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The Black and White of Vaccine Politics

By Kevin Kelton

There can be little doubt that President Trump will use the announcement of a coronavirus vaccine breakthrough as an October surprise to try to peel voters away from Joe Biden. He will brag about his role in fast-tracking the process and claim that he alone can get it to the American people in an organized, timely fashion. And with only 50 to 100 million doses available in the initial wave of the rollout, the unspoken truth is that some people will be first in line for the “miracle cure” while millions more are left to wait. And wait. And wait.

But what Democrats should be ready for is the racial wedge issue that a vaccine could become. A real American president would never use life-saving drugs as a cultural wedge issue. But for this president, the temptation to dog whistle to the worst instincts of his base may be too strong.

What happens when Trump and his down-ballot surrogates begin to imply that a Biden-Harris administration would favor high-risk demographics such as blacks and the elderly for the first round of vaccines, leaving other Americans unprotected from the disease? Is Biden ready to respond when Trump wonders aloud if Joe and Kamala would target the those precious life-saving doses to their elite blue state supporters at the expense of hard-working voters in the heartland (i.e., white people)? How do you deny a charge like that?

Biden better be ready to hear Trump drop that loaded accusation in one of the debates. A question about how each candidate plans to implement a vaccine rollout is the perfect moment for Trump to suggest that “some people are saying” Biden would target the first doses to his black and elite coastal supporters as a political reward while leaving “most Americans” (the racist dog whistle) to continue to perish.

Will Biden be caught by surprise? Will he be able to cobble a stronger rebuttal than “that’s poppycock” and “c’mon, man!”

Once those charges are blasted into the public consciousness, all bets are off. You’ll have Tucker Carlson asking, “Who do you want making decisions about whether your family gets vaccinated? King Fauci and Cory Booker?” I can hear Trump’s rabid supporters echoing those thoughts on social media. “Can you really trust white lives to people who think only Black Lives Matter?” 

If the Biden-Harris campaign is smart, they will preempt such an attack by announcing their own rollout plan first. Instead of simply parroting the tired bromide that he’ll turn to the scientists and ethicists to decide (as he’s already said), Biden should release a detailed position paper that explains how his White House would administer the vaccine program and what will be the specific medical criteria for who gets the first wave of inoculations.

A coronavirus vaccine will come in it’s own time, but the presidential candidates better be ready to answer hard questions about what they’ll do with it. The campaign that owns that issue may own the late-breaking voters in November.

It’s clear that Donald Trump will use any tactic at his disposal to win those voters. The only question is, will Joe Biden be prepared.

Kevin Kelton is a cohost of The More Perfect Union podcast and founder of Open Fire Politics.

 

Goin’ To Carolina (Ep. 245)

 

This week’s MPU podcast looks ahead to the South Carolina primary and Super Tuesday, then turns its sights on the rape conviction of Harvey Weinstein and its affect on the #MeToo movement.

Spy Games (Ep. 222)

 

This episode covers the fallout from the burned U.S. spy who had to be extracted from Russia, how the Trump administration is dangerously rewriting the norms of federal agency independence, and what to look for (and not look for) in the upcoming Democratic primary debate.

Democrats Need Their Own MAGA

by Kevin Kelton

As we head into the 2018 midterm elections, it’s astounding that the national Democratic Party still has yet to formulated a coherent message to voters. While President Trump and the GOP rally around simple, bumper sticker messages like MAGA, Build The Wall, and Drain The Swamp, the Democratic party cannot form a coherent message that can appeal to both liberal voters on the coasts and midwest working-class voters. This was a critical failing of the 2016 Clinton campaign, and it will be just as damaging to Democrats going forward if the party doesn’t speak to the voters it needs to win.

Here’s a proposal for a simple, clear four plank Democratic platform to retake congress and the White House. I call it The Campaign for American Justice:

1) Healthcare justice — expanded, reasonably priced healthcare using a mixed economy approach with the goal of quality healthcare for all.

2) Economic justice — tax incentives and economic incentives to get private employers to raise wages and decrease the wealth gap; make higher education more accessible and affordable to all.

3) Social justice — working with courts and local authorities to promote racial justice and reduce violence. This includes smart gun laws and better police training to reduce accidental deaths.

4) Political justice — reducing the power of money in politics and increasing voter participation.

The overriding theme of justice was chosen because it appeals to Americans across ideologies and demographics. Instead of promoting specific programs like “medicare for all” or “guaranteed jobs” (both toxic ideas to free market conservatives), the focus should be on the goal of finding a range of bipartisan solutions to promote justice in healthcare, the wealth gap, racial and social issues, and politics.

