Far, Far Away – My First Star Wars

I recall that my older brothers Louis and Robert asked my parents if they could take me to see Star Wars. They likely said, yeah, it’s good, no violence, no sex. My parents trusted their judgement. They said sure. So on one random, wonderful day, 12 year-old gar got to hang with his brothers. The Aries pack.

They were working on an album with their R&B/funk group Free Life. So they owned a piece of the Hollywood streets in those days. We first stopped by a recording studio, just so I could check it out. My eyes popped at the console. All those knobs and levers. Geeks love knobs and levels. Some string section was laying down tracks for someone’s recording. I can still hear the melody. And I still wonder what recording it ended up on. Will I ever hear that riff again?

Walking further up the street, we ran into Philip Bailey. He certainly owned a piece of Hollywood at that time. The Earth Wind and Fire maestro was producing my brother’s Free Life album. What does a 12 year-old say to a living musical legend? I can’t recall what I said, but I remember him being warm and friendly, down to earth.

I expect this was my first trip to Grauman’s Chinese Theater, the last of the great Hollywood cinemas of old. Just one screen in those days. I loved the gaudy exterior and the footsteps of the past embedded at its entryway. By the time we went, “Star Wars,” in its now legendary logo, stood stories high, painted on the side of the building. It played there for a full year. I wonder if it was the last first-run film to have so long a run at the Chinese or any theater.

A know-it-all friend from elementary school had seen it before me. We still talked on the phone occasionally, even though we had matriculated out of Normandie Avenue Elementary and didn’t see each other much. He liked to brag, put on airs, show off. He once bought some Star Trek something or other because I didn’t have the money at the time to do so. Mom came just a bit too late. She was mad that he one-upped me like that. So he called to one-up me again, going on and on about Star Wars and how cool it was. Either I tuned him out or had a bad memory, because little of what he said I retained. No spoilers ruined my viewing experience, sweetie.

When the movie started, at first I was confused. Are they playing the reels out of order? It seemed like we were starting in the middle of something. I was taking a writing class that summer. The instructor taught that one should always formally introduce characters. Later I would find her advise led to pedantic writing and storytelling. I didn’t know it at the time, but Star Wars taught me that lesson. It threw me into the action. After getting over the “who are they, what’s going on” feelings, I became spellbound.

I saw Star Wars three times that summer of 1977. One of the trips may have been by myself, likely my first solo trip to Hollywood on the bus. One was with the whole family. As a family of sci-fi nerds, from Lost in Space to Doctor Who, we were in nirvana. How my parents loved it. I can still hear my mother’s remarks on every scene to this day.

But that first time was special. Just me hanging with two of my older bros, tasting their world, trying to match their swagger. It was a good day.

How to Kill a Democracy

Only now as our democracy unravels do we see its vulnerabilities. It functions only so long as participants obey long held protocols and precedences. Once abandoned, chaos rules.

Think of driving. You don’t run a red light. You don’t cross the double yellow line. Break these rules and an accident can occur. Last winter, after the nation committed political suicide, I saw someone wildly and freely cross the yellow line on the road again and again. He didn’t care. He looked like he was enjoying himself. The woman sitting next to him also seemed to enjoy the ride. Perhaps he was trying to impress her. Maybe they were both high. He hit no one because other drivers steered clear of him. I waited on a side street for him to pass.

Mitch McConnell crossed the yellow line last year by refusing to allow the Senate to consider President Obama’s final Supreme Court nominee. Like Regina Giddens in Little Foxes, McConnell stood by while the democratic process had a heart attack and flopped off-stage to die.

Republicans in North Carolina, stunned that they did not hold onto the governorship, crossed the yellow line with verve. They subverted the democratic process by passing dubious laws to take power away from Democratic Governor Roy Cooper. Mark Joseph Stern at Slate described their move as “an alarming departure from basic democratic norms.” Among many other things, the new laws would have altered the make up of state election boards, preventing the governor from appointing majorities, as had been allowed previously. Fortunately, the courts blocked most of these laws from taking effect.

They aren’t finished yet, though. North Carolina Republicans continue to pass mean measures out of spite. Example: defund programs for children in Democratic districts.

