Jeff Bleich's Keynote Address to Santa Clara Democratic Party on "How Dems Will Lead"

On Sunday, February 11th, Jeff spoke to the Santa Clara County Democratic Party at a "How Dems Will Lead" Program.

In Jeff's remarks, he said Democrats in California need to expand the issues that we address to reflect the real struggles and threats in this new economy, rather than focusing only on issues that distinguish us from Republicans. 

Full remarks below:

Thanks to Santa Clara County Democratic Party for hosting this, and for inviting me. I'm not going to give a stump speech. This meeting asks a serious question and I want to give you a serious answer. How do Democrats lead? We Are Not Leading First, we have to confront that we aren't currently leading. By any measure, Democrats should be the dominant party in the U.S. There are more Democrats than Republicans in the U.S. And the public supports Democrats on the issues. Polls show the public agrees with Democrats' positions on the vast majority of key platform issues, like equal pay for women, sensible gun control laws, a woman's right to choose, an LGBTQ couples' right to marry, minimum wages. You name it.

Yet, Republicans dominate. Nearly 2/3rds of the statehouses belong to Republicans, and those Republicans define themselves as being against everything I just mentioned. All three branches of the federal government are also in Republican hands. And if we needed any proof that we have not inspiring the people of the United States, in 2016, the margin of victory in Wisconsin, Pennsylvania and Michigan was democrats who stayed home or voted for Donald Trump.

After the last election, I expected us not only to resist Donald Trump's brutal and stupid agenda, but that we would take that last election as a call for us to chart a new and compelling vision. We shouldn't abandon any of our core issues, but we need to expand them and redefine the battle space.

We haven't. In 2018 we are making the same arguments in the same way we did in 2016. We think that by exposing how bad Trump is, the public will rally to us. And we may flip the house and even the Senate that way. But voting against Trump is not the same thing as voting for us. If we truly want to lead, we need a new vision that inspires support.

What Democrats Have to Do To Lead Again

So let me offer two mistakes we have been making that have kept us from leading. And then I'll talk about what we California Democrats ought to do about it. The first is that we have let Conservatives narrow the debate. The second is that we have been too safe and careful.

  1. Enlarge the Debate

My first takeaway is that we've allowed ourselves to get stuck in time. The economy and society are changing at an unprecedented scale and pace. We are going through a once-in-a-century type of technological revolution. And yet we are still talking only about the same issues that Democrats have been talking about for the past 30 years. That is what Conservatives want us to do. That is why they dig in so hard on every wedge issue that defines us -- and won't even agree to obvious things like bump stocks, and giving DREAMERS a legal path to citizenship. Because as long as the debate stays the same, progressives are not making progress. When Progressives are not advancing new bold ideas, conservatives win.

We are in a moment that demands Progressives to behave like progressives. The Progressive movement began at a similar time during a massive economic revolution. From 1880-1920, there was an eruption of new technologies -- electric lightbulbs, telephones, cars, airplanes, highways, skyscrapers, movies, appliances, supermarkets, and suburbs all in a 40-year burst. And people felt overwhelmed by it all.

All the same things happened. Monopolies formed, wealth pooled mostly at the top, rural communities suffered, addictions and depression increased, people turned their rage against immigrants and minorities, autocrats rose to power around the world, political corruption became worse than ever, trust in political parties and elites and experts hit new lows. Everything -- literally everything -- we are witnessing now.

That was what spawned the Progressive moment. While the establishment in both parties stayed mired in their old fights, Progressives demanded big, comprehensive reforms. Progressive democrats did not confine themselves to small-ball ideas, they changed the game.

They passed anti-trust laws that broke up the monopolies.

They established a federal income tax, so that new wealth flowed to everyone.

They secured the right of women to vote, and empowered voters with ballot initiatives.

They added three years to public education and created high school.

They drove health and safety laws, wage and hour laws, unionization.

These were big, bold ideas.

And by adopting their platform, Democrats became the dominant party in the United States for the next 60 years, and America became the world's leader.

Like the Progressive Democrats 100 years ago, we need to get unstuck in time, and take on the big issues that have emerged over the last 30 years.

That won't happen in DC. Even if we take the House and the Senate, they will still be stalemated. If we are going to enact new programs that make true progress, then the States have to lead. California has to lead.

  1. Stop Being Safe, and Get Real

The second thing Democrats need to do is stop being so safe, and get real. The American public is a lot more sophisticated than the parties gives them credit for. They've seen the West Wing, and House of Cards and Veep, and CNN analysts explaining how political insiders manipulate them. The more we stick to talking points and careful scripts, the less people will trust us.

After the last election a group of Democrats went to the 200 counties that had voted for Barack Obama twice and then voted for Donald Trump, to figure out what it meant. Obviously, there were a lot of questions about what had influenced their decisions. But one insight is worth thinking about. Those voters had not soured on either President Obama or his policies -- he still had a 60% approval rating. So how do you explain their voting for someone who vowed to destroy his policies? The answer tells you something. Two things they liked most about President Obama were also things they liked about Donald Trump.   Both were being themselves. The voice you heard from President Obama as a candidate was the same voice you heard from him 30 years earlier in Dreams of my Father.   And the crazy braggart voice you heard from Donald Trump on the stump was the same crazy braggart voice you heard from him in the New York tabloids 30 years ago. Neither was saying what consultants told them to say. They were being their authentic selves. And that was what people were looking for.

The other thing these voters liked was that both candidates were willing to challenge their own party. President Obama had challenged the Democratic establishment to win his Primary in '08, and Trump had to do the same to Republicans in '16.

