We all have little victories in our daily lives that bring us the joys that makes it all worth it. I had one yesterday when a board I'm on took my advise and decided to move their annual meeting from Inside-the-Beltway, where they are based, to... America. I couched my suggestion in a discussion of the relative merits of the weather. "Here it's gorgeous, sunny, warm, fresh. There it's snowing, freezing, slushy, hideous, windy... the air travel system is screwed up... everyone is sick and contagious." Most everyone agreed, although I had the idea that one or two are afraid to venture outside the Bubble. And... I never did get into the most fundamental reason for why I begged the meeting be not in DC. A friend of mine put it well in the context of how the conservative forces are able to get their way on most anything regardless of what political party dominates which branches of government. He used to work in the belly of the beast and was horrified when he first discovered that many members of Congress, even politically progressive ones, are desperate to be embraced, accepted and welcomed into the ruling class, how much they want to be part of that circle, at least socially and emotionally. "It's something much deeper than just a campaign contribution. It's them feeling as if they are equals and on the same side of the power structure."
It takes a very special man or woman to not want to be part of that crap. When I fight with the DCCC about how they always pick the more conservative candidate in primaries, it sometimes does go beyond ideology. They can smell that desire to embrace the ruling class and that desperation to fit in. It's why we wind up with garbage like Tim Mahoney as a candidate instead of a union school teacher like Dave Lutrin. It's why a Debbie Wasserman Schultz-- the quintessential climber and fitter-inner-- is pushing shallow, ignorant, reactionary Blue Dog Lori Edwards instead of career Naval officer and progressive thinker Doug Tudor. The Insiders always want to replicate themselves. If you've read Rick Perlstein's Nixonland you know how Nixon was able to manipulate the tension between the Orthogonians (outsiders) and the Franklins (insiders) to help propel himself into the presidency. Writing in the Wall Street Journal in 2008, Thomas Frank grabbed on to the analogy.
"The Orthogonians" was a made-up name that might well have meant, "the squares." Orthogonians weren't working-class, exactly, but nevertheless there was a real authenticity to their revolt against the glamorous ones-- the "Franklins"-- who lorded it over them. Recruiting like-minded Orthogonians and fueling their grievances, Mr. Perlstein writes, became the signature maneuver of Nixon's career, from the days of Alger Hiss all the way to the White House.
"There were new currents to surf in the soaring sixties, based in the same kind of old resentments," Mr. Perlstein writes, "new kinds of common people being put upon by new kinds of insolent and condescending Franklins-- the new kind of liberal who seemed to be saying that... college kids who spat on the flag were oh-so-much more with-it than you."
Nixon is gone today, along with the rioters and the radicals who riled his Silent Majority. Most of the culture-war issues of those unhappy days are forgotten too; even the culture-war issues of 2004 have already lost some of their potency.
Yet the strange class war that defined Nixonland renews itself endlessly, with different leaders and different symbols, but always with the same dynamic: the striving squares revenging themselves upon the hip and the snooty.
Donna Edwards has spent many years toiling on behalf of working families Inside-the-Beltway. Now she's a member of Congress but she will never be one of them. Last year one of her admiring colleagues, a very senior Democrat, confided in me, wistfully, that he was young once too and as idealistic as Donna is. Donna's idealism, unlike his own, isn't for sale to the highest bidder and isn't subject to the manipulation of the reigning Franklins. I'm betting Carol Shea-Porter is made of the same stuff as Donna; Alan Grayson, Bernie Sanders and Jeff Merkley as well. No desperation among any of them. There are others; not too many though.
I'm wondering if Billy Kennedy may not also be this kind of extraordinary person-- someone who will go to Washington and never really become one of them. He's running against for the North Carolina congressional seat held by a far right ideologue and bundle of self-righteous hatred, Virginia Foxx. I first talked about Billy's campaign last Monday and you might want to go back for the first impressions. He's going to be officially declaring his candidacy in 2 days (this Monday) with a caravan that starts at 9am at the Watauga County Courthouse Board of Elections in Boone and goes on to the Wilkes County Heritage Museum in Wilkesboro (10:45am), the Forsyth County Democratic Party headquarters at 1128 Burke St. in Winston-Salem (12:30pm) and winding up at the North Carolina Board of Elections at 506 North Harrington Street in Raleigh. I've been reading everything I could about Billy and speaking to as many people who know him as I could find and the most heartening thing I keep coming across is one key word: "authenticity."
Thursday a local newspaper, the High Country Press started their interview by declaring, perhaps skeptically, that he had never held an elective office before.
"That's part of the problem," Kennedy answered. "People live to run for office becoming career politicians whose motivation is to be elected rather than being motivated to help. I want to help people. [Running for office] is making my life harder. There are givers and takers in the political arena and I think it's important to give. It's the best American value. In order to give back, you must first take care of yourself, take care of your family and you've got to pay your bills. I've worked hard all my life."
Kennedy raises livestock on his farm, makes furniture in his carpentry shop and has had a home remodeling business. He is married to Rebecca "Becka" Saunders and is the father of three children-- Amber Grace, Jessica and Willis.
Kennedy said believes in every American having the freedom to work hard and succeed and not have what you've worked hard to earn taken away by someone else.
"We must respect the labor of all people," Kennedy said. "Right now, hard working people are not being looked out for, the middleclass is in trouble and without a middleclass, businesses cannot thrive in America. I'm outraged by the continuous shift of wealth from most people to the select few. The ratio between the lowest and highest pay in America today reflects poorly upon our values. We can't afford the excessive compensation and survive and thrive. We should have a more level playing field for all Americans."
..."No one makes it all on their own. We all benefit from successful government programs," Kennedy added. "Virginia got her BA, MA and ED from our outstanding public North Carolina Universities and she's been on the dole ever since. She's been living off the N.C. taxpayers, gaming the system and now she wants to deny the same opportunity she had to everyone else. Just last weekend she said that she didn't believe that federal funds should be used for education."
"I went to college with the help of federal programs. Last year's federal stimulus money went to our colleges and local schools supporting, and in some cases saving teaching positions, in this tough economy. Students don't get a second chance; you can't abandon them. If their basic educational needs are not met, they become economically disadvantaged, costing us all more in the end."
Kennedy sees a direct relationship between education and democracy.
"Countries with higher literacy rates have more developed and thriving democracies," he said. "Investing in education is money well spent. We need an educated workforce to compete. We need good jobs. We need to be leading the world in new technologies, green technologies. We need to promote these new green technologies with tax credits at the state and federal levels. We need to renew our manufacturing base. Bring the work back home."
When asked if he agrees with Foxx's nationally publicized statement that, "There are no Americans who don't have healthcare," Kennedy responded, "That statement shows how out of touch Foxx is. On our radio show (Kennedy is a morning personality on WATA-AM 1450), High Country Radio's call-in show, we've had numerous conversations about the people right here in our own community who have no access to healthcare. I'm self-employed and understand what it's like for the average farmer and small businessman to afford the spiraling cost of health insurance. We can't afford the inefficiency of our present healthcare system. Its costs make us uncompetitive in the world economy."
Foxx had about $1.2 million in her campaign war chest at the end of 2009 and no debts, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. She has the power of incumbency and the Fifth District has an R-15 rating in political statistics, meaning the district is heavily dominated by registered republicans and is not viewed as a winnable seat for democrats by national political pundits.
"The biggest obstacle my campaign has to overcome is that people think that Foxx and her huge war chest can't be beat. That's wrong-- anyone can be beat," Kennedy concluded.
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