"I'm Not Afraid of John McCain!" Central Brooklyn Independent Democrats Annual Dinner
Tonight was the annual dinner of the Central Brooklyn Independent Democrats (CBID), an organization my wife is an officer of. First off, let me say we missed the annual dinner of the club I am on the board of, the Independent Neighborhood Democrats (IND), largely due to lack of time, money and a babysitter, and the fact that the IND dinner is much less convenient for us to get to. Generally I try to make it to both.
Joy and I arrived a bit late, so we missed some of the speeches. Yvette Clarke and Jerrold Nadler spoke before we made it. [CORRECTION: Nadler and Clarke were present for schmoozing purposes and did not give speeches]. Pity because they can both give a good speech and it would be interesting to have heard if either of them brought up impeachment, an issue dear to the club that Yvette and Jerrold disagree on.
But we did get to hear Chuck Schumer, and it was well worth it. Now Chuck is certainly not my favorite Democrat. Joy and I had a run in with his office when we were part of a MoveOn.org delegation to object to an early funding request from Bush for the Iraq Quagmire. Chuck too often has been among the Democrats who has most disappointed me because for someone who is supposed to be such a bulldog, he has too often shown too much of a lack of spine against Bush.
But tonight he gave a dead on speech, and one that could be seen as critical of the very weakness that Chuck has sometimes displayed under the Bush Administration.
The key message of his speech can be summed up by the quote I used as the title for this piece and one that all Democrats around the nation should be taking up: "I am not afraid of John McCain."
Chuck Schumer believes that John McCain is going down in November and predicted up front that the Democratic nominee, whoever it is (he backs Clinton, though most of the crowd backs Obama), will win the Presidency with greater than 300 electoral votes. He further predicts that Democrats will win more Senate seats probably surpassing the 60 we need to block a Republican filibuster AND picking up more House seats.
His enthusiasm had three parts beyond mere prediction of victory: a bit of an apology, recognition of a major "tectonic shift" in American politics, and a bit of a warning.
The apology: in the context of winning more Senate seats Chuck Schumer acknowledged that some people feel Democrats have let the voters down. But he points out that every single Democratic Senator (he called Lieberman the sole exception, but Lieberman should no longer be counted as a Democrat) voted to withdraw from Iraq. Every single Democratic Senator voted to make unionization of American workers easier. Every single Democratic Senator voted to reject torture. But the Republicans filibustered everything that Bush didn't outright veto. Democrats have not let the voters down so much as Republicans have used every technicality they could to block progress (something Democrats never had the guts or unity to do when they were in the minority).
The "tectonic shift:" Chuck recognized that just winning is often trivial. But sometimes there is a tectonic shift in American politics and he believes we are in the middle of one. Franklin Delano Roosevelt led America through one such shift, one that shaped modern government, giving us the FDIC protecting bank deposits, giving us Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security...basically giving us a safety net that had not been there before and recognizing the working and middle class as the key to American society and economics. Ronald Reagan led us through another tectonic shift, one where greed and corporations dominated our society and economics, leading to a rejection of a safety net and the acceptance of the Republican "Drown American in a Bathtub" philosophy. And Chuck admitted here that Democrats went along with this shift, including Bill Clinton and, implicitly, including himself and Hillary Clinton. But now (and I would say the shift started in 2006) we are in the midst of another tectonic shift--the rejection of the Republican "Drown America in a Bathtub" philosophy and a resurgence of Democratic, progressive American values. In short, voters are just as enthusiastic about Democratic candidates now as they were about Reagan and FDR during those previous shifts and Democrats have found the pulse of the American voter.
Which leads to Chuck's warning: if we do win (and he predicts we will win big), and we don't effect a change, the voters will quickly reject Democrats again. We must effect the change this tectonic shift demands or we will be losers.
Well, I'm with Chuck on all of this. I can say I tried telling Chuck Schumer these same things before the 2004 election and I believe had the Democrats as a whole embraced this same program then, we would have won. But Democrats can be slow to react and it really wasn't until 2006 (with hints in Montana in 2004 and Virginia in 2005) that Democrats began to become part of the tectonic shift.
There were five honorees tonight. In order that they are in the dinner booklet (not the same order they spoke) they were:
1. The Park Slope Food Co-op: Joy and I joined this about a year ago. It is the largest cooperative in the country and is a model for food co-ops around the world. I have to say, shopping here is inconvenient as can be, but the prices are great and the quality of food is great. Overall we'd recommend it, but then more people would join and it would be even MORE crowded to shop there. To quote CBID:
The Park Slope Food Coop was founded in 1973 for the purposes of making high quality food as affordable as possible and to create a locally controlled democratic cooperative where members practice cooperation by working together. Working together turned out to be the key to keeping prices low, so the dual original purposes fit well with eachother. The Coop has grown from the founding group of about 10 to its current membership of 13,900. Last fiscal year, the Coop's sales surpassed $30 million...
