NDN Blog

Invite: Feb 16, 1pm ET - NDN Talks High Crimes with Glenn Kirschner

We are very excited for this episode of NDN Talks - an extended conversation with television commentator and former prosecutor Glenn Kirschner.  Reserve your spot for Tuesday, February 16th at 1pm today. 

While we admired Glenn's commenator on television, what originally drew us to develop a working relationship with Glenn was this terrific legal analysis back in 2018.  In this NBC NewsThink essay, Glenn made a big argument, one which we think is particularly relevant today - that the Department of Justice needs to treat electoral crimes committed by the President as grave crimes, ones which cannot be subject to it's current "no prosecution" policy.  In this essay he wrote:

"If a president can act unlawfully to influence an election, he does not deserve the protections of his ill-gotten office. This incongruity encourages lawlessness in the quest for the presidency and then rewards that lawlessness by inoculating the criminal president against prosecution. Such a construct is dangerous....

We now find ourselves with a president whose crimes may outpace those of Nixon and Clinton. Failing to hold criminal presidents accountable in a court of law arguably emboldens, or at the very least does not dissuade, corrupt individuals from seeking the presidency. At some point, we must learn from our institutional mistakes. Department of Justice officials would be wise to reflect on American history lest we once again succumb to a governmental crisis."

What he is saying here, very clearly, is that if a President cannot be prosecuted for election crimes, then he has ever incentive in the world to cheat with impunity, which is exactly what we saw in both the Ukraine fiasco in 2019 and the months long effort to disrupt and cheat in the 2020 election.  Simon wrote an extended essay about Glenn's argument back in August, in the midst of what we called Trump's original electoral crime spree. 

With the 2nd Trump Impeachment trial starting in a new days we hope help to put Glenn's big argument back into the national debate, as a step we can take to ensure that these dark days don't return to America soon, or perhaps ever.

Glenn's Bio:

Glenn is a former federal prosecutor with 30 years of trial experience. He served in the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Columbia for 24 years, rising to the position of Chief of the Homicide Section. In that capacity, Glenn supervised 30 homicide prosecutors and oversaw all homicide grand jury investigations and prosecutions in Washington, DC. Prior to joining the DC U.S. Attorney’s Office, Glenn served more than six years on active duty as an Army Judge Advocate General (JAG) prosecutor, trying court-martial cases and handling criminal appeals, including espionage and death penalty cases. Glenn currently works as an NBC News/MSNBC on-air legal analyst and teaches criminal justice at George Washington University. He has a YouTube channel and Podcast, “Justice Matters with Glenn Kirschner.”

Glenn tried hundreds of cases in his 30 years as a prosecutor, including more than 50 murder trials, multiple lengthy RICO trials and precedent-setting cases.  His cases have been made into major motion pictures (murder conviction of a sophisticated con man who ran in elite DC circles, subject of upcoming film “Georgetown”, starring Vanessa Redgrave, Christoph Waltz and Annette Bening) and TV documentaries (defendant Andre Burno convicted of the ambush shooting of an on-duty police officer, subject of the Emmy Award-winning HBO documentary, “Thug Life in DC”). Glenn has lectured at Federal Bar Association seminars, judicial conferences and professional association events.  He has presented at the National Advocacy Center on the topic of homicide prosecutions and taught advanced criminal law at George Washington University School of Law as an adjunct faculty member. He traveled as a Department of Justice representative to address Ukrainian prosecutors and detectives regarding the U.S. Criminal justice system.   

As an Army JAG, Glenn served as prosecutor at Fort Richardson in Anchorage, Alaska, where he handled dozens of court-martial cases and served as legal advisor to Army commanders on criminal justice matters. He then served as an Army appellate attorney at the U.S. Army Legal Services Agency in Falls Church, Virginia, where he handled death penalty and espionage cases, among others.

