Op-Ed: Words Matter: Nobody Gets a Pass by J.E. Dean

Should political candidates be given a pass if they make a misstatement or contradict themselves? The question is not as easy as it seems.   Many of us unhappy with the current President cite offensive tweets and comments as evidence of his unfitness for office or his mental decline.  Other candidates appear to be subject to a different standard. For example, I’m ready to overlook Biden’s stumbles, at least for now, because I find them inoffensive.  Apparently, Biden gets a pass while Trump is held accountable.

Dozens of documented statements by the President are offered as proof of his racism. These comments, many of them included in the more than 17,000 tweets Trump has made since January 2017, are damning.   He maligned Latinos as rapists on the day he announced for President and suggested African American neighborhoods are “infested” with crime. Yet last month Trump announced, “I am the least racist person anywhere in the world.”  He also condemned racism and hate crime in a speech after the Charlottesville incidents in 2017, albeit while also observing that there were “very fine people on both sides.”

The number of troubling statements by Trump, many intentional but others apparently inadvertent, is in the hundreds.  Should he be called on it? Or should he get a pass like the one I extend to Biden? Common sense suggests that Trump should be held accountable for his racism to the same extent the rest of us are.  More simply put, Trump’s comments in some cases would get you fired from your job or arrested. Biden’s miscues, while concerning, are benign. 

Earlier this month, the gaffe-prone former Vice President commented that “Poor kids are just as bright, just as talented, as white kids.”  He also suggested he was VP during the 2018 Parkland shootings. Biden corrected both misstatements, but he’s been making similar misstatements or objectionable comments for years.  In 2006, for example, he commented on diversity about his home state: “In Delaware, the largest growth of population is Indian Americans, moving from India. You cannot go to a 7-11 or a Dunkin’ Donuts unless you have a slight Indian accent.  I’m not joking.”

Should Biden get a pass because he is a nice guy?  None other than President Trump doesn’t think so. Trump commented, “Joe is not playing with a full deck.”  He added, “This is not someone you can have as your President, . . .“ If Trump is right, maybe Biden should get out of the race.  But Trump himself commented on successful military attacks on airports during the Revolutionary War. And in 2016 he confused 9/11 with 7/11 in a speech about the 9/11 attack on New York when he said, “Because I was down there and watched our police and our firemen down at 7/11, down at the World Trade Center right after it came down…” These and dozens of other comments suggest he may have fewer cards in his deck than Biden.

Should there be a double standard or some sort of attempt to define some gaffes as benign and others not?  Maybe, but should candidates, or any other public figure, be given a set of free passes that exonerate their first 10 or 15 mistakes?  

There is no easy solution that sets a standard for holding leaders accountable for their words.  Any attempt will justifiably be condemned as biased by one side or the other. Given this, maybe a judicial precedent should be looked to as a guide.  In 1964, Justice Potter Steward suggested a movie under review as pornography was not obscene. He commented, “I shall not today attempt further to define the kinds of material I understand to be embraced within that shorthand description [“hard-core pornography”], and perhaps I could never succeed in intelligibly doing so.  But I know it when I see it, and the motion picture involved in this case is not that.”   

This “standard,” as squishy as it is, will not end the debate on whether Trump is a racist or whether Biden is too old to run for President, but it is a step in the right direction.  It suggests that we need to hold candidates accountable for their words but reflects the inherent difficulty in doing so. I’m ready to condemn Trump for his statement and, for the time being, give Biden a pass, at least for now.  My rationale: Biden is gaffe-prone but is no racist. I also believe it is premature and ageist to say he is “too old.” His repeated misstatements, however, should be a concern for all. Nobody should get a blanket- free pass. If Biden continues to fumble, like a good football coach, I will reconsider whether he should be in the game. In the meantime, I hope he finds a coach to train him to think first, talk second. Stay tuned.

J.E. Dean of Oxford is a retired attorney and public affairs consultant. He is a former counsel to the House Committee on Education and Labor.  For more than 30 years, he advised clients on federal education and social service policy. He is the former chairman of the National College Access Network (NCAN), a group promoting success in higher education among underrepresented groups, and KnowledgeWorks Foundation, a national leader in strategic foresight and education innovation.

 

Op-Ed: Will This National Crisis Change the Gun Debate?

It’s too early to suggest that the El Paso and Dayton mass shootings will change the debate on guns or anything else, but one can hope.  On Monday, President Trump surprised many by condemning white supremacy. Various leaders, led by politicians but also athletes, entertainers, and businessmen, are speaking out.  The media is devoting entire programs to the issue of gun violence and the need for action. I’m encouraged. 

