Joe Biden’s message discipline problem

Dear Friends,

As a lawmaker, I recall our caucus leaders constantly hammering us on the importance of “message discipline.” Perhaps Joe Biden missed that lesson. Last week, he gave Democratic voters another reason to question whether he’s their best option to beat Donald Trump.

Joe Biden

Predictably, Biden’s comment about cozying up to segregationists brought a wave of pushback. Voters rightfully upset about the content of Biden’s remark are also worried about Biden’s lack of message discipline.

This is not a new problem for Biden. (Here’s a relevant Mother Jones article.) Last month, in a bizarre, meandering response to climate activists in Des Moines, Biden lauded praise on American oil production:

North America is now energy independent. It’s not the Saudi Arabian peninsula. It’s not Nicaragua (sic). It’s not somewhere in South America. It’s not Africa. It’s the United States of America, Canada, and Mexico. And the United States is soon going to be the largest producer of energy of any nation in the world by the end of the 2020s. My Lord, what are we so afraid of?” — Joe Biden, May 1, 2019, Des Moines, Iowa

How many more slip-ups (or perhaps in this case, candid revelations) can Biden afford before voters get cold feet and decide not to trust him with the nomination? It’s ironic, of course, that message discipline and even basic civility don’t apply to Donald Trump. But knowing that, Democrats have to be even more cautious about their nominee’s ability to stay focused and disciplined.

Charles Goldman and I talk about this on today’s Fallon Forum. We also discuss the many important US Supreme Court decisions coming down this week, and the heated debate over paying reparations to the descendants of slaves. Finally, we celebrate a small victory in the grassroots effort to expose the truth in Dakota Access’ push to double the flow of oil through the Dakota Access Pipeline.

Please like & share:

A Candid Assessment of Some Presidential Candidates

Dear Friends,

Remember how the Republican field shifted in the 2012 and 2016 Iowa Caucuses? The lead changed so many times that emergency rooms across Iowa saw a drastic increase in whiplash cases.

Ok, I made that last part up. But seriously, remember one-time 2012 front runner Herman Cain? I didn’t think so. How about 2016 flash-in-the-pack leader Ben Carson? Or shoe-in-for-the-nomination Scott Walker? And oh, how I miss Michele Bachmann.

The horde of Democrats running for president this year may or may not experience the same level of volatility, but we’ve already witnessed some surprises. A year ago, how many of us had even heard of …

PETE BUTTIGIEG? This spring, polls had Buttigieg running third among Iowa Caucus-goers. He’s now fourth, and downward may well be his trajectory. Buttigieg is a captivating speaker. But my guess is he was Iowa Democrats’ first flavor of the month. With so many flavors to choose from and voters hungry for change, another new and exciting prospect is likely to slip past Buttigieg. But, it won’t be …

JOE BIDEN. Name recognition has carried Biden thus far, but his descent has begun. There’s more and more chatter about the astounding inconsistencies between Biden’s past record and his rapid transition to progressive policy advocate. Case in point: Biden’s excellent climate plan, which magically morphed out of his intent to find “middle ground” on climate. How’d that happen? Simple: Biden’s advisors discovered that a milktoast climate strategy would bomb with the base. So they quickly retooled and spit out a plan that looked, well, remarkably like the progressive climate proposals of other candidates.

Few Iowans are fooled. Besides Biden’s climate-plan flip-flop, his recent boast about US oil production hangs around his neck like an endangered albatross (sad but true, Climate Change Threatens Survival of Albatross):

“The United States is soon going to be the largest producer of energy of any nation in the world by the end of the 2020s.” — Joe Biden, May 1, 2019, Des Moines, Iowa

Ouch. My prediction: 2020 will be the third time Joe Biden fails in a presidential primary. Meanwhile, on the other side of the sincerity spectrum …

BERNIE SANDERS. Sanders inspires like no other candidate. It’s not just his rhetoric. It’s his consistency over the years. Unlike Biden, Sanders means what he says. His 2016 campaign changed the debate, forcing even Hillary Clinton to pretend she was progressive. Sanders’ 2016 message has set the tone for 2020.

Yet … the Sanders campaign claims to have 24,000 volunteers. Where are they? This army of believers had better deploy soon because Sanders can’t simply do well in Iowa. He has to win Iowa. No doubt, die-hard Sanders supporters will turn out to caucus for him even in a polar-vortex-induced blizzard with a windchill of -79°F. (That is, in fact, the coldest windchill I’ve experienced in Iowa. Take note, campaign workers from milder climes.)

Sanders essentially tied Clinton in the 2016 Iowa Caucuses. But he should have won. In various other states, we can blame the Democratic Establishment for stacking the deck against Sanders. But not Iowa. Here, Sanders has only himself to blame for not beating Clinton, as I recall story after story of wannabe volunteers drooling to help but unable to get even a response from Sanders’ people.

His campaign needs to figure out a way for that not to happen again. Logging 24,000 volunteers on paper is one thing. Effectively managing them in the field is a whole ‘nuther ball game.

The even bigger challenge for Sanders is that most of those who supported him in 2016 seem willing to give other candidates a serious look. Maybe it’s not too late for Sanders to bring a majority of his 2016 supporters home, but the competition is stiff, especially …

ELIZABETH WARREN. Who knew that Iowa Caucus-goers actually cared about issues? Well, yeah, we do — and Warren is proving it. She’s strong on policy with a solid track record to back it up. Despite what the Establishment would have you believe, issues matter, both in the primary and general elections.