Glenn attended Washington & Lee University in Lexington, Virginia and was First-Team All American football player in 1983.  In 1987, he graduated with honors from New England School of Law in Boston, where he was named a Trustee’s Scholar. Glenn has received numerous awards, including: the Harold J. Sullivan Award for Fairness, Ethics and Trial Excellence; the John F. Evans Award for Outstanding Advocacy; the Metropolitan Police Department’s Chief of Police Medal of Honor; the United States Attorney’s Office STAR Award; U.S. Army Meritorious Service Medal; Washington & Lee University Athletic Hall of Fame Inductee; and induction in September 2018 into the American College of Trial Lawyers.   

Video: With Democrats Things Get Better, Updated w/New Biden Data (9/24/21)

We are pleased to offer a recording of NDN's signature presentation, With Democrats Things Get Better, from Sept 24th, 2021. It is the latest in our series of With Dems presentations celebrating the release of the American Jobs Plan and the American Families Plan and the big economic debate these important packages have kicked off.

You can sign up for a future showing and learn more about the arguments in the presentation here

We will be presenting With Dems 1 or twice a month through the end of the year, and we intend to take many of the arguments in our presentation to the public with op-eds, media appearances etc.

Thank you for your interest. 

Invite: Oct 6th - Is Instagram Causing A Mental/Physical Health Crisis Among Young Americans?

Please join us Wednesday, October 6th at 1pm ET for a timely conversation about whether Facebook and Instagram are causing a legitimate public health crisis in America. Joining us will be Zamaan Qureshi, the co-author of a new Time Magazine essay, "Instagram Is Doing Grave Harm to Our Generation. We Need Help to Stop It."  You can register for the Zoom based event here

Among the things we will be discussing is the recent Wall Street Journal expose, “Facebook Knows Instagram Is Toxic for Teen Girls, Company Documents Show.” In what is a truly shocking set of revelations reported in this article, it appears internal, hidden Facebook studies have found that Instagram makes “body image issues worse for one in three teen girls.” One in three teen girls.  Facebook executives will be on the Hill testifying about this blockbuster report on Thursday, September 30th.  So this discussion is a timely one. 

We hope you can join us for this important conversation the 6th, and please find more on Zamaan below. Here’s a link to an interview he did Thursday on his article. 

Zamaan Qureshi is a policy advisor and social media coordinator for the Real Facebook Oversight Board and a researcher for The Citizens where he focuses on Cambridge Analytica. Zamaan is also a privacy advocate, has written for TIME and Byline Times, and has been featured in Newsweek, Forbes, and Cybercrime Magazine for his work exposing Facebook’s data collection on its users. Zamaan is currently pursuing a BA in International Studies and Political Science at American University.

Memo: 2022 Dem Election Narrative Begins to Take Shape

Memo: 2022 Dem Election Narrative Begins to Take Shape

As I review in a new thread this morning, a possible 2022 Democratic campaign narrative is beginning to take shape.  It runs something like this:

“For over a decade now irresponsible Republicans have blocked progress on major challenges facing the nation.

With their first governing majority since 2010, Democrats are now offering pragmatic solutions to the challenges we face — defeating COVID, building an economy for all, tackling climate change, improving health care, protecting a women's right to choose, modernizing our immigration system, defending our democracy…..(candidates can tailor the list to their states/districts)

It is who we are, what we are fighting for. A better America.

Republicans, on the other hand, have become radicalized, and are now endangering the public's health, the economy, a women’s right to choose, common sense climate solutions and our democracy. Returning them to power next year would risk so much of the progress being made, and put our democracy itself in peril. “

That’s it. That’s the early 2022 narrative.

Pragmatism and progress vs extremism, radicalization, danger. 

Memo: 2022 Dem Election Narrative Begins to Take Shape - 9/16/21 - An early version of a possible Dem election narrative has begun to emerge - Dems tackle the big challenges, GOP too radical and extreme to once again trust with power.

Memo: After Texas Roe decision, Dems must lean into GOP radicalization - 9/2/21 - The Supreme Court's Texas Roe decision is so shocking and crazy that Democrats have no choice now to make the dangerous radicalization of the GOP central to the conversation they are having with the American people. 