Dozens of pundits have commented that it takes a crisis to bring a community together.  The implication is that without a crisis, a community may be unable to form the type of consensus necessary to act. Skillful politicians know when a crisis has occurred and how to exploit it. Memorably, Rahm Emanuel, President Obama’s chief of staff, commented that, “You never let a serious crisis go to waste.  And what I mean by that it’s an opportunity to do things you think you could not do before.” Emanuel is right. Obama used the Great Recession to enact Obamacare. But only the next few weeks will tell whether the recent mass murders and the universal expectation that more will follow is enough of a crisis to build a national consensus to do something about gun violence. Hopefully it is.

For the time being, hundreds of thousands of people are demanding that something be done to end the epidemic of mass shootings. The ideas are familiar to many of us:  Expanded background checks, banning certain weapons, taking guns away from the documented mentally ill, registering guns, and things like requiring gun owners to maintain liability insurance to pay for the harm their gun might do. It can, of course, be questioned whether any or all these actions would prevent the next mass shooting, but it would be a start.  Whether the political will exists for those in the community who fear gun legislation to change their views is another question. Historically, calls for action after a shooting are loud but short-lived. After the shock of seeing pictures of murdered victims, especially children, things seem to go back to normal.   

Will this time be different?  Hopefully it will, but it won’t happen automatically. Legislators need to hear from enough constituents to become convinced that their jobs are in jeopardy if they “vote wrong.”  Legislators themselves need to demonstrate political courage by addressing those who are skeptical about new gun laws. Trusted legislators telling hunters and other gun owners that banning assault weapons and making it harder to buy a gun is not a forerunner to seizure of all guns will help a consensus to emerge. It can be done.

The drafting of legislation that gives us the best chance of reducing gun violence won’t be written if Democrats focus too much on blaming President Trump and racists for the most recent tragedies.   Progress requires civil discourse. Can Republicans and Democrats set aside the name calling and focus on find the common ground? It’s out there. It may not be everyone’s first choice for a solution, but it also may be our best shot at getting something done.  

J.E. Dean of Oxford is a retired attorney and public affairs consultant. He is a former counsel to the House Committee on Education and Labor.  For more than 30 years, he advised clients on federal education and social service policy. He is the former chairman of the National College Access Network (NCAN), a group promoting success in higher education among underrepresented groups, and KnowledgeWorks Foundation, a national leader in strategic foresight and education innovation. 

Mueller Ridiculed: Ageism Rears its Ugly Head by J.E. Dean

Washington just keeps getting uglier and uglier.  The Mueller hearings brought out the worst this city has to offer:  More evidence of corruption, political grandstanding, and, in some ways the worst, unapologetic ageism.  Nothing is out of bounds in Washington, even incredibly callous attacks on the man who is identified as an exemplary public servant and war hero.  In Washington, they call that hardball and cite it as an excuse to lodge blows below the belt.  

The ageist attacks are particularly troubling because they were directed at Mueller from both sides.  Kellyanne Conway described Mueller as “feeble.” Spectator USA quoted an unnamed senior Democrat as suggesting, “Mueller is slowly losing his faculties,” a comment offered to help explain why the hearings were not the huge boost for impeachment hoped for by many in his party.  Film director Michael Moore, before congratulating himself on knowing in advance that over-reliance on the Mueller report as the basis for impeachment was a mistake, described Mueller as, “A frail old man, unable to remember things, stumbling, refusing to answer basic questions.”

These ageist comments are reprehensible. If Mueller had been attacked based on his race, religion, sexual identity or preferences, outrage would have been forthcoming. Instead, many observers, including some that shared disappointment in Mueller’s performance, remained quiet. They acquiesced when public ridicule of Mueller based on his age continued.

Those who followed the lead-up to the Mueller hearings will recall that Mueller unambiguously indicated he would not speak further on the report.  He wanted it to speak for itself, knowing that any oral testimony that could be construed as going beyond or contradicting the report would be seized upon by one side or the other.  What he feared is what happened despite Mueller doing his best to say as little as possible.

Mueller agreed to testify before the House Judiciary and Intelligence Committees only after the issuance of subpoenas.  Thus, to call him a reluctant witness is an understatement. As should have been expected, his testimony reflected his reluctance and his prior indication he would have nothing to say about the investigation beyond what was covered in the 448-page report.  Democrats hoping to “bring the report to life” to further the cause of impeachment did not get their wish. Mueller provided monosyllabic answers and declined to read from the report when requested to do so.    

One might interpret the Democrats’ ridicule of Mueller as an effort to find an excuse for their dud hearings.  Republicans’ attacks on Mueller might be viewed as an effort to discredit the report. In both cases, these strategies fell short.   The report remains an important roadmap to understanding the crimes that took place during the 2016 elections and the all but inconceivable scenario where Trump is convicted and removed from office remains, well, inconceivable.

