Sunday, the Democratic Party of Evanston held their Annual Dinner. And speaking as a member of the New Trier Democrats, I must say it was an inspiring evening. But I guess that’s always the case when North Shore liberals, their office holders and candidates all get together with the common goals of protecting and furthering progressive values. Good people. Good goals.
As you’d expect, there were plenty of candidates mingling with the crowd. To me, two were particularly memorable. One was our former Governor, Pat Quinn, who had just announced his candidacy for Illinois Attorney General. That surprised a lot of people. He seemed rested and ready to enter a Primary race that features several formidable Democratic candidates.
The other person who especially caught my attention was Kelly Mazeski, one of ten (at this point) Democrats who have declared their candidacy for the 6th Congressional District. Why was a 6th District candidate schmoozing with a roomful of 9th District voters? Well, the 6th’s seat is presently held by Republican Peter Roskam — and wherever we Democrats might live in Illinois, we all want to see Roskam gone from Congress.
It was also interesting to me that the candidacies of Kelly Mazeski, and all of her 6th District Democratic opponents, did relate directly to the message presented by the Dinner’s featured speaker, Dr. Austan Goolsbee.
Goolsbee is presently a professor of economics at the University of Chicago’s Booth School of Business. When Barack Obama was our President he served Obama as Chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers. And before the President’s election, Goolsbee played a role in advising candidate Obama. So, Austan is a veteran of the consequential world of political campaigns.
Dr. Goolsbee’s presentation was witty and entertaining. But the key message he communicated to the audience was quite serious. Although his experience in the Obama Administration held many high points, it also held one harsh lesson. After Presidential Election victories in 2008 and 2012, the losses of Congressional seats in 2010 and 2014 crippled an agenda that could have achieved so much more. In fact, the obstructionism of the Paul Ryan and Mitch McConnell controlled Congress encouraged a divisiveness and a loss of faith in government that paved the way for the successful campaign strategy of Donald Trump. In that light, the Congressional losses in 2010 and 2012 were truly tragic.
And here’s what Goolsbee identified as the primary reason for those election losses: complacency. He spoke of how little attention was paid by the national Democratic Party over the years to state and local elections. Republicans paid attention to fielding and supporting strong candidates at every level. Democrats didn’t. This led to weaker and under-supported Democratic candidates and campaigns. “Smaller” Republican victories off the national stage added up, leading to gerrymandered congressional boundaries and disproportionate power for congressional Republicans. – You know where that has led us.
Goolsbee urged his audience of North Shore Democrats to never let this happen again. And now as we watch the disaster that is the Trump Administration, it is possible to believe that millions of Americans will become more vigilant concerning who they elect in future elections. (I hope I’m not being completely naïve.)
To some small extent, the turnaround is already happening. Attention is being paid to off-year elections, and has been since Donald Trump’s unexpected victory. If you recall, last spring there were “Resistance” meetings and marches across America.
DPOE leader, Committeeman Eamon Kelly, reminded the Dinner audience that the DPOE has been taking such action all this year. Every Monday evening, from 5:00pm to 7:00pm at the DPOE office, 747 Custer Custer Avenue, they conduct phone banking to help a Democratic candidate or slate in a contest somewhere in the United States. — Last Monday night, they phoned Virginia voters for the Virginia gubernatorial election to be held next Tuesday, November 7.
Committeeman Kelly said the DPOE will be continuing their Monday evening phone banking and everyone is welcome to bring their cell phone and join them. This is the kind of activity Dr. Goolsbee encouraged in his remarks.
Another encouraging sign that complacency has ended is the number of Democratic candidates who have stepped forward to run for an office (witness the 6th District) – not just at higher government levels but at the township and community level too. Getting good people engaged in public service, whatever the office, is the best defense against right-wing ideologues and closeted bigots.
So, with 2018 almost here, I predict that the grassroots activity we will be witnessing, and sharing, next year will not look quite like anything we’ve seen in the past. Sure, we’ll be working to elect our local candidates to county, state and federal offices. And most of the tools will be the same, with person-to-person contact still being the strongest tactic. But I think we’re all going to be surprised at the amount of interaction we’re going to have with other campaigns, both nearby and across state lines. It could be the unifying, uplifting experience people across this country so desperately need. A movement to get America back on track. — Sunday night I realized that movement has already begun.
NTDO member since 1973