeting with a local DSA group to answer their concerns.

What is even worse though is that much of what I write is known by the leadership of DSA and they still wrote that outrageous statement. We are in serious trouble if the NPC is led by folks who have so little backbone in standing up for what is right. I have requested a full weekend hearing to examine all aspects of this conflict including activities by some to encourage this Internet hysteria. I hope the politics does not prevent due process. Due process is more than a slogan if we actually stand for it. I am not resigning no matter how vicious the attacks are. I will stand up to any attacks by National DSA to infringe on our Austin’s local autonomy.

Please forward this to as many DSA members as possible, post on social media and encourage them to let their views be known. I will be glad to accept retractions from any group in DSA that regrets their misinformed statements.

— Danny Fetonte

 

On Aug. 28, the NPC issued a statement on its vote the previous night to censure, but not remove Fetonte from their ranks:

On Sunday evening, the National Political Committee of the Democratic Socialists of America voted to censure Danny Fetonte, a member of the NPC, for uncomradely and misleading behaviour inconsistent with what is expected of a leader of our movement. In addition, the NPC voted against removing Fetonte from the NPC by a vote of 8.5 against his removal to 7.5 votes for his removal (the half vote result from the YDSA co-chairs splitting their one vote). This fell short of the 11 votes needed to remove Fetonte from the NPC.

These decisions follow a robust discussion on the appropriate response to Fetonte’s omittance of important information during the most recent national elections. In reaching this decision, NPC gratefully accepted comments from numerous DSA Chapters and Working Groups and sought an amicable resolution by engaging in mediation with Fetonte, which broke down this weekend.

Background

Many local chapters, working groups, and individuals have written emails and submitted resolutions demanding Fetonte’s removal from the NPC due to his omittance of his past employment history during the recent NPC election. While Fetonte is not, and never has been, a police officer, these members have raised concerns that his prior work as a trainer on union matters for an association which organizes police officers is incompatible with our organization’s commitment to the abolition of prisons and the racist police state, as affirmed by the vote on the consent agenda at convention. Additionally, many members expressed concern over the impact that Fetonte’s membership on the NPC has had on our racial justice organizing work, especially in the aftermath of the horrible events in Charlottesville.

At the same time, other members have expressed concerns that Fetonte’s removal from the NPC would set a terrible precedent for due process and minority rights in a “Big Tent” political organization seeking to build a mass movement. They have additionally cited mitigating factors, such as the several years of Fetonte’s employment by CLEAT, the complicated nature of police union affiliations with large unions, his long history of support for the rights of immigrants and LGBTQI people, and his well demonstrated commitment to principles of equality and anti-racism in keeping with the finest traditions of our movement.

There’s more to read there if you want the whereases.

On Aug. 31, Fetonte issued another response, which reads in part:

The battle for democracy within DSA has been seriously undermined by the last three weeks actions of by the National Political Committee (NPC) in refusing the duly elected Danny Fetonte from being seated and participating in the NPC. The NPC is also the Board of the non-profit that DSA is. Not putting me on the NPC Listserv, excluding me from participating in NPC meetings, calls, and excluding me from steering committee calls which were open to all NPC members except Danny Fetonte were all unauthorized actions.

These actions by the NPC were illegal and unethical. The meeting that was held where I was censured was a good example of not having charges brought, not allowing the person charged to defend himself in any way, and excluding me from the vote.

This is not due process.

Some NPC members have claimed I was excluded due to a past practice of when the NPC talked about an NPC member on a controversial issue they were excluded. There was no precedent, this has never happened, and the NPC uses this argument to attempt to avoid responsibility in excluding a duly elected NPC member and Board member of the non-profit organization.

This is a made-up excuse.

The slander that was encouraged by the NPC itself is inexcusable. It will take a long time for DSA to say it is a democratic organization and to restore its credential as an organization that functions democratically.

If DSA is going to lead a broad-based movement for social and economic justice and build a movement of millions of working people this ignoring of internal democracy will be a serious obstacle to the functioning of DSA.

xxxxxxx

Internet bravery will not change this country. It will take people talking to Americans of all walks of life. Most Americans have had to deal with the real pain of capitalism affecting all parts of their lives. The reason Bernie Sanders did so well is that he spoke directly to American people who are being abused and crushed under capitalism and the very real transferring of wealth in our society to a very small class of thieves.

Dogmatists within our ranks would get in the way when law enforcement unions stand up for justice and provide resources in that fight for justice. Texas DSA has at least a dozen members who organize or work with law enforcement. DSA in Texas has a past NPC member — who while serving on the NPC — organized police and correctional officers. There is no secretive group within DSA who stands with police when there are abuses. Myself and others oppose the organization of the present criminal justice system, oppose the way corrections and law enforcement is organized in America, and think the whole system has to be changed from top to bottom.

CLEAT has taken actions I do not support. CLEAT has taken two actions in Texas I do support. In Texas in the fight against demolishing labor unions, the AFL-CIO this year gave an award to CLEAT for being a valuable ally to Texas labor unions. It lobbied hard in the Legislature and in House districts against the attempt to eliminate payroll deduction for NEA, AFT, AFSCME, and CWA unions. CLEAT’s local organizations were not being attacked but they chose to fight alongside the rest of labor. Another key issue in Texas this year was our fight against SB4, which is a bill that attacks immigrant rights and puts every citizen in Texas with brown skin in danger. CLEAT as an organization lobbied, testified, and worked hard throughout Texas in representatives’ home districts and at the capital to oppose SB4. Sheriffs from Dallas and Austin stood up against Immigration and Customs Enforcement and almost every major police chief and sheriff testified and worked against this attack on the immigrant community.

The extreme position of avoiding working with any Democrats until we have the ability to elect socialists would say to the disabled rights movement that it is okay for you to be denied real assistance because “we have to be pure” and can only work for “socialist” candidates and we should not try to move moderate legislators and progressive Democrats to work in favor of the rights of the disabled. The position of only working for socialists might work in Berkley and Brooklyn but in most of the country we have to work with Democrats in order to stand up for justice.

What is amazing about DSA is the large number of Internet bullies and Internet “know it alls” we have attracted. The Internet bullies who act tough behind a keyboard but have never been hit by a billy club, never been in a street fight, never fought scabs on a picket line, and never been arrested; know how to threaten a person’s family anonymously but are scared to let their neighbors know they are socialists.

These Internet bullies only know how to fight in a computer game.

The “Internet know it alls” like to make profound statements in perfect English. The “know it alls” have accumulated their knowledge from text books and Internet essays. The “know it alls” have hardly lived, spending their life on campuses and in coffee shops with laptops, iPhones, and tablets.

But, the Internet know-it-alls, as Fetonte would have it, dominated the public discourse about him and what his fate ought to be.

By Emmet Penney writing at Paste:

I flew from Santa Fe to Chicago at the beginning of August. The largest socialist organization in America, the Democratic Socialists of America, was having its bi-annual national convention. My chapter, the Santa Fe DSA, had nominated chapter co-chair Cathy Garcia and me (co-chair of Membership Outreach) as delegates. Our chapter hasn’t even been around an entire year, which is not uncommon. DSA has grown from a 6,000 person organization to a 26,000+ person organization in the last year, and I’m part of the groundswell. This convention was going to be a watershed moment for the organization. On the flight north, I did a lot of staring out the window at the plane wing feeling excited and overwhelmed. I also panicked about how much work I was missing.

I didn’t have time for these fears when I arrived. There was too much to do. I worked registration for the first two days. It was hectic enough to keep my mind occupied. And then there were all the resolutions we were going to vote on that I needed to re-read. And workshops. And informal Gatherings. And voting on the organization’s National Political Committee (NPC), which manages and directs the organization. Platforms for different slates, or groups of candidates running for NPC on the same ideological convictions, had been released during few weeks leading up to the convention. I had to catch up on all of those, too. There’s not a lot of time to prepare for all this if you work full-time like I do.

And then there were individual candidates. Some of whom I’d heard about only on the day of voting. One of those was a man named Danny Fetonte, an Austin, TX organizer with a remarkable background. He’d organized tons of different workers’ unions. His support of LGBT and immigrant rights was impressive. And our Austin friends, with whom Cathy and I sat, couldn’t say enough about him. Many were in the DSA because he’d brought them in—Austin is our mentor chapter. They’ve helped us shape Santa Fe’s chapter into what it is today. Cathy and I were excited to vote for a member of their chapter with solid leadership skills and a great record.

By the time I’d gotten back through the security line at O’Hare, Fetonte had been elected to the NPC. This time, I was flying to Berkeley to do some work for an environmental non-profit. It felt like a whirlwind, but here I was doing everything I wanted to be doing…even if I was broke. And I was proud of everything we’d done at the national convention. What made me happiest was that we’d voted to make prison abolition an explicit part of the DSA’s aims. By a huge margin, too.

But then a strange thing happened.

In Fetonte’s campaign literature, “state workers” featured in the litany of groups he’d organized. I figured this meant teachers, or something. But what it actually meant was CLEAT, or Combined Law Enforcement Associations of Texas. So: cops. He helped organize a big cop union. To me, cops aren’t members of the working class. They’re the bulldogs of the rich. They’re white supremacy’s first line of domestic defense. Maybe you disagree. Fine. But had I known about Danny’s involvement, I wouldn’t have voted for him. Neither would a lot of other delegates. In response, working groups and chapters wrote official statements calling for his resignation (majority). Some wrote statement defending him (minority). The controversy was big, but containable. We needed to ask him to resign and we needed to develop better and clearer rules around campaigning and disclosure in NPC races. This fire would put itself out. I had faith that Danny would take one for the team: he’d step down and run again next time.

But he wouldn’t step down. As people dogpiled on Austin (most of their membership claims they didn’t know either) with the petty, stupid acrimony the Internet inspires, he laid low. Eventually, he released a statement. In the new mode of stubborn politicians incapable of strategic thinking, Fetonte became a self-own machine. His statement can be be summed up like this, “I did nothing wrong and will be accepting apologies in my office between the hours of 9 a.m. and 5 p.m., Monday through Friday. Leave a message at the beep.”

Then he chaired the Austin chapter’s meeting about his situation and handpicked friends during the Q & A. One of them just screamed at everyone and called them traitors for not loving Danny enough. Another—his wife—let slip that Danny had indeed named CLEAT in his record when he ran for NPC and lost in 2015 (this is back when the delegate pool was in the low hundreds, if even). Any opposition to Danny at that meeting was suppressed. In an instant, he’d proven himself a petulant, anti-democratic leader who, it seems, willfully withheld information from an electorate of newbies because they hadn’t heard of him.

Just before that infamous meeting, the NPC had tapped a member of Santa Fe’s chapter to help mediate between Danny and the NPC because of our chapter’s relationship with Austin and because of this member’s experience mediating for a major union. Fetonte swatted away the olive branch. I wanted to give him the benefit of the doubt, but I’ve never seen someone so ardent about fucking himself over.

