Rest in peace, Geraldine Ferraro

Geraldine Ferraro died today at age 75, after battling multiple myeloma for 13 years, far longer than she was expected to survive when diagnosed. She became the first woman named to a major-party national ticket in the U.S. when Walter Mondale chose her as his running mate in 1984. Ferraro acknowledged that she would not have been Mondale’s choice for vice president had she been a man. The Democratic nominee was trailing President Ronald Reagan badly in the polls and needed something to shake up the campaign. Ferraro was supposed to turn the emerging "gender gap" in American politics to the Democrats’ favor.

I remember discounting the rumors that a woman might be nominated for vice president. The Reagan years had rapidly developed my cynicism. It was a big deal just to have a woman on the “short list,” so I figured that talking Ferraro was going to be the Mondale camp’s gesture toward women, and we’d have to wait another cycle or two to see a woman on a ticket. But after watching Ferraro’s speech at the national convention, this liberal teenage girl was so excited and inspired that I briefly forgot what I knew about Mondale having no chance to be elected.

Journalists covering the campaign picked Ferraro apart; you can read the gory details in the New York Times and Los Angeles Times obituaries. She wasn’t very experienced in terms of media relations, and she was a strong woman, so she was an easy target. One manufactured controversy after another dominated stories about her campaign, and I remember lots of speculation about her Italian-American husband’s possible mob ties. Meanwhile, media provided scant coverage when Reagan’s Labor Secretary Raymond Donovan was indicted in September 1984, six weeks before the presidential election. You’d think the first-ever indictment of a sitting cabinet secretary would be a bigger news story than some of the garbage being thrown at Ferraro, but you would be wrong. (Donovan was later acquitted.)

Bleeding Heartland readers too young to remember the 1984 campaign may know of Ferraro mainly because in March 2008, she asserted that Barack Obama’s race gave him an advantage in the presidential primaries against Hillary Clinton: “Sexism is a bigger problem [than racism in the United States] […] It’s OK to be sexist in some people’s minds. It’s not OK to be racist.” The ensuing furor prompted Ferraro to resign from Clinton’s presidential campaign fundraising committee, though she stood by her remarks. At the time, I felt many Obama supporters blew Ferraro’s comments way out of proportion. Her perspective was shaped by decades of personal experience with sexism, like law school professors who felt she had taken “a man’s rightful place.”

Representative Bruce Braley said in a statement today, “Geraldine Ferraro was a great leader and a remarkable woman. She not only made history, she inspired generations of women to do the same. She will be greatly missed, but her influence will live on.”  I will update this post with further Iowa reaction to Ferraro’s passing.

Share your own memories of Ferraro and her political career in this thread.

UPDATE: Senator Chuck Grassley posted to Twitter, “Geraldine Ferraro was an xtraordinary M of Cong. A person easy get along w. True abt my working w her”

Ferraro’s father died when she was eight years old. Here’s a reflection she wrote on how losing a parent so young affected her life.

LATE UPDATE: Joan Walsh’s reflection on Ferraro’s life and career is worth reading.

Lessons from the "Enlightened Eight": Republicans Can Vote Pro-Environment and Not Get "Tea Partied

On June 26, 2009, the U.S. House of Representatives voted 219-212 in favor of HR 2454, the American Clean Energy and Security Act (ACES). Only eight Republicans – we'll call them the “Enlightened Eight” – voted “aye.” These Republicans were Mary Bono-Mack (CA-45), Mike Castle (DE-AL), John McHugh (NY-23), Frank LoBiondo (NJ-2), Leonard Lance (NJ-7), Mark Kirk (IL-10), Dave Reichert (WA-8), and Christopher Smith (NJ-4).

Republicans voting for cap and trade in the year of the Tea Party? You'd think that they'd be dumped in the harbor by now. Instead, they're all doing fine. In fact, to date, not a single one of these Republicans has been successfully primaried by the “tea party” (or otherwise). Instead, we have two – Castle and Kirk – running for U.S. Senate, one (McHugh) who was appointed Secretary of the Army by President Obama, and five others – Bono-Mack, LoBiondo, Lance, Reichert, Smith – running for reelection.

Rep. Lance actually was challenged by not one, not two, but three “Tea Party” candidates. One of Lance's opponents, David Larsen, even produced this nifty video, helpfully explaining that “Leonard Lance Loves Cap & Trade Taxes.” So, did this work? Did the Tea Partiers overthrow the tyrannical, crypto-liberal Lance? Uh, no. Instead, in the end, Lance received 56% of the vote, easily moving on to November.

Meanwhile, 100 miles or so south on the Jersey Turnpike, Rep. LoBiondo faced two “Tea Party” candidates – Donna Ward and Linda Biamonte – who also attacked on the cap-and-trade issue. According to Biamonte, cap and trade “is insidious and another tax policy… a funneling of money to Goldman Sachs and Al Gore through derivatives creating a carbon bubble like the housing bubble.” You'd think that Republican primary voters in the year of the Tea Party would agree with this line of attack. Yet LoBiondo won with 75% of the vote.

Last but not least in New Jersey, Christopher Smith easily turned back a Tea Party challenger – Alan Bateman – by a more than 2:1 margin. Bateman had argued that “Obama knows he can count on Smith to support the United Nations' agenda to redistribute American wealth to foreign countries through international Cap & Trade agreements and other programs that threaten our sovereignty.” Apparently, Republican voters in NJ-4 didn't buy that argument.

Across the country in California's 45th District, Mary Bono-Mack won 71% of the vote over Tea Party candidate Clayton Thibodeau on June 8. This, despite Thibodeau attacking Bono-Mack as “the only Republican west of the Mississippi to vote for Cap and Trade.” Thibodeau also called cap and trade “frightening,” claiming that government could force you to renovate your home or meet requirements before you purchase a home. Thibodeau's scare tactics on cap-and-trade clearly didn't play in CA-45.

Finally, in Washington's 8th Congressional District, incumbent Rep. Dave Reichert has drawn a Tea Party challenger named Ernest Huber, who writes that Cap and Trade “is widely viewed as an attempt at Soviet-style dictatorship using the environmental scam of global warming/climate change… written by the communist Apollo Alliance, which was led by the communist Van Jones, Obama's green jobs czar.” We'll see how this argument plays with voters in Washington's 8th Congressional District, but something tells us it's not going to go over any better than in the New Jersey or California primaries.

In sum, it appears that it's quite possible for Republicans to vote for comprehensive, clean energy and climate legislation and live (politically) to tell about it. The proof is in the primaries.

40 Days Until Sestak-Specter and Halter-Lincoln

{First, a cheap plug for my blog Senate Guru.}

40 days from today – on May 18 – we will see two HUGE primaries for U.S. Senate.  Even though these races aren’t in Iowa, they impact Democrats across the country and, well, the entire country as a whole.

In Pennsylvania, Democratic Congressman Joe Sestak will try to upset Republican-for-decades Arlen Specter.

In Arkansas, Democratic Lieutenant Governor Bill Halter will try to upset corporate lackey Blanche Lincoln.

These two races are tremendously important to defining who and what the Democratic Party is and what we will be fighting for.

If you can volunteer for these candidates (or encourage friends and family in Pennsylvania and Arkansas to do so), that would be amazing.

Of course, if you can help with a contribution to either or both via the Expand the Map! ActBlue page as soon as possible, it will make a big impact.

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Joe Sestak

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Bill Halter

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Polling shows that both Specter and Lincoln are at risk of – if not likely to – hand these Senate seats over to far-right-wing Republicans. (And, even if these two retain the seats, that’s not much better on many key issues.)

Congressman Sestak and Lieutenant Governor Halter winning these primaries are critical to keeping these seats in truly Democratic hands. Your support can help make that happen!  Please hop over to the Expand the Map! ActBlue page right away to make a contribution – an investment in the Democratic wing of the Democratic Party to pull out an old expression – and show your support.

Thanks SO much for any support you can provide. 40 Days.

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Lots of links for a snowy day

Many Iowans will be leaving work or school early today, or perhaps not going in at all, as the season’s first big winter blast rolls in. Here’s plenty of reading to keep you busy if you are stuck at home.

Global news first: The United National Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen opened yesterday. To follow news from the proceedings, I’m reading the team of Mother Jones bloggers in Copenhagen. The Open Left blog will also post regular updates from Natasha Chart and Friends of the Earth staff who are on the ground. If you prefer a mainstream media perspective, check out The Climate Pool on Facebook, which is a collaboration among major news organizations.

Also on Monday, Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Lisa Jackson signed off on two findings that will pave the way to regulate carbon dioxide emissions under the Clean Air Act. This action follows from a 2007 U.S. Supreme Court ruling in Massachusetts v. EPA. More background and details can be found on the EPA’s site. Environment Iowa explains the significance of the EPA’s action here. An expert panel surveyed by Grist disagreed on whether the EPA’s “endangerment finding” would affect the Copenhagen talks.

The most important reason I oppose the current draft bills on climate change kicking around Congress is that they would revoke the EPA’s authority to regulate carbon dioxide. Chris Bowers explains why that would be disastrous here.

Uganda is considering a horrific law that would subject homosexuals to long prison terms or even the death penalty. One Iowa is collecting signatures on a petition to Senator Chuck Grassley, asking him to speak out against this law. Grassley’s never going to be a gay rights advocate, but he should agree that criminalizing homosexuality is wrong. Grassley is involved with “The Family,” which is connected to the proposed bill in Uganda.

On the economic front, President Obama is expected to announce plans to use about $200 billion allocated for the Wall Street bailout to fund a jobs bill Congress will consider soon.. The Hill previewed some of the measures that may end up in that bill.

Some economists who met with Governor Chet Culver yesterday think Iowa has already reached the bottom of this recession. I hope they are right, but either way, policy-makers should listen to their ideas for reforming Iowa’s budget process. I’ll write a separate post on this important development soon. Here is the short take:

The state could base its spending on a multi-year average, such as the previous three years, or five years or seven years, said Jon Muller, president of Muller Consulting Inc., a public policy and business development consulting firm based in Des Moines.

“The way it’s always worked, when times are really good, we increase spending and we cut taxes,” Muller said. “And when times are bad, there’s pressure to increase taxes and decrease spending. And that all happens when the demand for government is at its highest,” Muller said.

The multi-year idea would flip, he said.

“In good times you would be squirreling money at way a little at a time. And in bad times, you could continue to increase spending to service the growing demands of a recession.”

It would require state lawmakers to not touch the reserves, even in times of plenty. But it would also reduce the need to tap into reserves just to get by during rainy days, the advisers said.

Regarding budget cuts, the Newton Independent reports here on a “plan to reorganize the Iowa Department of Human Services operations under two deputy directors, six rather than nine divisions, five rather than eight service areas, more part-time offices and the elimination of 78 currently vacant positions” (hat tip to Iowa Independent). Click this link for more details about the proposed restructuring.

On the political front, John Deeth analyzes possible changes the Democratic National Committee is considering for the presidential nomination process. Jerome Armstrong had a good idea the DNC won’t implement: ban caucuses everywhere but Iowa. No other state derives the party-building benefits of caucuses, but just about every state that uses caucuses for presidential selection has lower voter participation than would occur in a primary.

I haven’t written much on health care reform lately, because recent developments are so depressing. Our best hope was using the budget reconciliation process to pass a strong bill in the Senate with 51 votes (or 50 plus Joe Biden). Now that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has taken reconciliation off the table, we’re left with a variety of bad compromises to get to 60 votes in the Senate. I am not convinced the final product will be any improvement over the status quo. It will certainly be worse for millions of Americans required to buy overpriced private health insurance. If there’s a quicker way to neutralize the Democrats’ advantage with young voters, I don’t know what it is.

Speaking of health care reform, Steve Benen wrote a good piece about Grassley’s latest grandstanding on the issue.

Speaking of things that are depressing, John Lennon was shot dead 29 years ago today.  Daily Kos user noweasels remembers him and that night. Although Paul’s always been my favorite Beatle, I love a lot of John’s work too. Here’s one of his all-time best:

Share any relevant thoughts or your own favorite Lennon songs in the comments.

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Chill out, Republicans: Grassley won't vote for health care reform

Iowa conservatives are becoming increasingly concerned by Senator Chuck Grassley’s refusal to "just say no" to President Obama’s health care reform plans. Grassley is part of a group of six Senate Finance Committee members who are working on a compromise bill. While some Republicans are hoping that defeating health care reform will become Obama’s "Waterloo," Grassley has warned Republicans should could pay a price for blocking reform.

Now it’s not just Bill “crazier than Steve King” Salier who is floating the idea of a primary challenge against Grassley. Craig Robinson wrote at the Iowa Republican blog on Thursday,

The longer Sen. Grassley strings along Iowa Republicans, the more difficult his re-election effort may become. At the beginning of the year, it would have been absurd to suggest that Sen. Grassley could face a legitimate primary challenge. Now, with each and every passing day that Grassley flirts with supporting some version of health care reform, the possibility of a primary challenge grows. In fact, some Republican sources have told TheIowaRepublican.com that if Sen. Grassley votes for President Obama’s healthcare proposal, Grassley will indeed face a serious primary challenge.

Republicans needn’t worry about the game Grassley is playing on health care. I’ll explain why after the jump.

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