Poverty of Imagination: Jobs and healthcare vs. Not Donald Trump

By Chris Graham
1: What keeps us down
2: Growing up humble
3: Divorce impacts last a lifetime

4: Not failing for lack of trying
5: Cashing out at Taco Bell
6: Chris Graham for City Council!
7: Jobs and healthcare vs. Not Donald Trump
8: Surprise ending

poverty of imaginationYou don’t get out of the trailer park just giving up. It would be years before I’d realize that politics wasn’t for me.

Having just ran and lost my first (and only) City Council race in 2008, I wanted more.

It happened that the person who had been in charge of the local Democratic Party committee was on her way to stepping down, because she was going to be moving out of town to care for a dying parent.

I reached out to her to ask her if there was anyone in line to replace her as the local party chair, and her answer was immediate: are you interested?

I was, though I had no idea what I was getting myself into.

It was a presidential election year. Barack Obama had wrapped up the Democratic Party nomination, and the talk was that his campaign was setting a new standard for organizing.

I’d find that out quickly. I was formally elected chair of the Waynesboro Democratic Committee on a Monday night. The first phone call congratulations came Tuesday morning, from someone from the Obama campaign, who wanted to get together with me to talk about plans for organizing Waynesboro.

Now, keep in mind, Waynesboro is far from being a hotbed for Democrats. Typically, cities in Virginia – and across the U.S. – do lean Democrat, usually more than lean, honestly, but Waynesboro is still a good lean right, which I came to have reinforced for me personally in my City Council campaign defeat.

The most recent presidential election, in 2004, saw John Kerry get 29 percent of the vote in Waynesboro.

And the Obama folks wanted to talk to me about organizing?

I didn’t think I’d be doing more than chairing meetings and running a sleepy campaign headquarters.

It would turn out that the Obama campaign would have two people assigned to Augusta County, one based in Staunton, one based in Waynesboro.

Paid people, I should add, beginning in June and working all the way through to Election Day.

The Kerry campaign, in contrast, made news in 2004 when it put 10 paid people in Virginia, as in, statewide, before pulling them out in October to focus on states the campaign thought it had a better chance of winning.

Virginia had not gone Democrat in a presidential election since 1964, despite consistently electing Democrats to statewide offices in the meantime.

And now the Obama folks wanted to make Virginia a battleground, and not just by running up votes in Northern Virginia.

Smart strategy, there, because as vote-rich as NoVa had been for Democrats, they were still losing in presidential years, right?

The idea was, don’t cede an inch to the other side, and it resonated with me, who goes around talking all the time about how you don’t get out of a trailer park by playing nice.

As much as I was all in on the plan, it was a hard sell to the Democrats who made up my committee, which makes me want to take a step back for a moment to talk about the other form of greeting I received upon being elected chair.

The one side was a phone call from the Obama campaign. The other was a blog from a local Democratic Party leader raising issue with my election, asking the question, online, as to whether I was really even a Democrat or not.

Fair question, I think, maybe, now, a decade later, because I’d been a journalist, by 2008, for 13 years, and as a journalist, I’d not made it a point to show my hand, by and large.

My work in politics as a journalist, generally speaking, had me hobnobbing with Republicans on a quite regular basis. I mean, try writing about politics and public policy in Western Virginia and talking only to Democrats, when there isn’t an elected Democrat above the City Council level closer than Charlottesville or Roanoke. Not going to happen.

I didn’t hide that, and wouldn’t want to.

But what that meant was: I wasn’t Democratic enough for our blogger friend, funny how that works out.

I’d like to say that I shrugged it off, but you can tell now, I didn’t, because I still haven’t.

Now back to selling the Obama approach on my Waynesboro Dems.

The committee was that in name only, really. I’d come to calling it the Democratic Social Club.

Very nice people, maybe 10, maybe 15, who’d regularly show up for meetings, but it would become clear to me over the summer months that they were so bedraggled by being Democrats in a Republican city in a very Republican part of the state that they couldn’t imagine why they’d work hard on an election, because it wouldn’t matter anyway.

Waynesboro wasn’t going to go Democratic. Virginia wasn’t going to go Democratic. But you’re here telling us that the Obama people want to get 500 people in Waynesboro, Va., knocking on doors every night of the week, every weekend, for the next four months, because that’s somehow going to change something.

Again, very nice people, but what made the Obama plan work was that we had Democrats coming out of the woodwork who hadn’t let themselves get to the point of being bedraggled.

A lot of that energy came from people who were newcomers to town, many of them folks who had jobs associated with UVA, just over the mountain in Charlottesville, who’d wisely deduced that making UVA money and sleeping in Waynesboro could raise your standard of living significantly.

