Tuesday, June 27, 2006


State's Rights should not trump individual civil rights, whether these rights are the rights for a woman to control her own body, or the right to vote, or the right to breathe clean air, or even the right not to be a slave.Rights are relative. The term state's rights was not coined without any context. It was coined in defense of slavery. It was originally a pro-slavery position. It then evolved into an anti-civil rights position. Hubert Humphrey's famous 1948 speech at the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia--one of the great civil rights speeches of all time-- called on delegates to get out of the darkness of state's rights and "into the warm sunshine of human rights." State's rights was the position of 1860 Democratic Presidential candidate Steven Douglas. It led to the Civil War. It led to the long-term marginalization of the Democratic Party from 1860 until the New Deal. It is not an intellectually honest position. The whole purpose of the states rights position is to defeat individual civil rights.

July 14, 2007


The Negatives of Negative Campaigning
by State Rep Mark Cohen Dem PA
Fri Sep 22, 2006 at 10:15:43 PM PDT
Among both professional campaign consultants and passionately informed partisans, there is a macho zest for negative campaigning. The art of trashing an opponent's reputation arouses both passionate commentary and lucrative fees.
Among both practicing politicians and average citizens, however, negative campaigning arouses far less enthusiasm. Experience has shown that there is often a sort of karmic justice involved: those who most go negative against their opponents wind up having their opponents and their supporters most go negative on them.
To a surprisingly large degree, the rules politicians make clear they play by strongly influence the rules their opponents play by. This is because the tactics an incumbent, frontrunner, or popular challener follows inherently legitimizes the same tactics for the opposition. And then there is the ultimate deadly negative on negative campaign: it often does not work. Exhibits A and B are Bill Clinton and Jimmy Carter, two of the most popular Americans today, and two of the most attacked and hated politicians in American history.
There are endless reasons why negative campaigning fails. The first is that is sometimes creates a new and intense constituency for the victim of it. For instance, Paul Wellstone's initial opponent, Senator Rudy Boschwitz, blew a considerable lead over Wellstone by attacking him for engaging in religious intermarriage. Suddenly Wellstone was the undisputed champion of the many hundreds of thousands of Minnesotans who also had engaged in religious intermarriage.
Other examples include Mayor John Street of Philadelphia--elected when his primary opponent created a new voting bloc of debtors indignant that his personal debts were at issue; Bill and Hillary Clinton, recipients of support from the strained and difficult marriages constituency as well as the anti-draft constituency for Bill; and Chuck Schumer, the beneficiary of strong Jewish support after incumbent Al D'Amato attacked his Jewish authenticity.
A second way negative campaigning can backfire is by drawing attention to the weaknesses of the attacker. Republican James Roddey was elected Allegeny County Executive over well-known Coroner Cyril Wecht by running ads consisting of quotes from Wecht attacking other Democrats he had competed with.
In PA-13,Republican challenger Melissa Brown's attacks on incumbent Republican Congressman Jon Fox, his successor County Commissioner and then Democratic incumbent Congressman Joesph Hoeffel, and his successor State Senator and now Congresswoman Allyson Schwartz served to increasingly strip her of credibility and make her, by her own admission, a widespread object of hatred.
A third way negative campaigning can backfire is by forcing the incumbent to campaign harder. One of my Republican colleagues in the legislature was almost beaten by a low-key Democratic challenger running a positive low-budget campaign that put him to sleep; the following election, he got about 80% of the vote against a well-financed Democratic challenger who ran a sharply negative campaign.
A fourth way negative campaigning can backfire is by improving the performance of the challenger. The negative campaigner can be doing a great favor for his opponent by pointing out vulnerabilities that need to be addressed.
A fifth way negative campaigning can backfire is by alienating the hard to see but always present "fairness constituency," a group of people that like to consider themselves disinterested referees of political battles. Ed Rendell swept this constituency in his 2002 primary victory against an opponent's campaign whose regularly negative take on Rendell's positive achievements cost him much-needed credibility.
When going negative, a candidate should ask what message he or she wants to get across, and whether the negative campaign actually does that. All too often the negative campaign merely gets across the message that the perpetuator is angry, unqualified, unimaginative, etc. When your own supporters start complaining to you about your tactics, that should be taken as a hint that you ought to seriously consider changing them.



