Barack Obama’s amazing grace

By Robert Mann

Among dozens of moments that define the historic, consequential presidency of Barack Obama was his moving eulogy of the Rev. Clementa Pinckney of Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, S.C., in June 2015.

Pinckney and eight of his parishioners had died days earlier, victims of a young man’s violent racism. It was a day that justified cries of rage and retribution from those in attendance. Obama, instead, appealed to what Lincoln called “the better angels of our nature.”

“This whole week, I’ve been reflecting on this idea of grace,” Obama said of the murders in the church’s basement. “The grace of the families who lost loved ones; the grace that Reverend Pinckney would preach about in his sermons; the grace described in one of my favorite hymns, the one we all know — Amazing Grace. How sweet the sound that saved a wretch like me. I once was lost, but now I’m found, was blind but now I see.”

Obama ruminated further on grace and admonished mourners to focus not on their anger but, rather, on redeeming the tragedy. In particular, he urged banishing the Confederate flag (with which the killer had posed in a photograph) from the state’s Capitol.

“I’m convinced that by acknowledging the pain and loss of others, even as we respect the traditions, ways of life that make up this beloved country, by making the moral choice to change, we express God’s grace,” Obama said.

Obama suggested Americans also could find grace in the midst of pain by entering into a serious dialogue about our country’s history of racial division. “If we can tap that grace, everything can change. Amazing grace, amazing grace.”

And then Obama broke into song, leading the mourners in the first stanza of the hymn, written in 1772 by the Rev. John Newton, a former slave-ship captain. It was a stunning and emotional moment, one I will never forget for what it represented about what Obama and his presidency meant to the nation.

Continue reading on at this link.

Posted in 2016 presidential election, Donald Trump, Politics | Tagged , , , , | 5 Comments

Indivisible: Protecting progressivism in the Trump era

By Robert Mann

During almost 20 years working in the U.S. Senate, I learned how simple acts — a phone call, a letter, a face-to-face conversation — can influence a member of Congress. When I worked in Sen. John Breaux’s Baton Rouge office, we sometimes took 100-plus phone calls a day on an issue. That was a tiny fraction of the state’s population, but we let the Washington office know we were being inundated.  Those calls and letters turned heads and often made a difference.

Consider how public outrage this past week forced clueless House Republicans to drop plans to abolish the Office of Congressional Ethics. These Republicans surrendered quickly because they feared their constituents’ wrath.

For weeks, friends have asked me what they can do now that Donald Trump has won the White House. The answer I’ve arrived at: We should work to stop Congress from doing Trump’s bidding. That must be the priority of every committed progressive.

And now a new online publication describes how to do it. “Indivisible: A Practical Guide for Resisting the Trump Agenda,” published by several former congressional staffers, reminded me of the importance and efficacy of an organized resistance movement. These staffers have performed a public service in illustrating practical steps citizens can take to resist Trump’s racist, corrupt or self-dealing proposals.

The authors found inspiration in the methods of the Tea Party movement in 2009. “We saw these activists take on a popular president with a mandate for change and a supermajority in Congress,” the authors write. “We saw them organize locally and convince their own [members of Congress] to reject President Obama’s agenda.”

While rejecting the Tea Party’s bigotry, “Indivisible” advocates “a resistance built on the values of inclusion, tolerance, and fairness.” In progressives’ favor is Trump’s unprecedented unpopularity. “He does not have a mandate,” they observe. “If a small minority in the Tea Party can stop President Obama, then we the majority can stop a petty tyrant named Trump.”

How? By pursuing a local strategy that targets members of Congress and a “defensive approach purely focused on stopping Trump from implementing an agenda built on racism, authoritarianism, and corruption.” These two tenets come straight from the Tea Party’s decentralized and locally focused movement.

“Tea Party groups could be fewer than 10 people, but they were highly localized and dedicated significant personal time and resources,” the authors found. “Members communicated with each other regularly, tracked developments in Washington, and coordinated advocacy efforts together.”

Just as important was the movement’s defensive character. “The Tea Party focused on saying NO to Members of Congress (MoCs) on their home turf,” they write. “While the Tea Party activists were united by a core set of shared beliefs, they actively avoided developing their own policy agenda. Instead, they had an extraordinary clarity of purpose, united in opposition to President Obama.”

The authors suggest replicating three Tea Party tactics: “Showing up to the MoC’s town hall meetings and demanding answers”; “Showing up to the MoC’s office and demanding a meeting”; and, “Coordinating blanket calling of congressional offices at key moments.”