I had targeted this disparate group in my City Council campaign, but I’d find in 2008 – and as a consultant on two other City Council campaigns, in 2010 and 2012 – that the bedroomers just wouldn’t engage in local issues, that when it comes to local, their local is still Charlottesville, even though they sleep and pay property taxes in Waynesboro.

But in terms of a presidential race? Heck, yeah. If I’ve got to knock on doors, might as well knock on doors down the street, as opposed to 20 miles away in Charlottesville and Albemarle County.

The turnout for the first canvassing training, on a Sunday in early July, utterly shocked me, and everyone there, aside from the Obama staffers, who’d seen it before somewhere else. But for us, in Waynesboro, a Republican city in a very Republican part of the state, we had a room full of, that day, about 50 people, ready to go knock on doors, and that was, roughly, 45 more than we’d expected.

This was the first day of many that summer and fall that I’d hear somebody say: wow, I thought I was the only Democrat in Waynesboro until today.

Which, I have to concede, yeah, I was a bit surprised, too. I mean, as the summer turned to fall, it was a constant stream of new people coming to the meetups, and they weren’t just there to socialize.

Folks were grabbing clipboards, giving up their evenings, their weekends, to knock on doors, to make phone calls, to work headquarters.

I’d not been, to that point, and have not been, since, part of a movement with anything resembling the energy that I felt that summer and fall.

I’ve come to lament my choice of residence many times over the subsequent years, most recently after looking at the election results in 2016, and seeing that Donald Trump – Donald Trump! – won Waynesboro.

But they had to work for it, and we laid the foundation for that in 2008.

It wouldn’t be without a few bumps along the way. The number one item on the wish list for people coming into the HQ was yard signs. People who thought until a few weeks before that they were probably the only Democrats in Waynesboro and Augusta County suddenly wanted to plant a sign in their front yard to announce to the world who they were voting for.

The Obama campaign didn’t care.

I didn’t have this experience firsthand, of course, because I was literally new to party committee doings, but apparently past years’ campaigns had made yard signs readily available, for probably obvious reasons.

The Obama people wanted to make yard signs something you’d have to earn, limiting the distribution from their side to those who volunteered, which was fine, but the requirements in terms of knocking on doors and making phone calls were pretty steep, in my view aimed at just keeping yard signs off people’s front lawns.

This made no sense to me, in any way, shape or form, and I made this clear, first to the paid guys at the local level, then the director of the Obama campaign in Virginia.

There was a quite memorable 45-minute phone call that my wife witnessed, my part of it, anyway, mouth agape.

She said she’d never heard me drop so many f- bombs.

And she’s watched me watch UVA-Duke basketball games, so.

I made it clear that I thought the Obama folks were completely and totally out of touch, and laid out the reasons why.

Primarily, to me, being in a red area, it seemed to me what people who wanted a yard sign were doing was more than just decorating for fall.

Folks in Waynesboro and Augusta County planting a sign proclaiming their support for a black man for president were delivering a brave message.

So, if they wanted a sign, I was going to find them a sign.

I posted an item on a Washington Post online story on the topic of campaign yard signs, not thinking anything would result, just venting.

To my surprise, a Post reporter emailed the next morning, and a story ran that evening that caught the attention of the Democratic Party committee in Fairfax County, which offered to sell me 2,500 yard signs at cost, which for Fairfax, buying in bulk, was about a fourth of what I was paying to buy 100 here and 100 there for Waynesboro.

Crystal and I got in the car that morning, and I can tell you exactly what day it was, because listening to CNN on the drive up I-81 and across I-66, we heard John McCain suspending his campaign temporarily to deal with the financial crisis, before beginning a schedule of previously arranged interviews to promote how he was, you know, suspending his campaign.

We were out of those signs by the weekend, incidentally, and though Obama wouldn’t ultimately win Waynesboro, our efforts weren’t for naught.

Kerry, in 2004, had received 2,400 votes in Waynesboro, 29 percent of the votes cast in the presidential election in the city that year. Obama got 44 percent of the vote, and the raw number, 3,900, was 1,500 more than Kerry had received four years earlier.

Obama in 2012 and Hillary Clinton in 2016 were able to pull in similar numbers in the Waynesboro vote, which, yeah, not winning a majority, so, that sucks, but we’re giving people a voice, and my memory of how loud people who have been silent for too long can be is still vivid.

Election Night, 2008. Among my many responsibilities as the party chair is to have election monitors at each of the four voting precincts in the city on Election Day, ostensibly to watch the poll workers, and make sure nothing funny happens.

We had shifts of people working all day long at all four polling places, with the last shift scheduled to stay on after the polls were to close at 7 p.m. to be on hand for the closedown of the voting machines and the report to their numbers to the registrar.

Well, one of my folks got skeered, is all I can think is what happened. I don’t recall the specifics, but she called me at about 6:30 p.m. to say that she didn’t want to be locked up in a room for an hour after the election, no phone, no Internet, nothing.

