The Lessons of 1964 & 1932

I've spent what's possibly far too long looking at this election and that election, putting my History degree to best use looking for patterns tracing all the way back to 1876. If I wanted, I could probably go back further, but someone already beat me to the Andrew Jackson comparison.
Instead, I'm going to dust off my Audacity of Hope and show that this November doesn't have to end with an establishment candidate being bested by an outsider, but rather the political Prodigal Son story revolving around two of our most Progressive Presidents of the 20th century. There is reason to hope, despite everything we've learned to the contrary, that upon reaching the highest office in the land a candidate can undergo a transformation. No longer do the deep pockets of donors or the shrill demands of political bosses matter, because you literally can't go any higher in America, maybe even in the world. Indeed, reaching the White House can cause a formerly conservatively minded Democrat to look at things in an entirely different way when the responsibilities of 300 million souls lay within your very hands.

I want to speak about two such conservative, moderate Democrats: Franklin Delano Roosevelt and Lyndon Baines Johnson.

The Miller Center at the University of Virginia speaks of FDR's 1932 campaign as follows:

Many leaders of the Democratic Party saw in Roosevelt an attractive mixture of experience (as governor of New York and as a former vice presidential candidate) and appeal (the Roosevelt name itself, which immediately associated FDR with his remote cousin, former President Theodore Roosevelt.)

It's almost as if he and Mrs. Clinton could have shared a hot dog at the Harvard-Yale game. For more evidence, the Miller Center goes on:

Roosevelt's campaign for president was necessarily cautious. His opponent, President Herbert Hoover, was so unpopular that FDR's main strategy was not to commit any gaffes that might take the public's attention away from Hoover's inadequacies and the nation's troubles.
 As shocking as it may seem, FDR ran a rather conservative campaign, much different from the Democratic Socialism he became known for with the New Deal programs. It was in the time between his election and his inauguration (which had been moved up to January specifically to get him working on fixing the problems earlier than previous Presidents)  that he realized the amazing burden and responsibility placed on him, and he became that great liberal, progressive bastion we know and honor today.

FDR meets LBJ, 1937.

In 1937, FDR met a young man named Lyndon B. Johnson, a fellow New Deal Democrat who was just starting out on what became a long career in government. Twenty-three years later, LBJ would find himself as a Vice Presidential candidate to another in a long line of charismatic, starry-eyed young Democrats named John F. Kennedy. Kennedy was a candidate that promised pie-in-the-sky reforms and made promises no one thought he could keep, including Johnson. Johnson even formed a "Stop Kennedy" coalition before eventually agreeing to be the more established, conservative member on the ticket.

And we all know what happened after three years of Vice Presidential frustration. Dallas, 1963, John F. Kennedy, the dreamer from Camelot, was slain. Onboard Air Force One, Lyndon Johnson became President of the United States. The more conservative, more establishment part of the ticket now found himself in the driver's seat... and he proceeded to force through, with all of his cunning and experience, every pie-in-the-sky idea JFK had envisioned. Sitting in that office, being given that responsibility... it can change a person.

So it is all right to have hope as a Progressive, even though all may seem lost to a New Gilded Age of big donors, big money and big corruption. There is no shame in supporting the establishment candidate, especially when the major competition is America's latest flirtation with fascism. But it is always important to remember who changes that person when they assume the office. It isn't the donors, or the money, or the political machine. It is 300 million Americans who that President suddenly is responsible for, and it is our job to not only hold their feet to the fire, but to bring the fire to them, blazing on a torch, if need be. We are STILL a government of the people, by the people, and for the people, damn it, and the people will be heard.

The people were heard when FDR took on the banks to rescue people starving in the streets.
The people were heard when LBJ kept our seniors from freezing to death in their tenements.
The people were heard when Jimmy Carter served four years without corruption or war.
The people were heard when Bernie Sanders spoke of a political revolution.

It can't end here. It won't end here. It's our country, and we have the power. All we need to do is exercise it. America is a center-left, progressive nation, and its time we made our voices heard. Our voices have changed the minds of conservative Democrats for nearly a century now, and it will happen again, of that there can be no doubt.

At Your Service,

Doremus Jessup

The Lessons of 1976

So! 1876 turned out to have high turnout, but was underscored by governmental corruption. Exactly one hundred years later, during the country's Bicentennial, we have another case of monumental corruption, this time in the form of the Watergate scandal. For some Americans, this was the first time they had to come to terms that the government was doing horrible things behind their backs, and all in their name as Americans. The backlash was predictable, and folks turned to more earthy politicians that made them feel good again, made them hope and believe change was on the horizon... but those politicians proved to be awkward in office and had trouble pushing through reforms with a difficult to deal with Congress, full of newly elected folks out to change the system and fed up with the compromising, glad-handing idea of Congress that got us into this mess in the first place.

As the primary season for 1976 shaped up, we saw a slew of Democratic hopefuls get weeded out pretty quickly. What were once thought sure things were upset by a political nobody who wasn't even holding office at the time. He ran on an outsider platform of radical change and managed to get the support of rural folks to swing him into an easy victory. The Democratic party would nominate in 1976 and outsider promising to be a reformer, and just to make sure the old guard of the party went along, they chose a more traditional running mate who was becoming well known in government circles and among the party's base.

For the Republicans that year... things got harder. Their incumbent, who everyone assumed would be swept  into the nomination easily, faced a surprising primary challenge from someone no one in the mainstream even thought would put up a fight. He ran on a radical platform and mobilized the base, particularly the young in the party who thought a radical change was what was needed to solve the current ills of society. In his terrific book The Invisible Bridge, author Rick Perlstein dug up this quote from the establishment campaign: 'We want a united party going into the General Election. Any motion against unity is counter-productive and damaging to our prospects next November. Much like 2016, the primary was long and ugly and led all the way to the convention, but eventually the establishment candidate won out.

Unfortunately, allegations of health trouble, flip-flopping on major issues, and a pivot to the center following the primary would ultimately alienate the base and doom this candidate, who ended up losing to the outsider who no one thought would ever get this far. The election wound up being very peculiar on the map, with states that were thought to be solid Red or Blue flipping for the other candidate. It did end up being very close, but ultimately more of America wanted a reformer and someone who promised to change things rather than the standard bearer of the tumultuous status quo.

At Your Service,

Doremus Jessup

The Lessons of 1876

In what has become an accidental essay series, I've been trying to make the best sense of this crazy, kooky election cycle by looking back at History. What I'm finding is that this year is a confluence of several different items from several different election years, which not only says we're heading for some massive catastrophe if we don't act soon, it also says that maybe, just maybe, you can look too hard and find connections anywhere if you have enough free time.

But, it's how I see things.

1876 was a curious year for the election. We had our highest voter turnout as a county (81%) but we also saw many of those votes turn out to be rendered useless by Congress. How did that happen, you ask? Allow me to tell you the story of the "Corrupt Bargain" of 1877. The race between Rutherford B. Hayes of Ohio and Samuel J. Tilden of New York was close... too close, in fact. Neither man won enough of the electoral votes (because, in case you didn't know, your vote almost, sort of doesn't matter in the electoral college system) to win the office, with 20 electoral votes held in dispute in Florida, Louisiana, and South Carolina. Each party claimed that their man had won those states, and eventually a deal was struck. The Republican Hayes was essentially gifted the office of President (even though he didn't win the popular vote!)  for the guarantee that the Republicans would essentially stop Reconstruction, the attempt to rebuild the South following the Civil War's conclusion in 1865 into something, well, less horrible and without Jim Crow. As Vox explains, the Republicans were moving away from their radical, Lincolnesque roots and wanted some of that sweet, sweet donor money, so they decided to take the bait and move to what was considered the center. As Ken Burns put it in his documentary The Roosevelts: An Intimate History: 

Corruption had been a central issue in the Presidential election of 1876. Republicans abandoned the struggle over the status of Freedmen in the south in the interests of a more lucrative ongoing battle with the Democrats over the spoils of office. Everything seemed to be for sale. And bosses in both parties were determined that it stay that way.

As a result, African Americans in the South would have to endure another 100 years of bigotry until finally fighitng for their freedoms in the 1960s... and of course we know that everything has been peaches and cream on that front ever since.