All the while, more details on CLEAT and Danny’s work with cops kept pouring out. (For the sake of time, I’m going to keep this CLEAT-specific. It’s damning enough on its own, but there’s more out there if you’re curious.) After Charlottesville, and Heather Heyer’s murder by a Nazi motorist, we discovered CLEAT is pushing to make it nearly impossible to prosecute someone for such a crime. CLEAT has also come out against the Sandra Bland Act, named for the woman who was found hanged in a Waller County, TX jail cell three days after she was arrested at a traffic stop, which aims to curb racial profiling. And, while Fetonte was working with CLEAT, a cop raped a handcuffed woman in the back of a cop car. The officer’s CLEAT local blew $1 million to protect him and succeeded. This is disgraceful and disgusting. Could work for such an organization be so hard to completely disavow? For him, yes.

Finally, after some dawdling, the NPC voted to keep him. This isn’t surprising for three reasons: First, the DSA’s origins aren’t as far left as many believe. To be crude, Michael Harrington founded the organization in the 1970s to force the Democrats further left. Look at the Democratic Party. Teddy Roosevelt on horseback in the Spanish-American War is farther to the left than the Democratic Party. And having police collaborators on the NPC wouldn’t be a first for the DSA. Second, this broke more or less on racial lines. White people in America are generally more comfortable with law enforcement, it turns out—even in an allegedly socialist organization. (For the record, a collection of PoC members did release a thoughtful statement in support of the NPC majority’s decision which I encourage everyone invested to read).

And finally, the NPC majority’s rationale is symptomatic of a larger trend in America: institutional strictness vs. democratic common sense. I’m sympathetic to the NPC’s wariness about turning the DSA into another hardline leftist organization with people getting booted for ideological differences every other day. Removing Fetonte from the NPC could be seen as a step in that direction. Especially because none of what he did qualified as “malfeasance,” per our constitution.

But constitutionality and democracy aren’t synonymous.

xxxxxx

 Austin, as a chapter, has been compromised. Internally, Danny has created a sectarian, anti-democratic culture within the chapter. Externally, they’re going to have a hard time forming meaningful coalitions. Defend Our Hoodz, an Austin area organization of working class people of color dedicated to saving their neighborhoods from gentrification and racial injustice, released a pointed statement last week. They refuse to work with Austin until they remove Danny from the organization. They don’t trust cops or the people who help them. Who can blame them? The danger is that this spreads. Local activity and solidarity could be hampered nation-wide. We don’t have time for that. We need each other.

And that’s the real problem. The DSA has swollen in size. It is no longer the same organization it was last year. Filling its ranks are younger people with a different experience of America than their older counterparts. We don’t remember the post-war boom or the promise of the American dream. We remember the fallacious brutality of our war in Iraq, Katrina, the 2008 financial crisis, and the crackdown on Occupy. And more importantly for Fetonte and his supporters, we remember Sandra Bland, Tamir Rice, Michael Garner, and all those who’ve been murdered by cops without redress. And we remember watching cops decked out in military hardware roll down the streets of Ferguson after Michael Brown’s murder.

We’ve never seen the mythic neighborhood cop who works a beat and knows the community.

https://twitter.com/nan0bel/status/905795718421528578

https://twitter.com/nan0bel/status/905497470628753408

Here is the  25 Aug 2017 statement from Defend our Hoodz-Defiende El Barrio in Austin: Cop Organizers Don’t Belong in Our Spaces – A Statement on Austin DSA

As many organizers across the US have done, members of Defend Our Hoodz – Defiende El Barrio – Austin have followed the situation that occurred at the National Democratic Socialists of America (DSA) convention, in which Austin DSA co-chair, Danny Fetonte, was elected to the National Political Committee (NPC).

We completely agree with critics, including countless DSA members, who recognize that Fetonte’s role organizing with the Combined Law Enforcement Associations of Texas (CLEAT), his omission of this organizing in his candidacy, and his inability to denounce it, and in fact justify it, is incompatible with a position that the capitalist police force as we know it should be abolished. Fetonte was a part of CLEAT as recently as 2014. He has stated proudly that he “worked directly for CLEAT training law enforcement officers into becoming organizers.”

Defend Our Hoodz upholds a principle against working with the police or police collaborators in any capacity, and Fetonte’s history and actions inherently means Austin DSA is unwelcome in our organizing. Truthfully though, we likely wouldn’t have formally commented on this issue, but DSA’s other co-chair attended a Defend Our Hoodz meeting in the past month prior to the national convention. While they said they attended our meeting as an individual, we cannot overlook their leadership role and more importantly, their defense of Fetonte’s record and actions in the wake of what has happened.

It’s apparent that Austin DSA has doubled-down on their support and brushed off critics who have called for Fetonte’s removal from the NPC and involvement at the local level. They allowed Fetonte to facilitate the discussion about himself in their most recent meeting, and as an organization, back Fetonte’s pride in his ‘organizing’ work, which involved such things as organizing, “a law enforcement officers for immigrant rights contingent”, an offensive concept when SB4 is turning all police into ICE agents by Sep. 1st.

Many of those excusing Fetonte try to claim that ‘he’s done good work’, while separating him from his pig union work. This is liberalism and opportunism in action. It’s worth noting that an older white man is being praised for supposed progressive organizing while his work with police unions is rationalized or downplayed. More absurdly, Danny and Austin DSA have tried to spin his work with the unions as progressive, rather than disown it entirely. As our group is led by and primarily organizing people of oppressed nations, we consider this a pattern of white chauvinism, especially when he wants credit for things like trying to train officers to not be racist.

For these reasons, Austin DSA leadership will not be welcome at any Defend Our Hoodz meetings or events. We encourage those members who are upset with the local DSA’s actions to to publicly take a stand against the Austin chapter’s support for Danny Fetonte and break from the organization as long as Fetonte is involved, forming another chapter if they choose to do so.

We call on Austin DSA to remove Danny Fetonte from its organization, make clear statements against police apologism, and state clearly that the police are not part of the working-class, but its most violent oppressors. We encourage all of those that seek the abolition of the capitalist police force to organize with groups that truly organize against the police, and not just when it’s convenient or trendy to say so.

– Defend Our Hoodz – Defiende El Barrio – Austin

But then, in a very different vein, there is this Sept. 10 post from a Counternarration, a blog by a democratic socialist living in D.C. (but originally from Detroit), under the headline, Unrepentant Twitter Bullies.

A terrible situation came to a terrible end in the Democratic Socialists of America (DSA) on Friday.  It’s a long story, which I’ll elaborate on below, but essentially, a social media mob bullied a longtime talented organizer out of DSA, and some seem proud of their tactics.  Observe:

https://twitter.com/comrade_celery/status/906332200924274688?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw&ref_url=https%3A%2F%2Fcounternarration.wordpress.com%2F2017%2F09%2F10%2Funrepentant-twitter-bullies%2F

To be clear up front: others who are not Twitter trolls shared their general view and had legitimate points that deserved to be (and were) heard.  But it’s my impression that it was specifically the bullying that led to this outcome.  And this bodes ill for DSA as an organization and therefore for our cause.

For my part, not speaking up loudly enough against these bullies was my contribution to this sad state of affairs.  So it’s time to do so.  My imagined audience includes both non-members (whose outside perspective I would value) and anyone from DSA, whatever their perspective, who stumbles across this.  My policy of parrhesia—frankness—applies as always, though I would remind commenters that eunoia—good will—is also part of that bargain.

xxxxx

The Bernie campaign strongly suggested that there are a lot of passive allies who could become active socialist allies out there, as well as neutral people who could become passive allies.  Jonathan Smucker gives a good visual depiction of this in his excellent book Hegemony How-To (which I reviewed for Democratic Left), and in a post on his website, where I found this graphic and which is worth a read:

Meanwhile, I’ve seen it said on Twitter that “the tankies are having a field day laughing at us!” for electing a “cop” (actually a union organizer, not a cop) to the NPC.  For those not versed in the jargon, tankies are people who, like DSA, are on the far left of the political X-axis (economics), but who, quite unlike DSA, proudly place themselves far to the authoritarian end of the Y-axis (personal liberty).  See also Urban Dictionary.  A big tent does still have edges, and authoritarians have always been expressly outside of DSA’s tent.

So I don’t much care what the tankies think of DSA, and it’s not just because I think they’re sorely misguided in important ways.  (To be fair, they are good on racial justice.  The Communist Party always was.  Credit where credit is due.  I criticize them more for spending their time trying to charge DSA convention delegates twenty-five cents to read their denunciations of DSA.  And for defending North Korea.)  But no, it’s not because of those things that I’m not concerned about their criticisms; it’s because I generally don’t see anything to be gained strategically by heeding them.  I’m more concerned about what people with a budding awareness the cracks in our capitalist system think, because those people are the group we need to bring on board if we want to achieve meaningful social change.  Right now, that means I wonder what they think about this whole situation around Danny Fetonte’s election.

And I can tell you, because several of them have confided in me, that they are scared.

So, I don’t actually know of any police officers in DSA, but I for one would welcome all those Black (and even white!) law enforcement officers who stood up for Colin Kaepernick into DSA in a heartbeat, if they wanted to join us.  I’d love to talk to any police officers who are sincerely trying to do racial justice work inside the police department where they work.  From where they stand, it may look like the most promising path.  Others may not agree that it is, and can even say so to constructive effect, but I’m glad for any officer who’s thinking and trying.  We need all hands on deck to fight police brutality, and we need it now.

And then there are the others who are terrified that the capitalist dirt they have on their professional hands will be discovered and used to make them the subject of the next Twitter-led purge.  They’re asking themselves, will the line be drawn at police union organizers?  (That’s already bigger than just police officers, after all.)  What about lawyers who have taken on cases about which they had mixed feelings?  What about people who work in, say, finance?

Personally, I’d love to welcome finance professionals whose own daily work helps them understand the problems with capitalism—and actually, we have, and our big tent is better for having their experience and knowledge under it.  They help us get those who aren’t yet with us but could be to stop and think.

The list could go on.  Do we really want to throw all these people out, along with the sincere anti-capitalist energy they have to offer?

It seems that Left Twitter does:

Michael Harrington was the chair of DSA from its founding in 1982 until his death in 1989, which is egregiously left out of this Britannica article that otherwise is a great writeup of his life and legacy.  Comrades, it is foolish to try to get rid of people like this.  We’re only 30,000 strong, guys.  That’s nothing.  Getting people in the door to hear what we have to say—that’s still our major challenge.  If you are into expelling people, then I have no faith in your ability to build a meaningful movement.

Unrepentant Twitter bullies don’t have what it takes to build the a meaningfully large movement.  It is okay if we disagree, even vehemently.  That is part of the tradition of this organization, too.  We can dislike—we may even despise—other people in DSA; we are human beings, after all.  We can and should absolutely campaign against concrete actions proposed by other members if we think they are wrongheaded.  But don’t let that get in the way of watering every single seed out there that’s beginning to recognize that capitalism has big problems.  It makes no sense for us to be spending our energy fighting against the alleged “impure” within our ranks—people who are actively doing real work to organize in support of, say, immigrants facing real and urgent threats—when there are so many real enemies out there.

And recognize that others are looking at you on social media, and they are opting out.  If that’s what it takes to be a socialist, then I guess I’m not a socialist, they think.  I guess they’d probably find something wrong with me, too.

DSA has always had a culture that welcomes those people in the door, talks to them, listens to them, and gives them a safe space to think and develop politically.  If we lose that, then we lose our most important asset.

The last word goes to Austin DSA Chair Châu Ngô and the statement she released on Fetonte’s leaving DSA:

 

This is a chaotic time for our membership not only here in Austin, but around the state and the nation. And as painful as it is, we have to directly confront the reality we find ourselves in and the continuing aftermath of the struggles and controversies of the last month.

Danny Fetonte is an extraordinarily talented organizer and a dear friend to many of us. He has helped Austin DSA grow fifty-fold in three years and played a crucial role in the Bernie campaign in Texas. At the same time he has been at the center of a very painful fight within DSA. We cannot accept harassment and threats nor can we accept bad faith arguments or personal attacks of any kind, including from those members tasked with leadership. Danny’s choice to leave the organization is a shocking and sad end to a long and terrible episode for all of us. Danny’s contribution to the socialist movement and DSA is longstanding and considerable. A far happier conclusion would be Danny’s continued participation in Austin DSA’s many projects including fair housing, hurricane relief and the protection of our black, brown, queer, undocumented and immigrant family. However, we respect his choice. I am confident that he will continue the fight for social and economic justice, albeit outside of Austin DSA. 

The truth is, as terrible as things have been, we will be okay, because we have to be. It’s awful that this has been some members’ introduction to the trials of being part of a socialist movement. The silver lining is that in a red state like Texas, growing strong through adversity is necessary to survive in a state that has historically been hostile to the aims of socialism.

Châu Ngô closing the Bernie Sanders office in Austin last year.

As our movement grows, so does our organization, not just in numbers but in the type of immeasurable strength that can only be felt when you see DSA folks in action, like our Houston siblings busting their butts (still!) because of Hurricane Harvey or our siblings in Charlottesville literally putting their bodies and lives on the line standing up to the Fascists. There is power there in our dogged determination.

Effectively navigating these waters in the coming years will take a lot out of us. But we know that fighting a multi-headed system that continues to rip apart our communities and maintains the genocide and oppression this country was built on is an enormous task. We do not shy away from the fight. The only way forward is together.

We will trip up along the way. We will make mistakes and be forced to reevaluate who we are and why we fight; our tactics may shift, but no matter what we do not stop and we will not stop. No matter the organizations you are in, groups you are with, and coalitions you work with, those change and morph just like the people within and that includes DSA as well. But as long as we have our eyes on the horizon, we will collectively get there no matter what card we may literally be carrying in our pockets. That was a roundabout way of saying our labels don’t define us. And yet those labels can help guide us. What’s important is the work, why we do it and if we are willing to grow.

Think about the things we need to destroy, to reform, to build, to create, to nurture. There is no one silver bullet. No one person will solve all the issues. We love each other and must respect each other as individuals. At the same time, we must be an organization of group solidarity rather than a group of factions coalescing around individuals. An injury to one is an injury to all. We must stick up together, protect those in need, take up the banner when others can’t and give back to those we’ve taken from as well as take back what is ours. That is how we will forge ahead.

We have been forced to engage with one of the most important issues of our time- the racist violence of the police state, and what relationship if any DSA can have with law enforcement unions, as well as non-law enforcement unions that may include police among their membership.

Unfortunately in the last month many members have violated “call in, not out” culture and our own rules against harassment. Social media is often the worst place to have difficult, vital conversations and encourages and even rewards toxic behavior. Confronting the horrors of the police state is deeply necessary, and this requires confronting the connections our members, chapters and affiliated unions have had with it. However, we cannot skip due process and allow that confrontation, and more importantly, adjudication to occur online.

The consolation though is that this incredibly important conversation has been brought into un-ignorable focus, and going forward we can recommit ourselves daily to having it in the spirit of solidarity and good faith. This will be an ongoing fight, because we are made up of so many different folks from different backgrounds and different experiences of the labor movement but it is a conflict that is starting to be resolved. By having this fight, we have learned so much about ourselves and our roles in society. Some of us had forgotten that the ones we needed to worry most about are the victims and potential victims of policing and the system that it is explicitly protecting. We must do better as an organization and we are learning how.

Today, we are 30,000 strong. But our movement is part of a sea change around the country and the world that is far larger than the DSA alone. We do not live in a vacuum. We must be a place of welcome. Our rose is a symbol of the future we want. The worker must have bread, but they must have roses too. We must never settle for mere adequacy but rather fight for a better world for all. That struggle will sometimes be painful, but lately there have been far more thorns than petals. We must not build walls. We must not discard people. We must welcome our siblings with open arms, even when we disagree strongly with one another.

As a big-tent organization, the bonds we have in our communities provide us with the ability to work together while we figure out our values and goals. We pick each other up when we fall and help each other grow as members of DSA and the human race.

Many of us joined because of Bernie Sanders, myself included, and have found a political home that is warm, generous, open, welcoming, forgiving, accepting, questioning and active. I liken DSA to a family and being part of a family is hard sometimes but also fulfilling and needed.

My favorite slogan from 2016 is “Not me. Us.” Bernie and DSA got us started along the path and engaged. Let’s keep going.

Our next meeting is on the 21st at Scholz Garten, 7pm. I really do hope to see you all there. Keep an eye out for more information.

For those who have questions about membership, please contact membership@dsausa.org

Châu Ngô and Jose “Chito” Vela at August DSA meeting at Scholz Garten.

Austin’s Sanders supporters are not Berned out

Bernie-signs-11

 

 

Good day Austin:

On Saturday night, about 50 veterans of the Bernie Sanders campaign, some of whom were at the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia, gathered in a room at Sholz Garten for a “Post-Philly conversation.”

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On Sunday, the campaign finally closed down its little Austin volunteer field office on East 6th Street.

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So the Sanders campaign is over.

Well, yes.

But the spirits of the Sanders’ folks remain high, and the campaign for the Sanders agenda will continue through a number of different organizations intended to support simpatico candidates at the local level.

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White board at Austin HQ

 

I have not been one who ever underestimated Sanders.

The First Reading I did on Sanders in April 2015, when he visited Austin while he was deciding whether to run for president – Sanders Wows Austin: Watch out Hillary, here comes Bernie – got many times more hits than any First Reading I’ve written. Many times more.

Nothing like a market metric to let you know when a socialist is resonating.

The premise of that First Reading was that Sanders was well set to give Clinton a run for her money.

Bernie Sanders, the Independent senator from Vermont, was in Austin for a couple of days last week, the tail end of a trip that took him to Chicago, Los Angeles, San Francisco and Las Vegas, to see if there is the interest out here in America for him to run for president in 2016.

Sanders would be a novel candidate for the Democratic nomination for president because, for starters, he is not a Democrat, though he caucuses with them in the Senate. He is, in fact, the longest serving Independent in congressional history.

Also, he is an avowed socialist, unlike most Democrats, who are only accused socialists.

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Judging by his reception in Austin, Sanders will be running for president. And, for a number of reasons I’ll explain as we go along, I think Sanders could prove a problem for Hillary Clinton, especially in the early going.

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He doesn’t care about any of the gossipy, horse race, process kind of questions that dominate political coverage, and he makes you embarrassed you asked those questions. All he wants to talk about is what he wants to talk about – income inequality and the “grotesque and obscene” concentration of wealth and income in America. Voters – Democratic primary and caucus voters at any rate – will like that and it will keep him from being embroiled in the petty corruptions and distractions of hour-by-hour press coverage.

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He has been doing this oil-on-water, Brooklyn boy of the Green Mountains thing for decades with great success, by virtue, it seems, of changing almost nothing about his politics or his persona. His practice in Vermont does give him an edge in rural, small-town and working class Iowa and New Hampshire.

His being an Independent gives him the option of being as anti-Washington as Ted Cruz, but from the left, and his being an out socialist will comfort to the activist left that he won’t wilt on those commitments either in a general election or if he were elected.

And his not being Elizabeth Warren means he will generate less upfront excitement and attention and journalistic nit-picking, which is all good for sneaking up on Clinton.

 

 

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In Philadelphia, I did a  First Reading on Julie Ann Nitsch, a field organizer for the Sanders campaign in Austin and a Sanders delegate, who was feeling pretty alienated from the Democratic Party in Philly.

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Nitsch returned from Philadelphia, binge-watched the CW telenovela Jane the Virginit’s adorable – and attended a day-long seminar put on by Annie’s List, which trains, recruits and funds Democratic women candidates.

“At end the seminar I asked, “How do you know if you’re qualified?” The response: “With all due respect, that’s a very girlie question.”

In other words, cast aside your doubts and run. Nitsch, who was a student and staff at Austin Community College, is now a candidate for ACC trustee.

 

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Here she was Saturday night talking with Cliff Walker,  campaign services and candidate recruitment director. for the Texas Democratic Party, who has made it his mission to bring Sanders supporters into the fold.

 

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Does Nitsch plan to vote for Hillary Clinton?

“I’m going to vote. I can’t not vote.”

For Clinton?

“I believe Donald Trump is going to drop out. I don’t think Hilary Clinton is going to have any problem.”

There is an argument among some Sanders supporters that they only need to vote for Clinton in swing states. Elsewhere, they have the luxury of voting for someone else, like Green Party candidate Jill Stein.

“That’s a mistake,” said Daniel Fetonte, a retired labor organizer for the steel workers, the communications workers and CLEAT, the police officers’ union in Texas, who with his wife, Barbara, are the godfather and godmother of the Sanders campaign in Austin.

He said Sanders supporters need to back the ticket, “because of the program we fought for at the Democratic Convention. If  we walk away we won’t be fighting for that program. Also, it’s going to be a wave election so while we might not win the state we’ll pull in a whole lot of state representatives and state senators and that will help protect the state employees union, the teachers’ union.”

“To vote for a purer candidate who might be better on some issues is a serious mistake,” Fetonte said. “We have tremendous standing in the Democratic Party and we should work with the coordinated campaign. That means voting for an imperfect candidate for president.”

He thinks most Sanders supporters will vote for Clinton.

“If you want to vote for perfection, go live on a commune.”

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Sign in Lower Manhattan

 

The Sanders campaign also helped grow the socialist movement in Texas. Fetonte said there are now 266 members of the Democratic Socialists of America in Austin and almost 800 statewide. He said that 34 of the 75 Sanders delegates from Texas were DSA members.

“A lot of people are not scared of democratic socialism because of Bernie,” Fetonte said.

“One of the things about Bernie is he believes this stuff and he is totally honest about it and real ethical,” Fetonte said. “He would always tell us, `don’t attack other people.'”

“He didn’t expect to go as far as he did,” Fetonte said.

Barbare Fetonte said that being a Sanders delegate was the high point of her life.

“To represent Bernie Sanders, I hate that that’s the high point of my life, but right now I feel that it was,” she said.

The convention was an emotional roller coaster.

“I remember Monday feeling, she hasn’t got the nomination yet, what are these guys talking about?”

“And then I remember Monday, at the Bernie caucus, it was a high.”

But then many of the Sanders delegate booed their candidate when he called on them to back Clinton.

She saw the hurt in Sanders.

“I was upset with that. I felt like their mothers. You don’t boo this man.”

But didn’t the boos come out of a place of love for him?

“He didn’t see it that way. I don’t think he was ever able to convey to us what he had to do .”

But, in Barbara Fetonte’s view, the very best thing to come out of the Sanders campaign was Chau Ngo, the campaign’s 33-year-old Austin Regional field director – her vast territory encompassed 57 counties –  who she said brought incredible enthusiasm and ability to the campaign.

“She was the best thing about this campaign,” said Fetonte.

 

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Left to right, Chau Ngo, Daniel Fetonte, Barbara Fetonte, Liliana Mendoza-Pierce, at Sholz Garten

Chau, who grew up in Arlington, came to Austin 15 years ago to study astronomy, chemistry and Spanish at the University of Texas. Now, a divorced mother of two children – 9 and 11 – she remains one class shy of graduating with a degree in history and government.

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Barbara, Cardboard Bernie and Chau

 

“Everything has an end to it,” said Chau, as she finished emptying the tiny field office on East Sixth Sunday.

“If we had just closed it up after the primary it would have had a different feeling because there was just so much energy immediately afterward. And you saw for weeks after the election, about how people still came around wanting to talk about their experiences. We had people go to Ohio, Iowa, New York, California to canvass.

 

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Many of the volunteers were first-timers.

“I think they come out more knowledgeable overall. They learned a lot in the process. They got curious about something and that curiosity doesn’t stop.”

She thinks most will remain active though, “not necessarily political. It was a way for people to find a place. it was a starting point.”

Will most of the volunteers end up voting for Clinton?

“I don’t know. I would probably say most people who will be voting will end up voting for her.  But there are a sizable number who won’t. But I doubt they would have voted for her anyway. They were here for Bernie, not for the Democratic Party. I think it is a mistake for the party not to engage with those folks as much.”

Will she vote for Clinton?

“I am on the Dump Trump campaign, whatever that means, as long as Trump doesn’t make it to he presidency.”

Ngo is among the founders of Left Up to Us, a local organization of Sanders supporters who will back like-minded candidates, though Ngo is now throwing herself into her new job as an apprentice organizer for the Texas State Employees Association.

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Sanders is rolling out a few different new organizations to channel those energies, and will be launching one of those – Our Revolution – with hour-long national live stream the evening of August 24. Local Sanders supporters are setting up viewing events, including one Nitsch is planning at The Gatsby on East Sixth in Austin.

From a July 15 story by Nicole Guadiano in USA Today:

WASHINGTON — His presidential aspirations behind him, Bernie Sanders is looking ahead to a busy future in which he continues to focus on nothing less than transforming the Democratic Party and the country.

In an exclusive interview with USA TODAY, the Vermont senator detailed plans to launch educational and political organizations within the next few weeks to keep his progressive movement alive. The Sanders Institute will help raise awareness of “enormous crises” facing Americans. The Our Revolution political organization will help recruit, train and fund progressive candidates’ campaigns. And a third political organization may play a more direct role in campaign advertising.

Sanders plans to support at least 100 candidates running for a wide range of public offices — from local school boards to Congress — at least through the 2016 elections. And he’ll continue to raise funds for candidates while campaigning for them all over the country. He said he probably will campaign for Tim Canova, a progressive primary challenger to Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz of Florida, who chairs the Democratic National Committee.

“If we are successful, what it will mean is that the progressive message and the issues that I campaigned on will be increasingly spread throughout this country,” Sanders said. “The goal here is to do what I think the Democratic establishment has not been very effective in doing. And that is at the grass-roots level, encourage people to get involved, give them the tools they need to win, help them financially.”

Meanwhile, Jacob Limon, who was state director of the Sanders campaign in Texas, is launching Revolution Texas.

Some Sanders supporters, including Nitsch, are also involved in another new organization, Brand New Congress.

Here is its plan and here are some of the people involved.

And here is a very positive appraisal of it from D.D. Guttenplan in the Nation.

Nashville

“The Republicans I talk to don’t feel any more represented by their party than the Sanders Democrats,” says Corbin Trent. It’s a steamy night a few weeks after the California primary, in a hall belonging to Local 737 of the United Auto Workers. Bernie Sanders hasn’t yet endorsed Hillary Clinton, but even his most die-hard supporters know he isn’t going to be president. Trent, the founder of Tennessee for Bernie, is talking about the widening gap between Americans and the people who are supposed to represent us in Washington.

 “We have a Congress made up mostly of millionaires who spend all their time talking to each other,” he says. “Our country is becoming an oligarchy.”When Trent finishes, Zack Exley stands up. The people in the room are all Bernie volunteers, and Exley, a senior advisor to the Sanders campaign, begins by acknowledging their grief—and their frustration with the Vermont-based national campaign. “I was one of those people up in Burlington, and I want you to know you guys did 10 times what was required to win. In a whole bunch of ways, we let you down.”

Exley and Trent are a formidable double act. As the inventors of the “Bernie barnstorm”—a concentrated training session designed to turn green volunteers into the disciplined organizers who went on to build the biggest grassroots electoral movement this country has ever seen—they’ve been on the road since September. Exley, a tall, lean man with spiky silver hair and geeky glasses that make him look more like a film director than a veteran political operator, worked on Howard Dean’s pioneering campaign and then for MoveOn.org. A brilliant online organizer, he was chief revenue officer for the Wikimedia Foundation before joining the Sanders campaign—whose success in raising money from small donors proved that relying on corporate funding is a choice, not a necessity.

Trent is younger and more solid; with his calm good humor, he’d be an asset in a bar fight. He also seems less self-conscious—at least here in his home state, where his familiar accent and easy manner soften the radicalism of his message. While both Trent and Exley share their audience’s acute frustration with the outcome of a campaign that came tantalizingly close to victory, they’re in Nashville not to mourn, but to organize.

Their pitch is simple: Even if Sanders had won the nomination, and then the election, his ability to effect change—to bring about the political revolution—would have been severely limited by a dysfunctional Congress in thrall to corporate interests. So why not harness the energy, enthusiasm, national organization, and fund-raising muscle of the Sanders volunteers to elect a brand-new Congress—all at once, in 2018—committed to the same platform of greater economic equality, climate justice, civil rights, criminal-justice reform, and fair trade? Why not elect a Congress that not only looks like us—more women, more people of color—but that will actually work for us instead of for lobbyists and special interests?

This was the start of the Brand New Congress (BNC) campaign. “It sounds like a crazy idea,” admits Exley—and if anyone else were behind it, I’d probably agree. But in state after state, wherever I found Sanders volunteers phone-banking, canvassing, or holding Bernie Fest events to recruit their neighbors, when I asked how they managed to do so much with so little direction from the national campaign, the answer was always the same: “This guy Zack Exley came down for a couple of days…”

Wendy Sejour, a veteran of Florida progressive politics who got scores of volunteers onto the streets of Miami—right in Debbie Wasserman Schultz’s backyard—tells me: “We put out the word four to five days in advance. Found a local union hall. A hundred people showed up. Basically it’s just Corbin and Zack. They talked about what the campaign was doing, and how they wanted us to fit in.” With the national campaign focused on the four early states, the rest of the country was left to Exley and Trent’s “distributed organizing.” And while the national office can claim credit for Sanders’s stunning victory in New Hampshire, it lost Iowa, Nevada, and South Carolina. Meanwhile, the volunteers went on to win another 22 primaries. Sejour has already signed on to BNC.

So when Exley says “I think we can do better than 40, 50 seats. I think we can pick up a couple of hundred seats,” I’m inclined to take him seriously. Because of what he’s already accomplished. And because of the numbers.

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I am dubious, for reasons outlined by Ed Kilgore at New York Magazine, and I am curious about Sanders’ take on something that seems way more audacious and unlikely is succeed than his own campaign was.

From a great distance, the news that volunteers associated with Bernie Sanders’s presidential campaign are turning their attentions to the herculean task of organizing progressives for midterm elections would seem to be exciting news for all Democrats. Without question, the close alignment of the two parties with groups of voters who do (older white people) and don’t (younger and minority people) participate in non-presidential elections has been a big part — along with the normal backlash against the party controlling the White House — of the massive Republican gains of 2010 and 2014. The prospect of heightened midterm turnout from under-30 voters alone could be a big and important deal for the Donkey Party. 

But the closer you get to the Sandernistas’ Brand New Congress initiative — the new project by recently laid-off Bernie staffers to create a revolution in Congress beginning with the 2018 elections — the less it looks like the instrument for a difficult but achievable task and the more it looks like the product of a very strange set of beliefs about American politics. It’s not focused on boosting progressive turnout in general elections, but on recruiting and running candidates in Republican as well as Democratic primaries who meet a rigid set of policy litmus tests. The idea is very explicitly that people alive with the Bern can literally elect a “brand-new Congress” in one election cycle to turn public policy 180 degrees. Or so says key organizer Zack Exley:

We want a supermajority in Congress that is fighting for jobs, criminal justice reform and the environment,” Exley said. “Most Americans actually want that, and I think we get it by running Dems in blue areas, Republicans in deep red areas, and by running independents wherever we didn’t defeat incumbents.”

Republicans, too?

Corbin Trent, another former Sanders staffer, said bringing Republicans on board is “the key to it being a successful idea” and there’s enough overlap between Sanders’ platform and tea party conservatives to make the PAC’s goals feasible.

Reality television star Donald Trump’s current status as the Republican front-runner demonstrates that GOP voters are eager for candidates who, like Trump, criticize the corrupting influence of money in politics and the impact of free trade deals on American workers, Trent said.

This will allow Republicans to say ‘Yeah, I’m a Republican, but I believe climate change is real and I don’t believe all Muslims are terrorists,” he said. “It will allow people to think differently in the Republican Party if they want to pull away from the hate-based ideology.”

Yes, that was what I feared: The discredited notion that lefties and the tea party can make common cause in something other than hating on the Clintons and Barack Obama is back with a vengeance. And worse yet, Donald Trump — Donald Trump — is being touted as an example of a Republican capable of progressive impulses because he shares the old right-wing mercantilist hostility to free trade and has enough money to scorn lobbyists. Does your average Trump supporter really “believe climate change is real” and disbelieve that “all Muslims are terrorists”? Do Obamacare-hating tea-partiers secretly favor single-payer health care? Do the people in tricorn hats who favor elimination of labor unions deep down want a national $15-an-hour minimum wage? And do the very activists who brought the Citizens United case and think it’s central to the preservation of the First Amendment actually want to overturn it?

It’s this last delusion that’s the most remarkable. If there is any one belief held most vociferously by tea-party activists, it’s that anything vaguely approaching campaign-finance reform is a socialist, perhaps even a satanic, conspiracy. These are the people who don’t think donors to their political activities should be disclosed because Lois Lerner will use that information to launch income-tax audits and persecute Christians. The tea folk are much closer to the Koch brothers in their basic attitudes toward politics than they are to conventional Republicans. 

But there persists a sort of “tea envy” in progressive circles. Here’s Salon staff writer Sean Illing in a piece celebrating Brand New Congress:

Real change in this country will require a sustained national mobilization, what I’ve called a counter-Tea Party movement. While their agenda was nihilistic and obstructionist, the Tea Party was a massive success by any measure. And they succeeded because they systematically altered the Congressional landscape.