Legislative Oversight Important to Foreign and Domestic Policies
by State Rep Mark Cohen Dem PA
Mon Sep 18, 2006 at 07:51:08 AM PDT
Watergate Nixon accuser John Dean's appearance at an ACLU rally held in the shadow of Independence Hall in Philadelphia, a key comment he made was about the value of legislative oversight and its almost complete absence in the Iraq War today.
Dean noted that he began his career as a House Republican aide at the time of the Vietnam War. The Democrats controlled the House and the Senate then, but they engaged in vigorous scrutiny and public debate of President Johnson's war policies. Dean was proud to be a small part of that effort.
I am a first-hand witness to this history, as I served as a House intern in 1967 for Congressman William J. Green of Philadelphia and a Senate intern in 1968 for Senator Joseph S. Clark of Pennsylvania. Even the interns got involved in the oversight process. My main contribution was opposing attempts of Republican interns to create an ethical standard for interns banning public statements on the war by interns. Beyond doing our jobs helping our bosses, Democratic interns in the 1960's circulated a petition opposing Johnson's war policies, held almost daily and sometimes twice a day meetings with members of Congress and leaders of the foreign policy establishment, most memorably for me meeting with Vice-President Hubert Humphrey and Secretary of State Dean Rusk.
It seems to me that even the interns of the 1960's ( a group which included today's Senators Hillary Clinton, then a Republican, Joe Lieberman, and Chuck Schumer, none of whom I knew or knew of at the time) did a better job of exercising legislative oversight than today's Republican Congress does.
But whatever contribution 1960's interns made to the Congressional oversight process (note to graduate students: there may be a scholarly paper or dissertation topic here), it paled beside the vigorous although inadequate oversight done by members of the Democratic Congress.
The chief director of oversight was the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, led by Senator J. William Fulbright, aided by a very competent staff (including Georgetown University student William J. Clinton). Fulbright held extensive hearings on the Vietnam War. After one of them, I heard Senator Eugene McCarthy express outrage at a statement made by Secretary Rusk and fume, "There's only one thing to do. Take it to the people."
The House also engaged in oversight, although it was far less concentrated that the Senate oversight was. The Chairman of the House Foreign Relations Committee, Doc Morgan of Western Pennsylvania, was a supporter of the war, but even he held public hearings at which dissident voices were sometimes heard.
As a result of the oversight, it became increasingly clear that the White House was acting on the basis of inadequate and incorrect information. That is what led Defense Secretary Robert McNamara (today a critic of the war in Iraq) to commission a detailed study of the history of American involvement in Vietnam, and led Daniel Ellsberg, who had access to the study, to release it, and Senator Mike Gravel of Alaska to read it into the Congressional record, making it public in its entirety. (Ellsberg had orginally leaked parts of it to various newspapers.)
Without the role of legislative oversight, the War in Vietnam could have dragged on even longer than it did. The vast majority of the media bought the presumption that the Johnson and Nixon White Houses knew what they were doing, and that presumption was largely erroneous.
Even historical research critical of the North Vietnamese government emphasizes the folly of Johnson's and Nixon's strategies in dealing with them: some of their leaders were apparently much more personally fanatical and less interested in the welfare of their constituency than Johnson and Nixon believed them to be, making them less receptive to offers of American aid than Johnson and Nixon thought they would be.
One Democratic line in Congress has been that Bush should develop an exit strategy, not Congress. There is a certain tactical advantage to this approach. It avoids harsh media scrutiny of the Democrats, for instance. But it displays far less analytical vigor and political courage than the Democrats of the 1960's showed.
I will be very surprised if the Democrats do not regain control of Congress--at least the House, quite likely both the House and the Senate--this year. Hopefully, those who exercise this control will read or reread accounts of the Fulbright investigations, and transcripts of oversight of the Vietnam war conducted by other committees in the House and the Senate.
Much more could have been done in the 1960's and 1970's than actually was done, but what was done was often done quite well and had positive and lasting results for building a solid base of knowledge about American foreign policy--at the State Department and the Defense Department no less than among the American people.



Real World Effects Must Inform Ideals and Idealists
by State Rep Mark Cohen Dem PA
Sat Sep 16, 2006 at 08:03:46 PM PDT
One of the most exciting things about participating in American politics is the chance to associate with many idealists. And one of the most frustrating things about participating in American politics can be dealing with American idealists.
George W. Bush, like most national leaders who serve as President or run for President, traffics in the language of idealism. Our war in Iraq, for which the death toll of Americans and Iraqis alike rises almost daily and for which there is no visible end in sight, is according to his rhetoric about bringing democracy and a rising standard of living to the Arab world.
It is the ideals that count with him according to his public advocacy, rather than the real world effects that have much of the country up in arms.
One can go and on with Bush Administration programs that, in reality, have little to do with their ideals: the No Child Left Behind Act, environmental sounding bills that actually increase pollution, homeland security actions that leave America feeling more fearful than ever, etc. But the issue goes farther than the obvious weaknesses of Bush Administration policy. Preoccupation with ideals instead of results tends to isolate intellectuals from politics, as politicians over the long haul tend to value results more than ideals.
Most importantly, however, preoccupation with ideals instead of results can lead to really terrible policies, whichever side has political power.
The military draft, the subject of my last diary, is a premier example of a program that both military leaders and the general public strongly oppose, but that has a following because of the ideals of equality and shared sacrifice that it represents.
Other high ideal, poor or limited result public policies include welfare reform, which has led to higher rates of child poverty and more widespread deep poverty, despite some exciting stories of enhanced individual effort leading to better lives; tax cuts for the wealthy, which has led to record high deficits and cutbacks in social services for low income and middle class people; and the taxpayer bill of rights, recently suspended in Colorado, which invented it, but an object of rightwing desire around our country nevertheless for the obstacles in sets forth towards increasing govenmental spending in education and other areas of social needs.
When one hears of shiny ideals on either the left or the right, one should remember that even the worst atrocities have been justified by stirring rhetoric.
Some good questions to ask include the following:
Who bears the risks in meeting this ideal? How great are the risks? How many people will die from the risks?
Who reaps the greatest benefits in meeting this ideal?Are the supposed beneficiaries of this ideal in support of it?
Has this ideal been tried anywhere? If so, what were the results?Does this ideal economically benefit the wealthy, the middle class, or the low-income?
What other public policies and candidates have been supported by backers of this ideal?Would the supporters of this ideal back it if they were adversely affected by it?
I am sure you can think of other questions that should be added to the above list. But the conclusion that should be reached is this: ideals must not be divorced from their consequences. The consequences of ideals are far more important than the ideals themselves.
Ideology, Tom Hayden has said, is a tool for getting people to do what you want them to do. The same is true with the profession of ideals. "Let the buyer beware" is a good motto for political shoppers as well as shopping mall shoppers. (Afternote: I deeply appreciate Susan G.'s blurb posted in "Diaries Up for Rescue Tonight" on September 18, 2006, when she said this diary "raises profound, tough questions that should be asked when ideals are proposed as policy." The Daily Kos is the living embodiment of law professor Ronald Dworkin's phrase "the continuing conversation that we call democracy," so this plug is very helpful in communicating my message of the need for thoughtful questioning of proposed ideals.)



Principles that are highly selective in application are not principles at all. I would hope that, over time, principles that will be advocated in Philadelphia politics will be principles of general application, not principles developed for narrow short-term political purposes, and quickly abandoned once those narrow short-term purposes have been served.



Corporate influence in Philadelphia politics is generally seen in fundraising, media coverage, job offers to well-connected Republicans, and speaking invitations to prestigious audiences.The tactic of a corporation threatening to move if a given candidate is elected has not been tried yet in Philadelphia, but the Inquirer came close to it when it endorsed corporate leader Sam Katz (he headed a once prominent organization, Greater Philadelphia First, that was merged into the Greater Philadelphia Chamber of Commerce after he resigned its Chairmanship) in 1999 and called him the candidate of those who could move out of the city and Street the candidate of those who would be here in any case.It is impossible to get elected Mayor of Philadelphia, one of the most Democratic cities in the country, without substantial backing from Republican corporate leaders because of the many millions of dollars candidates are required to raise to run for mayor in Philadelphia's competitive primary environment. Some times that is also true for other offices, and sometimes it is not. Grassroots support can be an effective counterweight to corporate influence when popular issues are involved, such as raising the minimum wage.The media coverage in Philadelphia and most places has a heavily corporate tilt. Issues around taxes paid by business are given far more prominence than issues around taxes paid by individuals. Labor issues are routinely ignored, assigned to the business pages, or treated with ridicule. The recent Philadelphia Daily News attack on the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers for daring to litigate an effort by Paul Vallas to pay annual teacher salaries over 54 weeks instead of 52 weeks is an example of the complete insensitity towards worker rights demonstrated by newspaper editorialists.Democrats are under constant editorial pressure to distance themselves from unions. My late father Councilman David Cohen has the all time record of having won twelve consecutive primary and general elections over the editorial opposition of the Philadelphia Inquirer; he was also opposed by the Philadelphia Daily News in eleven of those twelve elections. The reasons for this opposition were his closeness to unions and the close scrutiny he gave the corporate agenda in City Council.Even when events proved him right--such as his opposition to a trash to steam plant that would have cost Philadelphians $200 or so a ton to dispose of trash as opposed to the $50 or so a ton the city is paying today--and the corporate leaders ultimately rescinded their prior position, they remembered more that he opposed them than that he saved the city over $1.5 billion over a thirty year period.There is a growing concern in the media over the long-term decline in American wages and benefits. A key reason for this decline is the consistent weakening of union rights and organizing ability. I am confident that we will see few if any editorials calling for greater union power in order to raise the salaries of Americans. The lack of much focus on the role of union decline in discussions of wage decline is a key indicator of the power corporations wield with the media due to their control of advertising and a considerable amount of information.