Memo: A Fall To Do List for Democrats - COVID, A Growing Economy, Climate, Immigration - 8/30/21 - In a new memo, Simon writes that Democrats have four priorities this fall - defeat COVID/improve health care, creating an economy which works for all, tackle climate change and modernize our an mmigration system. 

Biden at 47% - 8/25/21 - Joe Biden has seen a nine point job in his approval rating over the last month.  Much of it is due to his declining approval on COVID.  Drawing from 2 recent essays, Simon offers some thoughts on what Biden can do now to reclaim his standing and win the fall. 

Memo: A Stronger Response To Delta Is Required Now - 8/21/21 - In a new political memo, Simon reviews recent polling data and finds rising fears over delta, and growing support in the public for aggressive steps to stop its spread.  The President should seize the moment and launch a stepped up campaign to defeat COVID once and for all.

Memo: Some Thoughts on Afghanistan, What Comes Next - 8/17/21 -  While the endgame in Afghanistan has been a significant setback for the President, he should use these next few months to reacquint the American people with his forward looking agenda and make significant progress in enacting it. 

Biden Should Consider "A Fireside Chat" About COVID - 8/4/21 - It may be time for a prime time Presidential address about COVID, a fireside chat, where Joe Biden can update us on the progress made, the challenges ahead and make clear what his plan is to defeat the pandemic here and everywhere. 

Bold Action on Evictions, But Also A Reminder That Governing is Very Hard - 8/4/21 - The President told bold action this week to prevent mass evictions in the midst of a public health crisis, but the program's struggles should be prompt action to make sure all the President's ambitious programs are well designed, aggressively implemented and successful. 

Memo: A Summer To Do List for Democrats - Defeat COVID, Defend Democracy, Keep Creating Jobs -  6/9/21 - Democrats have important work to do this summer - defeat COVID, defend democracy and make sure the American people know the recovery has come about through Joe Biden's smart and effective economic plans. 

Analysis: Twice As Many Jobs w/Biden as Last 3 GOP Presidents Combined

Sept 4 - These graphs below speaks to one of the most significant inconvenient truths in American politics – the GOP’s economic track record over the past 30 years has been among the worst in the history of the United States.  Adding the new August jobs report over 4m jobs have been now created in the first seven months of the Biden Presidency.  Remarkably this is more than was created over the Presidencies of the last 3 Republican Presidents, combined, or in any of their individual Presidencies.

 

When it comes to managing the US economy, the two parties are not the same.  Since this new age of globalization began in 1989, a modern and forward looking Democratic Party has repeatedly seen strong economic and job growth during their Presidencies.  Republican Presidents have overseen three consecutive recessions - the last two were severe.  The numbers in the first graph above tell the story: 

34m jobs = 16 years of Clinton, Obama

4.45m jobs = 7 months of Biden

2m jobs = 16 years of Bush, Bush and Trump

GDP growth tells a similar story:

And look at the jobs created per month over these Presidencies - Rs at just 10k per month over 16 years.  Biden is running more than 60 times times that so far in 2021.  Yes 60x.  

The bottom line is that Democratic policies have repeatedly been able to make globalization work for the American people in this new and challenging age.  GOP policies have repeatedly failed to deliver for the American people during this time, have repeatedly let us down. 

It is our firm belief here at NDN that the current radicalization of the GOP is intimately linked to its repeated failure to handle the challenges of the post-Cold War era.  The rigid ideological approach of the modern GOP has left it unable to govern in a time of rapid change; and those repeated failures have left many Republicans angry, reactionary and willing to do the unthinkable to stay in or regain power.  The modern GOP has no answers for many of the most important challenges America faces today, and rather than modernizing, adapting, as all institutions must in a time of change, the GOP has decided to fight the future by rigging the system to remain in power while the country and its people drift from their narrow grasp.  If the GOP is successful, it is a clear formula for a sustained period of American decline as it will continue to delay much needed progress on the big challenges we face. 

This argument – about the success Democrats have gained through modernization, and the failures of the GOP for their refusal to do so – is at the very core of our presentation, With Democrats Things Get Better.  We are presenting it twice this month, on the 10th and 24th. You can learn more about these arguments, and sign up to see With Dems, here.  If you liked this analysis, you will love With Dems

Update - This research gets a nice shoutout in a new David Rothkopf essay in USA Today about Biden's economic agenda and success so far. 

Memo: After Texas Roe decision, Dems must lean into GOP radicalization

President Biden stated today that the Supreme Court decision on Texas “insults the rule of law." We agree, and send along a memo below we released in May about Dems needing to make the radicalization of the GOP a kitchen table issue.  We returned to this issue in a June memo, talk here about the need to lean into the GOP’s COVID extremism, and explain in a new thread why this Texas law and decision are yet another sign of just how radical and dangerous the American right has become.  

Learning To Talk about Democracy, Patriotism and the GOP’s Radicalization

By Simon Rosenberg

As I learned during my stint with the DCCC from 2016 to 2018, Democratic pollsters have felt very strongly that Democrats needed to steer away from conversations about Trump’s manifest illiberalism, and keep focused on “kitchen table” issues like the economy, health care, defeating COVID.  It’s hard to argue with this rationale, as Democrats have, in the last few years, won the Presidency and retaken the House and Senate. 

But with Trump’s illiberalism now becoming the politics Republicans have chosen, even after their significant electoral losses in recent cycles, it is time for Democrats to elevate the threat the GOP poses to our democracy into one of those kitchen table issues.  It is not just the right and necessary the thing to do, but a new paper from Stanford suggests there is significant electoral opportunity here for Democrats too. In this study weak Republicans and independents were able to be pushed away from the GOP brand when exposed to a better understanding of the GOP’s ongoing attacks on our democracy. 

Many believed that the best way to confront the growing radicalization of the GOP was to defeat Trump and knock the GOP from power.  That strategy, however, has proven to be insufficient.  It is my belief that we must now take the illiberalism of MAGA head on, and not just defeat the party and its candidates but the argument itself.  Leaning into the radicalization of the GOP can bring several other benefits for Democrats: 

1)  It creates an opening to explain how radical the rest the GOP agenda has become – from the economy to guns to health care the GOP’s ideas are just as destructive as those about our democracy

2)   It creates an opportunity for Democrats to find a language grounded in patriotism and love of country, understanding that patriotism is a powerful, benevolent and perhaps necessary antidote to nationalism

3)   It is possible that creating more pain around their radicalization may be required to get the GOP to start taking an off ramp from MAGA – which has to be one of our goals now.  

There has to become a party wide effort to find the language and arguments required to make the dangers of the GOP’s current path understandable, salient. This will be particularly true for Democrats in swing states and districts where are just more Republicans and Republican leaners they have to talk. It is time, my fellow members of the great American center-left, to take on this battle, and recognize that defeating autocracy, perhaps the most intrinsically America project, begins this time here at home – and failure is not an option.  

More - Greg Sargent cites this memo in a new Washington Post column. 

Memo: A Fall To Do List for Democrats - COVID, A Growing Economy, Climate, Immigration

This memo was released before the shocking SCOTUS Texas Roe decision.  In a new memo we discuss how that decision makes the need for Democrats to aggressively lean into the dangerous radicalization of the right far more urgent. 

4 Items On The Fall Dem To Do List - Over the past few weeks NDN has written a series of pieces on how the Democrats can approach the busy Fall ahead.  At its core we believe the President must clearly articulate what the nation gets from refocusing its blood and treasure away from Afghanistan, and frame the coming fights as steps to move forward, not retreat.  We strongly believe the President can win this argument in the coming months, get his agenda passed and help the nation refocus its energies on far more compelling challenges - with defeating COVID being job #1.  

Perhaps our greatest worry for Democrats in the days ahead is that the size and ambition of the President’s agenda makes it hard to sell.  Most elected officials can only successfully sell 2-3 big ideas, policies or stories to their electorate each cycle.  What in this enormous package is most important to sell? As much attention needs to be given now how to sell this big agenda – infrastructure plus reconciliation plus American Rescue Plan – as what goes into the final details of the legislation itself.  