Warren’s star continues to rise, and not just because of her strength on policy. She’s running the ground game that Sanders failed to fully mobilize in 2016 and has yet to mobilize this time around. Warren also has survived a few bumps, and that bodes well for her durability.

But this election season is still young. Plenty of candidates are poised to see their prospects improve, such as …

ANDREW YANG. No one does a better job at messaging their uniqueness than Yang. He’s built a deep following nationally, and his peeps are all over social media. Criticize their man and the Yang Gang’s cyber-hammer comes down hard. I’ve got 60+ communiques to prove it.

Political capital has a lot to do with momentum, and Yang is building it slowly and steadily. He’s poised to be the flavor of the month, though I’m not sure he can ride that wave to a top-three, or even top-five, finish in Iowa. As good as he is, there is one candidate who has Yang beat when it comes to clever and creative, and that is …

KIRSTEN GILLIBRAND. Many have written off Gillibrand. That’s a mistake. If I were to vote for a candidate for president based on the desire to have someone fun in the White House, it’d be Gillibrand. The Ranch dressing thing. The dressing like a drag queen thing. Beating the ISU student in arm wrestling. What’s not to love about all that in a world leader? “My president is stronger than your president and looks great in drag.” Gillibrand would restore America’s credibility on the world stage in ways Donald Trump could never imagine.

Gillibrand is no policy schlep either. When pushed by Bold Iowa’s bird dogs to feature climate more prominently on her website, she did it — immediately! Her embrace of the urgency of the climate crisis speaks well of her policy priorities.

But when it comes to climate, one candidate has Gillibrand and all the others beat …

JAY INSLEE. Not only is Inslee laser-beam focused on climate, as Governor of Washington he’s got a solid record of action to back it up. Given that the climate crisis is Democratic voters’ top concern and that the impacts of climate change are likely to increase over the summer and fall, Inslee should see his stock rise. But he needs a ground game in Iowa. He needs to talk more about his track record on a range of issues and what he would do to address them as president.

Finally, Inslee — and all the candidates — must address the one consideration on voters’ minds even more pressing than climate. That is …

WHO CAN BEAT TRUMP? Trump will only be defeated by a candidate who can’t be pegged to the status quo. That rules out Biden. It’s remarkable to me, astounding in fact, that anyone still believes that a self-described “centrist” (read “corporate-friendly”) Democrat stands a chance against the madcap faux populism of Crazy Uncle Donald. Fretting over the criteria of electability fed to us by insider pundits who take their orders from the Establishment will give us the same result we got in 2016.

You want electability? Nominate a candidate who’s a decent person, whose rhetoric and record on key issues is strong and consistent, and who demonstrates a solid commitment to tackling the existential threat of climate change. That’s how we beat Donald Trump and assure leadership in the White House that represents the public interest, not the corporate thugs who’ve held sway over America for far too long.

Please like & share:

Tell me to shut up

Dear Friends,

If you’re among the handful of people who tell me I’m spending too much time talking about climate, let me respond bluntly: You’re wrong. If anything, I’m not spending enough time talking about it. At this pivotal moment in human and planetary history, if the current trajectory of increased fossil fuel consumption continues, Earth will be unfit for human habitation.

Photo by BBQ Guys

If your home was on fire, that’d be the only thing on your mind, right? Well, our world is on fire. As the climate crisis accelerates, I’m truly dumbfounded that it’s not the lead story in the news every single day; shocked that it’s not the top item on every politician’s list of priorities; dismayed that every single one of us doesn’t wake up saying, “Shit! What are we going to do? What am I going to do?”

It’s encouraging that more and more people are arriving at that “Holy shit!” moment. Yet the risk is that it will paralyze instead of mobilize, that instead of grabbing the firehose and exerting all our effort to extinguish the flames, we’ll stand there, frozen in fear, doing nothing.

And doing nothing is morally and functionally unacceptable. It negates part of what it means to be human — that quality of empathy without which the wars and witch hunts that pockmark the darker side of human history would have long ago snuffed out our species.

Methane and CO2 released from the thawing permafrost will further accelerate the rate of global warming. Valdemaras D., Via Pexels

Yet it’s also not possible to feel some level of fear and despair. I understand completely. As Dahr Jamail writes in a Truthout column this week about the increasingly rapid thawing of the Arctic, “I’ve aimed to be fully present, and I’ve had my heart broken, and I’ve now had enough practice at this that I have seen, repeatedly, the transformational qualities of despair and grief. In the face of our overwhelming climate and political crises, that grief is transformed into a new clarity of vision, and a depth of passion for action that was previously inaccessible.”

Please read Jamail’s piece. It’s both sad and powerful. Most important, it’s true. Hopefully, it will inspire you to engage, to take action, to do your part now before the opportunity to act has passed. If you’re inspired to work with me and my colleagues at Bold Iowa to bird-dog presidential candidates to prioritize the climate crisis, we enthusiastically welcome your involvement. Our workload is heavy, and more hands are needed.

If you’d like to support Bold Iowa’s work financially, one way to do that is to buy my book, Marcher, Walker, Pilgrim. Others have found it inspiring, and maybe you will too. All proceeds from the book support climate action.

As my good friend and fellow climate marcher, Miriam Kashia, reminds me, “Action is the antidote to despair.” And action — both changing our individual lives and pushing relentlessly for collective transformation — is what may yet see us through the difficult times that lie ahead and are, in fact, already upon us.

Ed Fallon

Please like & share: