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  • astralis
    something similar from the horse's mouth.


    Keith Ellison on his DNC vision, the Democrats’ down-ballot collapse, and identity politics
    The DNC chair frontrunner’s vision for Democrats: turnout, turnout, turnout.
    Updated by Ezra Klein@ezraklein Jan 19, 2017, 12:50pm EST


    Photo by Sarah Rice/Getty Images
    Minnesota Rep. Keith Ellison is the frontrunner to lead the Democratic National Committee in the Trump era. Ellison has a fascinating backstory: He's the first Muslim elected to the US Congress, and he was the second member of Congress to endorse Bernie Sanders's presidential campaign.

    Now Sanders has returned the favor, backing Ellison to lead the DNC. But in an unexpected effort to close ranks, Sen. Chuck Schumer — who does not exactly come from Sanders's wing of the Democratic Party — has also backed Ellison.

    Which isn't to say Ellison doesn't face a race. Many in the White House are known to be skeptical of Ellison for this job, and have recruited Tom Perez, the popular outgoing labor secretary, to challenge Ellison.

    The campaign between the two men is increasingly seen as a new front in the fight between the Sanders and Clinton wings of the party — but that's a bit absurd. The position they’re running for is more operational than ideological.

    I recently had Ellison on my podcast, and I wanted to draw him out on the specifics of his vision for the job. What powers does the DNC chair have? How does Ellison want to use them? What is his philosophy of party organizing? How does a party — as opposed to a candidate — build a relationship with voters? What should the national party apparatus be doing in off years? How much confrontation should there be with Donald Trump?

    We get into the weeds of party building here, and it's obviously a topic Ellison has thought about a lot — both in his own campaigns and in his run for DNC chair. The Democratic Party has some hard choices to make in the coming years, and so it's well worth hearing where Ellison wants to push it. You can listen to our podcast conversation here, or subscribe on iTunes. A transcript of our discussion, edited for length and clarity, follows.

    Why have Democrats lost so much down-ballot strength during Obama’s presidency?
    Ezra Klein
    We're talking a night after President Obama gave his farewell address. Last I looked at Obama's polling, which was a day or two ago, he's at 56 percent [popularity]. He's leaving office a very popular president.

    Keith Ellison
    He sure is.

    Ezra Klein
    He's more popular than Ronald Reagan was when he left office. At the same time, over the past eight years, Democrats’ share of seats in the US Senate has fallen from 59 to 48. They've lost 62 House seats, 12 governorships, and, this is the number that I keep getting caught up on, 958 seats in state legislatures. Why do you think that is?

    Keith Ellison
    I think the reason that we've had those losses is because the DNC is viewed more as a presidential campaign apparatus rather than a program or an agency designed to get Democrats elected up and down the ballot all the time. The DNC really should be the instrument for the rank-and-file Democrat all over the country — in Idaho, in Chicago, in Minneapolis, in Florida. But we treat it like it's not the Democratic National Committee; we treat it like it's the Democratic Presidential National Committee. Because of that, we have not really had the outreach and the door knocking and the engagement year-round that we need to have. That's too bad.

    The thing is that before 2008, we had the 50-state strategy, and that is in fact still pretty popular among DNC members. As you notice, we did pretty well in 2006; we did pretty well in 2008. I think that's because we still had enough connectivity in place from that 50-state strategy, but as time wore on, the tremendous popularity of Barack Obama, his amazing rhetorical skills, his just unparalleled ability to explain things and to inspire people really is the fuel that we lived on. Because of that, we lost a lot.

    At the same time, Republicans made some strategic decisions. ... There are articles before 2010 where Karl Rove is saying, "We've got this new thing called Maptitude, or this new software that's helping us identify places of opportunity. We're going to be going into the small towns. We're going to Erie, Pennsylvania. We're going to Peoria, Illinois. We're going to get competitive at the very local level."

    Also there was massive investment by the Koch brothers. As we were focusing on our champion, President Obama, the other side was actually thinking creatively about how they can really dominate on the state level and on the local level. Those two things together gave us some unprecedented losses. I'm going to tell you though, Ezra, we can come back. We absolutely can. We just have to refocus our game plan, but if we do, 2018 and 2020 can be years of great promise.

    Ezra Klein
    I'd like to hear about that. I'd like to be very specific and operational, mechanical, because I think that’s something that gets lost when we talk about the DNC chair race. You're running for DNC chair.

    Keith Ellison
    Yes, I am.

    Ezra Klein
    It is being understood and covered as an ideological contest. I think that’s fair to say.

    Keith Ellison
    That's too bad, though.

    Ezra Klein
    It's an operational position more than an ideological position. That's what I wanted to talk about. What are the levers you have as DNC chair to pull? What are the mechanisms you think would work here? What literal policies would you change from how the DNC works now that would make it less the Democratic Presidential Committee and more the Democratic National Committee?

    Keith Ellison
    Well, first thing is, if I win, right away we're going to start with an attitudinal change around turnout. Voter turnout has got to be something that is on the mind of every rank-and-file Democrat, every Democratic officeholder. We must, in terms of turnout, think in terms of expanding the electorate beyond the people who are the likely voters in the swing states. Turnout has got to be key.

    When I was elected in 2006, my district had the lowest turnout in the state of Minnesota. Now it's the highest, and it's consistently the highest. One of the reasons why is because we focus on turnout 365 days of year.

    Ezra Klein
    When you say you focus on it, what do you specifically do?

    Keith Ellison
    We have an apartment program. We found out that you if knock on a door one day and you come back in a year, there's a 50/50 chance that person doesn't even live there anymore. If you don't go there except for election time, there's an even greater chance — a 50 percent chance of a 50 percent chance after two years.

    There are hundreds of apartment buildings in the Fifth Congressional District. I've got staff that identified all of them that have more than around five or six units. Then we make contact with the managers of all of them. We got captains in them. Then in the off year, we knock them. We have meetings there. Then when some people don't want to be bothered, that's why they live in an apartment, the management will be able to tell them, "The politicians are going to be knocking today, so if you don't want them to knock, put up a sign on your door."

    The other thing we do in every year off year is a massive summer knock. We knock all year round, but we have a special, massive summer knock, where we get a whole bunch of college students and pair them with our paid staff. Last summer, in 2015, we had 9,000 conversations. It took us about 30,000 tries to get those 9,000 conversations, but we collected data. We cleaned up our list. We got back in touch with people. We sent them an important signal, which is that we don't just care about you when we want your vote. We care about you and want to have an ongoing, durable relationship with you. That kind of thing people remember.

    Then, of course, we would do a lot of things in between, regular pizza parties, coffee klatches. I have the biggest Labor Day picnic in Minnesota. We have a get-out-the-vote concert with our rap community right before the election.

    The real idea is not the big events. The real idea is the canvassing, the door knocking, the calling. Then the other thing we do is we continually ask people to help us. We're asking people, "There's a vote coming up. What do you think? There's a vote coming up. What's your opinion? Sign up on this petition. Sign up on that petition." People are constantly feeling like they're partnering with me as the member of Congress from their district.

    That's why not only do I win with a high percentage — my predecessor won with a high percentage — but I don't even care about the percentage. I care about the raw numbers that we are turning out. When I first got into office, I had 150,000 votes. Now if we don't get 250,000 votes, we feel disappointed. Because we got 250,000 this year and we got 262,000 in 2012.

    There are no statewide Republicans in Minnesota. Not any, not one. Amy Klobuchar, Al Franken, Democrats. Mark Dayton, our governor, Democrat; Attorney General Lori Swanson, Democrat. We don't have no statewide Republicans. We used to. You remember Tim Pawlenty, who used to be the governor, and you remember Norm Coleman. Why can't a Norm Coleman or a Tim Pawlenty get back into statewide office? Because in the Fifth Congressional District, we spike the vote so high they cannot get in.

    I'll give you another example of what I'm talking about here. Steve Simon’s the secretary of state for the state of Minnesota. When he ran in 2014, he was the only incumbent. The Republicans put a lot of energy into that, because they figured if they can beat him, that would be their chance to win a statewide office. They actually did beat Steve in five of eight congressional districts, but we beat them so bad in the Fifth Congressional District that we still won. That's the kind of thing that we do.

    In 2014, voter turnout statewide decreased in the state of Minnesota from 2010, hitting a 70-year low. In my district, we increased turnout by 3 percent in 2014. Even in down years, we're going up. It's the only congressional district in Minnesota, the fifth district, where voter turnout grew between 2010 and 2014. That's what we're doing, and that's why I think I need to be the DNC chair.

    Ezra Klein
    Those are very impressive numbers, and particularly the point about 2014 turnout increasing in your district. That's an achievement. But you keep saying the word "we." I recognize that you mean your campaign staff, all your volunteers, the college kids. But in your congressional district, what is being organized around is you. In American politics in general, one reason presidential years have so much higher turnout than midterm years, to say nothing of non-election periods, is that people find it easier to connect with the presidential candidate.

    Neither political party in the country is actually a popular institution. People don't like Republicans. They don't like Democrats. Right now we have the highest share of independents as a share of the electorate that we've basically ever had. How do you create that connection, then, on behalf of an institution? How do you give people something they connect to when it's not Keith Ellison, this nice guy who maybe knocked on your door a couple of years back, but it's the Democratic Party?

    Keith Ellison
    We give them the personalities. For example, we're going to be doing regular live streaming straight to Democratic rank-and-file members, which is something we're not doing now. Who are we going to give them? We're going to give them Elizabeth Warren and Cory Booker and all these engaging personalities. We're going to give them Cedric Richmond. We're going to give them Barbara Lee. We're going to give them those people that they watch on the TV shows and love and want to hear about. We're going to give them the union president in Indiana who stood up to Donald Trump.

    Here we live in the age of Trump. This guy, the most misogynistic candidate, beats the first woman candidate. This is devastating to women in this country, and men too, but we're going to feature women in these live casts and talk about equal pay, access to reproductive care. Talk about how the economic fortunes of a family are directly connected to reproductive access and the Hyde Amendment.

    We have to face the facts that the Republicans have out-organized us. They simply have. I know it's true because I got a good friend of mine who was a Republican, now a Democrat. She's a city council member in Northfield, Minnesota. She will say, "Man, when I was Republican and I was a city council member, they connected me. I was part of this. I was part of that. I was on calls. I got data. I got talking points. Now that I'm a Democrat city council member, I feel better about my soul because this is what I believe in, but you guys don't stay that closely in touch with us."

    My thought is that's the challenge. We've got to match them organizationally, and then we put some of these dynamic personalities in front of people. People will begin to think, when they think Democrat, they're thinking Franklin Roosevelt. They're thinking Hubert H. Humphrey. They're thinking Barack Obama, who has 57 percent approval rating. That's the thing. I don't think we feature our people well enough.

    Ezra Klein
    You mentioned talking points, organizing, and getting more people on shows. That's the communications side of it. But something that has happened on the Republican side in states and in cities has been the creation of a much more aggressive, substantive agenda for state legislators, for local city council members. People hear about groups like ALEC [the American Legislative Exchange Council], but there's a lot of it. The playbook of what to do if you suddenly have power in a state and you're a Republican is much more aggressive and fully formed.

    You have states where Democrats have a lot of power, California being an example, but you don't see an aggressive, reproducible agenda emergent there. Is that something you think is a strength or weakness of Democrats? Is it good that Democrats are not sitting around moving legislation from one state to another? Or do Democrats in the states need to make it much clearer what they are going to do if you elect them?

    Keith Ellison
    I have no doubt that it's a weakness. What is the root of that weakness? We're highly siloed. We are highly siloed. One of the things we have got to do is to create a truly national coordinated campaign committee. Now, I'm not saying that US House people are going to tell the US Senate what to do or that Democratic municipal officeholders are going to tell the state legislators what to do, but we have got to have some sort of working coordination.

    For example, just look at voting rights. The Republicans are so coordinated that the day after Shelby County gets struck by the Supreme Court, which is also part of their coordination, their legislative arm, because it's clearly one body, shoots out proposed legislation on everything from getting rid of early voting to pushing a photo ID to saying that 17-year-olds can't register even if they're going to be 18 by the election. They've done this all over the country and in an amazingly coordinated fashion.

    I do not believe that Democrats have identified the fact that voter expansion has to be a strategic goal of ours, and yet Republicans clearly are aware that voter suppression must be a strategic goal of theirs. They're actively suppressing the vote. They're doing it in 50 states. They're doing it with a PR program. They're doing it with a state legislative program. They're doing it with a city program, just simply not enough voting machines. They're doing it with a legal program. What are we doing? We're doing state by state. Oregon's doing great work, but what about others? This should be 50 pieces of legislation introduced in all states that expand the vote. That's clearly what we need to be doing. The DNC has to help do that.

    What if we just got every so-called state seat Democrat, and we got every senator that is up, we got them all in a room together and said, "You guys talk and figure out how that state seat Democrat, just by increasing turnout in their own district, can help you win statewide." Those conversations haven't been happening. Who's going to help coordinate that conversation? I think the DNC should be part of that.

    Are Democrats too focused on “identity politics”?
    Ezra Klein
    If you take over the Democratic National Committee, you're going to be in leadership of a party that is trying to work its way through some pretty deep fissures right now. One is the Bernie Sanders/Hillary Clinton fissure from the primary, which has not healed. But beneath that cleavage is an argument that you've begun hearing play out in more and more explicit terms about whether Democrats in the modern era focus too much on what some people call "identity politics." Some people feel that Democrats have become too focused on calling out acts of racism, have become too focused on giving one thing to each of the different groups that are in the Democratic coalition as opposed to having a more singular message around economic policy. I'm curious how you navigate that debate.

    Keith Ellison
    I think the DNC needs to point out repeatedly that if we don't have social inclusion, we won't have economic inclusion either. Ronald Reagan, right before his election in 1980, goes to Philadelphia, Mississippi, where Schwerner, Chaney, Goodman were murdered and buried in the earthen dam, and gives a speech on states' rights. Now, everybody in America who's cracked their history book knows exactly what he's doing. He's dog-whistling racism. He's telling white, Southern men that he's on their side against their black neighbors. That's what he's doing. Well, as soon as Reagan gets in, one of the first things he does is fires the Professional Air Traffic Controllers Organization, and that helps begin the flattening of the American wage for working people.

    There are many examples where politicians sow division between people, and then when they get in power they suppress the wages of all people who labor every day to make a living. That is a recurring thing. We have got to help people understand that, for example, when we were maybe at our best, the March on Washington was the march for jobs and civil rights, and Walter Reuther and Martin Luther King were together. When we're at our best, we are that rainbow coalition. We recognize that whether you are gay or transgender, you've got to earn a living, whether you're a white male in Tennessee, you've got to earn a living. That's the reality for all of us.

    Ezra Klein
    Let me push you on this a little bit. People hear that answer and then what they think is, "But it feels zero-sum to me. It feels that immigrants coming over the border are taking my jobs." And it’s not always racial. One of my colleagues, Sarah Kliff, she went up to Kentucky. She was talking to people who voted for Donald Trump but were on Obamacare. One of the things they said was, "I'm pissed off about the folks who are poorer than me, who don't work, and who get Medicaid. They don't have these high deductibles that I have. They don't all this cost sharing that I have."

    One of the things that Donald Trump spoke to with great effectiveness is the feeling people have that the pie is only so big, which there are times when it is. For instance, with government programs oftentimes. That what maybe could go to them or could go to their community or could go to their family is instead going to someone else. What Trump did for a lot of white Americans is he came and said, "I'm going to make sure it goes to you. I'm going to make sure these people aren't coming over and taking it from you." When you say you need social inclusion, I think what a lot of people hear is, “We're going to bring in all these folks, and those slices of the pie are going to get a lot smaller.”

    Keith Ellison
    See, that's why we've got to be in people's doorways and at people's VFW halls and we got to be talking to them. Because I would say, you show me a Southern, a white person in Kentucky who voted for Trump and is now worrying about their Obamacare taken away, I'll show you a person who Democrats haven't even knocked on their door in years. I'll show you some people who haven't been talked to. They haven't heard the other side of the story. Because I'm going to tell you right now, if they framed resource allocation as a basic issue of scarcity, we going to lose that one. There's not enough. Obviously you're going to pick you and your family over somebody you don't know and have heard a lot of bad things about.

    Here's the reality of it. There is enough in America, man. There is enough. Now, there's not enough if we give the richest people the lowest tax rates, like the hedge fund managers. There's not enough if we let some people hoard massive amounts of wealth overseas because of the deferral provision in our tax code. There's not enough then. If you can get a tax break for your plane and your jet and all that, there may not be enough then. If we had even a tax code like the one we had in 1975, we could make sure that the rich get to keep their money, but everybody else can make it too. Once they got you in the scarcity frame, they got you over a barrel. It's easy then to work racial, ethnic, gender, age division.

    What if we did have a tiny sales tax on stock trades, derivatives, and bonds like we used to before the mid-1960s, like so many other countries around the world do? What if we put it all into higher ed? That's my point. What if we just ended deferral, make them folks pay taxes on that money? See, those conversations got to be had, because those folks in Kentucky are smart, but they can't know what they've never been exposed to. They can't be exposed to the idea if we've never brought it to them. That's my argument. We've got to go to the people. We've got to talk to the people. You can't expect an overnight flip, but you will get the change you're looking for if you stick and you stay and you gain people's trust.

    That's why we got to have a Democratic Party that is 50 states, that is 365 days a year, that is focused on building out at the county level and the state level, and that moves resources from DC to the locations closest to the actual voter. Then we've got to reorient our thinking around turnout as opposed to just getting a higher percentage in the election than our opponent. We do have to do some soul searching, but it is what's in our grasp to do.

    How should Democrats define themselves?
    Ezra Klein
    Hillary Clinton had, I may get the exact number wrong here, but it was something like 44 policies. As somebody who read a bunch of those policies, I can tell you that those policies had sub-policies, and the sub-policies had sub-policies. A lot of the things that you're talking about here, they're even in there. On the other hand, Donald Trump had seven, at least for a long period of time. Two of them were repeated — he had an immigration policy and then a building-the-wall policy.

    I saw that and thought, “This is absurd.” You rethink it, and you say the logic. Where a lot of people, I think, didn't quite know what Hillary Clinton stood for, people knew Donald Trump wanted to build the wall, wanted to cut taxes, wanted to screw with China. That's what he was going to do. I guess I'd ask you, when you think about defining the Democratic Party to people, when you think about being in that doorway and you've only got a couple seconds really, a couple of minutes at most, what three ideas do you want to define the Democratic Party?

    Keith Ellison
    The Democratic Party is for economic inclusion. Your family ought to make a living too. The Democratic Party is for everybody being respected, liberty and justice for all. I just got two.

    Ezra Klein
    Those are values. Give me the policies. What are you saying will be done?

    Keith Ellison
    We're going to raise your wages. We're going to have a fair trade model. We're going to make it so you cannot be discriminated against based on who you are. We're going to get rid of mass incarceration. We're going to invest in our infrastructure as a country, really, not how Trump says. Those things are simple. Guess what? There was a candidate who talked in simple language and got a lot of support in the last election.

    Ezra Klein
    Are you talking here about Bernie Sanders?

    Keith Ellison

    Ezra Klein
    Tell me a bit about how you read the aftermath of the Sanders campaign and how you think about the fight within the party around Bernie Sanders and what he represented and what he didn't represent. He did, as you say, get a lot of support, but he didn't win the primary. There's a real feeling on behalf of his backers that he clearly would've won the general election. How do you think about that?

    Keith Ellison
    I'm one of those who says I don't know. I think Hillary Clinton was a great candidate. I'm very proud of her candidacy. I will say this: Speaking in a few clear points and then repeating those points is good campaigning. There's no doubt about that. There's a lot of reasons why Hillary Clinton didn't win. In fact, she got more votes than the other side, but if you want to talk about in the Midwest, with Michigan, Wisconsin, and so forth, I think she was put in a very difficult position because of the president's advocacy of the Trans-Pacific Partnership. It was just hard for her to get people to believe her on trade, even though I believed her. I was honored to support her because I believed her.

    To just say Bernie would've won — I don't know if Bernie would've won, but I can tell you this. There's no doubt that clear messaging is critical to electoral success. That's why when people ask me what does the Democratic Party stand for, well, it stands for inclusion, economically, making sure your family can make a good living, and it's for respect for all. Those are two simple ideas to me.

    Ezra Klein
    One thing that I've thought a bit about is that people limit this argument to Sanders and Clinton. But down ballot, you can see a lot of different lessons in there. You have Jason Kander in Missouri who ran 15 points, I think it was, ahead of Hillary Clinton but was a more conservative candidate. You have Russ Feingold in Wisconsin, who is a real tribune of progressive politics but didn’t do better than Clinton. Are there lessons in the election that actually the Democratic Party, if it wants to be more competitive in Michigan and more competitive in Pennsylvania, needs to worry about moving too far to the left?

    Keith Ellison
    See, I don't think it's a left or right thing. I really don't. I think that if we engage a real, substantive relationship with the voters, a lot of these ideological questions get sorted out on their own. I believe that in Arizona they passed an increase in the minimum wage and got rid of [Sheriff Joe] Arpaio. I think in Arizona, Trump still won. The cities in Texas went blue. Harris County went blue. Dallas County went blue. San Antonio went blue. Austin went blue. They are knocking on the door. In Georgia, they did pretty well. In North Carolina, we won the governorship, should've won the senatorship.

    I would say that where we won, we won because people really knocked on the door, 365 days a year, and were unrelenting talking about what the Democratic Party was about. Then the other thing they did is allow people the space to say, "We're the Georgia Democratic Party. We're the Tennessee Democratic Party. We're the Arizona Democratic Party." They allowed for local differentiation, which I think is just fine. We don't need to have a cookie cutout. We don't care if they localize the flavor as long as the core ideas are still there.

    I think that if you get beneath the surface, there are some important lessons to be learned. That lesson in my opinion is we got to reemphasize field. We don't need to get rid of television, but we need to reconceive of how we do it. We need to campaign 365 days a year. We've got to integrate all of our assets so that we're not so highly siloed. That's what I think the lessons are.

    Can there be decency in politics in the age of Trump?
    Ezra Klein
    I've been thinking a lot about a tweet Donald Trump sent on new year's morning. He said, “Happy New Year to all, including to my many enemies and those who have fought me and lost so badly they just don't know what to do. Love!”

    Before Trump was elected, before this whole election, when it was President Obama and it was Speaker Paul Ryan and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, we already at that moment would've said, "America is bitterly, deeply divided."

    We're divided by politics. We are talking a lot more recently about our divisions around race. This is already a powder keg of a time. Now you have a president coming in who is modeling a politics of petty viciousness in a way that I haven't actually seen, who as a strategy, wants to keep his opponents in a continuous state of distracted outrage. And it’s all happening on these social networks that really incentivize nasty behavior from us. Everyone I know is on Twitter. I think we are all worse people on Twitter than we are in real life.

    I recognize how much this makes me sound like an old man before my time, but I worry the incentives to really make politics a cruel and un-empathetic and angry and vengeful place are getting stronger, and that behavior is going to be modeled in a way that's going to make it feel very okay. To use a word people like using now, it's going to be normalized from the top. I'm wondering if you think about this, and if so, how you think about navigating through it.

    Keith Ellison
    Oh yeah. Let me tell you. I am worried about this because I know that there have been many times in American history when politics was particularly vitriolic. 1850s come to mind. See my point?

    Ezra Klein
    I do see your point. That doesn't make me feel better. Things went pretty bad.

    Keith Ellison
    Right. We have been in points of American history when Americans have been at each other pretty bad. It's been actually worse than now. I think the real thing is that leaders who keep the core principles of the nation in mind are particularly necessary in moments like this. I don't know if Henry Clay helped history or just delayed history, but he kept the states from having a war. He did it on the backs of some people, African Americans, but there's been a number of times in American history when we've had bitter conflict. In the 1930s, thank goodness, we had leaders like Roosevelt and, even more important than him, people like Frances Perkins. Franklin Roosevelt was bitterly attacked, by the way. It was nasty.

    I guess what I have to say is that the DNC has to appeal to people's better nature, has to talk to people around things that are actually going to improve their lives. The DNC has to understand that emotion drives choice and that if all we do is spit a bunch of facts at people, that they may not get it because emotion really does drive choices. Fear makes people reflect less, and it also makes them concede to authoritarian leadership more. The thing is, I'm running for DNC chair because I think this is a moment where real patriots have to consider the best interests of their nation. I think trying to heal our country is a duty of love, honestly.

    Ezra Klein
    What do you think you shouldn't do as DNC chair, then? What are going to be the hard decisions that need to be made in this era to heal?

    Keith Ellison
    How we heal all turns back to figuring out what's ailing us, right? I think the real cause of the pain that America is in is 40 years of the economy tilting dramatically against working people. The reason I think that's the problem is because I think what ends up happening is that then people at the top of the economy, like Donald Trump, who want to maintain privilege and hierarchy then appeal to Americans based on division in order to maintain power.

