Last night, Minnesota Senator Amy Klobuchar was the latest Democrat to have a solo town hall meeting sponsored by CNN. The questions were good, and Klobuchar seemed to handle them quite well, with one possible exception. But what stands out to me from this forum as well, as the one several weeks ago with Senator Kamala Harris, are two key questions that were not asked.
- If you win the presidency, how are you going to handle the Republican Congressional backlash that repeatedly stymied Barack Obama?
This is not your father’s Democratic victory. In reality, it has been since Lyndon Johnson, more than fifty years ago, that we have had a Democrat elected president with a Democratic Congress and the two were able to successfully work collaboratively. Some may forget that when Obama was first elected, he had a solid majority in the House and a filibuster-proof Senate (although that became short-lived when Ted Kennedy died, and the Democrats could not hold on to that seat in progressive Massachusetts). Then, had had “nothing.”
In the 1960s, Johnson was able to put together the Great Society with a Congress that he could cajole, and which was guilt-ridden because they wanted to honor the legacy of John F. Kennedy.
The three Democratic presidents since then have fired far more blanks than bulls-eyes when it comes to getting Congress to agree to progressive and meaningful legislation. Jimmy Carter did not particularly care for hobnobbing with members of Congress and Republicans wanted another chance to govern and put the memory of Richard Nixon behind them. Bill Clinton was despised by many Republicans and so was Barack Obama.
The Mitch McConnell-style venom that so many Republicans hold against Democrats is not something that will disappear with the election of the next Democratic president. Carter, Clinton and Obama could not find the key to suppressing it. It may be hard to believe, but in the history of the United States, we have never had consecutive Democrats elected to the presidency. Harry Truman and Lyndon Johnson both became presidents because of the deaths of their predecessors.
So, if Amy Klobuchar or any other Democrat wins, how can there be a sustained progressive movement? I certainly do not have a definitive answer, but my hunch is that it might involve weaving Trump voters into the mosaic of the Democratic coalition of identity groups. Or, perhaps it means working to help all groups shed some of their independent identities and instead see themselves more as members of larger groups such as Americans, or even human beings (this is laughter fodder for Republicans).
- The second question relates to the first. How would Amy Klobuchar, or any other Democrat, make electoral inroads with elder less-educated white voters and other Trumpsters?
As we previously wrote, Kamala Harris was neither asked that question nor did she try to independently answer it. I have an uncomfortable déjà vu of Hillary Clinton if she is the nominee. The blue collars in Pennsylvania, Michigan, Wisconsin and a host of other states want to feel that the Democratic nominee cares about them and makes them as high a priority as any other identity group. Amy Klobuchar, Joe Biden and perhaps a few others may be able to do that. But before a nominee is selected, each candidate must be asked how he or she will make Trump voters equal partners in their victory.
Back to the one question Klobuchar may have fumbled. It has to do with the accusation that she can be a very nasty boss; manager of staff. The Huffington Post reports, “Several former Klobuchar staffers described her as habitually demeaning and prone to outbursts of cruelty. Her office consistently has one of the highest rates of staff turnover in the Senate.”
During her 2006 campaign, Klobuchar was serving as the Hennepin County attorney, and the president of the union representing many of her employees claimed she had “created a hostile work environment” and “severely damaged the morale of the office.”
Klobuchar was asked about that in the forum and she punted. She cited all the positive relations she has had with staff and enumerated a few who had stayed with her for some time. Give her points for that. But she loses big points for what she failed to say in response to the question. First, she did not apologize to those to whom she had been willfully and unnecessarily mean (such as repeatedly saying that their work was ‘the worst.’). Second, she did not say anything about learning from her mistakes. We must remember that there is a very long and disturbing list of presidents who could not learn from their mistakes.
Senator Klobuchar, it’s not too late. You will look better and be better for eating a little humble pie and acknowledging that you, like all the rest of us, can do better.
If she does not willingly take this road, the press should push her on it.