SEAN McELWEE: I made the reference in one article I talked about. If I started tweeting, let dolphins vote, and people were like, yeah, you know what? I love that idea. We should let dolphins vote. There would be no intellectual or activist infrastructure that they can hop on to, to let dolphins vote. When people become … Yeah, I do want dolphins to vote. I genuinely believe dolphins would be some socialist voters.
CHRIS HAYES: I’m turning to page 20 of your report that has dolphins voting at plus 40 among Trump voters. Continue.
SEAN McELWEE: Yeah.
CHRIS HAYES: That's a joke, by the way.
SEAN McELWEE: That infrastructure was already created by immigration activists doing a lot of work. When people became engaged in the idea that we need to dismantle ICE, there were ways that they could engage with that work that was already there. They can be like, all right, well, let's stop data sharing. We actually have those activist networks set up. We have this theory of change set up that we can immediately engage with. All of that really laid the groundwork to make this something that could happen. I think everyone who is investing in the idea of abolish ICE becoming reality owes immense debt to the people who have been organizing around it for 20 years.
CHRIS HAYES: Here's what I think is interesting about abolish ICE. It starts out, it sounds like a crazy or radical idea. It gets injected into the bloodstream. There's already an infrastructure of immigrant rights groups that have been frontline dealing with ICE day in, day out, pointing out its problems, issuing reports like the ACLU did about ICE detention under the Obama administration. And, exempting for a second whether it's a good policy idea, which I want to put aside for a second, although I would like to engage on it, clearly you think so, but exempting that for a second. It's been wildly politically successful insofar as when you poll Democratic voters now about ICE, ICE is totally under water.
SEAN McELWEE: Yeah. I don't know. I've been drinking with the progressive left for the last five years every Thursday. I just have absorbed all these ideas. I just want to put them out there. I think that if we as a party and as a progressive movement, we can actually disrupt right now how we're viewed and we can change the playing field to be more on our terms. I think that we should really be injecting a lot of these new ideas into the public realm because I don't think we know off the top of our heads what the public is ready for. I think that there is an increasing willingness among the general public to take a second look at really left ideas because a lot of the things that have been currently in the discourse have not been going very well.
CHRIS HAYES: When I was 24, 25, it was in the teeth of the Bush administration. It was a weird time because it was post-9/11. The politics in the country had gone insane, totally insane. Bush was at 90 percent approval rating. We were about to go to war in Iraq, which was an absolutely criminally horrible idea that I opposed and a bunch of people in my cohort and world opposed, but-
SEAN McELWEE: Thank you.
CHRIS HAYES: That generation of Democrats, Bill Clinton is a perfect example, there's a whole generation of Democrats whose defining thing that they experienced was being caught unawares by right wing backlash. There's the McGovern loss in ‘68. There's amnesty.
SEAN McELWEE: Amnesty, acid, abortion.
CHRIS HAYES: Amnesty, acid, abortion. There's the idea of getting too far left of the populace. The idea of getting caught unaware by right wing backlash. The idea that all these rights movements of the ‘60s and early ‘70s pushed and pushed and pushed, and they precipitated the backlash, and it gave us Nixon then it gave us Reagan and all this stuff. Young liberals and leftists I think don't have that same experience. What do you say to people that say like, “You are going to screw up the chances for Democrats by essentially pushing too far and the President of United States is happy to run around saying they want to abolish ICE because he knows that's not popular, and you are handing him your version of amnesty, acid, abortion.”
SEAN McELWEE: I think Clinton ran on amnesty, acid, abortion, and she ended up winning a popular vote majority.
CHRIS HAYES: Well, that and $2.75 gets you on the subway.
SEAN McELWEE: Yeah, but what I'm trying to say is … Actually, I don't know what that means.
CHRIS HAYES: Meaning it's worthless. Meaning she won, but she's not president of the United States.
SEAN McELWEE: Yeah. I actually deeply understand folks. I actually encourage young people to read a book by a young fellow named Thomas Edsall called "Chain Reaction."
CHRIS HAYES: Which is a great book on exactly this topic.
