Adam Smith Town Hall of July 8, 2018

U.S. Representative Adam Smith (D, 9th CD, Washington) spoke for two hours today to constituents on Mercer Island.

During most of the two hours Smith bashed Trump, in response to constituents’ questions. The audience seemed supportive of that. There were no conservatives offering a forceful alternative view.

Smith said that as a member of the House Armed Services Committee, he was able to view some of the evidence about Russian meddling in the election. Smith said: yes, the Trump campaign colluded with Russians (Manafort, etc), and, yes, Trump tried to squash the investigations, obstructing justice. But he says that it will be very hard to get 67 senators to agree to impeachment. And with Trump appointing Supreme Court justices, we can’t expect the Supreme Court to come to the rescue.

Smith spoke eloquently of Trump’s danger to America.

Smith said that he speaks often with Defense Secretary James Mattis, who is one of the few remaining voices of sanity and realism left in the White House. Every morning Mattis asks his driver if he’s been fired yet. If not, he goes to work.

In the video below Smith criticizes Trump for phoning Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan to congratulate him on passing a constitutional amendment that stripped his opposition of basic rights.  “All around the world you see this creeping towards authoritarianism in our foreign policy.” We are backing away from international treaties and cooperation.  Some people say we should laugh at some of Trump’s more ridiculous pronouncements (such that we people should stand up straight when Trump talks). Smith sarcastically responded:  “You know fascism just never stops being funny.”

Smith said Americans want lower taxes, a balanced budget, and no cuts to spending.  (Impossible!) The Republicans’ simple, oft-repeated message is:  government and taxes are bad.  Since they can’t directly cut government spending, they just keep cutting taxes and raising the deficits. When no money is left, they will demand cuts to Social Security and Medicare (even though we have pre-paid for these programs out of our paychecks). Smith has sponsored bills to raise the cap on Social Security, so that the rich pay their fair share and so that Social Security can remain solvent for the long term.

If you want to see life without government, said Smith, go to Honduras, where there are no taxes and no functioning government. There is lots of crime, little education, and little productive economic activity.

Smith called for reversal of the Bush and Trump/Ryan tax cuts.

Smith spent a long time criticizing Trump’s racist immigration policies.  He said that crime rates among immigrants are lower than among U.S. citizens, and economic studies show that they help the economy.  Trump’s racist and divisive rhetoric is based on lies.    Yes, we need secure borders. No, we needn’t treat all immigrants like criminals, especially ones who have lived here for most of their lives.

Immigration from the south has mostly come to a halt — another reason Trump’s anti-immigration policies are amiss.

One rude constituent, who was reading the Financial Times while Smith was speaking, blamed inequality on over-population. He claimed that he could prove mathematically that inequality arises when there is over-population — which is why immigration is bad.  That theory was so outlandish that nobody seemed to take it seriously.

Smith spoke a lot about our overly permissive gun laws.  Republicans think that more guns would make us safer.  It’s simply not true. He told several stories of guns being used to kill people in families, And  he told of a certain politician who came to a town hall and placed his gun on the table to make a point (“See. I can defend myself.”) Smith pointed out that someone in the audience could have quickly drawn a gun and shot the politician dead before he’d have been able to grab the gun.   The Second Amendment mentions “well-regulated militia.”   We don’t allow individuals to own nuclear weapons, tanks, or machine guns. Nor should they be able to own rapid-fire, high capacity weapons.

Smith said that many gun-rights advocates say that citizens need weapons to defend themselves against the government.  I laughed out loud.  Smith said, “Don’t laugh.”  There are people who really believe that, despite the fact that the U.S. Army would easily destroy any individuals.

Smith said that the GOP health care plan can be summarized in two words:  stop Obamacare.  Trump is dismantling Obamacare by allowing insurance companies to stop covering pre-existing conditions.     Smith says we need universal health care, whether based on single-payer (like Medicare) or on some other system. Every other major industrial nation in the world has been able to do this, at lower cost than us.

Several times Smith said that to reverse inequality a first step is to get guaranteed health care for all.

Smith criticized the private prison industry, which are guaranteed occupants and which encourage detention.

A woman made an impassioned speech asking Smith to support a House bill in defense of Palestinians children allegedly being mistreated by Israel. During the speech, another woman held up  a banner and turned around, and another person videotaped.  Smith listened politely and said this is the first time he’d heard of the bill and he would ask some others and consider it.

When it was my turn to ask a question, I started by saying I agree with most everything Smith said, and I thanked him for becoming more progressive over the years. (Smith is now a member of the Progressive Caucus. I would like to imagine that I was instrumental in his joining the caucus.  At a fund-raiser for Smith in Bellevue a couple of years ago, he gave a speech in which he mentioned the word “progressive” several times. When it was time for questions, I shot up my hand and said, “You kept saying ‘progressive.’ Will you join the Progressive Caucus?”)  But, I said, I support his progressive opponent, Sarah Smith, on one issue:  he should have voted against the obscenely expensive defense bill, which will cost the U.S. between $610 billion and $719 billion (depending on how you measure it). I said that the U.S. has troops in 150 countries and military bases in 70  countries.  We spend more than the next 20 or 30 countries combined. The military sucks up over half of the discretionary budget. There’s too much secrecy, and it’s a major cause of deficits. I mentioned Eisenhower’s phrase “military-industrial complex.”

Smith defended his vote for the budget by saying that he needs to be bipartisan. He’s the ranking Democrat on the House Armed Services Committee. Thanks to that  position, he was able to insert some progressive measures in the bill (on LGBT rights and on the risks of climate change, about which the military is cognizant).  He said that the GOP has enough votes to pass a budget without Dems’ help, but the Republicans realize they might not always be in the majority, and it’s best to work together when they can.

Smith also said that the Defense Department will finally be audited, though he joked that he’ll believe it when he sees it.

“If I were chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, the defense bill would be a lot more progressive.”

He said that he thinks the defense budget was $50 billion too high.

[Another attendee says that what Smith said was that if were Chair the defense budget would be 50 billion less. That’s not my recollection, but the message is almost the same.]

Someone asked Smith which of his opponents he’d run against in November: his anti-war opponent from the left, Sarah Smith, or his Republican challenger? Adam Smith said that he really doesn’t care; he’s confident enough that he’s the better candidate.

But I sense that he’d prefer the Republican, and that he is more scared of the rising tide of anti-war progressivism and socialism than by the Republicans. After the town hall, as we walked out, Smith looked pretty tired. Can’t blame him.

Adam Smith won the endorsement of a huge number of Democratic organizations and lefty advocacy groups.  Sarah Smith, who is young and inexperienced, has gotten the endorsement of very few groups.

At one point in the town hall, Smith said that when he was knocking on doors as a campaigner, he got more flack (criticism) from angry progressive than from angry conservatives. Progressives can be dogmatic ideologues, he implied. They were dissatisfied with the partial accomplishments of Obama (ACA, regulation of Wall Street, saving the economy, LGBT rights) and were angry about unmet hopes.

A Democrat will beat Trump in 2020 only if the left can unite, he said.

Each time the Democrats had gotten control of Congress, in 2010 and once before in the 1990s, the Democrats blew their chances by becoming a circular firing squad, and the Republicans roared back stronger than before.   Smith called for pragmatism, saying politics is a numbers game.  Often politicians need to compromise on their principles to remain in power.

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