Continue reading on at this link.
Posted in 2016 presidential election, Donald Trump, Louisiana Politics, Politics | Tagged , , , , , | 10 Comments

Let them hear your voices: How to contact your Louisiana U.S. senators & representatives

By Robert Mann

As I write in my Times-Picayune | column this week, “preventing a racist plutocrat from reversing years of hard-won social and economic progress — or, worse, bumbling us into a war — won’t be easy, but the Tea Party’s success in 2009 provides a roadmap worth following. “At the very least,” I added, “our members of Congress need to hear from us, constantly.”

The Louisiana delegation’s office phone numbers, in Washington and at home, are listed below. I’ve also listed their mailing addresses. Print this out and keep it handy. Now, let’s start calling and writing.

To write your U.S. Senator a letter:

Senator (name)

U.S. Senate

Washington, D.C. 20510

To write your U.S. Representative a letter:

Rep. (name)

U.S. House of Representatives

Washington, D.C. 20515

U.S. Sen. Bill Cassidy

Washington: (202) 224-5824

Metairie: (504) 838-0130

Baton Rouge: (225) 929-7711

Lafayette: (337) 261-1400

Lake Charles: (337) 493-5398

Monroe: (318) 324-2111

Alexandria: (318) 448-7176

Shreveport: (318) 798-3215

U.S. Sen. John Kennedy

Washington: (202) 224-4623

U.S. Rep. Steve Scalise (1st District)

Washington: (202) 225-3015

Hammond: (985) 340-2185

Houma: (985) 879-2300

Mandeville: (985) 893-9064

Metairie: (504) 837-1259

U.S. Rep. Cedric Richmond (2nd District)

Washington: (202) 225-6636

Baton Rouge: (225) 636-5600

Gretna: (504) 365-0390

New Orleans: (504) 288-3777

U.S. Rep. Clay Higgins (3rd District)

Washington: (202) 225-2031

U.S. Rep. Mike Johnson (4th District)

Washington: (202) 225-2777

U.S. Rep. Ralph Abraham (5 District)

Washington: (202) 225-8490

Monroe: (318) 322-3500

Alexandria: (318) 445-0818

U.S. Rep. Garret Graves (6th District)

Washington: (202) 225-3901

Baton Rouge: (225) 442-1731

Livingston: (225) 686-4413

Thibodaux: (985) 448-4103

To write Donald Trump at the White House:

The President

The White House

Washington, D.C. 20500

Posted in 2016 presidential election, Donald Trump, Louisiana Politics, News Media, Politics, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , | 5 Comments

In John Bel Edwards, Louisiana finally has a full-time, effective governor

By Robert Mann

Former Gov. Bobby Jindal’s eight years of misrule set a low bar for leadership. It’s no wonder his successor, John Bel Edwards, cleared that subterranean hurdle during his first, eventful year in office.

That Edwards would eclipse Jindal wasn’t in doubt. As long as Edwards shows up for work, he’ll outperform his predecessor, who behaved as if Baton Rouge was the last place he wanted to be. The surprise near the end of Edwards’ first year in office is his resilient popularity as he cleans up Jindal’s fiscal mess.

It is no understatement to suggest Jindal bequeathed Edwards the worst fiscal crisis in Louisiana history. “It is something I inherited,” Edwards told me during an interview at the Governor’s Office on Dec. 20. “It is my responsibility to fix it, but the people of Louisiana fully understand I didn’t create the problem.”

Edwards acknowledges the public might “not like my prescription, but I think the diagnosis is obvious to everybody.” The diagnosis is a chronic, $2 billion budget shortfall, plugged with temporary taxes.

For now, the public understands the crisis is a vestige of foolish and dishonest budgetary decisions by Jindal and his legislative handmaidens. As early as next summer, however, voters might decide the problem belongs more to Edwards than Jindal.

I asked the governor, “When does this become John Bel Edwards’ mess?” He deflected the question. “We really have to fix this problem more than fix the blame,” he said. “The overwhelming majority of people know how we got where we are, but the most important thing is getting to a better place, and that’s what I’m working on every day.”

That “better place” means a reformed tax system generating revenue to support the government’s fundamental responsibilities, especially those gutted or neglected under Jindal. This includes health care, education and roads and bridges.

“I think most reasonable thinking people know that it is not true, as some say, that we don’t have a revenue problem,” Edwards told me. “We do have a revenue problem, and we should always try to spend in ways that are smarter, where we can root out waste, fraud and abuse.”

But deep cuts to education and health care, Edwards argued, don’t come without a severe cost. “We should [cut where we can],” he said, “but we can’t delude ourselves into thinking that we can withstand huge cuts and still have the state that we want to have that affords people opportunity for a better life.”