Which meant, having no time to find a replacement, that I had to do it.

We’d planned an Election Night party at the HQ, and I had to trudge out to the Ward A polling place, Second Presbyterian Church.

All I knew, for the next hour, was that Obama had won Ward A, as had Sam Rasoul, our Democratic Party nominee for Congress, and the news, honestly, kind of pissed me off.

Back in May, I had only received a handful of votes in Ward A, literally 37 (!), losing that ward by more than 300, which made no sense to me, considering that Ward A is, how to put this, the most working-class ward in the city.

I get 37 votes in May, then Obama and Rasoul win in November. Got it.

I finally make it back to HQ around 8:15, and I’m blown away, more than I could ever be blown away, at the sight.

The HQ was in a space that had been the location of a small Radio Shack outlet in a shopping center on Broad Street. Not a big spot.

There had to be 500 people, and for all I know, half of Waynesboro was in there.

I had a laptop set up in the front of the room from earlier in the day that I had planned to use to monitor election returns, and I could barely find the table where I had left it, there was so much going on in there.

Virginia was, all night, going to be too close to call, and though it was looking more and more clear as the night went on that Obama was going to win the presidency, those of us in that room really, really wanted a win in our home state, to be a part of the wave, you know.

Around 10:15, I became convinced that it was going to happen. My years of reporting on Election Nights in Virginia had educated me as to the pacing of returns.

Essentially, locations in the southwest, west and south-central report first, so that by about 8:30, it can look like, in a statewide race, the Republicans are running better than you’d have expected, from looking at the numbers on the big board, anyway.

But then the numbers from Richmond, Tidewater and particularly Northern Virginia start coming in.

As those returns were posted on this Election Night, the tide was turning.

I wasn’t going to jinx it, but as we got close to the 11 o’clock hour, I was certain.

I was in the front of the room, which was effectively, at this stage, the back of the room, since we’d placed a big-screen TV – random fact: my own personal big-screen TV, which Crystal and I moved back and forth from our living room to HQ for big events – toward the back of the old store, trying to get the attention of everybody, when around 10:50 p.m., I heard someone say, Fox News just called Virginia for Obama.

The kid running the clicker flipped over to Fox, and there it was. Virginia was in the Obama column.

It was like the pictures you saw of people hugging strangers on the streets after the U.S. won World War Ii in that room.

And then came the loudest sound I’ve ever heard, and keep in mind, I’ve been a sportswriter for 25 years, and I routinely am in loud stadiums and arenas covering football and basketball games.

Heading into the 11 p.m. hour, the polls in California were about to close. California, obviously, was going to be in the Obama camp.

With Virginia now there as well, it was only a matter of seconds, literally, before …

They called the whole thing for Obama.

I was told later that people in the Republican HQ, located on the other side of the shopping mall, could hear the roar coming from our direction.

I won’t forget that sound, that feeling, that sense that the America we were going to go to sleep in that night was a different place from the America that we had woken up in that morning.

 


 

Democrats tend toward introspection, a trait that they don’t share in common with their Republican friends, who seem constitutionally incapable of self-assessment, and certainly the capacity to possess regret.

On our side, we like to do things like say, why didn’t Hillary do this, or, why did the DNC rig the primaries against Bernie?

Because, logically, those are the reasons Democrats lost in 2016. It was process, not substance, or lack thereof.

And I’m not suggesting there that I believe the Clinton campaign in 2016 lacking in substance is the root cause of why we are where we are.

OK, so, saying that, I wish we’d have candidates who’d run on single-payer, who’d run on economics, who’d run on racial justice, who’d run on more money for public education, who’d run on ethics in foreign policy.

Go ahead, tell me Bernie was that guy, but then tell me: why was Black Lives Matter out protesting his rallies, where is he on gun control?

Bernie had warts; Hillary had warts. Whoever Democrats run in 2020 will have warts.

Nobody’s perfect, but that’s only a cardinal sin if you’re a Democrat, whose DNA contains a gene predisposed to self-destruction.

Remember Al Gore? He wasn’t sexy enough back in 2000, and folks who protested him by sitting out or by voting for Ralph Nader helped us get George W. Bush, who allowed Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld to turn terrorist attacks financed by Saudi Arabia into the pretext for wars in Afghanistan and Iraq that killed millions, cost us billions, and all these many years later, we’re demonstrably less safe we were on Sept. 10, 2001, in spite of it all.

But, hey, Gore sighed that one time during a TV debate, so.

And then with Hillary. OK, great, you showed us. There were marginally intelligent people willing to go on record in 2016 saying that they hoped Trump would win to blow up the system so we could start over in 2020 who, yeah, don’t sound all that smart now.

