I was Bella Abzug's personal aide the first time she ran for political office in 1970. She was running in the Democratic Congressional primary of an extremely Democratic district, which included the Upper West Side, the Village and the Lower East Side of Manhattan. It was also an extremely Jewish district and had been represented for 14 years by Leonard Farbstein, an extremely Jewish politician, deeply devoted to sustaining Israel AND the Vietnam war.
Seven times the peace-loving reform Democrats had failed to knock out Farbstein. So, even with the anti-war protests building, they didn't have a realistic hope of beating the incumbent. Bella was chosen to run what was considered an "educational" campaign. She would hammer away at the issues, the most important of which was our war against the Vietnamese people.
The first time I heard Bella speak was at a meeting of the New York Radical Feminists. She had come seeking volunteers. Her commitment to feminism included having a full day care facility for the children of staff and volunteers IN her campaign headquarters . When she spoke about the oppression of women, linking it to the Vietnam war, she was on fire. It gave
me chills to hear her. I leapt to my feet cheering.
I was working four hours a day for a tiny health food store on Broadway and 88th St., in their even tinier basement, filling and labeling bags of bulk food. I had a lot of spare time. I went to Bella's headquarters on Seventh Avenue South in the Village and volunteered.I spent many hours happily stuffing envelopes.
One afternoon, the volunteer coordinator announced, "We need somebody to go around with Bella today, be her general assistant." I immediately volunteered. Who wouldn't prefer running around with the candidate over stuffing envelopes?
Thus began two and a half months of arriving at Bella's home in the West Village at 7 am every morning, and staying by her side until 10 or 11 at night, seven days a week. I made sure we had all the right campaign literature. With my big voice and theater background, I was her shill, shouting at passersby to come and meet "BELLA ABZUG, the anti-war candidate for Congress!"
After a couple of weeks, I became an official member of the staff. The assistant campaign manager (the actual head of the campaign was often MIA because of a tiny drinking problem) ... as I say, the 2nd in command asked me how much I wanted to get paid for my more-than-full-time work.
Wow! Everybody got to decide their own pay! What an enlightened idea! Since Bella's election was such a great cause, I asked for only $100/week. I felt very morally superior when I discovered that everyone else had demanded MUCH more. What I didn't know (which everyone else did) was that you got your weekly pay.... not once a week but whenever they had some money to hand out, which was about once a month.
Oh, so what!
I heard Bella speak countless times, for small groups and large. I wouldn't say she hit it out of the park every single time. But mostly, yes. She spoke with passion and clarity about the need to end that pointless war and create a more just society. She inspired her audiences just as she had me. And, even though I heard her speak so many times, saying the same things again and again, I still felt those original chills and leapt to my feet cheering, along with the rest of the audience.
Bella Abzug had charisma.
She used her charisma in the service of creating a better world. But I sensed that Bella's charisma didn't emanate from her political beliefs. This intense ability to connect with an audience was a separate power that she possessed, like someone who can play the piano by ear, without ever studying music.
Eventually Bella was able to do what the Reform Dems hadn't been able to do for 14 years -- defeat the right-wing incumbent. She went on to be a powerful Congresswoman and a noted leader of the feminist movement. She is still known. It's amazing to me how many young people recognize her name.
Donald Trump also has charisma.
Fairly early in the 2016 election campaign, when Trump was still considered kooky, disruptive entertainment by Dems and GOP alike, I heard this story:
Carolyn's friend Mark has a company that produces large public events. His company was hired by the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) to produce their conference, at which they would endorse a Presidential candidate. Mark witnessed Trump's speech. He said you could not imagine, from seeing him on television, how much power Trump has in person. Mark is a San Francisco progressive and was not vulnerable to the actual content of Trump's speech. But he warned that the power that Trump had over a live audience was undeniable. He felt it, and he was truly frightened. Trump got AIPAC's endorsement, which was a turning point for his campaign This was before anyone else was worried about Trump actually becoming President.
What is charisma?
I think charisma is an ability to manifest personal power so strongly that the people around you feel filled with that same power -- in political terms, the power to change the world, the power to overcome what is perceived as injustice. Thus, Bella's audiences felt filled with the power to end a cruel and interminable war. The farmers in the Central Valley, who I wrote about in an earlier blog, felt filled with Trump's power to overcome the injustice of drought, as absurd as that seems.
It is a real high, this charisma, for those who witness it. Few possess charisma and many want to experience that high again and again. In an election, a charismatic candidate has an enormous advantage over an uncharismatic candidate.
Which brings us to, you guessed it....
Joe Biden has no charisma.
I just finished watching Steven Colbert's 50 minute interview of Biden. Biden actually LOOKS good. Much better than Trump. But when he speaks, he seems to get fuzzy around the edges.
He did speak about starting to organize to produce and distribute a vaccine as soon as he was elected, rather than waiting for the vaccine to actually exist. That made sense and gave me hope that he will be a good ADMINISTRATOR, which is what a President is supposed to be. After all, it's called an ADMINISTRATION. He said he was meeting every day with scientists to understand what could and could not be done about the coronavirus. I believe he is a hard worker and wants to do the work of dealing with this pandemic. I do really believe in his ability and desire to do that job.
About creating a more just society, about having a vision that might inspire the millions of young people who want/need to change to the world -- really, he threw scraps their way. He talked of forgiving $10,000 of their college debt. THAT'S ALL? Many have more than $100,000 of college debt!
In terms of health insurance, he proposed paying the COBRA premiums for those who were eligible. COBRA is a program for people who had employer-financed health insurance when they were employed. The premiums are so high that many cannot use it now. Biden would fix that. He said nothing about the millions who have no health insurance in the first place.
And this is when he's being interviewed by Steven Colbert!!! My gosh, Joe, couldn't you have stretched out a little for your young progressive audience? How about forgiving $25 more of their debt?? Can you imagine doing that?
Folks, this is who we've got for a savior.
I know Biden's doing well in the polls at the moment, but please don't take his becoming President for granted. That's exactly what Hilary Clinton did in 2016, and look what happened. We must remain vigilant and do everything we can to help this mild, bumbling, hapless business-as-usual candidate (who could turn out to be a very good administrator) become Number 46.
Bloggelinis, I hope you will join me in working to defeat the First Toddler. Also,