Category Archives: Politics

Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders are both terrible candidates, but they don’t have to be. Here’s what they should do to beat Donald Trump.

With Elizabeth Warren’s departure from the Democratic primary, it is officially a two-man race for the nomination. A two old, crotchety man race. Yes, Tulsi Gabbard is still in, but unless she pulls the biggest political upset in American history either Joe Biden or Bernie Sanders will be the party’s nominee.

I don’t think either can defeat Donald Trump. I made the case against Joe Biden in January, and last month I wrote why Bernie Sanders is his own worst enemy. We are where we are, though, and while I don’t think either man can win in November, I don’t know they can’t. If they have any hope of doing it, though, both Biden and Sanders will need to do a few things that neither is comfortable with.

Let’s start with the morbid truth. If elected, Joe Biden will be 78 years old while Bernie Sanders will be 79 years old, meaning either will become the first octogenarian president during his first term. While I don’t think age disqualifies anyone from the presidency (assuming they’re over 35, as the Constitution requires), I do think that even beyond health it raises some problems.

It’s a truism that Democrats win with young, energetic candidates who inspire hope and promise change. While both Biden and Sanders are energetic, neither is young. Bernie promises change, but I don’t think he really inspires hope. Biden provides neither. This, coupled with their advanced age, means the choice of running mate is going to matter.

Of the two, it matters most to Biden. I have long lamented the fact that Democratic leadership doesn’t know when to let go of the reins of power. In 2017 I wrote an article for the Independent lamenting this fact in the race for DNC chair, pointing to two promising young candidates who were denied the chance to lead: activist Jehmu Greene and then-Mayor Pete Buttigieg. Nothing has changed since then, and Biden’s ascendency shows it isn’t going to change anytime soon.

Biden also lacks any sort of enthusiasm around his candidacy. I’ve yet to meet one excited Biden supporter. They might like his experience or trust him because of his association with Obama and decades spent in the House and Senate, but he hardly energizes the public. His policies are not bold and he himself—despite a compelling personal narrative no one can take from him—is bland in comparison to the diverse field of candidates we had.

So what can Joe Biden do to electrify his campaign? Biden needs someone to bring the “it” factor to his campaign, a “game changer” like Sarah Palin was meant to be for John McCain but who also isn’t dumb as a box of rocks. My preference is Pete Buttigieg, but there are plenty of young, progressive Democrats who are qualified to be Joe Biden’s Vice President—including plenty of women of color. Stacey Abrams and Kamala Harris are the most mentioned, but there are others and Joe Biden should pick one of them.

Then, and this is the part that makes this a game changing moment, he should pledge to serve on term. Look, no matter how you cut it, Joe Biden is old. Those close to the former Vice President are already whispering that it is inconceivable an 81-year-old Biden would campaign for reelection. He’d be 87 by the end of his second term.

If Joe Biden selected a young running mate and then appointed a young, fresh cabinet, he could be viewed as a transition figure, someone from the old guard who finally ushered in a new era of Democratic leadership. He could also provide a stark alternative to Donald Trump, showing that his campaign is about the future of America, not just a return to the status quo of the pre-Trump years. Most importantly, though, he could make his candidacy exciting, which is the last thing it is right now.

Bernie Sanders, on the other hand, doesn’t have a problem with excitement. He promises radical changes from Medicare for All to free tuition at public colleges. Boldness has never been an issue for him. What he does have a problem with, though, is growing his share of the vote. Super Tuesday saw Sanders underperform, losing states he won in 2016 and coming second to Joe Biden in delegates won. Sanders’ supporters are true believers, and he can galvanize an audience better than any politician on the left, assuming they’re already converted to his cause.

It’s almost the inverse of the problem Biden has, really. Sanders’ problem is that he and his supporters are too fervent. They ostracize anyone who doesn’t agree with them 100%. They ridicule, demean, and insult opponents and even those who agree with their policies but just aren’t convinced Sanders can deliver them. They are, to put it bluntly, mean. They’re just mean. I can already imagine a Sanders supporter tweeting at me “’oh someone tweeted a rat emoji at you and was mean to you online so poor people should all die because of it.’” Rhetoric like that is Bernie Sanders’ biggest problem.

Voters want change, and Sanders offers it. The problem is they don’t want bullying and they certainly don’t want revolution—especially a socialist revolution. They just want their lives to get better. Sanders’ policies are fairly milquetoast compared to proper socialism and he is right to point out that universal healthcare is not a controversial stance in most of the Western world. He should keep pointing this out, because I think it’s an effective strategy. What he needs to stop is his relentless attacks on the dreaded “establishment”—who they are Sanders has never made clear—and tone down his bluster.

Passion is good, but there’s a thin line between zeal and fervor. Sanders needs to show he’s a capable, rational, safe pair of hands in which to place the country. If I could say anything to Bernie Sanders, it would be “stop shouting.” Stop waving your arms around. Stop with the class warfare rhetoric, because even though I completely agree with you, it’s a turn off to most voters who still wrongly believe America lives in a classless society.

Instead, explain why your policies would make life better for those living in Kenosha, or in the towns of the Pennsylvania Main Line, or in Little Havana. Explain why they’re not actually that radical at all. Do it evenly and thoughtfully. Essentially, calm down, Bernie.

“But this is a class war! But we should be irate!” I can already see the tweets coming in. That’s the other problem Bernie has. His supporters are his worst enemy. He needs to get a hold on them. After four years of Donald Trump, swing voters do not want more of the same vitriol, anger, and rancor just with leftwing politics. You’re not helping your cause. Take a breath. Is it really worth tweeting that snake emoji at the heartbroken Warren supporter? Do you really need to tell the disaffected Buttigieg voter that he’s literally killing people because he’s now supporting Biden? Even if you truly feel that way, is that the best way to dialogue with people? No. You immediately turn them off. The old adage is true—you catch more flies with hunger than vinegar, and right now Sanders supporters are nothing but piss and vinegar.

For Bernie to attract more voters, he’s going to have to tone it down and lasso his self-righteous supporters who think being mean to people online is justified in the name of the class war. It’s not, but even if it was, it’s a terrible strategy for winning an election. People want positivity, not to be told they’re part of the “establishment” because they voted for the other guy.

I hope both candidates’ advisors recognize this, because right now both are incredibly weak nominees at a time when we need the strongest possible candidate. If Biden and Sanders can do these things, they might stand a chance at beating Donald Trump. That’s what matters.

Skylar Baker-Jordan is a freelance writer based in Tennessee. His work has appeared at the Independent, Huff Post UK, Salon, and elsewhere. Follow him on Twitter @skylarjordan and become a sustainer at www.patreon.com/skylarjordan

I was a Pete Buttigieg supporter. Now I’m not voting.

It still hurts. I thought if I slept on it I might feel better, but I don’t. Hell, I barely slept last night, tossing and turning until 3:00 in the morning. For those of us who supported Pete Buttigieg, who last night suspended his campaign and will no longer seek the Democratic nomination, today is just really fucking hard. It’s never easy to lose, and when you doorstep, phone bank, and throw yourself into a campaign with gusto it’s always difficult to concede defeat. It really is akin to the stages of grief.

Yet like vultures, other campaigns are already circling, trying to pick off Mayor Pete’s supporters before the body is even cold. His departure does naturally raise the question of where we on #TeamPete will end up. The conventional wisdom is we are natural Biden voters now. I think that is incredibly shortsighted and misses what it was about Pete that appealed to many of his most ardent supporters – he was young, progressive, and promised to lead us into the future, not return us to the politics of the past. Don’t count out Bernie Sanders or even Elizabeth Warren receiving a fair share of migrants from Team Pete.

Tomorrow is Super Tuesday, when my state (Tennessee) is scheduled to vote, meaning I and countless other supporters of Mayor Pete have a very short amount of time to decide where to go. For me, though, the answer is obvious: nowhere. I will not vote in this primary, unless it is for Pete Buttigieg.

Before I go any further, let me head off accusations that I am throwing a temper tantrum, taking my ball home because I lost, enabling Trump, yada yada yada. I have pledged to “vote blue, no matter who,” and I stand by that. I’m aware of the realities of the situation, and crucially, I am not a fascist. I won’t let my own grievances prevent me from doing what is best for the country. Anyone—my 10-year-old nephew, Snooki from Jersey Shore, a plague of locusts—would make a better president than Donald Trump. I am entirely committed to voting for whoever the Democratic nominee is in November. However, I will not have a say in who that nominee is.

The truth is I have been preparing for this eventuality for a while. I’m no political neophyte, and the writing on the wall was evident; I’ve known in my gut for weeks now that Mayor Pete would not be the nominee, at least not this time. There are lot of reasons for that, some of them entirely fair and some of them infuriatingly not fair. Still, I saw what was coming and considered my options. I didn’t like what I found.

I don’t think any of these candidates deserve my vote. Let’s look at why:

  • Joe Biden is a walking gaffe. As I wrote in January for The Independent, I think he should have dropped out long ago because this Burisma/Ukraine scandal—though undoubtedly bullshit concocted by the right to smear him—is an albatross around his neck. But it’s not just that. His treatment of Anita Hill during the Clarence Thomas hearings, his weird habit of smelling women’s hair, and his age (if elected, he’ll be our first octogenarian president) all concern me. The truth is, I think a Biden nomination is a disaster waiting to happen. This is his third bid for the nomination, and the third time might be the charm. Frankly, I don’t think he should have even run, though I accept it is not my place to tell anyone whether they should or shouldn’t run. But if I’m looking for the strongest nominee to go up against Donald Trump, Biden isn’t it.
  • Bernie Sanders is the Donald Trump of the left. There, I said it. In another article for The Independent, I lamented the fact that Bernie and his supporters seem to be hellbent on making every last mistake Jeremy Corbyn made as Labour leader. Last night, while all the other candidates were congratulating Pete on a race well ran and noting the historic nature of his candidacy, Bernie was trying to woo his supporters. Hard pass. I am not about to join a campaign whose supporters have spent the last several months harassing and attacking me, other Pete supporters, and Pete himself online. It’s not happening. Bernie Sanders and his supporters are toxifying American public discourse the same way the Red Hats are. What’s more is they think they are entirely justified in doing so in the name of class war, a bunch of middle-class kids who think they’re radical by supporting what are at best soft-left policies. Bernie isn’t going to bring the revolution even if he wins, because he isn’t a revolutionary, he’s a shouty old man who has enabled the most vile and vitriolic trolls. A Bernie Sanders nomination will be a disaster for the party, but by all means carry on with your ideological purity tests. I will have no part of it.
  • Elizabeth Warren is a liar. She lied about being Native American. She lied about Pete changing his policies to suit his donors. She made a mountain out of a wine cave. She has blasted big money in politics yet rolled over big money donations from her Senate campaign to her presidential campaign and just recently took money from a Super PAC. It’s upsetting, because before this election I really liked Elizabeth Warren, and for a long time she was my second choice. Not now. It doesn’t really matter, though, because right now this race looks like it’s going to be between Sanders and Biden, so she’s a non-entity. I do want to say, though, that in my experience her volunteers are very nice.
  • Amy Klobuchar is an abusive jerk. I never gave credence to those reports that Amy Klobuchar abused her staff until I saw her condescending, smug attitude towards Pete Buttigieg on the debate stage. “I wish everyone was as perfect as you, Pete.” So do I Amy, so do I. Honestly, her disdain for Pete was palpable, and it was a massive turnoff to me as a voter. It also rang as homophobic to me and many other gay men who are all-too-familiar with self-righteous people like her patronizing us. Like Warren, she’s also a non-entity if this race is how it looks right now, which is a two-way contest between Biden and Sanders.
  • Mike Bloomberg is a Republican. I mean, that’s it. He’s done a lot of good on gun violence, but I don’t trust Mike Bloomberg to govern as a progressive. I don’t like that he’s poured millions of his own money into ad buys while eschewing campaigning in Iowa, New Hampshire, and South Carolina. I don’t think he would be a marked improvement on the Trump years. I don’t think he can win. That he’s still in the race when Pete Buttigieg isn’t is a damning indictment of the role money can play in American politics.
  • Tulsi Gabbard is an authoritarian sympathizer. From Narendra Modi to Bashar al-Assad in Syria to Donald Trump in America, Gabbard loves herself an authoritarian leader. Her views on foreign policy are enough to disqualify her from receiving my vote, but her record on gay rights is also questionable enough to raise red flags.

Pete Buttigieg is the only candidate who articulated a message of hope, of unity, and of moving the country forward. He’s the only candidate in this field I could enthusiastically vote for, and he is the only candidate I think could beat Donald Trump. I am utterly unimpressed with my remaining options and cannot in good faith say any of these people deserve to be the Democratic nominee. Therefore, for the first time in my life, I will not be voting in the Democratic primary. May the biggest asshole win.

Skylar Baker-Jordan is a freelance writer based in Tennessee. His work has appeared at the Independent, Huff Post UK, Salon, and elsewhere. Follow him on Twitter @skylarjordan and become a sustainer at www.patreon.com/skylarjordan

Requiem for Pete Buttigieg

“Being open about my sexual orientation at school – and the hell that goes along with it – is not only the right thing to do, but the only thing to do.” I wrote those words in my diary in 2003. I was running for student body president as the only openly gay student in my sleepy little town in the mountains of Eastern Kentucky. I had come out my sophomore year, and the daily crucible of homophobic slurs and threats of violence I experienced taught me that victory was a longshot.

I ran anyway.

17 years later, Pete Buttigieg didn’t become the first openly gay president. Tonight, following a blistering defeat in South Carolina, the former mayor of South Bend, Indiana suspended his campaign for the Democratic nomination. As an ardent supporter of Mayor Pete, and as a gay man, I am heartbroken—as are millions of others like me, gay and straight, who felt inspired by his candidacy.

I mourn for what we were denied. The sight of an openly gay man, his husband holding the Bible, take the oath of office. White House Christmas cards with a smiling, happy same-sex couple (and possibly their children; the Buttigiegs are young enough to start a family). The inspiring rhetoric and cool-as-a-cucumber disposition which made him feel to millions of people the ablest and best hands in which to place the country. I lament the fact that thousands of volunteers and grassroots supporters around the country are feeling as heartbroken as I am, disappointed and forlorn and unsure of what to do now that the man we all believed should be president won’t be.

Yet I am heartened by what we have accomplished. Growing up, the only political role models I had were Barney Frank, a surly and stalwart old Democrat who has written eloquently about his own struggles coming out, and Harvey Milk, who was shot. That was it. At the time I mounted my campaign for student body president, no state had legalized gay marriage. Another entry in my diary from that autumn screams that “gay marriage band struck down by a court in Massachusetts!” It was a watershed moment, one that inspired a 17-year-old gay boy to keep his chin up, that it might get better.

Watching Mayor Pete speak tonight felt a lot like that. “We send a message to every kid wondering if whatever marks them as different, means they are somehow destined to be less than—to see that someone who once felt that exact same way, become a leading American presidential candidate with his husband at his side,” he said. I thought of all the 17-year-old gay kids watching him as he spoke, as he kissed his husband in front of a row of American flags draped along a stage, a loving same-sex couple who could have been our first same-sex first couple.

They would see there on that stage a middle-class, middle-American gay man who dared to dream bigger than anyone thought he had a right to dream. No one can say Americans won’t vote for a gay man for president; Pete Buttigieg, a gay man, won the Iowa caucus. He outperformed senators and governors and in three states a former vice president. He had the audacity to think America was ready for an openly gay president his husband, the first gentleman, and America proved that even if it isn’t there yet, it’s further along than many of us imagined.

At the risk of being premature—he’s not even 40, and his future is bright—this is the legacy of Pete Buttigieg. Someone always has to go first, and for gay Americans, now someone has. If voters ever had any doubt that a gay candidate could be as articulate, as unifying, as electable as a straight candidate, Mayor Pete proved them wrong. Much like Shirley Chisolm’s historic 1972 run blazed a trail for women and people of colour, Mayor Pete has laid a path for future candidates to follow. It doesn’t mean it will be easy, or it will happen in 2024 (as some supporters chanted as Mayor Pete spoke) but a precedent has been set, an apprehension calmed, a fear assuaged. It’s no longer a question of if a gay man can be elected president, but rather when.

I lost my bid for student body president in 2003. Years later, I got a message from one of my high school teachers. “You made this school a better and more accepting place,” she said. “What you did mattered.” It was one of the most touching messages I have ever received, to know that in my own small way, I changed at least a little part of the world.

I hope Pete Buttigieg feels that way tonight. He should be proud of what he has accomplished. I know I am. His campaign may have ended, but his story has only just begun. Watching it unfold, I have never been prouder to be a gay American.