We need to listen to what the public is saying, and respect the public's intelligence. People don't want to know what a consultant told you to say, or what the party told you to say, or what special interests told our leaders to say. The biggest star of our convention in 2016 was Khizr Khan. Because he was real. We have to stop being so safe, and start being more real.

What California Democrats Need to Do

So what should California Democrats do to lead again?

We've got to expand the battle space and force the GOP to fight us on new issues that they are afraid of.

We have a rare opportunity here. There will not be a Republican in the general election. We don't have to settle for whoever we think matches up best against a Republican. We can pick the person who is best suited to do the job for all Californians. How's that for a concept? Instead of spending all of our time figuring who has raised what and gotten whose endorsement and will pick up which demographic, we can just ask: "who will do the best job?" "Who will get stuff done?"   "Who will restore faith that Democrats can actually lead?"

Let me give you some examples.

First, we need do what every generation did before us when the economy changed.   We need to change our public education to reflect the new reality. California has always done this before. We went from one-room school houses that were K-6 when we were mostly farmers, to K-9 schools in the industrial revolution, to K-12 in the second Industrial revolution, to the California Master Plan for Higher Education after the post-WWII industrial boom. Government used to offer big ideas in education to match big changes. But we haven't adapted our Master Plan for 60 years, even though we're going through one of the greatest economic revolutions in human history. California should pioneer a new public education model, that begins with K-14, that includes two years of community college, or vocational training, or apprenticeships, or the first two years of a 4-year degree. Progressives pioneered high school, we need to pioneer the next educational wave.

Second, we have to make government work again for people. Government put a person on the moon, developed the internet, mapped the human genome. But the GOP mantra is government can't do anything right when it comes to delivering services to people. And antiquated government proves their point every day. Someone broke into a friend's car recently and emptied his glove compartment. He was able to get his insurance card reissued on line that day. But to get his Registration replaced, he had to make an in-person visit to the DMV to get the paper form to fill out and then wait several days to receive the new registration. And it was illegal for him to drive that car until it arrived. California needs to create a California Digital Service that brings our government services up to date. If we can put a person on the moon, we can deliver a freaking car registration online.   Progressives reinvented government with the civil service. We need to reinvent it with the digital service.

Third, We need to tackle issues that both sides have neglected -- like the shameful lack of mental health services and substance abuse services in this State.   We have had an epidemic of opioid overdoses and youth suicides and do you even hear a single Democrat talking about it?

Fourth, we need to reclaim the mantle of the party that keeps you safe. The FBI modernized law enforcement in the Progressive era. We need to modernize law enforcement in the digital world. Today, we are more likely to be victims of crime on line today, than in the physical world. Every crime that can happen in the physical world will happen in the virtual world, and today cyber-criminals and terrorists have virtually no risk of being caught and punished. California Democrats can lead by establishing a 21st century cyber-police force.

Fifth, we need to do what Progressives did -- re-empower voters. I lived in Australia for 4-years. They treat voting there the same way that we treat jury duty. Everyone has to show up. And the effect is dramatic. Just like jury duty, people grumble about it, but they show up and they take it seriously. It forces politicians not to speak only to their base, but to speak to everyone. And it takes out the manipulation that goes into getting out the vote. Best of all, it puts Republicans on our turf. We make the default that everyone votes. We are the party of enfranchisement and they are the party that doesn't trust the people, that wants to disempower the people. You want to get creeps and abusers out of office? Fifty-one percent of Californians are women. And if all of them vote, the creeps lose.

Finally, we need to come up with new economic models that reflect the new reality. People's labor used to be the principal thing that produced new wealth. Today it is our data. Now I don't know what the answer is -- whether it is a universal basic income, or giving people ownership shares in the value of products produced by their data, or some other method of compensating people for revealing their precious information. But just as new laws were required to prevent the exploitation of labor 100 years ago, we need new laws today to prevent the exploitation of data. People are looking for a way that this new economy works for them, instead of exploiting them. They want a path to prosperity.  

Republicans want to keep us narrow. They want government to be weak, so that change can't occur. They want to fight in the trenches on incremental change, and make us expend all our energy banning bump stocks, and fighting to raise wages by one dollar to make poverty more tolerable. They want the fight to be in a space where -- even if we win -- we can't materially change most people's lives.

We need to chart a different course.

That is why I'm running for Lt. Governor.

I decided to run for Lt. Governor of California, because with DC in Republican control, Democrats in California have to lead on these issues and prove that Democrats can get big things done for everyone.

I am not a career politician. I don't speak like one. But I am a lifelong democrat would put my experience and my ability to get stuff done against anyone in this race in advancing democratic values. I have fought and won cases on behalf of every minority and disadvantaged group in this State. I also managed Munger Tolles & Olson, the highest-ranked law firm in the State, and I've led the largest University System in the world and the largest Bar Association in the world. Barack Obama trusted me to co-chair his 2008 campaign in California, and then to serve as his Special Counsel and lead one of his most important initiatives as U.S. Ambassador to Australia.

I don't care about getting another title. I care about doing the job. I did my most important legal cases pro bono and without any fanfare -- defeating Prop 187, beating Ted Cruz on 3-strikes, fighting for LGBTQ rights, winning against the NRA in California courts. And my service to the Bar, to the Cal State System, to Domestic Abuse Clinics, and Foster Youth, and Homeless families, and Immigrants, and Disabled Veterans, I did as a volunteer.   I did this because at my core that is what being a Democrat has always been about.

That's why we're all here. We are Democrats because we believe in fighting everyday not for yourself, but for others. We fight to give everyone a voice, and to ensure that everyone has the same opportunities -- Urban or rural, Democrats, Independents, Decline to States, even Republicans.

If we want to lead, we need to prove that. I'm running to restore the Democratic wing of the Democratic party.

I hope you will join me.

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