These type of actions show a willful determination to subvert the democratic process. But they all pale in comparison to actions by the current occupant of the White House.

I don’t see a double yellow line. I think bigly. Believe me.

Consider Donald Trump the Careener in Chief. He sees no double yellow line, other cars, sidewalks, or pedestrians. He sees only himself behind the wheel, looking tough. During the election, he broke precedence by not releasing his tax returns. He engaged in name-calling. He tweeted whatever batshit crazy idea came to mind. All small potatoes. Now that he’s in office, he’s really gone to town.

Trump has yet to meet an Executive Order he does not like. Curiously, his Republican colleagues have also developed a taste for them. Just a year ago, they accused the former White House occupant of issuing too many. How things have change.

They have changed. President Obama, a legal scholar, vetted and prepped his executive orders to a fault, to maximize their influence and staying power. By contrast, Trump’s team slaps them together like sloppy joes, and they hold together about as well. Courts made fast work of the two Muslim immigration bans issued by executive order, much to Trump’s chagrin.

It took President Obama and Congressional Democrats nearly two years to craft the Affordable Care Act. Republicans plan to dismantle and replace it in a matter of months. In the process, the House created a plan that would eliminate healthcare for tens of millions. It would also cause rates to rise for those with “pre-existing conditions,” a term defined so broadly that one could consider birth itself a pre-existing condition.

Trump drove the process behind the Republican’s American Health Care Act. But he accomplishes far more damage when careening solo. Despite flaccid assurances to the contrary, he has thoroughly entangled his family business with the presidency. His children and in-laws have free reign to do whatever inside and on behalf of the White House. To their way of thinking, “emoluments” is just a big fancy word in the dictionary. Thus, we do not know if Trump and his brood pursue policies for the good of the country or for the good of Trump, Inc. No other presidency in modern history has had so many conflicts of interest.

Much careening took place this last week. He fired FBI Director James Comey in a way most bizarre and abrupt. Can you imagine finding out you lost your job while talking to subordinates by glancing at the TV? Trump didn’t even have the decency to call the man on the phone. No doubt he occupied his phone too much with tweeting. While Trump’s surrogates continued to spin the tale that the Comey firing had nothing to do with investigations into the Trump campaign’s ties to Russia, Trump himself admitted that it did. Later, we learned that Trump apparently asked Comey to stop investigating former national security advisor Michael Flynn.

Shortly after firing Comey, Trump met with Russian officials at the White House. One could call this bad optics, except that no American press were allowed to photograph the meetings. Russian press, however, were allowed. Now we have learned that Trump passed confidential information to the Russians. Vetting? Nah! Trump divulged the info in a fit of braggadocio. Never mind that we gained the info from Israel and did not seek permission to share it. By passing the info, Trump may have compromised the Israeli asset who provided it. Who cares, though, right? Showing off one’s “intelligence” is far more important the abiding by silly rules and protocols.

Careen, careen, careen.

The California Driver Handbook states that one cannot cross a double yellow line, except when instructed by “construction or other signs” because the road is blocked. Otherwise, careening across the double yellow line is illegal, subject to a ticket and possible fines.

Not all of Trump’s careening has broken laws. Most have only broken precedence and protocol. We have a functioning democracy because until now most participants have agreed to obey these unwritten rules. Now that so many Republicans have abandoned them, or careened over them, our democracy lies in the balance.

With Republicans in control of Congress, only they can start the official processes necessary to keep the president in check, up to and including impeachment. They could rise above partisanship and do the right thing. But so far, they haven’t. Again, procedures, protocols, and precedence have no meaning anymore. Look at this another way. If President Obama had done one-eighth the things Trump has, he would have been impeached ten times over.

Healthcare, the environment, international relations are all victims of Trump’s and the Republican’s lack of judgement and observance of protocol. But the biggest victim is our democracy itself. For survival many Republicans have tried to steer clear of Trump. None of us, however, can afford to stand on the sidelines and wait for him to pass. We must continue to resist and speak out so that ultimately he gets kicked out of office.