Be that as it may, it is worthwhile to return to the subject of ageism, especially given the possibility that someone age 70 or older (Trump, Sanders, Biden, Warren) will be sworn-in as President in January 2021.  Will that President be routinely attacked as “too old?” Will proposals be dismissed as reflecting senility instead of being examined on their merits? The answer is yes.

More importantly, the recent circus represents a setback for the civil rights of seniors.  We still live in an environment where open discrimination against seniors is not only common but is ignored.   Today’s mindset is a stark contrast to the respect shown seniors in other nations. The “wisdom of elders” has been replaced with the concept that Gen Xers or millennials have all the answers whether it is industry, government, or entertainment.  Just ask older female actors how difficult it is to get substantive roles. Think about the last time you heard a joke about an “old geezer” or an elder unable to turn on their TV without the help of a 10-year-old. 

Bottom line: It’s OK that negative comments were made on Mueller’s testimony, but it’s not OK that they were explained with ageism, an approach that denied Mueller and many of the rest of us the respect we deserve.

J.E. Dean of Oxford is a retired attorney and public affairs consultant. He is a former counsel to the House Committee on Education and Labor.  For more than 30 years, he advised clients on federal education and social service policy. He is the former chairman of the National College Access Network (NCAN), a group promoting success in higher education among underrepresented groups, and KnowledgeWorks Foundation, a national leader in strategic foresight and education innovation. He is an advocate for the environment, education reform, civic public debate, and good government.

 

July Has Been Miserable by J.E. Dean

July is proving to be a miserable month.  Perhaps at the top of the list was the heat wave.  A close second, however, was the political news. Like garbage left out in triple digit temperatures, it stunk.  I am grateful for stories on the commemoration of the 1969 moon landing. Other than that good news, is there anything else?

Here’s the news I wished I had missed:

Horrendous conditions at the migrant holding camps. I am ashamed that our government is letting this happen. I was appalled at VP Pence touring a facility and then not doing anything about it.

The announcement of “massive” ICE raids on undocumented immigrants. Incredible panic was created by the thought of doors being smashed down and people being dragged off to overcrowded migrant camps. The fact that the subsequent raids were smaller than announced doesn’t justify use of immigration enforcement to build support for re-election.

Racist attacks on The Squad. How low can this President go? Before you answer, remember he still has 17 months in office. It is a certainty that Trump will Trump himself.

The “Send her back!” chants at the Trump rally in Greenville, North Carolina. One friend described it as a light duty version of the Nuremberg rally of 1934.  Shameful!

Jeffrey Epstein. I had not heard of this monster. The fact he wasn’t stopped long ago raises very disturbing questions. 

Old Video of Jeffrey with the wild-and-crazy 1980’s Trump. A potent emetic. And the full story is not yet out. 

M1 Tanks at the Fourth of July celebration in Washington.  Why? And don’t forget Trump’s speech: “Our army manned the air, it rammed the ramparts, it took over the airports, it did everything it had to do.” Incredible.

Kamala Harris’ ambush of Joe Biden in the first Democratic debate and the boost in the polls it earned her.  Who is the real beneficiary of her triumph in the debate?

The escalating crisis in the Strait of Hormuz. We are inching closer to yet another war that most likely is avoidable.   

Trump entering North Korea. This photo op, which happened at the end of June, dominated the news for the first part of the month. Don’t forget: Kim Jong Un is a great guy, just like Epstein was at one time.

Sometimes bad news is accompanied by subsequent good news.  Like a coal mine collapse trapping miners followed by a subsequent rescue.  Here are some examples of “subsequent good news” that I wished we had seen this month;

Hill Republican leadership condemning Trump’s racist comments.

Trump’s Twitter account is cancelled.

Beto O’Rourke drops out of Presidential race.

Congress passes, and Trump signs, emergency legislation addressing migrant camp conditions.

Trump announces he is not running for President in 2020. “Mission Accomplished!” he says.

Iran crisis defused. Mediated talks begin.  

Putin overthrown in Russia.

Meteorologists predict no more heat waves for rest of summer.

It’s okay if you accuse me of wishful thinking.  With the real news as bleak as it is, what is one to do?

J.E. Dean of Oxford is a retired attorney and public affairs consultant. He is a former counsel to the House Committee on Education and Labor.  For more than 30 years he advised clients on federal education and social service policy. He is the former chairman of the National College Access Network (NCAN), a group promoting success in higher education among underrepresented groups, and KnowledgeWorks Foundation, a national leader in strategic foresight and education innovation. He is an advocate for the environment, education reform, civic public debate, and good government.