While the revenue crisis will test Edwards’ leadership, the new governor’s performance during several other crises during his first year might also be responsible for his impressive 63 percent job approval rating. He was a voice of calm and confidence in the chaos following the June shooting of Alton Sterling by a Baton Rouge police officer. He reprised his role as reassuring leader later in the month after three law enforcement officers were killed and another three wounded by a lone gunman near the Baton Rouge Police Department headquarters.

Continue reading on at this link.

Posted in Bobby Jindal, John Bel Edwards, Louisiana budget, Louisiana flood, Louisiana higher education, Louisiana Politics, Politics | Tagged , , , | 1 Comment

Gov. John Bel Edwards on Louisiana’s fiscal crisis: ‘It’s my problem to fix’

By Robert Mann

Near the end of his first year in office, I interviewed Gov. John Bel Edwards at the Governor’s Office. This is the transcript of that interview:

Mann: What’s the biggest adjustment you feel you’ve had from being a state rep to being governor?

Edwards: The biggest adjustment is that I went from being one of 144 legislators; one of 105 in the House, to being the one and only governor. But it’s an adjustment that I wanted to make. In fact, it was the entire reason that I ran. I became very dissatisfied with the way things were going in Louisiana and the decisions that were being made. Even as the Democratic caucus leader in the House, I felt like my influence to try to temper those bad decisions was minimal. The adjustment is once you’re the guy, you’re the guy.

Then, maintaining the relationships with individuals that I had in the House and the Senate in order to effectuate the policies that I was promoting, that was probably more challenging than I thought it would be. And, maybe I didn’t do as good a job as I should have communicating or working with individual members of legislature. Or, maybe it’s because there’s just more partisanship now than even there was before. The eight years immediately before becoming governor I was in the House. I will tell you it seems to be more partisan now than it seems to be.

That may just be a consequence of me being a Democratic governor in a state — in fact the only Democratic governor in the deep South — with a Republican legislature. There are probably more members of the Legislature who are motivated by pretty strict partisanship as opposed to other things. Bob, I will tell you, I still think that’s a minority of members. It’s not a majority in either the House or the Senate, but it is something that makes it much harder to do what I think needs to be done. Having said that, we’ve had an awful lot of success as well even working within that arrangement.

Mann: I assume you follow what’s going on in North Carolina. Are you worried that we could be inching our way to something that drastic? What’s the difference between us and North Carolina when it comes to that kind of partisan breakdown?

Edwards: First of all, it’s unfortunate because I lived in North Carolina for three years. The people of North Carolina are not that overwhelmingly conservative or Republican. I think an objective look at North Carolina will reveal very political gerrymandering of legislative districts. For example, it is a battleground state in presidential elections, but it has super majorities of Republicans in the House and the Senate and recently when the attorney general, Democrat [Roy] Cooper, beat Gov. [Pat] McCrory, you saw the legislature call a special session and actually make wholesale changes to the balance of powers between the legislature and the governor all to disfavor the governor and empower the legislature in response to a Democrat being elected governor.

That’s a sad commentary. We are not, in my estimation, in that same situation here in Louisiana. We didn’t see anything quite like that and for good reason. We shouldn’t. North Carolina, for many, many years was a very progressive forward looking state, especially related to funding higher education and research and what that has meant to that state. In fact, for a long time it was a state that other states, especially in the South wanted to emulate. That really isn’t the case anymore because if you look at the direction that it’s gone in over the last several years, the things that made North Carolina stand out really have eroded.

Mann: What’s fundamentally different about our state. Is it just that we have a bipartisan tradition in our legislature?

Edwards: Well, we do. The bipartisan tradition is paying dividends although it’s less bipartisan than it used to be and than we probably want it to be. During Gov. Jindal’s first term, for example, you had a Republican governor, you had Democratic majorities in the House and the Senate, the House a Republican speaker, the Senate had a Democratic president. That is going be hard to do anymore because I think what you’re seeing is more members of the Legislature who are just absolutely committed to gaining and maintaining whatever partisan advantage that they can rather than maintaining the bipartisan traditions that I think have served us well and I hope will continue to serve us well. Continue reading

Posted in John Bel Edwards, Louisiana budget, Louisiana flood, Louisiana higher education, Politics | Tagged , , , , , ,

Good Christian friends, rejoice, there is no war on Christmas

By Robert Mann

At the Louisiana Capitol on Tuesday, I counted seven large Christmas trees adorning the building’s Memorial Hall. And I thought, “That’s some brutal war on Christmas our government is waging.”

I’m not sure when the preposterous notion of a “war on Christmas” caught fire, but I am certain it was not set by someone who gives a flip about Christmas. This phony war on the holy season is not something a follower of Christ would have concocted. A real disciple would have been too busy feeding the poor or comforting the sick to craft a cynical campaign to prompt Christians to inflict non-Christians with guilt, fear or estrangement.