The Coulter Counterculture

Mario Savio spent his summer vacation in 1964 doing voter registration work in the South. Racist thugs beat him and a couple of his friends, the price of the ticket for many civil rights workers. One thug had to pay $50 for the crime.

Returning to school for the fall semester at UC Berkeley, he intended to raise money for the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC). Things didn’t go quite as planned. Berkeley had a policy banning political fundraising and activities. Undeterred, he proceeded with his activities anyway. Thus begat Berkeley’s famous Free Speech Movement.

That movement’s legacy continues to this day. For the past 50-plus years, students continue to speak on the steps at Sproul Hall, now named for Mario Savio. Groups set up tables near those steps promoting social and political causes, from dances to fundraisers to Jesus to radical queer theory.

Community activists and street performers have taken to Savio Steps. Friend and Free Speech Warrior Stoney Burke ruled the roost on the steps for years, before decamping just north of Sather Gate to the less congested Dwinelle Plaza. (Stoney Plaza anyone?)

In addition to naming the steps in Mr. Savio’s honor, UC Berkeley also hosts the annual Mario Savio Memorial Lecture. Sponsored by a fund established in Mr. Savio’s name, speakers have included Robert Reich, Angela Davis, and Elizabeth Warren.

Mario Savio had no friends on the right. J. Edgar Hoover’s FBI dogged him like they dogged everyone who made waves. Then-Governor Ronald Reagan was also not a fan. So of course it is the biggest of ironies that rightwing activities now cite the movement Mr. Savio championed in their calls for equal representation at the famously liberal university. Last February now-disgraced rightwing provocateur Milo Yiannapoulos came to campus, but had his event shutdown for public safety reasons. A violent demonstration began, causing some property damage and injuring some people.

Provocation continues. David Horowitz had an event shutdown a couple of weeks ago. Apparently, the event could not take place as planned due to public safety concerns.

Undeterred, the Berkeley Campus Republicans made plans to bring rightwing flamethrower Ann Coulter to campus to give a speech. Again, public safety concerns led the University to first cancel the event, but then they backtracked. It’s been a public back and forth ever since, with the campus offering an alternate date and Ms. Coulter vowing to speak on April 27, her original date, whether the campus liked it or not. Folks speculate that she’ll take to Savio Steps and decry the University’s attempt to stifle conservative voices.

Lynne Hollander Savio, Mario Savio’s widow, had this to say about the Coulter controversy:

“I don’t think Ann Coulter has anything useful to say, but it was unconstitutional for the university to bar her from speaking…”
New York Times, April 21, 2017

Ms. Savio also suggests that the ideals of the FSM are being coopted by some folks on the right, like the Coulters and Yiannapouloses of the world.

Mario Savio did not receive payment for speaking on the steps that now bare his name. Stoney Burke received a busker’s salary for the work he did on and near the steps. Ann Coulter was to have received a speaker’s fee in excess of $20,000 for her appearance. Who knew free speech could pay so well?

To the right, everything is a commodity. A motivation to help the Civil Rights Movement propelled Mr. Savio to speak out. Today, right wing bomb-throwers, who spend most of their time belittling others, want to use free speech as a cause célèbre, to stick it to liberals, and as a cash cow.

In his book Lies and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them, now-Senator Al Franken titled his chapter on Coulter “Ann Coulter: Nutcase.” A fair assessment. I don’t deny that even a “nutcase” has a right to speak her mind. I do, however, question the right’s sudden fealty to free speech and the provocative way in which they pursue it.

Mr. Savio did not have large organizations backing him up the way Ms. Coulter does. He did not have a team of A-list attorney’s fighting for his rights in the courts. Furthermore, he fought a system in order to better humanity. Coulter appears to be fighting to further embolden an establishment already drunk with power. And, of course, for her own self-aggrandizement.

Under those circumstances, I’d be shocked to see her take the famous steps, sans a formal audience, sans security, sans perhaps her speaker’s fee, to boldly proclaim whatever it is she has to proclaim. Mario Savio left behind very big shoes. I don’t think they are her size.

UPDATE: And minutes after posting this, “free speech warrior” Ann Coulter is already changing her tune and saying that she might not come after all. Ha! The Young America’s Foundation, which likely bankrolled Coulter’s appearance, pulled out of the event. No speaker’s fee, no speaker. So much for championing free speech.