September 6, 2006



When a mayor gets elected, he (so far there have been no women serving as mayor) knows that he will have only two more elections as mayor to worry about: a Democratic primary--in which there is a good chance he, like Rendell and Street will run unopposed--and a general election, in which the Democratic incumbent has had close calls only in 1967 (Jim Tate versus Arlen Specter) and 1987 (Wilson Goode versus Frank Rizzo).In other words, the odds are that there is little that any voter or groups of voters can do to affect his re-election four years after his election.Every other elected official in the city faces a different calculus. He or she will likely seek to run for re-election a number of times. Predicting the future is difficult, especially in the out years. One has no idea what the factional alignments will be, what the party strength will be, what the demographic changes will be, what the hot issues will be, and--in the case of elected officials with districts--what the district lines will be.Therefore, in a state of complete uncertainty, facing a longterm future knowing that many incumbents are defeated over time or feel compelled to retire over time for lack of support, smart incumbents in every office except mayor see the wisdom of reaching out on a continuous basis to build up their base of support. They are highly responsive to constituents, because they know that some day there may be an election where the individual constituent they helped will be important.Not only is the performance of individual elected officials different because of the lack of term limits, but so is the behavior of interest groups. Those interest groups that are disappointed with the mayor tend either to wait him out knowing he will soon be gone or just to resign themselves to a state of hopelessness.With other elective officials, there is much more engagement by those without big checks to hand out, in large part because of the expectation that these elected officials will be around for a long time.I know from living part of the week in Harrisburg that six-term Mayor Steven Reed does an excellent job and is widely respected in his region--in large part because he is able to initiate and complete long term projects that produce demonstrable results. Similarly, longterm mayor Richard Daley of Chicago is widely heralded, as was his father until fiascoes involving the 1968 Democratic National Convention and other issues.Those who favor term limits ought to start looking at the real live people who have been elected under term limits and see whether their performance is really a model that they wish to see widely emulated by the vast majority of elected officials who are term limit free.

August 27, 2006



It's ironic that the only term limited office in the city--the office of mayor--decade after decade has the least popular incumbent. Mayors Bernard Samuel, James Tate, Frank Rizzo, Bill Green, Wilson Goode, and John Street have been widely unpopular among many constituencies, and Mayors Joseph Clark, Richardson Dilworth and Ed Rendell have been highly controversial to many Philadelphians, respected but somewhat distrusted.What term limits create is auctions every time there is a vacancy. For those people who can afford large campaign contributions, this may be a good thing, although many have found that there really are far better uses for money. But, for the vast majority of Philadelphians who cannot afford getting in the game, the every eight year auction to see what candidate can raise the most money to buy enough air time and hire enough people means that somebody else's economic interests determine the future of the city. My late father Councilman David Cohen came to feel that the need to raise campaign contributions both isolated the mayoral candidates from the vast majority of the people, and led the eventual mayor to be locked into pursuing unpopular and somewhat unproductive policies.

August 26, 2006



Some of my secrets for electoral success:I do a lot of things to help people that I am not required to do.I try to help everyone I can regardless of party affiliation, neighorhood of residence, or membership in any demographic category.I do a lot of things to help people that I am not paid to do.I hire the most competent people I find, and I treat them like the dedicated, competent, hard-working public servants that they are.I stand up for my constituents against pressures from opposing forces.I make decisions on public policy based on what is good for my constituents and the people as a whole. I spend enough time studying the issues so that I can defend the decisions I make and others have confidence in them.I get things done that meet and exceed many people's expectations.

August 8, 2006



There is no common understanding of what essential means. Help for moderate income people is often not considered essential by high-income people. Anti-crime efforts are often not considered essential in areas where there is little crime. Young people often do not value senior citizens programs, and old people often do not value education spending.What is essential is an inherently political question that is a result of a give and take process among the legislators, the Governor, the public, various interest groups, and the media.

