Rank hypocrisy

A year ago, on June 30, 2018, I attended a Families Belong Together rally in New Bedford, one of hundreds of similar events taking place nationwide. Between 400-500 people attended, overflowing into the balcony at the Bethel AME Church on County Street, to hear New Bedford’s expressions of solidarity and concern for families separated at the border.

Despite his actual history of voting for anti-immigrant legislation, one or more of the organizers invited U.S. Congressman Bill Keating to speak at the event. Keating shed his tie, rolled up his sleeves, and gave an energetic speech — all clenched fists and faux outrage at the Trump administration’s caging of six year-olds.

The only problem with this performance was not the dramatic oratory; it was the rank hypocrisy. Keating has voted repeatedly for GOP anti-immigrant bills. H.R.3009 punished Sanctuary Cities. H.R.4038, the American Security Against Foreign Enemies Act, restricted absorption of Syrian refugees. H.R.3004, “Kate’s Law,” took a hard line against desperate people who re-enter the United States. And Keating’s “On the Issues” statement on immigration reads like it was written by Tom Hodgson:

“Bill Keating opposes amnesty. As a District Attorney, Bill Keating enforces our laws and believes that everyone must obey them. His office has prosecuted thousands of criminal cases that resulted in defendants being detained for immigration and deportation action. Bill believes that we must secure our borders, and wants to punish and stop corporations that hire workers here illegally. Bill does not support giving people who are here illegally access to state and federal benefits.”

On July 12th Keating was at it again. At a New Bedford rally called Lights for Liberty, some of the same organizers had again invited the Congressman, and there he was — delivering the same shtick in precisely the same way. This time he huffed and puffed at the concentration camps the Trump administration is running on the southern border.

But Keating himself just voted to expand them. The Washington Post reported “House passes $4.6 billion border bill as leaders cave to moderate Democrats and GOP.” Ninety-five Democrats opposed the legislation, which placed no constraints on how Trump could use the funding. House leader Nancy Pelosi even abandoned language to earmark funds specifically for humanitarian aid. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez blasted the capitulation: “Well, too bad. This is our job. Cancel vacation, fly the Senate in. Pass a clean humanitarian bill and stop trying to squeeze crises for more pain.”

These appearances remind us how easily machine Democrats and their friends can so easily exploit and co-opt humanitarian issues they repeatedly refuse to fix. And Keating reminds me how little will change until these good buddies of the GOP are retired and replaced.

By coincidence, a day before Keating’s theatrical performance in New Bedford, Stephen Kinzer, a well-known historian of American Empire, wrote a blistering piece in the Globe excoriating the Congressman:

“My own representative, Bourne Democrat Bill Keating, takes campaign donations from arms makers and repays them by endorsing mind-boggling Pentagon budgets. He has cosponsored a bill promoting increased US arms sales to Ukraine, voted to allow the deployment of US troops to Libya without Congressional approval, and called President Trump’s 2017 missile attack on Syria ‘necessary and proportional’. […] Most recently he was one of 129 Democrats who voted with Republicans to fund the network of immigration prisons along our southern border without any requirement that inmates be given water, soap, blankets, or toothbrushes.”

We clearly need a new Congressional Representative in the 9th District. And, as luck would have it, Kinzer even wrote the want ad:

“Urgently Needed: Dynamic activist from Cape Cod, Nantucket, Martha’s Vineyard, the South Shore, New Bedford, or Fall River. Job entails a year of 16-hour days, knocking on doors, and organizing to defeat Representative Bill Keating in the Democratic primary in the fall of 2020. Benefits include the satisfaction of speaking every day about the need to defend human rights, build strong communities, combat climate change, and end foreign wars. No pay, but seat in Congress if campaign succeeds.”

NOTICE: The Democratic Party does not discriminate on the basis of race, color, religion, national origin, sex, age, disability, or any other status protected by law or regulation. All qualified applicants will be given equal opportunity and selection decisions are based on job-related factors only.

Just kidding. It will be an uphill battle all the way. But Massachusetts needs another Ayanna Pressley and one less Blue Dog.