Lacerate Hate with Levity

Berkeley’s 30 year-old Farmer’s Market has apparently been cancelled this weekend. It’s only been cancelled once before due to a gale storm. This time, it faces a different type of storm. Some might call them stormtroopers.

For the second time in as many months, Trump supporters plan to hold a rally in Berkeley. Their objective is obvious: rile the local snowflakes into violence and create yet another distraction for the Trump Administration. Why talk about his Administration’s ties to Russia or his saber rattling with North Korea or his harsh domestic policies when you can show video of Trump supporters set upon by upset snowflakes in the birthplace of the Free Speech Movement?

I can think of better ways to deal with Trump supporters. Mock them. Make fun of them. Laugh at them. They have anger and hate on their side. We don’t need to challenge them on that front. We have much more potent weapons. Music. Humor. Satire. These weapons leave much deeper wounds. We should never hesitate to use them. Lacerate hate with levity.

Ladies Against Women remains a favorite satirical reaction to right-wing bafflegab. Created in 1980, it mocked Ronald Reagan, Phyllis Schlafly, and others who sought to throw women back to the 18th century.

A more recent favorite is the sousaphone player who mocked a Klan rally by just blowing his horn. Dumpy music with a Wagnerian chaser. His video has over close to seven million views. The Klan didn’t have a chance.

These are the examples to follow. Don’t fight anger with anger. We’re better than that. Be creative. Hit them in ways that they are unprepared for or incapable of responding to.

 

My Son (A Blues in Lavender)

My father was a tyrant, who lived his life a lie,
My father was a mean man, who lived his life a lie,
By maintaining his fiction, I nearly caused my son die.

My son dances and swings and lives freely in the life,
My son, he dances and swings and lives freely in the life,
But I saw him as a danger and gave him nothing but strife.

I took my daddy’s poison and my soul became bereft,
Yeah, I sipped my daddy’s bad brew, and my soul became bereft,
With the poison of my words, haters nearly beat my son to death.

My son is living, but I can’t give myself a save,
(Naw, I didn’t win no game)
Yes, my son survived, but I can’t give myself a save,
It’s a heavy burden that I’ll carry straight to my grave.

Time for Medicare for All

A nihilistic, nasty, and cruel healthcare bill that would have hurt millions, including members of my own family, failed in the House of Representative because it was not cruel enough. To this we have descended. I have two thoughts about this.

First, Republicans cannot govern because they do not believe in government. In their fantasy land, everyone takes care of themselves. We have no collective society with collective needs, such as education, infrastructure, healthcare, environmental protection, and so forth. Even Republicans who begrudgingly agree that some of these things require our collective attention remain loathed to pay for it. It’s an odd mindset. To defense we can throw untold billions, but everything else does not matter.

Second, as a country we have to think of defense as more than just bullets and bombs. Defense against disease is just as much a national concern as defense against external threats. More people will die of cancer and heart disease than terrorist attacks in this country. Yet we willingly spend billions on defense and allow healthcare to fend for itself. Ugh.

Our biases revealed themselves most coarsely during the whole Republican effort to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act. Why should I have to pay for mammograms? Why should I have to pay for prenatal care? I don’t need them. Really?

We can’t have a strong economy without a strong, healthy population. It doesn’t take a genius to figure that out. Thus, healthcare needs to cover the needs of all citizens. And as a taxpayer, I’d rather tax money go towards mammograms than munitions that sit idle.

The Affordable Care Act, Obamacare, was just a first act. It’s cumbersome, ptolemaic in the extreme, but it has provided millions with healthcare that did not have it before. Now we need to move forward with true, universal, single-payer healthcare in the US. Medicare for all. We have to cultivate the idea that healthcare is a right. While individuals can make their own choices on how to live, a just society should provide quality healthcare for everyone. Many countries do so without a qualm.

My country does not because it allows the worship of money and greed to overpower everything. Thus, those that have get, those that don’t die. That is our healthcare system, a recipe for death. It does not have to be this way.

Culture Under Attack — Bashing Big Bird Again

Not surprisingly, the Trump Administration budget calls for the elimination of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, the National Endowment for the Arts and Humanities, National Public Radio. You know, anything that expresses culture, ideas, independent thought. This is not the first time these institutions have been under attack. This is the first time, however, that we have a relentless bully in the White House. While ridiculous ideas like cutting 30% out of the State Department’s budget likely will not survive Congress, Republicans may decide it’s time to get rid of programs that they’ve loathed for years.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel visited Trump this past week. How well does Germany fund the arts? Very well, indeed. In 2014, they spent $1.75 billion on cultural programs. Germany also has a more robust public broadcasting service than the US. Trump believes that Germany does not send enough money to NATO. He’d probably like to see them slash their culture budget, too. Fortunately, I think the Germans are too smart for that.

Once again, I feel the need to trot out my now 6 year-old post about the importance of public broadcasting and culture. The more we allow society to dumb down, the more we make ourselves vulnerable to demagogues like Donald Trump in the future.

[The following original appeared February 16, 2011.]

Big Bird and I have grown grey together.  If you look at him closely, you’ll see a tuft of white feathers on top of his head.  It’s been there for a while, but I’m pretty sure he wasn’t born that way.  Maybe he was, and I just don’t remember.  But in any case, it pleases me to think that my old friend, whom I grew up with, is aging and surviving just as I have managed to do.

So the Republicans want to defund public broadcasting again.  Yawn.  As Rachel Maddow pointed out on tonight’s show, they pull this stunt every time they get in power.  And the Democrats respond with “they’re trying to kill Big Bird.”  Though I guess the aging bird couldn’t make the rally but Arthur the Aardvark did.

Rachel rightly stated that the attack against public broadcasting isn’t fiscally driven, even if that’s what some Republicans might say.  The Corporation for Public Broadcasting isn’t exactly rolling in the dough.  Its 2010 budget saw a federal contribution of $420,000,000.  Defunding CPB won’t exactly rid the country of its multi-billion dollar deficit.

No, the move to defund, either partly or entirely, public broadcasting is strictly ideological.  Beyond the usual conservative talking point about wanting smaller government, public broadcasting, and Sesame Street in particular, represent what they hate the most about the 60s.  CPB is the child of progressive thinking and an optimistic view that said things are possible.  At a time of racial strife, the Sesame Street had white folks and black folks and Latino folks and Asian folks, and a bunch of furry monsters and feathered birds, getting along peaceably.  Other shows born during this period include The Electric Company and Villa Alegre, both also impressively integrated for its era.  I think, I fear, that the bi-lingual Villa Alegre, which portrayed Spanish-speaking people in a positive light as intelligent, three-dimensional human beings, could never get produced today, in this age of SB 1070.  Some folks, I fear, don’t seem to mind that.

Public broadcasting is all about opening doors.  This crop of Republicans seem to be all about closing them.  Culture be damned.  Children be damned.  Well, how we fund our culture, how we fund institutions for our children is the very measure of who we are as a society.  We can cut funding to CPB and get rid of Big Bird and Grover (my personal favorite).  We can cut funding to National Public Radio and get rid of Piano Jazz and Jazz at Lincoln Center.  But is that what we really want?  I give generously to KCSM, Jazz 91, and have for the past 14 years.  Keep jazz alive.  But I’d like some of my tax money to pay for it, too, and to pay for public stations which I may never hear in parts of the country I may never visit.  Because a cultured society, an educated society, a society which fosters these higher ideals in its children is the society I want to live in.

Ideological vapidity be damned.

Enough. Where Are the Tax Returns?

President Trump, where are your tax returns?

I’m not falling for this late round of obfuscation, distraction, or deflection. He can tweet-storm until the cows come home. That will not deter me. I will continue to ask the same question. Where are his tax returns?

So now we have spurious allegations that former President Obama ordered Trump Tower bugged during the election.

Upset by the phone “tapp” (sic), Trump has called on Congress to launch an immediate investigation.

I’ve seen two trains of thought about this latest invented controversy. First, most have pointed out correctly that the president cannot unilaterally order a wiretap. S/he has to go through the FISA courts. Second, as Wired notes, if a judge in the FISA courts did order a wiretap, then Trump spilled the beans on himself and aired his own dirty laundry. They don’t issue such orders willy-nilly. It could mean further sauce for the goose in terms of Trump’s Russian dealings. Petard meet hoist.

Regardless, I see this whole affair as nothing more than another silly distraction. Anything could have triggered it. Sessions recusal, Carter Page problems, more mounting evidence that the Trump campaign palled around with the Russians, whatever. I’m sick and tired of his constant issue dodging, and I’m growing more and more impatient with the media’s falling for it time and again. Stop wasting time on his spurious, fallacious allegations. Stick to the script.

Where are his tax returns?

He went from “I’m going to release them” to “I’m waiting for the audit to finish” to “I’m president now, so nobody cares.” Accountability is not his strong suit. But that’s exactly why it needs to be ours.

Clearly, his refusal to release his tax returns and financial records indicates that he has something to hide. Captain Obvious would laugh at that statement. We need to know what he’s hiding. Today, not tomorrow. The famous building tycoon continues to expand his house of cards. One could pick it apart from any of a number of vulnerable spots. But the trump card in all of this remains his tax returns. Get that, and the house will crumble very bigly.

Don’t fall for distractions. Keep asking the question. Where. Are. The. Tax. Returns.

Calling All Jazz Artists: Save KCSM Jazz 91

My favorite section of Hajdu’s Strayhorn biography Lush Life, the part with the strongest storytelling, is where he talks about Billy Strayhorn’s cancer diagnosis. For this chapter, he relied on the vivid memories of Marian Logan, Harlem socialite and wife of Dr. Arthur Logan, physician to both Strayhorn and Duke Ellington.

Strayhorn took his diagnosis bravely, calmly. Ellington, not so much.

“Arthur called Edward [Ellington’s first name] and told him. He was on the road somewhere,” Marian Logan recounted. “Arthur said, ‘Edward is terribly, terribly angry. I think he blames me. ‘How can you tell me this? Do you know what you’re saying? Why didn’t you tell me this before?’… He was irrational. And he was pissed off.”
Hajdu, “Lush Life – A Biography of Billy Strayhorn,” Farrar, Straus, Giroux, 1996, p. 233

I’m with Ellington right now.

KCSM, Jazz 91, the mainstay of my musical existence for the past 20 years, has the blues, and their blues will be felt by their thousands of listeners worldwide. Due to budget shortfalls and other issues, the station will have to cut back some of their on air staff and has cancelled some of their best programs.

Gone is “In the Moment,” a showcase for recorded live performances in the Bay Area. Harry Duncan’s “In the Soul Kitchen” also received the axe. Some of my favorite announcers will be working reduced shifts, including Greg Bridges, whose programming has aided me while writing on more than a few occasions.

While the station is dedicated to staying on the air and broadcasting jazz 24/7, one of only three left in the country still doing so, its precarious position troubles me to no end. And more trouble could exist just over the shaky horizon that is life in the age of the Trump Administration. He has already made known his desire to defund the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, National Public Radio, and the National Foundation for the Arts. Republican Congresses in the past have threatened this act of cultural suicide in the past. Having a president pushing for so drastic a move only makes matters worse. While these federal programs make up a tiny fraction of 1% of the national budget (we won’t solve the deficit by getting rid of them, in other words), entities like KCSM rely on the money they receive to keep the lights on.

We human beings are storytellers. Music tells our stories most vividly, creatively and viscerally. Music is also the closest thing I have to a religion. So the last thing I want to see is my main temple of music go away.

Miles Davis has a famous quote where he says that all musicians should get on their knees at least once a year and give thanks to Duke Ellington. I’d like to revise this a bit. I think every working jazz artist today should give thanks to the little station that could. KCSM is probably jazz’s best ambassador and that’s entirely due to the knowledge, care, and dedication of its on air talent.

So here’s my challenge. Time for all jazz artists and their fans to go Full George Bailey for KCSM. Do benefit shows. Fill the halls. Sing the station’s praises from the rooftops. Save one of your best ambassadors. In these troubling times, we need the wit, wisdom, diversity, and badassness that is jazz. We need KCSM.

