Sunday, December 11, 2016

Last Call For A "New Direction"

I really don't have too much hope for Democrats in the Senate to beat back what's coming.

It was a blunt, plain-spoken set of senators who gathered last Monday at the Washington home of Senator Heidi Heitkamp, Democrat of North Dakota, dining on Chinese food as they vented frustration about the missteps of the Democratic Party.

To this decidedly centrist group, the 2016 election was nothing short of a fiasco: final proof that its national party had grown indifferent to the rural, more conservative areas represented by Democrats like Joe Manchin of West Virginia, Claire McCaskill of Missouri, Joe Donnelly of Indiana and Jon Tester of Montana, who attended the dinner. All face difficult re-election races in 2018.

The party, these senators said, had grown overly fixated on cultural issues with limited appeal to the heartland. They criticized Hillary Clinton’s campaign slogan, “Stronger Together,” as flat and opaque, according to multiple people present at the dinner, some of whom spoke on the condition of anonymity.

Most of all, they lamented, Democrats had simply failed to offer a clarion message about the economy with appeal to all 50 states.

“Why did the working people, who have always been our base, turn away?” Mr. Manchin said in an interview, recounting the tenor of the dinner conversation.

Moderate Democrats are not alone in their sense of urgency about honing a new economic message. After a stinging loss to Donald J. Trump, liberals in the party are also trying to figure out how to tap into the populist unrest that convulsed both parties in 2016. Only by making pocketbook issues the central focus, they say, can Democrats recover in the 2018 midterm elections and unseat Mr. Trump in 2020.

“We need to double down and double down again on the importance of building an economy not just for those at the top, but for everyone,” said Senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, a high-profile progressive who is seen as a leading potential opponent for Mr. Trump.

This pocketbook-centered approach offers an added benefit in the minds of Democratic strategists: It papers over the party’s differences on how much to focus on cultural issues.

There is little appetite among most Democrats to substantively revise their stances on issues like abortion, gay rights, gun control and immigration, where trends on the national level continue to favor the party. By constructing a platform focused on an overarching theme of economic fairness, Democrats are hoping to avoid yoking their candidates to a more divisive agenda that could sink them in states like North Dakota and West Virginia, which are crucial to control of the Senate.
This is markedly different from the approach that party leaders have taken over the last eight years, when President Obama defined the party from top to bottom with his personality and policies. Instead, Democrats intend to focus on a sparer agenda of bread-and-butter priorities that can win support from both liberal and moderate officeholders — and appeal to voters just as much in red states as along the two coasts.

It's abortion, gay rights, gun control and immigration that Democrats will now be running away from. Most importantly it's issues of race that will be ignored.  Democrats will simply pretend Obama never happened.

Voters of color will not.  If we're going to go with a combination of Bernie "It's always about class" whitewashing and Centrist Dem triangulation, the Obama coalition will disintegrate for good and the GOP will rule this nation for a generation.  If we even last that long.

Good luck, Dems.  Good luck chasing the white vote and taking the black, Hispanic, and Asian vote for granted.

2020's going to get ugly soon if this prevails.

The Last Senate Race, Decided

As expected, Republicans had an easy time winning last night's Senate run-off in Louisiana, where Republican John Kennedy (there's some irony for you) dispatched Democrat Foster Campbell by 20 points, keeping retiring Sen. Diaper Dave Vitter's seat for the GOP.

A five-time elected state treasurer, Kennedy rode Louisiana's inexorable bend toward the Republican party and the popularity of President-elect Donald Trumpto win the elected post he has coveted for much of his public career.

Kennedy, 65, will join an emboldened Republican Party in Washington. The GOP kept its majority in the House and control of the Senate -- Kennedy's addition increased that lead to 52-48. Trump, Vice President-elect Mike Pence and GOP congressional leaders have vowed to pursue an aggressive agenda on Day One.