Well, you could say that, or you could say the tea party’s excesses cost Republicans control of the Senate in 2012, and produced an environment that’s made Donald Trump and Ted Cruz the GOP’s only two options for this year’s presidential nomination. Indeed, you can probably thank the tea party for the likelihood of a very good Democratic general election this November. 

But that will again produce excellent conditions for another Republican-dominated midterm in 2018. It sure would make sense for progressives to  focus on how to minimize the damage in the next midterm and begin to change adverse long-term turnout patterns. Expending time, money, and energy on scouring the earth looking for Republican primary candidates willing to run on a democratic-socialist agenda will not be helpful.

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What might have been

Of course, per the New England poet, John Greenleaf Whittier, “Of all sad words of tongue or pen, the saddest are these, ‘It might have been.” And, it is now painfully obvious that the dream team ticket for the Democrats this year was Bernie and Michelle.

Just look at the numbers.

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Seriously.

The personal chemistry would be fantastic – cranky old Jewish guy and ebullient young black woman.

She clearly gave the best speech at a convention of some very good speeches.

And for every argument against putting the First Lady on the national ticket, there is an effective rebuttal crafted by the Clintons.

In 1992, Bill Clinton said if you elected him you would “get two for the price of one.” The two he was talking about were the governor and first lady of Arkansas. Big deal. With Michelle you’d be getting the former president and first lady of the United States.

But, of course, Clinton has since padded her resume with that stint in the Senate and service as secretary of state. But all anyone remembers about her Senate career was her voting for the Iraq War and some Wall Street entanglements, and all anyone knows about her tenure as secretary of state is Benghazi and her private email server.

If Sanders had just an inch more political savvy, after the last primary he would have met with the Obamas, offered Michelle the vice presidency, and pried away a sizable number of super delegates, including much of the Congressional Black Caucus.

Could the socialist and the first lady have won? Running against Trump, could they lose?

And instead of the Obamas having to wreak havoc on the Kalorama neighborhood where they are moving when they leave the White House so Sasha can finish high school in D.C., the Obamas could simply have moved into BFF Joe Biden’s place at the Vice President’s residence at the Naval Observatory.

Oh well.

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At the Democratic debate, Hillary Clinton stands by her man – Barack Obama

Good morning Austin:

Just as last night’s four Democratic presidential debate was about to get underway, NBC”s Chuck Todd promised “it’s going to be a doozy.”

Afterward, he seemed satisfied that it had delivered.

I don’t know.

For sheer histrionics and drama, the Republican primary campaign – and especially last Thursday’s debate – is just in a different league than the Democrats

And, let’s face it, as the upset-the-applecart outsider, Bernie Sanders is no Donald Trump or Ted Cruz.

From Josh Marshall at Talking Points Memo:

One of my big questions going into tonight was whether Clinton would really bring her recent kind of hard-charging, aggressive, almost cartoonish attacks on Sanders into the debate hall. Mostly she didn’t. She hit hard at a few points at the beginning. But her critiques, especially on health care were more subtle and refined and sounded less desperate than recent headlines generated by her campaign.

On the other side of the equation, I think she’s somewhat defused by Sanders himself. He simply doesn’t have that kind of brass knuckle politics in him. Even when he gets his hackles up a bit, every response from him is inherently defusing. There’s less charge in the air, less animus after he speaks than before. And I mean all this in both the good and bad senses in which you might understand what I’m saying. At a very basic level, just temperamentally, he doesn’t seem to have time for this stuff.

He simply has no instinct for the jugular, bringing not a knife but a tourniquet to his debates with Clinton.

At the first debate he famously said, much to Clinton’s delight, that he and the American people were sick and tired of hearing about her “damn emails,” which Republicans feverishly hope  is going to lead to her imminent indictment.

And then last night, it was Sanders saying he was not going to use Bill Clinton’s sexual behavior against her.

ANDREA MITCHELL: Senator Sanders, let me ask you a question. You called Bill Clinton’s past transgressions, quote, “totally, totally, totally disgraceful and unacceptable.” Senator, do you regret saying that?

SANDERS: I was asked a question. You know, one of the things, Andrea, and I — that question annoys me. I cannot walk down the street — Secretary Clinton knows this — without being told how much I have to attack Secretary Clinton, want to get me on the front pages of the paper, I’d make some vicious attack.

I have avoided doing that. Trying to run an issue-oriented campaign.

(APPLAUSE)

SANDERS: I was asked a question.

MITCHELL: You didn’t have to answer it that way, though. Why did you?

SANDERS: Well — then if I don’t answer it, then there’s another front page, so it’s yes

(LAUGHTER)

And I mean this seriously. You know that. We’ve been through this. Yes, his behavior was deplorable. Have I ever once said a word about that issue? No, I have not. I’m going to debate Secretary Clinton, Governor O’Malley, on the issues facing the American people, not Bill Clinton’s personal behavior.

(APPLAUSE)

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And, as Bernie Sanders spoke last night, there was Hillary Clinton again nodding gratefully, as her rival for the presidential nomination said he wasn’t going to use her husband’s “totally, totally, totally disgraceful and unacceptable” behavior against her.

On January 26, 1992 – two dozen years ago – in an act of public mortification, Bill and Hillary Clinton went on 60 Minutes following the Super Bowl to confront reports of his sexual transgressions.

Steve Kroft: . . . {The} question of marital infidelity is an issue with a sizable portion of the electorate. According to the latest CBS News poll . . . 14 percent of the registered voters in America wouldn’t vote for a candidate who’s had an extramarital affair.

Bill Clinton: I know it’s an issue, but what does that mean? That means that 86 percent of the American people either don’t think it’s relevant to presidential performance or look at whether a person, looking at all the facts, is the best to serve.

Kroft: I think most Americans would agree that it’s very admirable that you’ve stayed together – that you’ve worked your problems out and that you’ve seemed to reach some sort of understanding and arrangement.

Bill Clinton: Wait a minute, wait a minute, wait a minute. You’re looking at two people who love each other. This is not an arrangement or an understanding. This is a marriage. That’s a very different thing.

Hillary Clinton: You know, I’m not sitting here – some little woman standing by my man like Tammy Wynette. I’m sitting here because I love him, and I respect him, and I honor what he’s been through and what we’ve been through together. And you know, if that’s not enough for people, then heck, don’t vote for him.

Kroft: . . . One of your campaign advisers told us the other day, “Bill Clinton has got to level with the American people tonight, otherwise his candidacy is dead.” You feel like you’ve leveled with the American people?

Bill Clinton: I have absolutely leveled with the American people.

Kroft: . . . You came here tonight to try to put it behind you . . . . Do you think you’ve succeeded?

Bill Clinton: That’s up to the American people and to some extent up to the press. This will test the character of the press. It is not only my character that has been tested.

Clinton went on to a better-than-expected performance the New Hampshire primary, labeled himself “the comeback kid,” and went on to the presidency.

The most memorable line, of course, was HRC’s You know, I’m not sitting here – some little woman standing by my man like Tammy Wynette.

But, of course, she was standing by her man, a la Tammy Wynette.

“Stand By Your Man”

Sometimes it’s hard to be a woman
Giving all your love to just one man
You’ll have bad times, and he’ll have good times
Doin’ things that you don’t understand
But if you love him, you’ll forgive him
Even though he’s hard to understand
And if you love him, oh be proud of him
‘Cause after all he’s just a man.
Stand by your man, give him two arms to cling to
And something warm to come to
When nights are cold and lonely.
Stand by your man, and show the world you love him
Keep giving all the love you can.
Stand by your man.
Stand by your man, and show the world you love him
Keep giving all the love you can.
Stand by your man.

Bill Clinton’s past transgressions will remain the wild card in the 2016 race, but probably not until the general election, and especially if the Republican candidate is Donald Trump, friend of Roger Stone, author of The Clintons’ War on Women.

From Ross Douthat at the New York Times:

There’s the official Clintonite narrative, in which the former president strayed with Gennifer Flowers and Monica Lewinsky, was forgiven by his wife and daughter, and deserves to have his repentance respected.
Then there’s the narrative that I suspect most Americans believe, in which the former president was much more of a tomcat in Arkansas, and probably has tomcatted occasionally in his post-presidency — but always consensually, and lately in ways that have minimized exposure or embarrassment.

If either of these narratives are true, then Clinton’s sex life will be a non-issue in 2016. If an adulterer, even a frequent adulterer, is all he is, then an America that didn’t want him impeached in the 1990s isn’t going to object to having him as the First Gentlemen today.

But suppose you believe the (Juanita) Broaddrick story. Liberals dismissed it during the impeachment days, but if you read the summary of the case from the (mostly liberal) Dylan Matthews at the (mostly liberal) website Vox, this dismissal looks unfair. There’s an inescapable he-said/she-said dynamic, but one need not be a “believe all rape allegations” absolutist to find her claim persuasive.
If she’s telling the truth, then Clinton’s sexual past becomes something more predatory. The slippage between a powerful man’s dalliances and straightforward predation is something that could happen just once. But looked at in the light of a credible rape allegation, there are all sorts of Clinton stories — the Willey and Jones cases, the rumors collected by Jones’s lawyers, the old tales of state troopers being used as procurers, the 2002 globetrotting on the jet of a billionaire who’s also a convicted statutory rapist — that could suggest a darker pattern, tending toward the Cosby-esque.

Eight years ago, Hillary Clinton lost the nomination that seemed to be her destiny to an upstart by the name of Barack Obama. Obama’s  victory in the caucuses in the very white state of Iowa proved to black voters that Obama was a serious enough candidate to override their loyalty to the Clintons in the hopes of electing America’s first African-American president.

Clinton rebounded in New Hampshire, but Obama crushed her in South Carolina with its large black electorate, after an acrimonious campaign in which Bill Clinton, especially, demeaned Obama and infuriated many black leaders.

Eight years later, as last night’s debate made abundantly clear, Hillary Clinton is going full Tammy Wynette, standing by her man, though, now, that man is Barack Obama.

https://twitter.com/ezraklein/status/688917732096528384

 

 

From the Washington Post
From the Washington Post

From Jonathan Martin at the New York TimesHillary Clinton Turns, Repeatedly, to a Democrat Not on the Debate Stage: Obama

Hillary Clinton may have been flanked by Martin O’Malley and Senator Bernie Sanders at the presidential primary debate on Sunday night in South Carolina, but she wanted voters to see her as shoulder-to-shoulder with another Democrat: the one living in the White House.

Seeking to stabilize her 2016 campaign in the state where her 2008 contest with Barack Obama took its nastiest turn, Mrs. Clinton linked herself to the president again and again. And again.

She praised Mr. Obama for having “led our country out of the Great Recession.”

She praised Mr. Obama’s nuclear deal with Iran: “I was very pleased to be part of what the president put into action.”

She praised Mr. Obama’s handling of the Assad government in Syria — even though she fought with him over whether to arm and train Syrian rebels when she was his secretary of state.

Over and over Sunday night, Mrs. Clinton turned to Mr. Obama as both sword and shield — sometimes even in the same breath.