(And everyone, donate now.)

DNC Chairmanship – More of the Same? Hope Not

Two friends on Facebook, who do not know each other, independently and simultaneously posted their reactions to Tom Perez winning the Democratic National Committee chairmanship. One friend noted that Mr. Perez, Labor Secretary in the Obama Administration, worked hard on LGBTQ issues, in particular on transgender rights. The other friend had a one word reaction, a word I often use myself: ugh.

Both of their reactions encompass my own. I recognize that Mr. Perez has progressive credentials. I also recognize that he comes from an establishment that seems unable or unwilling to look at itself in the mirror to see what’s going wrong, and that scares me.

Democrats won everything in 2008. They already had the House and the Senate and Barack Obama’s victory gave them the White House. Additionally, they held a supermajority in the Senate for the first time in ages. It should have been a perfect moment for the party and the country. But it wasn’t.

Too many Democrats in office during the first two years of President Obama’s term held corporate allegiances. They eschewed anything that smelled too progressive, including parts of the Affordable Care Act (e.g., the public option). When it came time for reelection in 2010, these timid Democrats ran for the hills, away from ACA, away from a popular president. They lost. And the party has been losing ever since.

In 2010, they lost the House.

In 2014, they lost the Senate.

In 2016, they lost the presidency.

In the background of all this national losing, they lost statehouses and governorships across the country. Today, Republicans control 32 state legislatures, Democrats control 12, and 6 are divided. Of the 12 statehouses under Democratic control, only five have Democratic governors. Eight short years ago, Democratic commentators, like Marcos Moulitsas and others, went on about how the Republican Party became a regional party, that it would never win a national election again. Blah, blah, blah. Wrong, wrong, wrong. These commentators had in fact been describing the eventual fate of the Democratic Party.

The New Republic recently published a devastating article, “Obama’s Lost Army,” that details how the DNC squandered the grassroots organization created to elect President Obama in 2008. Rather than turn it into a strong force for progressive ideas, an incubator for a new generation of Democratic politicians, or a force for local organizing, the DNC simply allowed all the organization to falter and vanish. The piece states that Democratic insiders were not comfortable with a separate entity organizing Democratic voters and fielding potential candidates that party bigwigs had not vetted. So they allowed it to die.

Saddest part of all, the Republicans learned the lessons from Obama’s victory and did the grassroots organizing that the Democrats were reluctant to do, leading to victories in 2010, 2014, and 2016 and the election of Donald Trump.

My other point of contention, what happened to everyone who voted in 2008? I asked this before, and I’m still asking it. Trump did not win simply by luring erstwhile Obama voters. He won because a lot of people simply didn’t vote. Folks like Van Jones have focussed on the former problem and have all but ignored the latter. And I’m tired of it. We need to discuss the problem of people not voting.

I contend that people like progressive politics when its explained clearly and when those who espouse it follow through on their promises. People want socialized medicine, even if they don’t like that name. Call it something else, then. But once “Medicare for all” or however you want to call it is established, then folks won’t want it taken away, just as folks are finally waking up and protesting the inevitable destruction of the Affordable Care Act at the hands of the Republicans.

The 2009 stimulus, meant to revive a stagnant economy and reverse rising unemployment, was so successful that Republicans who voted against it touted its benefits to constituents. The stimulus suffered from poor marketing — it really needed a better name if nothing else — and lack of clarity as to what it was and what it was supposed to do. Republicans exploited these shortcomings to their advantage.

Republicans and Democrats are very different in one very crucial way. Republicans mean what they say, say it clearly, and follow through on it. Democrats equivocate and meander. They run for the hills when they should defend what they believe in. Then they lose.

For Tom Perez to change the failing status of the Democratic Party, he needs to address these issues head-on. I really hope he does. Appointing his former opponent for the DNC chairmanship, Congressman Keith Ellison, as his Deputy Director could be a good first start, if he gives Congressman Ellison something meaningful to do. Otherwise, I worry that 2018 will be another in a long line of electoral disappointments, to the detriment of the country.