 

The Squad Is Democracy at Work by J.E. Dean

Before the President’s most recent display of leadership, I had a clouded view of the four Democratic Congresswomen collectively known as “The Squad.” We all know AOC, author of the outline for the Green New Deal and an openly acknowledged Democratic Socialist. Then there is Representative Ilhan Omar of Minnesota, widely quoted, and even reprimanded by her own Democratic colleagues in the House for her comments on Israel, 9/11 and other things. The other two are less well known but for their association with the other two.  These two, Representatives Rashida Tlaib of Michigan and Ayanna Pressley of Massachusetts, have also engaged in comments, or embraced policies, deemed unpatriotic and even treasonous by our President.

Initially I dismissed the publicity that The Squad was receiving as a reflection of a press too eager for a story.  These were outspoken women, some of them Muslim, who were questioning Speaker Nancy Pelosi and calling for radical economic reforms. They had the gall, during record-breaking Dow market highs, of saying that all is not well in America.  I was ready to dismiss them as young, perhaps naïve, people who are typical of a fringe element that sometimes shows up in the halls of Congress.

Then President Trump springs into action. In his now-infamous tweet, he told The Squad, three of whom were born in the land of the free, to go back to where they came from and fix the problems there.  This blunt condemnation prompted me to learn more about The Squad. The President, during a week that featured continuing press coverage of horrendous conditions in the migrant holding facilities on the border, implied that all is well in America with exception of people like The Squad. Trump seemed to imply that if the Dow continues to hit annual highs, with thanks to his political pressure on the Fed, there is no rational grounds for questioning how great America is.

Trump’s racist tweet is particularly offensive because, like so much of his opus, it’s based on a lie.  Three of the four Squad were born here. Just like Trump himself, but not his mother, and very much unlike his first and third wives. I also thought about my own ancestors, Irish and German immigrants who met with similar hostility upon their arrival but, due their relative naivete, never even thought anything about America could be changed except through hard work and a double effort to blend in.  

The Squad has come to the national stage at a time when, despite the election of Trump, democracy seems to be working, or at least working in some locales.  The Squad is evidence of this. Representative Omar arrived here as an immigrant and wasn’t even a citizen until age 17. Now she is in Congress. Impressive.  AOC did not buy into machine politics and boldly challenged an entrenched Democratic incumbent, Rep. Joe Crowley, the then-Chair of the House Democratic Caucus. She won by establishing that her opponent was more entrenched in DC than in Queens.  Representatives Tlaib and Pressley also overcame stereotypes to get elected. Somehow, they convinced voters to choose them to represent them in Congress. Pressley had the audacity to challenge a respected Democratic incumbent, Michael Capuano on the grounds he was not aggressive enough in his advocacy of liberal policies. Tlaib, a Palestinian-American who also identifies as a Democratic Socialist, engaged in some of the same type of language as Omar, questioning Israeli policy and US support of it.    

Simply put, The Squad are heroes of democracy. If you are radical enough to believe that Democracy is a prerequisite of good government, you have to not only congratulate them on getting elected but also for standing up to the Bully-in-Chief, who doesn’t want to see any of the four on one of his  golf courses. Dare I say it: They are a wonderful reflection of what America is.

The Squad has earned my respect.  I am likely to continue to disagree with some of their proposals, statements or actions, but I’m glad they are in Congress.  It’s a shame Maryland is not represented in this quartet.   

J.E. Dean of Oxford is a retired attorney and public affairs consultant. He is a former counsel to the House Committee on Education and Labor.  For more than 30 years he advised clients on federal education and social service policy. He is the former chairman of the National College Access Network (NCAN), a group promoting success in higher education among underrepresented groups, and KnowledgeWorks Foundation, a national leader in strategic foresight and education innovation. He is an advocate for the environment, education reform, civic public debate, and good government.

 

Op-Ed: Should Dogs be Taxed? By J.E. Dean

Friends visited recently after an enlightening trip to Berlin and other German cities. Curious about what enlightenment they found, I asked for details. The answer was, “For one thing, they tax dogs.” I did not know this, but, clever as I am, I asked, “How do dogs get the money to pay taxes?” “The dogs don’t pay. The owners pay,” I was told. “Ah,” I responded, “It all makes sense now.”

Apparently, Berlin and other German cities have determined that dogs generate costs that are shared by dog-owners and non-owners alike. Dog taxes are a means of getting the dog owners to pay some, or perhaps all, of these costs. The taxes can be significant—100 euros or more. Berlin, I learned, also places a higher tax on owners who have more than one dog. The tax is based on the dog’s breed. For example, a pit bull is taxed at a higher rate, than, say, a nice dachshund. (This last detail makes sense. Carried to its logical extreme, people with goldendoodles would pay no tax at all, or even get a tax credit, simply because doodles are special).

Enforcement can be brutal. One family’s dog was seized and sold on eBay to pay delinquent taxes. Another man disguised his Spanish water dog as a sheep for years to avoid the tax. Authorities enlisted a vet to make a ruling and prosecuted him.