Now you have a Supreme Court that, no matter what happens in 2020, is going to be reactionary conservative for the next generation, to the point that no matter what Democrats are able to do legislatively, the Republicans will have at least a 5-4 veto, and there’s a lot of time between now and January 2021 that can see the Court stacked and tilted even more.

And that’s just the Court. We have a president who seems intent on undoing every strategic alliance and trade deal made by his predecessors over the preceding 228 years.

A guy who basically flipped off Canada – Canada, people!

He wants to rip apart NATO, is willing to leave South Korea to fend for itself, wants to invade Venezuela, for reasons not known to anyone including himself.

Dude has gutted the EPA, pulled us out of the Paris Accord, all because he wants to revive the coal industry, which doesn’t want to revive itself.

He has in place at the Department of Education a private, for-profit college swindler whose wet dream is to defund public education.

And we haven’t yet taken into account here how Trump has literally turned back time on immigration and race relations, empowering nativists and outright racists from the margins to the mainstream.

Democrats: you unleashed this.

Don’t blame Trump. Trump doesn’t even know what he’s doing. It’s becoming more and more clear that he’s a real-life Manchurian Candidate, doing the bidding of his Russian handlers, not because he doesn’t believe he’s actually going to Make America Great Again, but because he’s so much in hock to bad, bad people that he doesn’t have a choice.

They’re getting their wishes, having him unwittingly – and there isn’t a thing this guy has done in his life that hasn’t been unwitting, because there’s just not a lot of capacity there – make enemies of our allies, start trade wars that will destroy our economy, and turn us against ourselves, weakening America to pre-Constitution levels.

But they couldn’t do that all on their own efforts. Trump couldn’t have done this on his own efforts. It’s been well-documented that late in the day on Election Day 2016, he assumed he was going to lose, and he just hoped it wouldn’t be a big enough loss that he wouldn’t be able to monetize the effort for the good of the Trump Organization post-election.

Trump doesn’t happen if Democrats could figure out how to get out of their own way.

The sad reality here is, we can’t undo it.

The last two years have set us back 65, and think about what I’m suggesting there with that math.

Sixty-five years ago, from this writing, is 1954, and 1954 America was what? Rosa Parks wasn’t yet an uppity Negro who didn’t know her place was on the back of the bus. The Supreme Court was a few months from ordering school desegregation, but then, well, not today, not tomorrow, pulling out of the thin air the standard of “all deliberate speed.”

The Civil Rights Act and Voting Rights Act, both now, coincidentally, under full frontal assaults, were not even the glints of anyone’s eyes, they were so far off into the distance, and so far away from the mainstream thinking.

This is the America that Trump wants to make great again.

It’s a White America, more directly, a White Male America.

Dad was the boss, Mom knew her place, black folks held menial jobs, Latinos worked the fields, and America prospered.

Right? That’s how we’re supposed to remember it, anyway.

It didn’t hurt that literally the rest of the world was rebuilding from World War II, and America had emerged from the war unscathed.

We get credit for the Marshall Plan and how we helped the rest of the world rebuild, but it wasn’t magnanimous on our part; we made money as the world got back on its feet.

The prosperity that resulted allowed us to devote more time and energy to addressing our social deficiencies.

A person who is hungry and doesn’t have shelter has to focus on finding food and a roof; a person who has both can take that mental and physical effort and commit it elsewhere.

Postwar America was uniquely positioned to be able to address its issues with race, with gender, to put more money into education, into healthcare, to embrace sexual identity, to look for new ways to produce energy, to clean up the environment.

It wasn’t perfect, but for decades, we made progress, striking a balance between prosperity and responsibility, really unseen in human history in any of the great wealth-producing empires across the epochs.

For all that progress, though, there were people left behind.

It’s not a surprise that they’re the same people who were the pawns in elections in the South and Midwest dating back to Reconstruction, directed how to vote by conservative white elites who would wave the bloody flag of the Civil War to remind them that progressive politicians talking about equality and education were really just all in for the blacks, and if you vote for them, you’re going to end up being the second-class citizens, not them.

Today the message isn’t all that different; there are just more boogiemen. Mexicans, bad hombres, they all are, illegals who get more in welfare than you get in Social Security, and you worked here your whole life!

The gays and lesbians, moral degenerates, hanging out in public bathrooms, aiming to convert your kids to their disgusting ways, demanding more rights than you, and you’re Christian!

And those damned godless liberals. You know they don’t go to church, right? OK, so you probably don’t, either, but you’re Christian, and anyway, they don’t even believe in God.

They’ll tell you that the Bible is just a bunch of books written by men that some other group of men decided to put together and call holy.

And these are the people teaching our kids in the public schools!