The results confirmed Kennedy's dominance despite Campbell's attracting a late-inning surge of donations from Democrats distraught over Trump's surprising Nov. 8 victory. After raising few outside funds for much of the campaign, the 69-year-old public service commissioner brought in more than $2.5 million in individual donations during the weeks just before and after the presidential election.

"We did everything humanly possible," Campbell said in his concession speech. "We knew going into this race that it was going to be tough."

Kennedy had tried for a Senate seat twice before, falling to Vitter in 2004 as a Democrat and to Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-La., in 2008 as a Republican.

But this was his time. Kennedy led the race from the beginning and outlasted 23 rivals, including two well-financed Republican congressmen and two formidable Democrats, to win a quarter of the votes in the November primary.

U.S. Reps. Charles Boustany, R-Lafayette, and John Fleming, R-Minden, endorsed Kennedy after their losses. New Orleans lawyer Caroline Fayard, the other top Democrat in the field, gave reluctant support to Campbell after a bruising primary battle.

Kennedy embraced Trump's winning strategy of anti-Washington rhetoric, adding his own twang and homespun folksiness to its delivery, and coasted to a victory in the final four weeks.

Kennedy will take his oath of office in January just as Trump completes his move into the White House.

"I'm already working with John to ensure a smooth transition to the Senate, where I know he'll hit the ground running," Vitter said.

It still means Republicans don't have too much of a margin of error, but if Democratic Sens. Heidi Heitkamp or Joe Manchin leave to join the Trump administration, it's possible that Republicans could be right back to 54 seats in 2017, and most likely Trump's agenda will pass without incident.

Sunday Long Read: The Missing Man

Maybe the last great "Memento" style story in America by TNR's Matt Wolfe: A man found naked behind a Burger King dumpster in Georgia in 2004 couldn't remember who he was, or why he was there, and in the age of information it still took years for anyone to figure out who he was.

Early one summer morning, Son Yo Auer, a Burger King employee in Richmond Hill, Georgia, found a naked man lying unconscious in front of the restaurant’s dumpsters. It was before dawn, but the man was sweating and sunburned. Fire ants crawled across his body, and a hot red rash flecked his skin. Auer screamed and ran inside. By the time police arrived, the man was awake, but confused. An officer filed an incident report indicating that a “vagrant” had been found “sleeping,” and an ambulance took him to St. Joseph’s Hospital in Savannah, where he was admitted on August 31, 2004, under the name “Burger King Doe.”

Other than the rash, and cataracts that had left him nearly blind, Burger King Doe showed no sign of physical injury. He appeared to be a healthy white man in his middle fifties. His vitals were good. His blood tested negative for drugs and alcohol. His lab results were, a doctor wrote on his chart, “surprisingly within normal limits.” A long, unwashed beard and dirty fingernails suggested he had been living rough. But the only physical signs of previous trauma were three small depressions on his skull and some scars on his neck and his left arm.

Psychologically, though, something was obviously wrong. Doe refused to eat or speak. He kept his eyes shut. Whenever a doctor touched his chest, he thrashed his limbs. After several days, Doe ate some ice chips and spoke a few words to a nurse. He said he had lived in the woods for 17 years. Asked his name, he replied, “They call me B.K. around here.” No, she said, your real name. “B.K.,” Doe said. “But you’re getting me confused.” Then he went silent.

On the eighth day, Doe became agitated. He cursed at the nurses, calling them “beasts” and “demons.” When they tried to get near him, he swung his fists and spit. Doe asked to see a priest, then denounced him as an imposter. “You’re all devils,” he murmured. Doctors diagnosed him with catatonic schizophrenia and prescribed Haldol, a powerful antipsychotic.