The dog taxes collected are used for maintaining dog parks, offering free doggie bags such as the ones I use to pick up after our goldendoodle Lucca, and, of course, operating dog shelters. Add to this police calls resulting from dog bites, lost dogs, and dogs that bark too loud or at inappropriate times. Do these benefits, justify the taxes?

The dog tax generates millions of euros for German cities, funds that presumably make the city safer, cleaner and more dog friendly. So why we don’t have a dog tax?

First is the issue of tax administration—how many people would a county like Talbot need to administer the registration of dogs, catch cheaters, determine the tax due, process payments, and, well, you can imagine the rest. A particularly thorny issue is enforcement. What happens to a seized dog if the county fails to find it a new home? I don’t want to think about the answer.

“Dog taxes are not a good thing,” I told my friends, who begged to disagree. My answer appeared to anger both. This may have been the result of their having one too many glasses of German wine. “We don’t want to pay for your damn dog,” my friends, who do not have a dog, shouted. I responded by suggesting that Lucca, as well as dozens of other dogs that reside in my town of Oxford, make life better for everyone —dog-owners and non-owners alike. I noted that Lucca makes people smile regularly. I don’t charge children to pet her. Lucca offers dog therapy at no charge.

After a bit more discussion, my friends, finishing up their final glasses of wine, conceded that dog taxes are stupid. This was decided after Lucca jumped onto the sofa where the pair were seated and nestled next to them.

J.E. Dean of Oxford is a retired attorney and public affairs consultant. He is a former counsel to the House Committee on Education and Labor. For more than 30 years he advised clients on federal education and social service policy. He is the former chairman of the National College Access Network (NCAN), a group promoting success in higher education among underrepresented groups, and KnowledgeWorks Foundation, a national leader in strategic foresight and education innovation. He is an advocate for the environment, education reform, civic public debate, and good government.

Op-Ed: Are “Impossible Promises” The Dems Achilles Heel? By J.E. Dean

Will the Democrats lose the 2020 election by promising too much?  Will there be an end to the bidding to buy votes? Consider Senator Elizabeth Warren’s plan to forgive student loan debt, which was criticized for being too generous, included a limit of $50,000 per borrower and a means test. Senator Bernie Sanders has topped it.  He would forgive the entire book of $1.6 trillion in outstanding federal and private student loans with no means test at all.   

If I had student loan debt and was planning on supporting Warren, I would need to rethink that.   And standby for another Democrat to try to top Sanders—millions of Americans have paid off their student loans, some of them apparently stupid enough to make prepayments.  Is it fair to “penalize” these voters simply because their student loans are paid off?

Warren would pay for her student loan plan, as well as more than another dozen plans, with her ultra-millionaires’ tax.  This tax effectively makes her plan for student loan debt relief free to everyone who would benefit. Similarly, Sanders proposes a transaction tax on stock market trades—relatively small per trade taxes that he claims would raise $2 trillion over 10 years.  

Does anyone believe either candidate can deliver on these promises?  Apparently, the answer is yes. Warren is enjoying a surge in popularity.  Sanders hopes to end his slide in the polls by outbidding her. One might conclude some voters polled are ready to buy “impossible promises.” More charitably, one might also conclude that these voters know campaign promises are “aspirational,” don’t really expect to see the benefits promised, and use the promises to evaluate where the candidates’ hearts are while at the same time hoping for the possibility that the promise may be kept.

While “impossible promises” are clearly in vogue, some Democrats, and no doubt a lot of other voters, see them as irresponsible.  Several Democrats appear unwilling to join in the bidding war. Joe Biden, Amy Klobuchar, Pete Buttigieg and others come to mind. These are progressive Democrats, but not progressive enough to promise multiple massive new benefit programs or a complete remake of the U.S. economy.

Thankfully, some Democrats see the “impossible promises” as harmful to the party.  Maryland’s own John Delaney has suggested that impossible promises will lead to electoral defeat if embraced by the party’s ultimate nominee.  He believes independent voters will be lost. It’s also likely that some voters will find the promises insincere and will effectively dismiss the candidates making the promises as not truthful.

As this week’s initial debates get underway, it will be interesting to watch who advocates the impossible promises and who pushes back.  In a sense, we might witness a debate weighing hope against practicality. Stay tuned.

J.E. Dean of Oxford is a retired attorney and public affairs consultant. He is a former counsel to the House Committee on Education and Labor.  For more than 30 years he advised clients on federal education and social service policy. He is the former chairman of the National College Access Network (NCAN), a group promoting success in higher education among underrepresented groups, and KnowledgeWorks Foundation, a national leader in strategic foresight and education innovation. He is an advocate for the environment, education reform, civic public debate, and good government.