July 7, 2006



I didn't get elected to maintain the status quo. I constantly seek out workable ideas for change--ideas that have proven merit and ability to appeal to people across party and economic lines.Powerful economic interests have have many hundreds of lobbyists working in Harrisburg, with a backup staff generating specific proposals of thousands of people.There are darn few lobbyists representing the economic and social interests of the average citizen. This means that there are darn few bills representing the interests of the average citizen.I seek fundamental change to benefit the average citizen. My annual book bill is a small fraction of what it costs to pay for a legislative staff person. I read extensively because I am committed to reasonable, rational changes to benefit the average person, and advocates for such changes are in short supply in Harrisburg.I have violated no laws, no legislative rules. Nor have I exceeded expense account limits. I have been "caught" working far harder than I have to, and doing things I do not have to. I do these things because my commitment to a better future for all Philadelphians.

June 13, 2006



Third party candidates are attractive because they appeal to market niches, and not majorities. They don't have to worry about alienating voters, since they have no credible chance of gaining majority status. They can be outspoken, uncompromising champions of whatever they want to be, because they are basically playing a low-stakes, low-impact game.Those unhappy with the choices offered by the Democratic and Republican parties would do better to concentrate on primary elections.

July 7, 2006



If two years of Gerald Ford, six years of Richard Nixon, eight years of Ronald Reagan, twelve years of George Bushes, twelve years of a Republican majority in the U.S. House, sixteen years of a Republican majority in the U.S. Senate, thirty-five years of a Republican majority on the U.S. Court, and 53 years of a Republican chief justice on the U.S. Supreme Court cannot destroy the New Deal, you have to face the fact that it may just be indestructable.People want a government that will take responsibility for improving the lives of the citizens. Yes, there may be negative effects of some improvements. But the alternative of a laissez faire economy, in which a fortunate few become rich and the vast majority live in poverty, is simply unacceptable to not only the vast majority of Americans but the vast majority of Republicans.Republican officeholders no less than Democratic officeholders have to be able to adequately answer the question of what they have done for ordinary citizens. When they have few or no good answers, they go down to defeat, even in Republican primaries, as thirteen Republican state legislators did in Pennsylvania this year (along with four Democrats).Franklin D. Roosevelt died in 1945. My father David Cohen called himself a Roosevelt Democrat and was almost certainly the last employee of the Roosevelt Administration to serve in elective office (he worked for the Rural Electrification Administration as an attorney and had nearly completed 29 years of City Council service at the time of his death in 2005). But the New Deal philosophy of helping those who need help through rational governmental action--even action that may have some negative side effects--will endure for a long time into the future.The solution to our problems is not to attack a group of men and women who are now virtually all deceased. Rather, it is to take the innovative and pioneering spirit of the New Deal and apply it with fresh eyes towards solving our ever-growing list of public problems.

June 25, 2006



It's hard for me to really believe this, but this September will be the 40th anniversary of my entering the University of Pennsylvania as a 17 year old freshman. I well remember the first student political activity I attended. It was a debate between the College Young Democrats, which I ultimately became an officer of, and the College Young Republicans on the issue of whether Pennsylvania was in fact a Democratic or Republican state.The evidence was mixed, as it is today. Pennsylvania at that point had a Republican governor, with a Democratic legislature, the reverse of what we have today. Pennsylvania at that point had two Republican U.S. Senators, the same as we have today. Pennsylvania then had more Democratic Congress members than Republicans, the reverse of what we have today. Republicans had a majority on the state courts, the same as we have today.Republicans in November of 1966 would take over the state House of Representatives, maintain their hold on the governorship, and gain seats in the U.S. House from Pennsylvania and the country as a whole. 2006 increasingly looks, to Democrats and Republicans alike, as a strong Democratic year.It seemed then, and it seems to me now, that what the party voting trends are is inherently debatable at all times. There is always news positive and negative for Democrats, and always news positive and negative for Republicans. We do not have to debate the future; future outcomes are not inevitable; we can try to shape it.Those deeply about the differences between the Democratic and Republican parties should try to become active in the party of one's choice. Parties and candidates always need workers, citizen input, and campaign contributions.In the long run, the actions of concerned citizens determines the fate of political parties and their candidates. Those who care should devote time, thought, and money to making a difference in accordance with their visions of the public interest.

June 11, 2006



In state legislative elections this year, rookie candidate John Sabatina, Jr. set an all-time Northeast Philadelphia record for a Democrat by getting 89% against a Republican (7%) and a Green Party candidate (4%).That achievement was then exceed by rookie candidate Shawn Flaherty's becoming the first Democrat to win his suburban Allegheny County District since 1936.That achievement was then surpassed by long-time minority commissioner Andrew Dinniman's becoming the first Democrat to win an election in Chester County for the State Senate since before the Civil War.A lot of people are mad at the Republican Party. They did not vote Republican to have a long war in Iraq, or to have a national debt approachin 10 trillion dollars, or to have a long stagnant stock market, or to have ever-increasing interest rates, or to have high gas prices. They did not vote Republican to have massive corruption in official Washington.People generally believe the best about their political party. That is not true of many Republican voters today, and will likely not be true of many Republican voters in November.This year, I am running without Republican opposition, and thirteen Republican incumbents--eleven state house members and two state senate leaders--have been defeated in primary elections. The Republican Party is facing a crisis of confidence in Pennsylvania and around the nation.One Republican state legislator lost the primary to a guy whose campaign consisted largely of qualifying for the ballot. When people really want change, they don't require sophisticated campaigns.Looke for some more impossible things to happen around the country this November.