These are the messages that are beamed into the homes and the Facebook News Feeds of people who ought to know better, but in a way, you can’t blame them for their ignorance, for their hard-heartedness.

For most people, you can only know what you know, and if you grew up in an environment that embraced different perspectives, it’s easy to be able to discern and dismiss the narrow and insular.

But if your world view was shaped in the narrow and insular, anybody trying to tell you that there’s more to the world than what you know is one of Plato’s cave-dwellers.

You might not know that story, so here’s the Cliff’s Notes version: people are held in a cave, and the only thing they know about the world is images they see projected on a wall in front of them.

One among the cave-dwellers breaks free of the binding and sees that the images on the wall are actually just shadows of things from the outside world, and upon his return to the cave to inform the others, is unable to get across to them that what they are seeing is not in fact the reality they think it is.

You can’t tell people in western Virginia, in West Virginia, in the mountains of Pennsylvania, in Ohio, in Michigan, who don’t know African Americans, who only very occasionally see a Latino, at the grocery store, at the 7-Eleven, who don’t know that they actually know quite a few gays, lesbians, transgenders, who are just not public about who they are, that the reality of those people isn’t what Fox News tells them, what the memes and the fwd:fwd:fwds in the email inbox tell them.

You’re not aware of greater realities, no fault of your own, but you are very well aware that things aren’t going great for you, and you don’t know why.

The factory that you worked in, your dad worked in, closed, and moved the jobs that you used to have to Mexico, or China, wherever else, doesn’t matter, all that matters to you is, the factory closed, the parking lot is overrun by weeds, and now you’re mowing lawns and doing odd jobs to supplement your part-time job working security on the weekends to try to make ends meet.

Enter someone like a Donald Trump, who you don’t know has no clue as to what he’s saying when he says he can get those jobs back, that all he has to do is impose tariffs on foreign goods, and, voila, America will start building stuff again, that it was precisely this line of thinking that precipitated our Great Depression.

You don’t know what a tariff is, and frankly, whatever, as long as it gets your job back. And if it takes building a wall to keep the Mexicans out, well, you don’t see that many Mexicans around town, but Fox News has been telling you for years that they’re everywhere, and that they get welfare and food stamps, and Medicare, and all drive nice cars and have iPhones, and you don’t have any of that stuff, so, what the hell, now Trump is saying it, too, so, it has to be true, and it’s time for this bullshit to stop, and he’s the one to stop it.

Where Democrats can’t get out of their own way is, they’re letting themselves get dragged into debating public policy within the framework of the alternative facts from Fox News and the Trumpers.

Where I live, in Waynesboro, in Augusta County, we’re gearing up for state legislative elections in 2019, and Democrats, emboldened by successes statewide in 2017, are coming out of the woodwork to challenge Republicans in districts that have long been considered safe for the red side of the political spectrum.

Which, makes sense. Democrats made incredible gains in the 2017 Virginia House of Delegates elections, in large part because they ran candidates in districts that they used to leave unchallenged, and had success in places that even the most optimistic among the Dems would never have dreamed.

The 2017 candidates in the Valley came up short, but it feels going into 2019 that Democrats are running downhill.

So much so that they’re taking on Republicans on immigration and social issues, as if they were running in Northern Virginia, Richmond, Norfolk, Charlottesville, anywhere other than where they are.

And, sure, obviously, the Trumpers are so, so wrong on immigration, on trade, on the environment, on so, so much else.

But, if all you know is what Fox News has been telling you, for years and years and what seems like forever, that’s their turf.

Meaning, when you’re in the mountains of Virginia talking about immigration, what people hear is, see, they’re on the side of those immigrants who are getting all of our jobs and all of those benefits that we worked for and can’t get ourselves.

And, you’re talking about tariffs, and trying to explain how free trade is good, and all you know is, free trade sent your factory job to Mexico, and, no, none of this makes any sense, because if the jobs went to Mexico, why are Mexicans coming here and taking our jobs, and if they’re taking our jobs, why would they need welfare, but you see the rabbit hole you’re in now.

 


 

Waynesboro was an industrial center for decades, and those jobs are long gone now, replaced by retail and food-service jobs that pay about 60 percent of what the jobs we used to have here paid.

This is the story defining every rural area in America, every Rust Belt city and town in the Appalachians, in the Midwest, and nobody seems to know what to do about it.

I can speak from the experience we’ve had in Waynesboro that we’re talking about something that has been ongoing for about 30 years here, and we still have no clue how to reverse the trends.

The prevailing approach has been to use our interstate exit to allow the chain stores and restaurants to set up shop so that we at least get the sales-tax dollars to pay the bills for basic government services.

Not every city, town, county, has the blessings of a well-located interstate exit to even account for that lowest common denominator effort.