Skylar Baker-Jordan is a freelance writer based in Tennessee. His work has appeared at the Independent, Huff Post UK, Salon, and elsewhere. Follow him on Twitter @skylarjordan and become a sustainer at www.patreon.com/skylarjordan

 

It’s time to sling some mud at Bernie Sanders

It’s no secret that Bernie Sanders is a democratic socialist. He wears the red rosette proudly. I like that about him—in fact, his policies might be the only thing I like about him. We are, broadly, in agreement on taxing the wealthy, healthcare that is free at the point of access, and universal Pre-K and free tuition at public universities. The problem, as I’ve pointed out before, is that most Americans are not. A Bernie Sanders nomination would be disastrous for Democrats in November.

We got a taste of what’s to come last night. In a 60 Minutes interview with Anderson Cooper, Sanders was unable to answer how he would pay for his expensive programs. As if that wasn’t bad enough, after Cooper showed a clip from the 1980s of Sanders speaking glowingly of the Soviet Union, the Sandinistas, and the Cuban Revolution. In explaining the clip, Sanders did—to his credit—say he condemns the authoritarian nature of the Cuban regime, only to then praise Fidel Castro for the literacy program the deceased Cuban dictator implemented “when he took office”—totally ignoring the fact that Castro didn’t “take office,” but violently stormed his way to power.

Not having fully costed your policy proposals is not going to fly with the electorate. Praising Fidel Castro will go down like a lead balloon, especially in Florida. This is just one clip, too. Sanders has been a public figure for nearly 40 years.

What else is out there? Democratic candidates ought to be looking to find out. If I were the Buttigieg or the Warren campaign, I would have staffers trawling through everything Bernie Sanders has ever said. Pour over his back catalogue and play the greatest hits on repeat. Show Democratic voters exactly who he is.

If this sounds like mudslinging, that’s because it is. I don’t deny it. It’s absolutely politics at its lowest. But have we forgotten who we’re going up against in November? Donald Trump is the most unscrupulous man to hold the White House in living memory—tenfold dirtier than Tricky Dick Nixon ever dared to be. Anyone who doesn’t think that these clips won’t be found and packaged into brutally effective attack ads playing at least once an hour in living rooms across the country is kidding themselves.

The Sanders campaign itself ought to be combing through Bernie’s record and every public utterance in anticipation of these attacks—possibly in the primary, but certainly in the general. And Bernie Sanders needs to get better at answering them. I don’t care if Fidel Castro had a great literacy program or not, you don’t stay that he did. Some things are third rails in American politics, and praise for a Cuban dictator is one of them.

The problem is that Bernie doesn’t want to play the game. He doesn’t know how, nor does he care to learn. I hate to keep bleating on about Jeremy Corbyn, but he was much the same. He blamed the media for taking his crystal clear words out of context and seemed annoyed at being asked about previous comments, as though a journalist doing her or his job was a nuisance. It didn’t work, but Corbyn didn’t care. A disdain for the system was a feature, not a bug, to him and his supporters.

When you’re as self-righteous as Jeremy Corbyn and Bernie Sanders, your correctness is self-evident and so being asked to explain it is a nuisance. That was on full display last night. It’s further complicating the problem; it’s bad enough these clips exist, but the inability to understand why they’re a problem and unwillingness to attempt to control the damage only serves to maximize the inevitable damage they will do.

Part of a rigorous primary contest is to vet the eventual nominee. So far, this hasn’t happened—at least not to Bernie Sanders. Most of the candidates have kept personal attacks to a minimum, but as last week’s debate in Nevada showed, the gloves are coming off. The problem is that while Buttigieg and Klobuchar and Warren are no longer pulling any punches, they’re all punching one another and not Bernie Sanders. Going after Mike Bloomberg, like Warren did, is all well and good, but Bernie is the most likely nominee at this point and so it’s time to start seriously looking at not only what he’s done (or hasn’t done), but what he’s said.

Obviously no Democrat wants to damage the eventual nominee, whoever she or he may turn out to be. That’s why we haven’t seen a more heated and contentious primary. It’s a double-edged sword, I admit. On the one hand, you don’t want to give the Republicans ammunition in the general election. On the other hand, you want to make sure Democratic voters know what ammunition there is so that they can decide whether the man who is most likely to be our party’s nominee is able to withstand it.

As the chances of a Sanders nomination continue to grow—and make no mistake, he’s the frontrunner right now—we will have to continue to square this circle. How much do we show our own hand in hopes of stopping a man who, right now, at least feels unstoppable? How much do we damage our own nominee in trying to stop him from becoming our nominee?

Skylar Baker-Jordan is a freelance writer based in Tennessee. His work has appeared at the Independent, Huff Post UK, Salon, and elsewhere. Follow him on Twitter @skylarjordan and become a sustainer at www.patreon.com/skylarjordan

Responding to #QueersAgainstPete and their baseless attacks on Pete Buttigieg

A new group, “Queers Against Pete,” has popped up in the Twittersphere. They have a website (which you can check out at www.queersagainstpete.com) and an open letter which you can sign, if you wish. However, before you do that, I’d like to offer my line by line rebuttal. There are some serious errors, omissions, and misrepresentations here which are worth considering. Please note that for the purposes of this blog I have used the letterwriter’s own acronym “LGBTQIA” to refer to our community.

Open Letter

Dear fellow members of the LGBTQIA community,

Hello, letter writer!

This election cycle we will be presented with plenty of options. Up and down the ballot, candidate’s stances will impact us, our families and communities. If we’ve learned anything from our ancestors and transcestors, it’s that we must speak out…and act up. This primary election is one such example.

Transcestors? Never heard that. Clever word play.

There has been much talk about identity and diversity in the race to win the Democratic party nomination for president. Some have touted former South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg’s openly gay identity as proof of progress in our politics. However, being gay is not enough to earn the support of LGBTQIA communities.

I agree that being gay is not enough to earn the support of the LGBTQIA community. I wouldn’t vote for a gay Republican because their politics do not match mine. There is no reason why anyone in the LGBTQIA community or any community should feel compelled to support Pete Buttigieg just because he is gay.

However, Mayor Pete is proof of progress in our politics – or at least in our society. His candidacy was unimaginable even 10 years ago. Keep in mind it was only 12 years ago that America elected its first Black president. Keep in mind it was only 5 years ago that marriage equality – which I’m sure you have radical arguments against, but stay with me – was legalized across the nation. I came out in 2001 (you can read about that here), and the world was very different. We’ve come a long way in a relatively short period of time, and that is worth acknowledging at the very least.

We cannot in good conscience allow Mayor Pete to become the nominee without demanding that he address the needs and concerns of the broader Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer, Intersex, and Asexual (LGBTQIA) communities. While many see different issues in silos, we are clear that LGBTQIA people are directly and disproportionately impacted by police violence, incarceration, unaffordable healthcare, homelessness, deportation, and economic inequality among other things.

This is where it would be nice if you offered evidence that LGBTQIA people “are directly and disproportionately impacted by police violence, incarceration, unaffordable healthcare, homelessness, deportation, and economic inequality.” Maybe we are. But citing statistics and sources is important when making a claim. Because, for example, if a Black gay man is shot dead by the police in an extrajudicial execution—as happens far too frequently in our nation—I would argue that more often than not it’s because he is Black and not gay.

I will, however, concede the point that LGBTQIA people care about more than what we often refer to as “LGBT rights.” I respect the desire to point this out, because too often the media portrays “identity voters” as only caring about a narrow set of issues when that is simply not the case.

Mayor Pete is leaning on the support and actively courting the LGBTQIA community, but has shown time and time again that he is out of touch, not fit to be President of the United States, and simply falls short.

I actually haven’t seen Mayor Pete “leaning on the support and actively courting the LGBTQIA community” anymore than any other candidate (and less so than Elizabeth Warren), though I’m not sure why you present that as a bad thing. Candidates should be trying to win over LGBTQIA voters.

  • Mayor Pete opposes free universal free public college and does not support cancelling student loan debt;

    This is true, and when I endorsed Mayor Pete, I noted it as one of the principle policies on which we disagree. But here’s what Mayor Pete’s plan does do: it makes public universities free to families making up to $100,000 a year and adds $120 billion to the Pell Grants funds (which is an excellent fund and put me through college). 80% of American families will be eligible for free tuition.

    Pete’s logic is that the richest among us should be expected to pay their fair share. Pete’s plan is not, as you imply, a plan which is built out of selfishness or callousness, but a radical reshaping of American higher education. It opens a door for millions of Americans to get a degree who previously would have been prevented because of the skyrocketing cost of college tuition.

    As for student loans, Pete has pledged to cancel student loan debt for students who attend predatory for-profit schools. He has laid out an income-based repayment plan for people struggling with student loan debt – and the loans will be cancelled after 20 years in the plan. He will end wage garnishments for low-income workers, and offer student loan forgiveness to public servants after 10 years of employment in the public sector.

    These progressive plans do more than we’ve ever done to help students and those with student loan debt. They’re also more palatable to American voters, the majority of whom oppose free college and paying for loan forgiveness with a new tax. It’s important to move the country forward, but we must also meet voters where they are.

  • Mayor Pete has no plan to restore the right to vote for all formerly and currently incarcerated people, create an alternative to police, or end cash bail;

    Let’s take a look at Pete’s plan. “Pete will abolish private federal prisons and reduce the use of private contractors, eliminate the for-profit bail industry, and work with states to cap the amount of revenue cities and counties receive from fines and fees.”  He also wants to eliminate mandatory sentencing and look at sentencing caps, eliminate incarceration for drug possession, legalize marijuana and expunge past convictions. He wants to equalize funding between federal prosecutors and federal public defenders – ensuring a robust and top-notch defense for the accused. He supports a constitutional amendment to ban the death penalty. Pete does support restoring voting rights to felons released from prison, but he does not support allowing those currently incarcerated to vote – an uncontroversial opinion with which 69% of Americans agree.

  • Mayor Pete has not addressed the concerns related to Eric Logan, a Black South Bend resident who was shot and killed by a white police officer. Furthermore, while in office, Mayor Pete refused to release the police tapes relating to the demotion of Darryl Boykins, the first Black person to serve as police chief. We echo the demands of Black Lives Matter – South Bend to create a Citizens Review Board and for the release of the tapes;

    It would be helpful here if you explained what specific concerns related to the police killing of Eric Logan you want Mayor Pete to address. Your vague wording strikes me as intentional – you want to score political points using a dead Black man but you do not actually have any grievances specific to this case. “The disconnect between the Black community and the municipality under several administrations has been a festering problem in the greater South Bend area for more than 50 years,” KaRon Kirkland, a 62-year-old lifelong South Bend resident told NBC last year. “It didn’t start with Pete.” For more on what Mayor Pete did for Black South Benders, Buzzfeed produced this detailed and thoughtful reporting in December.

    As for Darryl Boykins, I’m going to let Pete tell you what happened in his own words, as he goes into the details of the Boykins case in his memoir Shortest Way Home. I’ve quoted at length here, but I encourage you to stick with it, as it is one of the most misunderstood and misreported aspects of his mayoralty.

    “…after interviewing [Boykins] and two competitors for the job, I decided during the transition phase that I would reappoint him,” Pete writes. Boykins—who apparently was paranoid that “some other officers” were gunning for his job (despite the fact that Mayor Pete had decided to keep him on)—

    “allegedly confronted them with tape recordings that could embarrass them if disclosed. He had access to these tapes because some phone lines in the department were connected to recording equipment used for interviews and investigations, and the officers had been recorded on that equipment without their knowledge. As court filings would later document, the chief threatened to take action against at least one officer he had come to consider disloyal. Perhaps the chief didn’t realize that I was already leaning toward reappointing him; or perhaps it just seemed like an insurance policy.