May 30, 2006



New Republicans in Northeat Philadelphia are certainly welcome to our city, but it should be clear that the Democratic Party is in the ascendancy here.In the March 14 Special Election for the House to succeed City Controller Alan Butkovitz, Representative John Sabatina, Jr. set an all-time Northeast Democratic record by winning that seat with 89% to 7% for the Republican candidiate and 4% for the Green Party candidate.

May 12, 2006



Wisdom is considered a sign of weakness by the powerful because a wise man can lead without power but only a powerful man can lead without wisdom.


The key to having influence in a political party is to start thinking of the party as "we" instead of "they." The truth is that anyone can participate, and that participation has some impact on the outcome of elections.

A lot of the city's improvements in recent years can be attributable to sound political decisions. But we are certainly nowhere near Utopia, and the political involvement of other concerned Philadelphians would be welcomed by many.

June 17, 2005


The best way to publicize a governmental or politicalaction is to attempt to hide it.


The subjects of the Shadow Convention—campaign finance reform, reform of America's drug laws, fighting the causes of poverty, reducing corporate influence on the political process—showed that she (Arianna Huffington) had come a long way from her days as a Gingrich backer while remaining a registered Republican.

Arianna is absolutely right: Bush is an extremist and supporting him is an extremist position. She should keep telling it like it is.


The election of Howard Dean as Democratic National Committee Chairman is a step that can be taken from the top down that will really revitalize the Democratic Party from the grassroots up. The Dean election, as vital as it can be, is not the only thing we can accomplish.2004 was the year large number of people changed the way they thought and acted. Instead of asking whether the Democratic Party was the perfect party which had an answer and a plan for every contingency, they asked instead what they could do to help. Instead of seeking endless new ways to critique the Democratic Party, they sought endless new ways to build the Democratic Party.2004 was the year we suddenly had Democratic dating services, Democratic drinking clubs, Democratic community service projects, and Democratic outreach on a whole new level to college campuses, gays, and foreign language speaking Americans.2004 was the year people started asking in the death notices of their family members that, in lieu of flowers, friends make contributions to the Democratic Presidential nominee or the Democratic National Committee.We can and must build on this new form of identity politics. Even some of those who identify themselves by the designers of the clothes they wear, or the make of the car they drive, or the neighborhood they live in, or the team they root for, now want to identify themselves publicly by the party they vote for.With this record intensity of public support, we are in excellent position to seek support from young people and immigrants who will be voting for the first time from 2005 through 2008, as well as independents, Republicans, and scared Democrats who failed to support us in 2004.It is not hard to find Republicans nowadays. The vast majority of married private for profit workers are now Republicans. Defecting Democrats and independents are disproportionately those who fall in this demographic category.Once we locate Republicans that we know or that we meet, it never hurts to invite them to Democratic activities to join the Democratic Party itself. You never know what latent plans people might have until you invite them to join you. You know what the response will be to the many good people in the Democratic Party until Republicans and independents are exposed to them.We need Democratic activities of every kind that people are willing to organize: bowling clubs, hunting clubs, community betterment projects, singing clubs, etc. The unions in their heyday were full of such activities, and their decline has left a void that removes a barrier to Repbublican proganda.A Democratic activist I know used to be a Republican elected official. He resisted pleas of his friends to support Democratic candidates. But one day, he agreed to support one Democrat. That led to suporting a second, a third, a fourth, and a fifth. Then, he looked closely in the mirror and decided that he was, in fact, a Democrat himself.We need to give people these opportunities. It is absolutely amazing what the long range effects can be of a speech, a conversation, a political event, an invitation from a friend. People are not machines, and cannot endlessly extend themselves to others. That fact makes every act of outreach extremely rare and especially valuable.Money is always needed and always appreciated. If you can do nothing else, you can always write a check. Fundraising is an essential field in our communications era, but it is far from the only area of importance. When we feel good about who we are, and share our beliefs with others who may disagree, we are setting forth ripples of influence, which may well last long after we have forgotten them.Politics, at different levels, can be noble or base, exciting or boring, fulfilling or draining. We have the opportunity to improve the chance that our governments and our party will be working in a way that can improve our country and our communities, and our own lives, and we ought to take it.