Doe was transferred to the psychological ward at Memorial, a public hospital across town. When questioned, he claimed not to remember his name, or where he lived, or how he had arrived in Georgia. He suspected, he said, that he was from Indianapolis, and that he had three brothers, though he could not recall their names or faces. In fact, Doe said, he could not think of a single person he knew. His memory contained only a few dim images: the inside of an old movie theater, a long road through a cornfield, some streets in a city he believed to be Denver. The only thing about himself of which he was certain, Doe said, was his birthday: August 29, 1948.

The doctor treating Doe suspected he was feigning amnesia. Doe seemed too lucid to be suffering from schizophrenia, and his memory for impersonal facts remained unimpaired. He was aware, for example, that George W. Bush was president and that, in 2003, the United States had invaded Iraq for the second time. Only his own past was hazy. Pretending to lose your memory in this way is an old trick, not uncommon among people running away from something. Other staff at the hospital, however, believed Doe. The man’s distress seemed genuine.

In January 2005, four months after he was found, Doe was transferred to the J.C. Lewis Primary Health Care Center, a residence for the homeless and indigent in downtown Savannah. He told Micheal Elliott, who oversaw the center, that he was tired of everyone calling him “B.K.” Doe said he thought his real name was Benjaman, spelled, unusually, with two “a”s. He couldn’t remember his last name, but he decided on Kyle as a replacement until his real name could be found.

Benjaman Kyle quickly became a favorite of the nurses, who took turns trying to jog his memory by peppering him with questions. One nurse remembered him as “higher functioning” than the other residents, most of whom were chronically homeless, and he enjoyed reading his way through the shelter’s tiny library. He was also an inveterate pleaser who constantly volunteered for chores—fetching food, stripping beds, mopping floors. Because of the cataracts, he could see only a few feet in front of him, so he moved the mop in small circles on the floor around his shoes until the room was clean. In the absence of a fixed identity, Kyle adopted a provisional one as a member of the shelter’s staff. He soon became indispensable, accumulating a thick ring of keys that he kept in a loop on his belt. One day, Elliott watched him assemble an ersatz uniform of a white shirt, white shoes, and white pants taken from the donation closet.

Two years after Kyle arrived at the shelter, Katherine Slater, a middle-aged nurse with a warm, grandmotherly manner, began working night shifts. Kyle was often up late, and the two became close. Slater wasn’t sure she believed he had amnesia, but she felt badly that he had been separated from his family. She resolved to help Kyle figure out who he was.

Their journey takes years, but it's a fascinating mystery for your Sunday reading.  Put aside some time for this one, it's a meaty read even by SLR standard, and enjoy.

A Game Of Heidi And Goal Seek

I had a pretty dim view of ND Dem. Sen. Heidi Heitkamp before, but given her awful stance on the DAPL pipeline through Standing Rock Sioux country in her state and the Trump/Russia revelations, I don't understand why she's throwing what's left of her soul away being Trump's Ag Secretary.

Sen. Heidi Heitkamp has emerged as President-elect Donald Trump's leading choice for Agriculture secretary, sources close to the transition tell POLITICO.

The first-term Democrat from North Dakota and member of the Senate Agriculture Committee has been a vocal advocate for farmers and broke from her party on several controversial policy issues, including the labeling of genetically modified foods and environmental protection for wetlands and waterways.

A special election to replace Heitkamp would almost certainly turn her seat over to a Republican, so the choice would give Trump a chance to appear conciliatory to Democrats, albeit with a lower-profile Cabinet role, while allowing the GOP to bolster its Senate majority.

Heitkamp's office and Trump's transition team did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Heitkamp, who met with the president-elect at Trump Tower on Dec. 2, is facing a tough race in a deep red state in 2018. In a further sign she is a strong contender for a Cabinet post, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell met with North Dakota Rep. Kevin Cramer on Tuesday about a potential open Senate seat. A source close to the transition said gaining another Republican Senate seat was on the list of reasons for picking Heitkamp.

So again, Heitkamp would be betraying her party by working for a man who almost certainly betrayed his country to Russia.

That's a great resume to have, seriously.

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