LESTER HOLT: What do you see as the difference between what you would do about the banks and what Secretary Clinton would do?

SANDERS: Well, the first difference is I don’t take money from big banks. I don’t get personal speaking fees from Goldman Sachs. What I would do…

(APPLAUSE)

What I would do is understand that when you have three out of the four largest banks today, bigger than they were when we bailed them out because they were too big to fail, when you have the six largest financial institutions having assets of 60 percent of the GDP of America, it is very clear to me what you have to do.

You’ve got to bring back the 21st century Glass-Steagall legislation and you’ve got to break up these huge financial institutions. They have too much economic power and they have too much financial power over our entire economy. If Teddy Roosevelt were alive today, the old Republican trust buster, what he would say is these guys are too powerful. Break them up. I believe that’s what the American people to want see. That’s my view.

HOLT: Secretary Clinton, help the voter understand the daylight between the two of you here.

CLINTON: Well, there’s no daylight on the basic premise that there should be no bank too big to fail and no individual too powerful to jail. We agree on that. But where we disagree is the comments that Senator Sanders has made that don’t just affect me, I can take that, but he’s criticized President Obama for taking donations from Wall Street, and President Obama has led our country out of the great recession. Senator Sanders called him weak, disappointing.

Screen Shot 2016-01-18 at 6.51.24 AM

He even, in 2011, publicly sought someone to run in a primary against President Obama. Now, I personally believe that President Obama’s work to push through the Dodd-Frank…

(LAUGHTER)

Screen Shot 2016-01-18 at 6.53.39 AM

The Dodd-Frank bill and then to sign it was one of the most important regulatory schemes we’ve had since the 1930s. So I’m going to defend Dodd-Frank and I’m going to defend President Obama for taking on Wall Street, taking on the financial industry and getting results.

(APPLAUSE)

Screen Shot 2016-01-18 at 6.55.13 AM

SANDERS: OK. First of all…

HOLT: Senator Sanders, your response.

SANDERS: Set the record right. In 2006 when I ran for the Senate, Senator Barack Obama was kind enough to campaign for me, 2008, I did my best to see that he was elected and in 2012, I worked as hard as I could to see that he was reelected. He and I are friends. We’ve worked together on many issues. We have some differences of opinion.

But here is the issue, Secretary touched on it, can you really reform Wall Street when they are spending millions and millions of dollars on campaign contributions and when they are providing speaker fees to individuals? So it’s easy to say, well, I’m going to do this and do that, but I have doubts when people receive huge amounts of money from Wall Street.

SANDERS: I am very proud, I do not have a super PAC. I do not want Wall Street’s money. I’ll rely on the middle class and working families…

From Dylan Matthews at VOX:

It was only eight years ago that Hillary Clinton was repeatedly attacking Barack Obama as a dangerously inexperienced naif who would be unable to get anything of consequence done as president. Now, she presents herself as a defender of his sundry accomplishments, and attacks Sanders for being insufficiently supportive of the president.

“The fact is, we have the Affordable Care Act,” Clinton declared. “That is one of the greatest accomplishments of President Obama, of the Democratic party, and of our country, and we have already seen 19 million Americans get insurance.” She also cited Sanders’s past criticisms of the president and flirtation with supporting a primary challenge against him in 2011/2012.

xxxxxx

Clinton’s message is clear: I am the true defender of Obama’s legacy, I will preserve his gains, while Sanders dismissed them.

It is a message that is intended to make sure that black voters, this time, do not stray from the Clinton fold the way they did eight years ago.

From the Hill two years ago:

Rep. James Clyburn (D-S.C.) revealed in a new memoir that he received a tongue lashing from former President Clinton after the 2008 South Carolina primary, according to a report. 

Clinton blamed the South Carolina representative for his wife’s primary loss in the state to President Obama, then an Illinois senator. Clinton, during a 2 a.m. phone call, also said: “If you bastards want a fight, you damn well will get one.”

U.S. News and World Report highlighted the exchange that is part of Clyburn’s memoir slated for publication in the summer titled: Blessed Experiences: Genuinely Southern, Proudly Black.

Clyburn had remained publicly neutral throughout the Democratic primary, though he voted for Obama in his state’s primary. 

“I had kept that promise. I asked [Clinton] to tell me why he felt otherwise,” Clyburn writes. “He exploded, used the word ‘bastard’ again, and accused me of causing her defeat and injecting race into the contest.” 

He added: “It was clear that the former president was holding me personally responsible for his wife’s poor showing among South Carolina black voters, and it was also clear that our heated conversation had not changed his mind.”

The day after the conversation, Clinton famously compared Obama’s win in the state to Jesse Jackson’s, who had previously won the Democratic primary there but lost the overall contest. 

“Bill Clinton wasn’t just defining his wife’s loss in South Carolina as a ‘black political event,’ he was defining it as a ‘Jim Clyburn black southern event.’ So this is what he meant when he said he’d show us a fight,” Clyburn wrote.  

Clinton later apologized to Clyburn, which the congressman “halfheartedly” accepted, according to the report. 

Hillary Clinton remains 25 points ahead of Obama in the latest national poll.

But Sanders is pressing Clinton in both Iowa and New Hampshire and, as Paul Kane wrote in the Washington Post at the end of last week – Clinton’s lead is evaporating, and anxious Democrats see 2008 all over again:

Just as Barack Obama’s stunning upset there helped assure Democrats in later states that a black man could win votes from whites and propelled him to victory in South Carolina and other places, so, too, could a Sanders victory on Feb. 1 in Iowa and then Feb. 9 in New Hampshire ease doubts about the viability of a self-described “democratic socialist,” some said.

“It’s just like the weak spot for Barack Obama was his skin color, but he got cured of that in Iowa,” said Rep. James E. Clyburn (D-S.C.), the party’s leading African-American in Congress.

“If [Sanders] comes out of Iowa and New Hampshire with big victories — if it’s close in both places, that’s one thing — but if he comes out of there with big victories, hey, man, it could very well be a new day,” Clyburn added.

There was Clyburn last night, after that “doozy” of a  debate on MSNBC, saying that Clinton was much more knowledgeable on world affairs than Sanders, that South Carolina ought to be Clinton’s fire wall, that it probably is, even if she loses in Iowa and New Hampshire.

Except, he said, if she loses Iowa by 10 points or more.

That, he said, “would redefine the race.”

It was a little bit ominous, coming from Clyburn, who spoke expressionless.

Beyond that, the peril for Clinton is that even if she prevails over Sanders by running for Obama’s third term, she will have enshrined herself as the candidate of the status quo at an angry and restless moment in American history.

 

 

 

 

 

 

The `great white hope?’ Behind the white nationalist robocalls for Trump in Iowa

Good morning Austin:

William  Johnson lives on a ranch near Los Angeles with horses, ducks and chickens, and various stone fruit he grows, including pomegranates, olives and persimmons.

William D. Johnson

He is also a devoted white nationalist/separatist.

Here, from his dossier with the Southern Poverty Law Center:

William Daniel Johnson, a Los Angeles corporate lawyer, is an uninspiring but determined white separatist. As early as 1985, Johnson proposed a constitutional amendment that would revoke the American citizenship of every nonwhite inhabitant of the United States. A quarter century later, in 2010, he was still actively supporting white nationalist causes, serving as chairman of the racist American Third Position political party (renamed American Freedom Party in 2013), established the prior year. The party wants to run racist candidates nationwide.

The SPLC will now have to add to Johnson’s file that he is the guy who in 2016 produced and paid for white nationalist robocalls that every Iowan with a landline will receive at least once between now and the Feb. 1 caucuses, promoting Donald Trump for president.

Endorse-Trump-485x315

In a press release yesterday, Johnson refers to Trump as “the great white hope.”

Here is the call Iowans are receiving.

And here is the text of the call, on which three persons – Rev. Ronald Tan, Jared Taylor and Johnson – speak sequentially.

The American National Super PAC makes this call to support Donald Trump.  My name is Reverend Ronald Tan, host of the Christian radio talk show program, For God and Country.  First Corinthians states:  God chose the foolish things of this world to shame the wise and God chose the weak things of this world to shame the strong.  For the Iowa caucuses, please support Donald Trump.  He is courageous and he speaks his mind.  God Bless. 

I’m Jared Taylor with American Renaissance.  I urge you to vote for Donald Trump because he is the one candidate who points out that we should accept immigrants who are good for America.  We don’t need Muslims.   We need smart, well-educated white people who will assimilate to our culture. Vote Trump. 

I am William Johnson, a farmer and a white nationalist.  Support Donald Trump.  I paid for this through the super PAC.  Telephone (213) 718- 3908.  This call is not authorized by Donald Trump.

In yesterday’s press release, Johnson also announced that:

Des Moines Radio Group, a major media player in Iowa with nine major Iowa radio stations is beginning to air pro-trump radio shows in the month of January to urge voters to caucus for Donald Trump on February 1, 2016.  The radio show, For God and Country, is hosted by Filipino American minister Ronald Tan and co-hosted by William Daniel Johnson, chairman of the white separatist political party, the American Freedom Party, formerly known as the American Third Position.

But, after news about the robocalls broke and spread, the Des Moines Radio Group yesterday canceled broadcast of six shows of For God and Country on Praise 940 radio, and returned to Johnson his check for $2,100.

Here is one of the pre-recorded shows that would have aired.

And here is a second show that has already been recorded, and will be broadcast elsewhere, but not, as of now, in Iowa.

I talked to Johnson yesterday, and he explained what he is up to and why.

I was one of the earliest contributors to the Trump campaign.

But the Trump campaign indicated that they were self-funding and didn’t need or want contributions.

They put out a press release that Trump is funding his own campaign with his – get this – his vast resources. He’s such a blowhard.

So, instead, Johnson formed the American National Super PAC to promote Trump.

Of Trump, Johnson said:

I’ve known about him for 25, 30 years. My wife, she came to me, she was in love with Donald Trump and she said, `Listen to what he’s saying about the Mexicans on the border.’ And, up to that time, I didn’t really like Donald Trump. In fact I kind of disliked him, but then he said the stuff about the Mexicans coming in, the Muslims coming in, and my wife was just praising him up and down, so then, I began to think this guy is the real deal and this slowly kind of changed over the last four or five months to now where I really like him.

This guy’s as close to a nationalist as we’ve got.

The thing that I’m pleased with him is that he does not back down.

Like just the other day there was some sort of peaceful Muslim lady standing up (at a Trump rally) and saying, `This is what the face of a Muslim looks like,’ protesting in silence very peacefully, and people were yelling at her, `Do you have a bomb? Do you have a bomb?’ So he kicked her out. And she was saying, `This shows the hate of people for the Muslims.” And he said, “No, you’re the ones that hate.” And he never apologized for anything he said. That’s so refreshing and so unique.

A normal politician would have apologized.

I like very much what he’s saying and what he stands for and mostly, l I like the fact that he doesn’t back down.

To a degree, Johnson said Trump reminds him of Ron Paul, who he supported in the past, though Paul distanced himself from Johnson after Johnson had a big fundraiser for Paul at his home in 2007. (see coverage here and here an here.) Johnson said Paul distanced himself, and then apologized to him for distancing himself, and then redistanced himself.