This “war” is what someone who wanted to slander Christians as intolerant louts would invent. If you wanted to make Christians look hateful and full of pride and grievance (everything Jesus wasn’t) and distract them from the real spirit of Christmas, a phantom war would be quite useful to your cause.

You would invent this “war” if you banked on certain Christians being more concerned with their social or economic status than showing goodwill to all. You would invent this war knowing enough secular Christians would regard the greeting, “Happy Holidays,” as an affront — not to their faith, but to their cultural and racial identities.

The “war on Christmas” in the manipulative hands of a political operative or a conservative TV host would be the perfect wedge issue to cast into relief the divisions between those who embrace multiculturalism and those threatened by our evolving, diverse society.

Awful as it may seem, there are those who wish us to forget that the real Christmas spirit is expressed, not in a casual greeting, but in the way we treat one another as sacred images of God. These cynical individuals create division and anger and stoke religious and ethnic grievance over the Christmas season merely to win votes or score better TV ratings.

I doubt that those trying to fool us into believing that saying “Merry Christmas” was ever banned have only the faintest familiarity with Jesus of the gospels, whether in a manger or on a cross.

But if the so-called Christian defenders who populate Fox News and other Christian-right environs truly wished to rescue Christmas from the imagined onslaught of the secularists, they would dry their faux tears and shelve the fake outrage about “Happy Holidays” and city halls without nativity scenes. They would, instead, urge viewers to meditate on something other — and more profound — than the superficial Hallmark version of Christmas.

But that would require a depth of understanding and contemplation about the divine incarnation that a fixation on Christmas greetings and city hall creches won’t allow. It would force the Christmas warriors to question if the holidays aren’t really about how our belief in the incarnation — “the Word became flesh” — changes us.

And here’s how Christmas changes many who ignore the “war” nonsense: Instead of extracting grudging Merry Christmases out of store clerks and baristas, these contemplative people consider how they can make a year-round home for the Emmanuel of the manger in their hearts.

Continue reading on at this link.

Posted in Faith, Politics | Tagged , , , , | 3 Comments

The 2016 Good, Bad and Ugly in Louisiana Politics Awards

By Robert Mann

What a year in politics. Louisiana couldn’t match the national drama, but the state Capitol and beyond served up some fascinating drama. Here are my 2016 “winners” in 10 categories of infamy and esteem.

Most Courage: Baton Rouge protesters and fallen police officers. After the June shooting of Alton Sterling by a Baton Rouge police officer, protesters flooded the streets. Those arrested on flimsy charges modeled a bedrock quality of American democracy: nonviolent protest. The resulting turmoil outraged some citizens. To be sure, those who committed violent acts should be condemned and prosecuted. Peaceful protest on behalf of racial justice has never been universally popular. It is, however, proper and, most certainly, courageous.

Let us also honor the three heroic East Baton Rouge Parish law enforcement officers who were murdered — Deputy Brad Garafola, Officer Matthew Gerald and Corporal Montrell Jackson — and the three other officers wounded in July. These courageous and faithful public servants have earned our everlasting respect.

Most Cowardice: Baton Rouge Mayor Kip Holden. The Sterling shooting offered East Baton Rouge Mayor-President Kip Holden a chance to exercise resolute, calm leadership to help heal a shattered community. After almost 12 years in office, however, Holden seemed spent. He showed little desire to lead his community. In the weeks after the shooting, when Baton Rouge needed his leadership, Holden was usually nowhere to be found.

Shameless Ambition: Attorney General Jeff Landry. From the day Landry became attorney general, he has misused his office to challenge Gov. John Bel Edwards’ authority as governor. Landry is running a governor’s campaign disguised as an official state office. That he is doing so by attacking transgender rights makes him not just shamelessly ambitious but also a disgraceful trafficker of bigotry.

Most Embarrassing Statement: U.S. Sen.-elect John Kennedy. Thank God we must no longer suffer Kennedy’s absurd TV spots. One benefit of his watch-me-imitate-Forrest-Gump campaign was a renewed acquaintance with my TV remote’s mute button. Before I found that button, however, I endured this embarrassing statement: “I believe that love is the answer, but you ought to own a handgun.”

Villain of the Year: David Duke. Has Louisiana politics ever experienced a more reprehensible cretin than the neo-Nazi, ex-KKK leader and former Republican state representative? He crawled out of his hole this year, reminding us what is so odious about racism and antisemitism. I’m grateful Duke earned only 3 percent in the U.S. Senate race. Let’s hope he slinks away into perpetual oblivion.

Continue reading this on at this link.

Posted in John Bel Edwards, Louisiana Politics, Politics | Tagged , , , , , , | 1 Comment