November 28, 2004


Opinions about political and governmental issues are always appropriate to share with elected officials. All too often, the gap between what people think and what they express is very wide, creating a vacuum filled of interests not representative of the general public.


Courses of action which run only to be justified in terms of practicality ultimately prove destructive and impractical.

Political power is as permanent as today’s newspaper. Ten years from now, few will know or care who the most powerful man in any state was today.

Power attracts people but it cannot hold them.

The more qualified candidates who are available, the more likely the compromise will be on the candidate whose main qualification is a non-threatening incompetence.

There are many inside dopes in politics and government.

Victory goes to the candidate with the most accumulated or contributed wealth who has the financial sources to convince the middle class and poor that he will be on their side.


This May, as a Pennsylvania state legislator, I led the successful effort to kill a Bill O'Reilly-inspired effort to ban the sale of French wines in Pennsylvania, and then debated the issue with O'Reilly himself on the O'Reilly factor. Since then, Pennsylvania Congrressman Joe Hoeffel announced that he would vacate his Congressional seat (Philadelphia, Montgomery County) to run for U.S. Senator, and I have begun running for his seat. I run to work to make sure that our occupation of Iraq does not become another Vietnam, and that our occupation of Iraq does not stop all domestic spending. I run because I am angry at the lies and indifference to truth from so many official spokespersons. I run because I believe I can make a real difference in Congress, and not just be another generic Democrat.

September 4, 2003


Of course,joining hands with extreme right-wing elements of the Republicans strengthens their power base and negatively affects progresses causes. How can it not do that?Maybe, some Republican seat somewhere will become a Democratic seat is the Republicans go far enough to the right. This happened for instance in Abington, when Democrat Josh Shapiro, a strong supporter and personal friend of both Joe Hoeffel and Joe Lieberman, upset former Congressman and Newt Gingrich supporter Jon Fox to win the state house seat in 2004. But there is no likelihood that it will happen enough to gain many additional seats.The progressive attack on the Democratic Leadership Council is that it goes along too readily with mainstream Republican positions. I supported Howard Dean for President because he was an unequivocal supporter of the idea that Democrats should focus on articulating clear positions that distinguish themselves from the Republican Party.Siding with the more conservative elements of the Republican Party--the people who are against any minimum wage, let alone a minimum wage increase, for example--against the less conservative elements of the Republican Party is moving in a direction totally opposite in the direction of Dean, Kucinich, and other progressive Democrats. It is effectively seeking to move the Democratic Party to the right.Republicans have always been interested in recruiting Democrats. Arlen Specter was once a Democratic committeeman who had worked for a Democratic district attorney. Paul Wellstone's successor, Norman Coleman, had been elected Mayor on the Democratic ticket. Tom Hayden was famously approached by Ronald Reagan, and told he could have a great future as a Republican.David Horowitz started out as a left-wing radical. So did Lyndon LaRouche. About half of the original founders of the National Review were former Communists. The original leaders of the neo-conservative movement-- which given us the war in Iraq--were Trotskyites. One can go on and on in this vein.Supporting higher salaries for the public sector is a liberal position. Public sector unions at all levels tend disproportionately to support Democrats. A higher salaried public is a public sector where people believe in the betterment of society. A low salaried public sector is one with high turnover where people are looking to use their public power to secure private employment.If $81,000 a year for a state legislator--who has no tenure and can be replaced at any primary or general election--is so outrageous, how does one defend the fact that the average full professor at Penn State makes $116,00 and the average full professor at Temple makes $105,000?How does one defend the salaries of Paul Vallas and Housing Authority chief Carl Greene, each over $200,000? How does one defend the many governmental professionals each earning more commensurate with their education and work experience than the wage of the average wage earner?In 2003, the last year figures are available, the average average elementary school principal in Pennsylvania earned about $88,000 per year, and the average high school principal earned about $87,000 a year. How does one defend those figures if $81,000 state legislative salaries are so outrageous?Grover Norquist famously said he wanted to shrink government to size where it could be flushed down the toilet. The Katrina example--where Bush laid thousands of well-paid flood control workers years ago--is an example of the folly of this kind of thinking.The fact is that wages for lower skilled workers have always fallen without governmental programs pushed by Democrats to keep them up. That is why Democrats have pushed programs like the minimum wage, the prevailing wage, the living wage, affirmative action, union organizing protections, anti-discrimination laws: to keep wages for the least skilled above where they would be if market forces remained unrestrained.Anyone who wants to raise the salaries for workers should vote Democratic for all offices. Anyone who is against raising salaries for workers should find some excuse not to vote Democratic.The Democratic Party can use can an infusion of people who believe in the traditional ideals of the Democratic Party. Those who see in the Republican wing the makings of true spokespersons for interests of progressive Democrats are kidding themselves.A Democrat who theoretically gets elected to the legislature with the support of the anti-pay raise forces will be a Democrat in debt to a right-wing agenda and a Democrat likely to switch to the Republican Party. The fact that Richard Mellon Scaife, the Lincoln Institute, the Commonwealth Foundation, the Young Conservatives of Pennsylvania, Grassroots Pennsylvania, the Club for Growth, and their right-wing brethren hold a position does not, in itself, make that position unworthy. It is, however, a pretty good hint that it is not a position that progressives will proud of over the long haul.