    I think in some ways, it is the inequality that helps fuel the negativity. To me, rebuilding the Democratic Party to get us back in the game, to get us winning some elections where we can really stand up for some policies that are more equitable, where we can really experience shared prosperity, will actually lessen some of the hyperbole and the toxic rhetoric.

    That's not a short-term project, though. I don't know if there's a magic wand to wave to get us from where we're at, because we've got a president who openly demonstrates contempt for the press, a First Amendment–protected institution. Openly says he's going to ban people based on their religion. He is openly proposing things that strike at our Constitution. I can't tell you we're going to be fine. People of integrity, your country needs you. That's for both sides of the aisle.

    The most important thing I think I can do at the DNC is not contribute to the toxicity, but at the same time not back down from a fight. I'm not going to name-call like him. I'm not going to name-call his supporters either, except for certain of them like the openly racist ones, like David Duke and people like that. The main body of their supporters don't subscribe to those beliefs. In fact, we're trying to help the main body of his supporters.

    Ezra Klein
    How do you think about understanding the folks on the other side from you? Who do you make a point of reading regularly whose ideas you don't agree with?

    Keith Ellison
    I read Dick Armey's book Give Us Liberty. I thought that was an interesting book because he describes the rise of the Tea Party. I try and read a mixture of people I agree with and people I don't necessarily agree with. I'm reading Terry McAuliffe's book What a Party. He used to be the DNC chair, so I'm reading his biography. I think that's interesting. There's a book called Strangers in Their Own Land that I just got through reading. It's about white working class. I read J.D. Vance's book Hillbilly Elegy, just got through that. Thought that was a great book.

    Ezra Klein
    What did you take away from Hillbilly Elegy?

    Keith Ellison
    That there are a whole lot of people who are differentiated primarily by race but who share the same economic circumstances all over the country. That there's a general misunderstanding as to why that is and what to do about it. I know J.D. Vance is probably a conservative, but the book he wrote, he makes me wonder why, because Social Security helped keep his family together. If we had a more robust housing policy that could've helped his mom, if we had more mental health resources and chemical help, that could've helped his family. He does add in personal responsibility as an issue, but even then, I think that government could help people maintain personal responsibility and help people. This was my take on it.

    Ezra Klein
    In his book, though, he expresses deep frustration with the decisions people made. He talked about working at a good, straightforward job with decent pay and watching co-workers simply not show up. So to this question of why is he a conservative, I think that part of his view is that you shouldn't be able to do that, that you shouldn't be rewarded for that, that there shouldn't be something that catches you too much if you just refuse to take the job. What did you think of that argument?

    Keith Ellison
    I thought he was using an individual to try to make an argument for a society. Honestly, I think most people do go to work. I think most people do work hard. Of course, you've got people who are irresponsible and don't take the opportunities that are given to them. Is that most people? Absolutely not.

    For example, in Florida, I think the governor said he was going to drug-test everybody on welfare. His wife apparently owned the company that offered the testing kits for these drug tests. Then after thousands and thousands and thousands of people were tested, they came up with three people who tested positive. Three. Not even a full handful of fingers. You'll spend more money looking for welfare fraud than you will find in money of welfare fraud.

    There's myths in our society, and we're ready to believe them because everybody wants to believe they're more moral, more right, more good than somebody else. What we have to do is say, "You know what? People really are good." Republicans start out with saying, "People are bad, and when people do bad things, that's just them being how they are."

    Ezra Klein
    Do you really think Republicans see it that way? If you ask Paul Ryan, do you think Paul Ryan would say he thinks people are fundamentally bad?

    Keith Ellison
    I don't know if Paul Ryan would say that or not. I can tell you Paul Ryan is very a mannered person and interpersonally is respectful to people who he encounters, whether they're Democrats or Republicans. What is his core? He says that he believes the writings of Ayn Rand. What does she believe? She believes that you got to look out for yourself, that charity is for suckers and the highest good is to please yourself. If he really believes what he says he believes, I would say, yeah. If I asked him, he may not put it that way.

    It’s expensive to be poor
    Ezra Klein
    I found out something I didn't know about you. You're a podcaster.

    Keith Ellison
    I am a podcaster. I'm on We the Podcast. You can get it on iTunes. We have many episodes, but the focal point of the podcast is how the people outside of the millionaire and billionaire class experience the economy. We've done stuff on the diaper need —

    Ezra Klein
    What is the diaper need?

    Keith Ellison
    The Women, Infants, and Children [nutrition program] and regular welfare programs tend not to cover diapers. A small family that has infant children, who's facing some tough times and needs some extra help, they can get food, and they may be able to get health care and housing assistance, but diapers, which can be very expensive, are not included in that benefit. As a result, now you have babies in diapers longer than they should be. You have rashes. You have illness. You have kids staying home. You have parents having to take off work.

    As a result, there have been folks who have pulled together diaper banks, but they can't meet the overall need. This is not just folks who stay at home all the time. These are working parents. Some of them are in school. They're the working poor. They're making eight bucks an hour. They're making 10 bucks an hour. On top of that, they got to afford diapers, which are pretty expensive. Middle-class people pay less for diapers because they can buy them in greater bulk.