 

2020 Issues: 17 Months From Election Day by J.E. Dean

In a healthy  democracy votes are based  on character and informed policy choices. The balance between the two shifts with the mood of the time—in a recession, for example, policy choices among proposed solutions to the recession may dominate; in other times, absent an issue viewed as urgent, voters look for a leader to inspire them. In looking at policy, the issues most important to voters are viewed in the context of how they view the world around them. Thus, a voter who considers climate change the most important 2020 issue may change her mind if she loses her job. Similarly, the outbreak of war, or a credible threat of war, will prompt many voters to make “defense” their most important issue.

The subjectivity of issues, makes any list of “top issues,” well, subjective. Such lists’ usefulness to voters depends on the credibility and strength of the author’s presentation. With this caveat in mind, here is a short list of what I view as the most prominent issues in 2020:

The Economy. Most voters vote their pocketbook, whether they are rich or poor.  For the former, it’s tax policy, for the latter jobs and wages. Depending on how the economy is doing a little over a year from now, this issue will be of greater or smaller prominence. Economic issues may prove tricky for some of the Democratic contenders in 2020—do you say the economy isn’t working when the majority of voters say it is?

Integrity. Even Republicans are becoming weary of the scandals. Voters of both parties seek someone they trust.  A fine line needs to be walked on this issue. Anything that sounds like an all-out, even unfair, focus on Trump will turn off some voters. An optimal performance on this issue involves defining integrity, establishing why it should be a priority, and explaining why you have it and others don’t.

Health Care.  Always the top issue for those who don’t have access to it and need it.  For others, a sense of moral responsibility drives their interest. Clearly, not everyone has that sense of responsibility. I’ll be listening carefully. I want everyone who needs health care to have it. I also want to avoid the negatives of a single payer system—such as long waits for medical procedures not deemed by the government to be urgent.  

The Environment. Without air to breathe or water to drink, arguing any other issue becomes difficult.  Climate change is, for most of us, real. Unfortunately, absent a category 6 storm threatening St. Michaels, climate change is also something of an abstract problem.  This results in some voters questioning the need for action now. That is unfortunate. Any candidate fumbling this issue will lose my support. Any candidate demonstrating true leadership on this issue will earn my admiration.

Defense. Like it or not, the world is becoming a more dangerous place.  If current trends continue, some sort of “hot” clash between US and someone else’s military is all but inevitable.  If this happens, voters not currently worried about the size of the defense budget might change their minds. For Democrats, as one friend put it, they need to call for a strong military without “sounding like a Republican.”

Criminal Justice reform. For many of us, it has become clear that the criminal justice policy of the last several decades has been unfair if not overtly racist. Hundreds of thousands of people are in jail as a result of argued bias in the system.   Obama started reforms that are far from finished. Like health care, this issue enjoys greater prominence for those who have experienced the criminal justice system first-hand or through a family member. For others, the issue represents a wrong in need of righting.  Any candidate not talking about this issue is in trouble with me.

Civil Rights.   This term means different things to different people, but what it really means is providing full rights to citizens who, for whatever inappropriate reason, have been denied them. It’s the top issue for many in the LGBTQ community and other groups that have had to fight for equality. For many other voters, awareness of past efforts that resulted in the winning of civil rights once denied their forebears creates sympathy or this issue. Credit Trump with raising this issue to the priority it is currently enjoying. I’m with those who fear civil rights could erode if the wrong candidate is elected in 2020.

Abortion. Any list of the top issues would be deficient without including this recent hot button. President Trump, his SCOTUS selections, and a pro-life community that senses an opportunity to reverse Roe v. Wade have raised this issue to the highest level of priority it’s enjoyed for years. Expect this issue to trump all others for many voters in the fall of 2020, and not just women voters.

There are, of course, dozens of other issues that could be included on this list. Last week I was told by a friend that “Space Policy” was his top priority. Really. Trade is another issue that could, perhaps should, be on my list. Thus, if your top issue isn’t on this list, I hope you’ll forgive me.  Please let me know what I missed.

It is also likely that the list of top issues will shift in coming months, not just as a result of current events but also as a result of the strength of various candidates in the debates and on the campaign trail. Stay tuned.

J.E. Dean of Oxford is a retired attorney and public affairs consultant. He is a former counsel to the House Committee on Education and Labor.  For more than 30 years he advised clients on federal education and social service policy. He is the former chairman of the National College Access Network (NCAN), a group promoting success in higher education among underrepresented groups, and KnowledgeWorks Foundation, a national leader in strategic foresight and education innovation. He is an advocate for the environment, education reform, civic public debate, and good government.