John Urda, president of the Coop, was one of the people accepting the award on behalf of all of us at the Coop. He emphasized that it wasn't just a shop, but a philosophy and an active member of the community. I think it would have been better had he merely said the Park Slope Food Co-op isn't just a shop...it's an adventure. Sadly, he missed that opportunity, though for those of us who shop there, it would make a perfect motto.
2. Joan Millman: Joan is my Assemblywoman and we know her well. She was a public school teacher and a librarian before entering politics, so her dedication to the community has gone way back. She became the Assemblywoman for Brooklyn's 52nd district in 1997. Joy and I love her and a friend of ours considers Joan the only politician who will come through for you if you need her.
3. Josh Skaller: former president of CBID, organizer for Democracy for NYC, and candidate for city council (39th district) in 2009, Josh is another good friend. Josh became president of CBID at a time of great disunity in the club...a period I found rather entertaining, but which rendered the club far less effective. Josh guided the club through that period and returned it to an effectiveness that was reflected in the fact that more candidates running for office than ever showed up tonight because they very much want CBID's support. Josh pretty much revived the club after it nearly self-destructed, making it more effective than ever.
4. Cesar Perales: I was not previously familiar with Cesar. Yet his introduction by CBID board member Matt Chachere was very impressive. To quote CBID:
Cesar Perales has worked tirelessly to protect and defend the rights of Latinos in the United States. In 1972 he was a founding member and first president of the PRLDEF [Puerto Rican Legal Defense and Education Fund] which worked in the legal and political front to fight for bilingual education, fair working conditions for migrant farm workers, fair public employment practices and bilingual voting ballots. Subsequently he worked in government at both the Federal and local levels in the Health and Human Services departments...
When faced with anti-immigrant sentiments in America I tend to point out how dependent our economy is on immigrant labor, particularly in the construction, produce and childcare industries. People so often vilify immigrants but aren't willing to pay higher prices for the very services immigrants provide at cheap prices. This is a very complex dynamics for which there is no easy answer, but it does show the hypocrisy of many anti-immigrant politicians. Cesar Perales mentioned a factor I had never considered. Americans are an aging population, meaning we are increasingly a nation of retired people supported by a decreasing work force. Without immigrants, this imbalance will get worse. I think this also is a complex dynamics with no easy solutions, but it also is quite true.
5. Bhairavi Desai: Bhairavi Desai is the Executive Director of the New York Taxi Workers Alliance. Now I have not always agreed with the New York Taxi Workers Alliance, and coming from California have never been a fan of New York taxis. But there is no question that Taxi drivers have one of the toughest jobs in America and Bhairavi, more than anyone else I have heard, drove home how hard that jobs is and how unfairly they are treated. Bhairavi herself was amazing. An effective orator and organizer, she clearly can hold her own in tough union politics. Again, to quote CBID:
A native of India, she has been organizing taxi workers since 1996. Bhairavi grew up the daughter of working class [she points out this is a code word for "in poverty"] immigrants. She previously worked in the Latin American, Palestinian and anti-apartheid South Africa solidarity movements.
The New York Taxi Workers Alliance, the largest taxi union in the country, was founded in 1998 to transform the taxi industry and build labor power through organizing, political and media advocacy, litigation, direct legal services and access to health care...
In the future I suspect I need to pay more attention to Bhairavi and the New York Taxi Workers Alliance.
UPDATE: As it was getting late when I wrote this last night, I left out one of CBID's best awards: the tarnished fork award, given to a Democrat who shows considerable corruption, stupidity or otherwise deserves recognition for betraying Democratic values. Last year it was Vito Lopez who got the tarnished fork award. This year CBID considered crossing party lines and giving it for Vito "Two Families are Better Values than One" Fossella...or even to in addition reprise the Lopez award for the Twin Vitos. But instead they gave it to Christine Quinn for "Slushgate," as it reflects either considerable corruption in Quinn's part or considerable incompetence. More on that award here.
I cannot even begin to rattle off all the politicians there tonight. I believe I saw City Council members Bill DeBlasio and Charles Barron with arms around eachother's shoulders. State Senator Velmanette Montgomery and City Councilwoman Letitia James were there. There were dozens of 2008 and 2009 candidates in the room, including a whole slew of judicial candidates. I believe this was the first time it was publicly stated that Devin Cohen, former president of IND, EMT and member of Community Board 6, is up for the 1st Civil Court of the City of New York. Not sure how official that is yet, but it was publicly stated tonight and he has the backing of Joy and myself...of course he is also a good friend.
We left as the crowd was thinning out. When they started playing a disco version of The Doors' "Riders on the Storm," it was time to go. But I am left with Chuck Schumer's words: "I am Not Afraid of John McCain." Remember, Chuch Schumer has dealt with McCain in the Senate for years and knows what he is talking about.