Last Friday’s Navigator Research poll offers some clues about how Dems can prioritize their agenda for voters.  The poll asks (q22) what are the “top four issues that you feel are most important for President Joe Biden and Congress to focus on?” For Democrats they are COVID (55%), health care and climate/extreme weather (36%) and jobs and the economy (33%).  For independents it’s COVID (38%), jobs and the economy (36%), health care (25%) and then several issues are all bunched up within a few points of each other a few points lower – Social Security and Medicare, immigration, government corruption, climate change/extreme weather. 

It’s also important to note that this poll breaks out “taxes," ”wages” and “inflation” as separate issues, and none of these three broke into the top tier of issues for Democrats or independents.  But adding them to the jobs and economy total pushes the economic basket of issues to the very top for both.  

What this data suggests is that Democrats should emphasize that their agenda does four big things – defeats COVID/improves health care, invests in broad-based prosperity, tackles climate change and modernizes our immigration system.  We put immigration fourth as it is our expectation that the enormous Afghan refugee resettlement project along with ongoing struggles to manage heavy flows at the border is likely to keep immigration/refugees a top tier issue through the election, and one we think Democrats need to lean into much more. Some 2022 candidates may want to focus a bit more on Social Security and Medicare given their districts or states, and in general we think Democrats would be wise to more purposefully counter the big government/radical left/wasteful government narrative which will be so central to the GOP attacks this election cycle and most election cycles since the 1960s.  

So this polling tracks the priorities we laid out for Democrats in our recent memo – focus now on defeating COVID/improving health, creating an economy which works for all, tackling climate change and modernizing/fixing our immigration system.  Individual candidates can tweak this formula, but broadly, if Democrats next year can tell voters that these are the things that we did – not just legislated against - we should be competitive in what is likely to be a tough election next year.   

Like many, we’d also like to see the President flesh out an important part of his agenda not covered here, his commitment to fight the global and domestic battle of democracy vs autocracy. Perhaps his coming United Nations General Assembly speech would be the right place for such an address.  Certainly many of us here in the US are worried about the unceasing radicalization on the right, and would like to understand how it fits into his broader agenda.  

Moving Beyond Tactics, Lowering Costs, Tax Cuts - Finally, we’d like to offer an in-depth critique of/meditation on some of the current efforts to sell the President’s agenda.  First, the emphasis on lowering costs and targeted middle class taxes are tactics, not strategy.  They are a means to the end, and the end is the 4-5 priorities above.  We should be focusing on the outcomes, the strategy in our initial top line messaging, not how we get there. It feels like we’ve gotten too tactical too quickly.  Folks need to know more about our overall goals and objectives before we drill down.  It’s like starting a campaign with an issue ad rather than a bio ad.  There is basic work we haven't done yet before getting to the narrower bits. 

Second, it is very hard for down ballot Democrats to sell programs whose benefits are targeted to specific groups rather than universal, for everyone.  Most campaigns can only convey 2-3 things to voters during the course of an election, and the more universal the benefit the easier it is to sell (as it reaches more voters).  Its one reason why the infrastructure package is polling so high right now – everyone benefits from it, so it’s easier to sell.  Yes, modern campaigns can micro-target communications to specific groups but selling a series of targeted benefits is beyond the financial and operational capacity of all but a very few 2022 campaigns.  This is an instance when bigger is not necessarily better.  

Third, a new series of ads by the pro-Biden group Building Back Together suggests there may be challenges with selling direct benefits to voters.  Watch this particular ad.  Clearly the research behind the ad found hesitancy about proud working people accepting government benefits.  This seems important, a red flag even.  Do voters, families, all of us – want more help from government or more opportunity to make more money, earn it ourselves? This ad suggests that folks want help but they don’t want welfare, “handouts.” And this is no small matter for it means that folks may get the benefit but will not be happy or grateful about it, and thus it may not work as a matter of politics regardless of the efficacy of the program itself.  

Given that the American Rescue Plan passed in March has already implemented large direct payment programs, including the Child Tax Credit, and both the President’s overall job approval and economic job approval have gone down, there is a question about whether this strategy of putting so much emphasis on targeted, direct payments to people is the right course in the months ahead.  As a matter of political strategy, it is hard to argue that it's working so far. This is an area which needs some intense discussion inside the Democratic family.  

Fourth, promoting universal rather targeted benefits does one other really important thing – it reminds us that we are all in this together.  It is implicit rejection of the rancid tribalism Trump brought to our politics. Restoring a sense of national common purpose should also be one of our highest priorities – for there is probably no other more powerful way to move beyond the darkness the former President brought.  

Fifth, we know that some of these ads are already talking about how the big tax increases coming will only hit people making $400,000 or more. That’s fine, but it feels like a data point that needs to come later in the conversation with voters  We will get far more acceptance on the tax increases from people, particularly those paying the taxes whose votes we need, if there is a broad sense across the country that the money will be well spent, that the need is urgent, and important things for all of us will come from it all.  We need to establish the virtue of the whole package first, before we can get to more granular matters, like targeted benefits or even who is paying it for all.  Establishing the virtue of the President's entire domestic agenda - America Rescue Plan + infrastructure + reconciliation - seems to be the most important marketing work ahead now and perhaps all the way through the election itself.  

Leading with an agenda that does a few big things to make all of us better, stronger, more prosperous surely is easier to sell than one that does dozens of smaller things for targeted groups. To be clear - we are not advocating abandoning the targeted programs in the coming reconciliation package, but we are suggesting that it may be difficult to build an electoral or political pitch around them.  And we end by acknowledging that we are not seeing all the research team Biden is seeing, and that all of this well intentioned friendly counsel is way way off the mark.  

Biden at 47%

This essay was published on Wed, Aug 25th, the day before the ISIS terror attack in Kabul which killed and wounded hundreds of people, including several dozen Americans.

Biden at 47% - So the big political news this week is Joe Biden’s plummeting poll numbers.  On 538 this morning he’s at 47.2% approve, 47.6% (-.4) disapprove.   On July 25th he was 51.8%-43.5% (+8.3).  So he’s dropped almost 9 points in the past month.  Most of this drop happened before Kabul fell, but it’s clear the unexpected victory of the Taliban has also driven the President’s numbers down a bit more (in the NBC/WSJ poll the President’s approval on Afghanistan is 25-60, in Suffolk it’s 26-62).  While there is a chance Afghanistan could be a drag on the President’s standing for some time, it is more likely given the impressive progress made in recent days to be a secondary concern for most voters in the coming year.  

So, what should the President do to get his approval back up? At NDN we think the President has to do two things.  First, he needs to return to war footing on COVID, and put as much energy into defeating it here and around the world as he is getting people out of Kabul right now.  As we review in a new memo, the primary reason the President was elected was to defeat COVID, and that work isn’t finished.  We’ve been advocating that the President have a prime time “fire side” chat with the American people where he lays out a new and more muscular COVID plan, reviews the real progress that’s been made, and praise American ingenuity for putting us in a strong position to bring an end to this era of COVID here and everywhere in the coming months.  Doing such a speech now and making COVID once again job #1 for his Presidency over the next few months will be particularly important as very soon every school and college/university will be open, and COVID will remain front and center in every community in the country for some time.  The President has to more aggressively speak to the concerns of every day Americans about COVID, take the side of the 73% who’ve been vaccinated and regain his advantage – something the extremism of the GOP on COVID has made far easier in recent weeks.  