September 12, 2005


Please reread the article you posted above: the September 11, 2005 Inquirer article entitled "Pay Raise Strokes Civil War Within GOP" by Carrie Budoff.In the sixth paragraph of the article, it describes the Commonwealth Foundation as "a free market policy organization that is WORKING WITH LIBERAL GROUPS ON A REPEAL." (Emphasis added)I do not know precisely what "working with" means. I suspect it means different things for different people. At least one "liberal" anti-pay raise leader, my friend Tim Potts, who heads an organization called Democracy Rising,told me he is in regular touch with the Commonwealth Foundation on legislative payraise and other legislative procedural issues. Let me suggest this test for Neighborhood Networks: if pro-minimum wage increase legislators are targeted by Neighborhood Networks to have primary opposition because of their support for a legislative payraise, then the organization is "working with" the radical right whether it talks with them or not because it would be pursuing their objectives.Raising the minimum wage is far from being a right-wing objective. On its own, it has overwhelming support: the most favorable national poll showed 84% in favor and just 6% against. It does not need to piggyback on anti-pay raise hysteria generated largely by right-wing anti-minimum wage people and organizations to get petition signatures or to get the attention of the legislature.As the prime sponsor of the only minimum wage bill going to $7.15 an hour in 2007, and the only mininimum wage bill providing for annual cost of living increases, I continue to believe that the linkage of the two issues creates a serious obstacle to the passage of a minimum wage increase.I also believe that the desire to find progressive "interests" in legislature-bashing at a time when other issues--the John Roberts nomination, the war in Iraq, the allowing a predominantly black city that plays a decisive role in the election of statewide officials in Louisiana to be destroyed as a result of federal budget cuts, to cite the three most important examples--are far more important and far more consistent with progressive values as traditionally understood, casts a cloud upon the future of progressive politics in Philadelphia. There are endless number of potential fights to wage. Picking fights with allies and potential allies to be on the side of your most determined adeversaries is never a good political strategy.

September 12, 2005


It has long been my hope that there could be much more cooperation between grassroots progressive activists and Democratic state legislators. When Neighborhood Networks announced its focus on the minimum wage at the founding meeting on June 4, I was elated. This was a moment I had looking far.But, a little more than a month later, the focus changed. Suddenly, the minimum wage was to be intermixed with opposition to the legislative pay raise, and petitions were suddenly developed raising both issues. As the House leader of minimum wage increase efforts, I believed then--and now--that this is counterproductive to passing a bill increasing the minimum wage. As a long-time activist for progressive social change, I believed then--and now--that it also counterproductive to building and maintaining progressive strength. As probably the only person in Philadelphia to have attended the 1968 Democratic National Convention on behalf of Eugene McCarthy, and the 2004 Democratic National Convention on behalf of Howard Dean, I am not a latecomer to issues of war and peace and social justice.The Democratic Party at a local level is consumed with solving many small neighborhood and personal problems. It certainly could use an infusion of people with vision, passion, and a strong sense of progressive direction.There already is heavy pressure to go along with Republicans from numerous interest groups more interested in getting some minor thing accomplished than in forging a worthwhile long-range direction. When I think of groups that are needed, I do not think of groups identifying with the rhetoric and outrage towards governmental spending that comes from the right wing of the Republican Party.One builds worthwhile social movements by working on the same side as allies. One does not build worthwhile social movements by working on the same side as strong adversaries.Obviously, Neighborhood Networks does not see the progressives in the Pennsylvania legislature as actual or potential allies. If it did, it would not be siding with the more conservative members of each caucus against the more liberal members of each caucus. (Yes, I know there are occasional exceptions to this generalization.)Please make a list of important issues that you want state government to resolve. Then look at who is likely to agree with you on these issues. I am confident that it will virtually never be the right-wing groups beating the drums against the legislative pay raise with millions of dollars from Richard Mellon Scaife and other right-wing financiers.

September, 12, 2005


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