    Ezra Klein
    That's one of the realizations I think you have when you start to study poverty, that it's very expensive to be poor. The loans you get cost more. The food you buy costs more, at least for the same item. There are a lot of ways if you have time and you have resources and you have market power that you're just able to get better deals in the economy. If you're poor and you don't have a lot of money, you get screwed on that level.

    Keith Ellison
    So true. We the Podcast explores that. We went into how housing prices in Milwaukee in the worst part of town are not appreciably lower than in other parts of town where housing quality is way better. In one episode, we talked to the author of the book Evicted, to talk about the high cost of rent nowadays, particularly in urban centers but also in rural areas.

    We've talked about manufactured housing, what some folks call trailers, and talk about this really promising new development where some folks are buying the property that they live on so that they can control it. Most trailer parks, you might own the trailer, but you don't own the land you live on. That can be pretty expensive and can be pretty low quality, and people can get trapped. We go into all that stuff.

    We also go into the voting gap. Leave aside who donates money, leave aside all that. Upper-income people vote in higher percentages than lower-income people. That is part of the reason why the electorate is a little more conservative than the population.

    Ezra Klein
    I want to hold there for a minute. I listened to a bunch of these episodes [and] the voting gap is a recurrent theme. You had a podcast about [Joe Soss’s research] showing that folks who are on programs like TANF, which people think of as welfare, don’t vote in higher numbers, which is what people might think.

    Instead, what he finds is that if you feel like the object of a government, if you're acted upon by the government through programs that humiliate you with drug testing and other things, you're more likely to withdraw from the system. And so part of creating participation, particularly among poorer Americans who rely on government services, is for those interactions with the government to be respectful in a way that they often are not. I'm curious what you took away from that around program design and about what that moment of interaction between the people the government serves and the programs they use feels like.

    Keith Ellison
    Absolutely. Americans of all economic strata benefit from some kind of a government program, but people have a tendency to associate tax cuts and deductions not with the government helping them, if you understand what I mean.

    Ezra Klein
    Right, so if you get the mortgage interest deduction, that’s money that's yours. You got it back; it’s not a government program helping you out.

    Keith Ellison
    That's exactly right. Even if you went to the EITC [earned income tax credit], a lot of people, one, don't take advantage of it, but even for the folks who do, there's just this idea that the government's not helping you. They're just giving you back your own money. The truth is that based on the tax code, that's actually the government's money that we're allowing you to keep.

    People don't think the government does much for them, although the government does a whole lot for them. The result is that anti-government rhetoric can come out of the same person who is the beneficiary of tremendous government largesse. That's part of what I think the Democratic Party has to do, is really help people understand how much the government really does help them. I think we could do a whole lot more in terms of public education on that score.

    Ellison’s favorite books
    Ezra Klein
    I asked you about books from people you don't agree with, but what are your three favorite books?

    Keith Ellison
    I think the book that probably impacted me the most is a book I read years and years and years ago. It's called Manchild in the Promised Land, by, I think, Claude Brown. I don't know if it's my favorite book, but it was one of the most impactful on me. The Autobiography of Malcolm X I think is just fundamental, irreplaceable. Everybody should read it. I think it's one of great American letters. I really love this book The Warmth of Other Suns. I've read it many times. It's about probably one of the world's great internal migrations. It talks about how people who had a lot of problems in the South being black under segregation did everything they could to improve the quality of their lives by moving North, by moving West, and outlined their struggles. Reading's one of the great joys of living, so you let me know how many more you want me to talk about.

    Ezra Klein
    As many more as you'd like. Why don't you give us one more and then I'll let you go, because I do know you're pressed on time.

    Keith Ellison
    There's one book that I would really, really, really recommend that everybody get their hands on, and that's Matthew Desmond's book Evicted. This is an important book about housing and the rental crisis we're in, which makes it particularly disturbing that Donald Trump has nominated Ben Carson to be head of HUD. If ever we needed an awesome HUD secretary, it's right now. What we got is somebody who doesn't know the first thing, and that's really sad.

    One of the points that Matthew Desmond makes in the book Evicted, he said, "Look, rent eats first. Rent eats before diapers. Rent eats before food." What gets paid first is rent, because people got to have somewhere to live. The rent gets paid first. I think even if you're conservative or if you're progressive, no matter who you are, if we really tried to attack poverty by going at housing first, we could do tremendous good in improving the lives of a whole lot of Americans.

    Also there's a book by Frank Luntz. I like reading his stuff. He's an interesting guy. I can't figure out which one to pick out now, but he's a conservative. Borrow his book at the library. I'm not trying to get anybody to buy his book. But particularly if you're progressive and you want to understand how conservatives think, it’s a good idea to read him.

    Ari Berman wrote a book recently, Give Us the Ballot. If you believe we're a representative democracy and the vote is essential to what it means to be in America, Ari Berman's book will be good reading. Those are some ones that I've read, and that I've read either in the beginning of my adult life or some that I've read even just more recently. Of course, I read trash too. I read all the books that Dan Brown wrote; I've read them all. I like them. They're fun.

    Leave a comment:

  • TopHatter
    We argue that people vote with their minds, not their genitals or skin color.
    Whaaaat? Nooo waaay! Are you serious?? Women aren't a monolithic bloc of voters? Nor minorities??