 

Two Weeks Out, Here’s What We Need to See in the Early Democratic Debates by J.E. Dean

The first national debates among 2020 Democratic candidates will take place on June 26 and 27 in Miami (televised on NBC, MSNBC and Telemundo). The events will bring to an end the unfocused, somewhat tedious jousting among the 20 plus candidates who have entertained some, but bored many, over the last several months. The first debates, and actions that will happen immediately before them (some of which have already happened), will tell us a lot about the Democrats’ chances to topple Trump next year.

Here’s what to look for:

Candidates’ Pre-debate “issues” or stumbles.  Candidates stumble for various reasons, including tripping over obstacles placed by opposing candidates. Joe Biden is now facing such an issue—the Hyde amendment, relating to federal funding for abortions—that sets him up for having to defend an unpopular issue (among most Dems) rather than presenting positions on new issues that might win over more voters.  I’m watching for evidence of candidates engaging in such activity. I will hold them accountable.

Civility.  Arguably, Trump won the 2016 Republican nomination in the debates. He successfully ridiculed his opponents, openly giving them pejorative nicknames and attacking them on any basis, regardless of relevance.  We don’t need to see these tactics from the Democrats. Any Dems that engage in even a hint of this Trump-like behavior earn a demerit from me.

Intelligence. This was largely absent in the debates of both parties in 2016, but especially among Republicans. There were no in-depth discussions of any issue, at least that I can remember.  No new issues were introduced to the national debate. For the most part, little evidence of homework was provided, except, perhaps by Hillary Clinton who, in violation of the principle of civility, got ridiculed by Trump for being a policy wonk. Any candidates not showing an in-depth knowledge of substantive issues will not get my support.

Debate competency.  By this I mean that candidates should answer the questions that the moderators ask, even if it makes them uncomfortable. Sadly, this is a rarity in recent Presidential debates. I will reward the candidates who do the best here. I expect the majority of candidates will fail this one on most questions and in all debates.

Poise. The debates provide the public, especially the television-viewing public, with their first opportunity to see how candidates respond to pressure. In 2016, a number of Republican candidates self-destructed by evidencing panic over some questions—think about former Texas governor Rick Perry not being able to name the cabinet level departments he had previously proposed abolishing.  Some candidates will fail the poise test by trying too hard to say something witty or clever, or destroy someone, in an effort to stand out from the crowd of candidates. This lack of poise and any other behavior that evidences an inability to stay cool or demonstrate grace under pressure will earn my displeasure.

Sense of Humor.  Some academics consider humor an asset to leadership.  Executives having a sense of humor are viewed as more creative and better negotiators.   We need both in the White House. It’s been missing recently, at least according to the New York Times, which suggests that while Trump’s “humor” ridicules, legitimate humor points to the ridiculous. My advice to the candidates: If you have a sense of humor, use it.  Don’t take yourself too seriously and voters will respond to your ability to make them laugh.

Breadth of appeal.   Mitt Romney lost significant support when he was quoted as dismissing a large part of the American public as unlikely to vote Republican. These were the voters whom he viewed more interested in welfare, public handouts, etc. than in good government. His comments alienated many, including myself.  Democrats choosing to run as “the woman’s candidate,” or casting their candidacy as representing good versus evil—think “billionaires versus the middle class” or a crusade against corporate America–will not enjoy my support. We have had enough divisiveness over these past few years. A successful candidate can embrace “women’s issues,” criminal justice reform, civil rights, and compassionate immigration reform without vilifying part of the voting electorate whom they assume are too prejudiced, or stupid, to vote for them.  

These are but seven standards with which to evaluate debate performance.  There may be others, less tangible things such as “looking Presidential” or showing an aggressiveness that could be presumed to match that expected from Trump in the inter-party Presidential debates next year. I am interested in what readers of this piece would add to my list.

Because I already have preconceptions of what issues will trip up most candidates, it is not unreasonable to wonder whether I view any individual candidates as favorites to “win” the first debate.  I do. I have been impressed with the quickness, discipline, and knowledge of Pete Buttigieg in interviews. Amy Klobuchar’s handling of SCOTUS nominee Kavanaugh, and her experience as a former prosecutor, suggest she will do well in the poise category. Biden brings experience to the table. Sanders brings both passion and substance.  His agenda is perhaps better understood than that of any other candidate.

On the negative side, I have low expectations of Beto O’Rourke. Unless the debate format includes allowing candidates to climb onto a tabletop, he will most likely be out of his element. Although Elizabeth Warren seems to be gaining momentum, she is viewed as a whiner—unpresidential—by many voters.  If she reinforces this perhaps unfair stereotype, she may lose that momentum. Then there are candidates Cory Booker and Kristin Gillibrand. I don’t know what to expect from this pair. Neither has yet to explain why they are running. Unless they address this, it won’t be long before they exit.