SEAN McELWEE: I've imbibed the book. I talked with Edsall. I understand. I understand why older folks are very skeptical because it seems to me it would really be tough to spend your entire political career in the wake of the Reagan Revolution and nothing you do can stop you from just being brutally beaten in the ballot box at every chance you get. Every time you think you finally have gotten out of it, you get the shit kicked out of you again. That seems awful, but it's also not the experience that we have with the American electorate now.
The electorate has changed dramatically in terms of what they are willing to countenance. I think that inequality has made it so that even folks who have incomes, $75,000 a year, are really feeling left behind and are a little bit more open to progressive left ideas. The attitudes that Americans hold about race in America have changed dramatically as well.
What I'm trying to say is I understand where those folks are coming from, and I actually really try to empathize with them deeply by understanding that time in politics. What I try to tell them is just “we are not in the same America now.” Also that by expanding the ideas that are allowed to be discussed in the American politics, I'm actually helping you. In the current status quo when we're talking about ICE funding, Paul Ryan goes to Pelosi and he says, “Look, we got to increase ICE,” and Pelosi says like, “All right, we're going to do that because that's what's been going on. That's seen as the normal outcome.”
CHRIS HAYES: I should note here that funding for CVP, border security in the nebulous category, and ICE has been going up year after year after year after year.
SEAN McELWEE: Now all of a sudden, Paul Ryan is talking to Nancy Pelosi and he's like, “Look. I'd love to fund ICE as much as the next person, but I got Adriano Espaillat who wants to destroy the institution. Maybe let's just zero out funding.” Look, you saw this with the Goodlatte bill where he introduces a fascist bill and then some of the Republicans introduced a somewhat less fascist bill and this is called a compromise. It's not a compromise with Democrats. It's a compromise within the Republican conference.
CHRIS HAYES: One of the things that you talk about a lot and shows up in Data for Progress, which is an organization that you run, I guess.
SEAN McELWEE: Data for Progress, yeah.
CHRIS HAYES: Data for Progress. It’s just like the fact that marginal voters, particularly young voters, voters of color who are infrequent voters or nonvoters. If you look at their opinions on stuff, they are quite progressive in their leanings. And a huge project for building power for the left should be focusing like a laser on how you engage those people, how you create the structural conditions to turn them out, and how you create the sort of legal regime that will open up the franchise.
SEAN McELWEE: Yeah, yeah. Absolutely. I mean, I see this as you expand the electorate, you expand the sort of political possibilities for progressive policies. And the people who are currently disenfranchised are the people who are gonna be most sympathetic to progressive ideas. I mean there was a study of Medicaid expansion in Alabama. And what it found was that most of the people who fell into that expansion gap between what we would have gotten and what it currently exists in Alabama were either disenfranchised permanently through felon disenfranchisement or were not registered to vote.
CHRIS HAYES: Wow. Right. So the people who are in the gap who would have been benefited are people who either had their voting rights taken away from felon disenfranchisement or are not registered, and so they don't wield any meaningful political power electorally.
SEAN McELWEE: Yeah, I mean this is why I'm a big fan of calling up your European representatives and having them implement a regime of sanctions against the United States until felon disenfranchisement is ended.
CHRIS HAYES: Another popular idea.
SEAN McELWEE: Well, I mean people are calling Collins. I mean it's great. You should call her, but at the end of the day, who's really gonna have your back? It's the French parliament.
CHRIS HAYES: Yeah, that's exactly where people should focus their energy. Well there's now, this year there's a Florida, there's actually this really important fight in Florida that to me it seems like a good example of a frontline fight on this. Florida has one of the felony disenfranchisement laws in the country. And that is gonna be on the ballot this fall.
SEAN McELWEE: Pretty wild that felon disenfranchisement in Florida costs us like three elections, and it took us two decades to figure out that we should probably stop that.
CHRIS HAYES: This is truly an excellent point. I mean, literally I lived through 2000, and we saw what happened in Virginia when they largely got rid of felon disenfranchisement under McAuliffe, and it did alter the sort of center of gravity in that state.
SEAN McELWEE: Yeah. I mean like, love y'all for protesting the war, but you know, could have put some time into that felon disenfranchisement. Would have appreciated it.