Rather than insisting on one pre-measured legislative cure like single payer health insurance, Democrats would be better off to identify the problems we face as a nation and offer a variety of proposals to solve them. “Drain the Swamp” isn’t a policy, it’s a goal. So is “Make America Great Again.” Even the seemingly specific “Build a Wall” is a euphemism for the goals of a stronger border, cultural hegemony, and economic security.

People want to vote for ideas that reinforce the good in America. They don’t need a position paper on each issue with cost breakdowns and detailed legislative language. Tell them what you stand for, and give them a reason to stand for it, too.

And without saying it explicitly, a campaign for “American justice” suggests a counter-balance to the corruption and lack of candor that is the hallmark of the Trump White House. A subliminal message that Democrats will stand for a better America, a fairer America, a just America.

Whether it be the Campaign for American Justice or another theme, Democrats need to start branding their party now so voters fed up with Trumpism have something to vote for in November.

 

Kevin Kelton is a cohost of The More Perfect Union podcast and founder of Open Fire Politics on Facebook.

13 Reasons Why (Ep. 141)

Episode 141 of The More Perfect Union podcast looks at the aftermath of the Parkland High School shooting, the indictment of 13 Russian nationals in the special counsel probe, the failed DACA negotiations, and Laura Ingraham’s diss of LeBron James. Then the gang takes a look at other political podcasts and talk about why they do the show and what they think sets it apart from other podcasts.

Wave Goodbye to the Wave Election

by Kevin Kelton    

Though the makings of a democratic wave election in the midterms seem apparent – enthusiasm, leading indicators, a highly divisive president – one key component is missing… and it could be the fatal flaw.

It’s the “why.”

Every wave election has an overriding theme or movement behind it. Today’s Democratic party lacks either.

In the last half century, there have been six wave elections.* Two were presidential election cycles, the other four were midterms.

The 1980 Reagan wave was powered by a weak economy and the Iran hostage crisis, but mostly by a charismatic presidential candidate who gave a face and voice to the movement. Similarly, the 2008 Obama wave was driven by a war-weary nation and a financial crash, and a charismatic candidate. But let’s put those aside and look at midterms, where there is no presidential candidate to embody the movement.

In every midterm wave, there were clear economic and foreign policy crises that turbo-charged the national mood:

1974 – the Vietnam war and Watergate

1994 – a faltering economy, healthcare, and the GOP’s “Contract with America”

2006 – a war-weary nation, Hurricane Katrina, and GOP scandals (Jack Abramoff; Tom DeLay)

2010 – Obamacare, a stagnant economy, high unemployment, the national debt, illegal immigration

Now let’s look at the prospects for 2018. Other than an historically unpopular first-term president, what issues do the Democrats have to run on? Even with the current stock market correction, it’s unlikely the economy will tank before November. (It takes six months of negative GDP to classify a recession, and right now GDP is strong.) Unemployment is historically low. There is no new military conflict. By November DACA will likely be resolved and the only immigration issues will be the border wall and the lingering Muslim ban court cases. Trump is riding high on the tax cuts and the recent long-term budget deals. Even the #MeToo movement is too fractured to break solidly Democratic. The party can’t own the issue with Bill Clinton, John Conyers, Harvey Weinstein, Al Franken, and Anthony Weiner as its poster boys.

Plus the Democrats are still a splintered party with no national leader to rally the troops. So they will be left to a series of local races with no unifying issue or theme to power them past heavily financed incumbents.

Unless the anti-Trump movement itself is enough to power the wave, what should be a tsunami may turn into a small storm. Democrats are likely to pick up seats in the House, but unless they net 24, the GOP will still own both chambers and the Executive branch.

The party’s leaders better settle on a set of core issues now, issues that will resonate with middle-class voters and power midterm turnout. And they better be bumper sticker stances, not nuanced wonky ones that take two minutes to explain.

So what can you do? Find the issue you are passionate about and post about it tirelessly on Facebook, Twitter and other social media. Join Facebook political groups to magnify your voice. Share posts on the issue and send them to your senate and congressional candidates. Be your own campaign manager and campaign spokesperson. Then pick five races with five candidates you are excited about and donate. If every Democrat becomes a one-man SuperPac, we win.

Unless we’re all in the campaign, Trump and company will be campaigning on tax cuts, jobs and prosperity, while Democrats be running on Russia and Robert Mueller.

I respect Robert Mueller. But I don’t think he’s a wave.

Kevin Kelton is a writer and co-host of The More Perfect Union podcast and founder of the Facebook groups Open Fire Politics, Open Fire Food & Spirits, and Open Fire Sex.

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* An argument an be made that 2014 was also a wave election, but since the House was already heavily GOP, movement of congress further right isn’t being counted here as a “wave.”