Only Trump, unlike Paul, doesn’t feel obliged to do any distancing and redistancing.

The robocalls blanketing Iowa are costing Johnson only $8,000, which seems to me remarkably cheap, and, in terms of the publicity he is receive, an absolute bargain.

But, does Johnson think that his explicitly “white nationalist” radio ads will actually help Trump?

I want to present to everyone that the white race is going to die out if we don’t do something.

Will it hurt Donald Trump? Nothing hurts Donald Trump and what I do won’t hurt and it might help. But it doesn’t matter whether it hurts or helps. I’ve bot to get the message out that these mainstream Democrats and mainstream Republicans are helping to destroy our country.

When white nationalists got behind Ron Paul there was a lot of legitimate criticism of him, much more criticism of him than Donald Trump.

Granted, Donald Trump is not a white nationalist and some of his views are dramatically opposed to white nationalism – for example he is for a strong military and continued Republican interventionism, whereas white nationalist support George Washington’s advice to not get involved  foreign entanglements. So we fear that Donald Trump needs to be schooled more on foreign entanglements, and there are other areas he is not strong on, but overall he is the best candidate a nationalist could have for a long time.

I am doing this is an independent person who cares about this country>

Instead of wringing my hands about the direction of the country, I’m doing something. I sleep better at night because I’m doing something. Every time I do something I write it down in my Bible and then when I get really old I’ll give it to my grandkids and say, `Here look, I tried, don’t blame it on me.’

Times have never been worse, they’ve never been better. Our backs are against the wall. I think the white race will wake up.

We need successful professional people standing with their hands on their hips, saying, `I’m a white nationalist and I’m proud of it.’ I  think that will turn the political tide. I want people to know I’m proud of my political views.’ And that will help I thinks soften some of the criticism of other people when they begin to think like us. That’s my calling, just to be upfront about it.

Screen Shot 2015-08-25 at 7.28.37 PM

The white race has been subject to anti-white propaganda for at least 50, probably 60 years, so there is a lot to overcome.

At least they will hear it.

Johnson said it is even better when no one his home to receive the call because then it ends up on voicemail and gets shared with friends neighbors.

As for the radio shows, I asked Johnson what the Rev. Tan, a Filipino-American living in Los Angeles, had to do with white nationalism.

“I called Reverend Ron and asked him your question.  This is what he said:  “I support the stand of the American Freedom party on the platform of the Constitution and conservative family values.”

And, For God and Country is his show.

When I asked Johnson how long he has held his views on race, Johnson, 61, said that In high school in Eugene, Oregon, “we had to pick a presidential candidate to write about. I was the only person in my class who picked George Wallace.”

It should be noted that while he is backing Trump, Johnson’s American Freedom Party has its own candidate for president, Robert Whittaker.

His slogan: “Diversity is the code word for white genocide.”

The SPLC describes Whittaker as “a curmudgeonly segregationist with a history of drug abuse.”

Though he claims on his blog to have been the message man in the Reagan administration responsible for crushing communism, bringing down the Berlin Wall and saving the Hubble Space Telescope, Whitaker is seen by many in the movement as a hard-drinking though harmless, grandfatherly Forrest Gump.

James Edwards, host of the racist “Political Cesspool” radio show, wrote, “The next time anyone talks with Bob, ask him about the time we closed down that bar in Charleston.” To his disciples, though, Whitaker is nothing short of a propaganda “genius,” a word that can be found more than 600 times on his blog.

“There is not a modest bone in my body,” Whitaker wrote in 2004. “I AM a genius. I was born with one hell of a brain, and I scare our enemies because I am so smart I can laugh them to shame. I am at so high a level that a PhD or a big-time news anchor doesn’t mean a thing to me.”

A far-right propagandist for more than a half-century, the former economics professor and Reagan appointee to the Office of Personnel Management has been linked to radical, often racist, populist campaigns for most of his career. He once claimed to have a swastika poster on his wall when he was young in protest of desegregation. In fact, his advocacy of segregation and racist ideology seems rooted in his opposition to America’s early civil rights struggles.

Johnson said Whittaker will stay in the race even if Trump is the Republican nominee.

He wants to keep Donald Trump honest.

I asked Johnson what he thinks about Ted Cruz.

He has some good points but he’s a Cuban. I’m a little bit hesitant to support a Cuban.

The Trump campaign has not commented on Johnson’s robocalls.

I also talked with Jared Taylor, the founder and editor of American Renaissance last night, who I have talked to and written about over the years. I last interviewed in June, after the church shooting in Charleston, S.C.,  for a First Reading because, as I wrote:

Taylor was back in the news when he emerged as the designated spokesman for the Council of Conservative Citizens – a like-minded if rougher-around-the-edges white nationalist organization that he has been a member of for the last 20 years. The Council made one of its occasional forays into national consciousness with news that Dylann Roof’s apparent manifesto suggested that it was the Council’s website that had “informed” his thinking on race and propelled him toward the massacre at the Charleston, S.C., church of which he stands accused.

 

 

Al Jazeera America
(Al Jazeera America)

“Donald Trump,” Taylor has written,”may be the last hope for a president who would be good for white people.”

From our conversation last night:

To me the wonderful effect of Trump is to reopen all these questions that the smug liberals had considered closed for all these decades – the whole question of who do we want to come to America, do we dare make a choice, do we dare express ourselves and have a preference. I think single-handedly he has done in just a few months what scores of us have spent decades trying to do – reopen this question. I think it’s absolutely marvelous.

Whether he himself has any kind of really developed racial consciousness, frankly I doubt it. I think it’s just instinct, he goes on his instincts, and his instinct, like most white Americans, is that he prefers European civilization. But whether or not once he was in office he might start  saying things about how he likes being around white people or that there wasn’t anything wrong with an immigration law that was designed to keep America majority white, whether he would say things like that, I have absolutely no idea.

On the prospect of Trump facing Hillary Clinton in debate.

I can just imagine the kind of havoc he would wreak with her in debates. On the one hand. I cringe to think of the ungentlemanly attacks he might make in today’s vulgar society, but an ungentlemanly attack might be a success, I don’t know.

I said that talking to some conservatives in Iowa last week, I got the feel that they would love for Trump to be elected and see what happens, but are a bit skittish and would like some kind of money-back-guarantee if Trump, once elected, swings wildly in another direction and doesn’t do what they think and hope he is going to do.

I am convinced that what we do have a money-back guarantee on is this whole question of illegal immigrants. I think it would be impossible for him to go back on that, and I think his heart is actually in it, unlike some of these Johnny-come-latelies who are talking tough on illegal immigrants. That is clear, that this was the wind that pushed him out in front and he genuinely feels that way. And for him to double back on that, that would be absolutely unforgivable.

Jared Taylor
Jared Taylor

He’s got to have a wall and he’s got to deport the illegals. If he doesn’t do that, well then, my gosh, he’ll be a laughingstock.

Wouldn’t Ted Cruz be every bit as hard-line as Trump on immigration?

Do you think he would build a wall and deport 13 million illegals? I don’t think he would. I don’t think he has the heart for it. It’s an incredible thing to actually send people back across the border. That’s a very tough thing to do. You have to have grit, determination, you to be prepared to take New York Times stories and CBS stories of all these crying families that are being separated. I just don’t think Ted Cruz – Ted Cruz is too conventional, he couldn’t put up with that.

It’s the imitator I don’t trust. I trust the originator.

The other thing that I think people like about Trump is that he is unpredictable. People are tired of these blow-dried, cut-out candidates who have to take five polls before they decide what to say about something. There’s a genuineness about Trump. Sometimes he says things that make us effete types cringe a little bit, but there’s something refreshing about a guy being such a natural.

Of the robocalls potential impact:

I really don’t think that it can hurt Donald Trump. Can it help? I’m not so sure about that either, but it once again circulates an aspect of the question that I think needs to be circulated. It publicizes the whole demographic implications of what Donald Trump is talking about  and the kind of revolution he’s effected in the national conversation on this.

On how he describes himself.

I’ve started using Identitarian.

I don’t like the term white nationalist because people think of Basque nationalists and Kurdish nationalists, throwing bombs. I don’t like that.

White advocate, that’s a term I sometimes use. It’s very frustrating not to have an expression that I can settle on as one that’s comfortable. The word ‘racist,’ that word can absolutely not be rehabilitated. It comes  with just too much more opprobrium.

Maybe, in years to come, a Trump Republican.

For someone to buck the zeitgeist so consistently and so powerfully as he has done, I think it probably is unprecedented, for someone to have so successfully frustrated and baffled all the people who tell us what to think.

This utter flouting of convention, spitting on orthodoxy, I think it’s simply fantastic.

He could be washed away in the Iowa caucuses, his campaign could completely fizzle out, and he would still have achieved an enormous amount.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

For better or worse, Democratic debate short on drama

Good morning Austin:

The dramatic highlight of last night’s third Democratic presidential debate, held at St. Anselm College in Goffstown, N.H., came right after the mid-debate bathroom break.

David Muir, the ABC anchor, who is so good looking that he could be the guy who would play the network anchor, except that he actually is an anchor, set the scene.

muirMUIR: Welcome back tonight. As you can see, we have a packed faudience here in New Hampshire and we’re going to continue. We’ve already had a spirited conversation here at the top of the broadcast about ISIS, about the concerns of terror here on the homefront and as we await Secretary Clinton backstage, we’re going to begin on the economy.

We want to turn to the American jobs, wages and raises in this country. And we believe Secretary Clinton will be coming around the corner any minute. But in the meantime we want to start with this eye-opening number. And Senator Sanders, this question goes to you first, anyway.

In 1995, the median American household income was $52,600 in today’s money. This year, it’s $53,600. That’s 20 more years on the job with just a 2 percent raise. In a similar time-frame, raises for CEOs went up more than 200 percent.

Wait a minute.

As we await Secretary Clinton backstage …

And we believe Secretary Clinton will be coming around the corner any minute …

But in the meantime …

In the meantime?

What is going on here?

In the meantime, there was a candidate-less podium at center stage, between the podiums occupied by Sen. Bernie Sanders and former Baltimore Mayor and Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley.

For a fleeting moment, one could conjure up images of some kind of Harrison Ford/Liam Neeson/Angelina Jolie/Uma Thurman action movie scene unfolding backstage. Was HRC employing her seldom-deployed mixed martial arts skills – perhaps in tandem with her sleek body woman/aide-de-camp Huma Abedin – to fend of terrorists seeking to swipe her from a prime-time pre-Christmas debate and hold the American electoral system hostage?

Kind of Air Force One meets Kill Bill.

 

 

No.

Apparently, this was just a mundane, fact-of-life, it-takes-a-woman-a-little-longer-than-a-man-to-duck-in-and-out-of -the-restroom moment and, America, get used to it.

(From Donald Trump Sunday morning on Meet the Press: “Hillary’s not strong. Hillary’s weak frankly. She’s got no stamina. She’s got nothing. She couldn’t even get back on the stage. Nobody even knows what happened to her. It’s like she went home and went to sleep.”)