    Enter the Federal Wiretap Act—a set of very strict federal laws about recording other people without their knowledge. In fact, making such recordings or disclosing their content can be a felony, punishable by prison time as well as fines. There are state laws, too, against recording a conversation without the knowledge of either party, absent a warrant or other legal clearance. The recorded officers knew it, and complained to federal authorities, who took the issue seriously. So that’s how it came to be that, a few weeks into the job of mayor, I learned that my newly reappointed police chief was being investigated by the FBI. Eventually a message came through, thinly veiled but quite clear, from federal prosecutors: the people responsible for the covert recordings needed to go, or charges might be filed……I sat at the end of the conference table in my office and contemplated which scenario was more likely to tear the community apart—a  well-liked African-American police chief potentially being indicted over compliance with a very technical federal law, or me removing him for allowing things to reach this point? There was no good option: the community would erupt either way.”

    Buttigieg then called Boykins, asking him to voluntarily step down. (Pete admits this was a mistake—he should have done it in person, and he learned that lesson.) Boykins agreed, and the community was predictably outraged. The next day, Boykins changed his mind and withdrew his resignation. Pete, however, felt he had no choice. “Even leaving aside that I believed removing him was the best way to avoid him facing potential legal action, I had lost confidence in the leadership of a chief who had not come to me the moment he realized he was the target of an FBI investigation.” Pete didn’t fire him—only the Board of Public Safety can fire an officer—he demoted him.It was only after this that local press began reporting that the officers who had been recorded had allegedly used racist language to insult Boykins. “The content of the tapes had not come up when I was talking with staff or with the chief about the issue,” Pete writes, adding that he was immediately concerned about the “credibility and legitimacy” of the South Bend Police Department. “…[S]ince so many of the worst race-based abuses in modern American history happened at the hands of law enforcement, policing was the most sensitive part of the entire administration when it came to demonstrating that we acted without bias.”

    The crux of the issue is that Mayor Pete had and has no way of knowing what is on those tapes. The recordings were made illegally. “Under the Federal Wiretap Act,” he explains, “this meant that it could be a felony not just to make the recordings, but to reproduce or disclose them. Like everyone else in the community I wanted to know what was on those recordings. But it was potentially illegal for me to find out, and it was not clear I could even ask, without fear of legal repercussions.” Mayor Pete still has not heard the recordings and doesn’t know if he or the public ever will—not because of some coverup, but because of federal law.

    Mayor Pete learned a lot from the Boykins incident. “The most important lessons of this painful episode were… about the deeply fraught relationship between law enforcement and communities of color,” he writes. “Ferguson and everything that followed in the Black Lives Matter movement came after the tapes controversy exploded locally, but their urgency grew from the same root: the fact that many of the worst historical injustices visited upon [B]lack citizens of our country came at the hands of local law enforcement.”

  • Mayor Pete has not said if he would support a moratorium to end deportations or that he would decriminalize border crossing;

    Mayor Pete has committed to supporting a pathway to citizenship for the 11 million undocumented immigrants living in the United States, including a push for legislation on the issue within his first 100 days in office. He wants to reduce barriers to healthcare and education for undocumented immigrants and protect undocumented workers from retaliation when reporting labor violations. He plans to increase the number of visas issued for family reunification will fight for reforms to reclassify spouses and children as immediate relatives and recognizing same-sex partners from countries lacking marriage equality in order to allow an immigrant to sponsor their same-sex partner.

    While it is true that he has not said if he would support a moratorium to end deportations or if he would decriminalize border crossings, what you are talking about is essentially an open border. I support open borders (not just in America, but globally). Most Americans do not, and it is a cudgel with which Trump will bludgeon any candidate who does support open borders. That doesn’t mean Pete’s immigration plan isn’t progressive.

  • Mayor Pete opposes complete Medicare for All and universal childcare;

    It’s telling that you had to add the word “complete” before “Medicare for All,” because you know to do otherwise would misrepresent Pete’s policy. “Medicare for All Who Want It” would automatically enroll the uninsured and be the greatest expansion of American healthcare in history. Only 13% of Americans support “Medicare for All” as proposed by Bernie Sanders – while a majority of Americans support universal healthcare without abolishing private insurance. “Medicare for All Who Want It” insures the uninsured, provides an affordable option to low income people and will prompt private insurers to either compete with lower prices and better products or fail. I am someone who believes healthcare should be free at the point of access, but I do not believe Medicare for All is a winning electoral policy, and I certainly don’t believe anyone—not even Bernie Sanders—could get it through Congress, even if both Houses are controlled by Democrats. Barack Obama couldn’t even get a public option through because of the conservative “Blue Dog” Democrats. This goes back to meeting voters where they are and choosing practicality and incremental improvements over ideological purity at the expense of power.

    From his website: “Pete will make a historic $700 billion investment in affordable, universal, high-quality, and full-day early learning, as well as outside-of-school learning opportunities in K-12 education. He will make early learning and care from birth through age five free for lower-income families and affordable for all, and invest in the child care workforce.”

  • During his tenure, Mayor Pete demolished homes of many South Bend residents who were unable to afford repairs and drastically ramped up unfair fines;

    This is not entirely accurate or fair. It is referring to Mayor Pete’s “1000 homes in 1000 days” initiative which, as the name implies, demolished 1000 abandoned or vacant homes in 1000 days. The media has really gotten this story wrong. The project tried to track down owners where they could and provide time and support for renovations to be made to bring the properties up to standards. Indeed, South Bend’s lack of enforcement on property codes in the past exasperated issues. This was met with the “South Bend Repair” initiative which poured $1 million into helping homeowners repair dilapidated homes. Another grant would give homeowners $25,000 to repair their homes.

    Part of the success of the “1000 homes in 1000 days” is, of course, demolishing unlivable homes (as we know abandoned buildings are hotbeds from crime), but also of refurbishing and rebuilding affordable housing for South Benders. Indeed, Mayor Pete met with residents and took 40% of homes off the demolition list after hearing their concerns (a hallmark of Mayor Pete’s mayoralty by the way – he listens to constituents)

    Mayor Pete has committed to building or restoring at least 2 million homes for the lowest-income Americans as well as investing in initiatives making homeownership a reality for millions of lower-income Americans, especially lower-income Black Americans who have experienced racial discrimination in housing.

  • Mayor Pete does not support boycotting for political reasons;

    I cannot find any evidence that supports this claim. He has allowed protestors at his events and has engaged with them when they are willing. I do not know how to respond to this claim other than to say I believe it is a flat-out lie.

  • Mayor Pete has no plan to cap credit card interest rates or guarantee a job to everyone who needs one; and

    From his website: “When your credit card company rips you off, you should have the right to a day in court with a good lawyer, full rights, and public transparency. In most cases, though, the company probably forced you to sign away that right. As consumers, we should always have the right to a fair process and strong protections that keep companies honest in the first place.”

    I suppose I must concede that it is true that Pete Buttigieg does not have a plan to guarantee a job for everyone who wants or needs one. To the seven Americans to whom a promise of a job for everyone is a make-or-break issue, Pete Buttigieg isn’t your candidate, and fair dos.

    For everyone else, Pete plans to ensure workers in the gig economy are guaranteed their labor rights, strengthen unions by fining companies who interfere in union elections, institute gender pay transparency, enshrine multi-employer bargaining rights into law, raise the federal minimum wage to $15 an hour, and end “right to work” laws, among other bold, progressive initiatives. His record in South Bend, where he revived a Rust Belt city on life support, shows that he knows how to grow the economy and attract 21st century businesses and create 21st century jobs. Unemployment in South Bend fell nearly 10% during his time as mayor.

  • Mayor Pete supports the increase of defense spending which is already 50% of the federal budget.

    “America’s security challenges demand a military budget that provides both the overall capacity and specific capabilities to deter conflict across the globe and fight and win if necessary. I’ve been clear that we need to maintain absolute military superiority. The question of how much we should spend should be defined by where and how we need to spend it to best protect our citizens and our interests,” Buttigieg told Military Times last November. He does not mention increasing spending, but rather maintaining our military superiority and modernizing our military. I’m not sure where you’re getting this figure from, making this another instance where it would be helpful if you actually cited your sources. The fact that you don’t should make anyone reading your latter deeply skeptical of your motives and accuracy in presenting Pete Buttigieg as an enemy to the LGBTQIA community.

These gaps in Mayor Pete’s platform will fall particularly hard on LGBTQIA communities. Take housing as an example: 40 percent of homeless youth are LGBTQIA. Nearly one-third of trans people have experienced homelessness, and one in ten have been evicted from their home for being trans. This is only exacerbated by the fact that there is no federal law that consistently protects LGBTQIA individuals from housing discrimination. And while Mayor Pete, like the rest of the field, supports the Equality Act, this isn’t enough. Public housing remains in disrepair in the U.S., with billions in backlogged repairs due to decades of underinvestment, and the changes Pete proposes are grossly inadequate relative to the scale of the problem, and will not solve our housing crisis. We need only look to Pete’s track record of tearing down hundreds of homes in Black and Latino neighborhoods in South Bend to show us that he is not committed to protecting our communities.

Here you actually cite your sources, which makes it all the more frustrating—and suspect—that you did not cite sources in your critiques of Mayor Pete. That being said, yes, homelessness is a pernicious problem for the LGBTQIA community, and the Equality Act (which you correctly note Mayor Pete supports) would go a long way in addressing the discrimination the LGBTQIA community faces in housing and public accommodations. As previously mentioned, Mayor Pete has committed to improve public housing and repair or rebuild two million homes for low-income Americans. I’m not sure how that is “grossly inadequate” as it is one of the biggest public works projects in modern American history. The Buzzfeed article you cite with regards to his “track record of tearing down homes” is rightly critiqued in an article from Washington Monthly I cited earlier in this blog and paints a one-sided, slanted, biased view of what happened with “1000 homes in 1000 days” – an initiative which helped many POC and/or low-income South Benders repair their homes and addressed the urban blight of abandoned and decaying houses.

As LGBTQIA people our lives are layered and must have an intersectional framework in our analysis, organizing, and movement building. We know that: Education justice is LGBTQIA justice. Racial and economic justice are LGBTQIA justice. Decarceration is LGBTQIA justice. Immigrant and refugee justice is LGBTQIA justice. Health justice is LGBTQIA justice. Housing justice is LGBTQIA justice. Demanding corporate accountability and for wealthy people to pay an equitable share of taxes is LGBTQIA justice.

Yes, education, racial and economic justice, immigrant and refugee justice, health justice, etc etc etc are “LGBTQIA issues” (or matters of justice as you say) because 1) they effect LGBTQIA people just as the effect the rest of society 2) LGBTQIA people care about these issues just like other communities care about them. So while I think this paragraph comes off as sort of smug, it’s not entirely wrong. What is wrong is suggesting Pete Buttigieg doesn’t care about these issues.

During this critical election, it’s important that LGBTQIA people demand more from our leaders and from a candidate claiming to be in community with us. Leaders within our communities — especially Black trans women —  have worked tirelessly over the past two decades to push LGBTQIA movements to value and fight for our full identities and experiences. We cannot afford to go backwards or accept the status quo.

Pete Buttigieg isn’t “claiming to be in community with us,” he is in community with us. Stop trying to tell me otherwise. He is gay, whether you like it or not. Voting for Mayor Pete is voting to move American forward and bridge the divides within our nation. It is not accepting the status quo, and it is not going backwards.

It is for these reasons and more that a group of us have come together under the banner of #QueersAgainstPete. If you agree, we invite you to add your name to this letter and join our collective voice against Pete Buttigieg’s candidacy for president. We believe the LGBTQIA community deserves better than Pete.

I have to question why you hate Pete Buttigieg so much. Writing this letter about one of the most progressive candidates for president in American history instead of any other candidate reeks of homophobia in that it’s clearly written from a perspective that Pete isn’t a “proper gay” or isn’t “gay enough” because whoever wrote this disagrees with his policy positions. I believe the LGBTQIA deserves better than a deliberately misleading open letter and smear campaign against the first openly gay candidate for president. So no, I won’t be signing.

I would encourage anyone who has read this far to check out www.peteforamerica.com to find out what Pete Buttigieg really plans to do for Americans (LGBTQIA or not).

Skylar Baker-Jordan is a freelance writer based in Tennessee. His work has appeared at the Independent, Huff Post UK, Salon, and elsewhere. Follow him on Twitter @skylarjordan and become a sustainer at www.patreon.com/skylarjordan

Like Romney and Jones

 

I hope, in times of great challenge, I have as much conviction, integrity, and courage as Mitt Romney and Doug Jones.

I hope I have the conviction to know what is right, even if others do not.

I hope I have the integrity to say what is right, even if it is hard.

I hope I have the courage to do what is right, even if it hurts.

I hope I can be like Romney and Jones.

Skylar Baker-Jordan has been writing about UK and US politics for more than a decade. His work as appeared at The Independent, Salon, Huff Post UK, and elsewhere. He lives in Tennessee. Follow him on Twitter or become a supporter by contributing to his Patreon account.

Low voter turnout in Iowa should concern Democrats

Picture it: Iowa, 2008. On a cold winter’s night 240,000 cornfed Midwesterners descended on precincts across the state to caucus for their preferred Democratic candidate. Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton were both locked in a ferocious political war for the nomination, and this was the opening skirmish. After eight long years of an unpopular Republican president, Democrats were energized and turned out in record numbers to support their favored candidate.

2020 couldn’t be more different. Turnout has dwindled to 170,000 and we don’t yet have a winner. While much of the Democratic establishment and mainstream media is handwringing over the fact we don’t yet know the results of last night’s Iowa caucuses, we’re ignoring the elephant in the room. In the end, the only result that may matter is that voters didn’t show up like Democrats hoped and needed.

Historically, the Iowa caucuses have a low turnout. There are reasons for this, including issues of accessibility and the fact that American elections generally have low rates of participation. It’s also true that the turnout is predicted to be roughly on par with 2016.

Democrats lost in 2016, though, making the lack of enthusiasm a possible harbinger of doom for our party come November. Bernie Sanders has promised to inspire a new generation of Americans, Pete Buttigieg promised to bring in “future former Republicans,” and nearly every candidate tried to reach out to people who feel left behind. Yet exit polls suggest a dip in first-time voters, indicating that candidates have failed to bring new recruits into the Democratic fold.

That’s a problem. Democrats need to attract disaffected Republicans, remorseful Trump voters, young people (whom election after election shows are apathetic about voting) and energize Democratic voters to actually show up at the polls. Iowa isn’t a perfect mirror of Rust Belt states like Wisconsin, Ohio, and Pennsylvania—but it’s close enough that the lack of enthusiasm from the Hawkeye State is troubling. We need to win these states if we hope to defeat Donald Trump, but we can’t win them unless we have a broad coalition of new and returning Democratic voters—people who sat out the 2016 election and people who voted for Trump but regret it.

All of this is compounded, of course, by the fact that we don’t know who won Iowa. Both Bernie Sanders and Pete Buttigieg last night gave speeches which sounded like victory speeches but weren’t really victory speeches. That’s all they were, though—speeches. We have a crowded field of candidates, so perhaps the enthusiasm gap between 2008 and 2020 is simply that voters are spoiled for choice and opted to let others winnow the field. Maybe, as the field narrows, enthusiasm and momentum will shift to one candidate and we’ll see the excitement and passion we saw the last time we elected a first-term Democrat to the White House.

I’m not holding my breath, though, because I remember the 2016 primary. Not the Democratic one—though I remember that, too—but the Republican primary. Some 16 candidates fought out a bitter contest for the GOP nomination, yet there was one—a spray-tanned former reality tv star—who consistently led the polls. He didn’t win Iowa, but the enthusiasm around him was palpable, and it carried him to the White House.

I’m not saying Democrats need our own Donald Trump—no one needs another Donald Trump, or for that matter, the original. But we need someone who excites people like Donald Trump excites people—except, you know, excites them for good reasons and not for racist reasons. We need someone who makes the farmer in Iowa or the autoworker in Michigan or the waitress in Wisconsin say “she says what I’m thinking” or “he tells it like it is.” I’m not talking just about attracting Trump voters here, but about energizing Democrats in Milwaukee and Philadelphia and Dayton who stayed home in 2016. We need someone who makes them believe their lives can be better, who makes them feel like their voices are not only heard but are important.

We don’t yet have that candidate.

We can’t win with 2016 levels of enthusiasm, and we can’t win with 2016 turnout. While candidates and party officials lament the shitshow that was the Iowa Caucuses, they ought to be less concerned with who won than who didn’t show up. If we can’t attract new and returning voters to our party, we’ve already lost.

Skylar Baker-Jordan has been writing about UK and US politics for more than a decade. His work as appeared at The Independent, Salon, Huff Post UK, and elsewhere. He lives in Tennessee. Follow him on Twitter or become a supporter by contributing to his Patreon account.