In another memo we lay out the second thing the President needs to do - make very clear to us what America will get from withdrawing from Afghanistan and turning our resources and attention to more pressing challenges.  Make this pivot real, concrete to people.  Explain that our new strategy is to allow us to defeat COVID, tackle climate change, better compete with Russia and China, and defend democracy here and everywhere.  That it is about going forward, not retreating; and that he will in the coming months be fighting here at home for an agenda that speaks directly to these new challenges/opportunities by defeating COVID, tackling climate change, helping our companies, communities and people compete and win in a more challenging global economy and modernizing our immigration system.   No more talk of $3.5t, transformation, reconciliation – we have to talk strategy, outcomes now, not tactics.  We have to spell out the 3-4 big things we are going to get from the President’s new agenda and just hammer them home, and while doing so make it as clear as day that everyone benefits from this agenda, all of us, the United States. Not certain groups – but all of us.  There is no more powerful repudiation of Trumpism than relentlessly reminding Americans that we are all in this together, we are one people, one nation, and we rise and fall together.  

What are we going to do this fall? Defeat COVID, tackle climate change, create more opportunity and prosperity for all Americans, and reform our immigration system.  If we do those four things we will have successfully ushered in a better future for all of us, the President’s job approval will almost certainly rise again, and much more will be possible for the Democrats, the developed world’s most successful center-left political party.  

Memo: A Stronger Response To Delta Is Required Now

In a new memo posted on Medium, I show much the return of COVID has begun to alter the domestic political landscape, including driving down President Biden's approval rating to the lowest point of his Presidency.  It's vital that in the coming weeks, particularly as every school, college and university in the country opens, the President launch a stepped up effort to defeat COVID here in the US and all around the world.  It is the right thing to do, and essential to restoring his standing for the big legislative fights this fall. 

This essay relies heavily on data from Navigator Research

Memo: Some Thoughts on Afghanistan, What Comes Next

Some Thoughts on Afghanistan, What Comes Next

Afghanistan – Given how much legitimacy, support and time to organize President Trump and Mike Pompeo had given to the Taliban, President Biden’s decision to complete the American withdrawal from Afghanistan this year was the right call, and perhaps the only call.  There will be time to discuss and dissect the Biden Administration’s clear mistakes in managing the endgame, but now the US must focus its energies getting our allies out safely, resettling tens of thousands of Afghan refugees here in the US, keeping the pressure on the new government to respect human rights particularly for women and girls, and staying vigilant about what could become a more dangerous terrorist threat landscape.   

In a lengthy Newsy interview last Friday, I discussed the big Biden strategy behind his decision to leave Afghanistan.   The President has repeatedly stated that it is time for the US to turn the page now on our decades of deeply disappointing involvement in the Middle East/Afghanistan and create more space and resources to tackle new challenges, including:

- defeating COVID here and everywhere

- fashioning far more cogent strategies to compete against China and Russia

- fighting climate change and bringing an end to the era of petro-dictators

- shoring up and modernizing the global liberal order so essential to our economic and geopolitical success

- creating some kind of new global cyber regime which better protects our digital world

We have little to show for our investment in the Middle East and Afghanistan over these past 20 years, and all the blood and treasure we’ve spent there year after year has prevented us from developing full blown responses to these other emergent challenges. The President is right to try to refocus our energies, as difficult as that transition might be.   

In the coming months the President should work hard to show the American people what a new post-Afghanistan American strategy looks like.  Together, we can: 

Launch a stepped up global campaign to defeat COVID– the long term damage years of COVID ravaging through countries could have on the modern world imagined and built by America after WWII is immense.  Defeating COVID everywhere and beginning the process of building back better throughout the world – including creating a new and far more effective system for countering future pandemics – remains in our mind President Biden’s highest foreign policy priority.   It allows us to create an immediate positive contrast to the images coming from Kabul; it helps restore foreign markets for our companies, and prevents further supply chain disruptions plaguing our economy; it can save millions of lives and prevent erosion of civil society in nations across the world that could create new breeding grounds for extremist politics. It allows us here in America to keep our kids in school, stand up our economy again and just get back to the lives we once knew.  

Defeating COVID remains job #1, and we need to do everything we can to bring its dark run on this planet to a rapid end, here in the US, and everywhere.  

