The Eat Crow Tour

Lincoln -- One of the best things the national Democratic Party could do for itself, and for the country, is to take an Eat Crow Tour through regions where it did so poorly in the 2016 elections. The tour should make stops especially in the rust belt and the farm belt, in counties where Democrats once did well. The theme of the tour would not be how Democrats were cheated by Putin, or Comey, or McConnell; it would be a sincere apology for running a national campaign that did not offer, in the minds of too many, a credible alternative to the Republican ticket.

The 2016 election should have been easy. The top of the Republican ticket was headed by a man with such flaws even many die-hard Republicans had trouble accepting him. But Democrats were so tone-deaf to many regions it didn't matter. Instead of listening to the people in abandoned areas, and offering policies that related to their concerns, it offered a national campaign based on identity politics, demographics, and ridiculing the opposition. It was not a winning strategy, as some of us pointed out well in advance.

Before launching such a tour, Democrats should read Nobel-laureate Paul Krugman's insightful analyses about how they must not only offer credible policies to these populations, but how they must understand the regions' cultures. People will vote against their own interests, policy-wise, if they do not have a cultural fit with the party asking for their votes. Policy is important, but culture often supersedes policy.

In 2016, Democrats actually offered little by way of either public policy or cultural identification to huge swaths of the nation. Consider the Upper Midwest, where the agricultural economy is in big trouble, but Democrats' and Republicans' farm policy platforms were hardly distinguishable, if they existed at all. In terms of culture, Democrats failed to take advantage of the rich heritage of agrarian populism, allowing the mantle to be claimed by a Republican tied closely to big, eastern banks. Do national Democrats even know of the Cross of Gold speech, or Fighting Bob? It's time to learn, or face even more election debacles.

The goal of the Eat Crow Tour would be to get back in touch with voters who are not happy with the electoral choices they were offered in 2016, to admit responsibility more than cast blame, to listen carefully to concerns of voters, to remember cultural heritage, and to commit to better efforts in the future. This would go a long way toward being competitive again, especially with voters who were mortified about having to vote for Trump but felt there was no alternative.

Soil Health as Infrastructure, Redux

Lincoln -- Last December, I posted "Topsoil as Infrastructure," which suggested that soil health should be considered a key component of our nation's infrastructure, to be included in any Congressional legislation to rebuild the country.

In the Lincoln newspaper today, "Make Our Soil Great Again" expresses many of the same thoughts. The author, a professor at the University of Washington, writes, "...degraded agricultural soils is one of humanity’s most pressing and under-recognized natural infrastructure projects..."

It would be good to see this cause taken up by the University of Nebraska, and by Nebraska's congressional delegation. When I sent my post in December to my two senators and one representative, I got back one reply but nothing from the two others, which was disappointing. Clearly they are not thinking along these lines. This should be a bipartisan effort if there ever was one.

A Little Good News in Higher Education

Washington -- Finally, there's good news in higher education. The Maryland Legislature has passed legislation prohibiting egregious practices of scholarship displacement in student financial aid packaging in Maryland. In February of 2016 I wrote about the issue in a blog entitled Switcheroo Algorithms.

Hats are off to Central Scholarship of Maryland and to several Maryland legislators for shepherding the prohibition through the House and Senate. It will help low-income students pay for college more with grants as opposed to loans. It strikes a blow for honesty and transparency in financial aid packaging.

Here's hoping other states follow suit. Is it too much to ask that the U.S. Department of Education also crack down on scholarship displacement? It would make federal grant money go much further than it does.

Will the Senate Stand Up for Itself?

Washington -- There is a reason for Senate Democrats and even Republicans to vote against the confirmation of Judge Gorsuch. It is not based on:

• his judicial philosophy
• his unwillingness to answer questions at his confirmation hearing
• his being out of the mainstream (witness his opinion on services to handicapped children being overturned 8-0 by the Supreme Court during his hearing)
• payback for shabby treatment of Judge Garland the previous year
• partisanship

Rather, it is based on separation of powers and the system of checks and balances provided by the Constitution. When one branch overreaches, the others have remedies at their disposal. In this case, the overreach was the Supreme Court's Citizens United decision, in which an activist court majority overturned Congressional legislation on campaign finance. Whereupon political organizations created "dark money" operations that have funded advertising campaigns to pressure Senators to confirm Judge Gorsuch. The result of this effort would require the Senate to change its own rules and diminish the body as an institution that protects minority rights and encourages compromise.

The remedy is for the Senate to vote no on the dark money nominee, as provided in the Constitution.

Recall a similar challenge to Congress posed by Richard Nixon when he aggressively impounded funds appropriated by Congress for programs he did not support. Had Nixon's actions not been met with resistance, Congress's power of the purse, granted by the Constitution, would have been severely undermined. Congress responded with the Budget Impoundment and Control Act of 1974, putting the executive branch back in its constitutional place, not just for the programs at issue but for the principle of separation of powers.

The Senate should do likewise on this occasion, to act on constitutional principle rather than on the merits or lack thereof of the particular nominee at issue. This is a test of the Senate as an institution and fundamentally an issue of our system of checks and balances.