Back to Waynesboro’s response, lack thereof, whatever, I find myself wishing I could travel back in time to the 1980s to shake the local leaders of that era into understanding that they needed, then, and immediately, to come up with an economic development strategy, get that land that we have now sitting fallow in our industrial park ready for business, to spend more on the local schools, not cut back, so that we could get the kids ready for the kinds of jobs that are now, in 2019, in demand, and going unfilled, in the various tech sectors.

There’d be no guarantee that our industrial park would be filled up with tech companies taking advantage of our interstate access and proximity to the University of Virginia 22 miles east on I-64, but, I’d like our chances, better than what we have now.

But, here we are, and again, this story is the story of so many cities, so many towns, so many counties in Rural America, in the Rust Belt, in Appalachia.

The problem is jobs, the lack of good ones, specifically, the lack of security that comes with the lack of good jobs – families not being able to withstand even a money emergency of $400, for example, a mechanical issue with a car that makes it so that they have to decide, fix the car, or keep the lights on, or buy groceries, or pay the rent?

When Republicans talk immigration, that’s what they’re talking about, even if it means absolutely nothing, in reality, to people in Rural America, the Rust Belt, Appalachia, but that’s not what they’ve been told by Fox News, and reinforced by President Trump.

They’re playing the race card that Southern Democrats played for decades in Jim Crow.

It’s them insolent darkies that are takin’ all the good jobs from deservin’ white folks such as yourself.

Vote for us, and we’ll take care-a-ya.

The talk about tariffs and trade wars plays on that same basic message. It’s the foreigners that’s the problem. The Chinese, the Japanese, of course, again, the Mexicans. They don’t play fair, and they’re taking our jobs, your jobs, and you’re paying for the privilege of not having good jobs.

It doesn’t matter that, truth is, tariffs make us less competitive, that we can’t make it in the 21st century just selling stuff that we make here to ourselves, because that’s what a world economy walled off by tariffs would mean.

The average person doesn’t understand macroeconomics. All they know is, we used to be able to get a good job with a high-school degree, and now kids with college degrees are serving coffee at the Starbucks out at the interstate exit.

Which is to say, then, Republicans are, yes, totally mischaracterizing everything about immigration and trade, in terms of how both have anything to do with what happened to those good-paying jobs of yesteryear, but, at least they’re talking about trying to do something to get those good-paying jobs back.

I mean, like, the coal industry ever has a chance of coming back. The coal industry itself doesn’t want to come back. The people who own coal companies are investing in green energy. The people who used to work the mines don’t want to go back into them. To talk about reviving the coal industry is the height of nonsense.

But, it’s at least talking about doing something to get good-paying jobs that we used to have back into circulation.

What are Democrats doing to talk about jobs?

I’m asking, because I don’t know.

More often than not, when you hear a Democrat talking about economic development, it’s to bemoan the use of public dollars to offer incentives to companies looking at locations, which, there you go, shooting yourself in the foot.

How about, I don’t know, going macro with those incentives, building a policy at the federal level that incentivizes companies to locate in rural areas, the Rust Belt, Appalachia, to spread the wealth a bit?

That policy would, necessarily, have to include infrastructure improvements, money to improve public education and job retraining, and, yes, gulp, money to the companies, in the form of tax breaks, tax-increment financing, other sweeteners.

Why don’t we hear Democrats talking about this? They go for the low-hanging fruit, the $15 an hour minimum wage, which they pretend solves all problems.

Except that, what a $15 an hour minimum wage really does is pushes employers to go even faster in the direction of increasing worker productivity and automating so that they can keep aggregate wages in line with where they are now.

Which, translated, means: only some people get the $15 an hour minimum wage.

The rest of you: laid off.

Now, I can see a mix of a minimum-wage increase and the incentives policy I have in mind working together. The minimum-wage increase works in the short term, until employers have time to enact whatever they have to enact to reduce their labor roll to get costs in line; if all goes right with the timing, the incentives to get more companies investing in Rural America, the Rust Belt and Appalachia can get off the ground at around the same time, or close enough.

Jobs, man.

Jobs. Jobs.

Jobs!

The second thing Democrats need to run on, and I’d prefer to think of it as 1a, not 2, is healthcare.

People need three basic things, that’s it, those three being: food, shelter, health. Traditionally, jobs have provided for all three: incomes earned at work paying for food and shelter, and employers taking care of healthcare.

With traditional jobs in manufacturing getting scarcer every day, replaced by jobs in the retail and food-service sectors, and the gig economy, healthcare is, for more and more people every day, a choice.

The Affordable Care Act, ObamaCare, was never going to solve the problem. Having a market-based program take the place of what every other industrialized country in the world offers its citizens, you know, universal healthcare, is akin to solving the problems with the College Football Playoff by using the current bowl system.

