Monday, September 21, 2015

An Open Letter to Representative Alcee Hastings (D-FL)

Today I wrote a letter to Alcee Hastings, a Democratic representative from Florida, in response to a quote attributed to him in a story about Bernie Sanders. The full text of that letter is below the jump.

September 21, 2015

Representative Alcee Hastings (D-FL)
2353 Rayburn House Office Building
Washington, DC 20515

2701 W. Oakland Park Blvd Suite 200
Fort Lauderdale, FL 33311

1755 East Tiffany Drive
Mangonia Park, FL 33407

CC: Hillary for America
Post Office Box 5256
New York, NY 10185-5256

Dear Representative Hastings:

            While I am not a resident of your district, I am a strong believer in the principle that every member of Congress and of the Senate, although elected from a particular geographical district, has an obligation to faithfully represent the interests of the United States as a whole, and as such I believe I am qualified to offer criticism to your public statements. In an article posted online at on September 19, 2015, you were interviewed regarding the candidacy of Senator Bernie Sanders (D-VT) for the Democratic nomination for President of the United States. In that interview, you expressed your concern about whether Senator Sanders could win the general election, were he to be nominated by the Democratic Party.

            I want to make it clear that I do not take issue with your expressed belief that Senator Sanders would have difficulty winning (or even be unable to win) a general election against a Republican candidate, although you seem to ignore the fact that the general election will also include Dr. Jill Stein as the Green Party candidate, whose impact on the general election would be severely weakened by a Sanders candidacy as compared to a Clinton candidacy. What I take issue with, sir, is your careless and insulting comparison of Senator Sanders’s candidacy with that of Ralph Nader in 2000. According to the author of the article, you stated, "Some argue, and I do, that Ralph Nader cost us that election … and I don't have time for that. And I think that's what members are saying: That I don't have time for fringes, at this point. And that's where Bernie is, and it's regrettable." Leaving aside the questionable assumption that Ralph Nader’s candidacy was the primary cause of the outcome of the 2000 election, this assertion is insulting to Senator Sanders and unnecessarily divisive at a time when the Democratic Party should be focused on making changes that are desperately needed in this country, rather than consuming ourselves.

            Senator Sanders’s candidacy in 2016 is in no way comparable to Ralph Nader’s candidacy in 2000. Ralph Nader never campaigned for the Democratic nomination, whereas Senator Sanders, despite never having been elected to any office as a Democrat, has chosen to participate within the Democratic Party in a way that will unite us, rather than dividing us. Ralph Nader was a longtime political activist who has never been elected to political office, whereas Senator Sanders is the longest-serving independent in United States congressional history, having served in both the House and the Senate and worked closely and effectively with Democrats as well as Republicans. Ralph Nader ran his presidential campaign in 2000 as the candidate of the Green Party, actively competing against Al Gore and George Bush in the general election, whereas Senator Sanders has already pledged to actively support the Democratic Party’s candidate, whoever he or she may be.

            According to the average of recent polls shown at, since announcing his candidacy less than four months ago, Senator Sanders has seen his support nationally increase from 7.4% on May 27, 2015 to 23.3% on September 15, 2015. In Iowa his support has increased from 8.6% on May 26, 2015 to 37% on September 14, 2015. In New Hampshire his support has increased from 13.8% on May 26, 2015 to 42.8% on September 16, 2015. In Florida his support has increased from 3% on June 16, 2015 to 16.5% on September 15, 2015. All of this increase has occurred while as recently as last month, one in four voters did not know enough about Senator Sanders to form an opinion of him. Meanwhile, Mrs. Clinton’s poll numbers and favorability have been falling, as a result of the media’s continued attention on her private e-mail server, as a result of Senator Sanders’s rising popularity, and as a result of hints that Vice President Biden will announce his own candidacy soon.

            But more important than any of these things, Representative Hastings, is the fact that the largely grassroots support for Senator Sanders is not driven by opposition to Mrs. Clinton (though obviously some supporters oppose her). Nor is it driven by loyalty to Senator Sanders himself (though again obviously some supporters are here for the man himself). What is really at stake here is not only the soul of the Democratic Party, but the soul of the United States itself.

            The support for Senator Sanders’s campaign comes as a direct result of the policies he champions, policies which are the foundation of the Democratic Party and have been largely ignored by the party since Ronald Reagan defeated Jimmy Carter in 1980. For thirty-five years, the Democratic Party has been afraid of its legacy, and that fear has allowed the Republican Party to systematically dismantle the United States economic system and sell it to the highest bidder for parts.
            At the end of the day, we have to ask ourselves these questions:

            What good is it to promote equal pay for women if every worker is being paid too little?

            What good is it to secure equal rights for LGBTQ people if those people continue to live in a nation that values the interests of the billionaire class over the interests of everyone else?

            What good is it to grow the economy if only the wealthiest of the wealthy see an improvement in their circumstances?

            Who do we want our government to work for?

            You can say that Ralph Nader cost the Democratic Party the election in 2000, but what difference would Nader’s 2.74% make if the 48.7% of the voting age population who stayed home had turned out to vote?

            Comparing Senator Sanders to Ralph Nader at this point is irresponsible scaremongering, designed and intended to drive primary voters away from him. Congressman Hastings, you should be ashamed of yourself, and you owe Senator Sanders an apology.


Joel Alan Gaffney
Brooklyn, New York

P.S. – I have copied the Hillary Clinton campaign on this letter because I know you have endorsed her campaign, and I believe that her campaign has been encouraging you, and other representatives who have endorsed Mrs. Clinton, to make statements like those referenced in this letter. If I am right, then Mrs. Clinton’s campaign also owes Senator Sanders an apology.

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