    Go on, get out of here, enough of that nonsense! Just keep doing what you're doing. Things'll be fine. You'll see.

    Leave a comment:

  • troung
    started a topic DNC Leadership

    DNC Leadership

    The DC bubble is strangling the DNC

    By Bryan Dean Wright, opinion contributor - 01/19/17 01:20 PM EST

    The DC bubble is strangling the DNC

    Greg Nash

    At the Democratic National Committee’s debate last night, there’s one word you didn’t hear.


    That’s how former Senator Harry Reid (D-NV) described the DNC, levying a blistering critique that echoes the frustration of many of my fellow Democrats: the party has been weighted down by D.C. elites who no longer represent working Americans.

    As the fight unfolds for the party’s new chair, the two leading candidates are facing headwinds.

    Rep. Keith Ellison (D-MN) believes that our 2016 loss was largely the result of Secretary Clinton’s poorly run campaign. Ellison argues that we just need to better organize our base of women, minorities, and urbanites to win again.

    This embrace of identity politics is part of the reason that many of us believe we’re in this electoral mess. We argue that people vote with their minds, not their genitals or skin color.

    The other major candidate – Labor Secretary Tom Perez – is a well-known lawyer and long time D.C. operator who was assessed as President Obama’s most liberal cabinet member. That makes it hard for us to appeal to moderates. He was also a staunch supporter of Clinton, which raised legal concerns during the fall.
    That leaves a handful of other party faithful to consider, along with dark horse candidates like Indiana Mayor Pete Buttigieg.

    As electors sort through their options, they will be eying leaders that propose paths to victory in all 50 states. After all, the party used to be competitive in rural and urban districts alike.

    And in some places, it still is. Just ask a small town bartender in rural Washington State.

    In early 2016, the colorfully nicknamed Democrat Skate Pierce – a local barkeep – won an election for city council in eastern Washington. This is quite an accomplishment: Skate won in a Republican town. In a Republican county. And in a Republican congressional district.

    Skate’s path to victory is illuminating. When he settled in his hometown of Clarkston, he saw that things had gone awry. The city council lacked civility; people were often told to “shut up” during public meetings. The town’s infrastructure was crumbling and uninviting. Finally, citizens voted to legalize marijuana but city hall refused to honor the results.

    They ignored the will of the people.

    At his pub, Skate shared these frustrations with customers – Republicans and Democrats alike. They agreed with him. In short order, Skate was running for office. No one from the national or state party came to his aid. Instead, he relied on friends for election advice and money.

    Skate ran a traditional campaign, putting up yard signs and knocking on doors. He managed to win over the “old retired guys” who came in for coffee each day.

    He also reached out the town’s Republican Party chairman to ask for his support. The result? He got it.


    Skate spoke of the importance of small businesses. He advocated for limited city government that promoted the town’s rural roots. And he offered pragmatic solutions, like flexible city ordinances on property use. (Beekeeping and chicken coops are allowed. No roosters though. Much too loud.)

    In short, the community saw Skate as a hard working, common sense citizen.

    On election night, something wonderful happened: conservative voters in rural Washington booted out three Republicans and installed three Democrats in their place. That included bartender Skate Pierce.

    When I asked Councilman Pierce about whether elected Democrats in D.C. could replicate his success nationally, he was doubtful. “I don't really trust them. They seem driven by ideology. And they’re ineffective.”

    He paused, adding, “They’re also smug. It's as if you're some kind of idiot if you don't share their opinions.”

    I asked him what he thought of the DNC. “It's all lawyers and political science majors… I'm pretty sure the past chairwoman – Debbie Wasserman-Shultz – has a master’s degree in political campaigning.” (He is correct.)

    So how can the party move forward if it’s so broken?

    Skate argued that the next DNC chair should focus on recruiting and training pragmatic candidates with real world experience. “A true citizen government,” Skate offered. “Teachers, doctors, professors, small business owners and blue-collar workers.”

    In other words, he wants to drain the swamp of D.C. elites. “Public service shouldn’t be a lucrative career.”

    Second, he agreed that our message to the American people should echo the 10 core principles that make up Our American Oath. One addition, though: he emphasized the need for common sense immigration reform and border security.

    What about those D.C. elites? Skate didn’t mince words. “Get out of the way.”

    And if they don’t? The Councilman said there would be one path left: party revolt. He sees a coalition of odd bedfellows like Bernie Sanders

    Democrats, Libertarians, Independents, and curious Trump supporters eager for change.

    In other words, a revolution based on compromise and broad American values.

    As luck would have it, revolutionary ideas have a proud history in American pubs like Skate’s. Consider Tun Tavern: it hosted George Washington and the Continental Congress, and served as the birthplace of the U.S. Marine Corps.

    If Democrats were smart, our next DNC chair would visit Clarkston and meet with folks like Skate. Over a pint of beer and some straight talk, the party just might avoid a messy revolt – and make Democrats great again.

    Bryan Dean Wright is a former covert CIA ops officer and member of the Democratic Party. Follow him on Twitter @BryanDeanWright.

    The views expressed by Contributors are their own and are not the views of The Hill.
    Last edited by TopHatter; 19 Jan 17,, 22:11.