College football needs to scrap the bowls, which just siphon off money from schools, conferences, the NCAA, to put money in the pockets of people who don’t do a damned thing to provide watchable college football. Similarly, the current healthcare marketplace just siphons off money from consumers and healthcare providers to put money in the pockets of people who don’t do a damned thing to provide healthcare.

This is why we spend more than twice as much, per capita, as any other country in the world on our healthcare, and yet still somehow have tens of millions of people without any health insurance, and tens of millions more with health insurance that they can’t afford to use, and only have in case something catastrophic happens, and even then, they need friends to set up GoFundMes to pay their bills when that something catastrophic does happen.

And yet, how do our debates on healthcare go these days? ObamaCare, a market-based solution first proposed by the conservative Heritage Foundation, and first put into place in Massachusetts by Mitt Romney, is, yeah, you know, it’s socialism, government trying to run your healthcare, which is somehow bad.

I mean, government runs the roads, but you don’t hear anybody complaining about the socialists at the Department of Transportation.

We’re not all out there building our own roads and bridges to get wherever we’re going.

We all know why Republicans are fighting this battle: they’re in the pockets of the people who make trillions off our need for what healthcare providers are providing and the insurers have the authorization to sell.

And those folks want to keep making trillions of dollars off our need for what they’re selling.

Which, I get. Which, why is that I have to be the adult in the room, pointing out that we’re spending way, way, way too much for way, way, way too many people to not have access to healthcare, for our life expectancy to be actually decreasing for the first time in generations.

If there’s one thing that is supposed to be the American Way, it’s supposed to be: getting the best bang for your buck.

Universal healthcare is the best bang for our buck. Government-run healthcare, like government-run roads, is the best way to do things. It’s the way we guarantee that everybody has access to adequate healthcare, which, yes, means that people at the tippy top don’t get first dibs, get the Cadillac in terms of treatment, and of course they don’t like that, but, too fucking bad, we all get four-door sedans, and we’re all better off.

And not only are we all better off, but, get this, it’s better for business that we do it this way.

Right now, even though it’s not across the board that employers provide healthcare insurance, like used to be the case a generation ago, a lot still do, and guess what, they’re competing in the global marketplace with companies elsewhere in the industrialized world that have said, nah, not going to make our companies have to pay for healthcare anymore.

Which means: we’re less competitive.

Common sense tells you this. If there are two companies making widgets, and one has to include in its cost of making its widgets the cost to provide healthcare to its employees, and the other doesn’t, you don’t have to have a Nobel in economics to figure who can sell their widgets cheaper.

You could argue, but, drrrr, hrrr, the companies in countries with universal healthcare have to pay higher taxes.

Which, yes, they do. And it’s still more efficient, because, the bullshit about the private marketplace being better at providing health coverage, it’s, well, bullshit.

And who tells us this? The Koch Brothers, of all people. The conservatives funded a George Mason University study that shows that it costs us $5 trillion a year to provide healthcare under the current hodgepodge of Medicare, Medicaid, private insurers and those who have to pay out of pocket because they can’t afford insurance, and don’t qualify for Medicare or Medicaid.

Medicare for All puts everything under a government-run system, and costs $3.2 trillion a year, according to the analysis.

The Kochs, of course, wanted this to be cast as, drrr, hrrr, but that’s all tax dollars there, whereas the $5 trllion a year, that’s taxes and private dollars.

Which, that’s just plain dumb, but also par for the course for people like the Kochs, who like to dress themselves up as being fiscal conservatives, but in actuality, their game is making money for themselves, and screw everybody else.

And, see, the $1.8 trillion a year that we save by going with a more efficient, government-run system, that $1.8 trillion a year goes to rich people like the Kochs, who do nothing to provide healthcare to anybody, but have figured out nonetheless how to make money from the delivery of healthcare, because rich people have figured out how to make money off pretty much everything, most significantly things they have no role in actually doing, other than counting the money at the end of the day.

Makes you sick, doesn’t it, that the tens of millions without healthcare coverage, and the tens of millions more who have coverage that they can’t afford to use, could get coverage, that it would be cheaper for us all, and the only reason we don’t do is because rich people make too much money the way the fucked-up system we have now works?

Run on that.

Stop defending ObamaCare, which, love the idea, the thought behind the idea, anyway, but, no, it was a Republican idea that Republicans then decided against supporting because Democrats agreed with it, and, politics.

Healthcare. Jobs.

Those are your issues, Democrats.

Stop falling into the traps set by Republicans to make elections about everything else – about social issues, about race, about gender.

We know this works. Bill Clinton won two elections with “The Economy, Stupid,” and Barack Obama ran on the economy and healthcare and won twice.

Whereas Hillary Clinton ran to prevent us from having Donald Trump, Al Gore allowed himself to be backed into a corner on the environment, and somehow John Kerry, who actually fought in Vietnam, had that turned against him in a campaign against George W. Bush, who skipped Vietnam, and also launched us into two wars that will seemingly never end.