Get Biden’s climate agenda passed, and use that leverage to create far more global momentum behind the fight against our changing climate– The President has teed up a comprehensive strategy for America to do its part in tackling the climate crisis.  We need to get it passed as soon as possible.  Of the many things in the President’s domestic agenda, the climate package may be the most important, and the one which future generations may most identify with the Biden Presidency.  It would be helpful if the President could point to climate legislation he has signed into law - not just working its way through Congress - by the time he speaks to UN General Assembly in late September. 

We also need to better articulate how important decarbonization is to another part of Biden’s global strategy – fighting corruption and challenging the growing global momentum for illiberalism.  Some of the world’s most destructive and dangerous regimes – Russia, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Venezuela – are powered by oil wealth.  Weaning the world from oil is not just good for the climate and our economy, it is also vital to ensure that democracies prevail over autocracies in the coming decades.  

Filling out the details of the President's democracy vs.autocracy framework will be even more important after the fall of Kabul, around the world and here at home.  As we've argued for many months now, "defending democracy" has to be among the President's highest priorities. 

Lead a big conversation about immigration in America, and articulate a clear new post-Trump strategy – the imminent resettling of tens of thousands of Afghan refugees gives the President an opportunity to re-enter the national conversation around immigration in a manner similar to his “hard truths” speech on Afghanistan.  We have to get out of our defensive crouch on immigration and the border, and articulate a vision for how we plan to manage our immigration system in ways that are consistent with our values, that meets the needs of our economy and keeps us safe.  This is particularly important as due to COVID, climate change and other challenges we could be entering a period of greater migratory flows and pressures.  

Our current immigration system is every much as failed an enterprise as our 20 year-long effort in Afghanistan.  This is an area ripe for far-sighted, smart Presidential leadership.   

Repackage the rest of the his Build Back Better agenda as a way of upping our game against China, Russia and ensuring America wins the future– The investments the President has proposed in infrastructure, health care, education and our people will make America much more capable of competing and winning in an era of rising global competition.  His agenda will make us all more prosperous, and give many more Americans a chance to follow their dreams and make better lives for themselves and their families.  It is, at its core, about opportunity.  

The current way the President’s agenda has been broken up into two packages has made it, for now, a bit challenging to explain and sell to the public.  The White House may want to take a step back from the particulars in each package and revive first principles here – all of this is about making America better, more prosperous, stronger, more capable of charting our course in an uncertain world.   Rather than big and bold it has to be pragmatic and necessary.  These are the things we simply must do if we are to give our people a shot at the American Dream in a time of new challenges and opportunities.  It is the work which must get done.  

During the course of our selling this part of the President’s ambitious agenda, it would be smart for Democrats to remind voters of how just much better this Administration and those of Clinton and Obama have been at creating jobs, opportunity and prosperity in this new global age than Republicans (details here).  Establishing this fundamental contrast needs to be seen as one of the Democrat’s highest messaging and narrative priorities in the coming months.    

Take prudent steps to make sure our ambitious programs work as intended  – If the rest of the President’s agenda is passed, we will be asking much more of government in the coming years, and we need to make sure it can rise to the challenge. We are already seeing early design and implementation failures rising from the American Rescue Plan.  We are likely to see many more from passing bills which are double the size of the ARP. This too is Bidenesque pragmatism.  Repeated policy failures could undermine the entire Build Back Better agenda in the coming months, and cripple the Democrats in the coming elections. I offer some ideas on how we can make government rise to the Build Back Better challenge in this recent essay, which leans in part on a new, excellent article by Annie Lowry in the Atlantic about how government inefficiencies are an incredible burden on the poor and working class in America.  

We simply have to be clear eyed here, and realize that spending this much money this quickly on so many different things if not well planned and managed can result in unacceptable failure.  Isn’t that the ultimate lesson of our time in Afghanistan?  In a post Kabul Presidency making sure stuff is working as intended should be core to the new governing culture Biden is forging. 

In sum, the ending of America’s involvement in Afghanistan is opportunity for the President to re-introduce his smart, forward looking agenda to the American people, and create more urgency around its enactment.  

This essay has undergone some modest revisions since it was first published on Tuesday, Agust 17th.  It can also be found on Medium. 

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