So the formerly liberal Republicans sold out and become tools of the corporate state. Meanwhile, the Democrats were already a coalition of the of the Patrician south, willing to also sell out to preserve what remained of the "Southern Way of Life," leading to the Gilded Age of amazing prosperity for the super duper rich while the vast majority of the country enters what's known as the Long Depression. Now, if this is starting to sound very familiar, just with the D's and R's switched, that's what makes this lesson so important. Theodore Roosevelt, Sr, father of our 26th President, said of the political climate around that time that he felt "sorry for the country as it shows the power of partisan politicians who think of nothing higher than their own interests. We cannot stand so corrupt a government for any great length of time."

Curiously, the only reason we know Democrats as the social justice party is because FDR and LBJ alienated that southern Democratic base (causing them to switch to the Republicans) by actually, you know, deciding that all people deserve to be treated decently, and that all men are created equal. In this new Gilded Age of corruption, pay to play, special interests and Super PACs, it's up to the DFL to keep waving the banner of Progressivism as we slog through the maniacal partisan muck. No matter how conservative the national Democrats might lean or how full-on fascist the Republicans get, we must continue the movement forward for our nation and its people into what Hubert H. Humphrey once called "The Bright Sunshine of Human Rights." The time may come where the DFL becomes its own national, progressive party, showing that what works in Minnesota can work for the nation. Most importantly, one of our founding principles of the next few years must be that there is a difference between a (D) next to your name and a (DFL).

Someone has to do it. For the DFL, our time is now.

At Your Service,

Doremus Jessup

Trump Lives Matter?

I've already spoken about how important it is to seek to understand a frustrated part of the electorate that is now approaching 50% of the country. Simply casting them as the bad guy in some two-bit melodrama isn't going to work, and in all truth hasn't worked for the past 30 years. The rich have gotten richer, the poor have gotten poorer, and the middle class has all but disappeared. After 30 years of Reaganism, where we blame the victims of corporatism and upper-class-welfare by saying that they just aren't good enough people to get ahead in a system that is rigged against them... people stop believing the old line.

They start to realize how badly the system is broken.

They start wanting to fight the system.

But how?

You're seeing it crop up all around the country: the Dakota Pipeline protests, the Black Lives Matter movement, the Bernie Sanders movement, the Jill Stein notoriety and, yes, the Tea Party and Donald Trump. More and more people are getting more and more frustrated and desperate with a system they feel has left them behind, and promises from establishment politicians have not rung this hollow in their empty pockets since the Gilded Age. Triangulation can't work when that much-beloved 51% of the vote is no longer attainable because 51% of the country may just want to burn down the house, even if they're inside, just to make sure that rich blankety-blank in the penthouse goes up in smoke, too.

People are so, so angry. They feel they have been lied to. This isn't a question of asking if you were better off 4 years ago... it's asking if you were better off 40 years ago. And for many people right here in Fillmore County, the answer is no.

And so, Donald Trump is a protest vote. He is a protest candidate. He is a protest being staged by a part of the electorate who has seen their power diminish in the past 40 years, and they realize this might be their last chance at relevancy. And they are so desperate, so angry for feeling cheated for almost four decades that they don't care if they have to destroy the country. To them, the country is already destroyed.

Yes, there are racial elements. Yes, there are elements of ignorance. But much like Brexit, the fundamental misunderstanding comes from simply thinking they're all a bunch of dumb hillbillies who don't know how to vote "right." They are perfectly aware of how they are voting, and they don't care if it's destructive. They want change, and they have been waiting long enough.

There is still time to win this, but bold steps need to be taken. The Democratic nominee needs to make bold and unequivocal promises to the electorate, and most importantly those promises must be backed up with a very simple bargain: if I betray any of these promises and stop working for you, the vanishing middle class who are thirsty for change, don't vote for me in 2020. It's not enough to say you will resign, because these same folks don't like the VP nominee either (although, as history shows, you can replace a VP nominee). You need to be willing to sacrifice your ambition and make a bold choice to show the people you actually give a damn about them. If you don't, simply put, they won't vote for you.

At Your Service,

Doremus Jessup