The real puzzle was why ABC, which did not seem to be hewing to some kind of crisp schedule,  could not have simply given the former first lady, New York senator, secretary of state and presently at least even money to be the next president, another 90 seconds to get back in her place as the center square before resuming the debate.

It is not like they shouldn’t have seen this coming.

Here from Slate’s coverage of the Democratic debate in October in Las Vegas:

Hillary Clinton has noted, at Tuesday night’s Democratic debate in Las Vegas, that electing a woman as president of the United States would be a historic first. She also, it seems fair to say, just became the first presidential candidate to make reference during a debate to how long it takes women to pee.

 The transcript:

Anderson Cooper: And welcome back to this CNN democratic presidential debate. It has been quite a night so far. We are in the final block of this debate. All the candidates are back, which I’m very happy to see.

[Laughter]

It’s a long story. Let’s continue. Secretary Clinton, welcome back.

Clinton: Well, thank you. You know, it does take me a little longer. That’s all I can say.

Right. Except, per this excellent explainer from Amy Chozick at the New York Times, the deck was absolutely stacked against Clinton in Goffstown.

GOFFSTOWN, N.H. — As the third Democratic debate faded to a five-minute commercial break, Hillary Clinton had exactly one minute and 45 seconds to walk out of the gymnasium at St. Anselm College to the ladies’ restroom and one minute and 45 seconds to return to her place on stage.

Not a lot of wiggle room.

With the men’s room significantly closer to the debate stage, Mrs. Clinton’s male opponents, Bernie Sanders and Martin O’Malley, made it back quicker and, well, it takes women longer, as Mrs. Clinton pointed out after returning slightly late from a commercial break during the first Democratic debate in Las Vegas.

But on Saturday, the ABC News hosts, tied to the schedule of live TV, proceeded with their questioning about the economy with an empty podium awaiting Mrs. Clinton. “Sorry,” she deadpanned when she finally took her place.

Aides said they had been concerned during the walk through before the debate that the ladies room was such a schlep. The campaign’s vice chairwoman, Huma Abedin, had timed the distance to and from the podium and expressed concerns to organizers, but the gymnasium setting meant there were no closer options. She relayed to Mrs. Clinton that she would have to be speedy, said several aides involved in debate planning.

In the end, the moment became one of the most talked about of what seemed an otherwise low-impact debate. The momentarily empty podium prompted jokes that Mrs. Clinton, so focused on defeating the Republicans, had, perhaps, decided to watch the primary debate from a Manchester bar, with a row of glistening ladies’ rooms nearby.

Anyway, picking up where we left off from Saturday night, Clinton returned to the stage to applause, and offered a simple, elegant, “Sorry.”

https://twitter.com/TomNamako/status/678406151864754176

And then, from Muir:

We’re going to continue here, and Secretary, you’ll get a chance on this too.

Well that’s nice.

But, with Clinton’s reappearance, any chance of any real drama emerging from last night’s debate was gone.

Not that the Democrats seemed very intent on gaining an audience for last night’s event.

The debate schedule for the Democrats does seem intended to minimize any harm that could be done to  Clinton’s front-runner status.

Saturday night is better known as a date night, not a debate night.

And the Saturday before Christmas leans heavily toward family not politics.

Also, viewers had choices.

There was the Jets-Cowboys game, which I suppose might serve as a surrogate preview of a Clinton-Cruz general election race. (Sorry Ted.)

There was a rebroadcast of the Wiz, which set the twitterverse aflame when it was first broadcast.

And, there was, of course, the mesmerizing and under-appreciated Yule Log.

Apart from its ratings-proof scheduling, the Democratic race simply lacks the drama of the Republican race, which is among the most interesting and uncertain of my lifetime with a bona fide reality TV star center stage.

With the Iowa caucuses barely more than a month way, the clear front-runner for the Republican nomination – Donald Trump – is a larger-than-life figure who has proved doubters wrong, again and again, and yet still seems unlikely to ultimately make it to the White House.

The Republican contest, with its rich ensemble cast, has intricate plots and subplots. It’s gripping and entertaining, if often dumbfounding.

Particularly, coming at this time of year, there is something familiarly festive about the recent Republican debate – another raucous affair, crowded with jostling personalities. And, they even continue to have, in the spirit of the holidays, a kid’s table debate.

The Democratic debate, on the other hand, has a kind of sad, empty-nester air to it. There’s Sanders, 74, and Clinton, 68, and the young upstart, O’Malley, a mere 52 – but still eight years older than the GOP kids – 44-year-oldsTed Cruz and Marco Rubio.

Getty Images
Getty Images

And, it will be very exciting if the Democratic race doesn’t go the way we think it’s going to go. Very exciting, and really, very unlikely.

Here are the two most recent national polls, courtesy Real Clear Politics.

Screen Shot 2015-12-19 at 11.44.27 PM

The last time Hillary Clinton ran for president – in 2008 – she was part of a Democratic race for the ages that completely overshadowed a pretty good Republican race involving John McCain’s impressive comeback.

Clinton was seeking to become the first woman to be elected president and she was overtaken by a newcomer who, almost out of nowhere, was elected America’s first black president. Their contest generated uncommon interest and participation.

Sanders has generated large crowds and some excitement. His particular strength in Iowa and New Hampshire was, at first blush, surprising, and, given what happened to Clinton the last time she was the clear front-runner, significant. But while Sanders is still running first in New Hampshire, he has slid to second in Iowa, and it is hard to construct a scenario where he would turn even winning both Iowa and New Hampshire into a truly serious threat to Clinton’s nomination.

Sanders is simply no Barack Obama.

And, whatever chance he had was dramatically reduced by the terrorist attacks in Paris and San Bernardino.

From Patrick Healy in The New York Times – Bernie Sanders Falls Behind in a Race Centered on Security:

GOFFSTOWN, N.H. — In his opening remarks at the Democratic presidential debate on Saturday, Senator Bernie Sanders railed against “establishment politics and establishment economics” and then the nation’s “rigged economy.” He moved on to the “corrupt” campaign finance system, then the “planetary crisis of climate change.” Only after that did he say he wanted to destroy the Islamic State.

It was a litany of priorities that made good sense when Mr. Sanders announced his presidential bid in April. But after the terrorist attacks in Paris and San Bernardino, Calif., he made fighting terrorism sound like an afterthought.

These are challenging times for Mr. Sanders as the chief opponent to Hillary Clinton for the Democratic nomination. His progressive political message, so popular with liberals for much of 2015, now seems lost in a fog of fear. Americans are more anxious about terrorism than income inequality. They want the government to target the Islamic State more than Wall Street executives and health insurers. All of this plays to Mrs. Clinton’s strengths — not only as a hawkish former secretary of state but also as a savvy politician who follows the public mood. After months of pivoting to the left on domestic issues to compete with Mr. Sanders for her party’s base, she is now talking about security and safety far more than Mr. Sanders — and solidifying her lead in opinion polls.

One could, of course, argue that, as a former secretary of state, Clinton’s fingerprints are all over the sorry situation the world is in. But, at time of great uncertainty, Clinton at least is no stranger to the world stage.

AP photo by Jim Cole
AP photo by Jim Cole

From a Jonathan Martin and Amy Chozick story in the Times, under the headline, In Democratic Debate, Hillary Clinton’s Focus Is on G.O.P.

Hillary Clinton largely looked past her Democratic rivals in Saturday night’s debate, instead repeatedly assailing the Republican field, led by Donald J. Trump. She called Mr. Trump a threat to the nation’s safety, saying he was fast “becoming ISIS’ best recruiter.”

Deflecting persistent attacks from Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont and former Gov. Martin O’Malley of Maryland over gun control, Wall Street and foreign military entanglements, she accused Mr. Trump of undermining the fight against terrorism.

Mrs. Clinton, the former secretary of state, sought to frame next year’s election as a choice between her clear-eyed approach to national security and the recklessness of Republicans who have demonized Muslims since the recent attacks on Paris and San Bernardino, Calif.

And from Clinton, the most stinging rebuke of Trump – praising George W. Bush, by contrast, and leveling a new and specific charge that I’m sure will be much talked about beginning on this morning’s Sunday shows.

CLINTON: You know, I was a senator from New York after 9/11, and we spent countless hours trying to figure out how to protect the city and the state from perhaps additional attacks. One of the best things that was done, and George W. Bush did this and I give him credit, was to reach out to Muslim Americans and say, we’re in this together. You are not our adversary, you are our partner.

And we also need to make sure that the really discriminatory messages that Trump is sending around the world don’t fall on receptive ears. He is becoming ISIS’s best recruiter. They are going to people showing videos of Donald Trump insulting Islam and Muslims in order to recruit more radical jihadists. So I want to explain why this is not in America’s interest to react with this kind of fear and respond to this sort of bigotry.

“No fact checker has been able to back up her claim on that,” Chuck Todd told Trump, who was on the phone, on Meet the Press this morning.

“Exactly correct,” Trump said. “I was going to say that nobody has been able to back that up … It’s just another Hilary lie. She lies like crazy. She just made this up in thin air.”

Perhaps she was making the point that ISIS could use videos of Trump video to recruit jihadists. But, if there is no evidence they actually are, then her statement may prove reminiscent of the elusive video that Trump said he was certain he saw of  “thousands and thousands of people” cheering in Jersey City, N.J., as the World Trade Center collapsed.

Clinton did succumb to one other Trumpian moment during the debate.

MUIR: Secretary Clinton, I did want to ask you, the last time you ran for president, Fortune Magazine put you on its cover with the headline Business Loves Hillary, pointing out your support for many CEOs in corporate America. I’m curious, eight years later, should corporate America love Hillary Clinton?

CLINTON: Everybody should.

(LAUGHTER)

(APPLAUSE)

Photo by Jim Cole
Photo by Jim Cole

Good line, though it did give Sanders an opening for a good line of his own:

So Hillary and I have a difference. The CEOs of large multinationals may like Hillary. They ain’t going to like me and Wall Street is going to like me even less.

But Clinton clearly has benefited the most by Trump’s rise – even if she did attend his wedding and even if some conspiratorial corners think that Trump’s candidacy is a Clinton plot.

First, Clinton, far more than Sanders, would be able to draw the support of those folks who are moderate in their politics and temperament, if Trump were the Republican nominee.

And second, Trump did Clinton the  service of contributing to the diminishment of Jeb Bush. If Jeb! were riding high, voter unhappiness about seeing a Bush-Clinton reprise might be much higher than it is.

On Saturday Night Live last night, a Republican debate parody ended with”Bush” telling “Trump” – “You’re never going to be president.”

To which “Trump” replies – “Yeah. None of us are, genius.”

Later in the show, Kate McKinnon, playing Hillary Clinton 2015,  is visited by Amy Poehler, as the Hillary Clinton she impersonated eight years ago, who warns her latter-day self against overconfidence.

“On Christmas Eve 2007 I was cocky too and then someone named Barack Obama stumbled out of a soup kitchen with a basketball and a cigarette and stole my life,” she says.

But when McKinnon’s Clinton informs Poehler’s Clinton that the Republican frontrunner is Donald Trump, the two join with each other in jumping for joy: “Oh my God. We’re going to be president!”