Those worked out great.

We’re heading into a 2020 cycle that we know will be a circus, whoever ends up running on the two sides. It’s not a guarantee that Donald Trump gets to run for re-election, but even if he doesn’t, he will loom large over 2020, given how much the Republican Party has sold out its soul to the Trump Way, with the tax cuts for billionaires, the demonization of Latinos, African Americans, women, and the rest of what comes with him.

The temptation on the Democratic side is to favor candidates who can fight fire with fire, but there’s an old saying about how you should never wrestle with a pig, because you both get dirty, and the pig likes it, that comes to mind.

You’re not going to out-tweet Trump, because, really, how do you possibly win a debate point with a guy who doesn’t believe what he’s saying when he says it, and isn’t above changing what he says an hour or a day or a week or however long later?

All you’re doing there is reinforcing what he wants you to reinforce, which is usually something along the lines of, Latinos, bad, the news media, enemies of the people, women, should be in the home, when they’re not showing cleavage, and deference.

Credit to the Cheeto-in-Chief: he knows how to talk to blue-collar voters without offering them anything of substance for their troubles.

I seriously doubt that he studied political history enough to have intentionally borrowed from the script of Southern Democrats in the Jim Crow era who maintained their grip on power by talking up the dangers posed by uppity negroes to sway poor white voters, but, damn, he does have good instincts in that respect.

Everything he did in 2015-2016 should have been disqualifying: from the outset, when he talked about Mexico sending rapists and whatnot in his campaign rollout speech, to the Megyn Kelly blood coming out of her whatever, the insults of John McCain for being a POW, mocking people with disabilities, grab them by the pussy.

Democrats just assumed that, well, nobody could possibly in a million years hitch their wagon to basically your drunk uncle at Thanksgiving, spouting off about whatever he saw on Fox News that morning, but, thing is, more people than would care to admit it decided they were more comfortable with their drunk uncle than with a pointy-headed liberal whose main message was, stop snickering at what your drunk uncle is trying to spin you into believing, you’re just as bad as he is, you should be ashamed with yourself.

What if you’ve been told that all your life, and you’re tired of hearing it, tired of being lectured to, by people who don’t know how bad you’ve got it.

Who don’t know what it’s like to have to choose between getting the car fixed and paying rent, who don’t have to choose between getting the prescription refilled and groceries.

Who don’t know praying for overtime so they can afford Christmas, taking that second job folding sweaters at Kohl’s when the kids need braces.

It doesn’t matter that what Democrats want is a world where their kids get a better education so that they don’t have to live like they did growing up, that they want better healthcare for them now, that they’re the ones working in Congress on getting more money for job retraining.

Because they didn’t know that, because Democrats weren’t telling them about any of that.

Democrats lose when they run popularity contests. The George W. Bush 2004 re-election was a popularity contest. Dems cast Bush as a doofus, which he is, who blundered us into Iraq and Afghanistan, which he did, but admit it, you can’t now think of what John Kerry was going to do, other than not be George W. Bush.

Barack Obama, then, ran two rather substantive campaigns, on the economy and healthcare, primarily, and beat two damn good Republican candidates, John McCain and Mitt Romney, who for some reason didn’t run as good candidates, but rather, as being the Not Barack Obama candidates.

Donald Trump, similarly, was the focus of 2016, which Hillary Clinton ran as casting your lot for saving America from Donald Trump, and in the process snatched defeat from the jaws of victory.

The danger, as we head into 2019 and 2020, is assuming that Trump is doomed.

Anything short of actual removal from office is to his benefit heading into the 2020 general election, if that election is cast, again, as saving America from Donald Trump.

Democrats risk losing in a landslide if all they do is run as Not Donald Trump, and fail to recognize that he’s running downhill right now, with Republicans unified, moderate, conservative and cultural, the news media in tatters, and Democrats tripping over their feet giving each other litmus tests to prove who is the more progressive among their lot.

Waynesboro doesn’t care who is more progressive.

The kids I grew up with in the trailer park, they don’t care who is more progressive.

They want to know if somebody is going to help them get a better job, so that they can keep a roof on their head and food on the table, and if they’re going to be able to afford to go to the doctor when they’re sick, or if they’re going to go bankrupt when they can’t pay the bill.

It’s frustrating to recognize that our side is more equipped, and much more interested, in helping with both, but that we’re also god-awful in getting that message out, while Trump and the Republicans, who have absolutely no interest in doing either, have success in making public policy seem to be about anything but what really matters.

But, of course, you had come to know that already, and you know as well that we’re well past the time where it’s acceptable to cry into our craft beers about our fates.

 
augusta free press

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