I have left out a number of other candidates, including the talented and interesting Kamala Harris.  A book could be written if each of the other candidates were to get their due with an in-depth look at their backgrounds and qualifications.  I’m also not discussing issues in this column. Policy expertise, as noted above, is important and, for intelligent voters, positions on individual issues—health, the environment, the economy, defense, civil rights, criminal justice, and drug policy—will be determining factors in choosing a candidate.   More about that in a future column.

Let’s hope the debates later this month suggests that party unity is in the future and that any plan to defeat Trump with a “fight-fire-with-fire” strategy is rejected.

J.E. Dean of Oxford is a retired attorney and public affairs consultant. He is a former counsel to the House Committee on Education and Labor.  For more than 30 years, he advised clients on federal education and social service policy. He is the former chairman of the National College Access Network (NCAN), a group promoting success in higher education among underrepresented groups, and KnowledgeWorks Foundation, a national leader in strategic foresight and education innovation. He is an advocate for the environment, education reform, civic public debate, and good government.

 

Maryland Has Good Reasons to Take a Close Look at Amy Klobuchar

National interest in the Presidential candidacy of Amy Klobuchar is, to be charitable, “muted.” Like a Minnesota winter, her candidacy appears frozen–roughly 2 percent per cent in recent polls.  While there may be reasons early Democratic activists prefer other candidates, she deserves better. For Marylanders, she deserves a lot better for several reasons, including her ability to work with Republicans. But the biggest reason to support her is her strong, credible, and effective plan to address opioid abuse and mental illness.

Maryland needs help in addressing the opioid crisis as well as the mental health issues that contribute to it. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, the state ranks fourth in opioid deaths. In 2018, from January through September, 1,848 Marylanders died from “unintentional intoxication,” 1,648 of them from opioids.  Add to this 630 deaths by suicide, three times as many as occur from alcohol-related traffic deaths. Then there is lost economic productivity. A 2014 study reports that drug abuse, including alcohol, cost the eastern shore $451 million that year, well before the record-high numbers for opioid abuse of 2019. Talbot County alone lost over $38 million in productivity. Clearly, there is a crisis.   

To date, Maryland has failed to reverse the trend of sharp yearly increases in reported opioid deaths.  And 2019’s numbers are likely to eclipse 2018’s. Governor Hogan declared an emergency in March 2017, but the state is spending only $171 million in the current fiscal year, according to the Baltimore Sun.  This funding, and a focus on increasing the availability of the overdose-reversing drug Narcan, is described by experts as “a drop in the bucket” and inadequate. It’s hard to disagree.

Presidential candidate Klobuchar may have an answer. She has boldly proposed a fee of 2 percent per milligram of the active ingredient in opioids sold, which would be paid for by the manufacturers (there would be  exceptions for things such as opioids used to abate pain suffered by cancer patients), to fund a $100 billion, multi-faceted initiative. The plan includes increasing early intervention efforts on both drug abuse and mental health, suicide prevention, and reversing the current focus on punishing rather than treating drug abusers. The plan also includes increased research and increased patient access to treatment by increasing the number of beds available—currently 80 percent of those needing treatment are unable to get it.  

The Klobuchar plan, which has yet to be fully fleshed out, contains the key elements of a successful answer to the current crisis:  Education initiatives, early detection and intervention; greatly increased availability of treatment; Increased research; rethinking the characterization of drug abuse as primarily a law enforcement issue; and ensuring greatly increased and reliable funding without unreasonably stressing federal or state budgets.  

Klobuchar, of course, is not the only Democratic candidate who has put forth an initiative that eclipses the current federal initiative.  In my view, however, she is ahead of her competitors. She has put forth a plan that would save hundreds of Maryland lives each year and thousands nationally.  She also has a record in the U.S. Senate, where she has sponsored important, bipartisan legislation to strengthen health care. Marylanders, especially those of us in Talbot County who are concerned about the opioid and mental health crisis, will be well-served to examine Klobuchar’s proposals and encourage more focus on this vital issue in coming elections.

J.E. Dean of Oxford, writes on policy and politics based on more than 30 years working with non-profits and others interested in domestic policy. He is an advocate for the environment, civil public debate, and good government.

Notes: In 2017, there were 1,985 overdose deaths involving opioids in Marylanda rate of 32.2 deaths per 100,000 persons, which is twofold greater than the national rate of 14.6 deaths per 100,000 persons. The state ranks in the top 5 for opioid-related overdose death rates with the largest increase attributed to cases involving synthetic opioids (mainly fentanyl).

The total cost of lost labor participation attributable to illicit drug use on the Eastern Shore is approximately $451.94 million with county totals ranging from $20.2 million to $101.6 million.

×
×
We're glad you're enjoying The Talbot Spy.

Sign up for the the free email blast to see what's new in the Spy. It's delivered right to your inbox at 3PM sharp.

Sign up here.