Former Democratic Presidential Candidate Michael Bennet Reads Books

Michael Bennet during the New Hampshire Primary

I really enjoyed this New York Review of Books interview with Colorado Senator Michael Bennet. Susannah Jacob writes about Bennet: “Before he ran, he read history and journalism for “six or eight months” to moor himself by gaining a long view on the present threats to American democracy.  The authors he read included Frederick Douglass, Emma Lazarus, Jill Lepore, Nancy Isenberg, George Packer, Matthew Desmond Plutarch, Montesquieu, and David Blight.

Here is a taste of the interview:

You write about expanding the notion of our founders and adding people in our history and in contemporary life who expanded America’s progress—Frederick Douglass, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, José Martí, others. I would love for you to continue to explain and elaborate, but also clarify precisely what that means.

I think that the job of Americans since the founding—which we’ve never done perfectly, ever, including at the founding itself, obviously—has been to make this country more democratic, more fair, and more free. Small-d democratic, more fair, and more free. And to fight to force America to keep the promises that America made on the page, as Martin Luther King Jr. put it the night before he was killed in Memphis.

I still think that’s our job as American citizens. I believe every single one of us has the responsibility to be a founder. In our time what that means to me is, among other things, making sure that every single person that’s eligible to vote actually casts a vote in this country, and making sure that every kid in America who’s born poor has the chance to get out of that poverty, get a quality education, so they, too, can participate in the democracy.

How should we reckon with the original founders’ mistakes and, at the same time, take direction from them? How do you approach that?

I do that every single time I have a middle school class or a high school class come visit me. We talk about how the building they’re sitting in was built by enslaved human beings. Not this building, but the Capitol across the street.

And that leads to a discussion about Frederick Douglass, about the Civil War, about what was at stake, because I tell them the founders did two astonishing things in their generation: they led an armed insurrection against the colonial power that succeeded—we call that the Revolution—and they wrote a Constitution that was ratified by the people that would live under it.

They [also] did something horrific and reprehensible, which is that they perpetrated human slavery. It took other Americans to correct that terrible wrong, just as it took generations of Americans to fight so that women in this country would have the right to vote, so that my daughters could have the right to vote. I think of those people as founders, too, as consequential and as substantial as the people who wrote the Constitution.

How do the middle schoolers respond?

I hope what they take away from it is a sense that this wasn’t all just here. Two hundred and thirty years ago, none of this stuff was here, and there’s no reason to expect that it will still be here two hundred and thirty years [from now], unless we do our job.

How did your reading come up in conversations with people you met while campaigning?

George Packer’s Unwinding(2013), which is on that table somewhere, and Matthew Desmond’s Evicted (2016) both speak exactly to the underlying contemporary issues that we’re facing in our economy, an economy that for fifty years has not worked well for most Americans. When I’m on the campaign trail I hear people say, “We’re working really hard [and] can’t afford housing,” [or] healthcare, some combination of housing, healthcare, education, early childhood education. I think about the families in my school district who say, “We are killing ourselves, no matter what we do, we can’t get our kids out of poverty.”

Desmond does a very, very good job of close-quarter reporting back to America on the effects of federal housing policy, how it has made working peoples’ lives more difficult in many cases, not easier. And I think in Packer’s reporting, what you see is the strains on a democracy when you’ve got an economy that works well for the people at the very top but not for everybody else.

What about the history? Were there times when you were learning from exposure to people on the campaign trail, where you saw the parallels between observations made in the history to people you were meeting or what they were describing?

There’s really nothing new under the sun. I think we have a tendency to over-assess the novelty of new conditions that arise, and we also have an under-appreciation for the effect we can have as individuals on history. Including elected officials, but I wouldn’t say just elected officials.

Read the entire interview here.

Is Michael Bennett Still Running for President?

Michael Bennet during the New Hampshire Primary

You may not see his name listed when the cable news shows list the incoming results, but according to Evan Malmgren’s piece at the Baffler, Michael Bennett is still running for president.

Here is a taste:

If Bennet’s primary strategy and political positioning echoes Gary Hart’s, his New Hampshire gamble is even more of a fantastical long shot. Bennet is polling below half a percentage point in the statewide Real Clear Politics average, but he’s nonetheless invested in thirty-five paid staffers there—a significant fielding for a candidate who has raised less than $7 million over the entire election cycle—and he has spent the last two months traipsing up and down the state on a fifty-stop town hall tour called “the Real Deal Road Trip.”

I attended the fiftieth stop of this political death march, a rally in Manchester, and found what might have been an impressive showing, had Bennet been running for county treasurer. A crowd of more than two hundred packed the event space as Bennet droned on with a tempered and unfocused speech. “Among all the candidates in this race, I have the most —” Bennet stammered and paused, seemingly unsure of what, exactly, he has the most of. After some thought, he landed on a vague Obama-ism. “I have the plan that is most targeted towards, how do we allow people to stay in the middle class that are in the middle class.”

No one seemed to be paying complete attention; the people around me issued disjointed claps at seemingly random intervals. Eventually, the campaign wheeled out its “star slugger” for a brief appearance: James Carville, one-time architect of Bill Clinton’s 1992 presidential campaign who is better known today as a minor septuagenarian tastemaker among the MSNBC-addicted crowd. That he has endorsed Bennet’s 2020 presidential campaign is all you need to know about his continued relevance. At the rally, Carville rammed Bernie Sanders as an “ideologue” and spoke to his personal desire for Democrats to win in 2020, but he said almost nothing about Bennet’s vision in particular. “They’ll run away from Bernie Sanders like the devil running away from holy water,” Carville claimed of down-ballot Democratic candidates in conservative states, a convoluted metaphor that managed to compare hypothetical future fans of Bennet’s uninspiring program to Satan himself.

The rally ended with an awkward New Orleans twist, as the speakers blared a Cajun tune and Carville donned a Mardi Gras mask before tossing beads into the crowd, abruptly leaving to catch a flight.

Read the entire piece here.

Paul Harvey’s Rocky Mountain High

Paul Harvey, professor of history at the University of Colorado–Colorado Springs, takes us on a religious journey through his adopted home state–a crucial swing state in the upcoming presidential election. 

I have spent some time in the northern “Front Range” region (my in-laws live in Ft. Collins) so I found his piece particularly interesting.  Here is a taste:

I live along Colorado’s “Front Range,” where 82 percent of the state’s some 5 million residents call home. Colorado is a large, western state, but the drive through the Front Range takes just over two hours. Coming from the working-class (and historically predominantly union and Democratic) industrial town of Pueblo in the South, a 30-minute drive up I-25 takes you to the base of Pike’s Pike, in the shadow of which sprawls the famously conservative city of Colorado Springs. Another hour northward places you in the capital city, Denver. Another 30 minutes northwest and you arrive in the university town of Boulder, referred to by the state’s more conservative residents as the “People’s Republic of Boulder.”

The drive takes you through some of the state’s richest and poorest neighborhoods; through belching steel mills, resort communities, suburban sprawl, urban gentrification, and a university town’s genteel poverty. Politically, this tour of the Front Range takes you from some of the most Republican and Libertarian to some of the most Democratic and Green political districts in the United States. Religiously, this tour takes you from Colorado Springs, home to conservative evangelical churches, through vast suburbs of spiritual-but-not-religious housing developments, to heavily urban Democratic sectors of Denver, and into Boulder, the spiritual converse of Colorado Springs.

And here is a little John Denver for your enjoyment: