LETTERS TO LEADERS SERIES: JAZZMAN CHRONICLES. DISSEMINATE FREELY.
LETTERS TO AMERICAN LEADERS: Chief Justice John Roberts, Senator Ted Cruz, Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Speaker of the House John Boehner, Senator Rand Paul, Senator Elizabeth Warren, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, Governor Chris Christie, Senator Bernie Sanders, Senator Sherrod Brown, President Barrack Obama.
The Honorable John Roberts
Chief Justice of the Supreme Court
You shocked the Tea Party world when you cast the deciding vote upholding the Affordable Care Act. Didn’t they get the memo? Scalia and Thomas may adhere to the antiquated and knee jerk views of the antebellum league but you and Alito are firmly planted in the corporate wing of the party. Without a clear corporate interest (insurance corporations and pharmacies on one side; the service industry on the other), the Roberts court could go either way. By casting the decisive vote you became the most powerful member of your own court, a role that had been held almost exclusively by Anthony Kennedy.
It will be fascinating to see how you rule on the excesses of the National Security Agency. Without corporate interests (unless you consider the scope and depth of information gathered by private corporations or the role of contractors in government surveillance) we will soon discover whether or not there exists a constitutional right to privacy. We will also learn whether or not the libertarian ideal still informs the so-called conservative judicial philosophy. I have my doubts.
The Supreme Court is supposed to be the ultimate defender of civil liberties. At a time when both the executive and legislative branches cower before the gods of security, surprise us all by fulfilling your solemn duty.
The Honorable Ted Cruz
United States Senator for the State of Texas
You have been garnering more than a fair share of attention these days and I was wondering if it might be affecting your psyche. It takes more than a Texas-sized ego to read Dr. Seuss on the floor of the Senate. Before this process of self-aggrandizement goes any further you would do well to remember those who came before you.
Remember the former and sometime governor of Alaska? She used to be at the forefront of the political forum. Now you have to google her resume. Sarah Palin had her moment upon the stage and then was banished to the sidelines of Fox news. She is you. The flavor of the day is running stale. Enjoy your moment but do not be fooled by the hype of your sponsors and friends. Fame is illusory and vanishes before the paint dries on the Cruz 2016 banner. Remember Rick Santorum? He is you. He had his shot, his time in the spotlight, and he will never be allowed a second run. Remember Rick “not ready for primetime” Perry? What plays in San Antonio doesn’t necessarily play in Akron.
You also may be given a run but in the end you will shuffle on back to Texas where they seem to embrace substandard intellects, intolerance in the name of Biblical morality and a twisted sense of constitutional intent. Most of all, Texas loves a man who knows he’s right even when he’s dead wrong.
The Honorable Hillary Clinton
Former United States Senator for the State of New York
Former Secretary of State
Dear Ms. Clinton:
The question is as obligatory as the answer is obvious: You are running for president. Everything you have done since the last run in 2008 has been geared to the next in 2016. You have bolstered your foreign policy credentials by serving honorably as Secretary of State and resigned to give yourself distance from the Obama administration in the event things do not go well in the second term.
A word of advice: We need a woman president. We do not need a second coming of Bill Clinton. Yes, everyone remotely associated with Democratic Party politics loves Big Bill now; and yes, he is a remarkably talented politician. But he is also singularly responsible for eliminating the left from mainstream American politics. The Democratic Party today is the moderate branch of the Republican Party not too many years ago. It did not start out that way for President Clinton but that is his legacy.
What would you bring to the White House to distinguish yourself from your husband? One of the low points of your previous campaign was when you attempted to channel Bill in defending a gas tax holiday: “I’m not going to put in my lot with economists.” Bill could get away with that sort of tomfoolery; you cannot. Be yourself and let the chips fall. We can only hope that who you really are is what we need in a president.
The Honorable John Boehner
Speaker of the House of Representatives
For too long you have hidden behind the cover of the lunatic fringe. In the last days of the 113th congress you stepped out of the shadows by issuing a very public challenge to the Tea Party and their corporate sponsors on the far right. At long last the second most powerful official in America found his vocal chords. Was that the plan all along? Did you give them just enough rope to hang themselves without doing irreparable harm to the Republican brand? Or are they still alive and kicking, rested and ready to resume their March of the Lemmings over the political cliff?
The real question is: What now? Do you begin to work with the president if not for the benefit of the nation then for the appeal and reputation of the Republican Party? Passing the Dream Act, raising minimum wage and extending unemployment benefits is the least congress can do to restore viability to the legislative branch. If it costs you your leadership role so be it. Better to step away than to lead the march over that cliff.
The Honorable Rand Paul
United States Senator for the State of Kentucky
I am not a libertarian but I admire the libertarian philosophy for its strict adherence to the principle that the role of government should be confined to protecting the rights and liberties of individuals. If you are going to claim the banner of libertarianism, you must be true to the libertarian ideal that government should not impose its subjective morality on any individual citizen.
Your position on reducing sentences for nonviolent drug offenders is progressive but it is not libertarian. Your refusal to come out for legalization of illicit drugs or even to state that nonviolent drug offenders should not be imprisoned removes you from the libertarian party. Moreover, your radical non-libertarian opposition to abortion even in cases of rape and incest makes us wonder how you could ever be confused with a libertarian.
Maybe I have misstated the libertarian ideal. If so please enlighten me. Or maybe your philosophy borrows more from the rigid individualism and pure capitalism of your namesake Ayn Rand than it does from the libertarianism she derided as a vehicle for anarchy.
So what is it, Senator? Are you an Objectivist in the Ayn Rand tradition, are you a libertarian or are you something else entirely? Before you become a candidate for the presidency, we’d really like to know.
The Honorable Elizabeth Warren
United States Senator for the State of Massachusetts
Dear Ms. Warren:
If not for the irrational and unprecedented Republican obstructionism in congress you could have been a largely unknown bureaucrat, head of the under-funded and ineffectual Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. Instead, you have joined the ranks of the most elite body of legislators in the nation. Thank you, Republicans!
You have established yourself as an extraordinary voice for the needs of working people and against the unbridled avarice of Wall Street. You have addressed the ever widening disparity between the rich and poor as clearly and eloquently as any politician in recent memory.
While the case of Barrack Obama proclaims it possible for a first term senator to reach the White House, he had something you decidedly do not: support of Wall Street financiers. For now, you would do well to follow in the footsteps of Al Franken and Sherrod Brown as the leaders of the Democratic branch of the Democratic Party in the United States Senate.
Live long and prosper. Few could have imagined you a Senator four years ago. Four years from now, who knows?
The Honorable Mitch McConnell
United States Senator for the State of Kentucky
Minority Leader of the United States Senate
They say you’re a tough guy. You’d better be. You’re behind the eight ball with nowhere to run and nowhere to hide.
The Tea Party is banging on your door and all your coffers of corporate sponsorship may not be enough to protect you. Yours is the most difficult challenge of tacking hard right for your party primary and pulling hard to the middle for the general election without appearing the political chameleon that you will have become. You’ve had a long run in the halls of power. It would surely be best for your reputation and legacy to retire gracefully and yield to the next generation of leadership – even if that generation appears to have lost its grounding on the solid earth.
Sadly, when an individual has sat at the table of the elites and enjoyed the finest wines of influence, it rarely leads to common sense. Sadly, the longer you have tasted that sweet nectar, the less you are inclined to let it go.
The Honorable Harry Reid
United States Senator for the State of Nevada
Majority Leader of the United States Senate
At long last you took a decisive step in curtailing the power of the filibuster in the United States Senate. We are not impressed.
In ending the filibuster for presidential appointments to the bench you finally did what the party of opposition would have done in a New York minute. Had you ended the filibuster as a tool of obstruction to legislation I might be more inclined to applaud. Had you ended the filibuster during Obama’s first term, preferably in the first year, I would sing your praises to the mountaintops.
Consider what might have been accomplished: the right to organize in the workplace, a long overdue raise in minimum wage, labor and environmental protection in trade policy, a Put America to Work program rebuilding our antiquated infrastructure, a comprehensive mass transit and alternative energy program, immigration reform, the Dream Act, an expanded voting rights act, common sense gun control, on and on.
I am no fool. I know that too many Democrats and their corporate sponsors wanted the cover of Republican obstructionism as an excuse not to act. I suspect you are one of them. Just don’t expect us to applaud because you took one little step for democracy in the royal halls of the United States Senate. It is far too modest and much too late.
The only virtue of the Senate today is that states (unlike congressional districts) cannot be gerrymandered; they can only be distorted by disenfranchisement. It is past time we struck down all the antiquated, aristocratic protocols of the Senate. The British stripped away the power of the Lords ages ago.
When the Republican leaders warned that you would pay a price, you should have replied: Go ahead, make my day!
Governor Chris Christie
State of New Jersey
My Republican friends wrote you off when you shook the hand of our president and welcomed federal aid in the wake of Hurricane Sandy. I replied: He just made himself the leading contender for 2016.
They saw you as a turncoat. I saw you for what you are: A shrewd operator, an opportunist, a slick politico and a powerful enemy of the working folk you pretend to represent. You are a corporate Republican. You are radically anti-labor and your empathy for the poor and needy begins and ends with sympathetic words and well-timed hugs for the television cameras. You are a gifted politician.
At a time when your party was demanding severe budget cuts, you secured ample funding to rebuild homes, buildings, structures and lives destroyed by the hurricane but how you used that funding remains shrouded in mystery. The common folk who needed your help most are still waiting.
Maybe you’d like to know how people voted before handing out assistance. Whether the scandal regarding the partial bridge closure that served to punish a New Jersey city whose mayor refused to back you in the recent election, can be traced directly to your hands or not, we have begun to see how you operate. The more we see, the less appealing you will become.
You are far from the second coming of Teddy Roosevelt (as some would suggest). You more resemble the second coming Warren G. Harding.
The Honorable Bernie Sanders
United States Senator for the State of Vermont
I love you, Bernie. There is little ground between your positions on the major issues of the day and my own. But I have to chuckle when I see your name mentioned as a progressive candidate for the White House on the Democratic ticket. Has everyone forgotten that you are not a Democrat?
To run for the Democratic nomination your first act would have to be a repudiation of your independence. Don’t go there, Bernie. If you want to run for the presidency do so as an independent. As a United States Senator with decades of governing experience, you are eminently qualified. Within the Democratic Party you would be branded a socialist and marginalized just as Dennis Kucinich was marginalized. As an independent candidate you would inject fear into the core of the Democratic machine.
In our heart of hearts, we both know that real systemic change, the kind of change that our national evolution demands, can never come within the confines of the two-party system. We both know that the probability of third party or independent success is remote but it is no more so than the chance of your prevailing within the Democratic Party.
Whatever path you choose, no public official has earned the loyalty and support of the progressive community more than you have.
The Honorable Sherrod Brown
United States Senator for the State of Ohio
When you won reelection to the United States Senate from the critical state of Ohio, you instantly became a candidate for the presidency. From a progressive perspective no one is stronger on trade policy or labor rights than you.
You were a primary target of the Karl Rove hit machine, the Chamber of Commerce and every major corporate interest in the nation. They deployed every dirty trick in the Rovian handbook, yet they failed miserably to stop you in Ohio. Do you think they might be afraid to take you on nationally?
You opposed the Iraq War from its inception even when all around you yielded to post 911 madness. You have called for full withdrawal from the long war in Afghanistan. You have been a voice of reason and restraint in our dealings with foreign adversaries. The time has come to reward a political leader for demonstrating the courage of his conviction and being on the right side of history.
Most politicians have to reinvent themselves to make a run at the White House but you were a populist before populism was popular. Check the record: Fair Trade, Fair Wages, Minimum Wage, Labor Rights, Income Inequality, on and on. You were among the first to speak out and you have never wavered.
Run, Sherrod, Run!
President of the United States of America
Dear Mr. President:
The clock is already running down on your presidency. In many ways you have been what you pledged to be. That is the foundation of our discontent.
We knew or should have known from the beginning that your primary corporate sponsors were the wolves of Wall Street. One does not become the first person of color to be elected president without significant corporate sponsorship. We knew or should have known that you would answer to corporate interests even in the wake of a financial meltdown born of corporate fraud. We knew that your hands would be tied not only by congress and the Supreme Court but also by powerful international interests that reign over all presidencies. We knew and yet we hoped for better and greater things.
If you believed (as I presume you did) that the Affordable Care Act would secure your legacy, by now you should be recalibrating. ACA is and will continue to be a legislative accomplishment of uncertain value. History may consider it a bridge or an obstruction to a more rational healthcare system. Only time will tell.
If you want your presidency to rest on more than the substantial symbolism represented by the color of your skin, you must do more. Consider what you can still accomplish: Pardon Edward Snowden and open the books on the NSA. Pass the Dream Act. Pull out of Afghanistan and Iraq completely. Declare an end to the war on terror. Close Guantanamo Bay. Call for an international framework on the future of war: Drone and robotic war.
These are some of the things a president can do without much help from congress. You will not receive much help from congress. But you don’t need congressional approval to do the most important thing of all: Tell the truth about the halls of power. Tell the truth as Eisenhower did. Reach for greatness as only a president can and your legacy will secure itself.