What’s on your mind this weekend, Bleeding Heartland readers? This is an open thread.
The Iowa Democratic Party’s Jefferson-Jackson Dinner was an entertaining affair. I’ve posted some highlights after the jump. The “news” of the evening was Senator Chuck Schumer of New York endorsing Hillary Clinton for president, but for my money that wasn’t the most interesting part of his speech.
Fighting my tendency to bury the lede, I’m skipping ahead to the last speaker. (You can listen to the 44-minute audio file at Radio Iowa.) Schumer got the crowd going by saying he’s not running for president, but he has his candidate for 2016: a candidate who will deliver a sweeping victory for the Democratic Party, a candidate who will bring young voters and women out in huge numbers, etc. Then he urged the crowd to join him in supporting Senator Ted Cruz for the Republican presidential nomination in 2016. "I had you going there, didn’t I?"
Inevitably, Schumer joked about Republican Senate candidate David Young expressing a desire this summer to “share the good news about Jesus Christ” with him. Paraphrasing: I might not get out of town before one of your Senate candidates tries to convert me … when I heard he had “good news” for me I thought he meant the Republicans were willing to raise the minimum wage.
The middle part of Schumer’s keynote was among the more “professorial” Jefferson-Jackson speeches I’ve heard; watching the senator peer over his glasses enhanced the atmosphere. Schumer talked at length about the squeeze on the American middle class and reasons for the decline in middle-class incomes since the late 1990s. Not many politicians spend time explaining why you need to look at the median income rather than the mean! He talked about how the Democratic Party needs to do a better job pushing a positive agenda, fighting the “assault” on labor unions, raising the minimum wage, making the tax system more fair for the middle class. Many Democrats talk about the moral case for giving undocumented immigrants a path to citizenship, but Schumer put the issue in an economic context. He quoted a Congressional Budget Office estimate that the Senate’s bipartisan immigration reform bill would add more than 3 percent to the U.S. gross domestic product during the first decade and more than 5 percent to GDP during the next decade. It would spur a tremendous amount of economic activity, more than any package of tax cuts or government spending initiatives, in his view.
The tea party was a punch line for several speakers, Schumer included. He didn’t just make fun of the movement, though. He talked about how the country’s economic problems created fertile ground for tea party activists to misdirect popular anger. He also discussed some cultural resentments driving the tea party and quoted at length from a University of Chicago historian’s work on the Temperance movement in the early 20th century. (I didn’t catch the historian’s name.) The Temperance movement was a reaction against the massive change from a rural-dominated country as of 1880 to an urbanized, more diverse culture as of 1920, because of factors like immigration and industrialization. Before tonight I’d never thought of the tea party as a cultural phenomenon like the Temperance movement. Schumer connected those impulses to “take the country back” to an earlier, more comfortable time for the groups that were losing power.
Schumer got back to more crowd-pleasing fare at the end. After again promising Iowans that he will not run for president, he recalled an unsuccessful campaign for student body president as a junior high school student. He lost that election to a girl, and commented that he would say today exactly what he said then: “It’s time for a woman to be president.” By the time he finished saying, “Run, Hillary, run!” most of the audience were on their feet cheering.
I’ve said it before and I will say it again: if Clinton runs again, she will win the 2016 Iowa caucuses without breaking a sweat.
Going back to the beginning: the following candidates and elected officials were called up to the stage but did not speak to the crowd: IA-01 candidates Pat Murphy, Monica Vernon, and Dave O’ Brien (Swati Dandekar and Anesa Kajtazovic sent their regrets but had campaign representatives handing out literature), IA-03 candidate Staci Appel, IA-04 candidate Jim Mowrer, Attorney General Tom Miller, State Treasurer Mike Fitzgerald, Secretary of State candidate Brad Anderson, Secretary of Agriculture candidate Sherrie Taha, State Auditor candidate Jon Neiderbach.
State Senator Jack Hatch and State Representative Tyler Olson had the opportunity to speak to the crowd. Former State Representative Bob Krause was called up with the other candidates but did not speak, I think because technically, his campaign is still in the exploratory phase.
Hatch and Olson covered familiar themes in their stump speeches, and both candidates had supporters cheering in the audience. As they have done since launching their campaigns against Governor Terry Branstad, Hatch touted his experience and accomplishments, while Olson emphasized the need for new ideas to face the challenges of today, not 30 years ago. Both of them bashed Branstad. Hatch compared the governor’s contempt for public workers to a corporate CEO who can’t stand his workforce and deserves to be fired by the shareholders. Olson expressed his gratitude for his endorsement this week by the largest labor union representing state employees.
Representative Dave Loebsack spoke more passionately than usual about what Democrats need to fight for in Congress and in the coming election campaign. After his remarks, a woman at my table said it was the best speech she’d ever heard him give. Later, Senator Tom Harkin commented that Loebsack was “on fire” and jokingly asked what he had for breakfast.
Former Congressional candidate and Iowa House candidate Kurt Meyer gave the best “pass the hat” speech I’ve ever heard at a political party event. He made people laugh and brought in some history about Thomas Jefferson expressing grave doubts about Andrew Jackson as a potential president. He even worked in a reference to Salmon P. Chase.
Representative Bruce Braley drew a lot of laughs while talking about the many things he and Chuck Schumer have in common, having both grown up in Brooklyn. For instance, Brooklyn, New York has a population of 2.6 million and was the fourth largest city in the country, while Brooklyn, Iowa has a population of a thousand and something and was the third largest city in Poweshiek County. He presented Schumer with a RAYGUN “No Sleep Till Brooklyn” t-shirt and a “Des Moines: Hell Yes” coffee mug. Braley paid tribute to Senator Harkin’s great legacy and talked about the help he’s going to need from Democratic activists to keep that Senate seat in progressive hands. The Koch brothers group Americans for Prosperity has already started spending money against Braley in Iowa.
Harkin spoke next, and he really knows how to work an audience. I’m sure I wasn’t the only person in the room thinking, I wish this man were not retiring from politics next year. Some of the most emotional moments came when he talked about immigration reform and the Employee Non-Discrimination Act. He explained the many ways that this country relies on immigrants’ labor, work done by people who love America and came here looking for a better life, just like Harkin’s own mother did. He said we must give these people a path and castigated House Speaker John Boehner for not bringing the Senate’s immigration bill up for a vote. Harkin promised that the Senate will soon pass ENDA, protecting LGBT Americans from workplace discrimination. A similar bill came close to passing during the mid-1990s, but since then had not gotten out of committee again until Harkin got it through the committee he chairs this summer. Harkin took plenty of shots at Republicans, saying the government shutdown and flirtation with default showed the tea party is about “vandalism” rather than “conservatism.”
Then it was on to Schumer, and past 10:00 by the time he got around to endorsing Hillary.