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Wednesday, October 26, 2016

WASHINGTON — Can you be a tough liberal who also knows how to work with the other side? Can you be unwavering in trying to lift the wages of the low-paid, bring health coverage to the uninsured, equalize educational opportunities and protect the environment — and still compromise enough to get all these things done?

These words could be about the late Edward M. Kennedy. But they also describe Rep. George Miller (D-CA), who announced his retirement this week. If the House has a Ted Kennedy, he’s it.

Characteristically, Miller did not signal his impending departure with some whining, nostalgic proclamation pining for a lost Golden Age of civility. He loves a lively legislative scrap and is in a robustly good mood about the long-term possibilities of progressive politics. Congress, he insists, could still get around to increasing the minimum wage, extending unemployment benefits, reforming immigration and expanding pre-kindergarten programs. And far from running away from the Affordable Care Act, Miller sees it as one of the crowning achievements of his time in Congress.

Miller, 68, was first elected to Congress in 1974 as part of the reformist Democratic class swept in by a reaction to Richard Nixon’s scandals. He’s one of only two continuously serving “Watergate babies” left in the House, though this 6-foot-3 bear of a man laughs that this is “not my preferred title.”

Miller hails from a time when liberals didn’t apologize for trying to make the country fairer and notes that he won his first race on the basis of only two promises: “to end the Vietnam War and to enact single-payer health care.” He thus sees Obamacare as a giant step, “the biggest gift to economic security for families since Social Security.”

But if Miller does not whine, he’s a realist about how much has changed during his four decades in Congress. He reveres Kennedy and worked closely with him, along with Rep. John Boehner, former Republican Sen. Judd Gregg and President George W. Bush, to pass the No Child Left Behind Act. Yet Miller observed that if Kennedy came back to life, he “would have a hard time recognizing this legislative process.”

Like Kennedy, Miller is an unabashed champion of the labor movement. “You can chart the decline of the wage base and middle-class family incomes with the decline of unions,” he told me on Wednesday. “It doesn’t mean the unions were always right, but it does mean they were very effective on behalf of the middle class.”

Yet he and Kennedy helped craft an education bill not entirely to the teachers unions’ liking because they saw a liberal principle at stake in the need to raise the performance of low-income and minority children. Two liberals and a group of conservatives could agree on this: “Let’s find out what we’re getting for the dollars we’re spending.”

  • disqus_ivSI3ByGmh

    So long, Mister Miller. You will be sorely missed by those most in need of your leadership. YOU, sir, should have been named Speaker, instead of your fellow Californian. Had that been the case, the House would have been significantly more productive, and may have stayed in Democratic control.

  • rhallnj

    The Democrats of my early adulthood, JFK and LBJ, were tough. They would have dealt ruthlessly with Fox, Koch brothers, Ailes, Rush, et. all with every tool available.

    • Allan Richardson

      I agree. A line from a comedy record (think SNL on vinyl) sold during the Kennedy administration (The First Family, starring Vaughn Meader, who surely would have followed up with a sequel had the President not been assassinated) had the fictional Kennedy saying something that, in the right circumstances, the real one probably would have said:

      Reporter: Mr. President, when will we put a man on the moon?
      Kennedy: As soon as Senator Goldwater is ready to go!

      Respect your opponents as persons, but get tough about their positions on the issues. As for money, the Presidency is a “bully pulpit” as Teddy Roosevelt said, and I would hope that he institutes prime time (not just Saturday morning, when few voters are listening) fireside chats on TV (not just radio), going over the week’s votes in Congress, with comments such as “If you were not able to find a job because wealthy corporations have moved so many jobs overseas, and your small unemployment benefits ran out in December, it is because the party of the wealthy has refused to help you. In fact, they have insulted you by calling you lazy! And because some of you were called lazy and not helped, less money was spent, and the goal of getting jobs for them and others was delayed. Remember this in November: the nice ladies and gentlemen with the elephant pins on their lapels are doing their best to KEEP YOU BROKE, as they did with their refusal to vote on unemployment relief, and their opposition to raising the minimum wages, and still FOOL YOU into voting for them.”

      Progressives do have a money problem, because the poor and middle class are struggling and most of us do not have the money to donate. It is up to the ENLIGHTENED wealthy to take up the slack, because our occasional $5 and $10 each are no match for their millions. And in case nobody has thought of it, that is part of their strategy: the more power they get, the less money is available to run ads to take their power away. The administration has to say and do things to get onto the “free” news broadcasts, and the rest of us will have to scrape up more money to donate to progressives, and EVEN MODERATES, to kick out and keep out the extreme right.

    • Lovefacts

      I agree. But they also had very strongly held political beliefs. They did what they believed was right and correct for America, not their next election. What’s interesting but lost on most politicians, including those trying to out conservative the Republicans, is that in 2010 & 2012 the Democrats who ran as Progressives–even in Republican states–won. If Democrats want to win, then they must stand and defend their beliefs, not water them down or join with the Republicans in bashing said beliefs. They must create a clear and obvious difference between themselves and their opponents. In the Red States, that could actually win seats by promoting:

      1. Jobs a la FDR and the New Deal. And stop being afraid of supporting the safety net

      2. Remove the ceiling/cap for SS & Medicare deductions.

      3. Public Education–pointing out that it’s a basic right for Americans to be able to read, do basic math, know their history, and think critically. Also, that public education isn’t just about college but trade schools, too. We don’t have enough people trained in the trades.

      4. Infrastructure–point out how many jobs would be created repairing & expanding our infrastructure and those created by that expansion.

      5. Talk about taxing earned and unearned income equally–point out money earned from investments (this is especially true of the stock market which is now controlled by big money and computer generated trading) shouldn’t be treated different from that earned by the sweat of one’s brow.

      6. Equal pay for equal work, no difference between the sexes. Point out how this difference carries through to retirement, because if a woman only earns 77% of what a man does in the same job, then her retirement and social security will also only be 77%. This impacts the entire economy.

      7. Minimum wage–point out how the majority of these workers are 45 and up. Show exactly how much they earn for a 40 hour week gross & net–assuming their employers will let them work 40 hours.

      8. Keep the campaign focused on these issues. But when Republicans bring up abortion, which they will in a debate, tell the voters you stand with the Libertarians, the government has no place in your bedroom, doctors office, or between you and your religion.