CHRIS HAYES: We were very busy, back then trying to stop that war. But that to me sort of strikes me as a place where like, when you talk about these sort of factional or ideological disputes, in the broader center left, it does seem to me that on place of overlap, where like everyone lines up, I mean it's good for everyone across the spectrum, right? I think in some ways, is widening the franchise. Things like automatic voter registration, getting rid of felon disenfranchisement, et cetera.
SEAN McELWEE: Yeah, yeah, yeah, absolutely. I mean I think that's one of the things where you see the sort of most overlap, and where it's easiest for folks to organize around. You know, it's one of the reasons I think why Andrew Cuomo is so despised. He's governor of New York, governor of super blue state, also you know-
CHRIS HAYES: Despised, I have to say this. Despised by activists on the left. Like he's polling 30 points up in the Democratic primary. I don't want to overrepresent that point of view.
SEAN McELWEE: Wow, busting me. Yeah, no, I mean look.
CHRIS HAYES: He is just, he is absolutely despised by a certain group of folks in New York.
SEAN McELWEE: Yeah. One of the funniest things people know, it's not really funny, it kind of stinks. But you know, one of the most pro-Republican gerrymanders in the country was signed into law by Governor Cuomo. He gerrymandered our state senate to ensure that he wouldn't have to pass progressive policies. And I absolutely think that one of the things you see is these very powerful, sort of cross ideological, within the Democratic party and progressive movement broadly. But often even across ideological, including conservatives. You know, in Alaska, they passed automatic voter registration, and that's a very red state. Around the sort of rights of the franchise. And one of the things that you've seen is that when Democrats are taking power in states like Washington and New Jersey, that's one of the first things they're doing. And also you know we just saw this in Maryland. And one of the things that's actually been really frustrating for me to watch is how rapidly these things have happened.
And it's like, yo, why the fuck weren't we doing this 10 years ago? Like one of the frustrations I really deeply feel as a sort of young progressive is why are all of our institutions, why have they been failing for so long? Why have we not, why doesn't New York have better voting laws? Like many of the leading pro-voting rights groups are based in New York. Like why, what's going on? What have y'all been doing with that money? What have y'all been doing with that energy? That all of the sudden it's Indivisible that's knocking up the W's in states like Maryland.
CHRIS HAYES: One area where there is asymmetry that is rebalancing is our map. Because one of the things you saw in 2010 when Republicans took power in states was they attacked the root of progressive power right away. So like, all of the stuff about collective bargaining and public sector unions, and voter ID was about go after the institutional power of the other side. Make us more powerful and them less powerful as a sort of first priority. And I think what ends up happening to progressives is that there's often a kind of substantive governing agenda that people want to put first, understandably because they're like we made these tangible promises on we're gonna spend more money on education or whatever it is.
SEAN McELWEE: Yeah. You're older than me. So maybe you can explain this. But like, I was looking back at sort of like what was the sort of ... What did we reap from the 2008 and 2010, the fact that we controlled like, you know, two thirds of the governorships in the country. And it's like genuinely unclear to me. Like it didn't seem like there was a sort of coherent, now that we have power, here is what we're gonna do with it. And so you got to the point where Democrats ended up getting wiped out in 2010. And Republicans just started really aggressively implementing this agenda and we were caught on our back foot. And we hadn't sort of solidified the gains we made. And it reminds me a lot of sort of Bill Clinton, where the whole Democratic party agenda was just like, let us maintain reasonably high favorable ratings.
And Bill Clinton did leave office pretty popular, but he left without a substantive governing vision that was sort of fulfilled. That he can sort of claim, you know, this is my thing. It's like genuinely hard to go back and be like, what was left over from Bill Clinton that we're like super dope and down into now? Whereas with Obama, we sort of have that agenda. Like here are the things that he did. And you just, you had the same thing with the governorships, which was just like, look as long as we're remaining relatively popular, we have done our job.
CHRIS HAYES: I think that sort of interestingly tees up I think the idea of what the sort of ideas primer is for 2020 on the Democratic side. Like amidst the family separation crisis, we saw a bunch of people coming out either with various versions of abolish ICE. One thing I think that's happened that I think is very interesting is that because that field is gonna be so competitive, there's gonna be so many people. And people are gonna be looking to the left, is that you see this kind of like appropriation of phrases. Where people are like, "Sure, I'm from Medicare for all or for abolish ICE." And that it's like, you look at the details and maybe it's just, they say that, but that's not really what's gonna actually happen. What do you see as the big ticket items that there's gonna be kind of consensus around or fights over in this?
