NEW REPUBLIC: Raskin Has a Fierce, Funny Message for Dispirited Democrats
December 1, 2016
At a rally on Wednesday night, the incoming House member stole the show from Elizabeth Warren.
On Wednesday, House Democrats doubled down on the same old, same old, voting for Nancy Pelosi and a leadership team with an average age of 76—a group that, for all its virtues, doesn’t exactly offer a fresh message to inspire the left. But on Wednesday night in the D.C. suburb of Silver Spring, Maryland, a vibrant new left-wing voice in the House made himself heard—with exactly the message that Democrats across the country sorely need. “The resistance begins right here and the revival begins tonight,” said Representative-elect Jamie Raskin, whipping up the crowd at a rally he called “the first true-blue, overflow Democratic revival meeting of 2016.”
The curly-haired 53-year-old representative-elect is already a household name in Silver Spring. Raskin represented the suburb for nearly decade before winning this year’s most expensive congressional primary to replace Senator-elect Chris Van Hollen in the House of Representatives. A progressive firebrand and former majority whip in the state Senate, Raskin established a record as an effective liberal lawmaker in Maryland; he was instrumental to accomplishing his state’s repeal of the death penalty and its passage of marriage equality.
On Wednesday, his task was somewhat simpler—bucking up the base after last month’s demoralizing election returns and providing reassurance that, now more than ever, the progressive fight goes on. “We are going to revitalize you,” he promised. “We are going to re-musicalize, re-idealize you, re-democratize you, renew you, refresh you, rescue you, resuscitate you, reanimate you, reinstate you and reactive you!”
To aid in this endeavor, Raskin brought in reinforcements—Representative-electPramila Jayapal of Washington state, who like him was just named a vice chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, and Senator Elizabeth Warren, a lefty crowd-pleaser if ever there was one. Yet Raskin was unquestionably the star of the show—and not just as a hometown hero. He turned in a remarkable rhetorical performance, skewering President-elect Donald Trump and his allies in a speech that was at once fierce and funny, savage and satisfying and stirring, a damning incitement and a call to action.
“They can make a white supremacist the chief strategist for the White House,” he said, invoking Steve Bannon. “They can make an anti-public school activist [Betsy DeVos] the secretary of education. They can make Jeff Sessions the attorney general of the United States of America, but my friends, we are still here.”
The “we’re still here” message echoed Bill Maher’s defiant theme after the election—a slogan HBO is now selling on baseball caps. But Raskin elaborated on it, even working in a Batman metaphor:
They can put Goldman Sachs back in charge of the Treasure Department, but we are still here. They can try to dismantle the EPA, but we are still here. They can put a fox in charge of every hen house—they can put the Joker, the Riddler, and the Penguin in charge of Gotham City—but we are still here, and we’re not going anywhere.
Raskin had a bit more to say about Bannon. “We’re not letting any prepped-out Harvard Business School neo-Nazi strategize us into becoming Germany 1933,” he vowed, “and we will not let a cabinet of robber barons and white nationalists destroy everything the civilizing movements of the last century created.”
Laying into Trump, Raskin struck some Maureen Dowd-ish notes, variously calling the president-elect “the Wizard of Bankruptcy,” “the King of Debt and Sweetheart Contracts,” and “the Prince of Tax Avoidance.” But his best dig was a classic: “We are not a country that grabs other people by the genitals as a form of social introduction.”
Warren, the acknowledged master of anti-Trump snark, came with some fresh material of her own. “He said one thing that was right,” she cracked. “I’ve said it, too. The system is rigged. But let’s be clear—it is rigged in favor of billionaires like Donald Trump. Trump promised that he would drain the swamp in Washington, but so far he seems to be just loading the swamp with more swamp monsters.”
Democrats may be facing a future out of power in Washington, but thanks to Raskin, at least their rhetorical arsenal for fighting the swamp monsters has grown more powerful. “There’s something that we know that Donald Trump and Stephen Bannon want us to forget,” he told the folks in Silver Spring. “America is a good country. We are not a racist country. We are not an alt-right country. ... The alt-right is alt-wrong, but the USA is all right.”