Bring the fire

Last week’s debates featured a pack of twenty Democratic candidates for president. All these men and women deeply care about the United States and all would be an improvement over the incumbent. Regardless of the number of warts and blemishes I have already counted, I am almost certain that I will be canvassing door-to-door for whichever of these people ends up the Democratic nominee in 2020.

The debates were chaotic, with contenders interrupting and constantly talking over each other. Nevertheless, it was a valuable opportunity to see wits and bits of policy on display. To my thinking, only Julian Castro, Cory Booker, and Elizabeth Warren survived the first night’s debate. And of the second night’s participants, only Kamala Harris and Pete Buttegieg came out relatively unscathed.

Neither of the two leaders in the polls — Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders — seemed up to the job. Biden is a gratuitous gift to Republican voters, has more baggage than an airport, and he deserved the thrashing he got from Kamala Harris. Twice Biden, outmatched or unprepared, saved himself by stammering “my time is up” — ironically defining his own fitness for the job.

And it breaks my heart to say this, but Bernie is who he has always been, with a message that never changes with the wind or polls. His policy prescriptions are wise and bold. But as the oldest presidential candidate ever, and without the ability to connect with a diverse electorate, Bernie is probably un-electable in 2020. Like Moses, Bernie has brought millions of progressives to Canaan, but he himself will never step foot in the Promised Land.

I am left with the mental image of Elizabeth Warren, Pete Buttigieg or Julian Castro running circles around Trump in a debate. I can also picture Kamala Harris cleaning off the ice pick she just shoved into Biden’s neck — the same one she used on Barr — and plunging it into Trump. I’m not alone in believing that the defense of what’s left of our democracy will have to be accomplished with some degree of ruthlessness.

I have already said what I think of Bernie Sanders’ chances of being elected, but for many white Americans electability is almost the only criterion for selecting a president. Both parties have forever preferred tall white males who say all the right things about Capitalism and the military.  But when all is said and done, it’s race that really matters to White America. Michael Harriot, writing in The Root, notes that working-class, soccer moms, rural voters, NASCAR dads, the religious right, moderate and suburban voters all “may sound phonetically different, [but] those categories all refer to white people.” With no one to represent them, it is little wonder that so many people of color sat out the last election. The next election had better address this failure.

Now is also not the time for the faint-hearted to abandon principles. Democrats can’t give in to the delusion that the so-called “never-Trump” Republican or the mythological swing voter will be swayed by sacrificing Main Street to Wall Street or by once again failing to address immigration and racial injustices. If these unlikely voters are truly worried about Trump — as they should be — then they’re just going to have to suck it up and vote for the lesser evil. Isn’t that what Democrats always tell the progressive wing of their own party? Universal health care won’t be half as painful as concentration camps and whatever follows that. Eugene Robinson, in his July 1st column in the Washington Post, nailed it when he wrote:

“Anyone who watched last week’s two-night candidates’ debate should be confident that the eventual Democratic nominee is virtually certain to support universal health care, comprehensive and compassionate immigration reform, reasonable gun control, measures to address climate change and bold steps to address income inequality. No, this is not a Republican agenda. Outcasts from the GOP will have to decide whether to accept it, in the interest of ending our long national nightmare, or reject it and stick with a president who kowtows to Vladimir Putin and Kim Jong Un.”

This week a progressive Democratic Congressional delegation faced a snarling MAGA mob and aggressive Border Patrol agents in Texas when they went to visit a camp where there was no tap water and prisoners were being told to drink out of toilets. In the midst of hostility that concerned even their security details, these mostly young progressive lawmakers stood up and denounced the abuses they had just seen. The visit closely coincided with the anniversary of Frederick Douglass’ famous oration, “What, to the American slave, is your 4th of July?,” in which Douglass intoned:

For it is not light that is needed, but fire; it is not the gentle shower, but thunder. We need the storm, the whirlwind, and the earthquake. The feeling of the nation must be quickened; the conscience of the nation must be roused; the propriety of the nation must be startled; the hypocrisy of the nation must be exposed; and its crimes against God and man must be proclaimed and denounced.

Newly-elected Massachusetts Rep. Ayanna Pressley, who many Democrats initially thought was politically indistinguishable from the [white] man she replaced, showed voters on Monday just what the difference was when she directly addressed the MAGA mob, almost appearing to channel Douglass’ words:

“I learned a long time ago that when change happens it’s either because people see the light or they feel the fire. We’re lifting up these stories in the hopes that you will see the light. And if you don’t, we will bring the fire.”

It’s going to take a lot of Democratic soul-searching, courage and fidelity to principle, and a heaping scoop of ruthlessness to win the next election. Everything depends on it.

Bring the fire.

Unicorns

This week there were a couple of studies in the news which shine a little light into the darkness that is settling over America. One should be read by all Democrats. The other will almost certainly be ignored by reality- and reading-averse Republicans. But both call into question the existence of near-mythological creatures believed to be true.

The first study, released last week by the Pew Research Center, calls into question the importance of the mythological swing voter. It turns out that the 40% of voters who identify as “independents” are not really all that independent. 13%, in fact, are pretty much reliable Republicans, while 17% are fairly reliable Democrats. This leaves 7% — mostly young and male — who are politically unmoored. This is no great revelation in a polarized political landscape in which the “middle” has largely eroded.

What’s important, however, is that, of these 7% only a third actually vote, which reduces the actual number of “independents” to about 2.3% of the American electorate. Democrats might actually appeal to some of these disaffected young voters if they chose a progressive candidate under 70, yet many in the 2020 race think they can appeal to the unicorn by bashing the social safety net, going weak on abortion, or alienating minority voters by slamming “identity politics.” Rather than trying to lower themselves to GOP standards, Democrats ought to be doubling-down on what makes them stand out from Republicans. And redoubling their opposition to Trump’s Imperial Presidency.

On this last point, Allan Lichtman, a professor at American University who has correctly predicted the last nine presidential elections, warns that — unless Democrats “grow a spine” and risk alienating white swing voting unicorns by launching impeachment proceedings — we will see Donald Trump re-elected in 2020.

* * *

The second study, which was actually published a couple of years ago, reinforces a large body of research on immigration and criminality, showing (once again) that immigrants are actually less likely to engage in criminal behavior. The so-called “violent illegal” or Trump’s “Mexican rapist” are both unicorns, figments of the white supremacist imagination.

With the dry title, “Urban crime rates and the changing face of immigration: Evidence across four decades,” a study in the Journal of Ethnicity in Criminal Justice concludes:

Research has shown little support for the enduring proposition that increases in immigration are associated with increases in crime. Although classical criminological and neoclassical economic theories would predict immigration to increase crime, most empirical research shows quite the opposite. We investigate the immigration-crime relationship among metropolitan areas over a 40 year period from 1970 to 2010. Our goal is to describe the ongoing and changing association between immigration and a broad range of violent and property crimes. Our results indicate that immigration is consistently linked to decreases in violent (e.g., murder) and property (e.g., burglary) crime throughout the time period. […]

Despite continuing nativist arguments alleging a causal relationship between immigration and crime, individual-level research based on arrest and offense data of the foreign-born shows that they are overall less likely to offend than native-born Americans. Some argue, however, that regardless of immigrants’ relatively low involvement in crime at the individual level, immigration might nevertheless be tied to increases in crime through structural and macro-level mechanisms. […]

Our results indicate that, for property crimes, immigration has a consistently negative effect. For violent crimes, immigration has no effect on assault and a negative effect on robbery and murder. This is strong and stable evidence that, at the macro-level, immigration does not cause crime to increase in U.S. metropolitan areas, and may even help reduce it. The interpretation of our results gives us pause when considering the current cultural ethos in the United States. The variety of legislation at the state level aimed at immigrants, legal or not, is underscored by popular sentiments about how current immigration is detrimental to the U.S. economically and socially. But at least when it comes to crime — and in fact, on many other counts addressed in the literature — there is no evidence at a metropolitan level of these severe impacts. Our results are clear and overarching that immigration does not lead to increases in crime in American metropolitan areas.