SEAN McELWEE: Well I mean you sort of loaded up a question then with another one. I mean, I think to be very clear I do think that it's good for the left to sort of have our ideas be something that Democrats want to be associated with. Because it means that we have some mechanism of accountability. You know a bunch of state legislators and mayors and stuff signed on to a sort of statement that they said, we want to abolish ICE. And I'm like, well, motherfuckers, you don't hold the purse strings of the federal government, so you can't. But here are a couple things you could do to limit the power of ICE. Like why aren't you setting up funds to pay for the legal services of undocumented folks? Why aren't you sort of aggressively limiting data sharing with ICE? You know, why aren't you sort of investigating the circumstances of detention in your backyard? They wanted to be associated with those ideas and we were able, as the left I think, to sort of start extracting concessions. Like if you like our framing, and you like our ideas, like we need a seat at the table.
It is true that there is some sense in which I think Democrats are gonna try to water down the ideas of the left. And we should contest that absolutely. But it's unabashedly good from my perspective that the Democratic party wants to be associated with those ideas because it gives us the ability to sort of define what those ideas are. And hold them accountable. And so to the second part of your question, which is what are the ideas that are sort of coming up and getting big. You know, I think we've seen a good number of presidential contenders come out in favor of some form of a job guarantee. The idea that the public sector has much more of a role to play in labor markets. I tend to think of the job guarantees something as like a public option for employment. A sort of way out of an abusive private sector labor market that is increasingly defined by monopsony, which is the idea of a few large employers who have the ability to set wages. Which you know, could explain why we're not seeing wages increase.
I think that on immigration there's gonna be a pretty rapid move left. I think that of abolish ICE is sort of the first big thing. But I think that you're gonna start to see people sort of contesting what that path to citizenship is gonna look like. I think a 10 year long path to citizenship that includes paying back taxes is very onerous and also is something that you know, President Trump 2.0 could reverse. So you really have to get a path to citizenship that's a little bit shorter. And I think less onerous, and I think that there's gonna be some activism around that. I think that decriminalizing migration broadly is gonna be a big issue. I think things like ending cash bail, you've seen both Kamala Harris and Bernie Sanders introduce legislation on that. I think that ideas, even bigger ideas. Things like an idea of a universal basic income, or a universal basic wealth will actually begin to emerge.
And I also think that you're gonna start to see public options for everything be a thing that people are thinking of. Like we need a more robust role for a government in providing ... You know, why don't we have a public option for banking? Why do we have one quarter of our publication is unbanked, why can't they go to the federal reserve or their post office and open up a bank account? I think that you're gonna see a really big increase in progressives contending that there are increasing numbers of domains of life that the government should be involved in. And so when I say public option for everything, I mean that. That means public option for college, public option for child care. I think public option for healthcare. All of those are gonna become things that are on the agenda.
CHRIS HAYES: In that argument that you want to have. That like the big arrow in your quiver is the ACA, right? Because like, when it came down to it, the two big parts of the ACA, which was Medicaid expansion, which was like, the brute force expansion of the public sector, right? This is public provision of health care that we're gonna expand. And the exchanges, which is the Rube Goldberg mechanism to like get into the market and regulate it in certain ways and make incentives, and you have tax credits and yada, yada. Like it's pretty clear politically. Like again, aside from the policy, what was popular? The Medicaid expansion. The states that had the Medicaid expansion did not climb down from it. Now there's huge fights in other states about Medicaid expansion, but that did seem to be the more politically popular part of the entire enterprise.
SEAN McELWEE: I mean I think you know the famous example in the stimulus, where like all the economists were like, "Make sure the people don't know you're getting them the tax credit. Because if they know that they're getting it, then they're not gonna spend it." And it's like, no, make them fucking know so they know to vote for you again instead of the people who are gonna give all the money to corporations. I mean like look, I'm not trying to love on Viktor Orban. I'm not like Steve King over here. But one thing I read that was interesting was-
CHRIS HAYES: This is the president of Hungary right now, who's sort of a right wing nationalist and extremely controversial figure in the EU.
SEAN McELWEE: Yeah. He's a piece of shit. But he nationalized the energy industry, and every receipt that you get it sort of says, here's what we saved. You by nationalizing it. Let's do that. Let's do generic drugs. And you know, whoever the president is, you know, it's just gonna have their fucking big old shiny face right on it. And it's like, here's your drugs, given to you by Gillibrand Corp: the section of the government, the Democratic party has now nationalized. We need to sort of think very concretely and very coherently about how are the policies that we are implementing affecting people's lives…
CHRIS HAYES: In a tangibly connected way to policy. 'Cause I think you're right that one of the sessions of the kind of Democratic party wonk class, for a very long time, was like, the minimally invasive intervention to produce the outcomes so that no one knew you'd done it. And it turned out, that's like a kind of a bad way to do politics, right? Because again, the non-Viktor Orban example of this is that check that people got from the Bush tax cuts where there was like an actual check that said thanks to the, you know, whatever the act was, signed by President Bush, here is your check. Like it was very straightforward.
SEAN McELWEE: Yeah, they should have done the seamless checks with like Obama's face just like right on there. And also then a lot of Republicans wouldn't have cashed it in, so it's perfect because like…
CHRIS HAYES: Money.
SEAN McELWEE: Exactly. There you go. But no, that's exactly right. And I mean like, look. Some of my best friends are economists. But y'all have to have a little less influence over policy. And also lawyers. I actually talked to a lawyer once, and I told him I thought lawyers should have less influence over policy. And he said to me, "Yeah, but do you want economists?" And I'm like, God. Can we have it so it's not lawyers or economists? Like can-
CHRIS HAYES: That is-
SEAN McELWEE: Can we have people-
CHRIS HAYES: You have described-
SEAN McELWEE: That are not those two?
CHRIS HAYES: You've described the wonk class of the Democratic party. Sean McElwee runs Data for Progress. He is, I don't know how to describe ... How should I describe you?
SEAN McELWEE: Jackass of all trades.
CHRIS HAYES: Jackass of all trades. Our most foul mouthed guest here.
SEAN McELWEE: Ah, really? I feel like I was being good.
CHRIS HAYES: Jesus, no. We'll put the explicit tag on this one. You can follow his work. He's got a Twitter handle that we'll put up on the website. And if you have questions for him, or you want to follow up on the conversation, you could always email us at email@example.com. We can loop Sean in on those. Sean is always a contributing writer at the Nation. It was great to have you on, man.
SEAN McELWEE: Any time.
CHRIS HAYES: I want to thank Sean McElwee for coming on the program, even if he cursed a lot. We decided not to bleep him, 'cause that would be annoying. And lame. But also like, I don't know what the but also was. As always, we'd love to hear your feedback. You can always get in touch with us by tweeting us the hashtag withpod. That's W-I-T-H-P-O-D or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org. We actually got a few emails in response to our interview with Mehdi Hassan about Brexit. One from Joyce, and Joyce asked us, "Anyone of the cast of characters in Britain connected to oligarchs, or was Russian cyber campaign meddling in Brexit the only form of that influence?" So it's a great question. There's a lot of reporting about the Russia connection to the Brexit campaign. We know that the Kremlin was invested in it. We know that some of the same kind of troll farms, like the Internet Research Agency, were pushing pro-Brexit messages.
There's also some reporting on connections between some of the key people pushing Brexit and connections to Russian oligarchs or Russian money. None of that is like completely definitive. It's certainly not definitive in any criminal sense. But there are connections that people are looking at. And what is clear, zooming out, is that yes. What did Moscow want in the case of both Brexit and Trump? In both cases, like, yes. They wanted Brexit. They wanted Trump. That is very clear. That was their preference, and they did things to try to bring that about.
"Why Is This Happening" is presented by MSNBC and NBC news, produced by the "All In" team. And features music by Eddie Cooper. You can see more of our work, including links to things we mentioned here by going to nbcnews.com/whyisthishappening.